Selling God A Lucrative Business

Houston may be nowhere near heaven or Hollywood, but on Sunday mornings, it feels like a little of both.

Joel Osteen is pastor of Lakewood Church, the largest evangelical church in America with 30,000 weekly attendants. With a TV ministry, it's watched in at least 100 countries.

His production staff and studio rival any network. As CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, Osteen looks like an anchorman, talks like a Southern salesman and runs this congregation like a CEO.

Asked if it's part message and part marketing, Osteen says: "To me, we're marketing hope."

And hope sells. Last year, Lakewood brought in $55 million. Sales of Osteen's book "Your Best Life Now" became an instant best seller. But he makes no apologies for his style or his success.

"We need to be excellent for the Lord," says Osteen. "There's nothing that says we can't come in and have great sound and great lighting and be on time and have this service more produced if you'll call it that, because, you know what, God deserves the best."

After being diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer, Nada Couture was drawn to Osteen's church for spiritual healing.

"It speaks to a lot of young people and a message that world needs to hear today," says Couture. "Not a preaching at you message, but a preaching with you thing."

And preaching to the young is something evangelicals across the country have mastered by offering everything from Christian-themed parks to rock bands.

Critics like Notre Dame sociology professor Michael Emerson say it cheapens religion by making it just another commodity for people to consume. They call it "feel-good theology."

"Religion changes to nothing more than 'make me feel good,' and there's no sacrifice," says Emerson.

That's not how they see it at Lakewood.

"The Bible says it's the goodness of God that leads people to repentance, and you know the more we preach hope and that God is good for you, the more people we will see come and get their lives turned around," says Osteen.

If Osteen's Lakewood Church is the Cadillac of all mega churches, then this new facility will be the Hummer. It's the old Compaq Center where the Houston Rockets played professional basketball and where Osteen hopes to soon save souls.

It's a $90 million facility that will seat 16,000 people, double the current space. Osteen sees a day when up to 100,000 will stop in for weekly services.

"It's the same message that people were preaching hundreds and hundreds of years ago, we're just repackaging it," he says.

Osteen says it's a new day, and God's people need a new house.
  • Jaime Holguin

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