Rick Warren and the 5Ms – gold dust or fool’s gold?

Ever since Rick Warren popularised the model in ‘Purpose Driven Church’, there’s been a growing move of churches clustering their life around what are called the ‘5Ms’: Magnification, Membership, Maturity, Ministry, and Mission. The idea is gaining traction, and therefore some push-back, so here’s my angle.


The_Purpose_Driven_Church_Zondervan_largeEver since Rick Warren popularised the model in ‘Purpose Driven Church’, there’s been a growing move of churches clustering their life around what are called the ‘5Ms’: Magnification, Membership, Maturity, Ministry, and Mission.  In Warren’s scheme they are marked on a baseball diamond, with Magnification at the centre, and the other four as consecutive bases.

The idea is gaining traction, and therefore inevitably some push-back, so let me add my comments for what they are worth.

Leave aside the neatness of the words, I do find the concepts persuasive. Where I as a preacher always want to put ‘preaching’ central, Warren’s descriptions remind us that preaching is merely one God-appointed means to those ends, all of which are proper.  When God’s Word is put to work, it produces a healthy functioning church, doing all those things.

Words, words, words.

As I’ve mulled, I have changed one word, and added another.  The one I’ve changed is ‘Mission’. In my UK context, that is such a slippery word that I never really know what someone means by it unless they spell it out.  In a great many circles, where there are churches that are embarrassed about evangelism, it is a convenient word that can be used to mean ‘our church is outward-facing, and does all sorts of useful stuff in the community’ without any actual proclamation happening.

So I dropped it.  Instead, I’ve widened the idea of ‘Ministry’ (serving’) to include all acts of compassion, inside and outside the church.  And that means I have retained a zone which is only about evangelism, narrowly defined, and I call it ‘Mobilisation.’

And I’ve added a word, and therefore a concept.  In much of the US, a church can grow comfortably, and adapt or replace its building with relative ease.  In the UK in general, and in urban areas in particular, that is not possible.  Leaving aside the spiritual reasons for not having many large churches, and also the sociological ones (do Brits like large churches?), there is a fiercely practical one: when you’re stuck in an overcrowded plot of land, surrounded by dense population, where space is incredibly expensive, and your existing building is plastered in preservation orders because of its age, bulldozing it and putting up a 2000 seat auditorium simply isn’t feasible.  Hence, we need to continue to put a spotlight on intentional Church Planting, as the strategy to make sure that we don’t get stuck inside our Victorian walls.

I call that Multiplication. I’m not saying Warren doesn’t agree with planting – I know he does, and has practiced it relentlessly.  But I am saying that the other half of the model, of growing larger churches, has different dynamics and pressures elsewhere.

Diamonds are for ever?

I have two, much bigger issues with the baseball diamond diagram.

The first is that the concept simply doesn’t communicate in the UK.  Even if people recognise what it is, that’s just a matter of general knowledge.  It doesn’t raise a cheer, or get people’s blood racing. So it’s a dead diagram.

My second issue is much more serious.  Inherent in the diagram (though not Warren’s teaching) is the idea of progress: that one moves on from membership into maturity, and on again into ministry, and so forth.  That, for me, is a fundamental problem with the concept.

So, I’ve dropped the baseball diagram altogether.

I’ve replaced it with a house, with Magnifying God as its centre, the two downstairs rooms being Membership and Maturity, the two upstairs being Ministry and Mobilisation, and the attic being Multiplication.  The biblical verses on God’s House are easy to find, including the foundation being God’s Word, it communicates culturally in our part of the UK, and – as opposed too the diamond – a family uses all the rooms of the house at the same time. And what delineates those four downstairs rooms, conveniently, is a cross.

House 1.011


The bases on Warren’s diamond identify the four Christian Life and Service Seminars (C.L.A.S.S. 101, 201, etc), covering a membership class, basic material on discipleship, spiritual gifts and service, and evangelism.  All good stuff, but again I have cultural problems:  we don’t naturally use the 101 numbering system, and the acronym feels a bit artificial.

So, back to the House model, and we rebranded each of those classes as Doorways: Joining St James – Doorway into Membership; Growing Spiritually –  Doorway into Maturity, and so on.  The content is local too, although Warren would recognise lots of it (which is why he gets name-checked in the material, and why I don’t make it available online).

This isn’t new or complex – mostly, it’s rebranding a really simple and clever idea.  If Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 17.24.23you’d like to watch me explain it in action, live, you can see a version of  it here.  And I explain much more about it in my book on the church.


What do you think – not about the video, but about the 5M issue – fan or critic?  Pile in!

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4 comments on “Rick Warren and the 5Ms – gold dust or fool’s gold?”

  1. Having been through the cycle of writing off Warrens book for its Saddlebag Sam homogenous unit clarity as a theological student and then taken on the role of a lead pastor who has to lead a church then I have started to appreciate the brilliance of Warren as a clear communicator of vision to his congregation. At the end of the day it is hard to beat the Great Commision and the Great Commandment as key summaries to shape a church.
    I really like the way you have culturally adapted this model for a U.K. context.

  2. I am in agreement with church planting rather than trying to grow a mega-church. I believe it is a more Biblical model and has proven to be extremely effective at reaching unbelievers. By the way, I live a little over an hours drive from saddleback and attend a conference there once a year.

    1. Thanks, Charles. Here in UK we really don’t have mega-churches, so planting is a much more viable option, which seems to work across the country. Somethig in the British mindset seems to resist the really large (Tim Keller once said that to get the US/UK difference, we need to employ the rule of 10: it is as hard to grow a church of 1,000 in the US, as it is a church of 10,000 in the States. So we plant, plant, plant. the best megachurch pastors know this, and Warren, Keller, Hybels are uniformly encouraging of small, and planting,

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