Pastor Rick Warren urged church leaders to guide their members through their spiritual walk in order to produce strong-standing Christians, and for leaders to recognize the importance of discipleship, during a webcast that concluded "The Nines" conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Warren's message emphasized how God has a systematic order to everything while adding that in the same way that each human physically develops through the stages of life, a person grows similarly in a spiritual aspect as well.
"People always ask me 'what's working at Saddleback?' and I always say the same thing that has been working for 33 years now and that's an intentional growth process," said Warren.
He said there are eight laws of spiritual growth and mentioned a few, including dimensional, incarnational, personal, relational, intentional and incremental, which he explained that growth occurs in steps.
Part of incremental growth is having a process set in place in which pastors "bring people to maturity," according to Warren. If they do not have one established, he says church leaders get their members to mature spiritually by accident not intentionally.
"This isn't anything new. For 2,000 years, churches have been using an incremental system for growth where they say 'you first have to learn this, then this,' it's not a modern idea," said Warren.
He added, "You must teach people how to eat before they can walk, and they must learn how to walk before they can talk, in other words, God wants us to know Him but we have to know Him before we can love Him, we have to love Him before we can grow in Christ so we can then serve Christ and then share Christ, this is the process."
During his message, Warren stressed the importance of strategizing a process for discipleship, otherwise "you're just playing games and guessing and hoping that people are going to grow."
To begin, pastors need to learn how to bring people in to church, then build them up, teach them how to serve and then send them out, he urged. He said this process begins by facilitating people into fellowship with other believers and encouraging them to the point where they reach spiritual maturity, which then eventually leads to training them for their ministry in order to ultimately send them out "on their life mission."
"You may ask, 'has this worked at Saddleback?' are you kidding? In the last 10 years, we have baptized 27,000 new believers and we've placed 32,000 people in small groups," said Warren. "Saddleback is the only church in America that has more people in Bible studies than on the weekend because each weekend, we have about 22,000 to 24,000, we have also placed 25,000 people into over 400 ministries and sent out 21,000 to 196 countries."
He said the intentional process of discipleship has evidently worked for his megachruch congregation, and even hundreds of thousands of churches around the world have used this strategy as a model.