Is the Seeker-Sensitive Movement Dead?

Last week I wrote about Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and the church. In follow-up to that post, here’s one about the changing dynamics of church.

There has been a church growth strategy called the “seeker-movement.” The idea has been that we can use the church service to basically introduce people to spirituality without demanding too much from them on the front end.

But here’s at least one problem with that ideology – nobody’s in the dark about what they’re doing at church. That is, nobody walks into a building with “church” in the name, a cross on the side, and a preacher on the stage (or on the screen, as the case may be). Even though you could argue that some churches don’t present the full and simple gospel, anybody who walks into a church generally recognizes that it’s a “Jesus place.”

And because that seeker already knows that, there’s always a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s sort of like a time share proposal. You get a free trip to an exotic location, meet nice people, see everybody having a good time, but in the back of your mind you know that at some point you’re going to get the real story – the sales pitch (not that I’ve ever invested in a time share or pyramid scheme…)

The way this works in the seeker-sensitive environment has been effective. You introduce concepts, mere ideas of faith, at first, and then as the people get more and more involved in relationships you introduce the commitment aspect of belief. And that has worked fine and has honored God for alot of years. Many people have come into the kingdom of God because of the influence of fellowships like these.

But it breaks down if the people who are coming aren’t coming for a “low-commitment” time. And now they aren’t. Instead, people – at least young adults – are coming with an attitude that says, “Show me you have something worth committing myself to.” And frankly, Coldplay songs and hints for a better life aren’t going to cut it.

The new seeker service is challenging. It’s engaging at all levels – emotional, intellectual, even physical. The reason this is effective is because people now are searching for something to truly give their lives to and for. That’s why volunteerism is on the rise. That’s why campaigns of justice and mercy are “popular.” It’s because these things who people they can really impact the world in a positive way, and people are choosing that impact. They’re choosing it with or without the church.

So here’s where it relates to me and maybe you, because if you don’t like “seeker-sensitive” stuff, we could easily just sit back on our proud haunches claiming our spiritual superiority. But the truth is that not many people are coming. And if what I wrote is true, that the reason people come is because they’re looking for something worth giving their lives to, then we’ve got to ask the question – is the gospel we are presenting really worth giving your life for? Is it really more satisfying? Is it really more engaging? Is it really worth it? Or are we presenting spiritual truth that doesn’t change us or the world?

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10 Comments

  • taylor says:

    While good in theory, seeker friendly church seems to be a little insulting to said “seeker.” Being a disciple ain’t rocket science. We’re basically saying to “seekers” there’s too much to this “Christian” thing for you to get all at once. Did Jesus let the rich young ruler kind of ease into it? And that dude defines “seeker.”

    To quote a mediocre movie with an incredible line: “It’s not supposed to be easy, it’s the hard that makes it good. If it were easy everyone would do it.”

    To not expect tons from them is insulting to our God.

    And the whole idea that they’ll ease into it is the reason we have so many “blah” churches.

    What does scripture say about the gospel? Fill in the blank….

    Let the gospel do that…

    I want a church that has a slogan that goes something like this:
    You’ve got questions, and the Bible has the answers. Let’s stop wasting time. – FBC WhereEver

    I’d go to that church.

  • Michael K. says:

    This is a great comment. Not good – great thoughts here. And I agree – do we honestly think that a “seeker” doesn’t know what they’re coming to church for? As you said, it insults their desire and their intelligence.

    And don’t be embarrassed to quote “A League of Their Own.”

  • Becky Dietz says:

    Michael,
    I direct a benevolence ministry….down-and-out people. They’re not looking for a doughnut. They are desperate for answers—real answers. And they’re not insulted by “it’s a free gift, but God tells us to count the cost. It’s making Him the boss of your life!” They’re looking for Truth and hope–just like most of us.

  • Heather says:

    I think the seeker-sensitive movement can be retained as long as it is only in small group settings – bible studies, meeting at a coffee shop, something of that nature. You want there to be a place where unbelievers or new Christians can go to ask whatever questions they have, without having to feel like it’s a dumb question. If weeker-sensitive has too much baggage, though, you can, of course, change the name.

    The problem with a seeker-sensitive worship service, even if not defined explicitely as such, is that it doesn’t offer much opportunity to those more mature in their faith to come into a deeper relationship with God. And if you constantly paint this picture of how finding Christ will bring you joy and peace and purpose and bunnies and rainbows than someone who is struggling at the moment may even start to doubt that they’ve really found God, because what they’ve found doesn’t match that picture.

  • Michael K. says:

    Thanks you both for your thoughts.

    Heather – that’s interesting what you say that the seeker-movement is best expressed in a small group environment. I hadn’t thought about that much. I’ll have to think about it more.

    Becky – You always bring something great to the table.

  • Christopher Lake says:

    If we first try to “draw seekers in” to a church community with coffee, music, and relationships with cool people, and THEN hit those “seekers” with the concept of Biblical, self-denying, sacrificial faith, we are doing a bait-and-switch on them– and it isn’t fair to them, or, I believe, honoring to God.

    In the Bible, the true seeker is God Himself, and *if* a human being is seeking after God, it is because God has sought that person first– and if the person is truly seeking, coffee, music, and relationships with cool people aren’t what they are primarily seeking. I’m not denying the importance of relationships. Relationships are crucial to the Christian life, and God does often use relationships (friendships) between Christians and non-Christians to draw lost people to Himself.

    However, the foundation and focus of the worship gathering of the redeemed is the Redeemer Himself, not relationships between the redeemed and non-redeemed– and certainly not Coldplay songs and coffee.

  • Alexis says:

    I thought about this post earlier this morning when I read my sister’s blog. Check it out:

    http://rachaelneagle.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/yucky/

  • cheepesmers says:

    now in my rss reader)))
    ————————
    internet signature: http://semev.ru/

  • Ken Werlein says:

    Christopher stuck on something, “bait and switch.” Follow me for a second: most new Mormons do not understand their church teaches they can progress eternally and eventually become gods of their own world. Likewise, when you find out a friend and/or loved one joined the Mormon church you try to explain some core concepts to them. The result is usually negative and devisive since these new members have not been exposed to the “real” church doctrine(s). You’re viewed as mis-informed and anti-Mormon.

    Seeker friendly churches are much the same way. Once people find out there’s “more” required than just coffee, donuts and networking, they’re off to the next church. It then becomes a game to watch all the local church websites to see what special program they’re putting on.

  • Cebreauky says:

    I was taught that you can never disciple another person beyond the point that you yourself are a disciple. Seems to me that they are dumbing down the Gospel of Christ … and preaching to itching ears. Maybe the discipleship level of the leadership is not that high????

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