(Photo: Saddleback PICS Ministry / Scott Tokar)
Prompted by the nation’s economic recession reflected in its own backyard, Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., opened a center with free community services aimed at providing Orange County residents with much needed relief on Tuesday.
Bestselling author and pastor Rick Warren said that in the process of his church’s food pantry serving more than 72,000 people with free groceries during the last year-and-a-half, staff members discovered that people needed help in several other areas as well. While some financial analysts have been downplaying the severity and length of the nation's economic downturn, Warren believes the country is headed into its fifth year of the "great recession."
Long considered as a fairly affluent county with miles of coastal property and mega-rich land developers such as the Irvine Co., the Saddleback Valley region located in the southern part of the county struggles with an 11 percent unemployment rate and a high number of home foreclosures.
Warren said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center that it was time to put the “community” back in Saddleback Valley Community Church, the megachurch’s official name that’s not used much.
“We are serious about helping people through this recession,” Warren told city officials, church staff, and members of the community at the ceremony. “There are more people hurting today than ever during my 31 years as pastor in Orange County. We decided that we’ve got to step it up. We’ve got to go to another level of care and support.”
Warren wanted to make it clear that the body of Christ (the Church) should be about serving those in need.
“The Church is the only organization created to exist for the benefit of the non-members,” he said. “Jesus said the Church is to minister to the community … to minister to the world.”
The community center opened after the ceremony in a temporary location on the church’s more than 140-acre property. Only the food pantry is presently in full operation. Named the PEACE Center, the facility is also a tribute to Warren’s PEACE Plan. Several years ago, the pastor envisioned a way to help mobilize Christian churches throughout the world.
The acronym for the PEACE plan is based on the five actions Jesus modeled: Promote reconciliation; Equip servant leaders; Assist the poor; Care for the sick; and Educate the next generation.
Plans for the community center include housing some of the church’s 400 ministries. The church also has many business professionals, including doctors and lawyers, who offer free services. The center will be a way for people needing services to connect from one location.
The facility will also serve as a type of “clearing house” and a “one-stop shop,” Warren described.
Church officials said the center’s services will eventually include financial training, career counseling, education classes for local adoptions and foster care, life skills classes, HIV/AIDS training and education. The church’s Christ-centered help for addictions program, Celebrate Recovery, will also be housed in the facility.
Warren said that as a result of the church’s annual Thanksgiving extra-tithe offering, that this year went toward the PEACE Center, more than $700,000 was collected.
“Some people chose not to buy a plasma screen TV for Christmas or they chose not to go on vacation to some great place in order to give to the PEACE Center,” Warren said. “Everything you see on this church campus is through the sacrificial giving of our church members and that’s called being like Jesus.”
Warren told The Christian Post that Saddleback Church is often looked at by other churches as the “test laboratory” for projects such as the community center in order for others to learn from them.
“Everything we do at Saddleback we intend to be reproducible,” he said. “We don’t do anything we can’t pass on to others."
He said he hopes the PEACE Center can be done by other churches of any size.
“The idea is that not everyone will have it at the scale we have, but we will have a template so other churches can care for the physical needs, the emotional needs, educational needs, and the vocational needs of the people of their community,” Warren explained.