Q: #277. What is a "seeker friendly" church?
By: Steve Shirley
A: "Seeker friendly" churches are growing in popularity today. Many "mega-churches" (large congregations numbering in the thousands) now have most or all of the characteristics that define a "seeker friendly" church. Here is a list of some common attributes these churches share. *** The first 3 attributes are the most important ones.
1. A key trait of the "seeker friendly" church is a desire to reach the lost. Of course, this is AWESOME, however, the problem comes from HOW they are trying to do it. "Seeker" means someone who is "seeking" Christ. "Friendly" means basically doing or saying nothing that would offend or drive the person who is seeking Christ away. In regards to the Gospel, this means avoiding any negative talk regarding why we need Christ. There is no talk about the reality of Hell and that Hell is the destination of all people without Christ. There is no talk about sin and the need to repent. There is no talk about the "cost" of following Christ (Mt 16:24-25)(Mk 8:34-35)(Lk 14:25-33). Rarely is the importance of the resurrection mentioned. Instead, Jesus is presented as an answer to your problems, a way to meet your needs, a way to make yourself better, a way to give you a better life.
If you decide you want Jesus to do this, a prayer to "follow" or "believe" in Christ might follow. The following prayer is from a book written by one of the founders of this movement, "Jesus, I believe in you and receive you, Amen." Sometimes, the pastor will tell everyone in the audience to "close their eyes" so a person who wants to "follow Christ" can raise his hand to indicate he has made this decision and not feel uncomfortable that others know it. There might also be a tear out section in the bulletin with a place you can "check" if you have decided to follow Christ.
2. This same problem applies to the sermon. There is no teaching on anything negative. Sermons focus on positive things, often with an emphasis on you (more than on God). It may almost seem like a counseling session with a focus on psychology. There may be a few passages from the Bible interwoven with the sermon, but there is no in depth teaching from the Bible. No talk on doctrine. Sermons are usually topical rather than expository. Another "rule" is that this sermon should be about 20 minutes (so no one gets bored).
3. There is a big emphasis on numbers. Attendance at services and
meetings is always counted and tracked. Big numbers are usually associated
with God's blessing on what is going on.
4. Nearly all of these churches have cutting edge sound and light
systems. The worship music is contemporary and at times can almost seem a
rock concert and entertainment rather than "worshipping God," (which is the
whole purpose of "worship" music).
*** I personally believe music is the big draw for most new churches today, "seeker friendly" or not.
5. Marketing! The church spends a good deal of money marketing itself. Mailings are often sent out to local homes. Sometimes surveys are taken asking what the "seeker" is looking for in a church. Some of these "ideas" are often implemented to make people want to come. This "marketing" can also apply to the service itself. If you think about what marketing is, it tries to sell you something by playing on your wants, your feelings, your vanity. Everything will be "positive" because they want you to buy what they are selling. They would never want to offend you (the consumer) in any way. This is in essence what they are doing with the whole church service, and what they are "selling" is Jesus!
6. Starbucks coffee! Many will advertize "Free Starbucks Coffee," (or some other premium coffee) for everyone. There is usually other free food and drinks as well (which you can take into the service with you).
7. There are often classes called Class 101, 201, 301, 401 that you are encouraged to take.
Some of these things are not necessarily bad. I personally see nothing wrong with contemporary music (as long as the music, and the people leading it are reverent and worshipping God). Offering free coffee/food and sending out mailings to let the community know you are there and what you are about is ok. I even see nothing wrong with a church adapting itself to some degree to the culture it is in. Paul talks about the fact that he adapted to the culture he was in to reach more people with the Gospel (1 Cor 9:19-23). But, the KEY is that while he may have adapted himself personally, he NEVER changed or adapted the message he was preaching, no matter where he was. This is a BIG problem with the "seeker friendly" movement. They are not only adapting the church, but they are adapting the MESSAGE! This is wrong!
The early church preached no messages on positive thinking, self-improvement, psychology, or how to have a better life. But, there were lots of messages on the need to repent (mentioned 65 times in the New Testament), Christ crucified for sin, blood being shed, hell (used 23 times in the NT), dying to oneself, rejoicing when persecuted, Jesus is the ONLY way to the ONLY God, and many other "hard" messages. For preaching these things, they were hated, tortured, flogged, persecuted, stoned, imprisoned, and murdered.... In fact, this is STILL happening in some countries around the world! We in the United States are blissfully unaware of what it means to suffer for the Gospel. We have the freedom to believe and teach any way we want. But, in these last days, these freedoms are quickly disappearing. Christians are increasingly persecuted for what we believe (i.e. the homosexual movement and homosexual marriage). And, what is going to happen as this persecution intensifies? There are going to be a bunch of shallow, Bible illiterate "seeker friendly" church people (many who may not even be saved), who have been taught that following Jesus is going to give you a better life and take away all of your problems, and when that is proven to be false, they are going to "fall away" from Jesus!
Friends, reaching the lost and discipling the saved is very important. But, we must NEVER compromise the Gospel or water down what the Bible teaches to get people into church and keep them there. I find daily that people all over the world are HUNGRY for the truth. They know something is missing in their lives, and they are looking for answers. JESUS is that answer! Yes, He will give you joy, peace, and other wonderful gifts. But, MOST importantly, He will save you from your sins and Hell and give you eternal life! He suffered a horrible, bloody death to give you this. When you make a decision to surrender your life to Him, it isn't always going to be easy, and bad things will happen. You will be persecuted if you stand up for Jesus and the Bible. But once Jesus is in your life, you will never walk through these bad things alone! (You can give your life to Jesus here.)
*** Note: The sad thing is, studies are now coming out that show while the stated purpose of these churches is to bring in the "lost," what is happening instead is that they are just pulling in people from other area churches looking for bigger and better programs and services that come with a larger church. This is devastating smaller churches in the area, forcing some to close (kind of like when the giant Wal-mart moves into a city and drives smaller stores out of business).