Saddleback’s “On Fire” Church Growth Strategy

Did you know that God brings calamity in the world so your church can pat itself on the back and grow at the same time?? At Saddleback Church, it’s not called a disaster, it’s called an opportunity.

Here’s most of a recent church letter that went out from Rick Warren to people around our area this week through the Orange County Register. To be fair, I am sure there were many good things that this church was involved in, but to be honest, a lot of this letter makes me want to puke.


Dear Saddleback Church Family,

Our campus has been spared, but with fires in Santiago, Modjeska, and Live Oak Canyons, so many of our members have been forced to evacuate their homes. So far, over 20,000 acres have burned here in our Saddleback Valley area.

Of course your church has been at the center of relief efforts once again. This is the eighth national or international disaster that Saddleback has mobilized for, so our disaster teams are quite organized and effective as first responders.


* Our 120 acre campus has served as a Fire Evacuation Center, caring for and feeding people who had to evacuate their homes. We’ve also been taking care of a lot of pets and horses!

* We’ve also been a staging area and Relief/Refreshment Center for the fire fighters. Today we fed over 425 fire fighters on our church campus. These fire fighters are from all over California.

* Our ministry teams have been placing evacuated families into homes of members.

* We’ve sent out over 100 of our trained volunteer chaplains to care, counsel, and pray at other evacuation sites.

* On Saturday, many of our relief teams will head to the hardest hit areas of San Diego, as well as serving here in our local communities.

As the fires have raged this week, I’ve once again seen the undeniable importance and benefit of being a part of a small group. While people without a church home or a small group were sent to evacuation centers across Southern California (like our campus), I kept hearing story after story of Saddleback small groups opening their homes to fellow group members who had to evacuate. I also witnessed small groups actually fighting fires together when a group member’s homes was threatened by fire!

THAT, my friends, is what small groups are all about! Your group carries you through a crisis! Right now I feel sorry for those who’ve never connected with a group. It’s never too late to join one.

(For those of you who asked: Yes, Kay (my wife) and Saddleback staff minister Elizabeth Styffe were captured briefly on video by a local TV news crew. Members of our small group were assisting in saving the Styffe home from the fire in their back yard. You may have also seen many of our college ministry (“CRAVE”) students working alongside firefighters on the fire lines.

1. Continue to pray for all the firefighters. MANY are Saddleback members.

2. This weekend, invite your friends and neighbors to hear my message of comfort, “HOW CAN I LOOK UP WHEN I’M BURNED OUT?” I’ll share God’s way to handle every crisis, and fulfill the first purpose for your life AND KEN BLANCHARD, the bestselling management author of all time, will share his personal testimony and response after his house burned down this week in Rancho Bernardo.

3. The following weekend, Nov. 3-4, invite everyone to join us as we publicly honor all the Fire Fighters at our six services Please pass on this word.

Remember, God’s purpose for your life is greater than any problem you’ll face. “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold-and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)

See you this weekend during 40 Days of Purpose.

Pastor Rick

29 thoughts on “Saddleback’s “On Fire” Church Growth Strategy”

  1. I’m not a big Saddleback fanboy but I really don’t see what’s so bad about this letter.He’s getting information out to concerned people in their congregation and encouraging the lay people who are serving each other.

  2. Mykel said…>> Is it such a bad thing for wanting people to know what SB is doing?Here’s what grabbed my attention in the Saddleback letter that makes up the bulk of the main post:(1) It is a letter addressed to the Saddleback Church family, but delivered through the newspaper.My wife pointed out to me the possibility that perhaps they thought with people being displaced, the Saddleback website, email, phone, and whatever other communication chains would not be as effective as a newspaper would.My reaction was that if I’m not already part of the Saddleback Church family, then this letter was not intended for me. But it’s in a newspaper, so it was intended for anyone who would read it.(2) It reads like a publicity press release. Steve highlighted the use of the numbers in the letter. Does it matter how many disasters they have mobilized for in the past? Does it matter how many acres their campus is? The ministry has been blessed, and that’s a good thing. They have helped lots of people, and that’s a good thing. At some point, the enumeration of how they have helped becomes a trumpeting of their good works.(3) The part about his wife and their small group struck me in two different ways:– First reaction was, “That’s great! People caring about each other and coming together to preserve one of the group’s homes.”– Second reaction was, “Wow. Were their lives in danger? Was it worth the risk?” Now, I’m not in Orange County or San Diego and have never experienced anything like this, so I don’t know what I’d do in similar circumstances. I just know that the reports I heard had people being evacuated for their safety. Did they ignore the evacuation order?(4) The part about the college ministry has a advertising feel to it. ‘. . . our college ministry (“CRAVE”) students . . .’So, Mykel, it is my assumption that your question was a response to my first note. If it was, my response to your question is:I don’t think it’s a bad thing for wanting people to know what they’re doing. Someone else already pointed out the lack of requests for prayers for those who lost their homes. I was struck by the absence of an invitation for those who have needs to come have them be met at Saddleback’s evacuation center, contrasted with the advertisement/invitation to attend one of the weekend’s six services where the firefighters will be publicly honored. Perhaps I’m lacking understanding of how evacuees are assigned to evacuation centers, and that’s why there was no invitation to have people come there for shelter/food/etc. The contrast of the invitation I would expect vs. the invitation that was given is what caught my eye.

