Monday, June 16, 2008

No Longer Seeking the Seekers

Willow Creek has realized that its "seeker-sensitive" model of "doing" church has not produced the results it was looking for. Although I came across this admission a few weeks ago, I am just now getting around to commenting on it.

The megachurch in Illinois recently conducted a four-year research effort to determine how effective their methods of church growth were. I guess they came to the conclusion that they had to change things up a bit and get a little deeper.

I'll be interested in hearing what the response is among my colleagues and fellow pastors who have bought whole-heartedly into their methods. Thousands upon thousands of pastors, as well as interested laypersons, across all denominations, flock to this Mecca of church growth. I, myself, am not against studying what has worked for others, per se. Yet I have always maintained - even if only to myself - that popular methods of "church growth" should have us all a little hesitant. The Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of this world may be effective for what their mission is, but that doesn't necessarily translate into every church around the world - and it certainly isn't the most effective model for Seventh-day Adventists, who feel as though we have been called to herald a different message than the rest of the evangelical world.

And at the heart of that message is a depth that is often lacking at "seeker-sensitive" services.

I freely admit that we should probably be a little me sympathetic to the visitor that sits in our pews from week to week. I am very uncomfortable many times on a Sabbath morning when I look up and see a face I don't recognize, realizing the message I have prepared for that morning may not scratch where he or she itches, or perhaps even be a complete turn-off to a person who is looking for a more generic sermon than I was hoping to give.

Yet, it seems to me that when visitors do come, they have an expectation that a church will talk about "churchy" things. This is not to say that we should present things that are always over a visitor's head, but there should be a way of having a healthy mix of "generic" Christianity and "deeper" Christianity. If it is always generic Christianity and "milk," then how do we expect our attendees to grow?

Of course, I understand completely that our church members should feed themselves during the week, and not rely so much on the pastor to feed them during the sermon. But there is still a power in the oral and spoken word, presented in the context of corporate worship, that can be missed if we are just gearing our services and sermons towards "seekers."


mhb said...

But aren't we all seekers? I feel pretty strongly that all sermons should have an element of hope for the sinner, encouragement for the downtrodden, and provide an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus in whatever capacity is needed.
Regardless of megachurch methods, the need that I have is to seek and find Jesus on Sabbath morning. While most of the "work" that is accomplished during worship is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit, a talented well-prepared pastoral sermon is also appreciated.

The absolute worst sermon I ever sat through was a monotone study of whether or not Easter and Christmas should be observed by Christians. My sister and I had left our dying father's bedside looking for some hope and encouragement by visiting at a nearby church and were woefully disappointed. I'd bet that pastor thought he was giving us some "meat" rather than milk, too.

Just some thoughts.

Shawn Brace said...


I agree with you wholeheartedly. Every sermon should provide hope and the picture of a loving heavenly father. I try to present all of my sermons within this context (though I probably fail from time to time).

I guess my point is, if we just preach on "forgiveness" every week, then we may be neglecting some deeper issues that need to be addressed. Of course, those deeper issues need to be presented in the light of the gospel and cross - something that your Easter preacher probably didn't do.

I am a big advocate of saturating every message with the cross, though. Thanks for encouraging the clarification!

Marty said...

Sorry man. You've been misinformed, as Pastor Bill Hybels clearly states in this interview.

Shawn Brace said...

Hi Marty,

Color me "misinformed"! Thanks for the link. I guess that's what happens when a person takes Christianity Today's word for it! That ought to teach me. I'm sure there are a lot of others who are equally misinformed.

Of course, this new information doesn't necessarily change my reflections on the overall incongruity with this type of "doing" church and my own denomination. But thanks for giving me the heads-up.

Marty said...

Of course, I just thought I'd share the info with you. Actually I just received this link where CT responded to what had happened. I respect your opinion, and that's fine, I would just rather not have poor reporting be the focus of the proof of why you feel that way. Thanks for what you do in New England!
I love this place!

Dingo said...

Misinformation aside, the discussion touches on something that came up for me in "Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them".
By Thom S. Rainer. He points up the need for more Bible/doctrinal teaching in churches, citing input from the formerly unchurched that such features played a huge role in attracting them to churches.

