A Letter from Pastor Rick to Our Church Family

When Will We Reopen Our Weekend Services?

May 27, 2020

Dear Saddleback Family,

Since what I have to share with you is so important, I’d prefer you click here and watch this message on video so you can see my face and hear my voice. I’m providing this transcript for back up and I encourage you to share this with others.

In California, where most of our campuses are, the state government has outlined four phases of reopening as the pandemic subsides. On Sunday, the California Department of Public Health released 12 pages of restrictions for churches that must be followed in order to open public worship during Phase 2. There are too many restrictions to list them all here, so I’ll just say that many are unworkable for all churches, and a few are impossible for large churches. Here’s one example: Regardless of how many seats you have, no church service may have more than 100 people in attendance. At Saddleback, that would mean our 20 campuses could serve a total of 2,000 people, but the other 28,000 of you 30,000 typical weekend attenders must stay home. That won’t work for us!

While we’re all eager to gather again for worship, we’ve decided, for many important reasons, that Saddleback will be patient and wait for better conditions before resuming our large public gatherings.

I’m writing this to all of you in our church family because I want you to clearly understand our motivation and reasons for being patient in reopening. Here are six big themes I want you to understand:

First, our motivation for every decision is always LOVE and FAITH, not fear.

Knowing that God is in control, we are not afraid of the pandemic, not afraid of the government, not afraid of failure, or criticism, or anything else! We always act out of love – for God and for the people he created – and also out of faith in God’s promises. Four Scriptures have always guided us through one crisis after another:

  • 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has NOT given us a spirit of fear; instead he has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control!”

We are calm, confident, andloving in our leadership.

  • 1 Corinthians 16:14, “Do everything out of love!”

We ask “What is best for the people we love and serve?”

  • Psalm 31:15, “You are my God and my times are in your hands!”

We trust God’s timing is perfect and patiently wait on him.

  • Romans 8:28, We know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.”

We look for the good purpose that our good God has in everything.

Second, our Purpose Driven foundation and structure gives us the stability and maturity that makes us impervious to stormsStorms never change God’s 5 eternal purposes. In fact, we thrive in storms! We run toward people in pain in order to help them. In our 40-year history, this is our 34th national or international crisis where we’ve led relief efforts through our PEACE Plan, based on the 5 things Jesus did in his ministry. Over 30,000 of you have volunteered to serve in 197 nations through the PEACE Plan – so when thousands of you were called on to serve in this new crisis of COVID-19, you were ready to step up again! No church mobilizes faster! Our unchanging foundation allows us to be fast, fluid, and flexible with the times.

Third, Saddleback has never been “closed” during these past 11 weeks! On the contrary, we’ve been doing MORE in our communities than ever before. Our buildings have been closed, but the Church is not a building! We are a living, breathing body. The church is a family, not a fortress! We are a people, not a place! We’re an army of servants, not an event of attenders. You’ve been taught many times that “A crowd is not a church.” Church is so much more than a weekend service! The church operates 168 hours a week!

So rather than sit passively through this newest storm, our purpose-driven philosophy has prepared us to instantly mobilize thousands of you for new serving opportunities in our communities, and the results have been amazing!  

In just 10 weeks since the lockdown began in California

  • Saddleback opened 187 new pop-up food distribution centers while 123 other food pantries in SoCal closed due to COVID-19. We normally feed 2,000 out-of-work families each month through our 3 permanent PEACE Centers. But this last month, we moved into high gear, feeding over 30,000 families representing 120,000 people! We are the go-to relief organization in Southern California. Five school districts, the County Board of Supervisors, hospitals, businesses, and many other entities have asked us for help.

That’s a LOVING church in action!

  • In 10 weeks, you have personally led 2,800 people to Christ through one-on-one witnessing while you were doing acts of service to people in need! Last weekend I read you a list of ideas you sent to me of 88 creative ways you are sharing your faith with your neighbors. When I read that list to you, I think we were all amazed at the creativity and innovations in personal witnessing that you are using to love your neighbor during this pandemic. After reading that list I thought “Where else are there that many purpose driven contagious witnesses?”

That’s a LOVING church in action!

  • Over 3,000 new small groups have been started during the pandemic and added to our existing network of 6,010 small groups. We now have 9,023 small group Bible studies meeting weekly online, helping people cope with the stress and “dis-ease” created by the disease.

That’s a LOVING church in action!

  • Because you LOVE your neighbors and co-workers, you invite them to watch online like no other church. The result of your care for others during COVID-19 is that our attendance has more than DOUBLED in the past 10 weeks! In the first 10 weeks of 2020, we averaged 45,000 at our weekend worship – 30,000 at our campuses and 15,000 watching online. But for the past 10 weeks, we’ve averaged over 100,000 in online-only attendance because of your inviting. 3,451 people have come to know Christ through online services!

