HOUSTON -- An online prank heard around the world may have made Joel Osteen more popular than ever.
A rumor claiming Joel Osteen was resigning from his church because he'd lost his faith first surfaced on April 2. The church thought it would die down, but instead it exploded on social media.
“Friends were texting from South Africa and Australia,” said Osteen. “I thought, ‘Wow, something big is going on here.’”
Someone created a series of phony websites pretending to be among sites like CNN and JoelOsteen.com saying the pastor of America's largest church was quitting and that he'd lost his faith.
“To us, it was so comical,” Osteen said. “We didn't think much about it except that someone's having an April Fool’s joke.”
Large organizations, including faith-based ones, often have people infringing on their trademark.
“There are people every week that want to use our name. Some of it’s good will, but you can’t do that, some of it's for fraud,” Osteen explained.
So what kind of impact did this rumor have on a church with 40,000 attendees each week? Ironically, it may help increase the flock even more.
“What's meant for harm, God uses to your advantage,” Osteen said.
In the last seven days, Lakewood Church has added nearly 49,000 Facebook friends and 25,000 Twitter followers.
If the prankster can be found, Lakewood Church’s attorneys will ask him to cease and desist, but they do not plan to sue.
KHOU 11 News’ legal expert said the fake websites violate trademark and copyright rules. Media outlets are typically very vigilant about that, so CNN and the other news groups may not be turning the other cheek.