There Is No Such Thing as a “Seeker”

June 11, 2012

What are so-called “seekers” actually seeking?

You know, those seekers that we talk about so much.  Whole churches can be seeker sensitive, or seeker driven, or seeker centered, depending on how aggressively they want to seek seekers.  That was a weird sentence.

When churches decide they want to appeal to seekers, it drives them to try all kinds of ploys and tricks to gain and keep their attention.  But does anyone ever ask what it is that seekers are actually seeking?

I haven’t heard one person ask that question.

And that very fact may mean that churches across the country are at best, wasting their time, or worse, trying to lure the wrong seekers.

What Are Seekers Seeking?

Marketing step one: define your market or audience.  I know this, and I didn’t even go to marketing school.  But I doubt anyone is asking this question.  We assume that the kinds of people we want to come into the door of our churches are seeking out some kind of a spiritual experience.  They are looking for God.

If that’s what seeker churches believe, then why do they seem to give seekers everything except what they are looking for?

The motivation of bringing someone to Jesus has become the justification for every carnival, festival, and asinine publicity stunt in churches today.  I have a love/hate relationship with The Museum of Idolatry (with its humorous url: “A Little Leaven.”)  I love it, because it’s entertaining.  I hate it because it makes me want to pluck my eyes out and shove them in my ears.  Every day, it’s another bit of the sideshow that has become the modern church.

If I went to a church and my pastor decided that he was going to teach us how to Doug E, I think I would vomit…then leave, never to return.  It’s horrible and awkward, and very real.

Before you start trying to attract “seekers,” you have to ask which seekers.  Because the overlap in the market between seeker churches and circuses seems to be pretty large.

There Are No Seekers

Question two: if seekers are really seeking that hard, why do we have to put on such a huge spectacle to get them in the door?

I am positing a somewhat radical sounding theory: that seekers do not exist.

There is not a cloud of souls, lost out there in the ether, blindly groping around, trying to find their way into a church.  They are a figment of our imagination.  The idea of a “seeker” is a lie.

How can this be?  Because if they were looking that hard, if they were really seeking, they would have found what they were looking for already (or given up.)  The real seekers are the people who get their asses to church on Sunday, even the days that don’t have a carnival with a bouncy castle.  Real seekers know the difference between the Bible and bullcrap…usually.  Someone who is really seeking a divine experience knows that most of what seeker churches are feeding them isn’t what they are looking for, and they’ve moved on.

And if you want to get super-technical on theology, the Bible is clear that no one is a seeker.  It is God who is seeking us.  Bam!

What Kind of Seekers Are We Seeking?

This all begs the question: if “seekers” do not really exist, then what seekers are we trying to attract?

Dogs like bones.  Cats like mice.  And idiots like Nickleback.  You put something out there, you’re going to attract whomever likes it.

So, if you believe me that “seekers” as we think of them, do not exist, then just who is filling “seeker churches?”

I feel bad for seeker churches.  They are in a trap.  They think it takes a big show and production.  They think that they have to keep raising the stakes to keep peoples’ attention.  They think Jesus is not enough.  They think that people have to be constantly pandered to and have their egos constantly stroked.  They think this, because it’s true of the kind of people they have attracted and discipled at their church.  And now it’s a vicious cycle with incredibly high stakes.  If people lose interest, then they stop giving money, and their massive buildings get repossessed.  Have to keep butts in the seats.

Okay, I know there will be people who call me out on the exception to the rule that I’ve just made, but let’s hear it anyway.  Tell me what you think: is all the pomp and the circus acts justified, or are we really going after the wrong kind of seekers?

44 responses to There Is No Such Thing as a “Seeker”

  1. Just for the sake of arguement, weren’t the old tent revivals pretty much just spectacles designed to get butts in the pews? Same thing with stained glass and other religious art before that? You could trace this stuff back to medieval morality plays if you think about it.

    • Fair enough. You could make that argument (though stained glass at least had a lot of meaningful symbolism.)

