California model provides a basis for new church 'Purpose-driven' idea spurs Arundel group

November 10, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

From a seed planted a year ago has sprouted the budding Mariners' Church.

The Annapolis-based congregation, which celebrated its first anniversary Sunday, is based on an increasingly popular concept: the "purpose-driven church."

Part of what theologians call the "seeker-sensitive" church movement, it is successfully attracting baby boomers and younger members by offering contemporary and entertaining worship services to meet modern spiritual needs.

"It's been exciting how the Lord is growing this church," said Mariners' pastor Bill McKinney. The church, which started with four families, met for several months at the Wyndham Garden Hotel outside Annapolis. Now, the services attract more than 200 people and have moved to larger quarters at Broadneck Senior High School.

"Our vision is to impact as many people as we can," said McKinney, a 1971 Naval Academy graduate who has two sons attending the Academy and a third who graduated. "As long as there is someone within driving distance of our church, who does not know Christ we believe Mariners' Church has a sacred job to do."

The "purpose-driven church" is the brainchild of Rick Warren, pastor of southern California's 18-year-old Saddleback Valley Community Church, which averages a weekly attendance of 10,000 and has been called the country's fastest-growing congregation.

Warren wrote the best-selling "Purpose Driven Church" in 1995, in which he says a successful church must clearly define its purpose, then develop a process for fulfilling it.

The church's purpose, Warren says, must be related to Jesus' Great Commandment ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself ") and his Great Commission ("Go and make disciples of all nations"). In practice, it means developing a spiritual life, building church fellowship and evangelizing others.

The concept also emphasizes the constant recruitment of members, leading them through increasingly deeper commitments to the faith and to the church, and then sending them out to recruit more prospective Christians.

Thousands of churches follow the model.

Edmund Gibbs, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said it's a good approach, but one that should be used with caution. "It's a model that has to be applied with a great deal of integrity," he said. "Otherwise, you have a gospel that just meets people's needs without ever challenging their priorities. To be crass, it can become market-driven."

Before starting Mariners', McKinney was pastor of Fellowship Chapel, a nondenominational church in Jarrettsville. About two years ago, he said, he had accomplished his goals there and felt called by God to start a new congregation when he attended a purpose-driven church seminar in California.

"As a pastor, I really believe that my purpose is to not only bring people to Christ but to disciple them to where they grow to full maturity in Christ," he said. "When I came across the model of discipleship at Saddleback, it was like a thirsty guy finding an oasis."

Greg St. Cyr, pastor of Anne Arundel County's Bay Area Community Church, attended the seminar with McKinney. He agrees with the general philosophy but has not adopted the exact model at his church. Some evangelical Christians are uncomfortable with the concept, he said.

"Some believers react to the term because of a fear of employing human marketing strategies with biblical principles of growth. In reality, the Purpose Driven Church just says: We as a church want to take the Great Commandment and the Great Commission seriously as an imperative of the church and then answer the question, 'How would God want us to do that?'"

Warren uses a baseball diamond to illustrate how his model attempts to bring church members to deeper levels of commitment.

In the on-deck circle is what Warren calls the "crowd" -- people who are committed only to attending the Sunday worship services. Because the idea is to attract as many people as possible in the community who don't belong to any church, the Sunday services should offer attractive elements, such as contemporary music and interesting preaching.

Mariners' features contemporary music at its services "because it communicates best to the culture," McKinney said. "One of our core values is first the authority of Scripture, but then relevance. We don't want to compromise God's truth, but we want to communicate it in ways that are going to connect with the culture."

The idea is then to move people from the crowd to first base, to what is called the "congregation," or basic membership in the church. They do that by taking a "first base course," in which prospective members make a personal commitment to Christ and learn about the expectations and commitments of church membership. Taking the "second base course" moves members to the level of the "committed" -- people who take Bible classes and pray daily.

Moving to third base, members become part of the church's "core" by committing to some kind of ministry in the congregation for one year. Finally, members who advance to home base are asked to make a commitment to missions, sharing their faith with the community and bringing others into the church.

McKinney said he believes God led him to plant his church in Annapolis, where he once quarterbacked the Naval Academy football team.

"I've always had a heart for Annapolis because of my days as a midshipman," he said. "I was thinking that, 'Gosh, if we can take some of these guys, get them as plebes, get them around the bases, and have them bring in others ," he said. "They can take that out as they go literally around the world. It could have a tremendous impact for Christ."

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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