Understand this: With the 2,800 led to Christ through your one-on-one witnessing during this pandemic and 3,451 accepting Christ though your inviting people to watch online – that’s 6,251 new believers brought into our family in just 10 weeks!

That’s a LOVING church in action!

  • We innovated a way to do safe immersion baptisms by appointment while maintaining social distancing. Last night I baptized 48 more new believers, which puts us over 1,000 baptized since the pandemic began!

That’s a LOVING church in action!

  • Almost 36,000 older and vulnerable people sheltered at home have been contacted personally by over 2,000 of you who’ve volunteered as Care Callers and Care Writers during this pandemic!

That’s a LOVING church in action!

  • In addition to your faithfulness in weekly online giving, you’ve given over $1,000,000 for food distributed to out-of-work people.

That’s a LOVING church in action!

I could go on and on about your impact during COVID-19 through our 500+ purpose driven ministries that you’ve created and lead. But I think you understand that nothing has been shut down except our large group worship.

Fourth, our purpose driven discipleship system (CLASS) has created a culture of generosity that gives our church great financial stability and strengthThrough CLASS,Saddleback members become tithers, which means we’ve never had to resort to emotional appeals or fund-raising gimmicks to support our church. In fact, Saddleback was approved and offered 6 million dollars by the government for staff payroll assistance and WE TURNED IT DOWN. Why? We believe it is OUR responsibility, not the government’s, to support our church family even as we give away millions in food to families outside of our church. Government shekels (money) always bring government shackles (control). It’s why we’ve never accepted government money for any PEACE projects.

Your extraordinary generosity not only shows the maturity of your discipleship and your strong loyalty to our fellowship, it allows us to care for those who’ve lost their jobs, and it allows us to wait patiently for the right time to reopen the “Crowd” services. Honestly, these days I feel sad for churches that haven’t taught purpose driven stewardship.

Fifth, we’ve already decided that our FIRST STEP back to reopening worship services will NOT be to open buildings that only allow 100 people to maintain social distancing, require you to wear a mask, and forbid you to sing since the health department wants you to keep your mouth closed! That’s a terrible, depressing atmosphere and environment for worship! It would actually stifle the fellowship and spirit that we all crave.  Instead, our first step back will be to move to “CHURCH IN THE HOME, which will use our small group structure of 9,023 groups. We will let you know when we are ready to make that move.

Church in the Home will not only be safer, but it will create a far more loving and welcoming atmosphere for warm fellowship and worship. Also, unbelievers and new believers who have been watching online for weeks will be less fearful of attending a smaller, safer venue. We don’t want their first impression of our church family to be a 90% empty and cold building. That’s why we are also considering using outdoor services, taking advantage of Southern California weather.

There are only about 5 or 6 other churches the size of Saddleback in America (30,000+), so we’re not like 99% of other churches. We assume that public gatherings of our size will be the LAST to open, along with other large venues like the Staples Center, Hollywood Bowl, and Disneyland.  

Sixth, there is no doubt that small churches with 50 or so people attending will be able to open sooner than other churches with hundreds or thousands in a service. We DO NOT RESENT THIS! In fact, we will REJOICE that sister churches will be able to open even while we wait for our time! We are NOT in competition with anyone. Besides, other churches don’t have all of the advantages that we have for weathering this storm: our structure for small groups, our capabilities for online services, our financial strength to support a staff to keep serving you during this pandemic, our purpose driven values that focus on what happens during the week, and our ongoing ministries to our communities that have reached thousands for Christ in the past 10 weeks.

Some churches are only offer a weekend “Crowd” service, so it is understandable that they are eager to start it again. But our church is structured into SIX different levels of commitment, and our other 5 circles have all been operating just fine, even with the closure of our “Crowd” weekend service. 

  • As CONGREGATION members, we are still deepening fellowship.
  • As COMMITTED members, we are still growing in our discipleship process.
  • As CORE members, we are still ministering to hundreds of different needs.
  • As COMMISSIONED members, we are still reaching into our COMMUNITY.

This is the benefit of building a fully-balanced PD church on Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission. It’s solid in a storm. Nothing shakes it. We are a full-service church, far more than just a weekend service. If the “Crowd” event gets put on hold for a while, everything else keeps going!

Saddleback is not a perfect church (there are none), but we ARE a healthy church. It’s why we’ve been able to withstand this storm, and even EXPAND in this storm. So be patient! And keep focused on God’s 5 purposes in your life!

Have I told you lately that I love you? I love you. I miss you. I’m praying for you. And I am so very, very proud of your maturity, ministry, and mission in the world!


Pastor Rick
Dr. Rick Warren
Saddleback Church
Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan