The sprawling parking lots and 3,500-seat worship center at Saddleback Church in Orange County were empty during the five regularly scheduled service times last weekend. Pastor Rick Warren canceled them on purpose.
However, that didn’t mean that the church’s 20,000 members were necessarily avoiding God.
Several weeks ago, Warren asked his members to consider God’s second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matt. 22:39) and put faith into action by taking at least a half day on Saturday or Sunday (Dec. 10, 11) to perform acts of kindness in the communities across Southern California.
The plan was called “Good Neighbor Weekend” and although church officials have put some numbers behind the neighborly deeds over the two days, there may be too many to count.
“One of the most powerful images from this weekend was seeing the church campus empty on Sunday morning, knowing that there were thousands of members out in the community sharing the love of God with others,” said Erik Rees, who spearheaded the event as the church’s Ministries and Life Worship pastor.
“It was an amazing picture of 1 John 3:18. ‘Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth,’” Rees told The Christian Post.
More than 2,000 members participated in the church’s pre-planned community projects and thousands more served with their small groups and families,
Rees said that a total of more than 50,000 hours of service were given to neighbors as a church family over the weekend.
Church members and groups painted houses, cleaned entire street blocks of debris and overgrown vegetation, served breakfast to the homeless and destitute, and much more. Some acts of kindness included smaller tasks, like simply one person bringing a warm bowl of soup to their neighbor across the street.
Other actions church members took included visiting severely disabled children in hospital facilities, doing yard clean-up or minor home repairs for low-income families, spending time with seniors in assisted living facilities, and serving families of soldiers who are deployed overseas.
Pastor Phil Eyskens of the Lighthouse Church in Costa Mesa knew nothing about the megachurch’s plan for Good Neighbor Weekend. Yet, on Saturday, 40 Saddleback members showed up to paint and repair his 14-room recovery home located inside the same building as where he leads church services.
Eyskens had a beaming smile on Sunday when telling his flock before church service about what the people from Saddleback had accomplished the day before. He planned to do a message on “hope” and it was easy to see it flourishing in him as the result of what he witnessed on Saturday.
“Good Neighbor Weekend was a great confirmation of our belief that ‘every member is a minister,’” Rees said. “When we challenged our members to serve their neighbors and equipped them with the tools to do so, their response was overwhelming.”
In its 31-year history, the megachurch has canceled weekend services less than a handful of times, according to Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Close to 20 of the Good Neighbor Community projects had more than 50 people participate in each.
“The relationships that were created or deepened through serving our neighbors will provide an excellent avenue for sustained service and sharing the Gospel,” Rees said.
Saddleback plans to open part of a community service center this coming weekend called the PEACE Center. Services planned to be offered when fully operational include a food pantry, clothing thrift store, financial planning, car repairs, and counseling, among other things.