With more than 1,300 coronavirus cases in the United States, one of the nation’s largest megachurches canceled in-person Sunday services as more venues close their doors to large public gatherings.
Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, where world-famous pastor Joel Osteen preaches, averages about 52,000 attendees per week, but will go digital this Sunday as places of worship adjust to the spread of COVID-19.
“We will continue to monitor the situation week by week and hope to resume the assembly in the very near future,” the church announced Wednesday night online. There are at least 21 cases in Texas.
Lakewood Church said services will be broadcast “exclusively online” on Facebook Live, YouTube, Roku, AppleTV, Osteen’s and Lakewood Church’s websites, as well as SiriusXM channel 128.
Osteen’s team made the decision after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared a public health emergency in the city and in consideration of the “international visitors” at the church every week.
“While we apologize for any inconvenience this causes to our members and visitors, we feel that this move is necessary to ensure the well being of all of the citizens of this great city, especially the most vulnerable among us,” the church said.
In 2017, Osteen and his church were criticized for closing their doors to evacuees of Hurricane Harvey, but church leadership defended itself in the hours after the hurricane, saying that many staff members and the church quickly mobilized.
Osteen told “Fox & Friends” at the time that its doors always have been open since Lakewood was started by his father, John Osteen, in 1959.
The closure comes as Osteen and Kanye West are set to team up for a second “Night of Worship” with the Sunday Service Choir at Yankee Stadium in May.
Aside from canceling services in person, many churches have taken steps to sanitize sanctuaries, change how Communion is given, reduce personal contact during greeting times, and reduce things like passing offering plates during the service.