Friday, December 14, 2007

Seeking a New Approach To Church

Ever wonder if our 21st-century approach to church is entirely wrong?

I have conversations with many people that are rather disgruntled at the state of "the church." And they don't always know if the problem lies with the leadership, or the congregants. After all, a good portion of many church-goers are once-a-week attendees that really have no community with the church body. They come, they enjoy a nice show, they are spoon-fed some sermon points, and they go home and go on with their lives. They have nothing invested whatsoever.

It's a cycle, really. The more that people expect to be Sunday morning consumers, the more the church provides it on a Sunday morning. The more they provide it, the more consumers show up. And to an extent, if we're talking about numbers, it's a great way to grow a church. A church can grow into a megachurch 10 miles wide. And two inches deep.

We talk about what the root cause might be, and whether it's theological, or a problem with vision, or leadership, or just 21st-century consumer culture. But I have another suggestion.

Perhaps the seeker-sensitive church approach is entirely backwards.

Let me explain. All of my life, I've heard from other churchgoers about how they need to invite non-Christians to church. After all, if they come to church on a Sunday morning, they'll listen to some nice songs, and they'll hear about Jesus! Then they'll become a Christian! It happens all the time!

Technically, that might be true. It does happen occasionally. People go to a Sunday-morning service, hear about God, and they become Christians. And then they come back the next Sunday morning, and the next, and they are spoon-fed every week. In fact, they'll continue to hear about Jesus for years without ever needing to DO anything.

Instead, try this: Don't invite people to church. Build a relationship with them and tell them about Jesus. Tell them about Jesus' life, death on the cross, and resurrection. Tell them about how you are a new creation, and how God has worked in your life.

If the spirit tugs on that person, and that person understands, you know what?

He or she may very well become part of the church. Right there. Then, it might be a good opportunity to tell them about a group of Christians that gets together in your house on Monday nights for small group. Or Wednesday nights for a meal. Or Sunday mornings for a celebration service. Invite them to come along.

A church that caters almost exclusively to non-Christians, or even nominal Christians, might be nice for evangelism. But it's not really The Church. The Church is made up of Christian brothers and sisters, and they are living, working, learning, and serving together. If you try to make everything about the church "sensitive to the non-believer," what's going to happen?

The people that ARE new converts are never going to grow past that two-inch thickness. The possibility will always exist that they'll remain Sunday-morning consumers for years. They were spoon-fed a show, and that's what inspired them to come forward and accept Jesus in the first place... So isn't THAT what Christianity is? A Sunday-morning show?

Well, we say, the Sunday morning service can be seeker-sensitive, because if people want to grow deeper, they need to get involved in Sunday School classes and other areas.

Seriously? Why would they need to get involved anywhere else? We've shown them that all they need to do to be saved is to come to a Sunday morning service and hear about God.

Relational evangelism is SO important, and it's so much more than inviting someone to church. I'm starting to seriously question a "seeker-sensitive" approach to church. Are WE, the people of God, to be "seeker-sensitive" when building relationships? Of course we are. But are church services supposed to always be "seeker-sensitive"?

I'm starting to think that's a bad idea.

What say you, random blog readers?


Robotface Shumway (Big Doofus) said...

Bill Hybels is gonna kick your butt when he reads this.

I've been a "seeker-sensitive" critic for the past 15 years. The church is for believers. We should do what the bible tells us to do when we meet. If "seekers" show up, God will take care of them.

Macca said...

Yes, Scott! Big Amen from the other side of the ocean! The gathering of the believers is for...believers. In fact, in the early church, weren´t nonbelievers typically not allowed into the gathering? Or am I confusing that with my studies of Ritualistic Marshmellow Roasting?

The worship service is intended for God, not to convert lost souls. Jesus didn´t preach a happy message to the multitudes, either, did he? In just a few days, they went from being a gathering of thousands to not many.

Heck, if you really get down to it, Jesus´ most wonderful moments are when he sits down one-on-one with a sinner and gently shows them His love.

It´s the relationship that we forge with the sinner, not the slick program, stupid! :) A wise mentor once told me, "They become what you win them with." If we win them with a slick program that makes them cry, then we end up with a seaful of milque-toast faith acolytes of the faith who don´t know much more than the salvation message.

Robotface Shumway (Big Doofus) said...

And what you're talking about is not a NEW's the way we're supposed to do it.

Robotface Shumway (Big Doofus) said...

Oh, I love the new Java Jesus header. Wings and beer...yum.

Macca said...

Beer is European.

Anonymous said...

good comments again Scott...
however i think our discussion on leadership in the institutional church is needed so leaders might espouse this type of simple philosophy
when this happens the institutional church might actually be saved
of course it will probably decrease in sheer numbers and then be saved

Macca said...

