Revival at Saddleback

Speaking of ‘Purpose Driven’ (in my last comment on the previous thread), apparently there is a revival taking place at Rick Warren’s church in Saddleback.  Warren feels that the recessionary times are causing more people to turn to God, and Saddleback is helping many of these people out with a large increase in food parcels etc.

I received this email from Facelift (please no comments regarding him since he can’t reply), and am putting it up here for any comments, since we’ve discussed Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven philosphy before, though not for a while.  Rick Warren notably has rejected the big salary and trappings that a man of his fame could have in Christian circles.

I am quite uncomfortable with the Purpose Driven approach, myself, however, its worth taking a look at what is going on at Saddleback right now.  It is extremely well organised, and does show what good organisation on a large scale can achieve.  It is a very influential movement which will and is affecting churches around the world.



Could the revival happening at Saddleback spread nationally?

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Psalm 126:3 (NIV)

Dear Saddleback Family,

In January, during my “Recession or Revival?” weekend series, I pointed out that history often demonstrates the fact that difficult times are fertile ground for spiritual awakenings.

Whether in biblical days or in the past 400 years, when people feel like giving up, some look up to God. I announced that we needed to prepare ourselves for the possibility that God would send revival in our midst during this recession. We now see it happening at Saddleback! In the past 60 days, our church family has experienced the greatest period of revival in our 30 year history.

Revival is an often misused and misunderstood word. Many so-called “revivals” are just emotional spectacles fueled by promotion with little biblical basis or result. So let me explain and illustrate some (not all) of the marks of true revival:

In April, we averaged over 40 people EVERY DAYcoming to Christ for salvation! Like the first church in Jerusalem, “the Lord added DAILY those who were being saved.” Over 1,200 new adult believers were baptized in April alone! Saddleback members witness to their unsaved friends like no other congregation in America.

Recently I baptized over 800 adults on a single afternoon, spending nearly five hours in our baptism pool! I wish you could have heard the testimony of each transformed life.

The stories of confession, reconciliation, and commitment to the biblical disciplines of prayer, daily Bible reading, and humble acts of service have thrilled our hearts. Who will ever forget watching thousands of people nailing their lists of sins to a cross at our weekend service?

Recently, over 2,600 people joined our church on aSINGLE DAY, committing to our membership covenant, and attending our four-hour Membership Class 101. We’ve offered Class 101 every month for 30 years and usually about 100 to 200 people attend and commit to our membership requirements. Imagine a membership class with 2,600 joining on one day!
50,334 people worshiped at one of our 46 Easter services. 45% of these people (not including the children in AllStars) were under 39 years of age. Pundits erroneously speculated why I cancelled two TV interviews with George Stephanopoulos and Mike Huckabee on Easter weekend, but I was simply overwhelmed with our 46 services and needed to conserve energy!

During these days of revival, 20,000 grocery bags were given out and you returned over 40 TONS OF GROCERIES to feed the poor, the widows, and orphans around us. During this recession, you’ve once again been a beacon of hope to our community. I wish you could read the thank-you letters from people who have never previously attended a church.

Over 30,000 of you are now ministering to your neighbors through our 4,000 plus small groups across 146 cities of Southern California. Our weekend series on “The Jesus Model” and our small group curriculum series, Wide Angle: A Christian Worldview, that Chuck Colson and I taped for you are reaping more changed lives in our communities.

No church in history has ever sent more members on mission around the world. On our recent 5th anniversary of the PEACE Plan we celebrated the 8,292 Saddleback members who’ve served overseas in the past five years. Saddleback mission teams have now served in 134 nations!

Then last weekend, 2,908 more families signed PEACE Commitment cards to GO and GIVE in the next 18 months. This will enable us to complete our 10 by 10 goals, including being the first local church in Christian history to literally obey Christ’s command to “go to EVERY NATION” by the end of next year!

Why does God continue to bless Saddleback in unprecedented ways, and what would it take for this local revival to spread nationally?
Many factors contribute to God’s continued blessing of Saddleback. Some are unexplainable, like God’s sovereign grace, and others are the result of choices God’s Spirit has led us to make. Obedience brings blessing. I could list a dozen factors but I’ll only mention a couple:

For 30 years, we have kept a laser focus on the five biblical purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. We refuse to be distracted by secondary issues, legalistic bickering, misinformed accusations, or envious critics. “Avoid foolish arguments, stupid controversies, spiritual quarreling, quibbles, and conflicts. These are pointless and worthless” (Titus 3:9). “Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). While others debate the church, we just DO it!

