Reprinted from the December 2004 issue of Science & Theology News. Used with permission.

Cabbage Patch Kids. Livestrong bracelets. Low-carb diets. The Purpose-Driven Life?

With more than 20,000 churches in 52 countries joining hundreds of others, Rick Warren's 40 Days of Purpose Campaign has spread like a cultural epidemic.

"We had no idea this thing was going to be as explosive as it was," said the Rev. Marty Cutrone, national director of the campaign and a pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., where he and Warren launched the program.

Now in its sixth cycle, the campaign continues to grow exponentially, said Cutrone.

According to Barbara Becker Holstein, a positive psychologist practicing in Long Branch, N.J., and author of Recipes for Enchantment: The Secret Ingredient is You, the campaign has had this sort of impact because purpose is a life-essential element for which people constantly strive.

"It would be like asking, `Why do we need to eat?' or, `Why are there males and females on earth?'" said Holstein. "It is so intertwined with what we have been given as human beings." She explained that having purpose stabilizes us and is important for physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

The 40 Days of Purpose Campaign, which is based on Warren's best-selling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, has three parts, said Cutrone. It focuses on the congregational journey, the small-group experience and the individual study of and reflection on Scripture, and can be tailored to individual congregations' needs.

At the start of each campaign, churches watch a simulcast video featuring Warren, which helps members commit to the program. In the following six weeks, congregants read Warren's book, discuss its teachings in small groups and host a ministry fair and a mission fair to put purpose into practice. At the end of the 40 days, the churches throw a celebration service, or "party for God," said Cutrone.

"I believe all institutions - and churches are no exception - need catalyzing events that help you get back to your mission, to your purpose," said the Rev. Ray Hammond, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Boston, whose congregation began the campaign in September. "They're not the end-all in themselves, but part of the process of revitalizing institutions and people."

Hammond said one of the most important effects the program has had so far is fellowship, both inside and outside the church.

"People are reaching out to others. They have invited employees, friends and family [to participate]," he said, adding that he has already noticed an increase in Sunday church attendance and small-group involvement, which has grown since the start of the campaign.

Holstein said it is no surprise that the group approach has been successful, because biologically, people need that support.

"We need the infusion," she explained. "This is biology tied into the human species - maybe God put it in us. We need the stimulation of a group to feel we're on track. So a group is an ideal mechanism when it's used properly. It gives us the resiliency."

Holstein added, "I think there is an inspiration that comes from the purity of well-handled religion. It awakens the spisrit that might be dormant." She said the ultimate test of the campaign will be moving people into missions beyond the 40 days.

According to Cutrone, plans are in place for that challenge.

"We've created Day 41 resources, a post-campaign strategy harnessing the momentum that's been captured during the 40 days that keeps the excitement going and helps churches train leaders," he said. Those resources include 40 Days of Community, another six-week program that allows churches to select a ministry of choice to which they devote their efforts, and the Global Peace plan, which involves establishing churches, caring for the needy and educating the next generation around the world.

"The key line in the 40 Days of Community is that we are better together," said Cutrone. "God has created us to do ministry to be in small groups, not be the lone-ranger Christian." Saddleback Church, and 800 other churches that have completed the first phase, are taking part in the follow-up program.

The third program incorporates the belief that global peace can be reached in small groups.

"It just became really clear to Rick Warren that if we mobilize, percentage-wise, and inspire other churches, we [could reach] hundreds of thousands and millions around the world," said Cutrone.

Having seen success within churches, Cutrone said the Purpose-Driven team is expanding the campaign into the corporate world. They already have instituted programs for collegiate sports teams and corporations like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and Ford. He added the most amazing "explosion" has occurred in prisons, where some facilities have reported as much as a 40 percent drop in intra-prison violent crime rates after participating in the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign.

"Organizationally, we have been running full-tilt," said Cutrone. "But we don't feel like we've missed a beat. There have been so many amazing success stories. God has been faithful and blessed this thing enormously."

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