The Seeker-Sensitive Church & Rocky Ground

by · January 6, 2012

Are you familiar with the parable of the sower?

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

I’d like to focus on the rocky ground as it correlates to the seeker-sensitive church movement.

First, I’ll say this. I don’t agree with the nomenclature “Seeker-Sensitive”. Does it not imply that all other church models are “Seeker-Abrasive”? The model is one that focuses on attraction. In other words leadership sits in a room and brainstorms environments, series, events & gimmicks through a filter that says, “How can we make it about them?”.

This becomes a model of “Christ +”.

Is not Christ enough? Are the words of Scripture lacking in any way that we need to polish them with smoke and mirrors? Are we so insecure or unconvinced that the Word of God cannot “attract” on its own that we must create people-centric environments where the coolness factor of the stage and programs supersedes and often muddies Scripture?

Am I just being a stick in the mud? Maybe. You might say, “Whoa, Brian, our church is growing faster than surrounding churches and even made it in the top-10 of Outreach Magazine’s fastest-growing churches nationwide … so … we’re pretty awesome.”

Or maybe, “Brian, you just don’t understand. We need to create relevant, attractional environments so that people will be intrigued and come hear the word of God.”

Or perhaps, “Jesus spoke in a way people could relate to. We’re just doing a modern version of the same thing.”

Rocky Ground

I have no doubt that people come to know Christ through these types of environments. My argument is that these environments can potentially be toxic to spiritual, Biblical maturity. These environments treat people like an only-child. Everything is catered to their needs from the music & environment to the ministries and events. We’ve created a church full of comfortable people with feel-good messages that continue to grow the church but not strengthen it.

A large, growing church doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy church. Fungus grows, bacteria grows, cancer grows. Growth is not a measure of health.

In my opinion a church with the priority of attraction is rocky ground.  Growth may be quick, but without deep roots in healthy soil it will not last long. When your goal is attraction then naturally you allocate and prioritize your resources to attract. My question is if you’re allocating the majority of your resources to attract, what is left over to mature and make disciples? In all this spiritual milk when is there time for steak?

Is giving down or lacking in your church? The economy is an excuse.
Are there a lack of mentors? Lack of time is an excuse.
Are people knocking down the door to be on your worship team, yet your’re struggling to get people to meet together in prayer?
Do people willingly place themselves under church leadership’s authority?
Is your women’s ministry blooming but men in the church are someone detached?
Are disciples making disciples?

Churches with rocky ground cannot complain when 20% is carrying 80%. Look at your values. Look at the comfort of your people. Look at how you allocate your resources.  Look at what you espouse from the front of the room. At the end of the day we will not stand in front of God and give an account for the coolness of our church and the comfort of our people.

I’ll end with this: If you were to remove the lights, the camera, the action, the gimmicks, the coffee shop, the fountain and the fog machine would your church continue to grow? What can you simplify so that He increases and we decrease?

What are your thoughts?

  • Matthew Cherry

    Does it not imply that all other church models are “Seeker-Abrasive”? No, it just means it has a place in it’s community with a special focus on those who are learning what this is all about, without feeling out of place.  Seeker-Sensitive doesn’t mean fog machines, loud music and moving lights.  It means simple, it means current.

    However, plenty of church models are Seeker-Abrasive.  Seeker sensitive just means, operate with someone who doesn’t know Jesus on you mind.   All too often Christians have created their sub-culture where someone casually walking in to hear about Jesus leaves scratching their head and feeling stupid for not wearing a tie. It would be great if they still used a flannel graph at Starbucks, or all organ music on a long drive, or stain glass windows at home.  If the church is foreign to the culture it’s in, or sees no growth it doesn’t make it more reverent or right. 

    You are right that growth doesn’t mean healthy, however no growth does mean it’s not healthy.  If you are reaching your community, but no one you’ve reached walks in during the week, you’ve got a problem.

    Jesus was controversial and seemed to fit so much better in the world than the church.  Seeker-sensitive says “lets go have a beer and talk about this” (unless they struggle with alcohol). I grew up with a collection of church’s, my mother dragged me to, that made beer out to be Satan’s secret weapon, tattoo’s evil, going to the bathroom during “church” wrong, jeans idiotic, and membership a must… this is Seeker Abrasive.  Church services can often feel like a golf club house.  “Clean yourself up before you come in” – exact opposite of Jesus’ message. 

    Why is changing the music, as music changes, changes the decor as decor changes, changing our clothes as clothing changes, wrong. 

    I think the real issue we face is thinking Sunday morning is church.  We have 20 some churches in our community, all with a different flavor, culture, music style, clothing choices… pick one your comfortable with, will learn and grow from, can worship alongside other believers without distraction and can offer your own gifts to.  Church includes the rest of the week; fellowship, ministry, service, prayer, worship. 

    I hope someone who has never experienced Jesus will feel comfortable and free, in one of our services, to learn who he is.

    My wife’s grandfather is not comfortable in the church I attend, because it doesn’t fit the traditions he grew up with. He is however, a racist, a sexist, horribly and outwardly rude to anyone struggling with their weight and completely against beer, wine, tattoo’s, piercings, horizontal stripes on women, water, vegetables, showering, the homeless, democrats and spending money on anyone but himself.   He loves to share with me what the church should look like.  “You wore THAT to church today?” Yes, sir, I did not tuck in my shirt today.