      • I mention this because my first inclination (and it’s probably a wrong one) is to say “Thank goodness MY church doesn’t do any tacky crap like that!”

        Well, the “extracurricular” stuff that my church offers are more along the lines of baroque ensemble concerts. Sure, it’s not jello wrestling or anything, but is it still a gimmick? I’m not sure I have the answer to that.

  2. I believe that seekers do exist. But maybe they are kind of put off by the seeker churches. I find some of this stuff a little terrifying and overwhelming, myself. I don’t think it’s always easy to find a church home. Even as a believer who actually KNEW what I was looking for, it took a long time to find one.

    I left organized religion for a very long time because I never felt like I quite fit there. It takes courage to walk into a church for the first time and not know who or what you’re going to be faced with. I respect the seeker churches for wanting to take away some of that fear, but something very essential has been lost in the process. I’m not sure what the answer is.

  3. And I thought I was the only one who believes the seeker-seeking church is getting ridiculous. After last summer’s “Minute to Win It” pre-service nonsense I thought I had seen my church at its lowest, but a new low was set recently as 2 staffers dressed up as the sun and a storm cloud (complete with flashy lights for “lightning”) to sing a medley of sunshine and stormy weather songs. It looked like a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich commercial, but not as funny. And yes, I’m about to leave Church, Inc. again. I guess that will make me a seeker, right?

    And if you want to get super-technical on theology, the Bible is clear that no one is a seeker. It is God who is seeking us. Bam!” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. It’s pride to think we sought out God and found Him. We never would have looked if He hadn’t put that desire to know Him in our heart.

    I have experienced real church a couple of times; not in the US, but in a poor, war-torn, former Communist country in Eastern Europe. There is where I experienced genuine worship, fellowship, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit–and all without gimmicks. Hmmm….

  4. Please read Acts 16 and tell me Lydia wasn’t a seeker.

    • Let me clarify, because this is going to go on all day. My twitter feed is already blowing up.

      Seekers exist, but only because God has already prompted their hearts to look for Him.

      “Seekers” as we define them, who are attracted to circus-churches, probably do not fit this definition. They are “seeking” something else.

      You could say that Lydia proved she was a real seeker, because she was not attracted to the circus and gimmicks of Roman worship. She was looking for the real thing.

  5. “There is not a cloud of souls, lost out there in the ether, blindly groping around, trying to find their way into a church.” – I am not sure that the true meaning of ‘seeker’ denotes someone looking for a church but rather someone looking for God. If knowing God in a deep and meaningful way was something easy enough to do on your own, what good is the body of Christ? Or discipling? Or community? If you need God, figure it yo-self. It’s that easy?
    I’m surely not pro-Nickelback (I’m pretty sure God is nauseated by them as well, ha), but I couldn’t disagree more you saying seekers don’t exist. I’m not saying throw out the Bible and talk in seeker-speak, but what Jesus was to His culture is what we should be to ours, should we not? Speaking in ways our culture understands? Trading pipe-organ and stained glass for the hill where people already gather? As all baptist churches are not equal, nor can seeker churches be considered likewise. Very big blanket statement here.

    • Thanks for the comment, Taryn.

      Please go back and read my response to the previous commenter, named James. There are seekers, just not the seekers we are filling our churches with. People who have really been prompted by God to look for Him won’t need the gimmicks. In fact, they’ll realize that they can’t see God though all the gimmicks.

      What was Jesus to his culture? He seemed fairly ambivalent about whether people followed him or not. If people chose to not follow, he didn’t beg them to stay, or do a party trick to impress them. (I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how Jesus was actually a pretty bad evangelist by our standards, which addressed this point.)

      • Hey Matt, two things: I think your lambasting of “seeker” churches is fine. Those churches that host attention-getting entertainment aren’t really catering to seekers, though, they’re catering to CONSUMERS. Don’t conflate the two. Of course there are real seekers out there. They seek community. They seek a relationship with God through spiritual practice. They seek a deep worship experience. So I get your frustration, I just think you picked the wrong concept to take aim at. Second, my eyes would so love it if you would make your responses easier to read. Light green font on white is really hard to see. Peace out.

