Are seeker sensitive-driven churches effective?
Well, that depends on how you define “effective”.
Seeker sensitive-driven churches certainly work for Joel Osteen, TD Jakes and Rick Warren: these megachurches see an attendance of 15 000 to 28 000 every week. If you’re going for numbers, I’d say that’s pretty effective.
But if you want to know if seeker sensitive-driven churches are effective from God’s perspective, well, that’s a different story, because God is not about the business of numbers or how many billions of dollars these churches are making.
If He were, He would not have warned us that we are to “enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
In this article, we’ll analyse seeker sensitive-driven churches to see if they are biblical and whether they are effective at making disciples who produce rich fruit.
What is a seeker sensitive-driven church?
There is a big difference between a seeker sensitive church, and a seeker sensitive driven church: the first is any church which treats unbelievers with love and respect, and makes it easy for anyone to enter into the church.
The church that is seeker sensitive-driven however, focuses on the needs and desires of unbelievers, with the hopes that they’ll feel so at home, that they will turn to Jesus Christ.
Many of the megachurches of America are all seeker sensitive-driven; they do not preach Biblical Christianity, although they may use Bible verses to make a point, and well, to keep things Christian.
The seats are comfy, the effects spectacular, the worship is usually outstanding, like a concert with steam and strobes and pro musicians. The show is magnificent, uplifting and people leave feeling happy and fulfilled.
That leads to the next question: are seeker sensitive-driven churches wrong? To answer that, we need to go to the Bible to see the initial purpose of the church:
The purpose of the church
What did God intend a church to be? What is it that He wants? Only then do we have something to work with in which to measure the effectiveness of the seeker sensitive-driven church:
Compelling Truth sums it up nicely:
The purpose of the church is to join people of different backgrounds and talents and provide them training and opportunities for God’s work. It accomplishes this both internally, within the body, and externally, in the world.”
Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Based on Acts 2:42 then, the primary activities of the church should be:
- To teach sound biblical doctrine so that Christians can build their faith upon a strong foundation (Ephesians 4:14). Sound teaching leads to spiritual maturity, which leads to building up the body of Jesus Christ.
- To provide a place where believers can get together to fellowship (Romans 12:10).
- To partake of the Lord’s supper, so that we remember, together, the price Jesus paid for our salvation, and very importantly, it also gives believers the chance to examine themselves according to 1 Corinthians 11:27-28, and finally,
- To pray, because the best way for believers to care for each other is by praying for each other (Acts 2:42), as the early church did (Acts 12:5; Philippians 1:3-4). We should bring the needs of our fellow believers before God (Philippians 4:6-7).
The church should be replicating the things that Jesus would do if He were on earth physically. The church must be “Christian,” “Christ-like,” and Christ-following, and a light to the world (Matthew 5:14).
In addition, James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Now we can answer the question: are seeker sensitive-driven churches effective in terms of God’s desires the for the church?
Academia’s study of the seeker sensitive church model confirms that the foundations of the seeker sensitive church are unbiblical. They go into a lot of depth and you can read more about it on their site.
Based on Acts 2:42 which lists the primary purpose of the church, here is why we know this kind of church is not effective:
The church was meant for believers
Seeker sensitive-driven churches base their entire purpose around attracting the unchurched; the unbeliever.
This alone is unbiblical, because according to the scriptures, the church is for believers; it is not meant to attract unbelievers; that is the role of missionaries or people in the church who have a strong Christian foundation and go out into the world and share the gospel with those they come into contact with. Both the missionary and the stable Christian should be equipped by the church to win the lost and bring them into the church to be saved.
The church should not aim to make the unbeliever “comfortable” (I Corinthians 14:24-25), but our church services should strive to be intelligible to them, addressing their “heart secrets”. In other words, we must remember what it feels like not to be saved, and we must remember what it feels like to be spiritually blind.
How do we make sure that we don’t compromise, but still ensure the newcomer understands what’s going on in the service?
