One Thing For All People

April 4, 2011

Last week, I asked you what are the Mormons doing that most mainstream Christians aren’t.

After all, they’re making converts left and right while most of Christianity is on the decline.  And their success isn’t built on political correctness, sanitized statements of belief, or a relaxed list of rules.

Most of you commented that you want to be friendly to “seekers” at your church, but you drew the line at creating a bunch of rules, even if that’s what seekers crave.

So it’s official, no one who reads this blog really wants to be “seeker friendly.”

Okay, that’s not true.  But I ask you today: just how “seeker friendly” are you willing to be?

A Seeker Friendly Caricature

You probably have an image in your mind when I say “seeker friendly.”  You’re probably thinking of a church that spends a lot of money on a big spectacle, a church you might call “entertaining,” but of course you mean that in a bad way.  I’ve featured some of the most extreme churches here, the kind that put on rodeos and other ridiculous publicity stunts.

But we all want to be friendly to visitors.  Paul was the original “seeker friendly” pastor.  He said he wanted to be “all things to all people” so he might win a few.

But Paul had a line he wouldn’t cross.  He got up in Peter’s grill about circumcision.  He wasn’t going to please the Jewish people by enforcing Jewish customs.

And you and I have a line we won’t cross.  If you thought of a caricature of a church when I said “seeker friendly,” that is probably the line you won’t cross.  I will not go to Ed Young Jr’s church and watch him preach about sex while sitting on a bed on stage in order to be seeker friendly.

One Thing For All People

The strange part of “seeker friendly” churches is exactly that all of you probably have the same caricature in your head of a super seeker friendly church.  We all have one of these churches in our town.  And they are all using basically the same strategy.  A seeker friendly church is going to have a somewhat particular sound of music, a style of worship, a kind of pastor.  There’s a formula to it.  Lots of other churches try to emulate these uber-cool churches, with varying degrees of success.

That’s kind of a funny reversal of Paul’s saying.  By being seeker friendly, churches first tried to figure out what people wanted, and adapt themselves.  People wear jeans, so the pastor will wear jeans.  People listen to guitar bands, so let’s have guitar bands.  People like shopping for clothes from shops with nonsense names, so let’s give our churches nonsense names.

But now, rather than being all things to all people, aren’t we assuming that all seekers are the same and they want the same things?  We’re being one thing for all people, and they can take it or leave it, which is also a very familiar strategy.

This Is The Way We’ve Always Done Church

Many churches have changed a lot in twenty years.  A lot of us spent a lot of energy pushing out the old church culture, putting the organ and choir robes in storage, and reinventing church.  We call ourselves “innovative” and “relevant” and other meaningless buzz words to make ourselves seem “cutting edge,” whatever that means.

I have personally never worn a minister’s robe, and I don’t plan to.

But what if I had to?  What if the culture changed in the next twenty years and people wanted pastors in robes and liturgy and organ music?  What if the culture we’ve worked so hard to build is just a passing fad?  How seeker friendly would I be willing to be?  How much of my church culture would I be willing to put in storage?

It will happen.  Just when we’ve worked hard enough to retire, a bunch of young Christian know-it-alls will say we’re out of date, and make us sing a bunch of new-fangled music that we can’t understand.  That will be the test: are we really seeker friendly, or are we just in love with the culture we’ve built.  Some of us will react with excitement and gladly throw out our “contemporary” music.  Some of us will retreat to an outdated church full of gray haired people to listen to some crusty old guy in blue jeans play a guitar.

What do you think will happen in thirty years?  How hard will it be for you to give up the way you love church to be done?  Or if you’re already of retirement age, tell us about how hard it already was for you to watch the church change the way it has.

