It’s no secret that I am critical of seeker sensitive churches. But I thought this article was particularly bad, and little bothers me more than a poorly made case, particularly when it takes a position I agree with. It only serves to discredit my position. So I find myself oddly compelled to attack an article I agree with that criticizes something I also criticize. Ah, well, here goes.
To begin with, the article is not supported by much research. The author’s research seems to be a single visit to Willow Creek, and reading one book critical of Willow Creek. I’m certain more research must have gone into the article, but if so, it is not presented.
If you’re going to criticize something, you ought to at least make sure you are doing a fair job of it. That means a little bit of research. At a minimum, more than a single visit to one church.
There are three primary accusations levelled against seeker sensitive churches in this article.
The first accusation is that seeker sensitive churches are using a “marketing” approach to presenting the gospel. I’d agree with that assessment, and I suspect many seeker sensitive advocates would, too, given a reasonable definition of marketing. Is marketing that different from Paul’s evangelistic strategy of being all things to all people?
Where the article is unfair, though, is here:
Let?s begin with marketing as a tactic for reaching the lost. Fundamentally, marketing has to do with profiling consumers, ascertaining what their ?felt needs? are, and then fashioning one?s product (or its image) to appeal to the targeted customer?s desires.
By offering such a misleading definition of marketing, the author can go on to accuse seeker sensitive churches of distorting the gospel:
First of all, the gospel and, more significantly, the person of Jesus Christ do not fit into any marketing strategy. They are not ?products? to be ?sold.? They cannot be refashioned or image-adjusted to appeal to the felt needs of our consumer-happy culture. Any attempt to do so compromises to some degree the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for us.
He goes on to say that if the customer is always right, then seeker sensitive churches simply _must_ be discarding, revamping, or downplaying any elements of the gospel that are offensive to the lost. He further claims that, to attract the lost, churches are “appealing to and accommodating their flesh” and offers such shocking examples as “theatrical productions” and “stimulating multi-media presentations”.
The error here is in his deceptive definition of “marketing”. Marketing is not always about “fashioning one?s product (or its image) to appeal to the targeted customer?s desires”. There is no reason to assume anyone is changing, revamping, or downplaying any elements of the gospel. The author fails to make an important distinction between the _gospel_ and a local _church_ or its presentation of the gospel. There is no reason to conclude seeker sensitive churches are marketing _the gospel_ at all. Holding services at times other than Sunday morning is not marketing _the gospel_. If anything, it’s marketing _the church_. And it’s no different than putting an ad in the newspaper or holding any sort of outreach event.
If the gospel has been modified in any way by the seeker sensitive movement, it ought to be trivially easy to demonstrate this. Since this author relies on arguments along the lines of “they don’t preach on topics I like” and “I don’t like their preaching style”, I can only conclude that the argument that the gospel itself has been modified, is without merit.
The second accusation is that the seeker-sensitive movement consistently produces weak Christians.
they continue to attend, being fed the same biblically anemic diet created for the wooing of unbelievers. At best, they receive the skimmed milk of the Word; at worst, pablum contaminated with ?profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called? (1 Tm 6:20). Certainly a church can grow numerically on that basis, but not spiritually.
Furthermore, there is no opportunity for believers to mature in the faith in such an environment. In defense of seeker-sensitive churches, some have argued that mid-week services are set apart for discipleship and getting into the meat of Scriptures. If that indeed is the case, it?s a rare exception rather than the rule.
As we?ve noted, most seeker-friendly churches focus much of their time, energy, and resources on accommodating unchurched Harry and Mary. Consequently, week after week, the entire congregation is subjected to a diluted and leavened message. Then, on Wednesday evening, when a fellowship is usually reduced to quarter or a third of its normal size, would it be reasonable to assume that this remnant is served a nourishing meal featuring the meat of the Word, expositional teaching, and an emphasis on sound doctrine and discipleship? Hardly. We?ve yet to find a seeker-friendly church where that takes place. The spiritual meals offered at mid-week services are usually support group meetings and classes for discerning one?s spiritual gifts or going through the latest psycho-babble-ized ?Christian? bestseller such as Wild at Heart rather than the study of the Scriptures.
