SADDLEBACK COMMUNITY CHURCH
1954 (January 28) Richard Duane Warren was born in San Jose, California.
1972 Warren graduated from high school and enrolled at California Baptist University in Riverside.
1973 Warren met W.A. Criswell after hearing him preach in San Francisco.
1979 Warren received a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and subsequently moved to Saddleback Valley, California with his wife, Kay.
1980 (Easter Sunday) Warren led Saddleback Church’s first service in the Laguna Hills High School auditorium.
1990s Saddleback Community Church’s membership reached 10,000 members and the church began construction of its present facility.
1995 Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Church, was published.
2002 Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, was published.
2005 Warren launched his P.E.A.C.E plan to combat poverty, illiteracy and disease in developing countries around the world.
2005 Warren was named one of “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME.
2009 (January) Warren delivered the benediction during President Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.
Richard Duane Warren, who usually refers to himself as Rick Warren, was born to Jimmy and Dot Warren on January 28, 1954 in San Jose, California. Jimmy Warren was a Baptist minister, who started seven churches during his career, and Dot was a high school librarian. Rick Warren grew up in Redwood Valley and spent his teenage years in Ukiah, California. He attended Ukiah High where he founded the first Christian organization, The Fishers of Men Club. Warren graduated in 1972. He married Elizabeth K. Warren, and the couple went on to have three children in a life-long marriage. The couple has disclosed that neither was initially attracted to the other, but each felt that God had selected the other as their mate. Rick Warren proposed on their second date. According to biographical accounts, the two were virtual strangers at the time of their marriage and “They also had a horrible honeymoon and suffered intensely from misunderstandings and other marital problems in the beginning of their marriage. The stress from the marriage problems coupled with Rick’s workload was so bad that he ended up in the hospital. Meanwhile, Kay said that she didn’t believe in divorce so she felt that she was sentenced to a life of suffering” (Vu 2009; Sheler 2009).
Warren recounts that he “felt God’s call to ministry as a teenager and began speaking as a youth evangelist while I was still in high school. By the time I was 19, I had preached revival meetings in about 50 churches” (Woman’s Missionary Union n.d.). Warren cites his 1973 encounter with W.A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, as instrumental in his decision to become a pastor. After listening to Criswell speak at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, Warren stood in the receiving line to meet the renowned Baptist pastor. Upon shaking Warren’s hand, Criswell reportedly exclaimed: “‘Young man, I feel led to lay hands on you and pray for you!’” and then prayed, “‘Father, I ask that you give this young preacher a double portion of your Spirit. May the church he pastors grow to twice the size of the Dallas church. Bless him greatly, O Lord’” (Woman’s Missionary Union n.d.)
Warren went on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts from California Baptist University in Riverside, a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has reported that while in seminary that “he had the vision of building a church for people who don’t go to church. He felt God told him that the church would one day have 20,000 people and be on a 100-acre property” (Vu 2009). Warren summarized his church growth strategy in the abstract to his 1993 thesis at Fuller Theological Seminary, New Churches for a New Generation: Church Planting to Reach Baby Boomers. A Case Study: The Saddleback Valley Community Church. He wrote that “We must establish new churches to reach this new generation of Americans. It will require new churches that understand the Baby Boom mindset and are intentionally designed to meet their needs, tastes, and interests.”
In 1979, Rick and Kay Warren moved to Saddleback Valley, California, with all of their belongings in the back of a U-Haul truck. Warren stated that he wanted to create “a place where the hurting, the depressed, the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness and encouragement” (Rick Warren n.d.). What became the Saddleback Church began as a Bible study with just one other family that met in the Warrens’ apartment. This Bible study group eventually grew to 250 individuals. On Easter Sunday in 1980, Saddleback Community Church held its first public service, with 205 attendees. Later that same year, Warren began to lead services for his congregation in a rented high school gym. Over the next decade he used dozens of venues to house his congregation, ranging from auditoriums to tents to movie theaters (Gladwell 2005). However, he “burned out from trying to keep his flock together. He subsequently collapsed in the middle of his sermon one Sunday and fell into a depression. Warren spent the next year soul-searching for a way to help people without getting overwhelmed again” (Steptoe 2004). It was this moment that created the impetus for Warren’s creation of his famed purpose-driven ministry.
