Vision and purpose are synonymous in many ways. While vision allows a church to see what it can become and the path it needs to take to get there, purpose defines the rationale and reason behind following a vision. Purpose for Rick Warren’s church is the main ingredient behind all that he and his church accomplished. Just as vision helps delineate ministries and focuses thus creating a filter, purpose operates in much the same way. When a church understands its purpose, it understands the reason it exists. It understands its placement and its responsibility to the community it serves. Purpose serves as a filter like vision and as such provides a church with the ability to measure success on whether or not the church is true to its purpose rather than the number of people who call the church home. Purpose calls for a church to measure and evaluate success and returns based on the accomplishment of its purposes. In this way, a church does not consider itself a failure if individuals leave the church as long as the reason for leaving was a due to the church’s dedication and commitment to its purpose. With purpose proving to be the litmus test behind a church’s true impact and success, it is no wonder that Rick Warren writes so feverishly about its need and application in today’s churches.
As the process of understanding and applying purpose moves forward, Warren suggests that the church should narrow itself to a target audience. He cites many scriptures including one’s where Jesus specifically told the disciples not to minister to anyone except Jews and times where Jesus stated clearly that He was sent for the lost sheep of Israel. Warren also reminds of Paul’s targeting of the Gentiles in his missionary journeys. Even though it is certainly biblical, audience targeting is probably one of the more controversial topics in a church. For most churches, their vision statements consists of calling the church to minister to all people and to establish a church for everyone. While this goal is lofty and good, Warren demonstrates through his rendition on styles, preferences, and context, that this goal is also near if not completely impossible. He gives the illustration of a radio station and how each station chooses its target audience. Country music stations will not play heavy metal music. Talk radio stations will not play pop music. They are designed for a specific listener. If they had a variety of musical styles, Warren rightly suggests that their listeners would turn the dial out of aggravation. When a church tries to be all things to all people, it will eventually find itself causing more aggravation, confusion, and disunity than imagined. The instability causes church goers to not know what to expect from one week to the next and prevents them from feeling at home or a part of the direction and purpose of the church.
Targeting different groups of people requires a church to decide what section of its community’s population it is best suited to minister to. This of course requires the church to understand its purpose. Warren sets the perfect example with his church. He had a vision for planting a church for the unchurched. Upon looking at the demographics of his community, he found that a large percentage of the unchurched of his community were young adults and white collar workers and families. Therefore, Warren knew he needed to conduct services, plan outreaches, and create ministries that would be relevant to his audience. This is not to say that Warren did not welcome others into his church services, but he was clear that his goal was to reach his target audience and successfully doing that was the most important aspect of his evaluation. Warren reminds the reader of Paul’s verse in 1 Corinthians where he suggests that he seeks to be all things to all people that he may win some. While sometimes this verse is misused to condone a church trying to be all things to all people, Warren points out that Paul was simply saying that when he was with Jews, he ministered to them in ways they understood. He did the same process with the Gentiles. In short, Paul targeted who he wanted to reach, studied their cultural tastes and circumstances, and then crafted his message to speak to their hearts. This ultimately is what targeting allows a church to do. In do this, a church helps free itself from distractions while giving itself yet another filter to decipher opportunities through as they come.
Warren’s last part of his book was extremely beneficial. He describes in greater detail his Life Development Institute which is symbolized by the now famous baseball diamond graphic. Warren explains his process of getting those who come to the church to also become committed to the church. His baseball diamond includes four main classes designed to have individuals learn about the church’s purpose and vision and then sign a covenant card committing themselves to it. Other bases teach spiritual disciplines that Saddleback deems important such as worship, maturity, and tithing. At the end of each class, participants are asked to sign a covenant card before proceeding to the next class. Warren admits that this is rigorous and could turn some individuals off, but he rightly suggests that high standards separate the committed from the crowd. I thought his point about parents having to supply money for food, trophies, and jerseys for their kids to play sports for community recreation was spot on. People ultimately commit to things, people, and organizations on a regular basis. Warren rightly suggests that Christ and church should be no exception and because it has been an exception, many churches have bloated membership rolls and congregations that lack real maturity and discernment.