Answer: In recent years a new movement within the evangelical church has come into vogue, commonly referred to as "seeker sensitive." Generally, this movement has seen a great deal of growth. Many “seeker” churches are now mega-churches with well-known pastors who are riding a wave of popularity in the evangelical world. The seeker-sensitive movement claims millions of conversions, commands vast resources, continues to gain popularity, and seems to be attracting millions of un-churched people into its fold.
So, what is this movement all about? Where does it come from? And, most
importantly, is it biblical? Basically, the seeker-sensitive church
tries to reach out to the unsaved person by making the church experience
as comfortable, inviting, and non-threatening to him as possible. The
hope is that the person will believe in the gospel. The idea behind the
concept is to get as many unsaved people through the door as possible,
and the church leadership are willing to use nearly any means to
accomplish that goal. Theatrics and musical entertainment are the norm
in the church service to keep the unsaved person from getting bored as
he does with traditional churches. State-of-the-art technology in
lighting and sound are common components of the seeker-sensitive
churches, especially the larger ones.
Expertly run nurseries, day care, adult day care, community programs
such as ESL (English as a Second Language), and much more are common
fixtures in the larger seeker churches. Short sermons (typically 20
minutes at most) are usually focused on self-improvement. Supporters of
this movement will say that the single reason behind all the expense,
state-of-the-art tech gear, and theatrics is to reach the unsaved with
the gospel; however, rarely are sin, hell, or repentance spoken of, and
Jesus Christ as the exclusive way to heaven is rarely mentioned. Such
doctrines are considered “divisive.”
The seeker-sensitive church movement has pioneered a new method for
founding churches involving demographics studies and community surveys
that ask the unsaved what they want in a church. This is a kind of “if
you build it they will come” mentality. The reasoning is that if you
give the unsaved better entertainment than they can receive elsewhere,
or “do church” in a non-threatening way, then they will come, and
hopefully, they will accept the gospel. The mindset is to hook the
un-churched person with great entertainment, give him a message he can
digest, and provide second-to-none services. The focus of the seeker
church then is not Christ-centered, but man-centered. The main purpose
of the seeker church’s existence is to give people what they want or
meet their felt needs.
Further, the seeker-friendly gospel presentation is based on the idea
that if you will believe in Jesus, He will make your life better.
Relationships with your wife or husband, coworkers, children, etc., will
be better. The message the seeker church sometimes passes on to the
unsaved person is that God is a great cosmic genie, and if you stroke
Him the right way, you will get what you want. In other words, if you
profess to believe in Jesus, God will give you a better life, better
relationships and purpose in life. So, for all intents and purposes, the
seeker-sensitive movement is a type of system based on giving
unbelievers whatever they want. What too often happens in such a system
is that people make a profession of faith, but when the circumstances of
their lives don’t immediately change for their material good, they
forsake Christ, believing He has failed them.
How are people responding to the “seeker” movement? Many people have
responded and begun attending seeker-sensitive churches. Many people,
indeed, have come to faith in Christ as a result of a seeker-sensitive
church. But the bigger question is, “What does God have to say about all
this?” Is it possible for a movement to be successful from a human
perspective, but be unacceptable to God?
The basic premise in the seeker-sensitive movement is that there are
many people out there who are seeking God and want to know Him, but the
concept of the traditional church scares them away from faith in Christ.
But is it true that people are truly seeking God? Actually, Scripture
teaches the exact opposite! The apostle Paul tells us that “there is no
one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11).
This means there is no such thing as an unbeliever who is truly seeking
for God on his own. Furthermore, man is dead in his sin (Ephesians 2:1),
and he can’t seek God because he doesn’t recognize his need for Him,
which is why Paul says that there is no one who understands. Romans 1:20-23
teaches us that all unbelievers reject the true God. They then go on to
form a god that is what they want (a god in their image or the image of
something else). This is a god they can tame and control. Romans 1:18-20
says they knowingly suppress what they know about God through His
creation and that they are subject to God’s wrath, another doctrine
studiously avoided by the seeker churches.
God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in creation, but unbelievers
take that clear knowledge and revelation God has graciously provided
and flatly reject it. This leads to Paul’s statement in Romans 1:20
that they are “without excuse.” What man finds when he seeks on his own
is nothing more than a god of his own creation. Man does not seek for
God; it is God who seeks for man. Jesus said that plainly in John 15:16, and John 6:44.
