Home > Brandenburg, Methodology, The Church > Rick Warren and Jack Hyles: What’s Changed?

Rick Warren and Jack Hyles: What’s Changed?

September 20, 2010

On the approach and strategy of church growth, Rick Warren and Jack Hyles little differ.   With all the studies Warren did to figure out his scheme, he came up with something along the same lines as Hyles.  Hyles is dead but the Hyles methods and men still operate.  I’m not saying that Warren copied Hyles or that they’re twins separated at birth.  Both of them understood human nature and marketing and used that knowledge to formulate their plan.  The big thing is to give people what they want—target a demographic and customize your pitch to fit the target.  Since what allures and attracts men hasn’t changed much, their plans have mirrored each other.  Warren has a little different packaging, but besides that, he could be a Hyles clone.

Warren and Hyles both recognized what most people have long known—the world doesn’t like church.  The world likes what the world likes, which is earthly things, so Warren and Hyles were faced with a conundrum.  They wanted big crowds of unbelievers to be interested in their churches, and yet the world doesn’t like church.  The world isn’t interested in spiritual things, and the church is all about spiritual things.  Therefore, in order to get their big crowds, Warren and Hyles offered the world the things that it liked in order to get unbelievers to come to church.  It really isn’t even that hard.  Certain types of businesses have taken advantage of the same kind of knowledge in order to draw crowds to make money, namely places like amusement parks, rock concerts, arcades, and movie theaters.

There are differences between Warren and Hyles.  In a lot of ways, Hyles is old school in the same kind of strategy as Warren.  A Hyles church would be noticeably different than a Warren church, although there would be some overlap that I have noticed.  I want to talk about the overlap first, however.  Warren and Hyles would both provide fun activities that the world would like.  Both would do a rodeo or carnival to get people to come.  Warren and Hyles would both give out popular food or beverages.  Both would alter their preaching, albeit in different ways, in order to attract and then keep a crowd.  Both would use business marketing techniques that would catch the eye of unsaved people.  So they have an overlap in technique.

On a root level, Warren and Hyles were the same.  They both believed in building a church through inviting unsaved people to church services.  They both believed in trying to get people to come by offering them things they wanted.  They both conformed the church to their church growth ideology, straining theology to fit what it took to have a bigger church.  Both would say it was about seeing more people saved.  Both tried to reproduce their findings, their pragmatism, in others.  Both have had many adherents and headed a movement built around their particular philosophy.  Both used Scripture to justify what they did.  Both attacked those who criticized them.  Both used their size and success to silence their critics.  Both preyed on the pride and the faux security that comes with bigness.

How do Warren and Hyles differ?  Warren and Hyles have cultural differences.  Warren says that finding the kind of music the world likes is the most important part of church growth.  Hyles used music, what he would call evangelistic music, but he would preach against the kind of music Warren uses.  Hyles believed music should be upbeat and fast and exciting, part of a strategy to thrill the unsaved people, but he drew a far more conservative line about what he might use.  Hyles required a dress code.    He expected modest dress, clothes with designed distinctions between men and women, and he dressed up himself, suit and tie.  His workers did the same.  Not Warren.  Warren emphasizes a lower common denominator for appearance; in essence, dress like the world dresses to make the world feel comfortable being with the church.  Warren zeroed even more on what the world liked, the earthly things, even than Hyles.  Warren preaches from multi-versions with the people in mind.  Hyles preached only from the King James Version, but his preaching was heavily entertainment, very little teaching.  They both prioritize the audience, except in different ways.   Both conformed the subject matter to fit the listeners, just in different ways.

Hyles would call Warren worldly.  Warren would call Hyles legalistic.  I would call them both about the same.  Manipulative.  Secular.  Man-centered.  Carnal weaponry.

However, Warren is far more acceptable to evangelicals than Hyles ever would be.  Many young fundamentalists would never accept Hyles.  But they don’t have such a problem with Warren.  John Piper, a real favorite among many evangelicals and young fundamentalists, and even older fundamentalists, is having Warren come to his next Desiring God conference.  That is not a deal-breaker to the Piper crowd.   If Hyles were alive, and he had Hyles, that would end the Piper favoritism.  Of course, Piper would never have Hyles, and really for the same reason young fundamentalists don’t like Hyles.  Hyles wasn’t worldly enough.  Hyles used the King James Version.  Hyles said women shouldn’t wear pants.  Hyles preached too hard against sin, i.e., he was too moralistic.   Hyles would preach against attending the theater, something like Spurgeon was death on.  They like that Warren isn’t that way.