The first thing I challenge is the notion that believers are getting anything meatier in traditional churches. The author claims that most of the growth of seeker-sensitive churches is due to an influx of members from smaller, non-seeker-sensitive churches rather than actual unchurched people. If this is true, it means one of two things. One possibility is that those believers were spiritually immature and prone to being drawn away by the insidiousness of seeker sensitive churches. This is an indictment against the churches they formerly attended, for it is the responsibility of the local church and particularly the pastors/elders to see to the spiritual growth of the members. The other possibility is that those who left for seeker-sensitive churches were hungering for spiritual meat that they were not receiving in a traditional church, and apparently are receiving at a seeker sensitive one. Again, this is an indictment against the traditional churches that those members left.
Then the author simply dismisses the argument that seeker sensitive churches offer any opportunity for discipleship and spiritual meat. He does not give any evidence, other than his own assertion that “We?ve yet to find a seeker-friendly church where that takes place”. What would be helpful is some hard data here. How many seeker-friendly churches did he investigate? What were the statistical breakdowns of the types of mid-week opportunities? How many did he actually observe?
The third criticism the author puts forth is a vague implication that seeker sensitive churches are attracting worldly people by appealing to their flesh. This is supported by statements such as:
We visited Willow Creek Community Church not too long ago, and it seems to have spared no expense in its mission to attract the masses. Looking past the swans gliding across a mirror lake, one sees what could be mistaken for a corporate headquarters or a very upscale shopping mall. Just off the sanctuary is a large bookstore and an extensive eating area supplied by a food court with five different vendors. A jumbotron screen allows an overflow crowd or those enjoying a meal to view the proceedings in the main sanctuary. The sanctuary itself is spacious and high tech, complete with three large screens and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems for multimedia, drama, and musical presentations.
While impressive, Willow Creek is not unique among mega-churches with a reach-the-lost-through-whatever-turns-them-on mindset. Mega-churches across the country have added bowling alleys, NBA regulation basketball courts with bleachers, exercise gyms and spas, locker rooms, auditoriums for concerts and dramatic productions, and Starbucks and McDonald?s franchises?all for the furtherance of the gospel.
An attractive church campus is not evidence of worldliness. A godly bookstore is something all churches should offer, IMHO. A food court strikes me as odd, but it makes a world of difference how this food court is used. Is it open during serivce? I think I’d object to that. Or is it giving people a place to eat when they come to the church for other events? That would be nice, and certainly convenient. In either case, it’s not really an indication of worldliness. Sound, lighting, and video systems are certainly not indications of worldliness, unless they are misused to transform a worship service into an entertainment event. In any case, the problem does not lie with the electronic equipment. Ditto for the exercise facilities. Most churches I know of have gymnasiums. Is the author dismayed because Willow Creek has a better gym than most?
It’s hard to answer these implications because he won’t just come right out and say anything. It’s all hints and implications, meant to conjure up unfair mental images and create unfair, unsubstantiated impressions.
The author does make two valid points. The first is his criticism of the mixture of scripture and psychology. But he does not bother to actually offer any substantial reason why you shouldn’t mix the two. He doesn’t take the time to quote 2 Tim 3:15-17 or Hebrews 4:12. His second good point is entirely contained in these three sentences: “Thousands of churches here and abroad have completely restructured themselves as outreach centers for the unchurched. This, by the way, is not biblical. The church is for the maturing and equipping of the saints, who then go out to reach the lost.” Again, he does not bother with demonstrating this from scripture.
IMHO, the author would have done a much better job to focus on the proper role of the assembled local church in evangelism, and on the problems with mixing psychology and scripture. A careful exegesis of the relevant scriptures, as well as some well researched and carefully documented examples of the alleged problems with seeker-sensitive churches modifying the gospel and failing to provide spiritual meat for believers, would do a much better job in making his case.