Exactly. When Jesus taught the hard lessons at the Sermon on the Mount, it wasn´t a popular message. Result is that His followers decreased in number.

Joe B said...

Let's get even more subversive. Ye say "Church is for believers" and "The worship service is for God."

I say both are false constructs that sprang out of an "attractional" model of church. We gather. We worship. We share every earthly and heavenly blessing.

Who it is for almost seems like a wierd question.

Joe B said...

"Seriously? Why would they need to get involved anywhere else? We've shown them that all they need to do to be saved is to come to a Sunday morning service and hear about God."

That's why you are smarter than me. What a great observation, Scott!

scott said...

"We gather. We worship. We share every earthly and heavenly blessing."

I don't know, that sounds pretty smart. In fact, could that be a new... mission statement? :-)

Re: what Darin said, it's hard to get leadership to change because they are very much focused on evangelism. We've named entire sect of Christianity "evangelicals," after all. And nothing is wrong with evangelism, it's obviously a great idea! But people need to realize that they should be doing that in their daily lives rather than leaving it to the church (or, more aptly, the church service). And many church leaders are scared to leave too much to their congregants!

Hence the institutional, top-down model of consumer churchgoing.

Joe B said...

I'm not so sure that Evangelicals actually evangelize more than non-evangelicals.

We emphasize it verbally, but I'm not so sure it is what we're about doing.

I think it stands in our midsts as an icon, a symbol of what we believe rather than the substance of how we live.

Macca said...

Joe B dijo...
I'm not so sure that Evangelicals actually evangelize more than non-evangelicals.

You're probably right. For all of our pulpit-pounding about saving the world, we get entrenched in our own lives.

Robotface Shumway (Big Doofus) said...

The church...IS. It's the bride of Christ and it is made up of believers. Who it's for is not the point, so I agree with Joe. It's for everyone--but it will make more sense to the believer. I might go so far as to allow non-believers to take communion (...waiting for lightning to strike me). I think that the BELIEVER who takes communion without examining his or her heart is the one with issues. For the non-believer, communion might be one more way thing that God uses to get their attention. At some point, they may understand and believe, which will make it more meaningful.

Joe B said...

It seems like the two "ordinances of worship", baptism and communion, really serve quite the same purpose. Each is an observance of identifying with Jesus. Baptism is a once-and-forever-crossing-over-into-faith, and communion is a one-meal-at-a-time-living-out-the-life-of-faith-together.

The "examination of the heart" admonition in Corinthians, if you look closely is not about unconfessed sin or indecision about being a christian. Read what it says: "One goes hungry, another gets drunk." How can one say they are observing the Jesus Meal if they are feasting with their rich buddies while their poor brother does with little or none? We forget that this wasn't cracker fragments and juice thimbles. This observance was a real meal, and Paul reminds us that it is truly about sharing. It appears that this observance was the essential act of Christian worship before Constantine.

Bro O' Joe said...

I have long thought that we "miss it" with church (services) because we continually lose sight of why we meet and, by extension, what is going on when we meet.

I agree with Scott that designing a worship service primarily for seekers is missing the point of why we meet. This fault is even more troubling when we assume we know what a seeker would be attracted by (smarmy appeals to "community", warm hugs & a nice cup of Sumatra?).

Paul, in my view, saw the gathered people of God as the place of His own personal presence through the Spirit. It's what makes this place/event different from any other kind of gathering on earth. It's the temple of God, or, God's building (I Cor. 3). Limiting activity or designing experience to that which appeals to people who are invited or wander in simply doesn't make sense to me. What does make sense it to do church in such a way as to create interaction with one another, with the Spirit (the presence), with the word.

What does this accomplish? Hopefully the believers are built up (into a stronger, more passionate "building" v9). It's likely that by experiencing kingdom living in action, folks being drawn by the Spirit will be attracted to the Spirit's people and what they believe.

Relational evangelism is core to the models described in scripture. Super Seeker Sunday - not so much?

Joe B said...

I wish I had written that. Bro o' Joe has rendered Joe B irrelevant yet again!

Joe B said...

Seeker sensitive is a term that only makes sense in the existing world-o-church. Alan hirsch uses the terms "attractional" versus "missional" to define the continuum. It seems like the other end of the "seeker sensitive" continuum must be "seeker repulsive"? Sounds tongue in cheek, but don't you now some of those people who feel like there has been no gospel preached unless some red-faced fire breather has insulted everyone present? There is a whole movement out there like that. It fascinates me...why must some people be flagellated to enjoy church?

Robotface Shumway (Big Doofus) said...

Time for a new post. C'mon, let's go!