The rock music of Warren, the casual dress of Warren, the earthly popularity of Warren, the hi-tech success of Warren, and, yes, the bigness of Warren—those are all the things about Warren that young fundamentalists and evangelicals approve about Warren.  It’s why Warren is able to go to Piper’s conference.  John MacArthur’s church uses the same type of Warren formula to attract for their Resolved Conference, so they haven’t shucked the Warren brand entirely.  It’s a working plan, especially for the youth culture.  They don’t go quite as far as Warren, just like Hyles wouldn’t go as far as Warren.  Hyles wouldn’t have a hip-thrusting praise team up leading the worship.

Across the street from our church, a Trinity Evangelical grad, that would be well-accepted, I believe, by many young fundamentalists and evangelicals, kicks off his fall program with a parking lot full of jumpers.   Especially since he went to Trinity and that’s where D. A. Carson teaches.   He’s into the big sermon series, playing off some hit movie or the Beatles hits, if not the lyrics of U-2.  Of course, he “gets it.”  He “knows” what’s really important and what isn’t.

Young fundamentalists and evangelicals talk about the old hero worship of the fundamentalists, about how that too much revolved around big personalities.  That hasn’t changed.  That’s the same today.  It’s just different personalities.  And things really aren’t that much different.  There really is quite a bit in common between John Piper, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, and Jack Hyles.  Oh, and the young fundamentalists and evangelicals.  Earthly things.  That’s the common ground.   Earthly things help keep their crowds.   Different types of earthly things, but earthly things. And since they keep those earthly things, they stay big and that’s their success.  Not all their success.  But a lot of it.  And God doesn’t get the glory in all of that.  The men do.  Still.

  1. Cathy McNabb
    September 21, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Does Rick Warren have the man worship views that Jack Hyles had?

  2. Danny Vanhoose
    September 21, 2010 at 5:26 am

    Love the article….but do not most agressive large bus ministries use some of the same principles. Food, Candy, Prizes, Zoo, Carnivals, etc……

  3. September 21, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Hi Cathy. They wouldn’t be exactly the same on that, but Warren may have a bigger ego than Hyles in my judgment and I think I’m at the age that I can judge both. The kind of self-promotion Hyles did doesn’t fly anymore, so Warren has tweaked it.


    Honestly, yes. I think some of these can be differentiated from one another in the realm of methods, however. I still put Hyles as pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor and, hence, he’s the poster boy. Today there is also Hybels instead of Warren.

  4. Duncan
    September 21, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I have to agree with Danny. If the Gospel itself is not enough, giving food, prizes, money, etc. will not work either. If they hear not Moses and the prophets …. What is the difference between putting a $5 bill under a bus seat (something Hyles would do) and giving pieces of the world’s largest candy-bar or dropping large amounts of it from a helicopter over the premisis? The simple answer is that the $5 costs much less.

  5. September 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm


    I agreed with Danny. Anyone who reads here would know I would anyway, and anyone who knows how our church operates knows this. But I still think we can differentiate in degree—some are worse than others.

  6. September 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Viewing methods, I want to agree with your assessment of Hyles’ idea (get many unsaved into the church services). But I’ve heard both he and Jack Schaap say that they believe in evangelizing outside the church and then bringing those converts to the services. I haven’t been to any of their Sunday services, so I couldn’t say what the message is like in them. It does seem like their methodology is inconsistent with their claims.

    What do you think is the place of evangelistic preaching in church services? The Bible does say that unconverted could be present in the service.

  7. September 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm


    I’m sure they do “evangelism” outside of the church, but unfortunately even that is customized to unsaved people in the method. It is a difference between Hyles and Warrren, however. Hyles is actually a little more scriptural in that way.

