George Barna: The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model: Dumbing Down Disciples
The Barna Group just came out with a new research report. In it, they describe six mega-themes relating to the state of the church in America. I want to discuss two of those themes here. I believe they have a cause and effect relationship. I also believe that the Seeker-Sensitive church model is directly responsible for the findings detailed in the Barna Report.
Barna says: “Change usually happens slowly in the Church. But a review of the past year’s research… provides a time-lapse portrayal of how the religious environment in the U.S. is morphing into something new.” Stop for a moment and think about what you just read: Christianity in America is morphing into something new.”
Is the American church morphing into something better and more God honoring? The findings in the Barna Report would argue in the negative. Here’s two of them:
Barna’s research has found that people, by and large, are not interested in learning about their sin, their accountability to a holy God, His solution to their sin problem or how to follow the Savior. I would argue that it is the non-Christian who is uninterested in these things. Surely, the true, blood bought, ransomed, treasonous traitors turned adopted sons and daughters of the Almighty King of the universe care about such things? Though unbelievers may not be interested in these most relevant of all spiritual truths, they are interested in practical, pragmatic things relevant to their own lives. I don’t fault the unbeliever for wanting to know how to be successful, how to have a better marriage, how to be a better parent or any number of topics they are interested in. We are all interested in those things.
The question here is quite simple: How should the church respond to a culture that is not interested in its primary message? The way I see it, there are essentially two ways to address this. One is to give the people what they want. If they want to hear sermons on things that they consider important, then give it to them. This is a market driven approach. The other method is to give people what they need, even if they do not know what they need. The Seeker-Sensitive church model follows the former: Lets give them what they want to hear. One church in my town used this as justification to do a sermon series outreach to non-christians. The topic: How to have a better sex life. The series was called “Pure Sex!” (see their advertisement here)
What have been the results of this “give em what they want” approach? When churches offer a steady diet of messages that non-christians consider practical and relevant, it results in a dumbing down of the church. Most believers who attend these services week after week get weak. Anyone involved in the seeker-sensitive model knows this is the case. Barna says it the following way…
Theology, by definition, is simply the study of God and all things related to Him. If the church is becoming less theologically literate, it means they know less and less about God and all things related to Him. I would call this a major failure, since the church is charged with disciple making. Here’s what Barna discovered“What used to be basic, universally known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans–especially young adults… As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.”
My interpretation of the above is that the lack of theological understanding is going to get worse in the next ten years. Is that even possible?
At first glance, the seeker-sensitive method sounds good. The motive: Let’s reach the lost is spot on. The method is what has failed. The results have been coming in and they are not good.
I have to admit that early on in my preaching ministry, I actually implemented some of these ideas. I tried it out. I discovered the very same thing that the Barna report found. It doesn’t work. Sure our attendance numbers went up, but true discipleship and christian growth lagged far behind attendance.
The Biblical model, contrary to the Seeker-Sensitive church model, is to continue to proclaim the message that people need to hear, even if they don’t know they need it. In 2 Timothy chapter 4, the Apostle Paul describes a time when people will no longer want to hear the message of the Gospel. They will not “put up” with listening to it, will want nothing to do with it, so they will “turn away” from it. Yet these same people will want instruction of some kind. Paul warns Timothy that these same people will “surround themselves with a great number of teachers” who will teach them “what their itching ears” want to hear. Does this sound familiar? Doesn’t it sound exactly like the cultural climate we minister in here in the United States?
Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to not be one of the teachers they surrounded themselves with. I find this very instructive. What Paul was saying in essence was this: “A time is coming when people will not listen to the gospel. They will listen to other people teaching other things. But they won’t listen to the Gospel. So this is what you must do in that situation Timothy: you must continue to preach the gospel.” Even if they will not listen, Preach the Message of the Cross! For an exposition of this passage, listen to the message titled “Staying On Message” in our Audio Messages page.
As church leadership panders more and more to the non-believers in their midst, the believers who remain begin to understand God and the gospel less and less. This is a failure of leadership and those being led must seriously consider leaving these types of ministries.
The results are in. The Seeker-Sensitive Movement is dumbing down the American Church. Even Bill Hybels, the founder and guru of the seeker-Sensitve church model admits it, “We made a mistake.”.
Stay tuned….more to come.
If you found this article helpful, you may also benefit from another related article called Whatever Happened to the Message of The Cross?
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Posted on December 26, 2010, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, The Christian Life, Theology and tagged Barna Group, Bill Hybels, christianity, El cristianismo, Evangelistic, George Barna, Gospel, postmodern, seeker-sensitive, Super Bowl, tolerance, Willow Creek. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.