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804: Saddleback, Lake Forest, California, USA
Other reports | Comment on this report
Saddleback, Lake Forest, California
Mystery Worshipper: Bubba.
The church: Saddleback, Lake Forest, California, USA.
Denomination: Southern Baptist (though you'll have to find that via Google, I couldn't find it on the church's massive website.
The building: Mapquest gave me a bum steer. If anyone is going via the Hwy 241 toll road, take the
The church: One of the largest and best-known in the US, with (according to a bio of the pastor on another site), an "average Sunday attendance of 16,000 and 50,000 names on their church rolls." Mostly middle class or upper middle class white folks (though not exactly white -- they could be subdivided into tan, very tan, and spooky tan), with some other minorities represented. Their age was mostly 20-something to 40ish. This church was the incubator for the "Purpose-Driven Church" and "40 Days of Purpose" which churches around the country are using with great results.
The neighbourhood: The frontier of development above Irvine and Mission Viejo in Southern California. Office parks, warehouses, orchards, and scrubby desert foothills.
The cast: Pastor Rick Warren, an uncredited associate pastor, and the worship team. Supporting cast: four cameramen in the worship service and the countless volunteers out in the parking lot in shorts, red shirts, and straw hats, who directed parishioners to open spaces ("Remember, kids, we parked in Zacchaeus 3" -- well, not that bad, but there were several large lots.)
What was the name of the service?
11.30am Sunday worship service (other options include a 9.45am service, "Saddleback Praise," which has even louder, even more contemporary music than the main service. There's also "Saddleback Unplugged," a service with quieter, acoustic music and the message on closed-circuit TV. At night, there's "Saddleback Instant Replay" which is a replay of the Sunday morning service.)

How full was the building?
Not that full to begin with, but packed by 15 minutes into the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A straw hat man in the parking lot and kids at the welcome table. And, if you count it, the half dozen people who were told in the service to welcome people around them.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chair was comfortable and there was nice legroom.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very Southern California superchurch: piped-in contemporary music and professionally-edited video announcements playing on the big screens. The crowd looked like they had just arrived from the beach or were headed there afterward. Shorts outnumbered pants. Hawaiian prints outnumbered solids. Many wore their dressy Sunday flip-flops.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to Saddleback church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Books? Just screens and bulletin inserts. Incidentally, the scripture quotes were from maybe four different translations. I guess if the pastor didn't like the way the verse sounded in the Living Bible, he'd go for the New Jerusalem Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, organ, drums, electric lead guitar, electric bass guitar, two saxes, two horns, and a dozen strings and woodwinds. You don't need the Yamaha keyboard to fake brass and strings if you have the real thing.

Did anything distract you?
While there was plenty of leg room, the chairs were close enough together for me to be distracted when I felt my arm hair brushing up against the arm of the woman beside me.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely happy-clappy with words projected on the screens. They did a nice job with standards from Integrity and Vineyard, such as, "This is the air I breathe" and "That's why we praise Him." The worship team established a tone of worship rather than the tone of a concert.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
41 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Very good communicator. I rolled my eyes a bit when he started with a film clip. And I had to get it out of my mind that he looked as if he could be Jerry Falwell's son. But he did a great job communicating relevant points with lots of scripture backing him up.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God wants us to serve him wholeheartedly, with passion. There are many things that can take away our passion, which we need to avoid. He identified seven, such as unresolved conflict, unused spiritual gifts, guilt, and a lack of fellowship.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A vocal duet with the band/orchestra accompanying.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Finding a parking place.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No excuse. Follow the crowds to the cafe, the sign-up tables, the outdoor baptism, or the parking lot.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
At several places around the campus, there were coffee urns and coolers of water set up. If one didn't care for the free coffee, there was the outdoor "Terrace Cafe" with pastries, special brews of coffee, and a nice view of the campus.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – This church is vibrant, alive, and growing. They are impacting their community, and influencing churches around the country, and in some places around the world. But, minus three for the daunting size.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. And it left me with work to do this week.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'd like to say that I'll remember a couple of the points from the sermon, but I'll more likely remember the Jumbotrons and the kids rolling the stone away.
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