The Apostasy 2.0? Now Purpose Driven

Preaching against sin and vice may be taking a backdoor to Madison Avenue-style church growth marketing plans based on the popular “Purpose Driven” approach that is sweeping the American religious scene, at least according to the Wall Street Journal. This movement gets front page attention in WSJ’s Sept. 5 edition in the article, “A Popular Strategy For Church Growth Splits Congregants” by Suzanne Sataline. The controversy centers on Rev. Rick Warren, the pastor of the huge and popular Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, now famous for his book “The Purpose Driven Life.” Over 25 million have been sold. According to the WSJ, Rev. Warren’s book has “spawned an industry advising churches to become ‘purpose-driven’ by attracting nonbelievers with lively worship services” and by making classes and sermons more relevant rather than focusing on traditional themes. I’m all for more liveliness and relevance, especially when I think back on all the dull lessons and talks I’ve given. But there are some controversial issues around this “purpose driven” approach.

Quite a fury has been stirred in some congregations, with many evangelicals charging that this approach is diluting Christianity. Some say it is “inappropriate for churches to use growth tactics akin to modern management tools, including concepts such as researching the church ‘market’ and writing mission statements. Others say it encourages simplistic Bible teaching.” I’ve read some comments online calling it pure evil.

Mr. Warren preaches in sandals and a Hawaiian shirt, and he encourages ministers to banish church traditions such as hymns, choirs and pews. He and his followers use “praise team” singers, backed by rock bands playing contemporary Christian songs. His sermons rarely linger on self-denial and fighting sin, instead focusing on healing modern American angst, such as troubled marriages and stress.

I see two possible problems here. First, when the goal is to reach marketing objectives and gain popularity, the message of repentance often has to go. If so, it could be Apostasy 2.0. Of course, growth and dilution of the Gospel message don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand. As for the second problem, I’m not into Hawaiian shirts.

There may be other serious issues, including hardball tactics used to implement the marketing plans:

Some pastors learn how to make their churches purpose-driven through training workshops. Speakers at Church Transitions Inc., a Waxhaw, N.C., nonprofit that works closely with Mr. Warren’s church, stress that the transition will be rough. At a seminar outside of Austin, Texas, in April, the Revs. Roddy Clyde and Glen Sartain advised 80 audience members to trust very few people with their plans. “All the forces of hell are going to come at you when you wake up that church,” said Mr. Sartain, who has taught the material at Mr. Warren’s Saddleback Church.

During a session titled “Dealing with Opposition,” Mr. Clyde recommended that the pastor speak to critical members, then help them leave if they don’t stop objecting. Then when those congregants join a new church, Mr. Clyde instructed, pastors should call their new minister and suggest that the congregants be barred from any leadership role.

“There are moments when you’ve got to play hardball,” said the Rev. Dan Southerland, Church Transitions’ president, in an interview. “You cannot transition a church…and placate every whiny Christian along the way.”

I suspect that WSJ is being too harsh on the purpose-driven approach. I’ve had some acquaintances praise it and say that it has really helped them get religion back into their lives. And any change is going to be controversial and get some people riled. We’ve seen that plenty of times in our own religion.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

23 thoughts on “The Apostasy 2.0? Now Purpose Driven

  1. As with any broad based marketiing/strategy plan, simply take what you think will work for your customer base (forgive that reference) and adapt it to work.

    The LDS church could certainly benefit from change that livens things up and focuses more on problems that today’s member is facing. How many different ways can you say pay your tithing and obey the word of widsom.

  2. Mostly agreed. Word of Wisdom is one of the last things we need another sermon about these days. It needs to be taught, but not as the “core” of the Gospel, as some people seem to think it is.

  3. I love the ‘Preach My Gospel’ switch from the marketing and management approach of my mission days. The manipulation pattern aka “committment pattern” was useful in pushing us out of comfort zones, I guess, but felt a little too fresh from car sales. I think the current interation has shed some of its management trappings that I think got in the way of missionary’s role in the process at times.

  4. “I’m all for more liveliness and relevance, especially when I think back on all the dull lessons and talks …”

    Hey readers! (Maybe a separate post?) How can we make LDS lessons and talks more lively?

  5. Joseph Smith led a “purpose-driven” church that focused on actually establishing Zion. He had specific goals and ideals that the membership in general could focus on. Now we have 3 vague missions that largely produce complacency: preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead. Maybe injecting more of the purpose-driving mentality would rejuvenate things.

  6. In all fairness to Rick Warren, he privileges no style of worship music over another, especially not rock bands. He says different people like different music praising the God who made them different from one another.

  7. Now we have 3 vague missions that largely produce complacency:

    Oh contraire–I would disagree with the premise that Joseph’s mission was any more or less specific than ours is. I mean, “Zion is the pure in heart”–from some perspectives that’s quite vague–vague enough, in fact, to give the Spirit some wiggle room to teach somebody. Joseph shifted from the “zip code Zion” ideology after his stint in Liberty Jail. Nauvoo would be Zion–vague? Perhaps. Flexible? Certainly. One man’s vagueness is another’s teachability by the Spirit.

