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The Seeker Friendly Church Model

 Though Hybels and Warren have some similarities, they do have some differences, Hybels is certainly more extreme in his seeker friendly model and further away from a biblical foundation in what he is doing. 

After looking into this for some time and hearing the pro's and con's we need a better understanding, a Biblical understanding of what is taking place. Because of the churches seemingly lack of impact on society and the world, certain men in the church has pursued other avenues entertaining new models to present the gospel. Thus we have the Seeker Friendly church today. I'm specifically addressing the Purpose Driven church, Rick Warrens model that everyone seems to be attracted to. There are some things to be learned from it and there is more to be avoided. 

 Warren’s statement of faith is orthodox as are many things he says and writes. Although the biblical language is simplified, it appears he is speaking to someone in grade school or baby Christians. This would be fine if this was his only audience, but it is not. When I visited his website I typed in basic words of the Christian faith in his search engine, words like cross, sin, surrender, repent; it yielded nothing. What came up is a list of topics baptism, counseling, free food, hockey, marriage, support, tithe, surfing, weight loss and topics similar to these. These are all the activities in his church.

If you don’t promote these doctrines as your basis then you don’t have a Christian based message. The New Testament church’s foundation must have these elements upheld and explained. I’m perplexed that these are not included in his search engine when so many other things are. Warren believes in an active fervent outreach to the lost for Christ, however, his solution using his new implementations are questionable. It doesn’t matter how they work, what matters is if they are Biblically base and practiced. It must be God's way that we follow, and not humanly devised substitutes or programs.

We are told the generation of our day is considered different than the generations before, so we need to adjust our message to them to reach them. There is always a shred of truth in these concepts. The truth is, this generation is probably the most rebellious there has ever been, with more opportunity to live in sin than any other time. But the answer is still the same; the Word of God is still the solution. And people’s needs have not really changed, only the culture and society they live in. The problems remain the same, SIN. The answer remains the same, Jesus Christ crucified for sin. Yes we may have to adjust some things to reach them but what we see in a seeker friendly model is excessive and even distorted. More important, care is necessary to keep the gospel message being communicated in its purity and avoid adopting the cultures sinful way of doing things. Warrens seeker friendly model has good intentions but an unbiblical basis for most of its practices.

Does the church need to be aware of her historical situation, the culture she lives in? To a certain extent yes, only as much as she needs to know what the people are doing so we can reach the people where they are at. With a shifting/changing culture throughout history the church must be flexible to do this. Having said this we also need to be careful that the church does not become influenced by their culture or society and  cater to the changing felt needs of the people.

Pastor Gary Gilley writes on the church growth movement -- People, we were told, were not rejecting the gospel or Christ; they were rejecting our out-of-date, unappetizing form, philosophies, and methods Market our better product.” They say you’re out of touch with what God is now doing. Are we?” “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21) the message to save has not changed. Techniques, methods are good to a certain extent but should never be relied upon to convince people of the message of the Gospel, which is the power of God.

Warren says, “The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text ... (The Purpose-Driven Church p. 295).

Is it? While this has a certain amount of truth in it, one cannot lead someone to Christ or share their faith to others without the Scripture. Relating to people strictly on the human level of need should always be secondary to their need of reconciliation with God. Although Jesus used everyday things and life situations he would springboard to the truth. Jesus went directly to heart of the person - revealing their sin and gave them the solution. For us to do this today we need the Scripture God's truth. This new outreach turns away biblical teaching as our basis making it more man centered instead of God focused.

Preaching in the book of Acts were always Scripture based. Look at the preaching in the Bible, they were honestly blunt. Jesus is certainly concerned about sin and repentance. Of course John the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles made a distinction between the religious leaders who knew better and those who were practicing Jews and  Gentiles who did not know God.

On the website they have statements from people about their visit to Saddleback

It’s a big church, but everyone was more friendly than I thought they’d be.”

“As a first time guest it helped that there was a great place for me to park.” “The message helped me with what I was facing that week.”

“I can wear what’s comfortable!”

“They asked me NOT to participate in the offering.”

We can hear what the people are looking for in their response to coming, honest but pretty weak reasons. Yet they use these comments to advertise the church.

Rick Warren says, “Relationships are the glue that keep the faithful coming.” 

Not excluding fellowship as an important part, I would think being fed the Word would be more of a priority than the social aspect that the world is looking for. You are not being faithful if fellowship is what keeps you coming.