35 responses to One Thing For All People

  1. I am Catholic, as you all know by now, and in the Fall a new Missal will be released. There is a lot of uproar right now about that. After the Second Vatican Council the Mass was said in English, that produced a series of experimental liturgies which drove people away like a flood. In 1977 an official Mass was released and people began to grow used to it. Now, there is the same uproar over this new Missal coming out. People do not like change and want their own way. Sometimes, especially in religion, we have to be careful of change for the sake of change, because that leads to forgetting what you were doing there in the first place. We’ve been around for at least 1700 years now, and we pretty much stick to the same things.

    • Steve, thanks for bringing that up; I wasn’t aware of it. How do you think the Catholics should balance adaptation with tradition, especially in a church that is so heavy on tradition (1700 years of it)?

    • Steve, where do you get the number 1700? I thought it was more like 2000! (Yes Steve, I too am Catholic. Nice to meet you!)

      Matt, while you asked Steve, not me, do you mind if I respond, as I too am Catholic, and have been a reader here for some time?

      Adaptations to the Mass should never be done to appease anyone, but only to make the meaning more clear to the people. If Mass remained in Latin, my dad would never have strayed away from the Catholic Church (change is always hard, even when it is for the better), but I would never have understood the beauty of the Eucharistic Prayers. To me, the Mass would have seemed distant rather than personal.

      I don’t know yet what all the changes are, but when I do, and I learn how the newer translation clarifies our belief, I’ll be happy to expound on them. :-)

      BTW, whether we have an organist or a guitarist is besides the point. The “music wars” get on my nerves. Hundreds of years ago, organ music was the popular music. Therefore I don’t see what is wrong with using a popular style of music at Mass now. I also don’t think we should throw out the beautiful old hymns. Those are timeless. Perhaps contemporary Christian music can prove to be timeless as well if we don’t dismiss it off handedly.
      Helen recently posted..Happy April Fools Day!

      • I agree Helen! Music wars are silly. I like contemporary music but I love the hymns. Can’t we have both? There are some songs, no matter how beautiful, that just belong in my car radio that I can belt out driving down the interstate. :)
        Carla recently posted..Im the Zombie Bride of Jesus

  2. Good morning, Matt,

    Seeker-friendly? Depends on what they are seeking.

    I cut my own hair. Have for 40+ years. I do this because I do not want a barber or any other stranger to touch me. I cringe when a nurse takes my blood pressure. I have a great aversion to being touched. There are only two reasons on earth to touch another person; three if you add compassion for someone hurt. I do not want anybody to touch me. Ever…

    So… church-going people decided to start hugging, grabbing and pawing at visitors.

    Why on earth would they do that?

    Keep your hands to yourself!

    To some of us, the more enlightened among Christians, going to church should be like going to a movie: you walk in the front door, pay for your ticket, find a seat, watch the show, then go home.

    You do not shake hands or paw or grope anybody. The theater manager does not tell you his troubles about attendance or cash flow or who arranges the flowers. You don’t have to vote on who runs the popcorn concession or who ushers. The theater’s problems are the theater’s problems, they don’t unload them on the audience–now, that what I call a civilized church.

    So, there are seekers out there in the world, touchy-feely persons, who like sing-alongs and teddybears and true confessions in public places–let seekers seek elsewhere–there are plenty of other screens in God’s multiplex. They don’t have to sit next to me.

    These people are not my friends, they are just other members of the audience–let’s keep it that way.

    That’s the way to demonstrate Christian love.

    Love, John

    • Wow – you are right John – you are on one side of a huge divide in Christian culture. Though I’ve never seen anyone defend your side. The people on the other side are looking for “authenticity” and to them, you “civilized” church is anathema.

    • Hi Matt, it’s me again having second thoughts:

      That’s a great thing about your postings–after reading your posts, I often think about them all day. You achieve what you intend. Good job.

      My second thought this morning is that there are no seekers.

      Sure, before I became a Christian, I claimed to be a seeker-after-God. I also was a liar. I no more wanted to find God than the sheep wants to find the Shepherd. However, by saying I was a seeker, I put myself a notch above common, ordinary religious people. For me, that was a sophomoric pseudo-intellectual thing. Besides, being a SEEKER is a chick magnet.