  6. I think that the reality is, different people experience God in different ways. If you are an artist/musician (as I happen to be), it is more likely that you are going to be experiencing God during worship/songs/drama/etc. That may mean someone dressing up like a Jimmy Dean commercial. Some people really experience God during interpretive dance numbers (I am not one of them.) Some people just come for good coffee and conversation in the lobby and that is when they feel the presence of God. So really, it becomes very judgey to start calling out churches for doing what they do with a formula that you think is wrong. My church is “seeker friendly” and by that, it means that it is not a “churchey church”. That may not be self explanatory, so let me expand. Let’s say I am a non-Christian who wants to find out what all this Christianity is about. So I go to a Catholic church. I get there, and there are a series of hymns that people are singing, which aren’t in the slightest, the type of music I like listening too. I look around, and it doesn’t look like too many people really are enjoying the music either. Then, the priest starts saying stuff and the people, in chorus, are saying stuff in response…sometimes really long paragraphs, of which, I know not a single word. By the end of the service, I have had an experience, for certain, but what kind? Have I learned anything about God? Maybe…if I could get past the “production” of it all. When I go to Catholic (insert certain other denominations here) services, and I have, I feel alienated…left out because I don’t know what the words are that I am supposed to be saying. I don’t know what is coming next, and I feel like people know it and are looking at me like I’m an outsider.

    On the other hand, we have churches like mine that strive to be church for the non-churched. When you come in, there are people who say hi and welcome you. They don’t rush at you and demand to know everything about you (like happens in many small churches where everyone knows everyone and some people want to have happen). There is coffee. There is an awesome kids ministry so you don’t have to mess with a fussy kid the whole service (which happens still in a number of churches). There is modern music playing on the speakers (some Christian, some not, but relevant). In the service, the worship music has a modern sound to it and the words are projected on screens. Sometimes, when it is appropriate, there is art, dancing, drama, or some other form of worship. Sometimes there are media pieces. There is always a message preached. It is always Biblical and generally challenging, but our minister doesn’t speak in Olde English and sound like a Shakespearian play. You won’t come out of my church and say, “man, they put on a great show, but God wasn’t being preached.” Nor will you say, “I have no idea what that guy was saying the whole time he was talking.” Seeker friendly, to me, means that you do church in a way that the un-churched won’t come, feel like they have no business there, and never come back. Sometimes, seekers aren’t seeking God at all…they are seeking a church. They are seeking to find out why so many people claim to be “Christians”. They are seeking a place to fit in and belong. But somewhere along the way, when they are seeking for the “wrong” thing, God shows up.

    So, if you don’t like modern music and skits, I can point out hundreds of tiny churches with congregations of 50 or less, and you can rest assured that a guitar will never enter the building, nor will anyone show up in a costume. And for some people, that is precisely where they feel the presence of God. But God is bigger than that box. So don’t be surprised that he shows up in “seeker friendly” churches as well.

    • Thanks for such a detailed response.

      That’s an interesting phrase – “church for the non-churched.”

      First, because it begs the question “what is church?” When we start tinkering, how do we know that the end product that we’ve created is still church?

      Second, because it assumes a massive blanket statement, that the un-churched will like a particular kind of church.

      I don’t have a “churchy” church either. We are super laid back and have guitar music and whatnot. That’s not at all what I’m talking about. I’m talking about churches doing things that are outside the realm of worship or service to the community, and start to just become “attractions.” It becomes about entertainment, not the gospel.

  7. This part is so true:

    “I feel bad for seeker churches. They are in a trap. They think it takes a big show and production. They think that they have to keep raising the stakes to keep peoples’ attention. They think Jesus is not enough. They think that people have to be constantly pandered to and have their egos constantly stroked. They think this, because it’s true of the kind of people they have attracted and discipled at their church. And now it’s a vicious cycle with incredibly high stakes.”

