January 21, 2021

The Real Meaning of Easter?

By Chaplain Mike.

According to Rick Warren, Easter is about “growing your church.” He exhorts pastors in a recent Christian Post article to “use Easter” to break growth barriers in their congregations.

Easter, a means to an end.

A prime marketing opportunity for the real business of evangelicalism: church growth.

  • Not worship.
  • Not celebrating and praising the risen Christ for his sake.
  • Not coming together as the family of God to confess our resurrection faith.
  • Not witnessing the baptisms of those who have died to sin and been raised to walk in newness of life.
  • Not hearing the Good News of God’s in-breaking kingdom proclaimed for the joy and assurance of his people.
  • Not an opportunity for the pastor to instruct the congregation with Biblical perspective and theological depth on the meaning and significance of the finished work of Christ, which defeated sin, death, and evil forever.
  • Not partaking of the wine and bread and experiencing the presence of the living Christ in our midst.
  • Not introducing a new season of the Church Year—the Great 50 Days of Easter—when we learn together how walk with Jesus in newness of life.
  • Not being sent forth into the world to be resurrection people with a resurrection message in a world longing for life.

No, pastor, according to Warren, Easter is a day to be “leveraged” so you can have a bigger church!

Here’s his counsel:

Leverage the day. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward that weekend. Promote Easter as much as possible and then make sure you’re ready for the people when they come.

Also, give people something for their heart, for their head, and for their hand. Give them inspiring music for their heart. Give them a practical message for their head. And you put something in their hand they can take home.

Finally, start a series at Easter. This will encourage your Easter guests to come back the next week because they want to hear what’s next in the series. Pick something that connects with your community. You know what they’re dealing with. Tell them what the Bible says about it and provide practical help.

This Easter can be huge for your church. It can be just what you need to take your church to the next level.

Not one word about Jesus.

The greatest day in the Christian year, the greatest event in history has become an opportunity for a “practical message” that will pack ’em in and keep ’em coming back and help you overcome a dreaded “attendance barrier.”

Words fail me.

If this doesn’t represent everything that is wrong with American evangelicalism, what does?


  1. You know, Holy Week is a real downer for many churches. We focus on Jesus’ entering Jerusalem, his betrayal, the giving of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus’ last night, his trail, his death and his resurrection. it’s hard to talk about ourselves when all we hear about is Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. It’s especially tough when we have to acknowledge that it’s our sins that drove the nails into his hand.

    If a church doesn’t celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord as it’s focus on Easter Sunday, can it be called a Christian Church? If a pastor is not willing to proclaim Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection for our eternity on Easter Sunday, can that pastor be called a Christian pastor?

    The “Practical Message” must be Christ crucified for our sin. All other messages are not practical since they don’t point to Christ and they lead to death. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

  2. Hi Mike. Not just America of course, probably much of the western world (arguably under significant US influence). I’ve mentioned here before Paul Vieria’s book, “Jesus has left the building” – a book I think would resonate with many iMonk readers. One view, from the sort of perspectives espoused in that book (and to which I subscribe) is that the problem lies in viewing the church as the man-made organisation/s most of us associate with the word “church”. If we can take our focus off that human organisation, and put our focus squarely back on Jesus, many of these issues immediately become irrelevant, or at least come into proper perspective. Like the article on Grace by iMonk I read yesterday, the identity and health of the church (the real church – God’s family) clearly becomes a matter for the Father. And every day becomes a day to first, foremost and only focus on Jesus.

  3. Is there anything “practical” about the miracle of Easter? I think the practical was taken care of in Holy Week. The religious leaders took practical steps to end a problem; Judas took practical steps to push Jesus into a make or break situation; Pilot and Herod took practical steps to to manage a difficult populace. Yes, Holy Week is practical, sensible, reasonable, and oh so realistic.

    Easter is not any of this. Easter is mystery, power, extravagance, inconceivable, and explosive.

    • Is there anything “practical” about the miracle of Easter?

      Is there anything practical about most of what GOD says and does (in the ordinary sense of the word “practical”) ?? Look at the parable of the workers in the vineyard……our GOD couldn’t run a car wash for a prophet…….er…..profit……. and I’m so glad HE can’t/won’t.

  4. This infuriates me also.
    God forbid that evangelicals would have communion on Easter Sunday. After all, we haven’t reached the altar call at this point in the service yet, and some of these unwashed masses haven’t been to church since last Easter (they didn’t come on Christmas because we don’t have church on Christmas any more).

  5. That is just gross.

    I would say more, but it’s already late, and I don’t trust myself.

    Agnus Dei.
    Lord have mercy.
    He sees.
    He hears.
    He knows.
    And he has come.

  6. I’m going to change a popular expression.


    that’s the only way I can make any kind of sense of Rick’s article. He’s a very smart person, I have to believe he knows better.