      God Himself is the only seeker. The first thing He said after Adam sinned was, “Adam, where are you?”.

      Adam, of course, was hiding in the bushes. That’s where we sons of Adam have been ever since–in the bushes hiding from God.

      Were seekers to actually encounter the Lord God Almighty, they’d lose sphincter control. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

      So, why should churches allow seekers to hold out the hoop?

      What say should sinners hiding from God have in the affairs, music, worship style, charities, or business of His house?

      Should anyone, any sinner of whatever background, actually want to find God, the thing to do is stop hiding. Draw nigh to God and He will draw near to you; that’s what James said.

      So, I think we ought to ignore the false front put up by sinners who hide behind seeking. God ignored my own excuses and dragged me kicking and screaming into the kingdom. The Shepherd is ruthless that way. I was perfectly happy seeking in my little patch of weeds–but He would not put up with it.

      And now that I am a Christian, nobody in the world questions my faith more than I do. No one harbors more doubts. But, I can’t claim to be a seeker–just a receiver.

      And, not only that, but He insists that I learn to love people. It’s just not fair!

      Thanks, Matt for allowing me to express second thoughts.


  3. How hard will it be for you to give up the way you love church to be done? That’s something I am working through right now. I won’t go into details about why, but I decided I needed to leave the church I had been attending. That one was a very contemporary kinda church (eg. lots of loud hillsong songs and non-traditional venue). As I don’t have a car I am limited to hunting for a new church to attend to wherever I can get on the very limited weekend bus timetable or where a friend who lives nearby attends and can take me.

    I have found a church I think which I think is the best option. It has welcoming people, pretty good teaching, a culturally diverse congregation and I already have a few good friends attending there. It is however a fairly traditional Anglican church (eg, priest in robes, candles, set prayers, some hymns). Needless to say I’ve been feeling a little culture shock! God has been reminding me that church is actually about worshiping him so whether I am fully comfortable is besides the point. I think it has actually been kinda helpful worshiping in a style of service I am not used to because it reduces the tendency to switch onto autopilot that it too easy with more familiar styles.
    Joanna recently posted..Book review- Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove- The Wisdom of Stability

  4. the other things I have thought about too is why the term relevant always means we look like we just stepped out of Urban Outfitters. For some people would relevant not be suits or country western music?
    Jeremy @ Confessions of a Legalist recently posted..The McKassons

  5. Two comments: one, that Anglican churches with their liturgy and robes are actually attracting young people back to church–at least in Canada–providing that they are evangelical too. There is a sign that ‘seekers’ are actually craving the beautiful old expressions of church too.

    Secondly–have you heard of ‘Fresh Expressions’? It’s a church planting initiative by the Church of England (which everyone thought was dying–but surprise!) in a truly seeker friendly approach, but not in the way the term has come to mean. Very exciting!
    Check it out:
    Karen recently posted..DC and beyond

  6. //Just when we’ve worked hard enough to retire, a bunch of young Christian know-it-alls will say we’re out of date, and make us sing a bunch of new-fangled music that we can’t understand.//

    I think this will happen no doubt. But I think in 2 or 3 generations, the old hymns, traditional church services will be brought back. We humans just can’t get out of repeating history.
    Charlie Chang recently posted..Guess whos turning 2

  7. Matt, our church has 4 types of services. 1) Super Traditional 2) Traditional 3) Mixed Contemporary 4) Bono

    That may be as seeker friendly as it gets, but it seems a little disjointed to me. I wonder if there will be contemporary and traditional services in Heaven? 😉
    Chad Gibbs recently posted..Chad’s Big Fat Countdown 344-340

  8. I spent the weekend with my Grandparents in Michigan. He was telling me a story from when he was teaching Sunday school in the 40s. He has this brilliant idea to serve coffee during his study. He was met with an incredible amount of resistance. The church leaders thought he was crazy for trying to serve a beverage such as coffee in a church setting! My goodness who could ever think of such a thing?? Well he did it anyway and saw several “seekers” come into church and eventually meet Jesus.