    I don’t see evangelistic preaching as the NT model, but I think the gospel should be preached in services for two reasons: 1) Christians need to know the gospel even better, and 2) Church members are sometimes unsaved as seen in Hebrews, Galatians, James, 1 John, and even the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3. I think using this as a strategy with some type of earthly means to attract clashes with the NT, however.

  8. Cathy McNabb
    September 21, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    As a bus kid myself, pretty thankful for the big push Sundays on buses that got me out. Lets see it wil 24 years ago this week Mr. Robinson and Pastor Mallinak, invited my brother and nephew out too church, they were excited about the “gimicks” at 3 and 4 they didn’t know much about the Lord except for the profanities spewed out. They couldn’t go unless I went. Thank God for the gimicks

  9. September 21, 2010 at 11:04 pm


    I feel sensitive to your feelings about gimmicks. I know one person who was saved through the ministry of Oral Roberts. I know quite a few who were saved through Billy Graham Crusades. Do you think it would be the right thing for them to be thankful for ecumenical evangelism? You are saved because of the gospel. Period. The end does not justify the means. Scripture has something to say about the means and God does not approve of good intentions or even if it “worked.” See Saul and his good ideas about offering sacrifices. It sort of reminds me of the guy that can’t shoot, who makes his first shot and so he keeps shooting. Just because it worked for you doesn’t make it the right thing. We’ve got to apply Scripture.

    It also reminds me of my asking a guy about his necklace and he said he wore it because his uncle gave it to him. It’s hard to argue with an uncle or grand dad or mom or apple pie. And I certainly don’t want to smack down Pastor Mallinak’s efforts. I know a Pastor’s wife who was saved “because of a snocone.” Being against the gimmick sort of sounds like being against his wife being in heaven. The assumption must be that without the gimmicks your little brothers wouldn’t have gone to church and a whole string of incidents would not have occurred. That really is resting a whole lot on gimmicks and their importance. What if we had a man-from-hell day and everyone who came could hear a man from hell tell everyone what it was like. But that’s already been dealt with. Abraham said that if they won’t believe Moses and the Prophets, they won’t believe. In other words, Scripture is sufficient. We don’t need signs and wonders. We don’t need wisdom. We don’t need gimmicks. We do need preaching.

    In the end, however, we can look at the Bible to see what God wants. My evaluation is that we never see something better happen when we do it our way. God’s way is always best. He’s a good God. We should trust that. And even if it was worse, which it wouldn’t be, we’ll go ahead and be fine with God being glorified because we’ve lived by faith.

  10. Cathy McNabb
    September 22, 2010 at 12:01 am

    But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
    And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

    No one is disputing that it is the Gospel that saves. It was Christ that saved me. If I am not mistaken the God used Paul and Silas in jail as a gimmick to witness to the Phillipian guard. Apostles healed the blind, raised the dead as gimmicks to show people about Christ. Giving a kid a hamburger, so you can teach them about Christ and what He has done is just a modern day one.

    I know you will disagree with me. That is fine it is your blog. I am not going to debate or even try to teach you.

  11. Bobby
    September 22, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Sister Cathy,

    You are not helping your testimony by using Scripture out of context, referring to Paul and Silas’ jail-time as a gimmick, and stating that the Apostolic signs and wonders were gimmicks. Further, it is spiritually and intellectually beneath you to make these claims and then leave the conversation that you took up with Pastor Brandenburg by writing, “I am not going to debate or even try to teach you.” You need to be taught the Word of God on this matter so I’m hoping you won’t just quit now. Also, saying, “I know you will disagree with me” is not the point. It is not about Pastor Brandenburg agreeing or disagreeing with you. The question is, “Does the Word of God agree with you?”

    Please consider from a brother.

  12. September 22, 2010 at 10:35 am


    I admire in one sense how that you are defensive of this thing. It would seem that people would need to be if they are to continue it. It’s not like my history is bereft of gimmicks. I grew up in a gimmick church and used them myself during the early time of our church. I always felt guilty doing it, but it was what I’d seen and I hadn’t established a biblical philosophy of ministry at that point. We were able to get people to come and in large numbers. Once they came we had to alter church to fit the crowd. Many churches like doing that. Rick Warren and Jack Hyles are two.

