One of North America's best-known pastors has preached his final sermon at the church he started with his wife 43 years ago.

"You're going to make me cry. Have I told you lately that I love you?" Rick Warren said to the applauding congregation ahead of his final sermon at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.

Warren along with his wife Kay moved to the Saddleback Valley area of California in 1979 where he began planning a church plant. In 1980 the Warrens gathered for a Bible study with seven people in their condo. On Easter Sunday in 1980 they held their first worship gathering in a school gymnasium. Today the church is the largest in California and one of the largest in North America with weekly attendance reportedly around 24,000 people.

The Connections podcast: real life, real faith

In June of 2021 Rick announced he was retiring as pastor at Saddleback, and this past Sunday he preached his final sermon. It also happened to be his first. At the start of his final message Warren said that he had preached over 6,500 sermons, messages, and studies as senior pastor of Saddleback, but on his last Sunday, and for his last sermon, he wanted to preach once more the first sermon he preached on Easter Sunday 1980.

"One of the purpose driven values we hold on to in this church is begin with the end in mind," Warren said. He rose to prominence in the 1995 after writing the book The Purpose Driven Church, and its 2002 follow-up, The Purpose Driven Life. "That's what it means to be purpose-driven: begin with the end in mind. Know where you're going," he said at the start of his sermon, explaining why he chose to "repeat and re-preach" word-for-word the first sermon he gave to 50 people.

"Let the size of your God determine the size of your goal."

The sermon's title was 5 Reasons This Church Is Guaranteed to Succeed, and Warren had the congregants in attendance last Sunday across several campuses and with tens-of-thousands of other people to imagine they were in that school gym in 1980 with 49 other people for the first-ever gathering.

“Success is not size. Success is changed lives. You’ll hear me say that a thousand times in the years ahead," he said. Church Leaders writes that Warren "emphasized the priority of church health over growth, saying that healthy churches grow." He highlighted the five points that Saddleback chose to use as its "blueprint" and why it would succeed as a church.

  1. Doing God’s Word will be our foundation
  2. Fulfilling God’s purposes will be our plan
  3. Trusting God’s promises will be our confidence
  4. Depending on God’s Spirit will be our strength
  5. Loving God and people will be our attraction

Encouraging the congregants to dream big for doing God's work he said, "Let the size of your God determine the size of your goal." Warren evidently had a big God, because he had big goals that he laid out in 1980:

"It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the hopeless, the discouraged, the depressed, the frustrated, and the confused will find love, acceptance, healing, hope, forgiveness, guidance, encouragement, and support. It is a dream of sharing the life-changing good news of Jesus Christ with hundreds of thousands of residents in South Orange County. It is a dream of welcoming 20,000—yeah, I said it—20,000 members into the fellowship of this church family, loving, learning, laughing and living in harmony together, modeling God’s love to the world."

In that first sermon, Warren pledged at least the next 40 years of his life to reaching people for God as the pastor of Saddleback.

On June 3, 2022, Warren announced that Andy Wood would be his successor. The announcement had come exactly one year after Warren announced his intentions to retire. Wood and his wife Stacie led Echo.Church in the San Francisco Bay Area before the call to the Orange County church.