Visiting Churches

Visiting Lakewood Church, Houston (Pastor Joel Osteen)

One of the most interesting churches that I’ve been looking forward to visiting is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. (learn about our travel adventure)

Not only is Lakewood the largest physical church building in North America, but also one of the original “mega-churches” (defined as having more than 2000 members in attendance by this definition.)

(We took some photos ourselves while there, but through the article are a few that I requested from the Lakewood team. Thanks guys!)

Often I might think of rapidly growing churches as the newest, trendiest, less than 20 years old, but Lakewood breaks a lot of the moulds – a church started 60 years ago by John Osteen and now passed onto Joel Osteen, his son.

Enough of a history lesson. To say we were overwhelmed by the size would be an understatement, but the building is setup in a way that makes it easy to get where you need to go. The current Lakewood Church building was formerly the Houston Rockets stadium, so you can imagine walking in at ground level, and then the auditorium itself is sunk down to allow for multiple tiers seating 16,000 people.

Let’s be honest. I was also curious about things that I’ve heard about Lakewood church – I wouldn’t say skeptical, but definitely curious.


First-time Guest Experience

Lakewood Church, Houston TexasAs we walked in, signage was clear and easy to follow. We knew exactly where the Kids Classrooms were, and even though the building is REALLY big (like 16000 seats big), the had a single, centralized point to check in our kids that was easy to get to.

Classrooms were divided up into multiple groups of the same ages, so even though there were hundreds (might even guess thousands) of kids that were participating over the 2 morning services, our 3 boys each had a classroom experience with all of the kids in their age group, then went to small groups for the second half of service.

Signage was a big deal – it matters for any church size – but especially when considering the size of the building.

Each door to the sanctuary was labeled with a section number, so finding our way back through the right door was a simple way to get back to the kids classrooms, plus there were guest service volunteers almost everywhere saying hi and helping us find where we’re going.


How Lakewood Church breaks the mega church stereotypes:

Here are a few things that I found counter-culture to what seems like the “norm” in large churches. (and thanks to a tour from my friend, Justin Bracket who oversees their digital communications, I was able to learn more than the average guest.)

  • While many rapidly-growing churches are going to multiple campuses – some with multiple campuses in an area, some spread far and wide, Pastor Joel Osteen isn’t interested in expanding to additional campuses. Lakewood’s growth strategy is based on adding more services at their current location. The weekend we were there, they were expecting between 30,000 to 32,000 people (between 2 morning services, a Spanish afternoon service and an evening service).
  • Joel Osteen, Lakewood ChurchJoel Osteen sat on the front row during service, and during the designated prayer time during service, he was on the floor in front of the stage praying with people who requested it, along with a team of people for each section. This may not seem like a big deal, but we’ve been to churches where the speaker walks out from a green room and leaves back offstage when he’s done speaking to never be seen.
  • After service, Joel Osteen spends time meeting people in a designated spot in the foyer. With the number of people in attendance, this had to be done in an organized way, but with a clearly designated meeting space, he was greeting people and taking selfies with them.
  • Unlike many models of growing churches, that are moving toward a condensed service, the service was almost 2 hours long. Lakewood had extended worship music time, a time when a family shared a testimony, an offering message, designated prayer time during service, a “ted-talk” like devotional, more worship, then Joel Osteen’s full message.
  • Announcements were mentioned through the service at times when the topic was relevant to other things going on – not a video or “announcement time”. During the family’s testimony, they mentioned that the son had recently come back to God and was now leading a small group, so you can also lead a small group by signing up on the app, for example.
  • The Auditorium is referred to on all signs as the “Sanctuary.” I’m not offering an opinion in this blog post, but it’s a more traditional term than would typically be used for a mega church.


In many ways, Lakewood Church breaks to mould for a growing megachurch, and at the same time, many of these “mould breaking” standards are standards that they’ve been using for years. Many of us grew up with a longer service time than is standard now, or referring to the auditorium as a sanctuary or not focussed on planting campuses, so in many ways, Lakewood has found what works for them and stuck with it.

Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is rapidly growing, but breaking the “mega church” mould with tradition.


Have you visited Lakewood? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

Guest Services Visiting Churches

The Key Element For Your Church Guests: Communicate the Obvious

There is a baseline that we all feel we don’t need to communicate: The obvious. The perception is that we need to communicate just what isn’t in the ‘obvious box’, because the rest is, well, obvious.

I was at a friend’s house once where they were pouring drinks for dinner. I was offered the milk and poured my drink first; A full glass. My friends’ brother looked at me like something was REALLY wrong. In their house, they only ever poured half a glass of milk, that way, if they spilled, they only lost half of a glass. To them, this was obvious (and it’s pretty decent logic) but for me, not obvious.