    I like your quote. The problem is that you are twisting it to pieces in your usage of it. The foolish things and the base things are things the world hates, which happens to be saved church members preaching the gospel. The world actually likes gimmicks—that’s why churches use them. God did not choose them to use to confound the wise and the mighty. Gimmicks do not confound the mighty or the wise.

    I’ll be back. I’ve got to teach.

  13. September 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    OK, a little further with this. In my post, when I talked about using scripture to justify the church growth strategy, Cathy, you provide a good example. What you wrote, however, is really pretty close to the type of “exegesis” that is used, which is why I’m addressing it. It’s the kind of defense that is given by almost anyone. Not long ago, I asked a major purveyor of gimmicks his scriptural basis and he said he had none—his reasoning was that since scripture was silent on them, then it must be permissible. I thought that was about the safest possible approach. I do believe the Bible speaks to them, but I thought it was the best possible answer. I happen to know that he doesn’t use the same defense with everyone, however. Normally, he uses the kind of defense, that you used, Cathy.

    A joyous response to persecution is not a gimmick any more than a joyous response to sickness is. Paul and Silas were bold in evangelism. That is biblical methodology and the exact number of people who are going to be saved will be saved if we were bold in evangelism. People, however, generally don’t want to do evangelism, because it does result in persecution like the kind Paul and Silas faced, so instead they use gimmicks. It’s not that evangelism doesn’t work; it’s just that people don’t have to operate by faith with a gimmick. You really don’t even need to be saved to operate a gimmick. Businesses use them with success all the time. They are definitely not the “foolish thing” or the “base thing” that Paul was talking about.

    As far as signs and wonders, it is ironic, because in the same context of the passage you quoted, Cathy, Paul said that Jews seek after signs, and he was saying that was a bad thing. The Jews wanted signs instead of the preaching of the cross. Jesus didn’t do signs to help the gospel—He did them to fulfill prophecy to identify Himself as the Messiah and to authenticate the Word of God. It had a very specific purpose. Signs are not permission for gimmicks.

    Giving credit for the hamburger and any other gimmick for a result or success is as much as anything the reason why not to do it. Because it “worked” in the past, someone says that this is now the way it should be done, further spreading the methodology, turning even more away from God’s methods. Man gets the glory in this.

  14. Duncan
    September 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    One of the greatest preachers in Scripture, outside of Christ Himself, was John the Baptist, and it was said of him “John did no miracle” (Greek, sign). The only reason that Jesus and the apostles did them was that Scripture was not yet complete. Now that Scripture is complete, any “audible voices” visions of God, words from angels (intruding into things they have not seen as Paul put it), signs, wonders, so-called miracles, etc. are all inferior to Scripture, and truly insult it because it suggests that the Bible is somehow incomplete or insufficient. This would include somebody saying, “I think God’s will for your life is ….” Gimmicks deffinitely fall into that category.

  15. d4v34x
    September 23, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Bro. B. You have a couple theses here that really caused me to think.

    The first is that Warren is exactly Hyles just in a different context. I’d have to agree 100%. In addition, I’d say that fundamentalists still have a hard time recognizing when they cross the line from proper methods to seeking to “lure them in with some sort of thrill”. But I don’t think that has anything to do with Warren’s influence or approval of Warren. At least in my circles he is recognized for what he is.

    Which brings be to number two. I don’t think that anything short of a complete disavowal of Piper equates to Warren approval. I’m not a “Piper guy” and have only read a little bit of his stuff. Where what he says matches or properly unpacks Scripture, I’ll let him teach me. Otherwise, especially after the Warren thing, I’m going to be less than eager to swallow it. And, as far as my experience goes, that’s been what I hear from the other YFs I talk to. Test all things, whether its Carson, Keller, MacArther/Johnson, or even Brandenburg :^)

    As far as the Resolved goes, I’m really curious if that’s going to keep heading the same direction unchecked. I guess the indications are that it will. I don’t get that at all.

  16. Gary
    September 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm


    Chapter and verse for your last statement please. Thanks.

  17. Duncan
    September 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Gary, Rev. 22:19 comes to mind.

  18. Gary
    September 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm


    Hummmm….. That’s a better scripture than the one I thought you were going to use (1Cor 13:10). The view of “that which is perfect is come” to mean the completion of scriptures is not the historical view. That view probably came about in response to the charasmatic movement as it has only been popular in the last 100 years.