When God wants to bring a bumper crop of new baby believers into the world, he looks for the warmest incubator he can find. Most churches are unprepared to care for large numbers of new believers. Saddleback has a proven discipleship process that has brought tens of thousands to maturity. Most churches believe in discipleship but their only plan is to preach it. Since people forget 90-95% of what they hear within 72 hours, it takes far more than listening to exposition to develop a mature disciple. A national study by Lifeway revealed that churches using the Jesus Model discipleship process we learned from Jesus (from “come and see” to “come and die”) are healthier, produce far more mature members, lead in generosity, and send more out on mission than just teaching churches.

We are not afraid to associate with unbelievers or people we disagree with. You cannot win your enemies to Christ; you can only win your friends. So we purposefully build bridges of love to people so Jesus can walk across that bridge and save them. We don’t view unbelievers as “the enemy” in a “culture war” rather we see them as the mission field and as people Jesus shed his blood for. We do not compromise our biblical convictions, but we do apologize if we act or saying anything in unloving ways.

We also do not expect unbelievers to act like believers until they have the power of Christ inside them. Laws and politics cannot transform hearts, which is why we refuse to be political activists. Jesus said “I did not come to condemn the world, but to save it.” We want to have a Christlike ministry, which means we will be called “the friend of sinners” and will be attacked by modern day Pharisees and those who view everything in political terms. But the results are worth it: Over 22,000 new believers have been baptized in the past 10 years and we will spend eternity rejoicing with them!

Today I read again these words from my friend and mentor, John Stott: “The mistake the Pharisees made was worse than being a mistake about the meaning of holiness. It was actually a mistake about the very nature of God. They thought he avoided sinners, whereas God doesn’t avoid sinners at all. God loves sinners. He comes after them! He went after them to the desolate agony of the Cross. He has come after them in the Holy Spirit, and he is pursuing them himself today!”

While others splash around safely in the shallows of their comfortable church culture, you Saddleback members have always been willing to launch out into the deep where the big fish are. Our 30-year history has been one of attempting in faith what others fear to do. But where God guides, he provides. This year, we launched a risky new distribution channel to provide Bible study curriculum to church small groups nationwide. This “curriculum by subscription” (the 21st century version of the Sunday school quarterly) is The Purpose Driven Connection magazine. In a year when every other magazine is cutting back staff, we launched one – in a never-done-before format. The result? Churches worldwide are receiving solid small group materials and our second issue WON A PULITZER PRIZE for an article!

Friends, genuine revival is our only hope. Nothing else can heal our hearts, our families, our land, our world. That’s why we’re making an enormous effort to serve other churches this fall through aNational Life’s Healing Choices Campaign beginning in September. The eight principles of the Beatitudes of Jesus are the true path to recovery – whether personal or national recovery. Pray that other churches will join us in humbly following the path our Master has laid out in the Beatitudes. And pray that our efforts to serve other churches and small groups with this quarterly curriculum will result in transformed lives for the global glory of God!

It is a privilege to be your pastor. I love you with all my heart.

Rick Warren
Saddleback Church
Purpose Driven Network
P.E.A.C.E. Coalition

17 thoughts on “Revival at Saddleback

  1. “Why does God continue to bless Saddleback in unprecedented ways, and what would it take for this local revival to spread nationally?
    Many factors contribute to God’s continued blessing of Saddleback. Some are unexplainable, like God’s sovereign grace, and others are the result of choices God’s Spirit has led us to make. Obedience brings blessing.”

    Not a good use of the word ‘unprecedented’ … it implies that God has either not blessed any church like this before or at least not blessed Saddleback like this before … this is very unlikely, even if we limit the reference to Saddleback alone.
    To spread it Nationally … universal poverty and destitution is a good start.
    Not many factors … only one which is God’s undeserved favour. The idea that ‘revival’ is a result of our efforts to curry God’s favour stinks actually. The only reason for a ‘good’ revival rather than a ‘false’ revival would be repentance … not just of the people coming to Jesus but also on the part of the fellowship they are joining. Warren is essentially saying “Look how good I am/we are … Look at how God is blessing me/us!”

    While it is true that Warren ‘reverse’ tithes by giving 90% of the proceeds of his books to the Church, if you make 10 million US dollars, keeping 1 Million dollars is hardly modest. We only know how much he gives as he was ‘forced’ to reveal it after being critisised for making a lot of money from his books.

