December 29, 2015

The Dreaded Seeker-Friendly Church

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.


 

52 Responses to The Dreaded Seeker-Friendly Church

  1. Patrick98 says:

    Thank you Chelsen for this article, and for sharing your thoughts on your search with us. I encourage everyone reading this article to read the one following it “Dying Churches, Vibrant Churches”. There is good food for thought in both of them.

    May God bless you abundantly.

    • Hi Ms. Vicari;

      Spot on, in every way ! Mega churches are sometimes driven by the LUST and selfishness to just be – the BIGGEST church in town.

      Jesus lived within 100 miles of Jerusalem, and walked everywhere he went. On occasion, a boat ride from a Fisherman. His life was simple, His message was Concentrated and Powerful. The Book of Acts and the 1st Century church thrived in this same culture of poverty, and simplicity. Yet, the church grew all around the world.
      Christ Message was branded with genuine Faith, hope, Love; in word and deed. Acts shows this trend and tradition continued.

      It’s very sad to see so many huge churches, where hundreds of people simply stand limp, and no one can Worship, amidst the strobe lights and Deafening electronic NOISE. Some great Posts are out there called – THE CHURCH OF NOISE. They are right on. Thanks for sharing this, to create Discussion, provoke thought, and influence positive change. Thank you for being SALT & Light. God bless.

  2. Jason Wert says:

    I really feel for you two. 🙁

  3. Gary Holdeman says:

    I thought in classical Christian Orthodoxy….God is the seeker? “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!”

  4. Ugh – we should talk. It took us three years to find a church in our “inner city” area of Coastal Virginia. And I had two unbreakable requirements: no church that takes more than 15 minutes of drive time, and no denomination that allows/supports abortion.

  5. Tom Coate says:

    Thanks Chelsen for sharing your ongoing search with us. As a lay leader of a church in the area, let me offer my thoughts about that search, and how it looks from where I am. My hope is that I contribute to building a church that you and others would find appealing. On the surface, that may sound like I want my church to have the best worship program, the best Sunday School, the best youth group activities and so on.

    These are all important, but really for me, there are two things that are far more fundamental. The first is being a church that remains orthodox in its beliefs. The second is being a church on a mission, not a church that is content with maintaining the status quo. It’s about always praying and working to see where we are, compared to where God is calling us to be. At the moment, our church is doing this through a process of gaining a better understanding of the needs of the community around us and how we can serve those needs in the light of our gifts and calling.

    I would want church shoppers who visit our church to look at our understanding of the faith and how we live out that faith in community. I’d want them to see how we would encourage them to be a part of that community. I’d want them to understand our vision for the future and how we are working to grow in that direction. I’d want them to then see if all this aligns with where God is calling them, and to join us if it does.

    I pray that you will find a church community that is right for you, and more importantly, is the place that God is calling you to be – one that will enfold you in a community that is on a mission that you can be an integral part of.

  6. harry vest says:

    You are right to be concerned about such churches, however you should also be as concerned, if not more so, with the many “evangelical”, “reformed”, “Calvinist” “New Calvinist”, “Pentecostal”, “Holiness” etc. churches of the so called “Christian Right”. These wrath obsessed “conservative” congregations who all believe “they” are the “chosen” ones while ignoring the poor and voting for lunatics of (mostly) the Republican party are far more dangerous and are quite probably more “anti-Christ” than any liberal denominations in the grand scheme of things.

    • AndrewDowling says:

      So many liberal cliches packed in one post. No thoughts there, just stances.

    • Cornhusker says:

      “Judge not…”

      • DawneSN says:

        Ah, we are called to be fruit inspectors. A thorough inspection using the Word of God as the rule book is imperative. A good tree produces good fruit; a bad tree produces bad fruit.

        • Andrea says:

          Wow… how can you POSSIBLY judge the “fruit” of this church? especially when you had made up your mind about it before you even got into the doors. What does not work for you might work for someone else. Someone that is terrified at the thought of going into a normal Church might walk into that place or that cafe and have their lives completely transformed by the power of God. God does not work in a box that YOU see fit.

