Purpose-Driven Church Movement

What's the Purpose-Driven way of building a church?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The movement superimposes worldly wisdom on Scripture to create an un-Biblical, man-centered model for building a church.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Purpose-Driven Church movement.

The Purpose-Driven Church movement superimposes worldly wisdom on the Bible to create an un-Biblical, man-centered model for building a church. The result is a church that bears little resemblance to the one found in God's Word - a bad tree that bears bad fruit.

The Purpose-Driven Church movement takes the human wisdom we described in previous articles - the market-driven church-growth thinking of Donald McGavran, C. Peter Wagner, and Robert Schuller, coupled with the management-by-objectives teachings of Peter Drucker - and superimposes this worldly wisdom on the Bible to create a model for building a church.

Although Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Church is filled with Scripture proof-texts, in almost every case those texts are taken out of context and then used as pretexts to promote an un-Biblical agenda. Instead of being rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith (Colossians 2:7), the Purpose-Driven Church movement is rooted in the wisdom of man, and built up and established on the foundation of philosophies that are perishing (1 Corinthians 1 and 2).

Defining "Purpose"

In defining its purpose, The Purpose-Driven Church teaches that a church must answer four questions about itself: Why does the church exist? What are we to be as a church? What are we to do as a church? How are we to do it? Warren then says that it is important for the church to go to the Bible to seek answers.1 But the real emphasis of the book is on defining the church in terms of people's expectations - surveying the unsaved to see why they think the church exists, what they think it should be, what they think it should do, and how they think it should do it - and then shaping the church to unbelievers' specifications.2

Through its surveys, Warren's church developed a profile of a composite individual called "Saddleback Sam." Sam's characteristics and preferences became the specifications to which Saddleback Church shaped itself. This is the profile of "Saddleback Sam" -

  • He is well educated.
  • He likes his job.
  • He likes where he lives.
  • Health and fitness are high priorities for him and his family.
  • He'd rather be in a larger group than a small one.
  • He is skeptical of "organized" religion.
  • He likes contemporary music.
  • He thinks he is enjoying life more than he did five years ago.
  • He is self-satisfied, even smug, about his station in life.
  • He prefers the casual and informal over the formal.
  • He is overextended in both time and money.3

The Purpose Driven Church teaches that every church must develop and be governed by such a profile. Warren says that he has a hobby of collecting such profiles from various churches that have been built on the Purpose-Driven Church methodology. "I have a file filled with characters like Dallas Doug, Memphis Mike, and Atlanta Al."4

The profile is all about "Sam" - "Doug" - "Mike" - or "Al" and his felt needs and preferences. It has no spiritual component. The Purpose-Driven Church is built on Sam, and not on Christ and the Bible.

Explaining "Purpose"

Warren's book teaches that a church's man-centered purposes must be explained in man-centered terms, or, as he puts it, "basic human needs" and "emotional benefit." He uses Acts 2:42-47 as a proof-text, in a graphic called "Explaining the Church's Purposes."

In that graphic, under the heading of "Outreach," he says that the words from that passage, "added to their number daily those who were being saved," must be explained not in terms of salvation from sin through the blood of Christ, but in terms of the church's providing people with a sense of "community." "The church [not Christ] provides a focus for living" and the "emotional benefit" of personal "significance." The "salvation" offered by the Purpose-Driven church is psychological, not spiritual. (We'll have more on this in a future article.)

Under the heading of "Worship," the words "they devoted themselves to...breaking of bread and prayers...praising God" become a pretext for the "purpose" of fulfilling of the "basic human need" of "power to live on." "The church provides a force for living" and the "emotional benefit" of "stimulation."5 The focus of worship in the Purpose-Driven Church is not God, but man, and the "force" generated by such pseudo-worship is not of the God Holy Spirit but of the flesh, and therefore is of the evil one (Romans 8:5, 1 Corinthians 2:12, Philippians 3:3, 1 John 4:1).

"Circles of Commitment"

Another emphasis of The Purpose-Driven Church is "circles of commitment." An often-used illustration is made up of five concentric circles, labeled (from the outside inward) "Community (Unchurched)" - "Crowd (Regular Attenders)" - "Congregation (Members)" - "Committed (Maturing Members)" - and "Core (Lay Ministers)".6

The Purpose-Driven Church strategy focuses on increasing levels of personal commitment - not to Jesus Christ and the Word of God, but to the principles and practices of the Purpose-Driven Church movement. The strategy is to turn unchurched people into regular attenders, who become "members" (which denotes becoming involved in the activities of the church, not membership based on a personal testimony of saving faith in Christ), who then become "maturing members" who are more deeply indoctrinated in the Purpose-Driven Church philosophy and methods, who then become "core" people who are "lay ministers," preaching not the Gospel of Christ, but the gospel of The Purpose-Driven Church.

What Kind of Church?

What kind of church does this methodology build? The Purpose-Driven Church claims that the movement doesn't change the church's message, only its methods. But as we have already seen, and shall see further in upcoming articles, the message does indeed change, as well as the methods of "doing church." Both are contrary to God's Word. The result is a bad tree bearing bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-19) instead of "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8).

The spokesmen for the Purpose-Driven Church movement say that the Bible is their authority, but this is a deception. They also say that in order to grow the church, we need more than the Bible. We need to go to the unbelieving world and ask the world what the church should be like. And then, we need to reinvent and repackage the church to meet the world's specifications. And as the world's specifications change, the church must change. The world's specifications, not the Bible, are the Purpose-Driven Church movement's supreme authority.

But when churches do that, they are putting the world's opinion above Scripture. And besides that, they're going to the most unqualified people on earth. In fact, they are going to the enemies of God to ask them how the church should be defined and run. The unsaved are often very nice people, humanly speaking. But spiritually, they are the enemies of God. The Bible tells us in Romans 8:7 that the worldly mind, the unbelieving mind, is at war with God. And First Corinthians 2:14 tells us that the worldly mind, the unbelieving mind, is incapable of discerning spiritual matters. In other words, the unbelieving world is absolutely unqualified to advise the church about its nature and purpose. Scripture defines the nature and purpose of the church, not the world, and not even the leadership of the church.




1. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message or Mission (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), pages 95-109.

2. The Purpose-Driven Church, pages 25-46, 155-203.

3. The Purpose-Driven Church, pages 168-172.

4. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 171.

5. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 119. The bolded words are bolded in the graphic.

6. The Purpose-Driven Church, page 153 and following.


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