Saddleback to Open a Private Church Campus on Easter…

Orginally published on Monday, April 06, 2009 at 6:22 AM
by Todd Rhoades

Over the years, I've heard churches described as 'country clubs'. But Saddleback this week has a bit of a controversy on it's hands. You see, for the past eight months, the church has been planning a new venue. The site that was chosen was the Laguna Woods Village, a private retirement community and club. It all seemed simple enough: use a nice facility in a community where many of Saddleback's attenders already live. And no one really thought twice when Saddleback's venue pastor, Matt McGill said: "Saddleback Church is planting a regional campus in the Laguna Woods Village for the Saddleback members who live within that community, because Saddleback Church has a large amount of attendees and small groups who have expressed a desire to have Saddleback Services on Sunday morning in their community." No problem there. But when Matt said that he hoped that other people from the Laguna Woods area would come and make Saddleback their church home, it sent up a red flag...

Why, you say?

Well, because Laguna Woods Village is a private community.  Here’s what their statement about their religious ‘clubs’ says:

Some recent controversy has arisen in Laguna Woods Village over a misunderstanding of how an official club or organization may utilize GRF facilities.

Spiritual organizations (such as a church) can become officially recognized Village organizations through the application to GRF per the terms of the Recreation Division Policy Manual posted on http://www.lagunawoodsvillage.com. GRF has permitted many religious organizations to become official Village clubs or organizations.

Some of these religious organization clubs hold their meetings and worship services at the Village clubhouses. The primary membership of an official Village organization must be comprised of Village residents. Guests of residents are allowed by GRF to utilize the community facilities when accompanied by that resident- an official club meeting is no exception.  But, GRF rules do not allow persons uninvited and unaccompanied by a Laguna Woods Village resident to attend their gatherings.

So… in reality… you will not be able to attend Saddleback’s new campus next Sunday (Easter) unless you are a resident of Laguna Woods Village, or are attending WITH a member of Laguna Woods Village.


So, Saddleback may have just inadvertently started America’s first ‘gated’ multi-site campus.

Not sure how this all came about, but when the Orange Country Register runs an article with the headline “Saddleback Church offers apology for Laguna Woods statement”, it can’t be all good, at least in the PR Department.

It sounds like Saddleback might have been blind sighted on this one.  It sounds like they thought that anyone would be allowed to attend.  Evidently, that’s not the case.

Let me be clear on my thoughts:  any church should be able to have a campus anywhere they like.  Is it ok to have a gated-service at an exclusive club?  Yeah, I’m fine with that; although I don’t know if that would be the best use of resources.  It sounds like that might not have been the desired result here anyway. It sure does seem that it limits the effect that your campus can have if you have a closed group of people to invite.  Then again, maybe it makes it easier because you have a closed group of people to invite.  (Although, I’m guessing that Laguna Woods Village has just as closed a policy on advertising and invitations to it’s members.)


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  There are 33 Comments:

  • I am an outspoken Warren critic but this doesn’t bother me.

    Laguna Woods is 10 minutes at most away from the main Saddleback Campus.  Anyone who would complain that they CAN’T attend the Laguna Woods (we call it ###### Village) Saddleback would be fussing over nothing.

  • Posted by

    Follow the money!!!!

  • Posted by Clay Hallmark

    What is the big deal? Sadly churches all over our country have closed their doors to people who are not just like them in race, socio-economic standing, etc. They have done so by default because they will not go out into their communities and reach people for Christ. Why would anyone want to criticize a church like Saddleback who simply have the motive of reaching more for Christ? Next time they’ll just read the neighborhood policy before making announcements!

  • Posted by Lex

    I dunno - it might be a great outreach to the rest of the Laguna community. I’m sure there are people there who don’t attend church, and maybe they’ll be more inclined to do so if there’s a good church right in their community. It might even be more appealing to certain of them who are caught in that gated-community-snobbery mentality (and hopefully help free them from it).

  • Posted by Dale

    Having lived in Orange County for about five years I can tell you this is a great idea.  A lot of the people who live in Laguna Woods, struggle to drive and this is taking the gospel to them.  Also If someone set up a Church on a College Campus and only College students could come, I don’t think we would call this “elitism” would we?

  • I can’t help but wonder if launching this new site was God’s will or just an idea that seemed to make sense on paper. I don’t even pretend to know Saddleback’s decision-making process, but I have no doubt that they prayed about the new site. Still, it’s hard to believe that God saw this controversy and built in “attendee ceiling” coming and still gave His approval for the launch. A.W. Tozer said, “When it’s of God, it flows.” From what I can tell, the flow has taken a major hit here.

  • Posted by

    What bothers me is how quickly we become critics. Are we blind to the fact that the church needs to develop a strategy for reaching into gated communities and high rise apartment complexes? Is the church only those who can make it to my building (the only place safe from my criticism)? Is it possible for me to call people meeting in a community room of a high rise or gated community “brothers and sisters;” or is that a designation only for people who do church like I do?

  • Posted by michaeldanner

    Does this sound like something Jesus would do?  Staring a new site with built-in barriers seems counter-intuitive for followers of a man who died to break down barriers between slave/free, jew/greek, male/female...can we add rich/poor?  If the “media is the message” can we also say that the church growth “method is the message” as well?  I have no problems with Saddleback and this seems like a misunderstanding, but I did stop to think!

  • Posted by

    I agree with Todd - I think they got suprised.  I would have a hard time believing that the leadership of Saddleback went into this with full disclosure.  If they did, well then, that’s another matter altogether.  But, I do know that God’s word never returns void.  This may be just for a season, but in the meantime, who will hear the gospel that maybe never heard it before.  God still works in mysterious ways.