  3. Is it such a bad thing for wanting people to know what SB is doing?I just think people find it easier to piss and moan about others than actually getting involved themselves.I like what Mark Driscoll says about bloggers who complain. actually he says nothing…he ignores them.

  4. First… this letter was written for publication in the Orange County Register. It’s meant to be one big advertisement piece. Rick’s great at that! Can’t fault him there.Second… if you read what I wrote I give them credit for the many good things they did. But possibly you had to be here to see their response first hand and realize that they really weren’t that on the ball about it. The “center” that they speak of, to my knowledge, wasn’t available until Wednesday…three days after the fires started. Still though… they did something.Third… the small group comments are a joke in my opinion. People without small groups, people that don’t attend church even, etc… these people had offers for people to stay in their homes. We offered people a place to stay, but later found that we might be evacuated. We’re not in a small group… we managed to do the right, friendly and neighborly thing. It’s called relationships! You don’t need church for that. Saying you feel sorry for people not in a small group has a condescending tone… again fairly typical. If you are in a small group cool…no worries, but there is life outside one as well that’s just as meaningful.Fourth… again, you had to be here, but I seriously doubt that the college group went around assisting the firefighters on the fire lines. Trust me… that didn’t happen. Everywhere in our community where there were fires and the firelines were drawn were blocked by police and no civilians were allowed close to the “firelines”. He makes it sound like the firemen said, “Hey you, college kid from the CRAVE ministry at Saddleback… we’re glad you are here. Get on your mask and jacket and grab this hose…let’s go fight the fire”. Pure pastoral BS.Finally… Marc…yes this story is about Rick Warren. I don’t fully disagree with him on many things, but you can’t read. Out of over 200 posts, I bet you there are less than five about Saddleback church and criticisms. I know I have probably written 2 about you… and Saddleback hasn’t had a whole podcast dedicated to it like you have. I know you are an attention whore and hate to share the spotlight, but keep being an ass that doesn’t really heal people but takes money to do it and we’ll keep ignoring you.

  5. Mykel… sounds like it takes a whiny bitch to know a whiny bitch. Nice to meet you.So everyone is free to do what they want and it doesn’t matter what they say right?? So if that is your philosophy on life why do you give a rat’s ass what I write here.Shouldn’t you focus on what you do and care less what Steve does (or doesn’t do according to you)? Use some logic will ya. You can’t have it both ways.And to answer your question: “Are we not all Christians working toward the same goal?” Uhhh… the answer is no… b/c if you haven’t noticed there are many different brands of Christians and there are just as many goals that they are trying to reach.

  6. Sheildsy… No doubt…AGAIN!! READ WHAT I WROTE!! PLEASE!!The church did some good things during this time…that is not the point.My issue is the subtle use of this letter, published in a major newspaper, to exploit the tragedy as a means to advertise and or brag.“Our 120 acre campus” – what’s the point of that statement??“NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS” –120 acre campus, sent out over 100 trained volunteers, come to one of our SIX services…. “HOW CAN I LOOK UP WHEN I’M BURNED OUT?” – the title of his message… ugh… are you serious??And as I mentioned before in an earlier comment… his embellishment of details… “You may have also seen many of our college ministry (“CRAVE”) students working alongside firefighters on the fire lines.” HA… working alongside firefighters?? Yeah like that happened.I didn’t find this letter. It was sent to me by a few people who thought it was a joke as well… and yes there is prejudice since all of them are former members of Saddleback and know Rick Warren and the way things operate there.It’s like a movie set… he makes things appear bigger than life when he talks…he says that LOTS of things are happening ALL the time, but the staff people that work there are often shocked and know that his details and the REAL details are often far from the same.SO LET ME SAY IT ONE MORE TIME…I published the entire letter to be FAIR and say that I am certain that Saddleback Church helped people and did some good things during the fires. That is not in question. I just read some things in the letter that I found a bit obnoxious. It’s not the the big things that bug me a lot about the church, it’s the little things. So yeah… call me prejudice. I think I have good cause. I don’t make this shit up.