    Hoping that GOD can and will leverage more SIN out of me with the truth of HIS resurrection
    Greg R

  7. rey P. bernal says

    Amen! agreeable that the focus of Easter is the love of the the Father expressed in the sacrifice of the Son on our behalf… He said “tetelestai” we are paid in full from our sins and transgressions. That His death is our gain… we gain the eternity with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Hope is so certain that we too are to be raised from the dead because the power of God did so with the Son and so we will be. Our hope in this life is in the memory of Easter Sunday.
    I am certain now that what I have is only of what God has shared to me… I have nothing but the greatest gift.. the gift of eternal life that is in Christ Jesus! Let us celebrate the resurrection of our risen Lord! hallelujah to the Lamb!

  8. Last Saturday I went around the neighbourhood putting up door hangers inviting people to Holy Week at the little Anglican parish I attend. One of the megachurches in the area had already beat us to it but their invitation was for an Easter Egg hunt on Good Friday.

    The guy I was walking around with said: “Next year, let’s make little stamps to put on their door hangers that say ‘For Christ’s Sake, Good Friday is the Day God Died.’ This isn’t a day to have Easter egg hunts.”

    This is my second Easter in a liturgical church and I am only beginning to scrape the surface of the meaning and impact of Holy Week and how this whole week is a slow walk into a darker and darker valley where on Good Friday it seems like the world has gone to hell in a handbasket.

    But it’s Friday…and Sunday’s comin’ (As Campolo loves to say)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One of the megachurches in the area had already beat us to it but their invitation was for an Easter Egg hunt on Good Friday.

      AKA “Clueless 101”.

      • I have to add that they did say the children’s pastor was going to give a short Easter message. But it seems to me its a church growth scheme disguised as evangelism/outreach. Aren’t we doing a disservice to our children when we treat Easter like Christmas and when we treat Christmas like our culture (thus Easter gets treated like a spring version of Christmas when Santa trades in the red suit for a bunny suit)

        • donald todd says

          as an educated guess, this church is trying to reach people through their children. That is not a bad idea, however the easter egg hunt is a bit of a reach.

  9. Mike,

    This is such a shame to see……………….Growth should not have the preeminence!

    Great post.

    I just did a post on how Rick Warren is to be a keynote speaker at John Piper’s Ministry -Desiring God Conference- in 2010………….An outrage for many evangelicals.

    I will be adding [HT] this post of yours to my post – you can view it here: http://narrowseventhirteen.blogspot.com/2010/03/rick-warren-to-speak-at-desiring-god.html


  10. Does anybody actually LIKE Rick Warren?

    • Warren is not all bad, and I don’t want to give that impression. You might want to search the iMonk archives for the love/hate relationship Michael has had with him over the years.

      All I can say at this point is that the mindset represented in Warren’s Easter memo to pastors is inconceivable to me.

      • My thinking on the subject is, being “not all bad” just isn’t good enough for a Christian leading Christians, let alone “The Most Important Pastor In Evangelicalism Today”.

        What’s special about the guy?

        Has anybody here learned anything positive about Jesus from Warren that they never heard anywhere else before him? If so, what was it?

      • *shrug* Not too surprised. Granted that my only exposure to Warren is second-hand, via a priest who was modeling his parish on Warren’s church model. But from what I witnessed at that church (for ex. the Christmas sermon, copied for certain parish members to vote on beforehand, that mentioned Oprah on page 1 and Christ not until page 11)…eh.

      • Haven’t been reading iMonk long enough to have read his thoughts on RW, but I hear you loud and clear. I really liked RW’s earlier work, Purpose Driven Church, which gave principles and guidelines but didn’t require that a church embark on a program. I especially liked his section on how different types of pastors created different types of congregations, and how careful selection of associate pastors could help create a more rounded congregation.

        I had major issues with Purpose Driven Life, though, both because it was nothing but a program and because of the way RW brutalized the scriptures by ripping things out of context and version shopping to find passages that said what he wanted to say. At one time I did a day-by-day analysis of his 40 days of purpose for a couple boards I was posting on, and found some definite problems with it.

        So yeah, I hear you on the love/hate relationship.

    • I’m a bit indifferent. But the mere title “Purpose Driven Life” basically ensured I’d never read it. Same with “The Prayer of Jabez,” but that’s another subject.

      In general, please observe the video link my dad sent me, which has nothing to do with Warren or anyone specific. The videos here are both funny and….well, indicting.

      Click me.

    • I once attended an evangelical Baptist church that held the Christmas and Easter Holidays as the pinnacle of their worship. During these times, the church set aside all the little programs and plans and instead focused solely on Christ’s entry into the world and His resurrection. It was wonderful.

      Until ….

      This guy from California joined the leadership ranks and introduced the Rick Warren Purpose-Driven Church model. The last I heard the church was hemoraging its pillars of support and people were being seriously hurt.

      So I am NOT a big fan of the East Coast, Cali model for Christianity.

    • I like Rick Warren, I think he has alot of good points. I have been happy that he has spoken up for community building, (not just get them saved then send them on there way). Considering that he comes from the SBC he seems to give a fresh approach to the world of ministry (HIV, the poor, etc…). But I don’t agree with his constant need to comercialize Christianity —I believe that may be evangelicals undoing. It is not truely possible to make Christianity into a name brand, everybody has a differnet cross to bear. Christianity is not a product to be sold to you — it is a reality to be preached to you. peace.