    I’ll go ahead and stop here, as this is slightly off Kent’s topic. God bless.

  19. SV
    September 23, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    It would seem to me that if the Word of God is indeed quick and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword… that it would be powerful enough to win the lost in and of its own merit. Again…God told the rich man that if the lost world won’t hear the prophets (i.e. what God already sent) then they don’t need any further witness or miracle.

    Now, we give candy to bus kids out of love…we love our neighbors. The love is what draws the bus kids, more than anything, when you think about it. But I completely agree with the others who are against “gimmicks” and things like that. I think church has become too “fun” oriented and that we have unwittingly reduced ourselves to trying to cater to the world’s “fun” in trying to bring people to church (the discussion of the true function of the NT church is for another time I suppose…). We have “fun” Sundays and things like that….when really, Sundays are still the Lord’s Day. In the “old days” people used Sundays to meditate and to rest, after church. Now in some churches, people are running around from 6am until 10pm…doing fun, or even work…on Sundays. God gave us 6 days to labor…even God rested on the seventh day.

    Maybe in American IFB churches we are doing a little too much of the Martha thing and not nearly enough of the Mary thing…because its easy to run around like Martha and look productive. Its hard to patiently sit and worship God, at the risk of looking lazy and being criticized by the “Marthas”. But its Biblical…and its lacking today.

    Sorry if it seems off topic, but it’s really not…”gimmicks” and “fun Sundays”, etc are related to doing more, more, more…and not giving God and his Holy Spirit the time and the room–and the quietness– needed to do HIS job in the hearts of HIS people. I feel like I’m watching more and more people just literally rot from the inside out…and its because we have this busy busy busy “gimmick” Christianity where we are too busy “working for God” to actually be “living for God” and filled with the Holy Spirit.

  20. Duncan
    September 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm


    You make excellent points about all of the gimmicks being mere busywork, and I agree completely with that. Not to disagree with paragraph two in your comment, but Hyles did not approach it that way. A while back I was able to see the book that he wrote about church administration (something that I do not recommend practicing, but a minister needs to read it to see what it says). The way he would get a bus-route started would be to go to the target area, find a place where several children were gathered, such as a park or playground, gather them together and ask how they would like to take a bus trip for about 30 min. during which time they would be entertained by Bozo the clown or some other character. After the shouting subsided, he would explain some of these things to their parents, many of whom allow it simply to let the church be a babysitting service. Thus it becomes a type of bait-and-switch, which is very much dishonest.

  21. Dave Mallinak
    September 26, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    My wife did not get saved because of a snocone.

  22. Dave Mallinak
    September 26, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    But if anyone wants to get me a snowcone, I will attend your services. I could even count for the baptism. But the question is… if I bring my five kids, will I get a snowcone machine?

    Belinda Mallinak

  23. Dave Mallinak
    September 26, 2010 at 10:07 pm


    You don’t have my permission to visit other churches. Not even if they offer you a snocone.

    And you can’t take our kids either.

    Besides, I’m giving away Subway next Sunday (our fam only).

  24. Dave Mallinak
    September 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm


    That’s okay, the snowcones are better in St. Thomas anyway.



  25. SV
    September 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    True marital communication in the 21st century at its finest…..LOL.

  26. September 26, 2010 at 10:18 pm


    I want to get you a snocone. Is it snocone or snowcone? Your husband spelled it the trendy marketable way, sno. Sort of like kewl.

    Dave, Subway Sunday would look good on a flyer. Studies show Subway works well with your demographic.

  27. Dave Mallinak
    September 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Eat Fresh.

  28. Br Steve
    September 30, 2010 at 9:32 am

    This argument is over semantics.

    Sno Snow?

    You should be out winning souls. “Lets Go Soulwinning” lolz. If you all walk the aisle I’ll buy all of y’all a sno-cone and a sub?!!


    Br Steve

    Gal. 2.20

  29. Adolfo
    October 27, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    My question to you is what are you doing for the Lord? I know that Jack Hyles work hard. But you? What are you doing for God besides your critics?

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