By JESSE BOGAN: June 26, 2009: Forbes.com
Forbes recently talked to the head of America's biggest megachurch about his dreams, his wealth and his life as a megapastor.
HOUSTON -- Ten years ago, Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, took over his father's ministry, stepping out from the church media room, where he edited broadcasts. Since then, he's driven it to become the largest megachurch in the U.S., with some 43,500 people attending services each week in what used to be an NBA arena. The nondenominational church that preaches optimism operates on a $70 million budget. Forbes recently talked to Osteen about his dreams, his wealth and his life as a megapastor.
Forbes: During Sunday's sermon, you preached about how we should mind our own business and stay positive. (A critic of Moses' interracial marriage was stricken with leprosy.) Am I at risk of getting a major skin illness by asking you a few professional and personal questions?
Osteen: No, you'll be fine.
What do you think has driven the growth of megachurches in the past 30 years?
My dad had a church of 90 people when I was born. It was just, over the years it continued to grow. Maybe it's just where we are in America today, and it's just an outgrowth of 30 years of people being faithful to their faith ... Sometimes we get criticized, "Joel, why did you want to build a church like this?" But we never set out to have a big church, we just never wanted to turn people away
With the second largest megachurch in the country across town from you, Edwin Young's Second Baptist Church, why is Houston such a draw?
I've thought about that myself. We are here in the South, but I don't know.
How do you envision the church in the next 30 years?
Hopefully we will continue to grow and help more people ... When I was growing up, a church of 1,000 was a big deal, but you know what, it's just a different day today. I don't know where we will be in 30 years. Will there be churches of 100,000, or will we be meeting in big stadiums? I can't fathom that now, but I don't know.
What are the main challenges and benefits of a church your size?
The challenge is to always make it feel personal, or personable, or whatever the word is, and not feel like you are coming into a big area with 20,000 people, where it's like, "I didn't go to church today, I went to a basketball game."
The benefits are when you have that many resources you can have a great staff, you can have great music and great programs. We just have a variety of things we can offer people. I love the fact that we have people that do their taxes every year, give kids back-to-school backpacks, such a wide variety of things.
As churches get bigger, offer more services, do you foresee it being a challenge to maintain tax exemption status for "religious activities" or are you already seeing that?
Maybe I am not up to speed on this much, coming from the other side, the ministry side. I don't think so. I think as we do things, it's all ministry oriented. We are not out there doing something so we can make money.
How far does your ministry reach?
Yesterday, I probably met people from a dozen different countries, it goes all over the world through television, so it's a different day with the media and the way the satellites and the cable take it all over the world. I hope we can just penetrate more countries and, you know, bring more hope to people ... I don't want to say it's a weird thing, I shouldn't put it that way, but it's an unusual thing that for some reason people that don't normally go to church, I think I have a way--not just me--but of making things not too--and I don't mean this wrong--but not too religious. You know, make it for the everyday person.
----------------------------------You've been questioned repeatedly about wealth. Do you think your wealth should be anybody else's business?
I try to be open because people are skeptical of ministers, and especially TV preachers, and they've seen so many of them go the wrong way. So I feel like sometimes I have to go overboard to make mine available. I don't mind saying, you know, that I don't take a salary from the church, and God has blessed me with more money than I could imagine from my books. It's been printed all over so I don't feel like I am hiding anything.
How much have you made from your books? Have you said what you've made from that?
No, with my publisher, I can't tell, but it has been published if you want to look. I feel like I shouldn't tell just because I told them I wouldn't. [Editors' Note: He reportedly was poised to make $13 million on his second book deal, Become a Better You; his first book, Your Best Life Now, sold more than 5 million copies and several spin-offs; his third book, It's Your Time, comes out in November.]
Does personal monetary wealth get in the way of your duties as a pastor?
I don't think so. I think anybody can let money get in the way, whether you have $1,000 or a $100 million. I never did this for money, never dreamed I would make those kinds of funds, but I don't do anything different now than what I did eight years ago when I started. I am still focused at the church and give it my best every week.
What do you like doing besides being at church?
I like sports, and I enjoy playing basketball and lifting weights. My biggest hobby is hanging out with my family and kids ... Victoria and I, this is our day off, we are going to drive in the country in a couple hours ... I tell you, we travel a lot, but I don't have a lot of other big hobbies. I am not into cars and boats and all that kind of stuff. We just live a pretty simple life.
How much do you donate to Lakewood, I'd heard you are the largest donor?
I don't really like to say what I donate. We donate not just to Lakewood, but we donate to other causes, and I just would rather put in that we believe in giving, we believe what we minister. The reason why is that sometimes people see it as bragging, and I get criticized if I do or if I don't.
What is your most prized material possession?
This might sound corny but probably one of the most prized things I have is a watch that my father gave me. I got that when he died. My house is worth more and my cars and stuff.
Your books are wildly popular, not to mention you brought nearly 50,000 people to Yankees Stadium in April. Should Forbes add you to its Billionaires List?
[Laughs.] No, I would love to be there one day only so I could help more people, but no we don't have that kind of wealth. Again, I never did even dream it ... but you know what, I don't think it has changed our lifestyle, it's just given us the opportunity to help more people. Source
Get Joel Osteen's book - It's Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God's Favor.