What does it mean to be a Christian?

HOUSTON - The definition of Christianity is simple: a belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. Where things get more complicated is how congregations choose to express those beliefs.

For people like Angie Pettigrew, who was raised as a Southern Baptist Christian, the religion is not the same one she grew up practicing. 

"The Bible talks about the church and the belief in Christ, it doesn't ever mention Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian. Those denominations were not a creation of God, they were a creation of man," said Pettigrew, a Christian since she was 10 years old.

Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, knows about the movement to lose the denominations from the church brand. The Texan was raised by a Baptist minister, but it was when he dropped "Baptist" from his church's name and became just Lakewood Church that a legion of worshippers began filling the seats of what was once a basketball arena.

"I grew up in a preacher's home as a preacher's kid and, you know, I believe the message is the same today. I don't know so much though that the labels are important in terms of the denominational labels that I grew up with," said Osteen.

Jennifer Cannon grew up in the same denominational Christian system, said she now shares a Bible study with all kinds of Christians.

"I think people realized that is not what Christianity is really about. They are not associating themselves with Lutheran or Baptist. I don't think people are giving as much weight to the subtle difference each of these denominations have. I think it is just simpler for them to say, 'I am a Christian,' pointblank, and that is the main thing," said Cannon.

Amy Goss, the writer behind the Christian blog "Mom's Toolbox," said the focus is moving off of types of Christianity and being replaced by a stronger focus on the faith itself.

"People are now making their faith their own. It is not their grandmother's faith. It is not their parents' faith. It is their own and they are asking the questions and they are delving in deeper," said Goss, a born-again Christian.

Mark Lanier said the lines between different denominations will only get blurrier. The local high-powered attorney turned his hobby of collecting religious texts into the Lanier Theological Library. It is a building offering the public access to 7,000 books and historical writings about faith.

"The generations coming into adulthood now are generations that have grown up with access to information us old people could only dream about, and that information will destroy barriers more so than build them," said Lanier.

Osteen's Sunday sermons represent another shift in this more modern take on the ancient religion -- a focus on the positive parts of the Bible.

"I think there are enough things in life already pushing people down and telling us what we are not and that we haven't measured up. When they come to my church, I would rather tell them what they can become," said Osteen.

While this prosperity theology is popular, not everyone is on board with the more grace and less fire-and-brimstone approach to the book.

"You can't take pieces here and there. That is the problem with a lot of churches. It is more of a feel-good thing, so it is attracting people, but a lot of those people aren't really Christians because they aren't getting fed the word of God," said Megan Morris, a non-denominational Christian.

It may not be the traditional church doctrine, but Osteen said it works for his congregation.

"There are a lot of people these days, especially those that watch our ministry, about 50 percent of them were not raised in church. They tell me, 'Well, Joel, I am not religious. I don't know about all that,' but you know what they are -- followers of Christ. They just weren't raised like us," said Osteen.

In the end, the big question may be: What do all of these changes mean for the future of the religion?

"Will we have a great awakening again in America like we did 100-plus years ago, or are we at a corner that is a dead-end? I am an optimist. I think we are going to see explosion," Lanier said.

Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.