    Our church recently had a Seeker and Pre-Seeker Sensitive Christmas eve service with a twist on the carols.  The goal was to present a message for the 300 folks who come only once a year, that surprised them and left them questioning who Jesus was, and how we fit into God’s plan.  We had a few Christians express their hate for a non-traditional service with a kid’s choir. 

    Well… we are seeker sensitive, and it has made a dent in this community. 

  • Brian Kaufman

    Matthew, good comments here. Would you agree that based on your definition of seeker-sensitive as “… operate with someone who doesn’t know Jesus on you mind.” that all churches would then be seeker-sensitive?

    The main problem I have is that you are equating seeker-sensitive with cultural relativism. The assumption is that the culture is relevant, the seeker-sensitive church must then place being relevant as a high priority, AND, be an expert of what’s defined as relevant.  There are churches such as the reformed that are relevant to one neighbor but maybe not the other.  We in the church tend to overuse the word “relevant” but without a true understanding of our surrounding culture it’s just a catchy word we toss around.

    The issue with your wife’s grandfather doesn’t sound like an issue of relevancy, it seems like an issue of self-righteousness and condemnation borne out of sin.  Obviously, I don’t know him, but I know people like him.

    Great points you’ve made here. Hard conversations to have and I’m glad you were brave enough to step up and offer the first thoughts!

  • Matthew Cherry

    “…that all churches would then be seeker-sensitive?”  I WISH!!  Absolutely not! I very much understand that the name “Seeker-Sensitive” has been abused, used by churches wanting to water down truth in order to please people, however, there is still a need for churches to look like their current culture while presenting the truth. 

    I loved your post on branding and the often controversial women’s ministry in regards to graphic design.  This is cultural relativism is it not?  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to google search small animated gifs and use them on posters with zero understanding of resolution, pixelation or royalties? Why is it a problem that they switch between a 1/2″ bevel or feather on every image of the newsletter?  I am kidding of course.  The reason is… it’s ugly…… today!  It wasn’t 15 years ago when Photoshop wowed us with the bevel. 

    I’m not talking about dumbing down text so it is easier to swallow, however to present it’s truth in a way that people understand it. 

    The truth of the message shouldn’t change, however, being intentional with how we present it is very important.  It would be hard to find a church in any community teaching the bible with only Greek and Hebrew text, assuming everyone has learned these languages in order to learn who God is.  In the same way, a church cannot stay 15 years behind on relevance and expect to speak to the hearts of anyone who doesn’t know Jesus.

    Why is “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word” amazing?  Because it hits us where we are with more than just the message.  His cloths, the camera he uses, the angles, the edits, the color correction.  They are all important.  Reading the comments on YouTube for his Sexual Healing video, tells me the message is heard loud and clear by non-seekers, pre-seekers, seekers, nominal Christians, and worshipers. 

  • Matthew Cherry

    Also, I brought up my wife’s grandfather only because he is angered by the church I attend for all the reasons we are called Seeker-Sensitive”.

  • Brian Kaufman

    Again good points, but it seems misleading and an insult to scripture to parallel “relevant” and “understandable” in the same sentence.  I would argue that scripture is written to be clear and timeless, and by trying to find a new angle or otherwise augment scripture to try and make it relevant is unnecessary.

    I would also like to point out that 1/2″ bevel and feather on an image has always been ugly. A mass of non-graphic designers discovered Photoshop filters and lost their minds. :)

    Thanks for continuing this conversation with me. I’m interested to see if anyone else will jump in with their thoughts.

  • Matthew Cherry

    This comment box is quite small.

    I was never speaking about scripture.  Only the culture of the church matching the culture of our society.  We no longer say “thou” at our church, because our culture no longer says it.  So our leadership has the option to still speak, dress and sing 15 years behind our culture, and sadly, many still do – without the seeker in mind. 

    Seeker Sensitive says “Come as you are”

    Seeker Sensitive has relevant, modern graphic design.

    Seeker Sensitive is allowed to wear jeans and use Ikea lights on stage.

    Seeker Sensitive isn’t scared to call it a stage.

    Seeker Sensitive doesn’t like Religion, but loves people and points them to Jesus.

    All that phrase has ever meant to me, is we think about seekers as we design our services and weekly activities.

  • Don

    Over a time you will notice that theses churches will stop using the name Jesus and replace it with just the generic title god. New converts will say I came to god, not Jesus (Yeshua) I am now using the name Yeshua for a reason. I want people to know the Messiah written in the old/new covenant. Many people think of the Jesus of the Mormons or the Jesus of the Jehovahs witness. A Catholic Jesus is the same Jesus!
    Jesus is the Head of the Church, He leads the Church, Not Bill Hybel, Not Rick Warren, Not Mark Driscoll or any other. The Head of the Spiritual Body is Jesus!

    Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.

    2 Thessalonians 2:3.

    A youth pastor in one of theses churches decided that he would go and have his arm form top to bottom tattooed with all kins of gothic cross images of what he though was Jesus. He said he is under the new covenant. I don’t need to keep the old law.
    I asked him if it was ok to Murder? The commandments are in the old testament.
    We are not under the law, we are under grace. What would happen if I killed someone and the police came to my home and arrested me and told them that
    I was no longer under law but grace!

    Matthew 5:18

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  • ester

    Mr. Kaufmann,
    If you’re a real CHristian, then please choose a more spiritually appropriate picture, since this one is offensive and pornographic ( especially for female viewers). there’s a way to make your point without such images. I couldn’t even read your whole article b/c of the distracting image. Please don’t laugh or scoff, this is serious sir.