If you are wondering how many of today’s “seeker friendly/seeker-sensitive” mega-growth churches came about, this article will help you see how one man was able to influence tens of thousands of churches to adopt a new paradigm shift. Perhaps you will recognize some of his methods in your own church. I did in mine.
Who is this influencer? He is Dan Southerland, the founder and director of Church Transitions, an organization that trains pastors and church leaders to effectively manage change. The first time I heard an audio soundclip of him speaking at a pastor’s conference in 2010, I was shaken. I had just witnessed my own church use these same methods to oust any leader who dared question the new direction our church was heading — and it was used on me.
It started in 2010 when I felt uneasy about a new shift in our large church. I took my concerns privately to my leaders. My then pastor called me a Sanballat. Several times. (Sanballat was the guy in Nehemiah who tried to prevent the walls of Jerusalem from being rebuilt.) So I googled this: “Why is a pastor calling me a Sanballat?”
Apparently because I had asked my church leaders why we were going off in an unbiblical direction, I was the “Sanballat” opposing what these leaders a new direction that had received directly from God. The Google results pointed to the above audio clip from Fighting for the Faith. I was devestated when I listened to Southerland tell pastors to call their “leaders from Hell” a Sanballat, and heartbroken to hear those pastors laugh. Like it was a funny joke.
A leader from Hell? I loved my church. I was a loyal member. I was on staff. I had hoped to see my children get married there. I had so many dear friends there.
I’m just one of many who received the left foot of fellowship from pastors mentored by Southerland. According to Zondervan, He has trained over 100,000 pastors and church leaders in the past seven years, and is one of the leading experts on implementing the purpose–driven paradigm in existing churches.
His 2002 book Transitioning: Leading Your Church Through Change, which is supposed to draw principles from the book of Nehemiah, is essentially a follow on to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, being a step by step guide to changing an existing church from program–driven to purpose–driven.
The following is taken from Dan Southerland’s Transitioning book, and page references are given where appropriate. This is what they’re pushing:
Dan Southerland’s Overall Steps to “Transition” your church:
Change your Approach – from “Program Driven” (read: traditional), to “Purpose Driven”.
Change your Target – from reaching saved fellow Christians to reaching the “un-churched”. (this is an oxymoron, since church is by definition for the saved. Is “jail” for the “un-jailed”?)
Change your Leadership – Move away from an Elder/Deacon/Board leadership (read: Biblical) model, and have the staff make all the decisions. (IOW, let the people whose paychecks depend on the choices made decide everything. No matter that this may open them up to spiritual attack and make them vulnerable to unethical, even un-Biblical decisions!)
Change your Pastors – From a senior pastor model to multiple pastors. (not wrong in and of itself, but they’re using this to make up a new “board” of directors)
Change your Ministry – From staff doing all the ministry to lay ministers doing the ministry. (again, it’s not bad in and of itself to use lay-pastors, but they use it to increase indoctrination and “group-think”)
Change your Strategy – From no plan to a “Life-cycle process” that is “driven by small groups” (see more on this below)
Change your Schedule – Have your services targeted to the “un-churched”, and if you must reach the already saved, do it in a separate service. (Why confuse those poor pagans with true gospel and Biblical teaching?)
Change your Small Groups – from traditional educational groups to “relational” small groups. (This is also used to increase peer pressure to accept wrong teaching, and as a format to “seed” in strategically placed proponents to apply pressure to members to conform.)
“It concerns how we should relate to the world around us; how we make the gospel culturally relevant…” (pg 15)
Direct Steps for Changing Your Church
Put together a “Vision Team”: A “small handful of leaders”. Choose mature believers, Dreamers rather than detail people, who are “trustworthy to keep their mouths shut” about your plans until “the time is right for it to be shared”. (pg 77) Work quietly and secretly behind the scenes. (this to me screams that they know people won’t want the changes, but they don’t care – they’re deluded into thinking they know best) It’s preferred that members of the Vision Team are staff, but others can be used if they fit the profile.