In the same manner relationships are sought as the basis for evangelism. Friendship evangelism is the method of choice. This is good and needed, but it is not the only or best way. Christians should be genuinely friendly and willing to share their faith but friendship is not a prerequisite to give the gospel to people. Although Warren refers to the book of Acts as his model we don’t see instances of his method in the book of Acts. The church did not become friends with the unsaved first in order to lead them to Christ.

They call their evangelistic service a “seeker-sensitive service.” We are told that they only want to make the gospel more attractive to the public consumer so they will come inside. Incorporating contemporary-style “Seeker Services” to draw in the unchurched from the community replaces the traditional Sunday worship service. They do not believe the people will respond unless they have their personal needs met, so their pain, loneliness, hurts, and self-fulfillment are concentrated on. If we can make them comfortable and happy they will stay in the church. These new church services create a non-challenging, comfortable environment for the “seeker” (the unsaved visitor). The congregation will purposely dress down avoiding ties, suits and dresses so that the average person can feel comfortable being there. We want them to know we are no that different from them. The main focus of this church growth policy is entertainment. Find the interest of the person and use this as a means to present the gospel (which has missing elements) to what is relevant to them personally. This is accomplished by preaching only positive messages! (AKA Robert Schuller) Anything on the sinfulness of man and his fallen condition is toned down or eliminated.

One reason sermon study is so difficult for many pastors is because they ask the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What shall I preach on this Sunday?” they should be asking, “To whom will I be preaching?” Simply thinking through the needs of the audience will help determine God’s will for the message. . . . People’s immediate needs are a key to where God would have you begin speaking on that particular occasion (p. 227 Purpose Driven Church)

There is some truth to this, and every pastor wants to be on target. However God wants his messenger to have the spiritual needs addressed, which super-cedes all other needs. It is God, through the Holy Spirit that we start with, not man. Warren’s preaching is determined by his audience, his target is the “felt needs” or what people think is needed in their life. But who knows better, the sinner or God? Our teaching should start with the Holy Spirit leading us into the Scripture. The apostle Paul made it clear “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10-11). The gospel offends when it is spoken correctly but for those who come to the cross it heals.

We need to ask who determines the strategy of the church, the Word, or the world? We cannot use phileo love to make people comfortable instead of God’s agape love that lovingly challenges people with the truth, so they can really be comforted. We can only genuinely love people when we trust the God who cares for them infinitely more than we do to give us the right things to say. When we start with mans felt needs instead of his spiritual need we will miss the target and more importantly miss accomplishing what God wants to be done his way.

Along with this the terms we have found in biblical language is changed to be non-offensive to them. The “new reformers” not only have a new way of doing things but also have a new language. Do we call people unchurched or unsaved? Is it our goal to have them be church members? You can go to church and still not be saved. We need to get our terms right because they send a meaning by their message that is decidedly unbiblical. Unregenerate people (spiritually unborn) were never referred to as the unchurched.

Warren’s seeker friendly philosophy is -Any visible differences between the Church and the world must be reduced to a minimum, this will make the church acceptable to the unchurched comfortable coming to the church. Making the terms neutral or acceptable is his main method. Tone down the language.  Biblical words such as sinner, hell, etc. are kept to a minimum, so ones comfort is not jeopardized. This becomes a point of fear that one will drive them away with biblical language and meanings instead of attract them. This underestimates the work of the Spirit in converting the sinner with the word of truth that is to convict them of SIN. In fact it is a lack of faith in what God has spoken.

This is the opposite of what Paul said would help to influence people to 'make their decision' to follow Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The Apostles did not attempt to entice the lost in the first century church with the frills they use today (music atmosphere to make them think we are like them). Even if they were available they would not use them. We now have this as a result of dead apologetics.

In his book The Purpose Driven Church (“Worship Can Be a Witness”) Warren writes without any Scripture reference speaking of music “More people are won to Christ by feeling God’s presence than by all of our apologetic arguments combined. … It is the sense of God’s presence that melts hearts and explodes mental barriers” (p. 241)

Where does the Bible ever hint of conversion by feelings, or worship. Can this be superior to God’s word explained? We are told by the apostles to be ready to give an answer for our faith and explain it. We are to pull down strongholds by the word which is the Spirit 2 Cor.10:4-5.Christians were once equipped to invite the lost to know Christ by explaining the Bible, by having a working knowledge of Scripture; communicating to the unsaved our fallen nature and the necessity of the cross. But this is being have traded in for worldly methods to enlarge the church. We need to have faith that the conviction of the Holy Spirit (His presence) will work on the unbeliever’s heart through the word. The word is sharper than any two edge sword, this is what pierces the innermost being of man. but this is put aside for new methodologies and feelings communicated by worship services and community comraderie.