  7. I agree wholeheartedly with Dan.Shieldsy, Jesus was not media-savvy. I’m not quite sure why his followers find it necessary.My heart goes out to all those in the fire-ravaged areas. I’m an Australian – bushfires are part of our lives every year. I have family members whose homes have been threatened by fire numerous times.Local churches should help. In my opinion they have a biblical responsibility to help. But turning it into a marketing opportunity is abhorrent.

  8. It’s a case of the old pygmallion effect again … seeing what we believe. You believe that Saddleback is largerly self-serving, circle-jerking, publicity craving etc. Therefore that’s what you see in their letter/press-release.I believe that Saddleback is compassionate, Christ-honouring, servant hearted and – yes – media savvy, so that’s what I see in their letter/press-release.It’s interesting to see a number of people posting about all the things they don’t mention in letter/press-release. I’d just like to point out that the list of things they didn’t do/pray for is infinite, but it’s probably a little bit shorter than the list of things lots of other churches/organisations/individuals didn’t do or prayer for.As usual in this sort of debate it simply comes down to judging motives – something that at the end of the day only God & Rick will be able to answer. But if you look for the worst you’ll be guaranteed to find it.Hope Saddleback continues to grow and that, even if it takes a catastrophe to be the catalyst, many more might come to know Christ.

  9. The only things in there to make me cringe are the stuff at the end (namely numbers 2 and 3 under “Three Things You Can Do”). Also, where is “Pray for those who’ve lost their homes, or have had to evacuate, so that they may find safety and comfort”?Aside from that, I’d be more pissed off if they looked the other way and did nothing.

  10. Marc… I wouldn’t say I am as intensely irritated about this as Mykel (or possibly you) are with my objections to it. I think it’s lame and superfluous (as I am readily able to admit that I am as well)!And I don’t think EVERYONE didn’t understand my point. I was just reiterating to those that commented and possibly missed it. In addition I don’t think I highlighted adequately what annoyed me in the original post. YES if he had done this to only his members who cares… it’s a circle jerk and that’s fine. Trust me…churches all over the country circle jerk each Sunday. Pastors love to do that…it’s their fav pastime.And yes… I want to spur discussion so that’s cool call me a troll. And to be honest I appreciate and respect those that push back against my views. Marc, Mykel, Sheildsy, you…. I think its cool to have the dialogue and discussion. Better than having a circle jerk here too. I welcome the opposition.I think what Rick did is very crafty and subtle. Again, it’s not a big deal and I knew that people would think I was being VERY nit-picky about it…and I probably am. But it hopefully draws attention to the times that things like this are more blatant in the church culture and we turn a blind eye.

  11. Do you you honestly think that nobody understands what your point is? Everyone read what you wrote, it’s just that everyone does not agree with your intense irritation with it. It’s not just marketing. The people in the church want to see stuff like this to. Everyone does.So, if he would have done this in a secret, members only newsletter, it would be somehow more justifiable. Sorry “d”, it sounds more like Steve is the one trolling.

  12. So you disagree with Rick Warren, there’s a news flash.Maybe next week you an read exerts from Purpose Driven Life and we can all get together drink some coffee and make witty jokes like good little Christian fringe cynics.Seriously, man come up some new material. It’s hard to be ground breaking when you keep churning up the same crap.

  13. Thanks for the clarification Steve. I guess I was confused by the first bullet point, immediately following HERE’S A QUICK UPDATE, where the letter says:>> Our 120 acre campus has served as a Fire Evacuation Center, caring for and feeding people who had to evacuate their homes.As I read that, it seemed very official.

  14. I think if you FOCUSED and stop trolling you’d see what’s wrong with the picture. But maybe the obvious should be restated:THIS IS NOT AN INTERNAL LETTER. THIS IS IN THE OC REGISTER. IT’S ULTIMATELY AN ADVERTISEMENT.Not only that, it’s an ad that capitalizes on the recent fires. It’s like a news channel running a commercial commending itself on its coverage of the fires, then segue- waying into it’s weeknight line up, with a very special episode wherein the main characters escape an encroaching fire.In short, it’s tacky. It’s this tackiness that gets the most screen-time, and because of that, we all tend to get associated with.

