More than 25 religious denominations can be found in the Houston region. According to the Web site, www.usachurch.com, the Baptist denomination has more than 830 churches in Houston, followed by Methodists, Church of Christ, Church of God and non-denominational churches. Other popular religious denominations include Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, Christian, Episcopal and Pentecostal.
Since the city’s founding in 1836, worshippers have established churches to share their faith and come together in prayer. In 1839, Christ Church Cathedral was established as a small parish situated in the middle of a tiny, swampy settlement town. Today, the Episcopalian Cathedral is an ecumenical center of learning and formation for Christians of all backgrounds and many non-Christians.
Houston's First Baptist Church was organized in 1841 by 16 men and women. The church has survived through wars, yellow fever epidemics that took an early pastor as well as and the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Today, First Baptist is located at the corner of I-10 and the 610 West Loop and is currently under the leadership of Pastor Gregg J. Matte. Houston’s Second Baptist Church is under the leadership of Dr. Ed Young, who has been senior pastor of the church since 1978. He has led the congregation in growth from 2,000 members in 1978 to approximately 45,000 members on its five campuses in 2007. In 1866, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church was formed by freed slaves and in 1868, Jack Yates was ordained at the first association meeting for African American Baptist Churches, which was the first National Baptist Convention. The Antioch of today is situated between giant skyscrapers downtown still servicing its congregation after more than 140 years.
With the region’s diverse population, many different religious denominations flourish here. For example, Asians represent approximately 21 percent of the regional population, including people from Vietnam, India, China, Philippines, Pakistan and Korea. For them, there are Taoist and Buddhist temples in the region as well as the third largest Hindu temple in North America, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Stafford, Texas, just outside of Houston. Located on 22 acres, it is the first traditional Hindu Mandir of stone and marble to be constructed in the United States.
Residents born in the Western Hemisphere south of the U.S.-Mexico border account for nearly two-thirds of Houston’s MSA’s foreign-born population, with Mexicans accounting for nearly half of all foreign-born Houston residents. As a result, there are many Catholic churches as well as other religious denominations for Hispanics in the area.
In addition, Houston is home to the oldest active Jewish temple, which was built in 1949. The Houston Masjid of Al-Islam is the oldest Masjid, or mosque, in the Houston area. Due to damage sustained in Hurricane Ike, followers are rebuilding the Masjid.
For practicing Catholics, the Diocese of Galveston-Houston carries the status of a Metropolitan Archdiocese and is the second archdiocese in Texas. The archdiocese is led by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston. Suffragan dioceses include Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Tyler and Victoria. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston itself is composed of 10 counties in the southeastern area of Texas. It includes Harris County and the city of Houston as well as Galveston County and Galveston, the Mother Seat of the Church in Texas. The archdiocese includes eight other counties as well, including Austin, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Grimes, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Walker and Waller counties. Today more than 1.5 million Catholics live within archdiocesan boundaries, making the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston the largest in the state of Texas and the eleventh largest in the United States.
Perhaps one of Houston’s most noted houses of worship is Lakewood Church, under the leadership of Pastor Joel Osteen. Since its humble beginnings in 1959, under the leadership of Joel’s father, John Osteen and his wife Dodie, the church has been known for its caring atmosphere, quality leadership and community outreach that has attracted people from all ages, religious backgrounds, races and walks of life. Today, Lakewood's commitment to community outreach continues to increase, and its international media broadcast has expanded into more than 200 million households in the United States. Pastor Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria are leading this generation with a practical message that is transforming lives.
Just as there are many sports and entertainment activities available for Houstonians, the same applies to religious gatherings and events. At some point each week, you can participate in concerts, networking and ministry opportunities. Whether it is a bible church downtown, a home group in Clinton Park, a ministry opportunity in Houston Heights, a Christian business in Briargrove, bible study on campus at University of Houston or Rice University or a Christian concert in The Woodlands, there is a way to connect with other worshippers in prayer.
As you begin to explore all that Houston has to offer, you’ll see that it is a city that embraces all newcomers and prides itself on being extremely tolerant of cultures and all religions – a great place to call home.
TIP: Are you interested in learning more about religious sites and landmarks in Houston? Houston Historical Tours (www.houstonhistoricaltours.com) conducts religious tours of more than 20 houses of worship throughout the region.