    Fundamentally, the selected quotation basically shows up the self congratulatory way in which Rick Warren hypes himself to the Christian public.
    In independent Evangelica-land, we are cursed by the phenomenon of the Hero-Preacher/Hero-Pastor. We want a King to rule over us instead of God.


    ok … while it’s good that Saddleback is reaching out to people who have lost jobs etc in a tough recession, they can only do this in a country that still has a residual of the majority of people having been to Sunday school and heard stories of the Bible etc. In other words, people with a ‘God Framework’. It is always good to work in a country with little or no social security. In the UK, these things are reversed. Good Welfare State and no ‘God Framework’.

  2. I note Bull’s comments but have a different slant, query perhaps.

    Ditto RP – definitely not a fan of the ‘purpose driven life’ model.

    However if God is moving through the generosity and actions of that congregations:

    1. should we not acknowledge this and praise God for it; and

    2. is it not OK as a pastor to acknowledge that ‘good work’ to the the church publicly.

    I deliberately used the words ‘good work’ because I know in essence that’s where the fault line is.

    works or grace, faith v works etc

    I think it is right to acknowledge, but of course the danger is ‘puffing up’.

    Some questions to ponder.

    Again I say that I am no fan of big church either, but I am wondering if I have to put my own likes and dislikes aside as a general principle here – not just talking about Saddleback.


  3. I did try to imagine how Warren baptised 800 people in 5 hours – that’s 300 minutes, and 22.5 seconds per baptism. Bit of a production line. Maybe he didn’t do it all by himself – it just sounded like it. 🙂

    Warren is analysing what Saddleback has done to be blessed with this revival – but he also said at the beginning that in recessionary times, revival is more likely.

    I think that’s an interesting point, since the GFC has really driven home how insecure many of the things we place our security in really are; and that no part of society is immune. If Saddleback has ramped up its programs helping the needy, then I am not surprised that people are responding by attending services that they wouldn’t have attended before. They will be reaching many more people, and with something tangible.

    It is good I think to praise God and acknowledge ‘good work’ that is done in Jesus name, to help the needy, because this is one of the primary things we are called to do, by Jesus and by the Apostles following. Even if we are critical of the Purpose Driven approach, this is a pretty basic thing they are doing which is good. (I’m taking it at face value; I have no idea what proportion of their work is giving to the needy, but it’s a better emphasis than building bigger and better buildings when the existing ones are fine, for example.)

    The question of publically acknowledging ‘good work’ is an interesting one.

    Yes, it does run the risk of being ‘puffed up’ when people compare their work to that of others. For all they know, others are doing exactly what God is directing them to, but it just doesn’t look as spectacular from man’s perspective. Measuring things in these ways is not always helpful. It’s God’s grace when we at times see the result’s of our labour –

    On the other hand, Paul did praise the generosity of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians, so acknowledging this kind of thing is good. Paul did this to encourage the Corinthian’s in their giving, and he commended them for their eagerness to give in the past.

    Yes, I think there is a time to put our own likes and dislikes aside, as a general principle, and look at things on their merits. If this is a real revival at Saddleback, then that is a wonderful thing. I am sure that if there are issues with the PD approach, in time these new Christians will embark on their own journeys that deal with that, in the context of their own walk with God. But we can thank God that he is using Saddleback’s ability to serve large numbers of people in a very demanding time.

    It will be interesting to look into this more.

    A couple of comments Warren made that I liked:
    “Many so-called “revivals” are just emotional spectacles fueled by promotion with little biblical basis or result” – I wonder if he’s referring to any recent ‘revivals’ we’ve heard about?

    “We also do not expect unbelievers to act like believers until they have the power of Christ inside them. Laws and politics cannot transform hearts, which is why we refuse to be political activists.”

    – I do agree – to me, the politically active religious right seems to want to legislate behaviour that really needs to come from a transformed heart. At the same time, I wonder what behaviour is ‘expected’ from believers, and what happens if someone doesn’t measure up?

  4. RP … of the two quotes you liked:

    1) of course he is.
    2) Quite

    Every top down attempt to legislate behaviour is doomed, ultimately, to failure. Banning homosexual practice effectively criminalised a section of society that did what they did behind closed doors despite the law.

    It is questionable whether or not decriminalisation has effectively encouraged people to experiment with their sexuality. What is certain is that it is pointless to try to turn the clock back to some golden ‘bygone’ age.

