Rick Warren Credits 'Jesus Model of Discipleship' for Saddleback's Growth; Says Large Crowds Don't Impress Him

Rick Warren and David Tamez, leader of Spanish initiatives at Saddleback Church at the LiderVision conference in Los Angeles. | (Photo: LiderVision)

Having a large church does not matter unless people are being discipled and growing with a purpose, said Rick Warren during a Hispanic pastor's conference, LiderVision, in Los Angeles Friday.

Warren, whose Saddleback Church boasts nearly 25,000 people, says having a mass following only counts if the church pastor has the right purpose and process and if they are the right person to lead.

"I'm not impressed with crowds, because a crowd is not a church. I'm not against crowds but you only turn them into a church if you have a process," he said.

Warren's message focused on the importance of implementing a structured process for church members to transition from being nonbelievers to believers, then maturing as Christians in order to develop their ministries.

The same way individuals undergo physical growth, every Christian must undergo various stages of spiritual growth as well, Warren noted. He also gave insight on Saddleback's "secret," noting that during their 34 years, the church has become successful because of their overall purpose.

He noted that in the Bible, Jesus tells his disciples to follow Him, beginning with no commitment. However, through time, He begins to give them requirements in which they must adhere by, one of which commands them to take up their cross and die.

"The business of the church is to move people from 'come and see' to 'come and die,'… it's the secret of Sabddleback church … we call it the Jesus model …," said Warren.

He added, "Jesus gave the first words of his ministry, 'Come and see.' This is the beginning of all ministry and should be the first thing your church says to your community. It allows very little commitment. It's a wide invitation and when you say it to the lost, you don't have to say much or offer anything …"

Warren noted that despite his church's large crowd, Saddleback still learns from its mistakes and follows the five purposes of the church as noted throughout Acts 2, John 17 and Ephesians 4, which are also best explained within the great commandment and great commission.

He said the first purpose of the church is to love God whole-heartedly, which is considered worship whether an individual is alone or in a crowd. The second is about loving thy neighbor, he noted.

While those two purposes are from the great commandment, Warren explained that the other three derive from the great commission which is to go make disciples, baptize them in the body of Christ and teach them everything an individual knows about Jesus.

Aside from building his church with a purpose, Warren notes that he has made it a point to live his life the same way. He also said his deceased son Matthew took on the same approach before committing suicide due to mental illness last year.

"My son had a tender heart but a tortured brain. When he died, I received about 35,000 letters from people and it wasn't the notes from presidents, kings and queens that meant the most to me, it was the notes from people whom Matthew lead to Christ," said Warren.

Even though last year was "the worst" year of his life, Warren says it was the best year for the church. Despite not attending or preaching at church for four months following his son's death, Saddleback grew by 4,000 people and baptized over 3,000 new believers, he said.

He also mentioned the topic of his son's death to note that "When the church is built on the Jesus model of discipleship, it keeps growing even when the leader is in pain and not present."

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