The church continued to grow over the next twenty years, with a membership of 10,000 by the 1990s. Saddleback has ultimately developed into one of the most prominent megachurches in America, with a 10,000 person core membership and a weekly attendance of over 20,000” that meets in a 3,500-seat worship center in Lake Forest, California (Watson and Scalen 2011). There are over 50,000 people on the church’s rolls, and the church’s website receives several hundred thousand hits each day.
Rick Warren is best known for his “purpose driven” concept, which he has developed in a variety of ways. He states that God has created five purposes for every individual’s life. They are “to bring enjoyment to him, to be a part of his family, to become like him, to serve him, and to share him with others. The payoff for abiding by these precepts, Warren promises, is reduced stress, sharper focus, simplified decisions, greater meaning, and better preparation for eternity” (Steptoe 2004). He has also defined five “fundamental purposes” for a church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. In addition, there are five “Global Goliaths” that confront churches today. Two internal problems are spiritual emptiness and egocentric leadership; three societal problems are extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy. Warren’s purpose-driven ministry aspires to address these and other problems both within the church and in the larger community.
In his books, Warren asserts that every church should also have a statement of purpose, asking “readers to consider what single purpose drives their churches. If they are unable to say what it is, he encourages them to define an ecclesial purpose based on scripture” (Byassee 2004). Saddleback’s statement of purpose is “to bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them Christlike maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name” (Rick Warren n.d.).
In focusing on living a purpose driven life, Warren eschews the traditional Evangelical concept of sin, which he defines sin as simply a lack of spiritual maturity (Myev 2009). One can become more mature through continued spiritual growth. Rather than sin, which engenders a sense of guilt and failure, Warren emphasizes temptation. Everyone, including Jesus, has faced temptation, which Warrant asserts is not a sign of weakness but an opportunity for better behavior ( Warren 2002:202-206).
Warren also has a distinctive approach to preaching the gospel. He emphasizes the importance of attracting new members to the church, modeled on the ministries of Jesus and Paul: “According to Warren, the way to imitate this ministry of Jesus and Paul is to meet people’s ‘felt needs,’ and to bring them into the church by way of a nonthreatening evangelistic service that presents only good news, since people have had enough bad news all week” (Byassee 2004). As with the majority of evangelical churches, there is an emphasis on the sharing the gospel with as many people as possible (Great Commission), which is reflected in the emphasis on church membership growth. Warren makes his sermons available at a nominal fee through a website he has established for pastors; the website receives several hundred thousand hits each day (Gladwell 2005).
Church services at Saddleback combine evangelical Christian and megachurch elements. Since Saddleback is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the church sacraments conform to typical evangelical practices but also reflect the minimalist liturgyof the Southern Baptist tradition. Indeed, “ Warren warns against churches that ‘overdo mystical religious symbols’ in their buildings” (Byassee 2004). As a megachurch, Saddleback services embody the non-denominational, megachurch format as well. Megachurches are typically defined as churches that average at least 2,000 attendees each week and share a number of aesthetic, liturgical and administrative traits (Bird and Thumma 2011; Thumma and Davis 2007; Chaves 2006). They “have incorporated multiple religious innovations, including major changes in worship center architectural design, traditional ritual practices, hierarchical church structures, and the use of new marketing techniques” (Watson and Scalen 2011). As Trueheart (1996) puts it, “No spires. No crosses. No robes. No clerical collars. No hard pews. No kneelers. No biblical gobbledygook. No prayerly rote. No fire, no brimstone. No pipe organs. No dreary eighteenth-century hymns. No forced solemnity. No Sunday finery. No collection plates. The traditional church service style is altered by shortening sermons while increasing the time and space given to music, dramatizations and visualizations through film and powerpoint presentations. Megachurches also offer an array of other features, such as cafes and coffee shops, book and video shops, and childcare services (Twitchell 2004, cited in Watson and Scalen 2011). Pulpits often are removed to avoid the appearance of undue pastoral authority.