  11. I don’t know the man, but it does seem like more clumsiness than actual vacuity. Though it is a very unfortunate method – a business model rather than church.

    Yes, Easter is for the catechumens. Yes, if you can’t get the message of the death and resurrection of Christ and what this means for humanity across at Easter, you’re never going to do it. Yes, this is the prime time to catch the Easter-and-Christmas visitors and get them coming to a church regularly.

    But Easter is not just a marketing opportunity, and it is vital for the existing congregation as well as the newcomers, and you have to feed the sheep after all (the charge to Peter). And it’s vital for us to remember that it’s *our* sins that are crucifying the Lord, and the resurrection is *our* hope.

    Ave, crux, spes unica!

    • You’d be surprised at the number of churches using a business model.

      Or maybe you wouldn’t be. *shrug*

    • a business model rather than church.

      Once again, Martha hits yonder nail squarely upon its square head, your love for the Carpenter is showing ……. 🙂

      PS: I don’t see Warren as the greatest of today’s ills, but the mega-church model really has to go

      • Exactly. Trying to run a church the way you’d run Microsoft just isn’t going to work.

        • Unfortunately, it DOES work…..sort of: that is: it procuces growth, even sustained growth, OF A KIND. this is worth a separate post all it’s own, here’s hoping we have a robust roundtable over what IS real church growth, and how would you know ??? the question hanging in the air: are followers of Jesus produced, or something else (predominantly) ?

          Greg R

          • I had a pastor say he’d rather his church grow deep than wide. I suppose it does short term, but I’ve helped purge a roster before: there have been dead people and one-time guests before. I just don’t think with the drop-off rate once kids leave for college is something to ignore. Moreover, what does it matter if you have 5 million members but sold your soul to do it? I just don’t see it working beyond the short term. But you’re right; that’s a whole ‘nuther topic.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Unfortunately, it DOES work…..sort of: that is: it procuces growth, even sustained growth, OF A KIND.

            “KIND” as in “Butt$ in $eat$”?

    • jim the lutheran says

      if you know anything about Rick Warren, there is nothing accidental. It is all very well researched and plannedo obtain the desired results.

      Peter Drucker was a member of his “church” and a very big influence on Warren.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I remember Peter Drucker from my Business classes at Cal Poly.

        What is this — The Gospel According to Business 101?

        (P.S. Saddleback Church is on one of my alternate routes to & from work — a HUGE cinderblock Wal-Mart-like building with a four-lane access bridge over the dry riverbed where Santiago Canyon Road empties out into the built-up area, just south of the 241 toll road overpass. Never been across the bridge, but it looks more like a cinderblock Wal-Mart or K-Mart in the middle of a huge parking lot than anything else.)

  12. Just another lurker says

    Came home from work the other day to find a door hanging inviting us to an easter egg hunt that was being put on my the local baptist church. Said (plastic, I assume) eggs are being dumped out of a helicopter over the playground after the service. I’m a little fuzzy on the theological grounding for this one, but I guess I should just be glad they didn’t schedule the arial bombardment for good friday…

    • ROFL! Now, there’s an idea for a sermon series: “The theology of the Easter Egg” (presumably with special reference to chocolate, the main alkaloid therein being theobromine, the name of which is derived from the Greek roots theo (“God”) and brosi (“food”), meaning “food of the gods” and how this ties in with the Eucharist, the true ‘food of the gods’) 😉

  13. Off to Mass!

  14. That is so sad. I think Rick Warren means well enough, but the focus shouldn’t be on what we give our visitors or put on for them.

    This Easter will be my fifth as a Catholic, and more than ever I appreciate the idea that the Mass is not a service–in the sense of what we do for God in worship–nearly so much as it is where God reveals himself to us. EAVice said it well: Easter is mystery.

  15. Chaplain Mike you have really hit the nail on the head. I’m at a point now where swimming the Tiber couldn’t look more attractive. Warrens comments seem to be what Presbyterians would call the “chief end” of evangelicalism. The “chief end” of Rome, imo, seems so much higher from here. I’ve been told to visit Wittenberg and Canterbury before going to Rome, but I fear they may be too susceptible to this kinda thinking. All the things you listed… What I wouldn’t do to be a part of a church that took that approach to Easter. It’s just not working for me over here in the P E W, and I long for a deeper corporate experience of Christ.

    • Miguel, unfortunately we’ve got our fair share of the ‘Christianity is all about the carin’n’sharin’ and that’s all that matters’ bunch over here as well.

      The only good thing is that the liturgy – no matter how much it gets messed around – does keep a rein on the worst of the excesses.

      Link courtesy of the Anchoress, here’s a meditation by Archbishop Vincent Nicholls on certain art works and Easter, where he reminds us that “Through liturgy we become participants, not spectators”:


  16. Ok, I’m no fan of Warren. I have made that clear more than once. But, I feel the need to (dare I say?) come to his defense. Christmas and Easter are notoriously the times of year when many darken the door of a church. I don’t take from that quote that Warren is saying that Easter should be turned into a marketing campaign. Rather, I think he is saying that churches need to be aware that visitors are present. Pastors should encourage their congregation to be considerate of visitors. Our church is particularly crowded on Easter Sunday; I have heard it reported that families will block off whole pews for their family, so that there is literally no seats available for visitors, except in the overflow room. What a shame! The vertical aspect of worship should never be compromised, but that vertical aspect without the horizontal relationship with fellow worshippers, catecumens, and visitors is not Christian.