    I thought about his story and the parallels to our generation now. I think this is a really good thought Matt. I hope that all of us have the guts to lay down our ideas of church when a new generation institutes new methodologies to reach their generation.
    Darrell recently posted..Love Still Wins

  9. Yesterday I just spoke with one of the members of our praise band…and they got “spoken to” by one of the elders and said it was offensive for them to where t-shirts or tennis shoes while worshiping God on stage!… some of us have not strayed that much into friendly anything! lol….by the way…i can just hear God saying….”how dare you worship me in t-shirts and tennis shoes!!!! lol….
    Arny recently posted..Happy Monday- Jack Black and Alone Time

  10. I think one thing we are quick to forget is that God is a God of variety. Nothing in scripture says that any one body of believers is suppose to resemble another, as far as evangelism or outreach is concerned.

    My desire for each and every church is to be heeding the what the Holy Spirit is telling them to do, not the church down the street or across the country. If we did that, I don’t think we would have a problem adjusting our expectations because they would be the Lord’s.
    Modern Reject recently posted..Your Testimony is Not as Lame as You Think

  11. I’ve tried desperately not to get too used to one type of music. I currently have disdain for the music currently playing at my church (it’s not contemporary). But, I’m pretty sure it’s a “grass is always greener elsewhere” kind of deals.

    But you’re right. Seeker-friendly was already a fad in the 90’s, and now that newer models of non-seeker-friendly-but-still-seeker-oriented churches are coming out with a “well, we’re not your dad’s seeker friendly church.”

    It’s funny. In a sad, almost pathetic kind of way.
    bman (The Underfold) recently posted..Logical Snacks

  12. I was part of a ministry that was more “seeker scary” than “seeker friendly” for nearly a decade…and in hindsight, it might have been scary for the seasoned Christians too… hah!

    Anyway, after leaving the ministry and moving to a new state, we now had to go through the process of finding a new “home Church”. I had my checklist of awesomeness that our new church needed to have, and we found this church not 2 miles from our new apartment. We went, and it was anti-climactic to say the least.

    I prayed to God for things to work out more organically, for a divine encounter, if you will, and not an hour later, a gentleman in a Target parking lot invited us to his church. This church is not at all what I had envisioned I wanted to be apart of, but now we have been there for 6 months and I love the part of the body of Christ that God led us to.

    Being a violist whose played with worship teams for 10 years now, I had very particular about the type of music that I wanted to play. I am on the worship team at our new Church, and I have been forced to stretch myself– not only musically, but also spiritually. I had to realize that in being on a worship team, I’m there to lead people into worship, which should mean incorporated many types of worship songs and styles, not just playing what I like. I knew that before, in theory, but we managed to justify our song choices. ; ) So, perhaps this makes our worship more seeker-friendly? I don’t know. But I have found it is no less powerful or meaningful. Maybe more so.

  13. I’ve thought for a long time now that the “traditional” church services are going to be the ones that end up attracting my generation (I’m 34) back to church. Why? Because it’s what they remember about “church” from their childhood. The “seeker-sensitive” contemporary services don’t have the nostalgia for them that the piano/organ/hymns services do and won’t feel like “church.” For someone like me who never left the church, it feels normal at this point, but for someone who’s been away for decades (or whenever it was that mom stopped making them go), it’s the church of our childhood that will be familiar and comfortable.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

  14. If you let people who really don’t care about the church, redefine the church, then what good is that?

    You end up with a church that just hands people back to themselves.

    The last thing I need is to have myself and my wants and desires handed back to me.

