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Saddleback Outtakes

6:07 PM, Aug 25, 2008 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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For my story in this week's issue, "The Faith-Based Campaign," there were some details about Saddleback Church that I was not able to use, for space reasons, but may be of interest especially to people wanting to know more about this high-profile church:

Saddleback is, by intention, "a seeker-friendly" place (as Warren's spokesman Larry Ross described it to me.) The sermons or "messages" are laden with Scripture but easily digestible. The outline that Warren preaches from is made available to everyone who walks in. And because people like adult contemporary music--Warren has praised it as "a universal style that can be heard in every country in the world"-- traditional hymns have yielded to adult contemporary's Christian version and thus often to "praise" and "worship" songs.

This music tends to use simple, repetitive lyrics, and it relies, at many other churches in addition to Saddleback, on a guitarist and back-up band and small choir. You can trace the music back to the Jesus Movement. It began migrating into youth ministries in the 1970s. Warren was familiar with it long ago, having served as a youth minister before he started Saddleback. According to Ross, Warren has recently expressed interest in rotating in some of the classic hymns, like Luther's great work, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (imagine seeing those words on one of Saddleback's Jumbotrons) and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Warren wants to make sure the rising generation doesn't grow up "without the legacy of the hymns we grew up with up." (I'm quoting Ross again).

During the church service I reported on, what was especially striking was that Warren didn't preach his sermon in its entirety, but he broke it up with music. Thus, he preached the first point of his three-point message, taking eight minutes, and then his musicians led in song, one that thematically fit the first point and was about three minutes long. Warren then resumed with his second point, again going for about eight minutes, and then the musicians came back with an appropriate song, again for about three minutes. When they finished, Warren then preached his third point, which took him about twelve minutes.

This ABABA pattern is Warren's "signature style," Ross told me. It's "a way of reinforcing the message so that people get it. And it's reaching out to the younger generation, who are used to getting their news in modular ways." Warren often preaches at greater length than he did the Sunday I visited--upwards of an hour. But those sermons, too, come out in modules.