The fact that the new model of doing church is to bring people to a seeker friendly service instead of equipping Christians to specifically explain the gospel and lead people to Christ is concerning. Herein lies the problem and the shift of how the church will function.  We are to be equipping the saints to do evangelism, rather than bring them into the church so the pastor can give a warm talk about their wants or needs being fulfilled in God, which is NOT the answer.  Every Christian is to be equipped and empowered by God to preach the Gospel to a lost and dying world. Mt.28 says as you go, teach and make disciples. Of course there is nothing wrong with bringing people to church to hear the message and familiarize them to the Body of Christ, it’s not either or, but when this is the focus it becomes detrimental to true evangelism. 

Lee Strobel (former Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church now on board with Warren) writes, “Objections [to the market-driven church] generally relate to the method that's used to communicate the Gospel, not the message itself and consequently we're free to use the God-given creativity to present Christ's message in new ways that our target audience will connect with(Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, by Lee Stroebel, p. 168).

This is true to a certain point in certain examples. In the day of trying to mass market Christianity we hear “the message doesn’t change, but the methods do.” We need to understand that if we are not careful the message can be changed by the method; and the message HAS already changed for many. Because of the concept of target audiences, the message is softened so they hear Jesus can save you from life’s problems instead of your sins. He can make life better than before. Instead of the church being a hospital to heal sinners many want it to become like a McDonalds offering non-nutritious food, filled with fat they are already used to eating.

Warren writes “Being seeker sensitive in our worship is a biblical command” (Purpose Driven Church. p. 243) and “Keep your pastoral prayers short in your seeker services. . . . The unchurched can’t handle long prayers; their minds wander or they fall asleep.” 

Warren is saying the way church is conducted is to be determined by unbelievers. Somehow this all reminds me of the past mistakes of Constantine when he legalized Christianity. The heathens and pagans  entered the church by baptism, not by spiritually being born. 

If your church has a membership boom are you equipped and ready to disciple these people correctly or will you continue to be focused on growing?

What will change if this is implemented in your church? Basically everything. The furnishings, atmosphere, the programs, the music, the language, the preaching, bible studies, everything becomes necessary to change to be adapt to the new paradigm. Do we want to see Church services with no open Bibles, with the pastor continually preaching a simple message of milk for unbelievers from the Bible and the verses are read from an overhead screen. This may be fine to introduce those who know nothing about Christ but for the saint who wants to grow this can hardly be adequate; there will be a lot of dying on the vine taking place.

In his Insights on Worship Rick Muchow writes “Next, identify your target and define the event. The target at Saddleback's weekend seeker services is the adult seeker. The target determines the musical style, lyric content, presentation (congregational/special music), length of service, and “stage look” of the event. The target does not determine the purpose. That would be target-driven, not purpose-driven; however it is important to look at the event from the target's perspective. (Insights on Worship Programming Your Music to Serve the Purposes by Rick Muchow)

Besides the word purpose, target is the key word often used. Though they deny they are target driven it is not out of the equation. The philosophy is find out what is the popular style, the most listened to music, something that is familiar to them on a daily basis and use it. This way the unchurched will be attracted to a church, by its style of music. Is this what we want to model our churches after? How can the “unchurched” participate in worship with the saved. They can’t so the music becomes more geared toward reaching them and not for the saints. Worship and praise is toward God sung by the redeemed, the unredeemed do not understand. Saying the target does not determine the purpose while the purpose has been formulated for the target is not a sufficient explanation.

Warren states that Jesus also used this method. Jesus targeted the audience of Israel “in order to be effective, not to be exclusive” (Purpose Driven Church p. 158). He and His disciples “targeted people they were most likely to reach -- people like themselves. Jesus was not being prejudiced, he was being strategic” (ibid., p. 187). To say that Jesus targeted Israel because he was strategic ignores prophecy, the very purpose of His ministry was to come to his own first. And he reached out to all the people, even the Pharisees he knew would reject him. This methodology diminishes the work of the Holy Spirit to draw hearts and open peoples eyes.

