It’s not you. It’s me. That’s why I left your seeker-friendly church.
At least that’s what I’m telling everyone. Just to be polite.
I know I should just be honest, being a Christian and all, but I’d rather not feel like an evangelical outcast if I can help it. It’s bad enough that I haven’t renewed my subscription to Christianity Today (If we could just keep that between us, I’d appreciate it).
But truth be told, I just don’t get what this seeker-friendly church stuff is all about.
For a long time now, I’ve just assumed somebody else knew what they were doing. But after nearly four decades in Christian circles, I’ve come to realize what a silly assumption that is. In fact, it’s quite possible that we’ve just slapped a God sticker on a smelly garbage can and called it a seeker-friendly church.
Just Slap a God Sticker on It
About a decade ago, the mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, came up with a brilliant idea to raise funds for her cash-strapped city. She offered citizens of the blue-collar bastion on Lake Erie a chance to sponsor – wait for it – a garbage can. The cans would be strategically placed around the city to receive trash, thereby cleaning up the streets of unwanted litter.
And the best part was that for a small donation, you or your family could have your name emblazoned on one of those cans! That’s right. It would still be a smelly garbage can – but with your name on it! Just donate and slap a sponsor sticker on it.
Needless to say, the plan met with the success it deserved. I think the mayor and a few other politicians desperate for cheap advertising actually sponsored a can or two. But the basic idea is a popular one in the church today. Find an idea somewhere in the world that seems to work and just slap a God sticker on it – everything will be just fine.
Maybe that’s where this seeker-friendly stuff came from. We saw how to get people to show up for Aerosmith, at the mall, or even for an Atlanta Symphony concert and thought, “Hey! Let’s just slap a God sticker on that! Do what they do, but call it church. We’ll give it a cool name like ‘seeker-friendly’ and we’ll pack ‘em in!”
What’s Wrong with Being Seeker-Friendly?
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against being friendly. And the magic act, 3-D glasses, and popcorn we’re pretty cool. Certainly, as Christ-followers, kindness to all, even our enemies, should be a priority. And every church should be a welcoming environment to all comers.
But here’s a simple question: If your worship service is all about attracting those who don’t yet share the faith, why would I stay? Unfortunately, much of what gets communicated on Sunday is a steady diet of gumdrops and milk. Sweet treats for the seekers and milk for those who’ve recently made commitments to follow Christ.
Don’t get me wrong, those items should be present in any diet, but not as the main course. As a father of six, I know how that diet ends. Either I don’t grow as I should or there’s going to be a cleanup in aisle 4. At some point, God’s people need to eat real foods – whole grains, veggies, and a little meat, even at the risk of offending those who just stopped in for the free soul candy.
Three Problems I Have with Seeker-Friendly Churches
If I could distill my concerns down to bullet points and stick them to the glass entry doors of your church with the adhesive approved for use throughout the facility by the Pastor of Maintenance and Facility Care, I suppose they’d read like this:
- There are no seekers. Not really. In my post Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church, I noted that “Come to think of it, I never was a seeker.” A few people reacted in shock to my statement. But I think it’s biblical. “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12 ESV) So if the Bible is true, no one shows up at your church seeking God – unless God is already at work within their hearts. God saves sinners, not us. And for centuries, He did it without chasing after imaginary seekers. We all need to be reconciled to Him, to be sure, but it’s not as if there’s a bunch of people desperately trying to find God but can’t because your service isn’t cool enough.
- Seekers can’t worship. See, I thought, apparently somewhat naively, that a worship service would first be about worship. But seekers — maybe we should just call them unbelievers – can’t worship. It’s not that they struggle to do so, but that they simply are not capable of doing so due to the pernicious effect of sin. They can go through the external motions, but “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14 ESV) No matter how hard he or she might try, all our supposedly righteous deeds are like filthy rags to God. (Is. 64:6) Worship can only happen in spirit and in truth – two things that unbelievers do not yet have. So why design your worship services to appeal to those who cannot possibly truly participate? [ See Why I’ll Never Stop Singing in Your Church ]
- The Gospel looks stupid to seekers. Deal with it. Like Paul said above, it’s all foolishness until the Spirit opens their eyes. All too often, your church feels more like a middle school cafeteria than a church storming the gates of hell. It’s as if the message is “Won’t you please like us, pretty please! Let’s connect on Facebook – BFF LOL!” We should expect the gospel light to be offensive to those in darkness – not us, the gospel. Jesus warned us that would be the case. So why are we so focused on creating an environment that makes those who are perishing feel comfortable?
What’s the Point of Being Seeker-Friendly?
It’s about where you put your focus. What’s the point of designing your church to seem attractive to those to whom the gospel is unattractive? Is it just to get them in the door? I’ve got to tell you, at times your church more resembled a network marketing meeting than a church service. Been there done that. Just get people to the weekly meeting and let the flashy band, superstar speaker, and stellar child care do the rest. Don’t forget to take a sample and sign up on your way out – oh, and tell your friends about us!
At some point later, I guess, we’ll talk about all that tougher stuff about dying to self, forsaking all to follow Christ, and – gasp — hell and sin. But for now, just push that Easy Button. Settle back into your stadium seating and enjoy this riveting drama and dance routine we’ve cooked up for you while we smile incessantly.
Sounds like the classic bait-n-switch to me. I don’t recall Jesus charging his disciples to “lure potential recruits in with flashy programs, comfy chairs, and a free foot massage. Then, when the mood is right, guys, drop the whole repent thing on ‘em – but subtle, boys, subtle with a capital S and that rhymes with – well, you know – that word we do not speak of. (Wink!)”
What’s Church for Anyways?
Quite the opposite, I recall him telling us to go out into the world, not bring the world into the church. He has called us to be ambassadors who go out, not sales reps who stay in, lurking at the hotel to sign up prospects lured in by the promise of sweet treats and easy riches. He told us to make disciples, not water down the gospel power to make it more seeker-friendly.
After engaging in worship in spirit and truth, the natural next priority of the church service should be to make disciples. We could also rightly call it training worshippers. Seekers can’t be disciples. But believers can be and should be ever growing as more fully devoted followers of Christ. That is the great commission after all – the mission of the Church – to make disciples.
Is there a place for evangelization in the church service? Of course. I agree with many voices who have stressed that every sermon should call hearers to repentance in the context of the gospel. But 80% of our focus should be on discipling believers to go out and live out the gospel, to make every day of their lives a worship experience for all to see. Rather than investing 80% of our energy attracting non-existent seekers, why not focus on those who already believe, are desperate to grow, and are urgently needed to live out their faith in this fallen world.
Like I said, it might just be me. No doubt many will accuse me of being old, out of touch, and grouchy – exactly what’s wrong with Christians these days. Some days I feel as if all of that is true. Except that I feel it a lot less now since I left your seeker-friendly church. Maybe that was Why I Stopped Showing Up On Time at Your Church.
I suspect there are a lot of other Christians who’ve left for the same reasons but didn’t want to say anything for fear of being taken to the evangelical woodshed. Maybe they’ll speak up now. I don’t know. Do seeker-friendly churches burn heretics? Can’t think that would look good on the evening news though it might cause a bump in attendance.
Or maybe I just don’t get what it means to be seeker-friendly. I thought the Church was supposed to be God-friendly, not seeker friendly. Silly me. Who knew?
Have you become frustrated by your church’s fixation on being seeker-friendly? In what ways do you think the Church focuses on the wrong things – and the right things – on Sunday? Your thoughts?