Lakewood Church is the largest and fastest-growing church in America today. The leader of the church is Pastor Joel Osteen. He is one of a new generation of evangelical entrepreneurs/leaders who has transformed his church into a mega-empire using smart marketing tools traditionally employed by for-profit organizations.1 The highly diverse, nondenominational church he inherited from his late father in 1999 has more than quadrupled in size, welcoming upward of 40,000 visitors a week. A youthful-looking, forty-something-year-old with a ready smile, Osteen is media savvy and knows how to use technology to reach his followers. Osteen’s relationship with his followers and his approach to delivering the message is anything but conventional. He does not yell or cry for sinners to repent. He preaches a positive, upbeat gospel of hope and prosperity. Almost immediately, Osteen is able to win the trust of those who hear him. As Mr. Osteen himself puts it, “I don’t condemn and I don’t believe in being judgmental.”2 Osteen believes that encouraging and lifting people’s spirits will gain their respect, admiration, and loyalty–a message that business leaders can apply with their employees, customers, or colleagues. Joel Osteen’s services are surprisingly intimate considering the size of the congregation. People who need a special prayer are invited up front to counsel with a “prayer partner”–who could be a member of the Osteen family and leadership team or a volunteer trained for the job. These dyadic relationships allow for meaningful exchanges between church leaders and followers. The church service and the meet-and-greet are the only opportunities Osteen’s followers have to get close to him personally. Unlike his father, Osteen does not perform weddings or funerals. He avoids sickbeds and does not do personal counseling. He has delegated these tasks to his assistants. Members seem to be fine with the arrangement.3 Music and entertainment are a big part of Joel Osteen’s service. Many have criticized him for reducing the serious business of preaching biblical doctrine to simply putting on a show. Yet, Osteen’s popularity continues to grow. He has been featured on 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and other major network shows as well as in countless magazine and newspaper articles.
Opening Case Questions:
1. Explain the dyadic relationship between Pastor Osteen and his followers and how this affects the way he is perceived.
2. What leadership action/decision by Pastor Osteen might create in-groups and out-groups at Lakewood Church?
3. What leadership qualities does Pastor Osteen possess, and how have those qualities affected the level of teamwork between church leaders and followers?
4. Describe the quality of the LMX relationship between Osteen and his leadership team and how this has in turn influenced their ability to counsel and minister to church members.
5. If there were some concerns that Osteen’s staff/ ministers were not meeting the needs of church members in the one-on-one counseling sessions, how should Pastor Osteen conduct an effective feedback session to ensure greater success?
Can you answer any of these questions? You’ll find answers to these questions and learn more about Pastor Osteen and his leadership at the Lakewood Church throughout the chapter. To learn more about Pastor Osteen and the Lakewood Church, visit the church’s Web site at http://www. lakewood.cc.