    I’m re-reading Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s seventeen century work entitled “Holy Living”, in which purity of purpose and intention are given much consideration. John Wesley was heavily influenced by this particular chapter of Taylor’s work. As much as I grimace while reading Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life”, I can’t escape from the issue of doing things intentionally, purposefully. If while you celebrate Easter you make visitors feel like aliens or intruders, the whole point of the gospel narrative, of Jesus seeking and saving the lost, is misrepresented. It doesn’t mean that a church needs to greet visitors with a lattes and scones, or install slides for the kiddies; it means that members could be friendly, kind, self-sacrificing, helpful; that pastors could take extra time to explain various aspects of what’s going on in the service – what the altar colors represent; that rather than expecting the worship team to lead in the songs and hymns that will send the established members off on a sentimental journey that they may choose songs which will mean something for all present.

    • I have to agree (Warren is known for not always phrasing or emphasizing things properly).

      But we also have to keep in mind the context of where he is coming from. His article is not about the meaning of Easter. He is not trying to say, “Easter is about “growing your church.” Instead, he is stating that potentially more people will be attending because of the importance of the day, so use that to reach more people.

      • I second the agreement, and I’m not a “Saint Rick” fan at all. So what I would say is that shouldn’t each church be prepared for newcomers every Sunday, even if you don’t expect an onslaught?

        BTW, this Easter suggestion only works in a culture where people would be drawn to church on Easter. Here in Western Europe, the Christmas Carol service is the big draw and, due to Easter Break being over 2 weeks (this and next), most people see this weekend as a time to travel on holiday. Our church numbers actually slide ridiculously low on Easter, even amongst our regulars. It’s kinda weird that Easter of all the Holy Days is seen as the prime time to miss church.

      • Perhaps some poor phrasing on my part. But there is a fundamental difference between the promotional mindset advocated by Warren and the Christian tradition of Easter as a great feast to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. The focus is completely different. The message he says we should preach is completely different. The purpose (sorry, Rick, you missed it!) for gathering is completely different. I know pastors and churches that have the same mindset. It’s all about bringin’ ’em in. It’s all about church growth. It’s not about Jesus. It’s not about worship. It’s not about spiritual formation. Easter is not something to be used or leveraged for other purposes, no matter how “good” those purposes might be. It is a great feast to be celebrated!

        • I don’t see that he is saying ignore those important elements. For Warren, I think it is a both/and, not an either/or. Now, one can argue on whether that is possible, but Warren probably thinks it is.

      • jim the lutheran says

        Sorry, but I must disagree.

        I heard a pastor say once that he tried to preach every sermon as if it would be the last or only sermon that someone in attendance might hear before they die.

        Rick Warren’s “set em up, so you can bring them back” approach just doesn’t fall into that category. It’s more about attendance, and ultimately the offering. You gotta bring in big bucks to support all the programs and fluff that these mega-churches support.

        What if that was the ONLY time a visitor came to church?? You’d be preaching him to damnation.

        We are simply called to be faithful. “Church Growth” will take be taken care of by the Holy Spirit.

    • I agree with “dumb ox” here. Rick Warren did not say that Easter was not about the things you listed. Instead he talks about how to use it for Church Growth.

      I imagine that he would in fact agree with many of the points that you made.

      Years ago, I was helping with a fairly small startup church. Average attendance was about 30. We were in a small town, so you would think that growth possibilities were limited. We started a phone/mail campaign and invited EVERYONE in the town to church who did currently attend church to our Easter Sunday Service. 150 people showed up. Easter was still a celebration of what Jesus did for us, but we got to share that message with 120 people who otherwise would not have heard.

      • But Warren said we should find out what’s happening in our community and preach a “practical” message, even start a series on such a topic on Easter, so that we can continue to attract them. That’s a different message, Michael, than I’m sure your church gave on that Easter.

        • and the phrase comes to mind: “what you win them WITH is what you win them TO…” .

          Why not preach SOMETHING that has JESUS in the middle of it…….if HE is attractive, great, if HE is offensive, let’s not change to some ersatz plan B, covered with EASTER chocolate, and flaked coconut…..

        • I think the “practical” versus “gospel” message might get us a little sidetracked here. But I think it comes down to this: Christ is risen, so why should I care? (I being the community) What is there about this message that is relevant to me?

          When we surveyed our community (at another church) the overwhelming response that came back from the community was that they were too stressed, tired, and busy to attend church. Okay, then how does that fit into Easter? I don’t think it is too much of a stretch at all show how this same Jesus who died on the cross for you invites you to come and experience his rest and his peace. He invites you to take time with him, not to become more busy, but to reflect upon all that he has already done for you. And yes, I would consider starting a series on “finding your rest in Christ”, or something to that effect.

          I would consider singing a song like “There is no other name.”

