THE MAN WHO PUT CONSCIENCE ON A COFFEE CUP ; Rick Warren's Megachurch Attracts More Than 20,000 Each Week. His Book Tops the Non-Fiction Bestseller Lists. Andrew Gumbel Meets a Preacher with a World Mission in Lake Forest, California the New Evangelism
Gumbel, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
Rick Warren is not your typical American evangelist. He's not an especially charismatic speaker, keeping his rhetoric deliberately folksy and low key. He's unassuming, a little bit pudgy and has a fondness for Hawaiian shirts, even when he's delivering his weekend sermons.
A longtime ago, he decided he never wanted to be on television. He doesn't think a lot of televangelists or the powerful, media- anointed leaders of the Christian right, whom he accuses of "self- centred consumerism" and self-aggrandisement at the expense of their spiritual mission. Until relatively recently, he worked almost entirely under the radar and, despite building a movement of extraordinary power and reach in churches around the world, was barely known in the broader culture.
And yet he has achieved extraordinary things, and intends to keep achieving many more. His church, which he founded from scratch 26 years ago in the freshly planted suburbs of Orange County, south of Los Angeles, attracts more than 20,000 worshippers each week, making it one of the three largest congregations in the country. His sermons, which he posts on the internet, are downloaded and used by thousands of churches around the world.
His book, The Purpose-Driven Life, has been America's top non- fiction seller for the past two years, doing twice as much business as The Da Vinci Code with 25 million copies. He and his congregants have adopted a unique method of organisation that has permitted them, among other things, to set up drug treatment programmes in southern California and the Mexican border town of Tijuana, provide three square meals a day for the entire homeless population of Orange County for 40 days, and offer training to more than a quarter of a million priests around the world - everyone from pastors in big- city churches to ministers in the smallest villages in Africa.
Business journals such as Forbes and Business Week have likened him to a spiritual version of Starbucks or McDonald's, spreading his "brand" irresistibly around the world. Starbucks has even honoured him with a long quotation printed on its coffee cups, part of a series in which customers are offered words of wisdom from major writers and thinkers. Warren's line - asserting that none of us is an accident, that we are all part of God's plan - is the only one from a religious figure.
And Warren has much more up his sleeve. He believes he knows how to tackle what he calls the "global Goliaths", problems so intractable that nobody has managed to come up with a solution. He's talking about poverty and illiteracy and pandemic disease, and even more abstract concepts like spiritual emptiness and egocentric political leadership. What he really wants to do is launch a new Reformation, in which the organisational power of churches - any churches, representing any faith - is harnessed to deliver what politicians and international aid organisations and NGOs cannot.
"The first Reformation was about creeds, and this one is going to be about deeds," he said in an interview in his Green Room - a soundproofed office right next to the cavernous Worship Centre where thousands of people gathered for a Mother's Day service last Sunday. "The church is the body of Christ, but really its hands and legs have been amputated and all it is is a mouth."
This is heady talk, of course, but those who have known Warren for a long time know he has an uncanny habit of delivering on even his most outlandish forecasts. Already, he has the ear of presidents and prime ministers. He has spoken at the World Economic Forum in Davos, at major universities around the world and at America's Council on Foreign Relations. Among his friends he counts business leaders, prominent management consultants and Bono of U2.
The key to his operation is not theology - he preaches a relatively middle-of-the-road, intellectually undemanding form of evangelism - but organisation. …