          God can work in any situation, in any church, and God can use any person to save Souls. I think you need to focus more on your critical spirit than the “red flags” of all the churches you’re visiting.

      • CordovaBelle says:

        I’m so glad you brought that up, Cornhusker. I was yesterday editing for publication the transcript of one of the last sermons of the late, great Dr. Adrian Rogers. Title: “Tolerance–the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Here are his comments for those who are so quick to whip out the “Judge not” verse (Matthew 7:1) to silence Christians. I pray this will be helpful to all who are accosted with the phrase “Judge not…”

        [Begin excerpt]

        In Matthew 7:1, Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, he said, “Judge not that you be not judged,” so people say we cannot judge. May I tell you frankly, that is not so. Look further into the Word of God, into Scripture where Jesus clearly and plainly teaches us to judge.

        In John 7:24 He said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Don’t tell me that Jesus told us not to judge.

        In the very same chapter, Matthew 7, Jesus cautioned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” We must learn there’s a difference between right and wrong, good and bad.

        How do we know for certain that Jesus calls us to judge between good and evil? Because in this same chapter our Lord says, “Don’t give that which is holy to dogs. Don’t cast your pearls before swine” (v. 6). You have to discriminate to find out where and who the dogs and the hogs are. The Bible clearly teaches discrimination.
        First Corinthians 2:15 says, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” Are you spiritual? Then you’re going to learn to judge things.

        The word “judge” here comes from the Greek word krinô, which can mean to separate, choose, select, determine, and even to condemn. The meaning must be determined by the context. When the Bible says, “He that is spiritual judges all things,” it is saying the spiritual person is discerning. First John 4:1 says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.”
        [End excerpt]

        • CordovaBelle says:

          And lest some of weaker constitution be thrown into emotional distress by Dr. Rogers’ use of the “trigger” word “discrimination,” he makes clear:
          [Begin excerpt]

          Keep in mind these three words: discriminate, tolerate, examine.

          “Discrimination” has become an ugly word, but in its true meaning “to discriminate” means to see what is good and what is bad. When someone says you have “discriminating taste,” that’s a compliment. Discrimination is simply evaluation, elimination, and then appropriation. You evaluate to choose the better and avoid the not-so-good. I evaluate: this is good or this is bad. I eliminate: I turn from that which is bad. I appropriate: I choose that which is good. If you don’t teach your children to discriminate wisely, you have failed as a father or mother.
          [End excerpt]

          • Xerxesfire says:

            Amen, sister! I am so tired of hearing liberal Christians say “judge not lest you be judged” ad nauseum. Thanks for an excellent rebuttal to their tomfoolery.

        • Carol Moorby says:

          AMEN! RIGHT ON! You are certainly one who is called as a whistle blower and watchman as well. This anointing many times mKes people angry but is so necessary in these end days of false prophets. The Holy Spirit warns us of danger in all areas and compromise is one of the most dangerous dangers. To those who condemn righteous judgement they need to know that Galatians 4:16 asks them…” Have I become your enemy because I told you the truth?” 11 Timothy teaches us the all scripture is for reproduction, conviction of sin and CORRECTION of error. AMEN!

        • Carol Moorby says:

          AMEN! RIGHT ON! You are certainly one who is called as a whistle blower and watchman as well. This anointing many times mKes people angry but is so necessary in these end days of false prophets. The Holy Spirit warns us of danger in all areas and compromise is one of the most dangerous dangers. To those who condemn righteous judgement they need to know that Galatians 4:16 asks them…” Have I become your enemy because I told you the truth?” 11 Timothy teaches us the all scripture is for reproof, conviction of sin and CORRECTION of error. AMEN!

    • Bill Harnist says:

      Don’t forget about the “lunatics” of (mostly) the Democrat Party!

    • derbradster says:

      As my Eng teacher said we need to avoid overuse of cliches like the plague!

