Saddleback Church in southern California trained nearly 2,400 new church members on Saturday. It was the largest membership class in the megachurch's 30-year history.
Of those who participated in the church's introductory membership session, Class 101, about 800 were baptized afterwards. Founding pastor Rick Warren personally taught the program and then, with the help of other Saddleback pastors, spent more than three and a half hours baptizing the hundreds of new members.
Attendees were walked through three areas in their faith life: God's plan and purpose for everything; the history, faith and future vision of the church; and the importance of membership.
During the session, Warren recognized that the class was taking place in the midst of economic hardships, but he said the church was created for these difficult times.
"When bad things happen in life, don't ask why, ask how, and then discover what God wants to teach you," Warren said, according to A. Larry Ross Communications, Saddleback's public relations company. "The way God is going to teach you the good qualities in life is to put you in the exact opposite situation. How will God teach you joy? By putting you in the middle of sorrow. How will God teach you love? By putting you around difficult people. How will God teach you peace? By putting you in the middle of chaos. God never wastes a hurt. He can bring good out of anything."
Warren emphasized the importance of the five purposes for the church as well as individuals – knowing, relating, sharing, growing and serving. These purposes were discussed in depth in Warren's best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.
"The Bible says the church is the support and foundation of the truth," Warren said. "We in California know the importance of support and foundation, because we have earthquakes. If you don't have a good support and a good foundation when an earthquake comes around, your house will collapse.
"The same is true of every area of life. If you don't have the correct foundation and support for finances, relationships and your marriage, it will all collapse. God never meant for you to go through life alone; you need relationship, you need a spiritual family."
Everyone needs to find a church home and be connected and fulfill the five purposes, the well-known pastor said.
"A Christian without a church home is an orphan," he said. "We aren't in competition with any church. We want every church to grow."
Those who have completed Class 101 will be encouraged to take three additional training classes: Class 201 that focuses on growing in Christ, Class 301 that helps individuals discover their purpose, and Class 401 that centers on discovering mission in life.
Recently, these classes were updated and revised to incorporate Warren's PEACE Plan, an initiative to mobilize Christians around the world to Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation.
Warren will teach these advance courses in May, June and July, respectively.
Over three decades, more than 35,000 people have participated in Saddleback Church's Class 101. The Orange County-based church is one of the five largest churches in America and draws an average weekly attendance of 22,000.