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Rick Warren's Saddleback Church receives $71 million to expand global ministry

An evangelical Christian megachurch has received $71 million in pledges for what it says is a "daring" project aimed at expanding its global ministry, with an estimated $7 million in cash already received.

Saddleback Church, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, said it will use the money to expand the number of Southern California "campuses" where congregations meet; evangelize "small tribes" in Africa, Asia and South America; and construct a three-story training center, which a news report described as a "mini-seminary."

According to the Orange County Register, Saddleback's founder, Pastor Rick Warren, was enthusiastic about the project. The effort is called "Daring Faith," which also was the title of Warren's first church sermon in 1980.

At a May 31 worship service where the donations were announced, Warren said, "Seventy-one million dollars! That will reach thousands and thousands in Christ. Do you know anything bigger in your life? What’s more important than that? … We want to see people in heaven from every nation."

Warren, a Southern Baptist, began Saddleback in 1980 with an at-home Bible study attended by seven people. After a door-to-door canvassing run in Orange County, where he delivered 15,000 personal invitations, 60 people showed up for a "practice" service and five accepted Jesus as their Savior, the Christian Examiner reported.

Warren is perhaps best known as the author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life," as well as for hosting 2008 presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain in question-and-answer forums. The pastor also delivered the invocation at Obama's 2009 presidential inauguration.

Currently, Saddleback averages 27,000 weekly worshippers in attendance at its Southern California locations, but Warren wants to see that grow to 40,000 each week by 2020, the church's 40th anniversary. The group wants to "assist 250,000 people" through its PEACE plan, which provides food, medical assistance and counseling.

Another fundraising effort by megachurch Pastor Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International in Atlanta ran into some criticism and is being revamped. In March, Dollar announced an online fundraising effort to raise $65 million to purchase a Grumman Gulfstream G650 jet, though the public effort via his ministry's website was quickly abandoned under criticism, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

However, in June, Dollar's ministry announced it would look to its own base of supporters to raise funds for the project, as opposed to an appeal to the public. In a statement from the group's board of directors, the organization said, "There was no pressure of any kind applied to anyone, but rather an opportunity was presented to those in our community who may be inclined to participate and who stand to benefit from the global mobility of our ministry leaders."

Dollar's organization says the new aircraft was necessary to replace two other airplanes due to "an unfortunate accident that recently resulted in the ministry’s aircraft being declared a total loss," the group said.

"A long-range, high-speed, intercontinental jet aircraft is a tool that is necessary in order to fulfill the mission of the ministry," the statement said. "In light of an unfortunate accident that recently resulted in the ministry’s aircraft being declared a total loss, it is our intention to purchase another airplane at a time, place and price of our choosing."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner