Rick Warren's Church Seeks $900K in 2 Days to End 2009 Debtless

Pastor Rick Warren of the Southern California megachurch Saddleback Church is encouraging his parishioners to donate $900,000 within two days.

In an "urgent" letter posted on the church's web site Wednesday, 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. Saddleback needs the $900,000 by New Year's Eve to stay out of debt, the founding pastor stated.

"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," stated the letter.

Warren noted that ten percent of the more than 22,000 members of the church are out of work this year. To help the struggling members as well as the community in general, Saddleback bolstered its charity services such as its food pantry.

The Saddleback food pantry fed 400 hurting families in the community every month, and over 2,000 different families received food assistance in 2009, Warren highlighted.

Other Saddleback charity services to help those hurt by the recession included a breakfast and homeless ministry that helped thousands in the poorest parts of Southern California's Orange County, financial coaching, and a ministry that collects donated cars to help those struggling with transportation.

Warren, in a recent interview with NBC's Meet the Press, said the number one thing he believes American politicians need to do domestically is "get America back to work."

"I think before health care or anything else, we need to get people back to work," Warren told NBC's David Gregory last month.

"There's nearly 10 percent unemployment. That's the equivalent of Canada being unemployed. And so we have to look at this fact that if we get people back to work, then we can work on some of these other issues," he said.

Given the high levels of unemployment, Saddleback members said they were not surprised by Warren's appeal for donations. Some members noted that people in their small groups were out of work and they are eager to support the church in its time of need.

"When Pastor Rick asked for help [after the 2004 South Asian tsunami], we did it in one offering," recalled Kim Offhaus to the Orange County Register. "People at Saddleback are very generous."

Meanwhile, church member Eric Bezko praised Warren for how he handled the church's financial situation.

"It's like people can give a Christmas present to the church," Bezko commented.

Warren concluded his urgent letter to Saddleback parishioners by calling them "the most generous church family" he knows that has "always come through when asked."

 "I love you so much," Warren wrote. "It is a deep privilege to be your pastor. I will be teaching again this weekend and writing to you about the lessons I've learned in 2009."

Earlier this year, Warren gave the invocation at the inauguration of President Obama and drew the attention of secular media with his comments about gay marriage and California's Proposition 8. The Hope You Need, the follow-up to Warren's best-selling novel The Purpose Driven Life, will be released in 2010.