Saddleback’s Worship Center accommodates over 3,000 worshipers and features a suspended wooden cross and enormous video screens. Although the church is Southern Baptist, no affiliation is visible on the church signs or building (Byassee 2004). As Gladwell (2005) observes, “Saddleback looks like a college campus, and the main sanctuary looks like the school gymnasium. Parking is plentiful. The chairs are comfortable. There are loudspeakers and television screens everywhere broadcasting the worship service, and all the doors are open, so anyone can slip in or out, at any time, in the anonymity of the enormous crowds.” As a megachurch, Saddleback offers an array of worship services: “On weekends 20,000 members and attenders choose from services at six different times and 10 different venues around the campus – some with live speakers, some on closed-circuit TV – offering a variety of worship and music styles ranging from quiet hymns in an intimate ‘unplugged’ setting to a tent gathering that offers roof-raising gospel singing” (Steptoe 2004). For example, worshipers can choose from services featuring hard rock, gospel, traditional hymn and Hawaiian musical styles; alternatively, the Terrace Café offers the option of watching services on live television monitors (Myev 2009). Outside of the Worship Center a diverse array of booths offer attenders workshops on topics ranging from parenting and marriage enhancement to family budget planning and recovery from substance abuse. There are also separate, age-graded facilities for children. For example, the high school student facility, the Student Zone, has its own worship center accompanied by study and recreational space, a café and an arcade. The Children’s Center contains a biblical-themed playground and video games.
Warren became a highly visible, influential Christian pastor more as a product of his organizational than his theological innovation (Gladwell 2005; Maresco 2008). Among his books he is best known for two best-selling books, The Purpose Driven Church (1995) and The Purpose Driven Life (2002). These books generated widespread public and pastoral interest in both Warren’s purpose-driven ministry and the role of the megachurch in twenty-first century American religious life. Together, these two books have sold tens of millions of copies. The Purpose Driven Life has been translated into 56 languages, and the book has been accompanied by journals, calendars, and inspirational messages with purpose driven themes. Sales of The Purpose Driven Life spiked in 2005 when an escaped fugitive who had killed four people, Brian Nichols, captured and held Ashley Smith Robinson for seven hours before he released her after she read to him a chapter from Warren’s book, “How Real Servants Act” (Kelley 2010).
Both religious and secular organizations have hosted purpose driven programs and workshops, and over fifty thousand churches around the world have undertaken “40 Days of Purpose” programs that are based on the book’s structure. Warren has developed the concept in other ways as well. He has established “Speaking in Series” program that focuses most church activity (sermons, literature, small group activity, service projects) around a specific theme during a four to eight week period. Another related program is “40 Days of Community.” Saddleback worshipers are asked to organize themselves into small groups, select a project that would benefit the community, and then conduct that project for a forty day period. Projects range from community cleanups and service at community shelters to food drives and prayer groups.
In the wake of his success as an author, Warren unilaterally suspended taking his $110,000 annual salary from Saddleback and returned all of his previous salary payments from the church. In addition, the Warrens donate all but a small percentage of their book royalty income to Saddleback and to the charitable foundations they have established. The charitable endeavors have included fighting poverty, illiteracy, and disease, with a particular emphasis on AIDS (Steptoe 2004).
Saddleback is organized in an innovative, corporate style that emphasizes Warren’s purpose driven theme. Organizational principles include articulating a clear organization purpose, emphasizing organizational vibrancy rather than growth, innovating combined with borrowing liberally from others, avoiding expensive infrastructure, offering attendees something they cannot find elsewhere, seeking out those who are not attending church (“Saddleback Sams”), challenging members with commitment and purpose, using cutting-edge technology and methods, and doing things that matter (Watson and Scalen, 2011). Forbes Magazine commented, “Were it a business, Saddleback would be compared with Dell, Google or Starbucks” (Karlgaard 2004). Saddleback was the first church to be represented on the Internet and uses the full range of available technology (podcasts and web casts, YouTube, and Myspace) to maintain contact with participants in its global network. Through its conferences and DVD trainings Saddleback has educated several hundred thousand ministers around the world (Warren 2007). The church is administered by several hundred paid staff members and several thousand volunteers who oversee the church’s myriad ministries and programs who operate out of a corporate-style office building.
