Joel Osteen is a successful pastor of the fastest growing church in America, Lakewood Church. Though his theology is often criticised, I will only highlight his style of preaching that has captured the attention of millions around the world. I must admit: I find Joel’s personality instantly magnetic and amiable. He’s known as the smiling preacher, not only because of his appearance but for his uplifting messages. After watching several of his videos, here are some key takeaways that we can learn from him.
1. Don’t use PowerPoint.
Isn’t this interesting? Just one man on the stage speaking. No PowerPoint. No fancy videos. Very little technology. People insist that today’s generation would tune out without moving graphics. Not true. If your speaking is captivating enough, there’s no need for visual aids. All the attention would be focused on you, rather than to a screen. But you need to be engaging all the way. That’s why, his sermons aren’t very long.
2. Keep your sermon to 27 minutes.
Almost all of Osteen’s sermons are roughly 27 minutes. That means his sermon script is consistently the same number of words. Find out your speaking speed (words per minute) and then you can calculate your manuscript length. Of course, you can speak shorter or longer than that. But because of Joel’s broadcasting experience, plus the fact that his service program must keep to televised schedule, he limits his sermon length. It is good that audiences can gauge how long you usually speak. Personally, I think 30 mins is adequate to say all that you need to say without them losing their interest. 45 minutes would be the upper limit before most go for a toilet break.
3. Memorise your script.
This is pretty amazing. Osteen keeps his eye contact fully on his listeners as he speaks. It’s as if he’s speaking directly to me! I do think he has a script on the pulpit but he hardly refers to it. Other interviews reveal that he practices every sermon on stage exactly, checking his posture, the lighting and other elements before the actual service. He doesn’t just wing it on the day itself. That’s a good work ethic – practice your sermon exactly. You’ll know how long it takes or what doesn’t sound right. Sometimes, Joel walks across the stage taking a quick peek without missing a beat. I think memorising his script lends authority to his message. The reason he can do this is because his sermon is centered around one main point. Everything else builds on it. It reminds me of Andy Stanley’s one main point format. Keeping your outline simple allows Osteen to keep constant eye contact.
4. Own the stage.
Osteen hardly stays behind the pulpit. 90% of the time he’s walking around the stage. But he stops to speak, then plants himself in another spot. He doesn’t keep on roaming around the stage. In terms of body language, he uses open hand gestures and friendly facial expressions. His voice is gentle and soothing to listen to, suiting his personality. It’s key to note he uses pauses very well. Pausing after making a key point drives home the message. To emphasise key points, his voice gets louder and tone ends on the downward tone (rather than upwards tone when you as ask a question).
5. Have tons of applications.
One thing that makes Osteen so engaging is that he has tons of illustrations and real-world applications. Though some might accuse him of not being rooted in the text (not expository enough), he’s on the right track. Sermons are not bible studies. They are to equip and transform people’s lives for the upcoming week or month. People want something to survive the next battle as they exit the church. They need God’s word incarnated as practically as possible. Osteen does that very well, giving many applications and stories for listeners to act on immediately.