  15. I, for one, think the whiny little bitch is onto something here – namely the marketing of a church – which I also find a little strange – it’s a weird mix – it’s very business sounding like. Plus tragedy is tragedy and why is this not acceptable – does their always need to be a positive spin on times that suck? Honesty – can be a good thing too. I applaude Saddleback for their efforts in this time of crisis and the actions many of their community members put down – and I also applaude Steve (the whiny little bitch) for his actions in this same thing – and he’s right – we don’t need a church or bible college to make us a nice person – we either are or aren’t. It’s also a message wrote to people within Saddleback to assure them of their goodness for being affiliated with Saddleback Church – a ‘how great we art’ message. “Right now I feel sorry for those who’ve never connected with a group. It’s never too late to join one.” (Rick)So if I join a small group – in time of disaster – I will be alright? Is this the actual concensus across the board for all small groups at Saddleback? Why couldn’t he just thank those people who were kind enough to help others and leave it at that? Why shape this to seem like Saddleback small groups are ‘all that and a bag of chips’?“You may have also seen many of our college ministry (“CRAVE”) students working alongside firefighters on the fire lines.” (Rick)I think Steve made some good points about this whole thing – possible exaggeration from the great crew at Saddleback – and for what – a ‘good name’?I can see why Steve see’s this letter as a carefully crafted piece of marketing – because it is. The idea and intent behind this letter is very simple – come and join Saddleback or to re-assure those attending – look at how ‘great we art’ and all the cool stuff we did in this tragedy. And maybe they did a lot of cool things – but Rick is using them in this letter to ‘sell Saddleback’ to the converted and unconverted. I will ask very clearly – do Paul’s letters read like this?

  16. Not saying that you “make shit up” but how is this productive?I can see it as productive if you go to the church but what does it matter what they do? Shouldn’t you focus on what you do and care less what Saddleback does?Are we not all Christians working toward the same goal?Really you just come off as this whiny little bitch…

  17. Gang,Long-time lurker, first-time poster. I think Matthew 6:1-4 applies very strongly here, specifically in v. 3-4:“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”It’s one thing if the OC Register comes out and does a feature story on how Saddleback is helping. It’s quite another if a letter originates from the church office telling everyone how Saddleback is helping.I’ve read SCP for a little less than a year . . . usually the posts and comments here leave me not knowing how to respond. And yeah, Steve (as revealed through his posts and comments) is as far from being a Rick Warren fan as he can be. I’m with Steve on this one . . . it seems pretty clear that the left hand wants the right hand (and everyone in Orange County) to know what it’s doing.

  18. So easy to sit and through rocks at the church and the man….I would ask, is it easier to piss and moan or actually help?

  19. Read it and will apply the instructions in 2 Timothy 2:23-24 to my own life. Should have noticed the blog’s title and did that earlier.

  20. Why are we sitting around being critical of what someone else is doing? We are not the judge! If Rick Warren is self-serving he will have to answer to God. Our energies should be used on what Christ calls us to do and let Him be the judge.

  21. You criticize what Pastor Warren wrote for a newspaper (internal or external)? Do you know him?I don’t. But when I was 17, he spoke at a youth conference in Fresno, CA and the Holy Spirit used his message to call me into ministry along with several dozen other teens.When I was in the jungles of Bambu, El Salvador, I met a pastor in the village of 60 people who was leading his congregation of 12 thru the PDL.The associate pastor I work with daily was greatly influenced by Dr. Warren and much of our church’s success in reaching the twenty-something generation of Fort Wayne, IN has come from an PDC understanding we both embrace and use.I am quite certain I could max out your blog with testimonies of how God has used Dr. Warren’s sacrificial way of life and teaching to impact others – not to mention the major global emphases that he is leading right now.Perhaps you might take a moment to weigh the advances of the gospel that could be credited to God’s work in Dr. Warren against your view that he is promoting himself or Saddleback in a press release that was written in the heat of the SoCal fires.This might bode well for you as we are promised that we will be judged as we judge. And the measure you are employing is going to take some significant work and effort on your part to weigh out. You might want to start advancing the gospel by shutting down your blog and instead, sharing what Christ has done in your heart with your neighbors and friends. I say this with seriousness and not to start an argument. I think you have a great deal of work to do to measure up to the level of judgment you are leveling.Ray R. Harrishttp://www.ThePointeChurch.Com

  22. The actual letter itself I didn’t think was bad. I’m not sure why it was in the O.C. Register, but there may be a reasonable explanation.I’m glad the church stepped in to help. From what I can gather it is nothing more than the pastor informing the congregation of activity happening at the church and how they can continue to be involved.There is a lot I could critize him for, but I can’t say this would be one of them.

