The Gated Community Church

April 21, 2009 by

Rick Warren’s Saddleback megachurch opened a new campus in time for Easter–in a gated community where you can only get in if you’re a resident or escorted by a resident. A gated community church?

The move has raised all kinds of questions, forcing Saddleback to issue an apology and retract a previous statement that the general public would be able to attend services at the new campus in the Laguna Woods retirement community.

Saddleback defends the move by noting the number of current members and small groups in the community who wanted the new campus. With an average age of 78 in Laguna Woods, this could be seen as an attempt to bring church to the people.

What do you think? Should churches ever be in a position to allow exclusive membership, or is this a good way to reach an exclusive community?

Post By:

Joshua Cody

Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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16 Responses to “The Gated Community Church”

  • Matt Farina
    April 21, 2009

    Matthew 28:19-20 (the great commission) says for us to make disciples.
    The bible talks about sharing Christ, sharing truth, where we came from, and what it means. Paul even talked becoming them to reach them.
    I don’t see a problem with having a church in a gated community to reach people. Is the objection based on something in the bible or a culture trend for everything to be open to everyone?
    This is a closed retirement community. Why is it closed? Is it a bad area? Maybe safety is a reason. Is it wealthy? If so, working on their hearts can put more resources to the mission.
    The question for us is not how open or closed the community is but what is being done to reach them, love them, and serve them? The church certainly isn’t rejecting people. But, what’s being done to build disciples in that community?
    Just my 2 cents…

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  • Erik
    April 21, 2009

    I guess you could treat it as a missions field. There are areas of the world that only a few Christians can get into, but they still need to know about Jesus.
    My question would be the motives to starting a church in a gated community, if it’s truly serving and ministering to the people, I don’t have a problem with it. If it’s about money somehow…

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  • UMJeremy
    April 21, 2009

    As a commenter put it on my blog, I think there’s a difference between passively exclusive and intentionally exclusive. This is an example of the latter.
    A church service in a nursing home or prison is passively exclusive, since people don’t generally go there without reason. But its mission field is without borders.
    But a gated community is gated precisely to keep people out. By planting a church in a gated community, it is intentionally exclusive and its mission field has big walls. **This is a bad choice for the church of Jesus Christ.**
    Here’s the blog post for further reading:

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  • Anna
    April 21, 2009

    There are several churches in gated communities that I know of in Georgia, however, if you say you are coming to the gate to attend the church, the guard lets you through. I too am curious why the extra strict entrance rules in this community, and also whether the gated community churches I know of began with such a welcoming relationship with the community’s gate and guard policies, or had to build those relationships over time. Particularly since this is a retirement community, I also see the church as potentially similar to a congregation in a retirement home or nursing home, but hope that eventually the community could trust the church enough to allow all who wish to attend the church to enter the gates freely.

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  • Chris S.
    April 21, 2009

    I have to give Saddleback the benefit of the doubt here. I’ve not seen them doing anything that would raise an eyebrow before and this community of Laguna Woods happens to have a population of about 18,000 that live within it’s gates.
    Should there not be a church in a community of that size?

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  • Adam Lehman
    April 21, 2009

    Laguna Woods has a community of 18000 people living there.
    That is 18000 people.
    So being exclusive? Yes! Only the closest 18000 (and their friends) can come to the church service.
    If you live outside of that 18000 people, then you’ll have to find a different congregation to worship at.
    Unfortunately, churchmarketingsucks decided not to include that LITTLE detail in their blog post.

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  • Adam R
    April 21, 2009

    Motives really are the heart of the issue. Jesus never condemned actions without addressing the heart and motives of the individual. I can understand the mission field concept…if this is a ministry of the church to reach out to a lost community of non-church go-ers. BUT, it sounds like this is something the community is asking for, which, without judging hearts, makes one question why they would want the church to be inside their gates.
    I’m not a big fan of the idea to establish a “church” for believers who don’t want to leave their gates and interact in a larger community, but I am for reaching lost people that need Jesus.
    @Adam Lehman – no need to attack this website. I don’t think they tried to hold anything back. They very clearly stated the situation that it is a gated community. If you understand what that is, then you understand there is a limit to the number of people living within it. 18,000 is actually a rather large gated community.

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  • anthony
    April 21, 2009

    details important on this post guys. Laguna Woods is primarily individuals who are 55+ and many cannot drive an auto.
    Help the vintage audience out, another innovative idea from Saddleback Team. Great job.

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  • Ted
    April 21, 2009

    I vote with those who say this new ‘campus’ is an attempt to get into the wallets of the 18,000 retirees.
    Anything Saddleback does from this point forward should be held with upmost CONTEMPT. Until they kick that spineless Warren out of the pulpit, that is.

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  • The exclusivity is being enforced by the community, not the church, correct? I don’t think you can blame Saddleback for anything other than a miscommunication. They just happen to be a church in a gated community.
    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Anyone claiming it as cowardice or money-motivated without firsthand proof is simply bitter.
    On a bigger scope, I sometimes wish I as a marketer could enforce a “gated community” approach to my products and services. It helps reinforce the whole idea of target marketing that, I believe, is a popular concept with visitors of this site . . . .

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  • myles
    April 21, 2009

    good idea. if we follow the nay-sayers we should close down prison ministries…as they have a restricted audience too!

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  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    April 22, 2009

    Easy there, folks, let’s keep the claws in on this one. There’s no right and wrong here, it’s just what you think of the idea.
    Adam Lehman, we intentionally didn’t include the number of people in this community. Would it change anything if it were 18 instead of 18,000? This situation raises the same questions, regardless of the numbers.
    Anthony, we did include the age of the folks in the community. I think that’s the primary reason why this might be a good idea–bring the people to the church.

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  • ChristineBierma
    April 22, 2009

    This is a story that tempts each of us to rush to judgement and I think we need to avoid that. As I see it, Saddleback said the motive was to bring the church to this community. What is wrong with that? As our population ages shouldn’t we go where they are…for today and for tomorrow? Communities like this are constantly changing, so if there is a group of believers who want to plant a church now they shouldn’t be denied or judged. This community will be served for years to come and will possibly have a eternal impact on the lives of people who aren’t even residents yet. Should we exclude an aging community because of where they live? We need to go out and preach the gospel… and this looks like an attempt to do just that.

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  • jason
    April 24, 2009

    did any of you even map out where this new campus of saddleback church is? it’s just a few miles down the street from the main Lake Forest campus. so if people can’t get into the retirement community (which they probably wouldn’t even know about unless they lived in said retirement community) then they can always drive to the main campus.
    it should also be noted that the pastor for this new campus also lives in the community and I am sure that he would be more than happy to get visitors thru the gates as needed!
    it is so shameful to me how we as christians treat other christians thru online social mediums like this. I know that God must be embarrassed – and fortunately he is forgiving!

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  • Matt Beeman
    May 14, 2009

    The church should go where it can reach people, and from what I understand, this is not a small community, that it has more than 1000 people in the community, and bringing them a church in their community makes sense. The church is not trying to keep people out, they just have to work within the rules of the community that they have placed themselves. It is any different from placing an “above ground” church in China and dealing with those regulations regarding what religious activity is allowed there?

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  • Hope
    June 1, 2010

    I don’t see a problem with this. It’s a SATELITE church – not the main church. They’re just offering another church option. It sounds like it’s something residents wanted, and the church is responding to that. How is that wrong?

    We have a retired missionary at our church. He told me once about getting invited to hold a weekly bible study in a resrticted access apartmetn in Brazil (the equivalent of a gated community). He went and the Word was given to those who wouldn’t have received it otherwise. It was quite productive.

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