          There is no other name
          By which man can be saved
          There is no other name under Heaven
          There is rest for my soul
          And the wounded made whole
          And the captives set free and forgiven

          Such love as I’ve never known
          I’ve found in the grace that flowed to me
          In my unrighteousness
          This is why my heart and soul
          And tongue confess

          Would probably add “At the Cross”

          I know a place, a wonderful place
          Where accused and condemned
          Find mercy and grace
          Where the wrongs we have done
          And the wrongs done to us
          Were nailed there with Him
          There on the cross

          At the cross (at the cross)
          He died for our sin
          At the cross (at the cross)
          He gave us life again

          But I would do it in with conjunction with some of the great Easter hymns as well.

          Not to mention the great modern ones like “How deep the Father’s love for us.”

          How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure
          That he should give his only son, to make a wretch his treasure
          How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turned his face away
          As wounds which mar the chosen one, bring many sons to glory

          Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon his shoulders
          Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers
          It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished
          His dying breath has brought me life; I know that it is finished

          I will not boast in anything: no gifts, no power, no wisdom
          But I will boast in Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection
          Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer
          But this I know with all my heart: his wounds have paid my ransom

          But I think I have gotten off topic a bit in the last part I have written.

          • I think the above could be a very effective message, but I’m a little troubled by how driven it is by the ‘felt need” of the audience (this is typed by Greg R who has preached exactly zero sermons to a large crowd, so take with salt, pleeze); in other words, if you left the ‘fatigue’ of the audience out of it, and preached a more general message about Christ’s life and necesary death, and the audience either 1)didn’t get it or 2) didn’t care for it doesn’t this say something about the audience ?? Am I being too cranky here ??

            I am not always against “felt need” driven preaching, but this just seems a little out of whack to me. What am I missing ??

          • Greg-
            I’d say it’s like Paul being a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks. Find the opening and see what aspect of Christ’s message fits the opening.

          • Incidentally, I found the text of an Easter message by Rick Warren. He does precisely what I had suggested. You can read it here. (I take no credit.)

            By the way if you act quickly you can still get tickets for their upcoming Easter service. Tailgating before the service, special guests… The Jonas brothers!!!

          • Thank you for the songs, btw.

      • jim the lutheran says

        the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied

    • Not disagreeing that churches can be pretty inbred if they aren’t careful. You bring up many good points.

      To be clear, it’s not Warren I take issue with (though I think he could have chosen better wording or context). There is a business end to church, but when the pastor becomes a CEO and the members become clients, well, I think that’s a problem. Maybe it’s just me. I’m only a twenty-something. *shrug*

    • Sir Ox: I thoroughly agree with what seems to be your main point (intentionality and focus) : and with the added numbers of “non-church” type people at our services, we need to be careful to not present a message that only someone from the evangelical ghetto would understand….BUT

      I think the focus on “building the church (and by that Rick is talking numbers, output, metrics)” is just the wrong way to go (though it seems llke a benign goal, I mean, who could be AGAINST more souls brought into the kingdom ??) We are getting ahead of the Spirit here, we are called, as I understand it, to be faithful, and not sweat the numbers. Then again, if your church is the size of Rhode Island, and your budget the size of Cameroon, well then……..

      Admonished to love and be sensitive to those who don’t often hear our message is always a good idea, I like that part of your post.

      Greg R

    • Jonas Brothers…seriously? It sounded like an April Fools prank, but it’s true. So much for defending Warren. Arrrgh!!! Now I feel really dumb!

      Still, take into consideration Paul’s encouragement in Romans 12:13 and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 13:1 to practice hospitality. Don’t look upon the visitor as a potential member and/or tither. Many pastors will be preparing for visitors by stoking up the hell-fire and brimstone for their Easter altar-call message, to add more convert notches in their belts. Hospitality is not a means to an end; it should be who we are as followers of Christ. We should see the image of God in every face that enters the sanctuary and treat them as such.

      I know that the ancient church excluded even catecumens from parts of worship, but reconsider the words of St. John Chrysostom from his Pashcal sermon:

      “Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
      Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

      Let no one grieve at his poverty,
      for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
      Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
      for forgiveness has risen from the grave.”

      I think the word “universal” has been ruined forever, but it used to be a key word – along side orthodoxy – to describe the dynamics of the Christian faith. Let everyone come. Suffer not the little, despised ones. Follow Jesus, and go into the byways and invite the strangers, the poor, the outcasts, the sinners. Forgiveness has risen from the grave for all!

      We should see everyone as one for whom Christ died, as one who is in need of grace and forgiveness. Churches should grow, but the church-growth movement is antithetical to the Christian message.

      • Not-so Dumb Ox

        your last sentence says it all for me; I’m for church growth, if what is being multiplying is the rule and reign of the Kingdom of the Lamb, and “Jesus-likeness”. In that respect, I would that ALL churches grow.

  17. The church that I attend seems to be in a slow recovery mode from this type of attractional, “growth” model of doing church. My wife and I have been members for over 20 years but we almost left a couple of years ago after an Easter service that looked and sounded like anything but an Easter service. I hope and pray that we continue our “recovery”.