  • Posted by

    Although I do not have established weekly services, I conduct services numerous times a year in a private enclave where the attendance is typically marginal or unchurched believers and unbelievers.  Itís outreach get a grip!  If no one from the outside ever gets in, those inside may be reached.

    However, facilities like this allow people through their gates all the time invited by residents, but not actually escorted.  No doubt that is what will happen here also, if your name is on the list you’ll get in.

    Of course the management is going to issue a statement saying outsiders arenít allowed without an invitation, that’s what everyone who lives there pays them to do, protect their privacy!

    The first clue that this is a GOOD idea should be that the media thinks itís bad…

  • Posted by Chuck

    This is done by churches every day, but it makes news because of this being Saddleback and it is a private community. We build buildings that only hold 200, but hope we reach 500-1000 people. Later we have to build more or relocate. We hold services in camprgrounds or other locations that only allow registered guests. If these people who are already members reach their neighbors it makes room at the main campus for others.

  • Posted by James McCartney

    It is possible that (in their attempt to win people wherever possible to Christ and to help them connect to the Body) Rick and team didn’t think this one out fully, but I remain encouraged by their willingness to reach out when and where others may not.  I guess a half-baked idea that will reach people for Christ is better than a fully-baked one that never gets off the ground (gets killed in the paralysis of analysis stage) or never reaches a new person at all.

    Beyond that, I don’t think many people would object to ‘limited circles’ of ministry that serve only singles, only seniors, only teens, only women, only men, only the addicted, or only the incarcerated.  Happens all the time.

  • Posted by

    Do we not include our outreach to involve prison ministries?  Nobody seems to think it a bad idea to preach to this captive audience, so why should Laguna be any different?  Whose to say which is the more captive? 

    Once you start asking yourself these kinds of questions you should realize that the lost are everywhere and we should be, too.

  • Posted by

    “Blind sighted” is actually blindsided.


  • Posted by

    Yeah… just to clarify.  My post wasn’t to oppose Saddleback’s plans by any means.  It just seems that they may have had some surprises come their way (Hey… you can’t invite the community to attend services in our lodge) that they weren’t expecting.  That’s all.  A little egg on the face that will soon be forgotten.


  • Posted by


    Thanks for pointing out stupidity.  I always enjoy it when people do that.

    Try to be nicer or I’ll pull an Ezekiel on you!


  • Posted by

    I suppose I would be considered harsh if I were to ask what a bunch of Christians are doing LIVING in a gated community in the first place?

  • Posted by

    Perhaps a slogan for this venue:
    the purpose driven life: it’s not about you...(especially if you want to come to the laguna woods...)

  • Posted by

    RE: Sgillesp wrote “I suppose I would be considered harsh if I were to ask what a bunch of Christians are doing LIVING in a gated community in the first place?”

    Perhaps, let’s see...Do you ever lock the door to your house or car?  Do you have a fence around any part of your property?  Do you do anything that makes you or your family physically safer or brings peace and quiet into your life?

  • Posted by


    Educate us and tell us what is wrong with Christians living in a gated community?  What’s behind your motive for suggesting that somehow it’s not right? 

    Posted by Sgillesp
    Monday, April 06, 2009 at 1:06 PM

    I suppose I would be considered harsh if I were to ask what a bunch of Christians are doing LIVING in a gated community in the first place?

  • Posted by

    Well, there’s a reason that Laguna Woods, formerly “Leisure World” is referred to by my friends as “Geezer World.”

    I think there are many barriers for people living in Laguna Woods to get to the Saddleback main campus. A Saddleback campus just down the street is a great service to these folks.

    What’s more, it’s a retirement community. People with the choice to attend Saddleback in Lake Forest, Irvine or San Clemente are not going to attend in Laguna Woods. Demographically, it makes no sense at all.

    Currently, there are a few churches in the vacinity of Laguna Woods: Catholic, Lutheran and Presbyterian. Beyond that, there’s really not much within walking or golf cart distance. Saddleback is giving one more convenient option to these folks.

    Hurray for Saddleback! Win more geezers to Christ!

  • Posted by

    Thanks Allen White - Living in the Midwest I had no idea where Laguna Woods Village was… but when you said it is the new name for Leisure World, I knew exactly.  My step-mother-in-law lives there.  And I have gotten past the gate by her simply giving them my name.  As a minister to the 60+ generation, I am delighted that Saddleback is still trying to “win one more to Jesus.” And for those who asked why a Christian would live there, security is certainly the main reason, along with companionship with others of similar life experiences and interests.  It is a wonderful place for her to live.

  • Posted by

    Ken, by “geezer” I meant it only with the sincerest affection and regard…

    There’s one other reason for retirees to live in Laguna Woods—It’s affordable!!

  • Posted by

    Growing up, both sets of my grandparents lived in very affluent communities.  One pair lived in a wealthy part of town and went to church in what I would call a modest, normal church.  The other pair lived amongst gated communities and went to a, “rich,” church that was in that area.  And I found two totally different mindsets with how they acted and what I saw, with the former being more humble and servant-minded, and the other I saw as being more about money and status.

    So, when I hear a story such as this, my natural response would be to say, “that is so money- and status-based that it is ridiculous.” But, I can’t do that anymore, because that would be wrong.  People with money and without money should be treated equally.  If someone is wealthy and can help God’s kingdom, praise God.  If someone is poor and needs help from their church members, praise God.  And it took me a long while to come to that point.  Treat everyone with the same mind of Christ.

    All of that said, if what Chris said in the first comment was true, and that the churches would be only 10 minutes away, then it does seem like they are catering to the wealthy, which does ring an alarm in my head.  It seems like there’s not an equality of treatment.  Is a 10 minute drive really that harsh?  Or is it pandering to the wealthy?


  • Posted by

    Hey CS,

    Laguna Woods is probably some of the cheapest housing in the OC.

    Just FYI....

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