Prepare for Vision: 1) Collect information. Do surveys of your membership, your neighborhood “un-churched”, and your community. (My church did the REVEAL Survey bought from Willow Creek) 2) Have a “holy discontent” with the status quo 3) Fast 4) Pray 5) Wait
Defining the Vision: 1) Discover your purpose and develop a “Purpose / Mission Statement”, (Gee, I thought our purpose was already defined by God’s word? In my church, a “mission statement” appeared on the front of our Sunday bulletins) 2) Define your Target – ask “who is your primary customer?” “Don’t ask who do we want to reach – this is too elitist” (pg. 51) (Supposedly, the “purpose” is given as a “vision from God”. This is why they cling to it so ferociously. They also teach that God has a “different vision” for every church, yet they use cookie-cutter methods that supposedly fit Christians, Jews, Muslims, corporations, etc., and proudly promote this)
Planting the Vision: 1) Secure the approval of the “Power Brokers”. The opinion makers, either with formal roles in the church, or members. 2) Secure the approval of members who hold the resources you’ll need to make the changes – money and talent. (In other words, the church will be run by the staff, the wealthy and the powerful – wow, this is just sounding a lot like our government, no?)
Sharing the Vision: (Now they finally come out of the closet and share aspects of the plan with others outside the inner circle!) 1) Share with church leaders left out previously 2) Let the “rank and file” know (I find this term insulting), 3) Take your leadership away on a “Vision Retreat” 4) Use the “Power of the Pulpit” to promote your vision & changes 5) Have all your Small Groups go through a “Vision Study” (remember what I told you above? This is indoctrination) 6) Repeat your Purpose Statement regularly 7) Require your leadership to read “The Purpose-Driven Church” by Rick Warren (this book twists scripture like you wouldn’t believe, and often uses Bible versions like the Message so they can say it supports their teaching. But hey, why would pastors bother to be Berean when the marketing for this drivel is so slick? )
Implement Your Changes: 1) Plan to do it slowly – over a few years 2) Be strategic, with the least objectionable changes done first 3) Take your “Key Leaders” as discussed above and put them in very visible places to help convince others. Have them show their approval so others will want to imitate it. (More indoctrination and group-think methods. These people are “seeded” into strategic locations.)
Dealing With Opposition: 1) There will be opposition from those whom the enemy controls: (pg. 112) (Do you see the set-up here? If you don’t approve of their methods, they’re taught to see you as demonic. Just black and white. This is how cults set up their structure – “if you’re not with me you’re against me”.) 2) Expect anger and a fight 3) Get members to pray for your church (In my church, we were thrilled to finally, after 20+ years, get a church-sanctioned prayer group started. Now I know it was just one of the “steps” )
Pastors are taught that objectors are “Sanballats” whom Southerland calls “leaders from hell”. He goes on to write “You cannot call this guy a leader from hell to his face, but you can call him a Sanballat”. (pg. 115) (What a great, spirit-filled example to teach – call Bible-believing Christians who object to your man-made and unBiblical methods “leaders from hell”! Basically, they teach that you either Convince people the new way is right, you Fight them, or you Chase them off!)
Be Willing To Let People Leave the Church: Southerland teaches that the traditional members who are pillars of the church can just hold you back from the changes, and fight your methods. He and Warren are proud of the numbers they’ve chased off. “When you set the vision and stay the course, you determine who leaves” (pg 127) (They don’t care that their new “church” is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s only the numbers and the money that count in the long run, no matter how much they try to trumpet their desire to “reach the un-churched”.)
(I just found out that my pastor grand-standed in a Trustees meeting, when the Trustees didn’t think a huge building project was needed or affordable. The pastor just told them that they either voted with him, or they were welcome to leave. I’m still in shock!)
Other Changes to Make:
Drop titles like “Pastor” or “Doctor”, since they’re too formal and intimidate the un-churched
Dress Casually – no more ties, slacks dress shirts or coats. You can’t appear “elitist”.
Use common speech, and drop “religious” words like “sin”, “salvation”, “judgment”, “hell”, etc. (No need to frighten those poor Seekers or have them feel any conviction in their hearts.)
Below are other things Rick Warren teaches. These are taken from his website where you can access handouts from his pastoral training seminars, and some are also excerpted from his book “The Purpose Driven Church.”
Teaching and Tactics
Enlist Support from the “Legitimizers” in your church. (read: have them help you indoctrinate the “rank and file”.)
