The Purpose-Driven Church

June 13, 2006 by

The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick WarrenI’ve had The Purpose-Driven Church sitting on my shelf for almost two years. It’s one of those books that you should eventually read for a site like this, but I never had the motivation. I mean, it’s Rick Warren. It’s a bestseller. It’s the forerunner to an even bigger bestseller. I could just see myself groaning at the lowest common denominator approach.

But that’s a rather pessimistic view, so I decided I better read the book. After all, despite the critics, Saddleback has to be doing something right. What I found is some interesting Saddleback history:

  • They’ve met in 79 different facilities in the first 15 years.
  • Their massive size didn’t come by leaching from other churches. 80% of their members came to Christ and were baptized at Saddleback. (Admittedly the book was written in 1995, so who knows how that number has changed)
  • They used a lot of advertising at first, but now with thousands of members and word of mouth, advertising is unnecessary.

Rick Warren has some interesting ideas and approaches, and while it’s not perfect, it’s worth taking a look at.

I liked Warren’s practical yet biblical attitude. Some take issue with this, but it seemed to me that Warren was eager to do whatever worked to reach people for Jesus, within biblical reason. He’s quick to throw out church practices and traditions that have no theological grounding and are more cultural ideas (he has a whole section explaining how church practices like altar calls and hymns are relatively new, and that Baptists were slow to embrace the old fashion hymn sing). It gives churches freedom to leave behind traditions in order to reach people.

What I don’t care for so much is Warren’s love for processes and lists. Every idea has a four-step solution or a five-tiered process. All that structure can be a bit much, and I can see how it rubs some people the wrong way. Of course it’s also worth noting that Warren is just being practical. Here’s what works, and if you have a way to get there it’s easier. It doesn’t mean Warren’s process is the only way to do it, but it’s one approach that obviously works for Saddleback.

Gold Mining
Rather than go on and on about what I liked and didn’t in the nearly 400 page volume, I’d rather just pull out the nuggets. Ready? Here we go:

Reliance on God
A lot of books and conferences on church growth fall into the “How to Build a Wave” category. They try to manufacture the wave of God’s Spirit, using gimmicks, programs, or marketing techniques to create growth. But growth cannot be produced by man! Only God makes the church grow. (13-14)

At Saddleback Church we’ve never tried to build a wave. That’s God’s business. But we have tried to recognize the waves God was sending our way, and we’ve learned to catch them. (14)

The problem with many churches is that they begin with the wrong question. They ask, “What will make our church grow?” This is a misunderstanding of the issue. It’s like saying, “How can we build a wave?” The question we need to ask instead is, “What is keeping our church from growing?” (16)

Somebody needs to boldly state the obvious: Prayer alone will not grow a church. (58)

We must avoid the error that all it takes to grow a church is organization, management, and marketing. The church is not a business! I’ve talked to some pastors who act as if the church is merely a human enterprise with a few prayers thrown in for good measure. After listening to them, I’ve wondered, Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this? … On the other hand, we must avoid the error that there is nothing we can do to help a church grow. This misconception is just as prevalent today. Some pastors and theologians believe that any planning, organizing, advertising, or effort is presumptuous, unspiritual or even sinful, and that our only role is to sit back and watch God do his thing. … The Bible clearly teaches that God has given us a critical role to play in accomplishing his will on earth. Church growth is a partnership between God and man. Churches grow by the power of God through the skilled effort of people. Both elements, God’s power and man’s skilled effort, must be present. We cannot do it without God but he has decided not to do it without us! God uses people to accomplish his purposes. (59-60)

Since the church is a living organism, it is natural for it to grow if it is healthy. The church is a body, not a business. It is an organism, not an organization. It is alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying. (16)

I believe the key issue for churches in the twenty-first century will be church health, not church growth. That’s what this book is really about. Focusing on growth alone misses the point. When congregations are healthy, they grow the way God intends. Healthy churches don’t need gimmicks to grow—they grow naturally. (17)

I believe that you measure the health or strength of a church by its sending capacity rather than its seating capacity. (32)

Church growth is a natural result of church health. Church health can only occur when our message is biblical and our mission is balanced. (49)

There is more than one way to grow a church. (61)

Don’t worry about the growth of your church. Focus on fulfilling the purposes of your church. Keep watering and fertilizing and cultivating and weeding and pruning. God will grow his church to the size he wants it, at the rate that’s best for your situation. (394)

As I have studied growing churches over the years, I have discovered one great common denominator in every growing church, regardless of denomination or location: leadership that is not afraid to believe in God. Growing churches are led by leaders who expect their congregations to grow. (398)

Even though I knew what these people really needed most was a relationship to Jesus Christ, I wanted to listen first to what they thought their most pressing needs were. That’s not marketing; it’s just being polite. (40)

Every church should not have to reinvent the wheel. … God has not called us to be original at everything. He has called us to be effective. (66)

Every church uses some type of methodology, intentionally or unintentionally, so the question isn’t whether or not you use methods. The issue is what kind of methods you use, and whether or not they are biblical and effective. (70)

Focus your resources on reaching the people your church can best communicate with. (159)

When finances get tight in a church, often the first thing cut is the evangelism and advertising budget. That is the last thing you should cut. It is the source of new blood and life for your church. (202)

Changed lives are a church’s greatest advertisement. (222)

You do not have to choose between the two [quality and quantity]. Every church should want both. In fact, an exclusive focus on either quality or quantity will produce an unhealthy church. (51)

We count people because people count. (52)

You cannot judge the effectiveness of your church unless your mission is measurable. (101)

A church that has no interest at all in increasing its numbers of converts is, in essence, saying to the rest of the world, “You can all go to hell.” (52)

The church should be seeker sensitive but it must not be seeker driven. (80)

Bringing people to Christ is too important a task for us to have such a casual attitude toward it. (155)

Church Marketing Sucks
If you look at most church advertising, it’s obvious that it was written from a believer’s viewpoint, not from the mind-set of an unchurched person. … If you want to advertise your church to the unchurched you must learn to think and speak like they do. (189)

More often that not, resistance is just poor communication. The message isn’t getting through. Churches need to stop saying people are closed to the Gospel and start finding out how to communicate on the unbeliever’s wavelength. No matter how life-changing our message is, it won’t do any good if we’re broadcasting on a different channel from the unchurched. (189)

How ironic that the church has the real secret to meaning, significance, and satisfaction in life, but we present it in such a bland, unattractive way. Compare the quality of a church ad with an advertisement from something else and you’ll see the difference right away. (346)

A long pastorate does not guarantee a church will grow, but changing pastors every few years guarantees a church won’t grow. (31)

It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. (61)

Faithfulness is accomplishing as much as p
ossible with the resources and talents God has given you. (65)

Because human beings are so different, no single church can possibly reach everyone. That’s why we need all kinds of churches. Together we can accomplish what no single congregation, strategy, or style can accomplish by itself. (156)

A church will never grow beyond its capacity to meet needs. If your church is genuinely meeting needs, then attendance will be the least of your problems. (221)

It is a myth that you must know everyone in the church in order to feel like a part of a church. The average church member knows sixty-seven people in the congregation, whether the church has 200 or 2,000 attending. A member does not have to know everyone in the church in order to feel like it’s their church, but he or she does have to know some people. (324)

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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8 Responses to “The Purpose-Driven Church”

  • RC of strangeculture
    June 13, 2006

    This is a really great synopsis, and i appreciate your attitude you take towards writing it saying you were a little “ughh” about it…i can understand that…i too can get that way about Warren, but I too am learning to appreciate him…not for his demagogue status, but for his honesty in trying to seek the heart of God.
    –RC of

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  • Micheal
    June 13, 2006

    Great overview. I read PDC back in my undergrad and felt the same way. Loved the practical biblical veiw, hated the lists. Thanks for your honesty and your ability to boil down the best and present it to us here. I have just started a new youth position and have been plowing through Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry. Thanks for the refresher and the supplement.

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  • Dan
    June 14, 2006

    PDC had been on my shelf for two years too so I donated it to my church library. I guess I have to check it out and try reading it again.

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  • emergingblurb
    June 15, 2006

    Its done the rounds in Australia too. I have not read the book or done the study as I have been outside the Church during that stage.
    I believe the authors to be authentically motivated but churches to jump on program band wagons…because that’swhat they do….that’s how they disseminate information. My feelings are that these attractional programs are more relevant to a boomer audience. they run on the premise that information will produce conviction, but a Gen X audience will connect better with a relational rather than propositional message.
    So I think it has its place but the days of the silver buulet are far behind us. Personally, I shrink away from attractional ministries opting for more missional/relational approaches…but that just reflects my world and demographic.

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  • David Benham
    June 29, 2006

    I’ve never been a big fan of Warren. He peddles a lopsided view of Christianity littered with half truths and ommisssions.
    His call to conversion at the beginning of his Purpose Driven Life book is an excellent example of his distorted version of Christianity. I don’t recall it word for word, but it went along the lines of ask God to be in charge of your life and there you go, you are in the church now. There was no mention of sin, redepmtion, or grace. Isn’t a brief discussion of these concepts important, especially when you are encouraging people to accept Christ? Personally, I think they are essential.
    Warren is obsessed with doing anything to make the church a comfortable place. Should we really be concerned all that much with making sure a Sunday service isn’t intimidating? Sure, we can (and should) make some consessions to seekers, but it’s a slippery slope when you let society dictate nearly every aspect of your local church.

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  • kevin
    June 30, 2006

    David, I hear where you’re coming from–you can tell from my review I wasn’t wild about Rick Warren. But I don’t think you’re giving him enough credit. He makes it very clear in Purpose Driven Church that he’s not about making church a comfortable place. Sure, he wants it to be welcoming and inviting for seekers, and he doesn’t expect much from them. But when people become Christians and become members of the church, he expects a lot from them. There’s a big distinction there that I think you’re missing.

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  • jane
    July 17, 2006

    The Saddleback vision is fine for Warren and his church, but uninspired, copycat pastors are wreaking havoc with their churches trying to apply this book indiscrimiately onto their congregations.

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  • Stuart L. Brogden
    July 17, 2006

    I found PDC to be a wretched book, with virtually no Biblical basis – far worse than his horrible PDL. All the “principles” he encourages people to use are pragmatic, focused on visible results, insulting to the Holy Spirit, building a social club and calling it a church.
    Detailed critique on my web site.

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