The idea of thousands or even millions of unbelievers really searching
for the true God is an utterly unbiblical notion. Thus, this movement is
based on an unbiblical concept of the nature of the unsaved person,
which is spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person does not seek God,
nor can he. Therefore, there is no such thing as a seeking unbeliever.
He does not understand the things of God until he is made alive by the
Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Until the Father draws him (John 6:44) and the Spirit awakens the heart so he can believe and receive the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8),
an unsaved person cannot believe. Salvation is completely the act of
God whereby He draws and empowers the dead sinner with what is necessary
to believe (John 6:37, 39-40).
What part do we play in the salvation of others? God has commanded that
we are the instrumentality through which the gospel is proclaimed. We
share the gospel, but it is not our responsibility to make people
believe, or even to try to be persuasive or manipulate them into
believing. God has given us the message of the gospel; we are to share
it with gentleness and reverence, but we are to share it, offensive
parts and all. Nobody believes the gospel because a speaker is
persuasive. People believe because of the work of God in their hearts.
God has not been vague on what His church is to be like. He didn’t leave
us guessing. He has given us direction on how men are to lead His
church (Acts 6:1-6, 14:23; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Ephesians 4:11), the ordinances of the church (1 Corinthians 11; Matthew 28:19), and the worship in the church—it is to be on the “Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7), and is to consist of preaching and teaching, prayer, fellowship (Acts 2:42) and the taking of an offering (Colossians 3:16).
Here, the seeker movement has missed the mark completely with its
man-centered focus. When an unsaved person enters church, should our
goal be to make him feel as comfortable as possible? When it comes to
issues like our kindness, speaking respectfully, or even physical
comfort, all who enter the church should be treated well. But the
unsaved person should never feel “at home” in church, which is the body
of Christ. The preaching and teaching of truth should make him feel very
uncomfortable as he, hopefully, realizes the state of his soul, comes
to know the existence of hell, and recognizes his need for the Savior.
This discomfort is what brings people to Christ, and those who attempt
to circumvent discomfort are not being loving. In fact, just the
opposite is true. If we love someone, we want him to know the truth
about sin, death, and salvation so we can help him avoid an eternity in
hell. According to Paul, when an unbeliever enters the church and the
Word of God is preached expositionally (taught directly from the
Scriptures), he will be convicted and called into account for his sin.
The secrets of his heart are disclosed as he confesses and repents of
his sin; this leads him to humble himself and worship the God who has
provided the sacrifice for his salvation.
If we apply the standards of the seeker-sensitive movement to evaluate
Jesus’ ministry, we get some interesting results. At one time, Jesus was
preaching to thousands, and He clearly offends nearly all of those who
heard Him. They desert Him, and “from this time many of his disciples
turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66).
The Greek words in this verse mean they left and never came back. Jesus
warned us that, far from healing our relationships with others,
Christians will experience rifts in their closest relationships because
of Him (Matthew 10:34-37).
It is true that once we are saved life is better because we are
reconciled to God and have a right relationship with Him. This provides
the deepest peace that can be known. However, the rest of our lives will
almost certainly be more difficult than before. God has said that we
will experience persecution (Matthew 10:25), the rest of the world will look upon us as fools (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), and we may even experience deep divisions in our own families all because of Christ (Luke 12:53). Jesus never intended for us to be popular with unbelievers, saying instead that He came to bring not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
The basic philosophy, theology, purpose, and end of the seeker-sensitive
movement are entirely man-centered. However, some would say that
regardless of the purpose, motive, and outcome of the movement being
wrong, we can’t argue with the principle of getting the unsaved through
the doors to hear the gospel. Certainly, any exposure we can give the
unsaved to the gospel is a great thing. However, the seeker-sensitive
movement sometimes doesn’t have the real gospel. Rather, it is a shell
of the truth; it is hollow and void of the truths of sin, hell, and the
holiness of God.
How is the rest of the body of Christ to respond to the seeker-sensitive
movement? We are to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for
all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
We are to be all the more vigilant to model our churches after the
instruction of Scripture. Eventually, this movement, like all others
which have come and gone over the years, will run its course and fizzle
out. The seeker movement is large and well accepted, but it will
eventually give way to the next fad, and in some ways that has already
happened with the Emerging Church movement. Oddities within the church come and go, but the biblical church, like her Lord, endures forever.
Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church by Gary McIntosh.