LOS ANGELES, Jan. 3, 2010 -- Pastor Rick Warren told his congregation Sunday his prayers were answered.
"We met our goal, folks," said the pastor from Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif.
The drum symbols crashed and the packed crowd erupted into cheers. In just a few days, Warren managed to raise $2.4 million to cover a $900,000 budget shortfall. He called it "radical giving."
Last week, Warren posted a letter on the church's Web site detailing Saddleback's dire financial circumstances and its urgent need. He noted 10 percent of the congregation is out of work, reflecting the nation's tough economic picture. Warren wrote, "We've stayed close to our budget all year. Then ... this last weekend the bottom dropped out."
Apparently, the total offerings of the last weekend of 2009 were half of what the church normally receives, plunging it into the red. Warren said he needed to raise $900,000 by year's end. After his unusual plea, the donations came pouring in over the internet. Most of them were small amounts.
"No big major extravagant gift by some very wealthy person," Warren said. "This was just normal giving by normal people. Fifty bucks, one hundred bucks, one thousand bucks."
Warren still hasn't counted all the donations that have come in the mail.
The pastor shared from the pulpit some of the e-mails he received.
"We're a one-income family, so our resources are limited," one donor wrote. "But God has remained faithful to us with our finances in 2009, and we know he's going to take care of us in 2010, so here is our gift."
Another wrote, "Even though this has been my worst year financially, I still want to help my Church."
The tough economy is taking a toll on churches across the country, even on one as popular as Saddleback, which has benefited hugely from sales of Warren's popular book, "The Purpose Driven Life."
Warren said such bad economic times mean even more people in the community are in need. Warren says the money will go toward the church's ministries which help the poor and the homeless, including feeding more than 200,000 people.
Warren's Congregants Also Rushed to Help After Hurricane Katrina, Asian Tsunami
Warren made similar pleas after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami, raising $1.7 million and $1.6 million from parishioners. But he called this most recent outpouring "history making." And Warren told the congregation, "You're an incredible church. There's no church in the world like Saddleback Church."
He calls the response to his letter "miraculous," adding, "That's a record. I don't think any church has gotten a cash offering like that off a letter."
Warren now ends the year in the black and starts the New Year with a surplus.