Saddleback Sam is a character from the Purpose Driven Church book and curriculum, representing the ideal church member. He is a seeker who is looking for more out of church than simply attending on Sundays. Through Saddleback Sam, Rick Warren aims to help people find community, acceptance and belonging in the church. Whether you are new to the faith or have been searching for a spiritual home, Saddleback Sam represents the kind of support and guidance that can be found in the Purpose Driven Church.
Table of contents
The Purpose-Driven Approach
In his book The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren’s message to pastors and ministry leaders was simply to build their programs around God’s ideas. Their approaches to ministry, worship, leadership, and church growth should come from God’s word and not their own minds or what’s trendy.
To start relating how he applied this to his ministry, he set the stage by talking about how God showed him who and where to serve. After looking at every demographic in the USA, he was finally led to start his ministry in Southern California. He put the “who” and “where” of his ministry in God’s hands so that his ministry could truly serve God’s purpose.
However, Southern California already had churches. But Warren believed in God’s word and set out to create a ministry for people not yet in a church.
Warren started by going door to door in Orange County with questionnaires. Once he collated the information, he could see what people were like and what they wanted. He developed a “typical” candidate profile and called the person “Saddleback Sam” (after Saddleback Church).
When Warren looked at the average Californian in his area, he took notice of several shared traits within the population. His idea was that identifying his “target” church member would help him gear his church toward attracting those kinds of people. Reaching “Sams” became a matter of removing as many barriers to entry to church life as possible.
What’s important to note was that this process focused on identifying the people already in the area. It’s not a matter of “designing” the person you want in the pews on Sundays and then only evangelizing to people that fit the profile.
Sam’s Foundational Feature
The key feature they saw in Sam was that he was “skeptical of organized religion”. This doesn’t mean Sam was opposed to the idea of God. It simply helped them define the unchurched folk they were looking for as those still open to the idea of joining a church or seeking the Lord.
Sam’s Lot in Life
Next, their profile took into account that most of the unchurched-but-searching folk in the area had been well-educated. Education doesn’t necessarily convince people that there’s no God (although some educators try) and can often bring Christians closer to God. However, a person’s priorities can become very jumbled during their time at college.
Many people put their church habits on the shelf while they pursue their qualifications. Studies demand a lot from a person’s schedule. When these people leave school, it can be difficult to justify going back to a church-heavy routine.
Being well educated, Sam was also suitably and happily employed. He was also mostly satisfied with his life and even smug about his success at times.
Sam’s Priorities and Preferences
According to Warren’s findings, Saddleback Sam liked to be part of big groups rather than small ones. This may have been a product of Saddleback Church being a megachurch (megachurches usually have thousands of members).
Sam also preferred an informal structure to a formal one. Many such people who are skeptical of the older denominations (such as Methodist or Anglican) can be put off because they find the liturgy fake, boring, or confusing.
Lastly, Saddleback Sam held a high view of physical activity. This information was important to Warren because it meant the church could host outdoor events (such as fun runs or carnivals) and attract many congregation members.
Using a Sam-like Avatar in Your Ministry
I’ve seen churches use a typical-member profile to focus and grow their congregations. It can be effective if used properly.
First, the avatar’s traits need to come from the community around the church. Using national averages and census data will lead to huge misunderstandings.
Rather go door-to-door (yes, even in 2022) or invite church members to fill out a customized form with the information you want. You can also put the form up on your church website and invite people to fill it in there.
Once you have your profile set up, your leadership team can start talking about programs, events, sermons, and marketing that caters to those people. Be sure not to plaster your own ideas for what they should have over what the Lord is telling you to do. Considering how to minister to your flock must be done with prayer and reverence.
Lastly, you also want to avoid making marketing mistakes once you start reaching out to the community. Rick Warren was right to take marketing wisdom from successful companies as those methods really work.
Grow Your Church Towards God’s Purposes Today
The gospel and the ways of Jesus are eternally important. We still need to be continuing His ministry in the 21st Century, no matter how crazy things seem. According to Christ’s great commission, that means receiving people and teaching people (in churches big and small) as much as it means telling the nations the good news.
Rick Warren made his Saddleback Sam avatar out of the traits of the people who lived near his church. Sams had traits and preferences particular to that place and time, but the key element was that they weren’t in church yet.
You can make a Sam-like profile for the people you can reach with your ministry too, and now you can reach them online. If you want to learn how to do this really well, check out our blog. We can help boost your church’s online presence and gear your program for success in 2022.
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