  7. beriggs says:

    You need to find the Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Its members are human and imperfect, but its head is Jesus our Lord. A lot of these megachurch issues don’t exist there.

  8. derbradster says:

    I suspect you are likely connected with the Navy (Regents is in or near Virginia Beach/700 club and Norfolk Naval Base). As a soldier who has regularly had to pack up clear out and do a PCS (permanent change of station) move for a reassignment every 36 months or so my wife and I have always both dreaded and feared the inevitable search for a new church. But it has been educational too in the purest sense.
    Churches like the one you describe above truly do sadden me but I am inspired to pray for them as well.

    We have often joked about an Angie’s List to help military families find a church that’s “just right”. We have been treated the whole gamut at the various fellowships near where we’ve been assigned.

  9. Paul Zesewitz says:

    “Strobe lights during the worship set”? Let me guess. Another Church that dissed the grand old organ-and-piano-and-hymns, in favor of a service with rock and roll music. How sad that so many churches now are attempting to imitate the secular in a worship service. Worship is supposed to be sacred, not secular. I will pray for you both in your search.

    • Brian Reid says:

      Paul. I entirely agree with you. I came from an old Lutheran Church in rural Minnesota. I only knew hymns played with the Organ. I found the Lord when my Mom passed away in 2001, and then by 2005 I met my wife. We decided to attend the church she was attending at the time, which is a Baptist Church. The first time I went to that church, it was a culture shock for me. They played a lot of modern Christian music (much of it from Hillsong). This church did not have a “band” up front (Thank the Lord), but we still sang a lot of modern songs. Knowing what I now know about Hillsong, I am not a fan at all of continuing to sing their songs (see http://hillsongchurchwatch.com/2015/02/20/the-dangerous-new-teachings-of-andy-stanley/) Needless to say, I Baptist church at times leans towards the type of Church that Chelsen talks about, but our Pastor is not afraid to talk about sin and Repentance at all. In fact, he teaches straight from the Bible, Sin, Repentance, Grace, Forgiveness, Hell and Damnation. Needless to say, I think a lot of these “mega Churches” are leading people astray

      • Paul Zesewitz says:

        I agree with you also, Brian. Being raised Baptist myself, I am saddened that a majority of them are going so contemporary. Most of these churches are, or claim to be, evangelical. Several of them that I have been to no longer even use a hymnal, but an overhead projector! It’s all good and well to preach the Word, but preaching can’t stand on its own. If the worship service does not lift the soul to God (which is what I meant by ‘sacred’ as opposed to secular), it’s wrong. I never got tired of singing hymns, even if it’s a new hymn set to an old tune. There are many of them out there. I miss my grandmother’s Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (traditional in both the preaching and the worship) more than you can possibly imagine!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I will let My Little Pony comment for me:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNEZNpjiaPY

  10. James Watkins says:

    Excellent article. I really enjoyed it.

  11. DawneSN says:

    What a refreshing and needed revelation of the difficulties of finding a solid Bible believing church. My husband and I live in urban and densely populated South Florida in the winter and still have not found a church. Frankly, we don’t look too hard anymore due to our frustration. One of our biggest frustrations is the blaring music. And I do mean blaring–they even give out ear plugs at some. This has us on the run before we can even listen to the sermon. We belong to a strong church in Northwest Washington State where we live in the summer–fortunately. I lived many years in the Tidewater area and would love to know what church you enjoyed so much. I’ve even considered putting an ad in the local newspaper to ask for an uncompromising (with the world) church with worshipful music and a good discipleship program…

  12. destiny says:

    When I reached my mid seventies I stopped looking for a church and since I don’t drive, I worship at home via carefully chosen Christian TV programs and select prayer lines. Many of today’s churches are filled with apostasy. I sympathize with your having to find a true church. My closeness to God has improved and I seek His wisdom and direction.

