Spiritual book having strong influence on churches

Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ is part of a bigger Christian shockwave coming from California.

At the epicenter is a wildly popular book on living, entitled The Purpose-Driven Life. The book’s approach is taking root in unlikely places like offices and college campuses.

The best-selling California minister who wrote the book, Rick Warren, preaches that we were all created for specific reasons that can be found in the Bible. A lot of “purpose-driven” people are committing themselves to mission.

At a fledgling church in Fort Worth, even though the weekly meeting could be any contemporary Sunday morning service, members can only meet at night because they are busy starting new churches during the day.

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It’s known as Team Church – a new concept invented by John Worcester, who sometimes calls himself Johnny Appleseed.

“We were about 50 a year ago,” Worcester said. “Now we’re 500, in what we call an orchard. Instead of one church, it’s an orchard of churches – several churches we’re starting at the same time.”

Worcester’s goal is for Team Church members to plant nearly a half-dozen new churches every year.

“We’re a year and a half old, and we’re in the process of planting 5 other churches right now, right within our first year. So we’re actively sending out teams to go out and start other “purpose driven” churches all around the Metroplex.”

The phrase “purpose-driven” comes from Warren, acclaimed as one of the most influential Christian writers in decades. His Web site offers purpose-driven seminars, sermons, study guides, merchandise and music.

The Purpose-Driven Life topped the New York Times Best seller list. The Purpose-Driven Church has sold more than a million copies.

About 8,000 churches of many denominations have used his 40-day purpose driven campaigns that leave pastors gushing.

“We baptized over 700 people during these 40 days of purpose,” said one pastor in a testimonial on Warren’s Web site.

“We added 1,200 new members and boosted attendance by 2,000,” said another.

Warren developed his magnetic evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He later founded Saddleback Church in his living room in Southern California. Today, the church claims 50,000 members, and scores of purpose-driven appleseeds.

About 60 pastors from across America came to Fort Worth recently to study church planting. Many, like John Worcester, have worked directly with Rick Warren, adapting his best-selling formulas and principles for finding life’s purpose through the Bible.

“When people’s lives are changed, they want to tell their friends, children, husbands, and it just spreads from person to person,” Worcester said.

Most of the new churches being created are Southern Baptist, but organizers said they don’t use that label because denominational labels aren’t inclusive.

One North Texas Methodist minister who just returned from training with Rick Warren calls the “purpose-driven” phenomenon the biggest thing to hit churches in decades.

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Feb. 17, 2004
Jim Douglas

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