It has become a pursuit of mine to record my husband’s and my search for a new church in our new town. I’ve introduced our hunt as “The Dreaded Church Search” because most of our fellow Believers can empathize with that gut feeling of dread before walking through the unfamiliar sanctuary doors into the unknown. Last Sunday, we visited the evangelical non-denominational church on the hill near the interstate. We suddenly found ourselves seated in a seeker-friendly church.
Before this week, and per my husband’s request, we visited every sweet little Southern Baptist church in town. Raised in a Charismatic denomination, I was excited for the change of worship pace sure to be offered by the non-denominational church. Sadly, it was every stereotype I hoped it wouldn’t be.
Non-denominational evangelical churches seem especially susceptible to the seeker-friendly consumer-sensitive formula. That’s not always the case, of course. While completing graduate school at Regent University, I attended a faithful and stable non-denominational church. I loved that church and the soulful worship, the intellectual sermons, and most of all the sincere Christians who made up the church body.
I had hoped my new town’s non-denominational church resemble that experience. Alas, the red flags abounded.
We couldn’t help to chuckle as the orange-vested volunteer directed our car to a specific space in the largely open parking lot. We arrived for the early service, after all. Might parking attendants be superfluous? Probably. Did that indicate a bigger problem inside? Not yet.
And I anticipated the coffee bar and donut display. No big deal here, although I stand by my previous statement that coffee and donuts before service is not evangelizing. We have to move outside of our comfort zones to evangelize.
The obligatory skinny jeans and plaid shirts on EVERYONE were to be expected. So too were the strobe lights during the worship set. We can deal. A church’s style isn’t what’s important to us. It’s all about the substance.
But that’s where the red flags grew redder.
First, came the odd purpose for this church’s Christmas offering. Now, I mentioned earlier that we had visited several rural little Baptist churches who were also collecting a Christmas offering. In this underprivileged town in rural Virginia, the congregants of those churches planned to send off the little tithes they had to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering “enabling missionaries to be sent to make disciples and multiply churches among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.” Another church we visited reserved their Christmas offering for a local Christian children’s home.
This shiny, “mega” non-denominational church had, dare I say, a more self-centered plan. Their Christmas offering was earmarked to cover the cost of an elaborate Christmas lights display on the church’s exterior and to expand the parking lot. I kid you not.
And for those worshipers who were too cool to sit in the sanctuary during service, this church offered a seeker-sensitive café service as an “alternative to tradition.” Apparently, actually participating in the service is too tradition. As the bulletin described, “The café service is for those who want to warm up with a Mountain Mocah Espresso based drink, or try one of our refreshing ice blended drinks. The café has three big screens and a cozy fireplace for an alternative way to enjoy today’s message.”
Why the divide? Why the snazzy sanctuary for that matter? They could just meet at Starbucks, bring their big screens and avoid the mortgage…and parking attendants…and reverence of Christ.
Then came (and went) the 20-minute sermon on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. To introduce his sermon, the pastor played a totally un-relatable clip from the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie. Void of mentions of sin, transformation in Christ, and Scripture reading and full of Bible paraphrasing, this feel-good motivational talk was the tipping point.
As I listened to the sermon, I remembered a sermon by David Wilkerson, a Christian evangelist and founder of the addiction recovery program Teen Challenge, in which he delivered a prophetic warning against seeker-friendly churches such as the one we visited.
Wilkerson delivered his caution in a sermon titled, “The Gospel of Accommodation” at the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Missouri in 1998. Wilkerson warned against a consumer-focused formula that would be especially popular among affluent white Americans and would create “destruction from within.”
“It’s giving birth to mega churches with thousands that come to hear a non-confronting message. It’s an adaptable gospel that is spoon-fed through humorous skits and through drama and short non-abrasive 20 minute sermonettes on how to cope,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson encouraged faithful Christians to recognize the gospel is confrontational in nature. “There is a friendly grace, but there is a gospel that confronts sin,” he said.
“It’s not wrong to pray for growth,” continued Wilkerson. “But if it’s only to feed human ambition it will change the man into a devil.”
As we walked to our car, I felt a heavy burden for the unsuspecting congregants of that seeker-friendly church. I commit to pray that the Holy Spirit reveal wisdom to this church’s leadership and instill in their hearts a yearning for Biblical literacy and costly discipleship.
Our church search continues.