The “seeker-friendly,” or “seeker-sensitive,” movement currently taking a host of evangelical churches by storm is an approach to evangelizing through application of the latest marketing techniques. Typically, it begins with a survey of the lost . This survey questions the unchurched about the things their nearby place of worship might offer that would motivate them to attend. Results of the questionnaire indicate areas of potential changes in the church’s operations and services that would be effective in order to attract the unchurched, keep them attending, and win them to Christ. Those who have developed this marketing approach guarantee the growth of the churches that conscientiously follow their proven methods. Practically speaking, it works!
The stated goal of seeker-friendly churches is reaching the lost. Though biblical and praiseworthy, the same cannot be said for the methods used in attempting to achieve that goal. 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. The hoped-for result is that the consumer buys or “buys into” the product. George Barna, whom Christianity Today calls “the church’s guru of growth,” claims that such an approach is essential for the church in our market-driven society. Evangelical church-growth leaders are adamant that the marketing approach can be applied–and they have employed it–without compromising the gospel. Really?
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. For example, if the lost are considered consumers and a basic marketing “commandment” says that the customer must reign supreme, then whatever may be offensive to the lost must be discarded, revamped, or downplayed. Scripture tells us clearly that the message of the Cross is “foolishness to them that are perishing” and that Christ himself is a “rock of offense” (1 Cor:1:18; 1 Pet:2:8). Some seeker-friendly churches, therefore, seek to avoid this “negative aspect” by making the temporal benefits of becoming a Christian their chief selling point. Although that appeals to our gratification-oriented generation, it is neither the gospel nor the goal of a believer’s life in Christ.
Secondly, if you want to attract the lost on the basis of what might interest them, for the most part you will be appealing to and accommodating their flesh. Wittingly or unwittingly, that seems to be the standard operating procedure of seeker-friendly churches. They mimic what’s popular in our culture: top-forty and performance-style music, theatrical productions, stimulating multi-media presentations, and thirty-minutes-or-less positive messages. The latter, more often than not, are topical, therapeutic, and centered in self-fulfillment–how the Lord can meet one’s needs and help solve one’s problems.
A large part of the evangelical church has developed a pleasure-laden, cruise ship mentality, but it will result in a spiritual Titanic. Seeker-friendly church pastors (and those tempted to climb aboard) need to get on their knees and read the words of Jesus to the church of the Laodiceans (Rev:3:14-21). They were “rich, and increased with goods,” yet failed to recognize that in God’s eyes, they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Jesus, standing outside their church, where they had unwittingly displaced Him, offers them His counsel, the truth of His Word, which alone will enable them to live their lives for His pleasure. There can be nothing better here on earth, and for all eternity. —T. A. McMahon, TBC "The Seeker-Friendly Way of Doing Church" March 2004
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