TAMPA — The sounds booming from Amalie Arena on Friday won’t be skates and slap shots but Amens and applause as Joel and Victoria Osteen bring their brand of evangelism to Tampa for the second time in five years.
“We always have great support and love the city of Tampa,” Joel Osteen said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “It’s a great market for us and we come back for that.”
The Osteens, arguably the most famous pastors in America, will preach to a near capacity crowd. As of Thursday, the only seats remaining in the 20,500 seat venue were a few in the upper level opposite the stage. All tickets are $15 for the “A Night of Hope” event, which starts at 7:30 p.m.
Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church, a mega-church in Houston, is known for his weekly television broadcasts, several best-selling religious and self-help books and a massive social media following.
He said he travels around the nation once a month and plans to visit Charlotte, Detroit, New York and San Diego in coming months. He has visited other cities in Florida, including Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando.
“We’ve been doing this 11 years now,” he said.
The Osteens brought their evangelistic road show, which includes Christian rock and inspirational testimonies, to Tampa in 2010.
His message tonight doesn’t specifically target the Tampa crowd, though that audience “always has been super receptive to us,” he said. “Florida is very strong for us. It’s kind of more like a Bible Belt than some other places.”
Osteen is used to preaching to large crowds. As pastor of the Lakewood Church, he draws nearly 40,000 in two sermons every weekend.
According to Osteen’s website, his ministry reaches 200 million homes across the globe, including a million faithful who download audio and video podcasts. The website says that makes the sermons one of the top five podcasts in the world.
Osteen is the son of John Osteen, the founder of Lakewood Church. Joel Osteen produced his father’s televised sermons for 17 years from behind the scenes, refraining from preaching during that time. In 1999, a week before his father died of a heart attack, Osteen stepped up to the pulpit for the first time.
A week after his father’s death, Osteen became the senior pastor of Lakewood Church, which at the time had a weekly attendance of 5,000. From there, the church grew to have an average attendance of 40,000 to 50,000 a week, making it the largest church in the United States, according to Forbes, Outreach magazine and Church Growth Today.
According to Nielsen Media, more than 10 million American viewers watch Osteen’s weekly program each week on various cable networks, and his program is seen in about 100 nations around the world.
He said his message, whether it’s in Houston or Tampa, leans toward the motivational and inspirational.
“I am a pastor and I believe in all that, but sometimes religion has a negative connotation,” he said. “This is not a church service. It’s more geared as a production.”
He said half the people who come to his events are not regular church goers.
“I try to make it appeal to those outside the church world,” he said. “That’s our goal.”