  23. Now that’s funny, you think Jesus wasn’t media savvy. I guess that’s why no one has ever heard of Him.He was actually amazingly media savvy, He had the prophets publicize Him thousands of years before he was even born. He then worked miracles that were heard of across the world, even being recognized by the world leaders of his day,And then, in a stunt unprecidented in human history, He pulled a “David Copperfield” and arose from the dead starting His own religion. Jesus wasn’t just media savvy, He was the media master.

  24. Yes Michele… I agree….Why are you sitting around being critical of what someone else is doing?? You are not the judge. If Steve Chastain is self-serving he will have to answer to God. Your energies should be used on what Christ calls you to do and let Him be the judge.You are the one making it about judgement… not this post. Hopefully you read the the last paragraph of my comment two before yours… but just in case you missed it…“Certainly, I am self-serving a lot of the time. And I think Rick Warren can be as well on many occasions (all you have to do is attend his Sunday services and see how many times he mentions his books to know that). But I don’t think either one of us is a pompous judgmental ass…. that’s reserved for stupid church people.”

  25. To give clarity on some of your feedback Dan:Saddleback was NOT an American Red Cross evacuation center for our area. That was El Toro High School. I can see why Saddleback did not make this offer, since they probably lacked the resources to meet all of those needs.Saddleback is located on El Toro Rd which eventually turns into Santiago Canyon Rd where the hotbed of the fires were. They basically set out a sign and obviously organized with the local firefighters to come over and eat…which is a very cool and generous gesture. I was glad to see that. The staging area for police and fire was just up the road (a few blocks from my house) and closer to the frontlines of the fire, so they probably welcomed a change of scenery.Finally, as far as fighting fires alongside firemen. The fire dept was overwhelmed with this fire and only sent firefighters to places where homes were being the most threatened. This means, firefighters were only in the most dangerous places. My experience was that as the fires approached, fire officials would come and seal off an area and clear it from onlookers. We were removed from a local park as the fires got closer on Mon night. I think its an embellished story that college students “assisted” to extinguish the fires. I don’t see it as being substantiated. I helped my neighbor down the street spray down his house and the vegetation around it as firefighters fought the blaze on the fireline 1000 ft below us on the hill… so in that sense I guess I worked “alongside” them to fight the fire. Ha!!

  26. Ray… I hope you read this.1) Yes. I know Rick Warren. I have known him for almost 20 years now. And I would consider him a friend and someone I respect. I am not sure how this is relevant (but you seem to). Let me ask you something… you criticize me, but do you know me?2) If you read this post and my subsequent comments you will see that I give plenty of praise to the good things Saddleback does… especially during this crisis.3) Excuse me, but are you really so ignorant as to think that just because someone does plenty of wonderful, amazing things in the name of God… that they also aren’t able and capable of doing very self-serving things to advance their own name. The two are not mutually exclusive nor do they cancel each other out. 4) This is an age-old situation we have… but you find it ok to judge me and what I have done or not done based solely upon this blog. You do not know me personally yet you have concluded somehow that I don’t share with my neighbors and friends, for example. Apparently, you have prejudged my spiritual depth. Often church people like yourself do those sorts of things…and this is largely why this site exists… to point out how stupid that is to do to someone. I don’t fault you for this judgment… you are free to do so. I only point out that it weakens and silences your position.Rick is promoting himself and his church. It’s a press release for God’s sake. You said it yourself. I personally think it to be somewhat (but not altogether) self-indulgent. You don’t. Why can’t we leave it at that? No, instead you make it about judgment. Not just about what I wrote or said, but about me as a person. Certainly, I am self-serving a lot of the time. And I think Rick Warren can be as well on many occasions (all you have to do is attend his Sunday services and see how many times he mentions his books to know that). But I don’t think either one of us is a pompous judgmental ass…. that’s reserved for stupid church people.

  27. LOL. You’re such an ex-smoker. But the small group thing was totally offensive. For some reason it reminds me of Brave New World. “I’m so glad I’m a beta.” “I’m so glad I’m in a small group”. It’s so hard to brainwash individuals when they won’t hang out with the rest of the brainwashed.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.