    On that depressing note I’ll go and make a cup of coffee. Yes yes … stressed out on coffee again. 😦


  5. I’m not sure that there ever has really been a ‘golden age’ – maybe there were times that looked that way on the surface. Those times still had all sorts of behaviours below the surface.

    I do wonder sometimes where the balance is between not expecting Christian behaviour from non-believers, and then switching expectations after people come to belief. For example, alcoholism or other addictions. I am sure there are people out there who believe, yet don’t just overcome their addiction on day 1. Are they enticed into a church by the acceptance they discover for their sin, but then rejected later when they continue to struggle with theat sin, and don’t overcome it in the time frame that people think is suitable?

    I’m going to start a new thread on this.

  6. “Warren feels that the recessionary times are causing more people to turn to God, and Saddleback is helping many of these people out with a large increase in food parcels etc.”

    I’m very skeptical these days when the word revival is thrown around, especially if their is one. However, a desire in me is to see a genuine revival occur. But I think it should be known that revival’s indeed take place where the church is persecuted or placed in a culture that clashes with values.

    I believe this has been stamped a ‘revival’ to soon. This is because man is behind the promotion of it yet again. If revival is genuine, I have often found word of mouth is proof of it to be through what is done in humility, not the person leading the way trumping it be the case.

    If it’s a genuine move of God or ‘revival’, why is so necessary to beat the drums for people to take part in it? They will be drawn by the spirit if it is. I have seen the spirit do odd things like this; believers/non-believers suddenly not knowing why they are at church, at a prayer meeting with two people earnestly seeking God, or believers being open to God’s obedience in a certain situation.

    Each person had a supernatural encounter with God (not angels, S&W), which effected their lives with God in a profound way. If God’s leading it, Warren should get out of the way and let the Spirit do the advertising for a start. That’s faith.

    However, I think that Saddleback are doing a rightful and beautiful thing. I don’t believe they are capitalising on people’s weaknesses here. They are DEMONSTRATING grace and love, the way God does to us. It does sound like many are getting to know the Lord personally.

    But Warren’s revelation about these “recessionary times… causing more people to turn to God” is like ‘no shit Sherlock!’

    What do you think happened to the churches at 9/11 and the first depression? People wanted answers to their needs now that their idols and weak foundations were destroyed by God.
    So God bought them home through shaking the worldly systems. Revival can come when this happens, but again I will not call this revival if man is trying to promote it to be as such. God has just revealed to Saddleback what needs to be done in this time and they are seeing results, the way any Christian can operate and see things done. Revival is radical where repentance plays a huge key in shifting communities into God and for the greater good.

    Warren sounds like a leader who has got the platform higher then other churches, crying out ‘We ARE THE WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE’, for the sake to be noticed in Christendom again. It’s ‘little kid syndrome’, wanting to be recognised by the other kids doing the same thing in the playground (because revival makes me look good!).

    But I am happy to see this take place in this seeker sensitive church. Don’t know exactly what they preach in terms of gospel message, but if they are being baptised, the sign is there that there is an understnading of our new life in Christ and our old is either dead or washed away.

    If there’s anything we can do, we can pray now that those young believers will mature fast and grow up richly knowing God intimately.

    I too had a huge problem with the book ‘Purpose Driven Life’ and other things he’s written about and done, but I can only hope and pray for the best here. I believe God is in this process in leading people to himself, and the people’s of Saddleback are doing wonderfully if they believe they are being obedient to God.

    It sounds as though his church has found a purpose in these tough times.

  7. I feel much the same way as S&P on this. I dont think there is any denying that Warren has been very successful.

    Some things are a bit jarring about the quote though. Has he claimed that an article in his Purpose-Driven connection magazine won a Pulitzer Prize? Pulitzer prizes are awarded for either journalism in a US-based news publication, for works of written arts or for music. Which category did they enter their article under? I cant see any confirmation that they did win a Pulitzer and it makes me skeptical of the other claims.

    This also makes me uncomfortable : “When God wants to bring a bumper crop of new baby believers into the Kingdom, he looks for the warmest incubator he can find…..using the Jesus model discipleship process we learned from Jesus”

    How does he know how God choosed to work? He works in mysterious ways – if He chooses to use Warrens church thats great but dont count on it. And they learned their processes direct from Jesus right – so no questions allowed, they have the direct line.

    Warren has avoided many of the pitfalls that befell other ministries from the 80’s-90’s, especially getting in to bed with the Republican party. But I’m not sure he wont fall into some other traps.

