LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Saddleback Church baptized 800 people in a marathon three and a half hour ceremony March 28, after nearly 2,400 people attended a four-hour class for people interested in becoming members of the church.
Several hundred people made first-time professions of faith during the “C.L.A.S.S. 101” session, according to a statement released by the Lake Forest, Calif., church’s public relations firm.
Senior pastor Rick Warren said the new members’ class — the largest in the congregation’s 30-year history — could be related to the economic and social turmoil people are experiencing these days.
“God never meant for you to go through life alone; you need relationship, you need a spiritual family,” Warren said in the statement. “The Bible says the church is the support and foundation of the truth.”
The new members’ class, which Warren taught himself for the first time in 10 years, introduces the fundamentals of Christian faith and Saddleback’s history. It explains that church membership requires commitment and accountability, including an expectation that members serve in ministry. Saddleback encourages people who have completed C.L.A.S.S. 101 also to take three additional courses that help new believers grow in Christ and discover God’s purpose and mission for their lives. More than 35,000 people have completed C.L.A.S.S. 101.
Taking the classes can be an eye-opening experience, said Jim Walls, the volunteer coordinator for the new members’ course.
“My life changed when I took Class 101,” Walls told the Orange County Register. “God used it to help me understand more of what He intended in a relationship. I learned the difference between ritual and a relationship with God.”
Walls also said he thought the stress people are feeling today may be one reason so many are looking to Christ for answers.
“Stress serves the purpose of softening hearts and humbling us,” Walls told the Register. “The greatest victory is when stress opens doors to people’s hearts to something better — that being a relationship with God through Christ. God can work a victory out of a financial crisis just as he does out of any crisis.”
Six members of one Saddleback small group in Anaheim were baptized together in the ceremony.
“It’s good to see God at work in so many people’s lives,” said Steven Tang, the small group leader. “This is what the small group community is about and what Pastor Rick is always talking about. It’s amazing to be able to live and participate in the reality of it.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.