    I need the Word that comes to me from outside of myself. That is alien to what I really WANT.
    Steve Martin recently posted..“All I know is that I was blind- and now I see”

  15. When I think about the term “seeker friendly” I remember this very slick flyer I got a couple of years ago for a church plant whose launch date was Easter Sunday. The sermon topic emblazoned all over in huge letters? SEX ROCKS! Meh…

    I just don’t get the thought process behind that kind of stuff. Anyone going there thinking they’re going to hear a graphic description of “getting biblical” so to speak are going to be disappointed, because you know it’s going to be a sermon about intimacy in marriage. Those who already know what it’s going to be about are just turned off by a church trying to get people in the doors under false pretenses.

    We have this crazy notion at our church plant. We don’t advertise, we don’t have “seeker friendly” services, unless seeker friendly means relating scripture to what people are struggling with now. We invite people we know to church. We’re not a big church, but our retention rate is very good.
    katdish recently posted..Child of divorce

  16. I don’t know if it would be hard to give up what I love about church culture now. I don’t know if there is anything, besides the Bible and Christ’s love that I truly love about church culture. I’m feeling a bit like a church chameleon these days, or maybe a bit bipolar in my church attitude.

    I come from a Catholic background, then I attended an Open Bible church with my husband (boyfriend/fiance at the time) and then we moved to a new city and became members of a nondenominational church right away. After being at that church for less than a year we left. We had some doctrinal difference that we thought we could handle but then we were treated poorly by some of church staff and just found their view of nonbelievers or those in need were a bit too harsh for our taste. It’s actually been a very painful season. Leaving a church family that we loved when we moved and then basically breaking up with a new church. We are bit commitmentphobic at the moment and have been church hopping. So I’ve seen a lot of different cultures. I don’t know if I care either way. I’m looking for a group of people who are so filled with Christ’s love that you can feel it flowing out of them onto you. Maybe that’s too much to ask. But I just know the haughtiness of our former church is not what I’m looking for. Sometimes when a church is too cool for school, I’m a bit put off by that too, it’s just another form of exclusive elitism, isn’t it? I can make fun of the relevant, cutting edge, ridiculousness that is out there with the best of them and I can appreciate a moving, traditional service or be annoyed by the lack of spirit. But when it comes down to it I’d just like to cut through all the BS and know that they preach the Gospel and they truly love as we are called to. I’m sick of all the hype on both sides. I’ve been trying desperately not to get cynical, but from everything I just said, I think perhaps I’ve crossed over to the Christian cynic’s side. Oops.
    Carla recently posted..Im the Zombie Bride of Jesus

  17. I never thought of it like this before.
    Sometimes we see the older people in our churches react badly to new music or a new style. Some in my home church STILL don’t like the drums being used. Isn’t that crazy?

    Or is it any different to how we will be? I always tell myself I won’t be like that, but maybe I will.

    To be honest I don’t really love a lot of the style of music and way things are done anyway, so maybe I will always be just one of those people who doesn’t like how it’s done lol!
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  18. I am not for seekers. I am for Jesus. I am not for music styles. I am for music that connects me with God!

    Its like we do all this for something some ego, I want to be like Peter and walk down the sidewalk healing sick people!
    David recently posted..Food- Feet and Attila the Hun

  19. I think it is good for people to look deep within themselves and either see the propensity to resist change or adapt to it.

    I think we will find that leaders/churches that are both willing to change styles and activities as our culture changes while clinging to the unchangeable truth of the Gospel, will be the ones that experience the most growth as time continues on.
    Brooklyn Cravens recently posted..Are You Simply ‘Born This Way’

  20. Yeah, I think this is the trap of following the crowd instead of following Jesus. I know it’s harder to know Him and let ministry flow from that, but it’s really got to be the way we lead our churches. Not that I have attained this by any stretch, but I press on and want it. Being all things to all people is on a personal level, not a system or structure (but this is my opinion). Thanks Matt.
    jasonS recently posted..As Real as It Gets

  21. It is important that we all believe in one God no matter what He is called. We are seekers because we need to find something to fill in the hole in out spirits.