    That said, even the modern program has plenty of specifics: attend the temple once a month, set-a-date program, tithing, fast offerings–they all fit under the umbrella. The three fold mission statement is a summary to be sure, but a well-articulated one that is easy for a new member’s (or old one’s) digestion.

  8. How about how to have a good marriage, how to raise a good family, how to be a good neighbor and member of the community.

    If you want to be mainstream, you have to stop being so isolationist.

  9. Help people to feel good about themselves, instead of making people feel guilty for not getting their HT done, or some other useless task.

  10. The marketing arm of the LDS church is trying very hard to be accepted as a mainstream Christian religion. Surely you have noticed this.

  11. I’d like to see the tempo of the opening and closing hymns picked up a bit. They are too slow, passing beyond reverent, and have gone into soporific territory.

  12. Ever since I joined the church, I’ve always thought that the only thing you could “sell” someone on, or “convince” them to do, is investigate the church and the gospel it presents.

    No one should be “sold” or “convinced” to join the church by any missionary or marketing or PR effort. The best we should hope for is to get people to honestly investigate. And if they believe in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as presented by the church, hopefully by getting some kind of spiritual witness, only then should they join by baptism.

    I have no problem with exploring new things to present, or new methods of presentation, as long as what they lead to is sincere investigation of the gospel through approved missionary lessons which are centered on the doctrine of Christ.

    The Church’s “outreach” efforts, other than pure proselyting by missionaries, have increased greatly since my mission days over 20 years ago. Vastly increased disaster relief; service projects such as wells, buildings, wheelchairs, clinics, etc; Mormon Helping Hands, Family Summits, Genealogy Conferences.

  13. Bookslinger,

    I understand your points, but the LDS church is trying to be accepted as mainstream christian in an effort to curb anti-mormon sentiment, thus leading to easier proselyting efforts.

    You better believe they have hired a PR firm to handle thier messaging/marketing.

    For that matter, they have bought a PR firm by now.

  14. Bishop Rick,

    Home Teaching may seem useless to some but it is very important to my family.

    Since our ward boundries changed nearly a year ago we have had Home Teachers here ONE time, and are probably lucky to have had that.

    My husband, while a member, is not a priesthood holder, a visit from the Home Teachers is the only time we have adult priesthood holders in our home.

    The fellowship of Home Teachers has been critcal to my family’s development in the Gospel. Without it we would certainly still be inactive.

    Home Teachers useless???


  15. I have yet to be persuaded that Mormonism is being sold as “mainstream.” If we ARE trying to do that, we’re doing a terrible job of it. We still cling tightly to that demented Joseph Smith (at least in the views of our detractors), we maintain that the BOM is historically correct, and still don’t let non-Mormons into the temple.

  16. Ah, my post caused some confusion. I actually have little doubt that the Church is trying to be (or at least appear) mainstream, but I was expressing (in my roundabout way) that that’s not a good thing.

  17. Living here in the OC where Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church’s accomplishments are revered as “ground-breaking” when in fact his teachings in his Purpose Driven Life are nothing more than “Mormon-lite”. Paying a full tithe, making covenants, serving foreign missions. Personally been there, done that.

    If anything, we LDS members need to do a better job to teach non-members how close to Mormonism, Rick Warren teachings really are (aside from not having the saving ordinances, of course.)

  18. Okay, first let me address Home Teaching. I did not mean to imply that HT is useless. I do, however, feel that the way in which it is implemented is.

    I have been in many different wards and in all of them, half the members don’t need or want home teachers, yet they are the ones that always get home taught.

    HT should be limited to those who really need it or request it. We don’t need to waste time with meaningless visits to people that don’t really want you there, just to get the HT supervisor off our backs.

    Pam would be a good example of someone that definitely recieves benefits from Home Teachers. Not everyone falls into that category.

    Now for the LDS church trying to be accepted as mainstream? Anyone that doesn’t believe that to be true is not paying attention.

    The LDS church goes out of its way to be considered Christian. GBH avoids the controversial topics of the church whenever he is interviewed by the national media, and has even stated things that are not true to the media. I know this to be true. I have seen it and so have you. I even heard him apologize for mistating the facts during Gen. Conf. All the LDS commercials are aimed at being accepted as mainstream.

    The evidence is there if you pay attention.

    Oh, and I never claimed to be a Bishop.

  19. “GBH avoids the controversial topics of the church whenever he is interviewed by the national media, and has even stated things that are not true to the media. I know this to be true. I have seen it and so have you. I even heard him apologize for mistating the facts during Gen. Conf.”

    A different topic entirely, but I’ll go with it.

    Of course, it is impossible for there to be any intelligent discussion of this without solid documentation.

    And re: his “Man is as God was…” discussed, that is not based in fact but in an edited version of the interview we read in Time Magazine. There is also an important set of ellipses in the quote:

    “I haven’t heard it (the Man-God quote) discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made.”

    As far as an “apology,” I would need to see what was actually said. Granted that it were true, there are a number of explanations for this apology–not just lying.

    Sorry to go a different direction, but why not cut off (one of) the accusations at the pass?

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