Church invites congregation, community to discover purpose in life (Jan. 27, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church invites congregation, community to discover purpose in life

Jan. 27, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0012}

An e-Review Feature

"Purpose Driven Life" book energizes individuals and church.

By J.A. Buchholz

FORT MYERS - Members of First United Methodist Church, Fort Myers, were among those from more than 4,450 churches in more than 20 countries who searched last fall to answer the question most people have asked at some point, "What on earth are you here for?"

FORT MYERS - First United Methodist Church here opened its doors to the community last fall when it began its 40-day journey through the popular book "Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. The church gave away 1,000 copies of the book and formed 44 small groups, through which participants searched to discover meaning and purpose in their lives. The initiative was sponsored by Saddleback Church in California.
Photo by Carl Scharfenberg, Photo #04-0004.

Their journey lasted 40 days and focused on the popular book "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren, a book that has topped several best seller lists and sold more than seven million copies.

The Rev. Jim Rosenberg, senior pastor at the church, said members were excited to be among the 2.5 million people that joined with Saddleback Church in California, sponsor of the campaign, to read and discover their purpose in life. He said it was a very intense spiritual campaign centered in small group settings with people sharing what they had read. Members and non-members met at the church, in homes or public places to discuss the book.

"It's a great book, and, basically, it says that every person has five purposes in life-worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and mission," Rosenberg said. "The key is meeting in small groups."

Planning for the large undertaking began in July, long before the October start date. In preparation the church ran full-page color ads in the local newspaper to encourage and invite the community to participate and kicked off the initiative with a large celebration event. Church members were hoping to create 100 small groups, but were just as pleased with the 40 they formed from the 400 people who were interested in reading the book, Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg said 25 people joined the church and two people were baptized as a direct result of small groups reading and sharing from the book. He said church members felt comfortable inviting neighbors, co-workers and friends. "We wanted to touch lives," Rosenberg said. "It's about growing the kingdom, not the church."

Because it's hard to tabulate spiritual growth, Rosenberg said it's difficult to measure the initiative's success.

"I think real success is in the ongoing stories of people talking about how this book affected them, which are coming back from people in the community," said Rosenberg, who has purchased 200 more books to give away to non-members. "I've had a great number of people tell me that it changed their lives."

Church members were impacted, according to Rosenberg. He said a few who were unhappy with the contemporary worship service the church recently added had a change of heart after reading and discussing the book.

"They realized it wasn't about them, that it was all about God," he said. "Their whole concept changed. It touched them on a deeper level."

Non-church members who read the book also took something away with them, Rosenberg said. "There were some wonderful stories that were shared," he said. "There was a certain amount of unity and understanding of what we are here to do."

The book so energized the congregation that Rosenberg said he would be thrilled to repeat it again in a few years, possibly during the winter to reach seasonal residents.

Church member Betty Daley has attended the church for 10 years. She said reading the book in the fall was the perfect time for her. Her group met during the lunch hour.

"It was awesome," she said. "I'm not a member of a small group, and I enjoyed getting together. And I also feel more energized about coming to church and being active. I want to volunteer."

The church held a mission fair to introduce people like Daley, who felt compelled to volunteer, to various volunteer and mission groups. Rosenberg said 45 community and church groups displayed information.

"We want everyone to have the opportunity to be a part of what we are doing," he said. "We wanted to offer something while the excitement level was at such a high level. We want people to know it's about God. It's not about them."


This article relates to Discipleship and Spiritual Formation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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