Megachurch pastor Rick Warren's call for a special donation two days before the end of 2009 has so far resulted in $2.4 million – more than double the amount he had sought for the church.
And more is coming in, Warren reported during a sermon Saturday night at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
"This is pretty amazing," said Warren, who made the announcement by bringing out 24 volunteers each holding a sign for $100,000. "I don't think any church has gotten a cash offering like that off a letter."
Warren also noted that nearly all donations were under $100 and came from members of the church, which has an attendance of over 22,000 across five different sites.
"We're starting the new decade with a surplus," he said. "It came from thousands of ordinary people. This was not one big fat cat."
Last Wednesday, Warren posted on Saddleback's website an "urgent letter unlike any I've written in 30 years," encouraging his parishioners to donate $900,000 within two days to help the church stay out of debt.
In the letter, Warren explained that church expenses went up this year to help care for the financially hurting community while the end-of-year donations are down as a result of the lower-than-usual church attendance.
For most of the year, the church reportedly stayed within budget but "the bottom dropped out" when Christmas donations were down.
"On the last weekend of 2009, our total offerings were less than half of what we normally receive – leaving us $900,000 in the red for the year, unless you help make up the difference today and tomorrow," the Southern California preacher stated in the letter.
While it's not unusual for a church's pastor to make a plea for donations on behalf of the church, some observers picked up on the story and reported on it as if Warren was making the plea for himself or as if the church had mismanaged its money.
Warren made it clear shortly after the plea was made, however, that the cause of Saddleback's financial shortfall was not a management issue but "simply by the way Christmas occurred in this year's calendar."
"After 10 packed Christmas services, and with Christmas Day on Friday, many people were out of town or too tired to come back for weekend services, so the unusually low attendance created an unusually low offering. That is understandable," he reported.
Warren encouraged his congregation not to be bothered by the misreports and false judgments but to march on.
"Saddleback is the most generous church family I know. You have always come through when asked," the fourth-generation pastor noted.
Warren made similar pleas after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in South Asia, raising $1.7 million and $1.6 million from Saddleback parishioners.
Presently, according to Outreach magazine, Warren's church is the sixth largest church in America with an average weekly attendance of 22,418.
This year, Saddleback celebrates its 30th anniversary.