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Should the Church Be Seeker Sensitive?

This is not just about church growth; it is about obedience to go make disciples. The church, essentially, is a “body” of believers gathering together around God’s Word as God-seekers and Christ-followers to further the Good News and the Kingdom of God.

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Updated Dec 22, 2020
Should the Church Be Seeker Sensitive?

In the latter part of the 20th century, many churches began to adopt a philosophy known as “seeker sensitive,” “seeker friendly,” or even (the extreme version) “seeker driven.”

These titles (made popular by men like Robert Schuller and Bill Hybels) basically meant that a church would strive to be as modern, relevant, and attractive as possible to its community in order to reach the “seekers” around it.

What Is a Seeker?

A seeker is an unbeliever that is outside the church but still searching (or “seeking”) for meaning and significance in their lives. Classic “seeker sensitive” churches had a consumeristic mindset and were focused on the “felt needs” of the lost people around them — especially people in suburban or affluent areas.

While not every church that shared this philosophy neglected the gospel or saw the gospel as an addition to their self-help and motivational message, many did.

In fact, according to a pastor named Byron Yawn, this mentality left a lot of people under the impression that God sent his son to die so we could have a “happy and content life on earth.”

But most Christians (at least those outside of present-day America) understand that this is not true. Throughout the history of the church, the majority of people who came to faith suffered greatly for it.

As R.C. Sproul taught once, the more significant issue with this seeker mentality is that unsaved people do not actually seek after God at all (Romans 3).

Instead, because of their sinful nature they are fleeing from God, meaning that any attempt to seek God apart from the work of the Holy Spirit to draw and save them is really just selfishly trying to find “meaning and purpose in their lives, relief from guilt, the presence of joy and happiness, and things of this nature.”

But each of these things only come as a result of a true relationship with Christ; they are not benefits that we can achieve along the way.

So, while “seeker” movements may be subsiding in the American Church today (possibly because they did not produce the intended results, many highly produced mega-churches cannot continue to thrive during Covid-19, or many people have decided to move into smaller and more intimate church situations), the seeker and church-growth philosophies that seemed to dominate an entire era of Christianity are still worth considering and discussing.

Because the reality is that unbelievers in our neighborhoods do still need to be reached with the gospel. This is not just about church growth; it is about obedience to the Great Commission to go make disciples.

Churches need to think through whether they define their church’s purpose as evangelism (reaching the lost) or discipleship (training believers). Where a church lands in this dichotomy will determine many attributes, such as programming, style, building design, meeting structure, and more.

It is also true that churches around the world today meet in a variety of different settings, have a variety of different structures, and are situated to reach a variety of different cultures. It has been this way since the beginning of the First Church in the Book of Acts.

Therefore, today more than ever it is important for the diverse, universal church to become more unified in its approach if it is going to make the kind of difference in the world that Jesus prayed that it would in John 17.

How Should the Church Be Seeker Sensitive?

So, then should the church be seeker-sensitive? My answer is an emphatic yes!

But that is only if we change the word “seeker” in that phrase to a biblically correct usage of the term. When God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah that “you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord...,” it is clear that he was talking to his own people (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

Or centuries later when Jesus said to “seek, and you will find” (Luke 11:9) and his brother James wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” they were talking to followers of Christ.

As Sproul explains further, “seeking after God begins at conversion, and if we are to structure our worship with a view to seekers, then we must structure it for believers since only believers are seekers.”

So, then every church worship service should be designed with that true type of God-seeker and Christ-follower in mind because the church, essentially, is a “body” of believers gathering together around God’s Word anyway.

As Paul taught, our services should be operated “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40) for the “building up of the church [body]” (1 Corinthians 14:12). The Church does not exist for people that have already “arrived” at some elite position of spirituality, knowledge, and holiness — but for those of us who are on our journey of discipleship.

Then if unbelievers and outsiders are in the room (and hopefully there will be), then the preaching and teaching of God’s Word will convict them, hold them accountable, reveal the secrets of their hearts, cause them to worship God, and recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence among them (1 Corinthians 14:24–25).

Why Does This Matter?

No matter the context or era, it is still the “preaching of the Cross” and not “words of eloquent wisdom” that the lost world needs to hear because the preaching of the gospel alone is the “power of God” for salvation (1 Corinthians 1:17-18). 

Without the preaching of the gospel, the lost will have no opportunity to believe because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14–17).

So maybe instead of coming up with phrases like “seekervsensitive” that can be confusing or even wrong, we should simply explain the church in the way that Paul the apostle explained it when he said:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works... [and] fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:10–22, ESV). 

It may not be pithy or marketable, but it is true.

For further reading:

Good Intentions Gone Bad

Revealed: What Willow Creek Said Out Loud When It Dared to Look in the Mirror

What Is the Purpose of the Church?

How Do We Seek First the Kingdom of God?

What Is Evangelism?

Does the Church Today Align with Jesus’ Teaching?

What Does it Mean That Jesus Christ Is the Cornerstone?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/stefankunze

Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.


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