I truly enjoyed the many principles given in this classic book on church growth by Rick Warren because they are easy to understand, based in Scripture, and highly functional. I will note five principles on church growth and development that stuck out to me; (1) The Five Dimensions of Church Growth, (2) Eight Things that Drive Churches, (3) Five Circles of Commitment, (4) The Five Purposes of Saddleback, and (5) Saddleback’s Life Development Process
(1) The Five Dimensions of Church Growth: (i) Churches grow warmer through fellowship, (ii) Church grow deeper through discipleship, (iii) Churches grow stronger through worship, (iv) Churches grow broader through ministry, and (v) Churches grow larger through evangelism (p. 49).
(2) Eight Things that Drive Churches: (i) Churches driven by traditions, (ii) Churches driven by personality, (iii) Churches driven by finances, (iv) Churches driven by programs, (v) Churches driven by buildings, (vi) Churches driven by events, (vii) Churches driven by seekers, (viii) Churches driven by purpose (pgs. 77-80).
(3) Five Circles of Commitment: (i) Community-Unchurched, (ii) Crowd-Regular Attendees, (iii) Congregation-Members, (iv) Committed-Maturing Members, and (v) Core-Lay Ministers (p. 130).
(4) The Five Purposes of Saddleback: (i) Magnify: We celebrate God’s presence in worship, (ii) Mission: We communicate God’s Word through evangelism, (iii) Membership: We incorporate God’s family into our fellowship, (iv) Maturity: We educate God’s people through discipleship, and (v) Ministry: We demonstrate God’s love through service (p. 107).
(5) Saddleback’s Life Development Process: (i) 1st Base: Committed to Membership-101 Classes, (ii) 2nd Base: Committed to Maturity-201 Classes, (iii) 3rd Base: Committed to Ministry-301 Classes, and (iv) Home Plate: Committed to Missions-401 Classes (p. 130).
Strengths: “The Purpose Driven Church” had many strengths, here are just a few: (1) Warren does a great job of dispelling “mega-church” myths, (2) The book notes some of the key mistakes to church growth, (3) He encourages the smaller churches to start where they are to begin to grow, (4) Warren spends much time trying to avoid compromising or “lowering the standard,” and (5) The book gives overall strategies for every major function of the church.
Weaknesses: Despite all the strengths I do see some major weaknesses and concerns, namely, (1) Warren seems to think that Jesus intended the church to have “two-types” of services, one for believers and one for unbelievers, thus I believe this contradicts the depiction of the church found in Acts and in Paul’s letters, (2) The book does not do a good job of describing Christian conduct or the outcome of true discipleship, thus as the reader I am left wondering, what does Warren define as a mature Christian, (3) Warren’s methods seem to emphasize too much on what “man” can do and does not teach enough how to rely upon God for strategies, (4) Some of the methods mentioned such as how to preach, lead worship, and offer small groups seem manipulative and not Spirit led, and (5) Warren does not prepare the “would-be-purpose-driven-pastor” enough for failure or disappointment, it seems like he presents his strategy as “fail proof.”
I have overall negative feelings towards Rick Warren’s book because I do not believe his strengths are enough to overcome his weaknesses. For example Warren says concerning methods for preaching, “Select your Scripture readings with the unchurched in mind. While all Scripture is equally inspired by God, it is not all equally applicable to unbelievers (p. 297).” He states that Psalm 58, “break the teeth in their mouths, O God” should be saved only for “your own personal quiet time (p. 298).” I believe it is verses like these that display the wrath of God that should be used with unbelievers!
Jonathon Edwards, an 18th century theologian and revivalist, preached the exact opposite in his world famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Which in his day had proven success and not only grew “a church” but transformed Christianity in America. Therefore, I believe Warren’s overall “soft” approach to sinners can be very dangerous and lead to their eternal destruction (See Ezekiel’s warning to the “Watchman” in Ezekiel 33).
Also, Warren tends to treat the Holy Spirit, the source of the church’s power, as an “embarrassing family member.” For example, Warren says concerning worship services, “God expects us to be sensitive to the fears, hang-ups, and needs of unbelievers when they are present in our worship services(p. 243.)” And, “We must be willing to adjust our worship practices when unbelievers are present.” He uses 1 Corinthians 14:23 to try to prove that Paul was the first “seeker sensitive” preacher. However, Warren chooses to overlook vs. 24-25, “But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” Therefore, when “visitors” see Christian worship and hear prophesy they should be made to feel “convicted,” “judged,” “laid bare,” and exposed as a “sinner.”
In conclusion, though Warren offers great strategies for church growth left alone they could lead to a greater destruction than having a “small church.” I would rather see “small churches” preaching the Gospel the way Christ did, than “mega-churches” compromising the message of Jesus. Therefore, I believe Warren falls under the category of preachers that Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”