In the summer of 1979, a young seminary student who was white, had been one year old when Rosa Parks was arrested, and was currently focused mostly on how he was going to support his growing family, posted a map on the wall of his Texas home and began drawing circles around major U.S. cities, from Seattle to Miami.
Rick Warren was a Baptist pastor with a pregnant wife and less than $2,000 in the bank. He wanted to start a new congregation among people who didn't already attend church, but he had no idea where it should be located. "I figured I would go somewhere all my seminary friends didn't want to go," he told me. He spent the summer in libraries studying census records, phone books, newspaper articles, and maps. His wife was in her ninth month, and so every few hours Warren would jog to a pay phone, call home to make sure she hadn't started labor yet, and then return to the stacks.
One afternoon, Warren stumbled upon a description of a place called Saddleback Valley in Orange County, California. The book Warren was reading said it was the fastest-growing region in the fastest growing county in one of the fastest-growing states in America. There were a number of churches in the area, but none large enough to accommodate the quickly expanding population. Intrigued, Warren contacted religious leaders in Southern California who told him that many locals self-identified as Christian but didn't attend services. "In the dusty, dimly lit basement of that university library, I heard God speak to me: 'That's where I want you to plant a church!'" Warren later wrote. "From that moment on, our destination was a settled issue."
Warren's focus on building a congregation among the unchurched had begun five years earlier, when, as a missionary ...1