After mulling that around and looking at the experiences of some churches and church plants, it seems like we need a multi-level approach.

It would be great to offer a variety of foods from milk to meat and encourage members to grow and progress through them. (i know we have programs for all ages in Sabbath School, but I mean programs for all spiritual ages of adults.)

One goal should certainly be graduating from being "spoon fed" from the pulpit on one day each week to being skilled at preparing good meals at home. another should be skill at preparing good meals for others.

If we offered a spectrum to attract new adult members and grow them from bottle to adult meals, our churches would have a lot more depth.

Ahhh - dreams.

Charles said...

Marty, I don't think you can call this "poor reporting". One would be right to assume that Christianity Today would be a reliable, or at least reputable, source of information. So your jab is wee bit, I don't know, unkind?

Dingo, I like how you worded it. Since our life is growth and maturation, why should church be any different.

Shawn Brace said...

I was not offended by the "jab" that Marty shared. Maybe Christianity Today is, but I cannot speak for them!!!

Thank you all for your thoughts.

And, Marty, you have enjoyed your time in New England so far? It is a very difficult field to work in! Where were you before here?

duncan said...

Willowcreek is an interesting church. Imagine commissioning a study to see if you are accomplishing your mission; (They had over 10,000 members at one point, but were targeting non-believers as a target audience.) Publishing the study; and then working towards plans to move their church in the direction of their mission.

I wish all SDA churches would consider this. Can you picture an SDA church commissioning a study to see if it was accomplishing its mission; pulishing that study to the larger community; and sharing changes it was making in order to reorder the church in direction of its mission.

Well we can dream......

Joelle said...

Hmm. I didn't watch the entire YouTube clip, but I know I watched Bill Hybels's admission on video (if this is the same thing you're blogging about - which I'm not certain it is, since I didn't see the Christianity Today article). But a video was taken at a leadership summit. See video at The short of it is that they surveyed their attendees at Willow Creek and discovered that the more mature Christians weren't satisfied with their programming and worship, and needed to be taught how to grow in Christ for themselves - not relying on programs and sermons for their spiritual growth. Anyway, regardless of what Christianity Today said, Hybels did present that information himself, and they even wrote a book on their research.

Shawn Brace said...


Thank you for the link. Yes, Hybels's admission about their failures has never been the issue. His - and Willow Creek's - response to the data is what is up for debate. Christianity Today seemed to imply that Willow Creek was going to stop having "seeker friendly/sensitive" services, but, in fact, that is not true.

What amazes me about Bill Hybels's video that you linked to, is that they spent loads of money, time, and energy trying to figure out something that a lot of people have already concluded (based on simple reasoning and logic): entry-level teaching/sermons will not help a person grow in their spirituality. Sadly, the Bible's counsel on these ideas has to be validated by "empirical evidence," and only after we spend millions of dollars on research do we believe what the Bible has maintained all along.

It also amazes me that Hybels called it "groundbreaking" when he said that the data reveals that people need to feed themselves in order to grow. Again - a lot of time and money was spent on something that seems to be a no-brainer to many already. Do we need pie-charts and bar graphs and empirical evidence to show us that people need to learn how to foster a personal relationship with God? Can't the Bible enlighten us on that, apart from any so-called "empirical evidence"?

And yet . . . this is "groundbreaking"?

Marty said...

Sorry for the absence. I hadnt been back here to see if I was responded to.
Charles, when I said "poor reporting" I was not referring to Shawn's blog, but to Christianity Today's article, which was indeed poor reporting, as they came out and apologized in an apology article. Good reputation or not, doesn't make it good reporting.

Shawn, I've been in Central Mass for 10 years today, and before that I taught high school history in Atlanta, and before that went to college in Pensacola, Florida.

Shawn Brace said...

Hey Marty,

Thanks for getting back to us. I totally understand what you're saying about the situation. No worries.

Thanks for sharing a little bit more about your background. It always helps me understand the context of people's thoughts!

God bless.