The challenge comes when we convince ourselves about what is within the obvious box, and the danger with the ‘obvious box’ is that over time, it keeps growing. As we get used to the systems and processes at our church, they become more ‘obvious’ to us, but that doesn’t make them more obvious to our guests.

Consider these ideas about church. As someone who grew up in church, they seem obvious to me, but take a moment and view them from the eyes of someone who has never been to church in their life, and walks through your front doors this weekend.

  • We offer childcare during service.
  • Children have a check-in process.
  • We stand up when the music starts playing.
  • We sing out loud as a group in public.
  • We talk (or shout) back when a presentation is being made.
  • There is a time during the week that our teenagers get together.
  • We do this every Sunday, with the intention that everyone returns every Sunday.
  • I need to fill out a ‘connect card’, and stop by a booth to pick up a gift
  • I didn’t realize that I needed to fill out a card when it was my first time last week. Now it’s my second time, so I missed my chance to get that gift?
  • When they’re talking about money and passing around a bucket.
  • Is that coffee free?
  • Which way do I go when I walk in?
  • I want to learn more about Jesus, so I have to go buy a bible?


Recently, we visited Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, and they gave us a magnet to take home after we checked our kids in (5 x 7 in size). Here’s a picture of the magnet:


This magnet gives us a clear understanding of our family’s faith journey could look like from now until the time our kids graduate college – It may seem obvious that at a certain age, we have a “Parent Dedication” or “Baby Dedication”, or that our kids will participate in a 4th and 5th grade retreat at that age, but this ‘map’ makes it that obvious that there is a clear plan and path for my kids to move from their current stages with intentional transitions to the next stages.

A few things I love about this idea that drives home Bay Area’s commitment to help my family’s faith journey:

  • There are clear stages that both parents and kids can understand and follow along with
  • There are resources provided along the way for parents to learn and grow
  • There are tokens that the kids can have a hands-on experience as part of their journey
  • There is a high frequency of “next steps”, not large gaps where families could fall through the cracks
  • It’s clear when the transition happens from “kids” to “youth” (that arrow that says BASM – Bay Area Student Ministries)


What may seem obvious to you, is an important starting point for communicating to your first-time guests. Don’t take anything for granted or make any assumptions about what they know and how they’re expected to respond.

Guest Services Visiting Churches

The Guest Follow-Up Opportunity Most Churches Are Missing

My wife and I (with our 3 boys) left our hometown in Canada in August 2018 to travel North America and visit churches along the way. So far, as of the end of October 2018, we’ve visited 8 churches, and less than half have utilized this simple follow up strategy.

I think you’d agree that following up with your guests after they’ve visited your church for the first time is a helpful way to increase the likelihood that they’ll visit a second time.

After all, there’s only so much information you can expect them to retain from their time at your service, and we can’t expect everyone to read all of the “more about us” paperwork we send home with them after church, so providing guests with bite-sized, relevant information is a helpful way to increase their awareness of what your church offers and how they can get connected.

While this is the case, the flip side is “How can we get more first-time guests to complete the connection card?” and the question is relevant, but maybe there’s a way they’re already giving you contact information that you’re not yet utilizing.

At 8 out of 8 churches, we’ve checked our kids in to their classes, meaning that 100% of the time, we’ve given our personal contact information (at least phone, email, name, and address) so that if we were to lose our kid’s pickup tag, there would be a way to verify we are who we say we are BUT in only 2 cases (25%) was this information used for follow up purposes.

How do we know that the check-in information wasn’t being used, even if the connection card information is?

Simple: My wife’s information goes into Kids check-in, and my information goes on the connection card – that way we can see who follows up in which way.


What do we know about someone who checks in their kids for the first time?

With a fair amount of certainty, we know that:

  •  They are new, or relatively new to the church (even if they kept their kids in service with them the first few times they visited).
  • They have one or more kids (and we know the kids’ ages)
  • If the kid is a newborn (maybe the family has been coming for a while and just had their first child)
  • We know the age of the person checking them in (most times, our birthday information is collected to cross-reference against a drivers license if we lose our pickup tags and need to provide photo id.)
  • The parent’s first name, email address and phone number
  • The area where they live (if an address is collected)
  • Which service they attended (if you have multiple services)


What can we do with this information?

  • Put their information into your automated follow-up email and text service (Text In Church for instance) in the same way as you would treat someone who completed a connection card.
  • Provide information to that family about small groups, midweek activities, and events coming up that are relevant to the kids and parents ages.
  • Congratulate the parents on the birth of their first child, and provide information about baby dedications.
  • Create a reminder system for when that child reaches the right age to attend Youth Group.
  • Welcome them as a guest and offer to answer their questions. (for bonus points, send the email from the person who leads your kids’ department)
  • Introduce them to someone in the church of a similar age who lives in their area


Would it be best if everyone always completed the new visitor connection card? Sure, but if they’re providing their information another way, don’t miss the opportunity to follow up.