    • Tom Price says:

      While finding a Christ-centered church is difficult destiny, your seeking God’s wisdom might lead you to Hebrews 10 and this admonition: “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” In other words, you need to be in a church, sitting under the teaching and authority of a Spirit-filled pastor and using your spiritual gift to the benefit of others. Sitting on the couch doesn’t cut it.

      • Mike the Professor says:

        Tom – You need a new paradigm, one that doesn’t put someone called a “pastor” (which is not defined in the New Testament, much less as one who is in authority over anyone) on a pedestal. Your paradigm is cultic and distinctly unbiblical. You have a horrible perspective. I’d rather sit on a couch any day.

        • And I'm Cute, Too says:

          Maybe he’s been reading too much from The Gospel Coalition and Dever’s “9 Marks”. They’re big on “church authority”, and how a congregation “holds the keys” to determine who is a real Christian and who isn’t. I find it very, very creepy.

      • And I'm Cute, Too says:

        What about those who’ve been so traumatized by abusive “Christian” groups and leaders, that even attempting to visit a church or attend a service is physically impossible for them? There are such people out there, you know. They don’t cease to be “real” Christians simply because they can’t attend a brick-n-mortar church. Wherever they go, they are the Church.

  13. Liz Cox says:

    We had been looking for a church, after leaving a church that became seeker friendly in the 10+ years we attended. First church we walk into tells us we can take our coffee and donut in with us if we’d like. Walk in to a sanctuary with black walls, nothing but strobe lights. Like walking into a night club. A young man goes up on stage to “lead worship”, sang a son called “ordinary love” about a boy and a girl. Then sang a regular contemporary christian worship song. After, a girl came up and sang an Ed Sheeran song. WHAT?!?!?!? I felt like running out when we first walked in, but after that we did. We ran as fast as we could out of that church. Seriously? The church is in serious trouble folks. We need to pray!!!

  14. Luvabulldawg says:

    Oh, the irony of this little millennial narcissist to bemoan the difficulty of finding a “solid” church while searching among the non-denominational, non-confessional dung heaps for something that makes her feel good while simultaneously showing disdain for a denomination that has solid roots in historical reformed theology.

    Chelsen, perhaps you should spend more time reading and less time writing. What you are attempting has been done much better and for longer than you can imagine (no,the internet wasn’t born the same day as you).

    • Mike the Professor says:

      What a ungodly jerk.

      • Stan Rames says:

        I see those kind of refusnik responses often. I, too, am PNW, and have run up against this current darkness. Been at this particular establishment for a while…been watching the shenanigans for 5 years. Nothing earthly seems to be able to be accomplished. “Lead Pastor” had the by-laws re-written to prevent “local” firing of his lofty personage. Shepherding is heavily involved, Church Growth, and Seeker, all tied together in almost a Kool-Aid mentality. When the “correction” comes, it will be massive, and from on-high. We just distance ourselves from their mantras, and of course, we are close to “shunned”. So may folks have blinders permanently installed. Good writeup.

  15. morbius says:

    I’m from the Pacific Northwest and a recent experience with mega-churches out here has definitely cured me of evangelicalism.

  16. I don’t know how the some churches preach, but I remember the Dutch Reformed church I was raised in , in Tappan, NY back in the 1950’s. Times have changed but the Word doesn’t and so I believe if the Holy Spirit “moves” a person, He will move him whether in one church or another. Obviously, if it is a superfluous preaching content style church then there will be those that seek that type of frivolous Christianity. God knows the heart and the Revelation of Christ speaks to the seven churches in the end times. Those that seek the truth of Christ will not be thrown into the fire.

  17. Aubryn says:

    We gave up and now host a thriving house church.

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    All I can say is THAT CHURCH BELONGS ON SOUTH PARK.

  19. Bryan Ballas says:

    Nice piece Chelsen. Perhaps this will cheer you up.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb9DF16Fx8k

  20. Bryan Ballas says:

    Nice piece as always Chelsen. Perhaps this will cheer you up as you continue to search for a better church.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb9DF16Fx8k

  21. Guest says:

    why is this considered seeker friendly ? I would not be interested in this church at all. I’m interested in Christianity and I’m attempting to find a church to attend hopefully one open to possibly beginning Christians. Well I guess it’s going to be an interesting search.The first church I looked at well on their website they posted some of their theological teachings when they referred to genesis as a myth it was off putting to me even though they have a strong message of community service and serving god through helping others.

