HOUSTON - Churches and faith-based organizations were allowed to reopen over the weekend with a set of recommendations from the City of Houston.
One of the largest churches in the nation, Lakewood Church once again started welcoming the masses.
It feels like it’s been a long time coming for members after doors closed to the public in February.
“I think it’s the community and how everyone really loves on each other, and I think we missed that during COVID,” says Jeff, a returning churchgoer.
The church is calling it a “soft opening” with two limited Sunday services at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.
“For the past six months, we have been consulting with medical experts here in Houston and adhering to the guidelines set by the Texas Governor and the Houston Mayor and feel that it is the appropriate time to begin reopening the church for in-person worship services,” says Pastor Joel Osteen. “We are moving forward carefully and will reopen in a steady, gradual manner. We have undertaken many effective safety precautions, as well, that are designed to create a safe environment for our members who wish to attend.”
Before the closing, Lakewood would typically see 40,000 guests a week.
It’s now reopening at 25 percent capacity while requiring everyone to wear masks and register to snag a seat.
“When we got the email, we called each other,” says Bridgette Taylor who says she and her daughter Bria were waiting on standby for the invitation.
“We had registered for each other!” she laughs.
The children’s ministry also requires reservations.
From the entrance to the sanctuary, the returning congregation can find touchless upgrades to restrooms, UVC light sanitizing handrails, air purifiers, and increased cleanings.
The welcome back is happening after a decline in local cases and weeks before the release of Pastor Osteen's latest book, aptly named “Empty Out the Negative.”
But for many attending, registration still came with reservations.
“The process was really just making a decision; that was the biggest thing,” says member Steven Rodriguez. “In the end it’s about following what God’s word says. Once we saw an opportunity to not forsake the gathering, we took advantage of it.”
The church says it’s giving some normalcy to a small portion of the record numbers of those who've been tuning in online and through satellite radio for seven months.
For those praising in person, it seems to mean much more.
“We miss our pastor, all our pastors,” adds Taylor. “There’s nothing like being around other believers.”