Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church has celebrated baptising its 50,000th person on Sunday.
In an email to the congregation before the service, Warren said reaching the milestone ‘brought tears to my eyes’.
Saddleback, in Lake Forest, California, now one of the largest evangelical churches in the US, began 38 years ago. Warren has become a leading figure in the evangelical world, known for his books The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church.
Standing in the main baptismal pool yesterday, a visibly moved Warren reflected on the church’s first service in 1980.
‘That first Sunday six people gave their lives to Christ, and six weeks later, I baptised the first nine people,’ he said.
Saddleback was a pioneer in church growth, one of the first in the US to marry large weekend gatherings with small group meetings in homes on a large scale.
Eventually more people were meeting in weekly home Bible studies than in the weekly church services (nearly 40,000). In 1993, it became the first church to embrace the internet as a tool for evangelism.
Saddleback Church is also the founder of Celebrate Recovery, which has trained over 100,000 leaders in its approach to helping those struggling with addiction or other ‘hurts, habits, and hang-ups’.
It once decided to feed every homeless person in Orange County for 30 days. Nearly 10,000 members of the congregation participated in the initiative, preparing over 125,000 meals for those in need.