In the church realm, seeking has come to be defined by people interested in God. Someone deemed seeking God is known as a “seeker.” Willow Creek Church in Chicago was one of the first to take this concept and apply it to its worship services in the 1990’s. They began to have “seeker-friendly” services, specifically designed for people not familiar with church traditions, who had little or know church background.
As is often the case, as one church has success with a particular approach, which Willow Creek did, others begin to follow. Two of the most common elements in seeker-friendly churches is the music is contemporary and the sermons are more theme-based. Back in the 90’s, this approach was quite unique, but now it is overwhelmingly the approach of the majority of churches in the U.S. However, now it is more of a strategy to reach anyone, not merely those who are unfamiliar with church traditions and practices. And it is the ideal strategy if you desire to attract a lot of people, because you are attempting to give them what you think they want. As I wrote earlier in the week, this is why churches pay so much attention to developing their children and youth ministries; they know that is what parents want.
The original intent of the seeker-friendly strategy was to draw more people to Jesus; however, as happens so often with human-devised plans, they create unintended consequences. This strategy, as it plays out now, instead of leading people to find Jesus as their Savior and make him Lord over their lives, has led them to make the fulfillment of their desires preeminent. They literally shop around for churches with the goal to have a church check off their boxes. Great children and youth programs—check. Great worship band—check. Entertaining and positive preaching—check. Of course, each person has his own personal list, but these are very common ones.
So while people are seeking what they want in a church, and churches try hard to fulfil their desires, a central command of Jesus is left behind—”But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) The context of this verse is crucial. It is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, which describes the ways of the Kingdom of God. Prior to this verse, Jesus talks about there is no need to worry about what you need; God will provide it. Instead, the citizens of the Kingdom are to make their number one priority in life seeking the Kingdom, and, assumed but left unsaid, the King. Personal desires and wants are to fall behind in priority to seeking the Kingdom.
Sadly, embracing the seeker-friendly strategy unintentionally teaches people to seek what they want first—both believers and those who are perhaps interested in embracing the faith. The message is you seek what you want first, and we as a church will try our best to help you find it here with us.
What Jesus commands is the opposite—seek the Kingdom first. I am not saying that churches should not attempt to be attractive to people, but the question we must ask is, what attraction is going to be most effective—eternally. Of course, in the short run, talented worship bands, entertaining preaching, and great children and youth programs are going to attract folks. That has already been proven. But what about in the long run? The church has an epidemic of church hopping. People come for a while, perhaps even years, and then something bothers them or another church looks more attractive, and they leave. It is totally logical if the primary reason we participate in a church community is to have our needs met.
The other consequence of a short-term strategy is the lack of true discipleship, which will produce spiritual growth and reproduce more disciples. Rather than discipleship being the emphasis (Matthew 28:18-20), which comes with expectations of denying ourselves (Matthew 16:24), we spend our time trying to meet the perceived needs of people. This leads to what we see commonly now—a weakened and spiritually immature church that primarily lives for itself. For example, the average tithe in America (and only 5 percent of Americans tithe) is 2.5 percent of annual income, and the average percentage devoted to missions is only 11 percent of church budgets.
If we want to attract people who are truly seeking God, then let’s attract them with the very thing most are seeking—love. People long to be loved and accepted, not merely with words but demonstrably. It is by far the most effective strategy for long-term effect. Let us love each other inside those buildings (when we can return safely to them) or in homes, with a love that is sacrificial, a love that is not nearly as concerned with our own needs but seeks to meet the true needs of others. This can be shown by simply engaging in conversation with someone you don’t know instead of talking with the same people week after week. It can be shown by following through when we say, “Let’s get together sometime,” or “I’ll call you.” It can be shown by being generous with our time and money with folks who need one or both.
Then, through love, let us lead them to seek the most important thing in life, which is the Kingdom of God and the King who rules over it. It is the way of Jesus and it should be the way of his Church.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.