Consider Rick Warren's own words from the Purpose Driven Church: Figure out what mood you want your service to project, and then create it. (p. 264); We start positive and end positive. (p. 271); We use humor in our services ... it is not a sin to help people feel good. (p. 272); Cultivate an informal, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere. (p. 272); We made a strategic decision to stop singing hymns in our seeker services. (p. 285); We have attracted thousands more because of our music. (p. 285); Saddleback now has a complete pop/rock orchestra. (p. 290); Use more performed music than congregational singing ... (p. 291) (emphasis on entertainment); The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text ... (p. 295); Make your members feel special ... they need to feel special. (p. 320,323) posted on rapid.net

Consider what W.E. Vine wrote, The “new church” model is to be inoffensive, not to speak on sin or mention the cross or suffering, thus avoiding anything that would make people uncomfortable. Consider this quote “This subject of sin the preacher must face himself and bring his hearers face to face with it. The truth has ever been exposed to the liability of attempts, on the part of many who handle it, to render it palatable to the natural man, and so neutralize its power. Against this the faithful minister of Christ will always be on his guard” (W.E Vine, the Collected works).

  How do we attract people with such an offensive message like the cross? We must be honest with what it means. Instead, some want to remove the reproach of the cross, to offer the people only the blessing, all the benefits without their carrying the cross. Add Jesus to what you already enjoy. Jesus said if I be lifted up I will draw all men to me, Jesus said, “I am the WAY and the TRUTH, and the LIFE; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). We need to remember the messenger, the atmosphere saves no one; it is the message that saves. The message cannot be anything else but Christ crucified to save. And in today's world it needs to be explained well. When it is focused on us, our needs it becomes man centered and we are no longer preaching the gospel of grace to lost sinners. “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). Look at how Peter had 3,000 people respond. Did he figure out his target audiences needs? What of his purpose to the audience; did he woo them with anything but straight forward preaching? He pointed to them, saying guilty; that would be the last thing anyone in a seeker sensitive church would do. When Peter brought Gentiles into the Church in Acts 10 it again tells us he listened to Cornelius story and then proceeded to preach the cross and the resurrection with the Scripture as well as their witness as the basis. Despite what is claimed, you must reject some of the truth of the Bible to implement these new church growth methods. We start from the Scripture -lifting up what Christ did for salvation.

Instead of the law being presented to convert the sinner-instead of showing their need for a savior because of breaking God’s law, it's now come and be entertained and hang around us to see we are like you, we can be friends. Psalm 19:7 “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure” The law is black and white, either you are guilty or innocent.1 Tim 1:9 says it is to be used for the unrighteous, the sinner. The cross addresses the price paid for the breaking of the law and mans rebellion against God. The ear ticklers will always avoid the hard message of the cross. On one side we have the prosperity preaching promises beyond what the Scripture says, on the other side is softening the content of the message of the cross and diminishing the sinfulness of man.

The greatest revival in history took place among the most wicked people in history- the Ninevites. The message they heard was destruction was coming in forty days. Jonah impacted the whole city with this message and they responded by repenting. He had mega growth (in less than 40 days) without using mega growth methods. Here is a biblical model that worked with no problems -100% response. Jonah didn’t want to see these results but God did. Unless we learn the principle that God has not called us to be a success, but to be faithful to his message we will never learn the real meaning of our being God's servants.

How can churches handle a rapid growth when they are not prepared to disciple the new comers correctly anyway. Billy Graham has admitted that anywhere from 4 to the most 10% stick with their commitment from his crusades. If all the people that ever came to church kept their commitment and were discipled correctly, were taught to understand foundational truths, we would have no need church growth concepts like these. It is our own fault that we lacked implementing discipleship to ground these people in the faith so they would endure. The answer is not how to get these people to go to church but how to get the people who come to church to be grounded and productive in their lives so they can be witnesses. Its how we can get the church to go out and be daily witnesses in their lives. This is how the first century church succeeded. We do not need a new way for our century. So what if we have all this growth in numbers if their maturity is lacking.

What if all the churches were conducted like Saddleback (or Willow Creek)? What would the shape (not size) of the church be in? Think about it, it just may mean how you will grow spiritually in the Lord in the future.

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