A Letter from Pastor Rick to Saddleback Church About Reopening Weekend Services

Pastors and church leaders the world over are being asked, “When will we reopen our weekend services?” Recently Pastor Rick Warren shared this video and note with the Saddleback Church family providing some helpful thoughts regarding the timing, strategy, and motivation behind the decision on when to reopen large group gatherings at the church.

Dear Saddleback Family,

Since what I have to share with you is so important, I’d prefer you watch this message in the video above so you can see my face and hear my voice.I’m providing this transcript for back up, and I encourage you to share this with others.

While we’re all eager to gather again for worship, we’ve decided, for many important reasons, that Saddleback will be patient and wait for better conditions before resuming our large public gatherings.

I’m writing this to all of you in our church family because I want you to clearly understand our motivation and reasons for being patient in reopening. Here are six big themes I want you to understand:

First, our motivation for every decision is always LOVE and FAITH, not fear.

Knowing that God is in control, we are not afraid of the pandemic, not afraid of the government, not afraid of failure, or criticism, or anything else! We always act out of love – for God and for the people he created – and also out of faith in God’s promises. Four Scriptures have always guided us through one crisis after another:

  • 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has NOT given us a spirit of fear; instead he has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control!” 

We are calm, confident, and loving in our leadership.

  • 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Do everything out of love!” 

We ask, “What is best for the people we love and serve?”

  • Psalm 31:15, “You are my God and my times are in your hands!”

We trust God’s timing is perfect and patiently wait on him.

  • Romans 8:28, We know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.”

We look for the good purpose that our good God has in everything.

Second, our Purpose Driven foundation and structure gives us the stability and maturity that makes us impervious to storms. 

Storms never change God’s 5 eternal purposes. In fact, we thrive in storms! We run toward people in pain in order to help them. This is our 34th national or international crisis where we’ve led relief efforts through our PEACE Plan, based on the 5 things Jesus did in his ministry. Over 30,000 of you have volunteered to serve in 197 nations through The PEACE Plan – so when thousands of you were called on to serve in this new crisis of COVID-19, you were ready to step up again! Our unchanging foundation allows us to be fast, fluid, and flexible with the times.

Third, Saddleback has never been “closed” during these past 11 weeks! On the contrary, we’ve been doing MORE in our communities than ever before. Our buildings have been closed, but the Church is not a building! We are a living, breathing body. The church is a family, not a fortress! We are a people, not a place! We’re an army of servants, not an event of attenders. You’ve been taught many times that “A crowd is not a church.” Church is so much more than a weekend service! The church operates 168 hours a week!

So rather than sitting passively through this newest storm, our Purpose Driven philosophy has prepared us to instantly mobilize thousands of you for new serving opportunities in our communities, and the results have been amazing!

In just 10 weeks since the lockdown began in California

  • Saddleback opened 187 new pop-up food distribution centers while 123 other food pantries closed due to COVID-19. We normally feed 2,000 out-of-work families each month through our 3 permanent PEACE Centers. But this last month, we moved into high gear, feeding over 30,000 families representing 120,000 people! That’s a LOVING church in action!
  • In 10 weeks, you have personally led 2,800 people to Christ through one-on-one witnessing while you were doing acts of service to people in need! That’s a LOVING church in action!
  • Over 3,000 new small groups have been started during the pandemic and added to our existing network of 6,010 small groups. That’s a LOVING church in action!
  • Because you LOVE your neighbors and co-workers, you invite them to watch online. The result of your care for others during COVID-19 is that our attendance has more than DOUBLED in the past 10 weeks! Between the 2,800 led to Christ through your one-on-one witnessing and 3,451 accepting Christ through your inviting people to watch online – that’s 6,251 new believers brought into our family in just 10 weeks! That’s a LOVING church in action!
  • We innovated a way to do safe immersion baptisms by appointment while maintaining social distancing. Last night I baptized 48 more new believers, which puts us over 1,000 baptized since the pandemic began! That’s a LOVING church in action!
  • Almost 36,000 older and vulnerable people sheltered at home have been contacted personally by over 2,000 of you who’ve volunteered as Care Callers and Care Writers during this pandemic! That’s a LOVING church in action!

I could go on and on, but I think you understand that nothing has been shut down except our large group worship.

Fourth, our purpose driven discipleship system (CLASS) has created a culture of generosity that gives our church great financial stability and strength. Through CLASS,Saddleback members become tithers, which means we’ve never had to resort to emotional appeals or fund-raising gimmicks to support our church.

Fifth, we’ve already decided that our FIRST STEP back to reopening worship services will NOT be to open buildings that only allow 100 people to maintain social distancing, require you to wear a mask, and forbid you to sing! That’s a terrible atmosphere for worship! Instead, our first step back will be to move to “CHURCH IN THE HOME, which will use our small group structure of small groups. We will let you know when we are ready to make that move.

Church in the Home will not only be safer, but it will create a far more loving and welcoming atmosphere for warm fellowship and worship. Also, unbelievers and new believers who have been watching online for weeks will be less fearful of attending a smaller, safer venue. We don’t want their first impression of our church family to be a 90% empty and cold building.

Sixth, there is no doubt that small churches with 50 or so people attending will be able to open sooner than other churches with hundreds or thousands in a service. We DO NOT RESENT THIS! In fact, we will REJOICE that sister churches will be able to open even while we wait for our time! We are NOT in competition with anyone. Besides, other churches don’t have all of the advantages that we have for weathering this storm: our structure for small groups, our capabilities for online services, our financial strength to support a staff to keep serving you during this pandemic, our purpose driven values that focus on what happens during the week, and our ongoing ministries to our communities that have reached thousands for Christ in the past 10 weeks.

Some churches only offer a weekend “Crowd” service, so it is understandable that they are eager to start it again. But our church is structured into SIX different levels of commitment, and our other 5 circles have all been operating just fine, even with the closure of our “Crowd” weekend service.

  • As CONGREGATION members, we are still deepening fellowship.
  • As COMMITTED members, we are still growing in our discipleship process.
  • As CORE members, we are still ministering to hundreds of different needs.
  • As COMMISSIONED members, we are still reaching into our COMMUNITY.

This is the benefit of building a fully-balanced PD church on Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission. It’s solid in a storm. Nothing shakes it. We are a full-service church, far more than just a weekend service. If the “Crowd” event gets put on hold for a while, everything else keeps going!

Saddleback is not a perfect church (there are none), but we ARE a healthy church. It’s why we’ve been able to withstand this storm, and even EXPAND in this storm. So be patient! And keep focused on God’s 5 purposes in your life!

Have I told you lately that I love you? I love you. I miss you. I’m praying for you. And I am so very, very proud of your maturity, ministry, and mission in the world!

Pastor Rick

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