Well, good aesthetics (making the building attractive), providing good worship music (as long as it follows Biblical principles), making unbelievers feel welcome and cared for, explaining things we do in the service, explaining what the Bible verses mean and how they can be applied practically, and the message of grace alongside the message of gospel truth (and not grace alone) are all ways to accomplish this.
The growth strategy of the church should be determined by God’s Word, not the world. We are to make an impact on the world, not the world on the church.
Instead, what we are attempting to do in our man-made bright ideas, is to use phileo love to make people comfortable instead of God’s agape love that lovingly challenges people with the truth, so they can experience true freedom.
The fact that the seeker sensitive model aims to bring people to a sinner friendly service instead of equipping Christians to discipleship, and also lead people to Christ in the genuineness of the Holy Spirit, is cause for concern.
The preaching of sound doctrine
To reach a people who thrive on entertainment and self-help, many churches are now adopting a “light” approach that dishonors the gravity, depth, and substance of biblical truth; the comedic banter (not in itself wrong) often overriding the glory of the gospel.
The purpose of preaching
What is the purpose of preaching, from a Biblical perspective?
We find the answer in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:
“…and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Therefore, preaching from the scriptures results in:
- Being rebuked for incorrect thinking/doing
- Training in righteousness for the hearer to be equipped for good works and get to know God in order to mature spiritually
In addition, 2 Timothy 4:1-5 provides clear instructions to evangelists, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Truth leads to genuine repentance
Seeker sensitive-driven churches only cater to one audience and as a result, the whole church gets stunted spiritually, and oftentimes, that includes the pastor who begins to identify with sin as he is so busy trying to make his messages unoffensive and pleasing to sinners.
The true believers in seeker sensitive-driven churches are not being fed sufficiently while the pastors give milk instead of meat (1 Corinthians 3:1-3), talking baby Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
In order to come to genuine repentance, the unbeliever has to hear truth, just as John 8:32 says:
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When truth is not being preached, and sinners say a sinner’s prayer that has no mention of sin or repentance, those who come forward at the altar call do so under a false veil, thinking that salvation is something other than what it really is.
They have no idea of the commitment involved and they do not know what it means to serve Jesus, because they are under the impression that God is a big fluffy teddy who will grant them all the desires of their hearts.
A man and his wife worked for a very large seeker sensitive church as staff members. When I was doing research for this article, the man said that it’s particularly difficult to minister to those who get “saved” under false pretenses. Which means that this person now believes whatever they want to believe, because they are not being trained in truth. No wonder so many don’t even realise that homosexuality, for instance, is a sin. This person who thinks they are saved, is instead headed for hell, and the pastor is to blame…
As a result of hyper grace preaching, the church ends up with more false conversions than true. And if this is the case, what is the point of being seeker sensitive-driven? And what then, is the point of having a church?
Low true conversion rates
Let me back up my earlier claim that seeker sensitive-driven churches have a low true conversion rate: in a seeker sensitive megachurch research study by Hartford Institute for Religion Research, roughly 500 out of 24900 respondents said they were not a committed follower of Jesus Christ. That equates to a dismal 2% of true conversions, or real Christians who attend megachurches.
That number alone should tell you that seeker sensitive-driven churches are not only unbiblical, but also ineffective and achieve no purpose except to line the pockets of their founders and gain them status.
Church worship is unbiblical
Church worship at seeker sensitive-driven churches is entertaining at best, spiritually dangerous at worst.
This is because the beat and repetition of modern contemporary rock ‘n roll type Christian music works on heightening emotions to make worshippers feel like they’re in love with Jesus when they are not even saved. The type of music at these churches often strips away the holiness of God.
I am not recommending you go back to harp and organ (please no!), but be biblical about worship music.