  18. Clay Knick says

    Whenever I read church growth stuff or get it in the mail I get a headache. So after reading Rick’s advice I will now turn to my trusty bottle of Tylenol. One more message from someone about what we pastors need to do. One more thing to do to “fix” the church or “grow” the church or “change” the church. No wonder we are so exhausted.

  19. The new Anglican plant that I have been working with is not even three months old. Before this I was a baptist pastor. This is my first expereince with a full weeks worth of services for Holy Week. It has been a great blessing.

    We have honestly taken advantage of the fact that a lot of folks will come on Easter when they will not come other times, and have tried to step up our work on inviting folks, but our service Sunday will not be about them being there, but about the Risen Christ.

    I’m really looking forward to the Great Litany Friday, we are going to try to sing it responsively.

  20. David Cornwell says

    Church growth theory is consumed with numbers, marketing, branding, and putting on a good show. I belonged to a denomination that almost lost it’s soul trying to turn around its dismissal yearly membership losses through various church growth strategies. Even now they haven’t lost their faith in this game. Though they have been doing this for 30 years now, the denominational losses continue in the same direction– down.

    This is one of the reasons I grew weary of being a pastor. I loved being a true shepherd to the flock, preaching the gospel, and doing my best to love the people. But I became very sick and tired of this numbers game, awards to churches who came out on top, and the new yearly “turnaround” plan. One can find the numbers and lose Christ in the process.

  21. Always good to see cool heads prevail!

  22. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Not one word about Jesus.

    The greatest day in the Christian year, the greatest event in history has become an opportunity for a “practical message” that will pack ‘em in and keep ‘em coming back and help you overcome a dreaded “attendance barrier.”

    Not to mention all the Networking Opportunities (TM) for Leveraging Career Advancement (TM).

    As for me and my house, I’ll be at St Boniface for Easter Vigil Mass.

  23. Easter is a great time to scare people away. It doesn’t get more terrifying for religious folks than the stuff Jesus said during the passion week.

    • That can backfire. I know a pastor who tried every week to ‘scare people off’ (okay, he was mostly kidding about trying), and the church kept getting bigger anyway.

  24. is anybody else worried about what Rick Warren is putting in their hand???
    eggs???? money???? chocolate????

  25. Church growth movement = Making more nominal Christians attend church.

    • You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    • My previous church closed ultimately because of a split direction in our leaders between outreach and discipleship; they could not agree on who the next pastor should be. My own personal opinion is that you can’t have one without the other. Chaplain Mike reacts (quite correctly I believe) against one side of the spectrum. The church I attend struggles because it is too much on the other side of the spectrum. This is why our Pastor is taking a sabbatical to try and determine how to best move towards more of an outreach mindset. You have to have a balance between the two. Ideally we should be seeing spiritual growth as well as numerical growth. Numerical growth without spiritual growth means we are not taking discipleship seriously enough. Spiritual growth without numerical growth means that we are not taking the great commission seriously enough.

      • I agree, Michael. I am not against outreach and evangelism. I don’t think the attractional model is the way to go. And I am definitely allergic to church growth theory. But maybe you guessed that.

        One of the most important things I have learned about ministry from reading Eugene Peterson is that the language we use as pastors is of supreme significance; it shapes us and forms us and our congregations.

        If you listen to Warren in this article, his language is all “church growth.” He speaks not just as an individual pastor who cares about his church, but as an adherent and proponent of a movement that has its own code language—growth, attendance barriers, plateau, break through, etc. He is not just saying that we should be ready for visitors and be hospitable to them, for we might have more than usual on Easter. No, it’s all about being “strategic” (ugh, if I hear that word one more time!) toward well-defined church growth goals within an entire system of thought and organization.

        Warren and others like him are successful American entrepreneurs who are highly skilled at communicating, marketing, putting out a product, and organizing to support that product and expand its market share. That’s how they talk, and that’s how they conceive of “ministry.”

        I just beg to differ.

        • Basically. I may understand the angle he’s coming at; but a bad angle is still a bad angle.

          Skimming the second article someone linked. Admittedly, the Church Brat in me is tempted to have a go at the thing. Probably shouldn’t do that, though.

      • Michael: once again, I agree with all your major points. The rub, as I see it, is that a style of ministry that does not take discipleship seriously (I know this can quickly get abusive and inclusive) will not multiply more disciples, but something else: ;members, church goers, raving fan boys, SOMETHING….. Real disciples will evangelize, because they are committed to doing all (brokenly, and imperfectly admittedly) that their Teacher did and still does. I am NOT locked into one particular package of discipleship, and wince when people live or die by one method…BUT…Chap Mike’s words below go for me also: I’m not buying the mega-church model of “spiritual growth”, and so I’m distrustful of their numerical growth, though I’m trying, honestly, to “rejoice with those rejoice”.

        Put another way: multiplying “commitments to Christ” or church membership, per se, just doesn’t mean a whole lot to me , and I’m not pursuaded that this is what Matt 28 is all about.

        Hoping you’ve found better traveling since the split. That’s a tough valley to walk, been there twice.


  26. Eugene Peterson, in his most recent book Practice Resurrection (p.107) has a quote from Annie Dillard’s “Teaching a Stone to Talk”: “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?”

