Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Purpose Driven Church Review - Part 1

Over the next few posts, I intend to review several aspects of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church. Having read it recently with the ability to reflect on the book 19 years after it was written, there are many things about the book worth discussing in today's context.

How has the Purpose-Driven Model fared?

The most natural question to ask of a pragmatic book is, "Has it worked?" Saddleback Church has certainly grown* in the past twenty years, more than doubling its average weekly attendance (~10,000 to ~22,000), but that doesn't really answer the question. As much as Rick Warren would like to credit his Purpose Driven method to the growth Saddleback has seen, it is entirely possible that a personality as strong as Warren is the primary driver for what happens in his church.

The true way to test would be to look at the hundreds or thousands of churches through the country that have modeled their ministry after PDC. Unfortunately, there is no central database that keeps track of these statistics, but a few observations can be made:

1. There has been some success. Rick Warren is happy to point out examples of churches that have grown by hundreds in attendance because of his insights.
2. Not every church that subscribed to PDC has succeeded. Pastor John Dickau of First Baptist Church of Lakewood (Long Beach, CA) saw his congregation size drop from 700 to 550 between 1998 and 2006 while trying to model the Purpose Driven method. He was no longer the pastor in 2008. Surely this was not the only such congregation that struggled.
3. Trying to switch ministry methods to become Purpose Driven has caused many church splits in this country [Christianity Today Article].
4. No church has attainted to the status of Saddleback over these 19 years by using the PDC ideas. Saddleback stands alone in its implementation of Purpose.

Stepping back for a moment and observing that there is some success and some failure using the PDC model, it becomes evident that there is nothing inherently special about Rick Warren's methods. Several churches have flourished and failed using other ministry models, just like PDC.

This doesn't mean that we cannot learn from Rick Warren's book. There are many practical issues that Saddleback has thoughtfully worked through, and as long as a local church remembers to apply each method to the filter of God's Word and to their local context, The Purpose Driven Church can be a helpful guide.

However, nobody should pretend that it is the panacea for church growth. The brightest and most godly minds could work tirelessly for decades and see little observable fruit. On the other hand, the clumsiest and decidedly average pastor could witness explosive growth, if the Lord is with him. In the end, it's not our methods, our wisdom or even our effort that causes church growth--it is God himself [1 Cor 3:7]. The church is God's church, and he will build up and tear down according to his will.

*Caveats apply when talking about church success and failure. I personally do not believe that the health and success of a congregation is tied to its numbers. Revelation 2 and 3 make it clear that Jesus' definition of a church's success or failure is tied to their following him and remaining true to his Word. Yet the goal of Purpose Driven Church is numerical growth, so it will be evaluated on its own merits.