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Saddleback’s 2004: most baptisms in its 25-year history

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Charlotte Hayes never had been a regular at church. Her family rarely attended when she was growing up, and she continued that pattern after leaving home. After getting married 18 years ago, she and her husband tried a variety of churches, but none of them seemed to fit.

Like many others who came of age in the past 30 years, Hayes saw herself as a spiritual person despite the fact she didn’t attend church regularly. She prayed every day, she believed in God and she tried to do what was right.

“But I never felt connected to Jesus,” Hayes said. “I had never given up control of my life to God and invited His direction into my life.”

When friends invited Hayes and her husband to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., last October, the couple thought they’d give church another try. It didn’t take long for them to feel right at home. Right away the couple joined a small group at Saddleback — one of the key spiritual growth incubators at the church. That month Hayes committed her life to Christ. In December she and her husband were baptized together at Saddleback.

Hayes is just one of 2,029 people baptized at Saddleback in 2004, representing the highest total in the church’s 25-year history.

“These 2,000-plus new baptized believers are the direct result of the 40 Days of Purpose program,” said Rick Warren, senior pastor and founder of Saddleback. “Those 40 days revitalized our people and revolutionized our church like nothing else we’ve done. I cannot overestimate how much it boosted everything in our church.” To date, more than 25,000 churches have used the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, which includes weekend messages, small group studies, daily devotions, and other features. Thousands more churches are signed up to do 40 Days of Purpose in 2005.

The record-breaking baptism total represents a much broader growth at the church. Weekend attendance in 2004 grew by more than 3,000 people to an average of almost 20,000. It was the largest single-year growth in the history of Saddleback.

During the fall, Saddleback launched a follow-up campaign called “40 Days of Community.” Some 23,000 people were involved in small groups in 83 Southern California cities. During the campaign, Saddleback attendees also gathered and distributed enough food to feed all of Orange County’s 40,000 homeless three meals a day for 40 days.

“The 40 Days program is what really got us involved at Saddleback,” Hayes said. “We’d always wanted to help and do something. This gave us a great opportunity. Then to get involved in the spiritual side through weekend services and our small group really helped us grow spiritually.”

New worship venues set up around the Saddleback campus also played an important role in the church’s growth in 2004. Those attending one of seven worship venues listen to the same sermon everyone else does through a live video feed, but the music is different.

Music styles at these venues include everything from heavy rock to Hawaiian to gospel and praise. Not only have these venues drawn people from the community who might not normally come to church, but they’ve also freed up seats in the main services for spiritual seekers. Nearly 2,000 people each weekend now attend one of those venues.

“The most exciting thing about these new venues is how we’ve seen people commit and connect to the church through them,” Saddleback associate pastor Tom Holladay said.

Last year, a record 3,319 people joined Saddleback through CLASS 101, the church’s membership class. The class is the first of four training classes designed to introduce church attendees to different purposes of the church, including fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. CLASS 101 focuses on how to connect with God, the responsibilities of church membership and introduces attendees to the church’s philosophy of ministry.

Because of the evangelistic nature of the class, nearly 200 of those who attended in 2004 committed their lives to Christ. The church schedules baptisms to coincide with the completion of each membership class.

“We knew that the biggest reason that people don’t get baptized is procrastination,” said Steve Gladen, Saddleback’s pastor of membership and small groups. “People knew that baptism was the right thing to do, but they just didn’t do it. We teach about importance of baptism in CLASS 101, so we hoped by giving people the opportunity to be baptized after the class, we’d cut down on the number of people procrastinating on this important decision.”

It worked. More than 20 percent of the people who took CLASS 101 after that point were baptized on the day of the class.

Susan Erskine was one of those who decided to get baptized immediately following CLASS 101. She and her husband first attended Saddleback in 2003 when friends invited them to give the church a try shortly after they moved from Louisiana. They liked the practical sermons and engaging services immediately, but it was almost a year before they took CLASS 101 and explored becoming a member. But procrastination wasn’t an issue when it came to getting baptized.

“[Gladen] talked about the importance of getting baptized and my husband and I felt like it was something we should do,” Erskine said. “So we did it right after the class.”

Saddleback’s leadership has already set a goal of baptizing 2,500 people in 2005 as the church celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Information on 40 Days of Purpose initiatives can be accessed at www.purposedriven.com.

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  • Tobin Perry