    Too many times, I have seen the focus drift from the Message to the Method. The mindset becomes, “if we do just a little more, a little bigger, a little more wow, immersive video and lighting, VIP tents, VIP parking, free coffee and sweets…then they’ll come.”

    There’s an old saying that if your product is weak then the packaging needs to wow. Church – our “product” isn’t weak and can stand on it’s own.

  8. I think we, as believers, have gotten away from the purpose of the church. The purpose of the church is for the encouragement and equipping of _BELIEVERS_. But instead, we see “getting people to come to church” as the be all and end all of “evangelism” (which is the be all and end all of Christianity). But WHO CARES if the “unchurched” become “churched” if they’re not having a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, and then growing in their walk with Him? We have confused our “home base” for believers with evangelism (in which we are to _GO_OUT_). When we dumb down our services so that non-believers don’t feel uncomfortable – when we serve stage 1 baby food to baby Christians and never move up to even stage 2 – we never mature believers. It’s like we are _purposing_ to grow the seed that sprouts up quickly, but is just as quickly overtaken by sun and weeds because it has no root. And then we wonder why people don’t serve or tithe or stick around when the going gets tough. Why should we expect infants to do any of those things? (Yes, I hear Amy Grant singing right now too, you Fat Baby!)

    • Yes! What kind of “churched” people are we making?! I couldn’t have said it better.

    • Yes, yes!! Go Melissa! This view of what the church was meant to be at its inception–the encouragement and equipping of believers–has been completely discarded. We are told that our small group is where we “do life”, and I agree that only in small community can we really know people and be known when we are one of thousands of big church attendees, but small groups lack Bible teachers. Where is the growth occurring?

    • “The purpose of the church is for the encouragement and equipping of _BELIEVERS_.”

      If only I could find a pastor who agrees with this…

  9. This seems more about your disdain for circus acts, than the fact that there are no seekers. Just an observation.

    People are seeking significance and life fulfillment everyday. We have life coaches, churches, religions, workshops, self-help groups and fortunetelling.

    It seems the most serious seekers are also are looking for peace, or a chance to get healing for something the doctors can’t like cancer. Remember what happened after 9/11? Churches filled n droves.

    So, there are seekers, and there is an answer giver named Jesus. The problem is religion without power. Some days we are trying to ram a philosophy down someone’s throat, but to them, all religions are the same – just something you believe or you don’t.

    No power = no Gospel – just sayin…

    It’s interesting, most Christians know not to use any from of witchcraft, so we take the spiritual gifts away from the church with doctrines and fear, and they read horoscopes, and go to fortune tellers.

    People are seeking, it just depends on what we are delivering. If we are led of the Spirit, it’s pretty certain the Spirit will know what to deliver and when.

  10. After reading your post and looking over the other site (face palm at a lot of that stuff)I was leaning toward total agreement until I stopped to think about it a bit longer. Like Jess, I attend (when I am in town)a church that calls itself a “Church for the Unchurched.” We focus on reaching out to those who are hurtning and need help or those who don’t go fopr the religiosity that seems to permiate churches today. While we have a TON of events and activities, I don’t think in the six years I’ve been attending I have seen more than short movie or video clips that are relevent to the point being made, usually on the “negative” side of the equation, lol

    I have been in “Seeker” churches before as well as some very “non-seeker friendly” churches (long story for another time)and in each of these I noticed the switch from worship to entertainment, from a focus on the message to a focus on the messenger. I think THAT is where these things fall down. I am happy that my current church is focused on the message and making that message speak to those who have not been to church or have been hurt by “church” in their past.

    One thing that sadens me about my church is that I need to find a new church due to a move that is taking me three hours away (a bit to long to “commute”) Anybody know a solid congregation in Nashville, TN that doesn’t care if you come in jeans on a Sunday morning. lol?

    • Great point, Andy. We focus on the messenger, and that’s where we get caught in idolatry every time. Though you must be running in different circles from me if you find so many churches that are permeated by “religiosity.” It seems to me that “religion” is a dirty word today. We want people to know that we aren’t religious, just like they are. We have a relationship! (Though I won’t get into it now, but I have before, and basically, even non-religious people are still religious.)

