Rick Warren and Purpose-Driven Strife

This report originally aired on March 7, 2007.

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California may be the best-known pastor on the planet. His book, "The Purpose Driven Life," has been translated into 56 languages and has sold 30 million copies.

However, the idea behind "purpose driven" is not something Pastor Warren takes credit for creating.

"The history of this idea -- 'purpose driven' -- is not something I thought up in the first place," Warren explains. "There have been hundreds of books throughout history that talked about worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism."

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But while these five purposes are biblically based, there is no denying that Warren has popularized these purposes around the world. He says he has trained 400,000 pastors worldwide to start purpose-driven churches. But it's Warren's untraditional use of the Christian language that may be the reason for his enormous following.

"I like to teach theology to people without telling them it's theology and without using theological terms," he said. "Simple does not mean simplistic. Simple does not mean superficial. Simple means it's clear."

But Warren's "outside in" approach to church growth is now causing rumblings. This past fall, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled "'Purpose driven' methods divide: Some evangelicals object to 'Madison Avenue' marketing of churches that follow author's advice." In North Wilkesboro, N.C., one church exemplifies this schism.

Tom Bartlett is the pastor of Celebration Church -- now a purpose-driven church. When he arrived in 2004, the church was more traditional and was in a poor state.

Contemporary Worship

Bartlett said that when he first came to Celebration Church, the congregation was small and shrinking.

"There were 40 people my first Sunday, and I think the church had gotten down to about … 25 to 30 in attendance."

It was a small showing. But then Bartlett began to apply Warren's five strategies for church growth. He started with contemporary worship and, like in hundreds of other purpose-driven churches nationwide, out went the hymns and in came the drums and guitars. Within two years, the congregation at Celebration Church grew from 30 congregants to 300.

"We've taken a particular style that we think reaches the people that we're trying to reach," Bartlett said. "There's a generation of people that we're not reaching by and large. And predominantly, they're younger, and we see them leaving the church in droves."

But not everybody in Bartlett's congregation was excited about the change. One of the first people to leave Bartlett's church was a retired pastor, Joe Owings.

"Their music took on a much more contemporary effect -- pop music," said Owings. "[Bartlett] began to use, basically, the 'Saddleback Valley approach' to church growth and so forth. It was during that time that we began to get uncomfortable with the music. The emphasis seemed to be more on younger people and a new generation, and we just felt like we did not fit in."

'Self-Help Ministry'

Warren says on his Web site that "Purpose driven is not about a particular worship style." But many who follow Warren's approach tend to jettison traditional forms of worship.

And what about those people who don't want to hear guitar music, who prefer a quiet, reverent worship?

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