Members are expected to do more than attend services; they are expected to actively participate in the church’s purpose driven vision. In fact, Saddleback actually drops individuals from the rolls who do not move toward membership and evidence this growth by making covenants, giving generously and developing from members into ministers” (Byassee 2004). Members who aspire to develop into ministers are expected to participate in ministries such as Warren’s church-to-church P.E.A.C.E Plan, which takes on the five “Global Goliaths:” pandemics, illiteracy, poverty, self-serving leaders, and spiritual emptiness. The solution for these programs is PEACE, which stands for promoting reconciliation, equipping leaders, assisting the poor, caring for those who are sick, and educating the next generation in developing countries around the world (Gramby-Sobukwe and Hoiland 2009). Warren wants each of Saddleback’s 2,000 small groups to adopt a village in a developing country, make mission trips there, and send educational and medical supplies, along with spiritual and financial support, to its residents.
Saddleback has grown into a major church and an international network. The church claims well over 70,000 individuals on its church roll and over 20,000 individuals attending on an average Sunday. Beyond the Saddleback campus itself, the church is the hub of several thousand “home groups” that meet weekly. Saddleback has also supported the development of hundreds of other churches.
Megachurches in general have received considerable criticism within the Evangelical community. As one of the most prominent megachurches, Saddleback has often been scrutinized and critiqued for failing to adhere to traditional Evangelical doctrine and practice. For example, Dennis Costella, minister of the Fundamental Bible Church in Los Osos, California, dismisses the purpose-driven ministry as simply “a marketing strategy” (Steptoe 2004; Costella 1998). This marketing strategy has been critiqued as reducing religion to consumer choices and individual needs while at the same time decrying Christians’ attachment to wordly things (Watson and Scalen 2011). From the perspective of critics, Warren is watering down the basic moral and religious commitments of the true Christian path. Put simply, a church is not a shopping mall in which consumers choose religious goods. Bennett (n.d.) sums this up as “preaching a pseudo-gospel and glorification of man.” It is argued that the use of advanced technology, such as virtual services, that seek to broaden religious participation may in fact weaken the connection between worshiper and church (Watson and Scalen 2011). Warren is also chastised for not adhering to a more conservative path on social issues. He supported California Proposition 8 defining marriage as between a man and a woman only but he has also come out for combating global warming, poverty and AIDS; reaching out to Muslims; and opposing torture. This conflict over Warren’s approach has reached down to the local church level. Individual churches have divided as traditionalist members of church congregations have resisted attempts to implement megachurch innovations (Sataline 2006; “Wall Street Journal Article” 2006).
For his part, Warren insists that he is not abandoning but is simply recasting bedrock Christian principles. He states that “I’m just translating the truth into 21st century language, and evidently a lot of people are listening.” He defends his methods as “evangelizing strategies, not theological compromises,” stating the unchurched to Christ requires reaching them where they are but not leaving them there ( Warren 1995a:199). Warren is convinced that the nation is on the verge of a spiritual awakening, as people seek the fulfillment they don’t get from fast-track jobs and can’t buy with gold cards. “The culture is asking, ‘How do I fill this hole in my heart?'” he says. “I think God is the answer” (Steptoe 2004). From Warren’s perspective, even if there are some compromises in his approach, they are more than compensated for by the successes in bringing people to Christ. As he has assessed the critiques of his method, “You can’t have a reformation without somebody opposing it,” Warren told the Associated Press. “If I wasn’t making a difference, nobody would be paying attention” (Matta 2008). Membership growth, then, is a clear demonstration of both the truth of the Evangelical message and of his method of disseminating that message. It is also true, of course, that as church membership growth slows, the success argument that Warren and other megachurch leaders make becomes vulnerable (Grossman 2008).
While Warren has received considerable criticism within the Evangelical community, it has hardly diminished his influence. The
Purpose Driven Life ranks very high all-time in copies sold among nonfiction books and has been translated into 56 languages. His purpose driven programs have been adopted by over 50,000 churches around the world, and those that have developed the philosophy and accompanying practices have often recorded high rates of membership growth. His influence has far transcended the religious sphere. Warren delivered the invocation during the 2004 presidential inauguration following the 2004 election and the benediction during the presidential inauguration following the 2008 election. He has been named one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals (Steptoe 2005).
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