Combining bad doctrine and bad worship…
Now. Combine unsound biblical doctrine and unbiblical church worship, and all you get is a nice (but pointless) show every Sunday, to a majority of people who think they are saved because they attend church every week, but are actually unsaved, remain unsaved and of course, produce no fruit, even though they said the sinner’s prayer (definitely not called the sinner’s prayer in these churches though…because we don’t want to make sinners feel bad) 3 years ago.
Therefore, not only are seeker sensitive-driven churches unbiblical, but the church is sending the very people they are so desperate to reach, to hell.
What do seeker sensitive church attendees say?
To understand what motivates people to attend seeker sensitive churches, you only need to check out the reviews.
These comments are about seeker sensitive church, Saddleback, in California:
“It’s a big church, but everyone was more friendly than I thought they’d be.”
“As a first time guest it helped that there was a great place for me to park.”
“The message helped me with what I was facing that week.”
“I can wear what’s comfortable!”
“They asked me NOT to participate in the offering.”
Read that again carefully.
What are these comments saying without saying?
It’s in stark contrast to the early disciples who suffered tremendous persecution for the sake of the gospel, and for Christians who make the hard choice to follow Jesus in the most persecuted countries today.
While we’re on the topic, isn’t it strange that the true conversion rate in seeker sensitive-driven megachurches is exceptionally low as opposed to the hardest countries in which to convert because of persecution?
True conversion growth rate in megachurches is only 2%.
So what now? Do we go back to boring?
Does church then need to go back to boring? Oh please, NO!
Before we get into how church can still be exciting and Biblically correct, let’s take a quick look at this study:
Megachurch Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, conducted a 3 year study between 2004 and 2007 to determine spiritual growth in the church. Here’s what they found:
- Involvement in church activities does not mean attendees are growing spiritually.
- It is only as people draw closer to Jesus that they experience spiritual growth.
- The church is vital in the early stages of a believer’s new life.
- It is key for people to spend personal time with the Lord to grow spiritually.
- Those who are the most active in the church, are those who are the most spiritually advanced.
In addition, when George Barna surveyed Willow Creek’s weekend attendees, he found that although 91% of them said their highest priority was having a deep personal relationship with God, of this same group, 25% of the single people, 38% of the single parents and 41% of the divorced individuals, admitted to having illicit sexual relationships in the last 6 months. (Source)
Hm. Point proven?
Ok. So what can churches do about declining numbers because of boring services? And does God expect us to go back to hymns and choirs?
People are actually looking for truth and sincerity, but are rejecting out-of-date philosophies, and methods in the church. Can’t blame them, as I must admit I am not one for singing old hymns by organ or pipe, or listening to boring preachers waffle on and on.
Change the method, not the message
The trick is to change the method, but not the message. It takes creativity, but things can be done differently, and the true gospel can still stay intact without compromise.
The trend is that when a church moves over to being driven by a seeker sensitive model, the church is compromised, and even the leaders start becoming blind to sin and playing with their own salvation. It’s a dangerous path.
Really, the needs of people have not changed. The problems remain the same, and these problems are attributed to SIN. The answer to life’s problems is the same: Jesus Christ crucified on a cross for our sins, not do-it-yourself psych babble and “living your best life in wealth on earth”.
JESUS DID NOT DIE SO YOU CAN PREACH AN
UNOFFENSIVE, WATERED-DOWN GOSPEL.
The seeker sensitive-driven church is man-centred instead of God-centred. It is an abomination, and the founders of these churches, although they perhaps meant well, have been deceived.
Often their own lives look the same as the lives of unbelievers, because they changed the message and struck out onto dangerous territory, so God “gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” (Psalm 81:12)
The majority of people attending seeker sensitive-driven churches don’t even know what sin is. They live lives dictated by flesh because they are not saved, but think they are accepted by God because the pastor keeps preaching about God’s grace, but never His wrath.
The sad part is that these people think they are saved and bound for heaven, but when one day they come face to face with the real Jesus who was never told to them, they will hear from Him,
“I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
And that, dear church leader, ends this article with this weighty question:
Who will be held accountable by God, for these lost ones?