      • Matt,

        When I say “Religiosity”, I am actually thinking of the churches who have form and no filling. I also think of groups that have become cliquish and feel you must become what they think you should be, whether that is what He wants you to be or not. I also use the word to describe people who talk a good talk about following Christ, but do not know what “Love your neighbor as yourself” really means and are like the rich, young man who didn’t like the way Jesus defined “neighbor”

        And yes, I have been through a lot of those places, lol. When it is all show with no evidence of anything on the inside manifested by the way they treat people on the ouotside, I remember the “Painted Tomb” references and shake my head. (Not that I am much better, but I see the issue now and struggle with it daily)

        Oh, and the Nickleback comment was out of line…What did they ever do to you 😉

  11. How Calvanist of you, Matt! 😀

    The Ethiopian administrator in acts was seeking God and God put Phillip in his path to tell him the Good News. I would say that any seekers out there are seekers because God’s Spirit has stirred up the desire for more than what this world offers and a desire for the truth, not just for truthiness. Therefore, I suppose that I agree with you using more words. Hee hee.

    I think the seeker-driven churches are forgetting that Jesus told his disciples to speak the Good News to people. If they accepted it, rejoice; if they didn’t, walk away. He never used spectacle to bring people to him. In essence, they don’t trust that God’s word is enough and want to get people to notice them, not God.

    There is a difference, however, between a church being a spectacle and making sure that the church stays inclusive, or at least doesn’t become an exclusive, country-club experience where the members are insulated from their own neighborhoods. Our church has a monthly BBQ at a park near where we have church services in a school. It is partly to have fellowship, but we also offer food to whoever can come and try to make sure we talk to anyone who accepts our invitation to join us, telling them the good news about Jesus. This is also my little pep talk to stop being so insulated and start inviting people to church.

    • Sounds like a good balance, and that’s what it’s all about. See, the problem with seeker churches is that – isn’t the goal for a seeker to stop being a seeker at some point? A church has to disciple them, and they grow in their faith. There has to be a balance between ministering to people at every level of faith and spiritual maturity.

      • You are exactly right. What I have seen is that when people who attend seeker-friendly churches start wanting to get more solid food and become more mature, they leave and find a church that is more focused of preaching from every part of the Bible, not just the seeker-friendly parts.

        The seeker-friendly churches that I despise are the ones that don’t even preach the gospel or have any dialogue involving the Bible. I’ve been to a few of those. Without the gospel, what is the point of church?

  12. Huh? Wow!! A lot was said here and my head is spinning. I don’t know a whole lot about the bible, just highlighted areas you are taught throughout your life. I was raised Catholic, went to Catechism, hated it, but learned to be quiet and not fall asleep, as well as your Our Father and Hail Mary prayers. Also my mother would take me to Seventh Day Adventist, As I got older, I went to a lot of other churches, different religions, and now I know that I would just like a church to teach me the bible. I like to sing, it warms me up and picks up my attitude. The main thing that I seek from church is the word that helps me get through the week. You know, when you have been going through something all week, and then you get to church and it is like they are talking straight to you? When I leave I feel like I have the power to handle things because someone said it to me like it was so simple and it made so much sense. Why didn’t it seem so easy while I was on my own? It is like council from God, letting me know that everything is going to be okay and this is how you handle this situation. “Do not lean on your own understanding.” This is what I go to church for, for spiritual guidance. I like to be taught right from wrong or just be reminded. I believe I am a seeker. I am always seeking. I seek truth, counsel, education, spiritual uplifting, love from the community, and to belong to something. I am a sinner and I am far from perfect, but if I go to church, I know at least I am in the right place, no matter what church it is. Once you get into one, regardless if it is the right one, it opens the door for you to want to check out others. I say thank God for all churches.