  8. That quote re the ‘new baby believers’ also made me uncomfortable. I can’t really see where Warren gets that idea from, scripturally. Particularly when times of persecution are often times of great church growth, and you probably wouldn’t find the ‘incubators’ very warm then.

    The Pulitzer prize claim is interesting – have to look into that one, when I get a chance, and see if I can find it.

    No one wants to criticise people finding Christ regardless of the church environment they find Him in. Perhaps the question is, what happens next? Have they found a relationship with Christ, or have they found a form of religion/works? Have they found love, or have they found a system where they will ‘earn’ a better future by living obediently according to a particular pattern?

    Anyway, it is dependent upon God’s work in people, which of these paths they ultimately take; the Purpose Driven approach seems to me to systematise relationship, which detracts from the relationship in the long run. However, there is no doubt it is pretty powerful when people work together, and it is possible to do so in love in Christ – so again, we have to look at the fruit.

    Many churches seem to see ‘fruit’ as being the number of new believers they bring in. If this is the case with Saddleback, then they will be encouraged that they are a ‘good tree’ and a healthy church. I think it is wonderful to see new believers; in fact I get teary often, when I see people commit themselves. But new believers are only one type of ‘fruit’, and I hope that they grow in relationship with Christ, and not relationship to a system.

  9. You can see how I have trouble believing that a strongly systemic approach, with a top down hierarchical model (or concentric circl), won’t jeapordise the primary role that love must play in our lives as Christians.

    But hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully its just my own experience with various versions of these approaches that has jaded my view, and not necessarily the outworking of most of them. I do believe that it is possible for people to work together systematically in love, but love has to be the priority. Jesus put love before obedience, when he superceded the old covenant. An internally driven obedience out of love is the New Testament model; that’s why I am wary of systems that externally regulate the behaviour of believers; much like the OT. Anyway, here’s hoping I’m wrong.

    And Bull, I’ve had two coffees today already, so another won’t do. I think I’ll put groceries away and clean the house. Before getting to my extensive pile of paperwork. If I tithed paper, I’d definitely be getting a 100-fold plus return!

  10. By ‘superceded’ I don’t mean ‘did away with’ – I mean, went beyond and improved upon.

  11. Thanks for the link about the Pulitzer prize story, RP. Looks like they reprinted a story from the St. Petersburg times that was a prize-winner. Not a story with any links in authorship or subject to Warren’s church or even to Christianity in general.

    Warren’s claim “our second issue WON A PULITZER PRIZE for an article” is inaccurate and in my opinion an example of his over-reaching and hype in promoting his organisation.

  12. Yes, it did sound as though the Pulitzer Prize was won by the second issue of the Purpose Driven magazine, rather than by the reprinted article. It would have been more accurate to say that one of the articles reprinted in the magazine won a Pulitzer Prize. That would have testified to the quality of the content, without seemingly taking some of the credit for the achievement.

    So one has to wonder about the context of the rest of the statistics Warren gave. For example – without denying that 40 tonnes of groceries is fantastic, how many churches did that represent? For one church of 4000, that would be pretty impressive. If its a group of churches of 100,000, then its still good, but the order of magnitude is a bit different.

    So how does one interpret through the hype?

    I think S&P made some good observations, both in questioning the need for man to promote a genuine revival, and also re Saddleback _demonstrating_ grace and love. It is notable that this particular occasion isn’t hanging on the back of one personality/angel or a hunger for miracles.

  13. Agreed, this is way more mature than the stuff that comes from the NAR guys or Danny Nahlia.

    This is a newsletter to the faithful encouraging them to keep with the program, because its working and God is using it. So I guess we can allow Warren a little bit of over-reaching in his Evangelisation of his program.


    A bit more about the revival. I did wonder about the 800 baptisms, and it turns out that Ps Warren was in fact assisted by ‘other Saddleback pastors’, so did not in fact personally baptise them all as could have been understood from the article. That makes more sense. A little more over-reaching on the personal level, it appears.

    But as you say, Wazza, it is more mature than others we come across, and the newsletter is to encourage the faithful. Though it does seem a tad promotional as well as encouraging.

  15. It is also notable that this revival follows a series Rick Warren did in January, called ‘Recession or Revival’. So I have to wonder how the two are connected. Perhaps it is a culmination of a series of evangelistic events or exhortations relating to evangelism, rather than an inspired revival that has little to do with man’s plans.

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