Get the people on board who are the easiest to convince – those younger than the pastor, and those who have started attending after the pastor took over. (read: lets go after those impressionable un-churched or those new Christians who as yet have little to no discernment)
Call everything, every change, “an experiment”. (read: fool people into thinking the changes are just temporary)
Require all members to sign 4 “Covenants” The Membership Covenant, the Ministry Covenant, The Maturity Covenant and the Missions Covenant
(I have a HUGE problem with this, as it is totally un-Biblical! We’re told in many places in scripture that we’re not to do this. One is“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgement.” Warren et al want people to swear loyalty to the pastor, the specific church, to tithe 10%, and to support the leadership no matter what so as not to cause “division”. Again – this is like a cult! I’ve discovered some of these churches actually have credit card kiosks in their foyers, so even if people dont’ have the cash, they can charge the required tithe. Can you believe that?? Warren brags that people have sold cars and houses so they could be sure to make their tithes to his church)
Use Christian Education to focus on your Purpose These are called “The Core” by Warren. Build your CE ministry around his Purposes.
Class 101 – Intro. to our church family. Membership Oath required.
Class 201 – Into. to Spiritual Maturity. Ministry Oath required
Class 301 – Discovering my Shape (?) for Ministry – Ministry oath required. Personality/Aptitude tests given.
Class 401 – Discovering my Life Mission – Mission oath required. Everyone is either to find a volunteer job at the church, or is seen as selfish.
Make your Purpose Statement in terms of results. Make it “Measurable”, make it “Encourage Participation”, and make the results a “Sequential Process”. Warren gives the example of “Bring them in…Build them Up…Train them for…Send them Out!” (I was shocked to see my church’s new purpose statement is almost an exact copy of this – “Win, Train, Send”. We count every attendee at every service, every CE class, every social function, etc.)
Come up with a symbol (read “logo”) that everyone can identify with, and that will create an emotional reaction, as when people see an American flag. (This is all about marketing and emotional manipulation, and sadly, my church just came up with one. )
When you’re preaching, tell stories. Give them a vision so they can see themselves and identify with you.
Change your Worship Music – use very contemporary music, and make it LOUD. If an unchurched person comes in and everyone is talking quietly, they’ll feel “uncomfortable”, but if everyone is shouting over the music, they’ll feel more anonymous. Also, since Warren is going after the young adults, he says that they like to “feel” the music physically. (You know – the throbbing ears, the pounding heart, the floor vibrating – all those things that glorify God All sadly done in my church over the past year.)
Change your Worship to less singing by the congregation, and more performances they can just sit back and watch. Things like musical performers, dancers, skits, etc. Seekers are uncomfortable with songs they don’t know, and prefer to be passive watchers.
Do a Building Project – Build it and they will come. Warren practically guarantees that if you follow his slick marketing program, your attendance will increase by at least 20%. (This too has happened in my church, and many members left or were chased off because of it.)
Drop the term”Sanctuary“, and call it a “Worship Center” instead. Use moveable chairs instead of pews, so it can become a multi-purpose room. (Sadly, a done deal in my church. We also built a coffee shop )
If you see even just a few of these in your church, I strongly urge you to do more research! As I discovered, what you initially see is probably just the tip of the iceberg! They’re taught to do this in secret, to stand for no civil, Christian debate, to vilify anyone with opposing views, and to see their own motives as pure and Biblical. The lack of discernment in these leaders is truly frightening! I’ll bet they put more research into buying a used car than they do into buying a program that will turn their churches on their ears and invite satan in for a seat.
I absolutely believe this is of the devil, and is another of his ways to persecute real, Bible-believing Christians. The evidence against it is just too clear and abundant, and is too easily accessed. Any pastor that wants to check it out could do so very simply. The scales on their eyes are just too thick.
As I researched this, almost every discernment ministry recommended the book “Redefining Christianity” by Pastor Bob Dewaay. I bought it, and found it to be a wonderful, scripture-filled refutation of this drivel. You can order it from his website at , and bulk discounts are available. I bought several to start giving away to people who I think are open to the truth.
(Book review and commentary is from a discussion at Rapture Ready.com)
Note: This article was updated and republished in 2021 from an earlier article posted in 2011.