  13. I recant that last sentence. Maybe not all churches, but almost all churches. :)

  14. 1.) I’ve never seen it spelled “Doug E.” before. Just “dougie”,

    2.) I heart Nickleback. Ahem…

    3.) thank you for writing this. I hate that seeker sensitive crap. Maybe I’m seeker-intolerant?

  15. Great post, great comments!
    I have disdain for churches that ‘seek’ to reach an audience, rather that ‘present’ the living, life-changing relationship with the living God.
    We live in a little town in the least populated state in the nation. Our church choices are v.e.r.y. limited. A fresh, new church came into town, promising to be ‘all that’.
    They were reaching out to the people who don’t fit in anywhere else. We have teenage sons, so we tried it out for them. Led by hipster pastors, it attracted hipsters and artists (who don’t regularly tithe, btw) And yet, we found it to have more ‘religious-ocity’ than the the Baptists.

    I grew up without any church exposure. Zero. In college, I was introduce to this “Jesus” fellow. In college, I moved around a lot during summer breaks looking for work. I went to any church that was close to where I lived. Turns out I found God every time, and every church I went to. In a Catholic Church. In a Luthern Church. In a Baptist Church. In an Episcopalian Church. In every. single. church. Why? Cuz I was expecting him to be there.
    “search again for the LORD your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.”
    (He doesn’t hide, He wants to be found!)

    • *no offense to Baptists, but some of them tend to be more legalistic than the rest of the faiths. We don’t have to look far to know this is true. (I love most of the Baptist churches!)

  16. Great post and great Tozer quote (I seriously can’t read The Pursuit of God enough). I guess I’ve never been to a seeker church. I’ve always thought if a church was open and having services on Sunday morning, they were a seeker church. I’ve wanted to attend church while visiting the Netherlands and had to go to 5 churches before I found one that was still doing Sunday morning service. This post educated me. I always hope the minister will say something about the Gospel of Jesus Christ during the service. One thing to let a seeker know what believing in Jesus is all about. I don’t think we need to be entertained in church. I think we need to be encouraged and trained to be able to articulate what we believe, out loud.

  17. I think the ones seeking are the church folks looking for the next big thing. Maybe we can have a deacon board dress as the apostles and come into the sanctuary piled in a tiny car. They could spilled out and throw confetti from buckets at the front row. And then …

  18. Good discussion … I don’t want to be entertained in church; but I also don’t want to be bored and to invite friends to a boring church. One thing I appreciate is that when I ventured out of my of my parents traditional church into a home Bible study – I met Jesus Christ personally through a person sharing a clear and loving gospel message. If/when people come to my church for any reason and are introduced to Christ, that works for me. For me there is no they and us, it is we who are in our churches. As an adult, it is my responsibility to find a place (not limited to a church) where I can invest in others the things I have already learned. Many have mentored me over the years in many areas of my life and it’s incredible to experience the effects of that time and effort. He is faithful and it is amazing to revel in and to share His faithfulness with others.
    “You will find me when you seek me with all your heart”…
    Again, a worthy discussion to have.

  19. Seekers will usually find what they are seeking for. So I guess the question is… if we act like we are trying to attract idiots, who are we going to attract.

    True Seekers have a “God shaped hole”in their heart, and what they are seeking is God, and his Church on Earth. We need to be giving them that, not pretty lights.

    (Although stained glass is still pretty cool.)

  20. Most church growth is just Christians switching buildings. Barna studies back this. Church growth is really all about the tithe, else they would be busing in/catering to the homeless, drug addicted, the prostitutes, etc. For those are the kinds of people most likely to never see the inside of a church building.

    Besides all this…the church is a group of people drawing closer to Christ. All you need for this is people, prayer, and a Bible.

  21. Ed Freshwater July 13, 2012 at 6:39 am

    Very true, in particular regard to the NIckelback comment.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Wednesday Link List « Thinking Out Loud - June 20, 2012

    […] Evangelism and outreach corner: “If seekers are really seeking that hard, why do we have to put on such a huge spectacle to get them in the door?” Maybe the imagined type of seekers simply don’t exist. […]