Posted on : Monday December 26, 2011

By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent

LAKE FOREST, Calif.—About a year ago, Pastor Rick Warren was baptizing 858 people when he got to about the 500 mark and had this thought: “We’re all fat!” Admitting, as a preacher, he wasn’t supposed to be thinking that while baptizing, he dismissed the thought.

But he couldn’t it out of his head. Later, he told his Saddleback Church congregation, “I realized that I had been gaining around 3 pounds a year, but I have been your pastor for 30 years! Who would like to lose weight with me?”

And that began Saddleback’s newest “signature” ministry: The Daniel Plan: God’s Prescription for Your Health, named after Daniel 1:5–16, where Daniel is challenged to honor God with healthy choices. Launched in January 2011, the Plan seeks to honor God by the way people eat, move, and think, and is designed to help people integrate healthy habits into their lifestyle through a comprehensive 52-week journey, rather than another short-lived diet.

The effort is part of Saddleback’s Decade of Destiny, a 10-year vision that focuses on moving the church forward in helping families succeed in the areas of physical, financial, relational, emotional, mental, vocational and spiritual health.

Many times, people want to change their marriages, but they are too tired, noted Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. Instead, they end up sitting on the couch. So it made sense to him to start the new decade with a focus on health.

Partnering in the plan is Dr. Daniel Amen, a leading expert on brain health, who shares about how the brain impacts physical, emotional, and cognitive health; Dr. Mark Hyman, a family physician, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader in identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic illness through a whole-systems medicine approach known as Functional Medicine; and cardiologist, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the daytime Emmy Award-winning host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University.

On Oct. 22, more than 3,500 people gathered at Saddleback Church’s Lake Forest, Calif., campus and online for a wellness rally–the third rally since its inception–to celebrate the Plan’s successes. To date, Plan participants have lost over 250,000 pounds.

Warren has lost 50 pounds and is on track to lose 90 pounds. Participants shared testimony after testimony how their lifestyle changes have given them more energy and helped them to be at “the top of their game” mentally and physically.

For Warren, the real impetus to start was not his waistline, but his brain. Dr. Amen had shared with him about the “Dinosaur Syndrome,” which says, in theory, the larger your body, the smaller your brain.

“I’ve always had an enormous amount of energy, and I didn’t care what I looked like,” shared Warren. “But I didn’t want to lose my mental ability. I want to be smart for the rest of my life.”

Chiquita Seals has lost 100 pounds since starting the Daniel Plan in January. A Saddleback member invited her to the church to be a part of the community.  “I weighed 260 pounds and through the power of community, I am where I am today,” she said.

The key component to the Plan is the community support. “We are better together” has been a key value of Saddleback for years. And Saddleback already had a small group system in place, which allowed participants a ready-made community for instituting lifestyle changes.

At the rally, Dr. Hyman reminded attendees of an African proverb that encourages utilizing community in health efforts: “If you want to travel quickly, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.”

Participants not only rely on community support, they have a “virtual partner” through, which hosts ongoing news, forums, information, stories, articles, “how-tos,” recipes, videos, and other resources that are continually updated on the site. There are week-by-week instructions and related materials available for anyone who wants to start the program. In addition, there is a six-week small group curriculum with guides and videos.

The program has started to make a ripple effect through the nation and the world. According to a Oct. 25 press release, over 5,000 people from outside of the United States have signed up to participate in the plan online, and the success stories keep rolling in from around the community.

“The real success of the program is forgetting when you are on the program,” shared Dr. Oz during the rally, explaining how over time, with new habits, “your body is on auto-pilot.”

He added, “By making small changes, we can make profound effects. Once you do a mile, you realize I am good enough to do this! And you don’t necessarily have to walk, you can swim, or bike. The most important thing is to do something that makes sense to you.”

Throughout the Plan, Warren is quick to point to God’s role in the effort. “My Father made my body; Jesus died for my body; and the Holy Spirit lives in my body. I better take care of it,” he said.

“The single most important thing you can do is to renew your mind,” he added, stressing the importance of a daily quiet time in the word of God.

But the Plan hasn’t come without controversy. Many have expressed concern that Warren is associating with doctors who may not share the same strong theological convictions about the nature of salvation and about the truthfulness of Scripture.

A statement on answers the concerns: “We have already seen literally thousands of people on our campus as a result of involving these physicians who would never have otherwise visited. It thrills us to know that they will have an opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus, and this is our highest goal. We knew ahead of time that some leaders would criticize us for associating with Doctors who may or may not be believers, but we chose, if necessary, to suffer that criticism for the greater cause of enlarging the audience of people who will hear the truth of Scripture about Jesus Christ.”

Daniel Plan Director Dee Eastman put it this way: “What if the whole journey to healthiness is about what we’re gaining, and not about what we’re losing? We need to start with our physical health so that we’ll have energy…. I want to have the mental clarity to do what God is calling me to do.”

To learn more, visit online at