The profitable industry of saving souls has apparently hit a speed bump. Pastor Rick Warren of the megachurch, Saddleback, sent out an urgent letter this week to all of the 22,000 members that $900,000 was needed to balance the budget. Citing lower contributions due to the economy, he has requested that the shortfall be addressed this weekend and reportedly the members have lined up to help.

Saddleback isn't the only megachurch able to raise money. Featuring huge stages, rock bands, jumbotron screens, buckets of and oodles of money, as well as the enormity of other facilities, pastor personalities and income -- over $8.5 billion a year all told -- these churches are impressive forces flourishing at staggering rates.

And the number continues to increase. The number of megachurches in the U.S. has leaped to more than 1,300 today, from just 50 in 1970. Defined as a church with over 2,000 members, megachurches often worship in huge auditoriums or stadiums, complete with mall-like settings. These may include coffee houses, movies, and other entertainment.

Megachurches are not without controversy, as some have been nothing more than a cover for personal greed. Creflo A. Dollar, senior pastor of World Changers Church International, preaches that God will reward the faithful with material riches. It is a gospel that has won the flamboyant preacher a 25,000-strong congregation -- and a Rolls-Royce, a multimillion-dollar mansion and a private Gulfstream III jet. All in the name of the Lord.

Warren, in contrast, is author of the "The Purpose Driven Life", and has made millions of dollars from book royalties. He has used the money to refund his salary to Saddleback church. He lives simply, without the fancy house or cars, and sees his mission as a call from God. It is very likely that his parishioners will rise to the call for $900,000.

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.

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