Rick Warren, the senior pastor of one of the United States largest churches, is a man with a mission.

His goal, famously, is to take the Gospel to the whole world. And it’s not as far fetched as it may sound at first take.

In a phenomena that’s captivated the hearts and minds of much of the Christian world, more than two million people have so far taken part in one of Warren’s “40 Days of Purpose” campaigns and more than 250,000 pastors and church leaders from as many as 125 different countries have so far attended one of his “Purpose-Driven Church” seminars.

RickWarren

In the United States alone, 14,000 churches have run the 40 Days of Purpose campaign with more than four million people taking part. The latest campaign - conducted last autumn - had 4,500 churches involved.

Meanwhile Warren, who some are calling the most influential pastor in the States (in fact, national tabloid newspaper USA Today called him “the most influential evangelist you’ve never heard of”), has seen his own church - the Saddleback Valley Church based in Lake Forest, California (at the southern end of Los Angeles) - grow from his and another family when it was started in his home in 1980 to averaging a congregation of around 18,000 to 19,000 people every weekend (and peaking at as many as 25,000 when the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ was released earlier this month) with a membership of affiliated people of up to 55,000.

These days the Southern Baptist church - understood to be the second largest protestant church in the US (Willow Creek in Illinois is believed to be the largest) - has around 250 staff and around 30 pastors with Warren, noted for his floral shirts, at its head.

Marty Cutrone, national campaign director for 40 Days of Purpose in the United States, says the idea came out of many years of developing Saddleback Church around what he calls “purpose driven principles”.

“Virtually from day one, Rick Warren founded this church on purpose-driven principles and then honed them and refined them and eventually put them into a book entitled The Purpose-Driven Church back in 1995.” 

Cutrone says that around autumn 1999, Warren initiated the first of a number of spiritual development initiatives which later became known as campaigns. These culminated in the first 40 days of purpose campaign in autumn 2002 which centred on another of Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life

MEANWHILE IN AUSTRALIA...

As many as 640 churches across Australia and New Zealand representin more than 100,000 people are expected to take part in the Forty Days of Purpose campaign this April and May.

While as many as 40 churches in Australia are estimated to hav previously undertaken a “40 Days of Purpose” campaign by sourcing materials directly from the United States, it is the first time there has been a cohesive national event.

Stuart Duncan, chief executive of Church Resource Specialities (CRS) - the organisation through which many churches are sourcing the 40 Days of Purpose materials, says that it is important churches do tailor the material to suit their particular needs and culture.

But he adds that there are five “key factors” which all churches participating in the campaign need to follow if they want to see an impact similar to that experienced in the United States. 

These include ensuring there is unified, focused prayer coverag throughout the campaign, that the entire church has a concentrated focus on the campaign throughout the designated timespan and that those participating undertake not only to attend church and a weekly Bible study but have a daily quiet time and memorise a verse of scripture each week.

They also emphasise the importance of people acting on what they’v learned - after all, the campaign is about “transformation, not information” - and to practise what Rick Warren calls “exponential thinking” - thinking so big that we have no choice but to rely on God.

While Duncan says churches who have been through a 40 Days o Purpose campaign will be unlikely to do so again, he does expect churches to continue to utilise the resources on an ongoing basis in small group settings.

“This is a perfect follow-up experience for people who have recentl committed their lives to the Lord (perhaps through Alpha or the like) and need to know what God’s purposes are for them,” he notes.

~ www.purposedriven.com.au

That book, which has reportedly sold 15 million copies over the past 17 months, looks at how Christians can live their life with a balance of the five purposes God has designed us for. These five purposes include worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and mission.

“It begins to help you think about the fact that it’s really not about you and your desires and your fun and happiness; it’s really about God and it’s really about the fact that he has created you and its all for His glory,” explains Cutrone.

He says Saddleback’s first 40 Days of Purpose campaign was also seen an opportunity to widen the “campaign” to include other churches. “So we invited as many churches as wanted to to pilot test this campaign with us. We were thinking ‘Gee, if we could get a couple of hundred churches from across the country to do this with us it would be a nice little sampling’. Well, 1,500 joined us that first time through.”

Cutrone says that the first time through churches from as many as 30 different Christian denominations took part, a figure which has since risen to more than 66.

The program has also been taken into as many as 25 different countries spanning the globe, from Spain and Germany to The Philippines, Brazil, Columbia, Japan, Korea and China. 

“Our international scope and impact is about ready to explode...” says Cutrone. “The phone calls and the connections we’re making: we can’t produce it fast enough, we can’t translate it fast enough.”

Money raised through the provision of resources to other churches is used to meet campaign costs with surpluses put into developing the program internationally. 

“To create videos that are closed caption and to get all that done and to translate the material is enormously expensive. So all the surplus dollars are being invested in international outreach."

Cutrone says that as well as a tool for encouraging Christians, “there was no question that God is using this to reach the unchurched in record numbers”.

“Of course, we believe that the number one question that people are asking either subconsciously or consciously is what in the world is this all about; what am I on this planet for. And that’s why I think this book is so compelling because it drives at the heart of what people really want to know in their heart of hearts.”

There are a number of points at which church-goers can engage non-Christians during a typical campaign. This includes in the small groups which meet each week during the campaign to watch a short video and then discuss it. 

“That’s been an enormous outreach opportunity," says Cutrone. He notes that while some people may be intimidated about attending a church on Sunday, churches were finding many were more comfortable with meeting with a group of people in a home and discussing issues.

M062603002

The five purposes of life...

"You were planned for God's pleasure" - worship

"You were formed for God's family - fellowship

"You were created to become like Jesus Christ" - discipleship

"You were shaped for serving God" - ministry

"You were made for a mission" - evangelism

- Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life

Figures from Saddleback’s first autumn campaign show the church had 641 baptisms, about 1,200 new members and increased their average weekly attendance by as many as 2,000.

“I don’t think churches have ever seen this kind of catalytic growth in small group development before,” says Cutrone.

One of the immediate questions which comes to mind with regard to the 40 Days of Purpose is what happens afterward. Saddleback have recently developed a “day 41” strategy to help pastors and church leaders harness the momentum the church gained during the campaign.

“We certainly don’t look at the 40 Days of Purpose as being one catalytic event that just sort of ends,” says Cutrone. “Our hope is that people kind of continue on on their own...that they stay in small groups; that they stay committed to coming to their place of fellowship; that they continue to volunteer in ministry and continue to reach out to their friends.”

He says that when churches have been proactive about keeping the momentum going after a campaign, small groups have shown retention rates of between 50 and 70 per cent.

While as many as 12,000 churches from across the US and around the world are expected to take part in the 40 Days of Purpose campaign late this year (the Australasian campaign to be launched in April involves more than 600 churches across Australia and New Zealand - see breakout story), Saddleback, meanwhile, are now working on a follow-up campaign which “alumni churches” will be invited to join.

www.purposedriven.com