    This article from Rev. Warren gives me the queasy stomach sensation that I’ve just been given a fly-on-the-wall view of a big-name religious tour guide advising other religious tour guides how to arrange a successful cheerful brainless packaged tour.

    Unpleasant experience tells me that the next step for those who say “No thanks” to being cheerful brainless tourists is that they will be accused of being individualistic and refusing to engage in community.

    I could, of course, just say “Whatever. I think you are using those words in a manipulative way. No thanks,” ignore it, and go elsewhere. And, in the obvious cases of cheerful-brainless-religious-tours, I do. But I’ve found the stuff to be insidious, subtle, and popping up in unexpected places just when I was starting to trust that I’d found a refuge away from it. I keep ending up feeling like Charlie Brown after he has attempted to kick Lucy’s football yet again. I think that is why I get so queasy getting this fly-on-the-wall look at people with the title “pastor” deliberately planning how to best arrange cheerful brainless packaged tours.

    • “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?”

      That quite a quote from Annie Dillard, Becky!

  27. Amazing, I was about to just express my own thoughts on Easter in my own blog. I will surely link to Internet Monk!

    Last year, I attended Easter with the evangelical Church I attend in Los Angeles. I actually felt alienated. Easter was treated as a recruitment ceremony, and had non-Christians in mind.

    That’s right, I felt marginalized in a church because I was a faithful Christian and expected to worship God.

    It is so frustrating. I am happy when non-Christians show up on Easter, but Easter is a Holy Day is supposed to be celebrated in a way that Christians understand it. It shouldn’t be dumbed down to recruitment ceremony.

    • I agree with your sentiments. It all becomes one big marketing presentation trying to dazzle or manipulate emotionally to try to get people to join the club. That’s perhaps a little overly harsh, but I do question what sort of Christian is produced by these recruitment ceremonies.

      • but I do question what sort of Christian is produced by these recruitment ceremonies.

        and you should, it’s a serious question

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’d chalk it up to Evangelical Tunnel Vision/Wretched Urgency — EVERYTHING has to become an excuse for an Altar Call. Even Easter.

      • “Evangelical Tunnel-Vision” is a great phrase.

      • Interesting that, as far as I know, Charles Spurgeon NEVER used an altar call. He didn’;t beleive in them. If the sermon didn’t do it, well then…… I think he considered the altar call a “help” that the Holy Spirit could do without. Interesting.

  28. Donald Todd says

    The Church – with no discrimination between Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostal or Protestant – grows twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. C&E Christians are a fact of life. If a particular congregation is attractive at Christmas or Easter, perhaps it will bring some people into (or back into) the particular congregation. If that occurs perhaps some of those people will stay.

    That is, or should be, good. The early Church grew because it was attractive to people.

    I hope that people coming to Church on Easter Sunday will find it attractive, will see and/or hear something that profoundly affects them and will continue to inhabit a church on the following Sundays, growing in the love of God and neighbor.

    Happy Passover and Easter.


    • I don’t question where you’re coming from. It’s just that word “attractive” that can be seen in different ways. Early Christians joined the church and knew that in many cases that was essentially a death sentence. Are people “attracted” to the church today in the special Easter recruitment services for the gospel message and willing to worship just as deeply in small churches with little music and no slick video presentations? Or are they “attracted” to the glitz, the leadership personality, the emotional high, etc?

      • Donald Todd says

        Perhaps using the phrase “good news,” rather than the word “attractive” might solve this problem.

        I am fortunate that my parish does not have tv cameras or an ocean of seats. There will be a choir, and flowers, and a lot of people who don’t normally come. I’ll be there a bit early in hopes of sitting, although I have been known to get up and give my seat to a lady, elderly or young, with or without children.

        I will have read the readings prior to going and will listen attentively through the readings and the homily.

        I expect that this will be the general result for the majority of us going to Church on Easter morning. No cameras, no special technical effects, and lots of people whom one does not normally see.

        If the C&E crowd finds an individual at that right place where a conversion might happen, I hope that the grace meets that man or woman there, or some place down the road where what happened at the Church on Easter Sunday reverberates in that individual.

        If “good news” is better than attractive, by all means, good news. It is the message, not the glitz.

        While martyrdom occurred in the early Church, and still occurs today across the world, the majority of us do not have to face that particular issue. It is the smaller issues that plague us and have to be dealt with, such as love of God and neighbor, of forgiving and being forgiven, of praying daily and looking for the strength to get through “this day.”

        Tonight we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, where Jesus becomes the Passover and feeds us the only Food that fit for a supernatural journey, Himself. Tomorrow He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, and is interred in a tomb intended for another man (a hint in that last phrase). On Sunday we meet our hope, the resurrection of the dead.

        That is why I go to Church.

        For those able to celebrate it with great gusto and whatever privilege their congregation can provide, no problem on my part. Come Lord Jesus, come.

        Happy Easter.