  22. Gunnar Thalweg says:

    Why not consider the Church Jesus founded?

  23. Tina says:

    I am not exactly a new believer… but I would not describe myself as mature either. I came to Christ and was baptized at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. I have since moved to CO and am trying to find a new church home… so I’ve been doing a lot of research and it’s really making me confused and concerned for my salvation. I do not understand terms like seeker-friendly. Or why we are entrenched in political camps when we should be brothers and sisters in Christ.

    When I was first seeking God I went to many churches and found that people were not friendly if they didn’t identify you as part of their church family. Saddleback was the first church I attended where I felt welcomed.

    I mean no offense with what I have said. I guess I am just disheartened, scared and frustrated. I don’t feel comfortable with any place except my Bible now.

  24. Ronald says:

    I’m a pastor of of small congregation of around 60. I’m preaching Sunday on being “God Pleasers” instead of men pleasers. The scripture I’m preaching on is from 2 Timothy 3. I have a goal of having 250 attending our church in 5 years. A church full of people that God helps me to challenge them to go deeper and deeper in their walk with Christ. That is part of my vision. I have attended a seeker friendly church that was reaching people. But what I began to see was the “hyper grace” movement in the church. Grace, mercy, and love, but no real emphasis on truly making disciples. All messages to make people feel comfortable. I grew up in a church with altars calls that I answered those calls to the altar often where I was confronted with the “hard teachings” of God’s Word. We need a great movement of preaching all of the Word of God, messages of comfort and messages that call us to spiritual growth and repentance. Thank you for post, it has been helpful as I continue to study and prepare for the message God has laid on my heart. May God richly bless you and your family as you continue to search for a church, or hopefully have found one!😊

  25. James says:

    We started attending a church five years ago. It was already on the path of ‘choruses only’ worship, similar to what happened to my home church back in the mid-80s. I have noticed, over the past year, a dramatic move in the ‘seeker sensitive’ direction. I believe this is driven by the assistant pastor, he has steadily gained authority over different areas of the church, in a very short period of time. They are moving away from the edification of the saints, towards a seeker sensitive model. They have moved from a fiscally responsible, to spend more attitude, though that was cloaked as outreach. Yet, now there is no financial cushion in the bank, going on faith you see (because they will seek new people to attend). I knew there was something going on, when one day the senior pastor preached a hard sermon on sin, and the congregation was left stunned. I was even slightly stunned, because I felt we all had been sugar coated for so long. Not surprisingly, there have not been anymore sermons like that to follow up. Mostly it is a lament of not giving enough, and not enough volunteers. People already give a lot there, and work insane hours during the week, but the seeker sensitive drive requires troops to expand the reach, you see. I had a small laugh, when plaid was mentioned, since we live in a farm community. 🙂

  26. Spot on, in every way ! Mega churches are sometimes driven by the LUST, Greed, Big egos, & selfishness to just be – The BIGGEST church in town.

    Jesus lived within 100 miles of Jerusalem, and walked everywhere he went. On occasion, a boat ride from a Fisherman. His life was simple, His message was Concentrated and Powerful. The Book of Acts and the 1st Century church thrived in this same culture of poverty, and simplicity. Yet, the church grew all around the world. Christ Message was branded with genuine Faith, hope, Love; in word and deed. Acts shows this trend and tradition continued.

    It’s very sad to see so many huge churches, where hundreds of people simply stand Limp, and no one can Worship, amidst the strobe lights and Deafening electronic NOISE. Some great Posts are out there called – THE CHURCH OF NOISE. They are right on. Thanks for sharing this, to create Discussion, provoke thought, and influence positive change. Thank you for being SALT & Light. God bless.

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