The Purpose Driven Church Loses Purpose

In 1995, Rick Warren, who was then Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, wrote a book entitled The Purpose Driven Church.

The book became one of the most influential books in the history of the American Church. Over one million church leaders have read the book.  

I was one of the one million, and in 1996, the elders of the church that I pastored held a retreat to study the book and to understand its relevance to our church.

One early quote from the book reads …

Considering the Great Commission that Jesus gave to the church, I believe that the definition of fruitfulness for a local church must include growth by the conversion of unbelievers. Paul referred to the first converts in Achaia as the “first fruit of Achaia” (1 Cor. 16:15, NASB).

I believe in the Great Commission, too, and agree that fruitfulness should include growth by conversion.

Warren expressed a balanced view of growing both numerically and spiritually … 

God wants your church to be both faithful and fruitful. One without the other is only half the equation. Numerical results are no justification for being unfaithful to the message, but neither can we use faithfulness as an excuse for being ineffective!

Rick Warren summarized his approach to church growth and the objective of his book with this statement …

What is needed today are churches that are driven by purpose instead of by other forces. This book is written to offer a new paradigm, the purpose-driven church, as a biblical and healthy alternative to traditional ways that churches have organized and operated.

Perhaps the most influential part of Rick Warren’s book was his fourfold description of a purpose-driven church’s vision and mission. He wrote that a church’s purpose statement should be – Biblical, Specific, Transferable, and Measurable.


I still agree with the purpose-statement description from Rick Warren’s book. However, the title of this blog is The Purpose Driven Church Loses Purpose – so the book must have something with which I disagree.

I do! Not so much as what is said, but what is not said. 

A difficulty of the Church Growth Movement, in which Rick Warren and Saddleback played, and still play, a significant role, is the lack of an emphasis on one-on-one disciple-making.

Let me state clearly that I appreciate and learned from Warren’s book, and I believe God has honored his ministry. I’m not criticizing who he is or what his church has done. I’m discussing what is lacking in this book – from observation almost 30 years since it was written.

Church Growth, as a paradigm for churches, still produces large megachurches throughout our country and the world. That’s good. Most of these churches are Biblically conservative, which is good too. 

And these churches tend to be community-involved with ministries like food pantries, counseling, helping in schools, and many, many other charitable works.

But only five percent of American churches today have active disciple-making as a purpose. What is disciple-making? It’s Biblical, Specific, Transferable, and Measurable as one disciple disciples another. 

All Christians are disciplers and should be discipling one person per year.

Over the last 30 years, the spiritual growth of America has declined despite the growing number of megachurches, and I believe a significant reason is the lack of one-on-one disciple-making.

Disciple-making was not taught or promoted in The Purpose Driven Church, and since discipling is the goal of the Great Commission, this is the reason that I’ve entitled this blog …

The Purpose Driven Church Loses Purpose.

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