  29. Fran Decker says

    Whether you agree with the seeker model or not – Rick Warren confesses Christ and has blessed the world in many ways. The church I attend is a contemporary evangelical congregation and we also are ‘gearing up’ for the biggest visitation day of the year. I don’t think that we’re dishonoring the resurrection or minimizing the gospel by so doing. We’re trying to be faithful to the job that God has set before us using the methods and gifts that have been entrusted to us.. I don’t know Rick Warren personally but from what I’ve read, he’s trying to do the same thing. There are lots of churches whose approach to worship, scripture, music, liturgy I disagree with. But if they say that they are Christ followers and trust in His death and resurrection for salvation, then I would do well to pay attention to Gal. 5:14 & 15 God alone will sift the wheat and chaff in His time.

    • Don’t mistake family disagreements for condemnation.

      • “Don’t mistake family disagreements for condemnation.”

        It’s REALLY hard to see the difference with some of the commenters on this thread.

    • Most of here would probably quickly agree that Rick W is neither asking for or seeking any ministry help from I-Monk. I know I’m not posting for Rick, I’m posting for the I-Monk community as we , prayerfully and thoughtfully together, work out what it means to be church, where we live. No one is doubting that
      1)lots of good comes from what he’s doing
      2)he is zealous and since
      3) he intends to be Christ honoring and gospel driven

      I would also add that I don’t want to be characterized, at the end my life , as a person who was just AGAINST x, y, and z. Having said all that, Rick or even my personal pastor does not get a free pass to avoid the examination of 1stThess 5. I cant’ hold fast to that which is good till I examine that which I’m talking about. I know sometimes this gets too personal and ugly, but welcome to humanity and the ev. wilderness. As Chap Mike wisely, IMO, noted, Rick not only speaks as ONE individual pastor, he represents (fairly clearly ,, I’d say) a particular type or model of ministry. That model is up for discussion. Hopefully, all who voice an opinion are actually DOING something in their neck of the woods to make the Kingdom advance, where we have opportunity. That’s our challenge.

      I hope this helps you understand where this post is coming from even if that’s not your view
      Greg R

      • You said it better than I did, Greg.

        • The lIVING RESURRECTED SAVIOR give new life to you and all those close to you; we probably don’t say it enough but THANKS for stepping in as moderator during this tough time.

          I’m praying today that we all hold fast to HIM who is good, and extend charity to all (especially ourselves) while keeping our Kingdom clarity about us.

          We love because HE first loved us
          Greg R

  30. Is this an April Fools’ Day joke? Rick Warren is the joke. Commercialized christianity is a joke.

  31. Thanks, Mr. Warren. I was wondering what to do in my service Sunday.

  32. Carol Ann says

    I have been to several of Saddleback Church’s Easter Services…it’s obvious that many here commenting have not.
    Jesus IS the central topic, the gospel of the Good News IS preached. The Christians that I have sat next to, in these services have been heard to discuss an opportunity presented by Pastor Warren to accompany the next ministry opportunity in Rwanda. I know of outreach ministries to the homeless in the L.A., area, to provide Sunday Worship at down and out motels which now house the next to homeless people. Saddleback Church has been planting churches in various Orange County cities in order to provide better community building and outreach opportunities to local areas. If the Lord is blessing this work which is done in His name and for His glory, why should we cast aspersions?

    • Just so you know, I’m not trying to bash Warren or anyone else. I tried to be clear my wariness is toward a ministerial philosophy, not a particular person. Please forgive me if that didn’t come across. My experience with Warren has been, at best, third or fourth hand, and minimal even there. So I’ve tried to leave him out of my comments.

      Hope all’s well.

  33. I think you need to need to consider iMonk’s opinions on Rick Warren, which have been more charitable. iMonk has really challenged me on this, but I have come to appreciate his perspective. Warren is no Joel Osteen. Apart from that, the subject concerned a specific Rick Warren quote, the context of which I don’t see a problem. There are other things Warren has said that bug me, but I can’t mingle those with this quote.

  34. Okay, just as a sidenote, this discussion’s gotten a bit difficult for me to follow, so I’m going to have to bow out. Next time.

  35. Good article. I have seen a funeral and a wedding leveraged for evangelical purposes, and have long thought the same.

  36. As one who has been responsible for introducing a “numbers” mindset to the Church…and for which I apologize for my immaturity in doing so without recognizing the unintended consequences… I’ll just say this:

    Nowhere in the Bible will you find spiritual outcomes compared or evaluated by the numbers. (I say that with the confidence of having been convicted by the Spirit to go check… took half a year. There are 5401 verses relating to quantity 🙂 )

    Measurement is NOT just about numbers. Measurement is any observation that tells you more about what is really going on. Spiritual measurement requires time spent in relationship. That way, we can answer Jesus’ hard yes/no questions, like “do you love Me?”

    Yet numbers are crucial. They are an essential element in almost every tangible story! How would Noah know how big to build the Ark? How would we know Jesus fed 5,000 and not 5? Etc. Just don’t go thinking the rich guy’s million is better than the widow’s mite, or David’s huge army was better than Gideon’s 400. Or even that the ten talent guy was a better investor than the five talent person.

    It isn’t about size or growth rate, it’s about faithfulness.

  37. To Chap Mike: maybe a future post on “attractional preaching and ministry: the good, the bad, and the (potentially) ugly” would be worthwhile ?? Just wondering.

    A blessed Easter to all

  38. MRWBBIII says



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