The Seeker-Sensitive Model: Has the Quest for “Relevance”, Made the Church Irrelevant?

In its quest to be “relevant”, has the seeker-sensitive church model become irrelevant?  Has the desire to seem “seeker-friendly” actually made the church less friendly?  Does the Seeker-Sensitive church model eternally benefit those whom it targets?  My conclusion:  The Seeker-Sensitive church Isn’t.   It isn’t “friendly” and it isn’t relevant.    Strong charges, I know.  Bear with me a moment and walk through my argument.

The seeker-sensitive church model is good at doing what it does.  It is good at creating a crowd, growing larger congregations, collecting large amounts of cash to build bigger buildings and pay staff well, providing inexpensive entertainment on Sunday mornings for the “seeker”,  making it easy for people to attend, offering exciting programs, and teaching topics that the lost enjoy hearing.  Being good at something does not necessarily mean that what we do is the right thing to do.   See our article “Would the Apostle Paul Plant a Seeker-Sensitive Church?” for more discussion on this point.    I think it all hinges on our definitions.

Websters defines “relevant” as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.”  We measure relevance by examining what we say or do thereby determining, that what we say or do is significantly applicable to the topic at hand.    In other words, if  our words and actions significantly impact the discussion in a positive manner,  we are being relevant.     The question that must be asked of church leadership is: what is the matter at hand for the church that the Savior shed His blood to purchase? What are the things that His word commands that we be engaged in?  Finally, does the “Seeker-Sensitive” (S-S) church model make a significant and demonstrable impact on that matter or purpose? 

What is the important message that the church must communicate to the world?  If it is “how to be succesful, how to raise children, how to overcome stress, how to have a better more fulfilling sex life (a church in my town actually did a series on this and invited the unchurched) or how to be happy, then the “S-S” model is very relevant.  But if the message of His church is an altogether different message, it isn’t being relevant.   Most evangelical Christians would agree that the above listed topics are not central to Christianity.  See “Whatever happened to the Message of The Cross?”  for a discussion of what the church’s message should be.

The leaders of the seeker-sensitive church model believe that they must use these non-central “relevant”  messages to get the lost to consider the claims of Christ. They believe that the lost won’t consider the Saviors claims at first, because they don’t see them as relevant to their lives.  So they try the back door approach that goes something like this:  “Let’s get them into the building by designing our services in such a way that they will realize that there might be something “relevant” here after all.”   Great, now they are here.  What do we do?  “We should take the cross off the wall, and take any mention of  sin, guilt, or the atonement and eliminate these from our vocabulary.  The non-christian doesn’t really like these topics.  If we make a big deal about them, they won’t come back.”  If you ask the leadership why they remove the cross and avoid these topics, you get odd answers.  “Tell me again, why did we remove  the cross from the sanctuary?”  “It is a bit offensive, to the non-christian.”   “Can you tell me why we seem to no longer celebrate communion?”  “The non-Christian does not understand it, and it is a little creepy to them.”  “How come our songs and your sermons have to be sanitized so that there is no mention of sin, hell, death, blood, repentance or the cross?  Why do we seldom hear a clear presentation of the Gospel message?”  “For the same reasons.”   “

For the Seeker-sensitive church, the “matter at hand” is leading the lost to the Savior through their services.   But if we obscure the reason one needs to be saved and hide how one can be saved,  all the while helping the lost feel safe and comfortable as we do it, we are failing and failing miserably.  No matter how many people flock to these services.  Finding a catchy phrase to define this movement is helpful.  We should label it something.  But to call this “relevant”, is patently absurd.   What is the most relevant message the lost can hear?  Is it not the message of the death and resurrection of the Savior of the world?  What could be more relevant to a lost person?  “How to have a better Sex Life” seems to fail in comparison, don’t you think?    How do people come to Christ?  Do not the scriptures teach that faith comes by hearing?  By hearing what?  The clear proclamation of the Gospel. 

What it mean to be friendly?

Websters defines it this way:   “showing kindly interest and goodwill”  Another dictionary defines it this way: “favorably disposed; inclined to approve, help, or support.  The greatest need of mankind is to be reconciled to God.  How does this happen?  That, is the most relevant question one could ask.  The Philippian jailer asked it in Acts 16:30 “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  Paul’s answer fits the definition of “friendly” very well.  He told him the truth!  “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved-you and your whole household.  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him to and all the others in his house.”

Can we agree that teaching a lost person how to be happier and more content in their lostness is  not kind-hearted and friendly?  How can we define this as  helping, supporting or being kind?  If they come to our “house” week after week, and learn how to be better parents, better spouses, better people, but do not learn that they are sinners bound for hell unless they turn to the Savior, how can we seriously label that as “friendly”?  We are deluding ourselves if we think a service designed to make the lost un-offended, comfortable and ignorant of their true state before a Holy God is somehow going to produce the next revival.

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in the last 200 years, may never had come to Christ if he lived in our day.  He tells the story of how he came to Christ.  He went to church after church after church in his town trying to find out how he could be made right with a holy God.  He went to over half of the congregations and never heard the gospel.  Finally, he stumbled upon a tiny, unimpressive congregation where they preached the Gospel and he was saved.  The rest is history.

What happens today when someone comes into a Seeker-Sensitive service?  A person can sit through the entire service week after week and never once learn the answer to the most relevant question of all.  They may leave, never come back, and assume that Christianity has nothing to offer them.  Let’s face it, if you want to learn how to be a better parent, a better spouse,  be more successful,  have a better sex life, or  be happy, you don’t have to go to church!   You can find help for all of these things on PBS, in the current issue of Cosmo, or at the local bookstore.

God gave His church one message:  A crucified and risen Savior who offers pardon to rebellious, treasonous sinners like you and I.    It doesn’t get more relevant than that.  Everyday, God saves people through this message.  If that message is not proclaimed clearly and regularly in our corporate gatherings then we are not offering anything to the lost that could remotely be considered “relevant.”  I will be eternally grateful that my “friends” shared the gospel with me.  Thank you all for your obedience to the Savior!   I found it to be extremely “relevant” for my sin problem.

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the serious issues that exist within the American Evangelical church. It is a place for like-minded people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on May 5, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. i’m new to your blog. came by way of a ‘christianity’ tag on wordpress. enjoyed your thoughts on seeker-sensitive churches.

    two of my biggest concerns about this model are that it’s not reproducible and that it necessarily extracts those who are being saved from their own culture and context (rather than allowing them to minister in that community).

    [of course those are two of my biggest concerns for most church models...]

  2. Hi James,

    Thnks for stopping by and adding your thoughts to the discussion!

  3. Wow! I loved this post. I have been a “non-fan” of “Seeker Sensitive” churches for over a decade. Seeing as how the Bible clearly says that NO ONE seeks the Lord, then the target audience for the S-S church is…well…No one! Heh. If you don’t mind, I think I will link to this post on my own blog (if I remember about it tomorrow morning, that is…)

    Grace and peace,

    Jeff

  4. Hey Jim…thanks for stopping by my site and commenting. After reading about your background in ministry, I definitely encourage you to comment as often as you can on my postings. I’m not up for debating God’s Word. I, however, and all for being sharpened and presented more of His truth to help me better understand His Word. That is what we are here for bruh – to sharpen one another. With that said, I figured I’d drop by and check out your site. It seems we are both working on the same task for the Lord. I’d rather walk with you, than apart from you to see true repentance take place in the American Church.

    It goes without saying that this particular article is on point. I see why you commented on mine now. (o: Go with God bruh and never look to the left or the right, but walk in His way.

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