As a life-long pastor (making me what used to be called a "churchman"), I have long been aware of the various movements and developments in American church life. Naturally, then, I have some familiarity with the whole "seeker sensitive" notion of church.
Put briefly, the classic seeker sensitive movement produced a reconstruction of church practice away from doing church for evangelical / fundamentalist "insiders". Instead, so-called seeker churches sometimes radically reshape their worship services, classes, outreaches and activities in ways that focus on inviting and including the uninitiated. To say much more than this in the scope of a blog will distract me from my real point which is that -- while we may not have all become "seeker" churches -- many (most?) churches have become "tweaker" churches. That is, their leaders have become aware that they are shapers of church culture and feel increasing liberty to "tweak" things in ways that are informed by the seeker movement, whether they realize it or not.
Take for example the pre and post service greeting efforts and coffee fellowships, the willingness of preachers to dress casually in street clothes, tell jokes and be more self-effacing in the pulpit as they preach "felt need" messages. And, of course, there has been no small adjustment of the music heard in most worship services as well as the incorporation of fairly sophisticated video features.
Churches that would never consider themselves to be "seeker sensitive" are suddenly rushing to alliterate their values in short, punchy words or phrases, offer newcomer dinners, desserts or classes or otherwise up the accesibility of church staff, programs and practices to better engage newcomers. They become, in effect, "tweakers". It's not that they necessarily buy into the seeker sensitive modality wholesale. Instead, they instictively find their own takeaways which they then plug into their already distintive traditions.
All of these seeker / tweaker changes are based on the notion that weekend services are the ground zero of ministry. I can't count how many times I played on that theme as a pastor. My confidence that we had something really good together led to my conviction that if we could just "get them through the front door" (believers or not) they would experience something that would compel them to want more. By this means we would have the opportunity to minister to them more deeply in Jesus' name.
There were Sundays that I spoke about the "empty seat people" (or ESPs) who belonged in those vacant chairs in our worship center. I personally became obsessed with tweaking whatever needed to be tweaked in order to these ESPs to us while being simultaneously haunted by the fact that they weren't really coming much at all. Those who DID show up were nearly always self-identified "church shoppers" (and usually wonderful people) who were either looking specifically for a Vineyard in their area or a church like ours that had a warmth and friendly intimacy they could appreciate. In other words, 90% were already Christians, and, in many cases, already Vineyard-prepped.
Eight years of this brought together a truly beautiful faith community that changed my life and the lives of many of its members forever. However, no more than a handful of relatively unitiated folk fired up a first time saving faith in Christ at our church -- tweaks or not.
Honestly, I would have to admit that a good many of the tweaks eventually became tied to the felt needs of experienced Christians who knew what they wanted in a church as much as anything else. I suspect that large numbers of churches who never felt the call to go fully "seeker" know this turf or are on it even now; and so the tweaking will continue. Meanwhile, I can't help but wonder what would happen if we put as much effort into our going INTO the harvest as we have on getting the harvest to come to us?
3 months ago