When his book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," passed 15 million in sales, Rick Warren phoned his publisher, Rupert Murdoch, and asked, "What are you going to do to celebrate?"
Let Warren tell the rest of the story: "And he goes, 'Well, what do you want to do?' I go, "I want you to throw a party, and I want you to invite all your secular elite friends from Manhattan and let me talk to them.' And he goes, 'OK.' So he sends out a list, he invited 350 people, who's-who in Manhattan, to the top of the Rainbow Room, and I went up there and you know, I just started talking to them ...
"And I'm asking, as I talk to these people, 'Have you ever met an honest evangelical?' And the response is, 'Well, no, I live in Manhattan.'"
As far as I can make out, Rick Warren is an honest evangelical, and he sure doesn't live in Manhattan. The son of a Baptist preacher, Warren grew up in a town of fewer than 500. In 1980 he and his wife founded the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., with just one family in attendance. Today it averages more than 20,000 worshippers every weekend.
Warren is a prot & eacute;g & eacute; of the celebrated management consultant Peter Drucker, who advised him that "The most significant phenomenon of the second half of the 20th century has been the development of the large pastoral church -- of the mega-church," then added this caution: "The purpose of management is not to make the church more business-like, but to make it more church-like."
Warren doesn't necessarily believe that bigger is better, nor that growth rests on making Christianity easy on its members and attracting members from other congregations. "The reality is that most members of typical churches could not join Saddleback, because they would not be willing to meet the requirements," he says. "We're interested in turning an audience into an army and mobilizing it for good."
Warren believes his church is successful "because of changed lives. When people's lives are changed you'd have to lock the doors to keep them out, because they want to go where their lives are changed." Seventy-eight percent of Saddleback's members had no religious background whatsoever before joining. They are, strictly speaking, converts.
Pastor Rick does not attempt to run his whole show, act like a celebrity or influence politics. He relies on 9,200 lay ministers, who undergo a year's training, to serve 2,600 small groups that meet weekly in members' homes in 83 communities. Warren concentrates on being a local pastor, not a televangelist. From his book earnings, he says, he has returned to his congregation every cent in salary he received in all his years of ministry. He refuses to allow his nondenominational church to get embroiled in doctrinal controversies or divisive politics, preferring to heed St. Augustine's counsel: "In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."