Daily Devotional for Thursday November 8, 2007
The Truth about Seeker Churches
(Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18)
The real truth about "seeker" churches. This is an issue I have dealt with numerous times over the years, but in light of a comprehensive new report that has just came out and the questions I get daily about "seeker" churches, let me address it in greater detail today. I was fortunate to have started my public ministry in 1992 in the great city of Chicago. Of course, the Chicago suburban Barrington is the home of the first high profile "seeker" church, Willow Creek. So I was in Chicago as Willow Creek was starting out and actually spoke at a few of their functions in the early 90s. If you study the history of Willow Creek, it is a marvelous sovereign move of God that was started in a movie theater and was geared to people who didn't attend church. It became a huge success due to the fact they were reaching people the traditional church wasn't, and bringing a relevant message to people's lives, another huge problem with many of the mainstream denominational churches.
Let me say right up front, Willow Creek in suburban Chicago and Saddleback in Orange County California are both amazing, sovereign moves of God's Holy Spirit that have impacted millions of lives and brought tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of souls to faith in Jesus Christ. Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek and Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback are men who God gave a great vision to, they obediently followed that vision, and the hand of God has moved over their work and used them to reach millions of souls who most likely would have never been reached. The fruit, the souls and transformed lives, are the living testimonies of their ministry and the great legacy they will leave when their work is complete and God calls them home.
As I have stated in the past, here are the three problems with these "seeker" churches. The first is you can't package, market, and sell a sovereign move of God. God's work is not a McDonalds hamburger franchise. It simply doesn't work that way. What God sovereignly does in one case, doesn't mean it will happen that way in another. As a matter of fact, just plan on the fact it WON'T! What Willow Creek and Saddleback do in their respective churches works because of the fact they are both such precious and unique works of God's Holy Spirit. Where they have both failed miserably, is in trying to package, market, and sell "how to do church" to other pastors and churches.
A pastor who has to try and copy someone else's vision is lazy and has failed God and those they serve! There is nothing wrong with learning from other men and women of God, gaining wisdom and insight from others more experienced who have successfully been shepherding God's people, but to try and duplicate another work of God is simply foolish. Each man has to invest the time with the Lord and recieve his own vision. The reality is, the vast majority of these churches that have tried to copy Willow Creek or Saddleback have failed miserably. Some actually were successful in attracting more people, but because you can't duplicate the vision, the man God called to receive and fulfill that vision, or all of the unique dynamics of each situation, the increase in numbers never translated into spiritual success.
Listen to me carefully. The way the world keeps score is NOT the way God keeps score! The world says a successful church has thousands of people, takes in millions of dollars, and has state of the art facilities. The world measures success by numbers, dollars, and real estate. God isn't impressed with how many people show up for service, but how many people are sold out for Him! God isn't impressed with how much money you raise, but how many lives you are impacting with the money you raise. God isn't impressed with the buildings you build, but the lives you build. As we will see later, a huge problem with the whole "seeker" church movement is that its goal and emphasis is on sheer numbers, and not building solid men and women of God.
The second problem with the "seeker" churches is that they do all of this work to attract a large group of non-churched people, have this great service, but never present the Gospel or give people a chance to get saved. I know the comeback, that work is done in small groups. But many people never go to the small groups. There is never a good excuse to have a group of people in a Christian service of any kind and not give them the chance to make a commitment of their heart and life to Jesus Christ. This might be the only time they are ever in such a setting. This might be the one time in their life their heart is open to hear the Truth about their eternal soul. To fail to share the Gospel and extend an invitation for people to accept Christ into their heart and life by faith makes all of the time and effort to get them there in first place a wasted opportunity.
The third problem with the "seeker" churches is their premeditated and designed plan to strip their church all of Christian identification. No cross, no mention of church in their name, just a very non-descript building that nobody would ever think was a church. I get the whole mindset that it makes it more comfortable for people who are opposed to church and to the things of God and makes it more inviting and less threatening to them. I'm sorry, but you can't trick people into following the Lord. You can't play the old bait and switch game with them. In this world we live in where the government and culture is working non-stop to take God and Christianity out of the public square, the one place we are allowed to proclaim Christ and proudly display the cross and other symbols of our faith is AT OUR CHURCHES! Now we have our own churches who purposely refuse to identify themselves as a Christian church so they won't "offend" someone.
My friend, I get the whole blueprint of easing a person into the faith, not wanting them to run away before they hear the message, being aware of their hang-ups and trying to work around them. But at some point, a person has to hear they are a sinner, that they will die, and without Jesus they will end up in hell. THAT IS THE TRUTH, AND THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE YOU CAN SHOW A PERSON THAN TO TELL THEM THE TRUTH ABOUT THEIR ETERNAL SOUL! We only have one message, the Gospel. The church's job is to evangelize, which is what these "seeker" churches attempt to do, but it is also to help the saints grow in their faith and equip them for service, and to provide a fellowship for Believers to find the strength, comfort, prayers, and support of other Believers as they go along life's journey.
I love you and care about you so much. Over the years, I have watched over 2 dozen websites I know of try and duplicate with Liveprayer does on the Internet, and all of them failed. I have been offered over $100,000 on several occasions to "consult" with other websites and help them have the same success in reaching people for Christ as Liveprayer has had for over 8 years now. A year ago, I was presented an opportunity by a man to make $1 million guaranteed, by offering Liveprayer franchises. These copycat websites failed, I turned down the consulting offers and the franchise offer because you can't package, market, and sell a sovereign move of God. Nobody knows as well as I do that Liveprayer is just that, a precious move of the Holy Spirit that could never be duplicated.
Willow Creek just released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study's findings are in a new book titled, " Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings "earth shaking," "ground breaking" and "mind blowing." The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples.
Hybels states, "Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become 'self feeders.' We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."
The bottom line to these "seeker" churches is this. Willow Creek and Saddleback are both incredible sovereign moves of God. They are great visions given to great men of God who faithfully followed those visions and have impacted millions of lives because of their faithfulness. The mistake they have both made is in the packaging, marketing, and selling of their vision to other pastors and churches. Even in their own churches it appears that there are some serious issues in translating the vast numbers into men and women of God who are growing in their faith and living surrendered lives. So it is no wonder why these others churches who have tried to copy and duplicate what they've done have failed.
There are no new ways to "do church." There is no new way to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. There are TONS of ways to reach people, and we need inspired men and women of God who seek Him for the vision in how to reach the lost. But once you reach them, there is only one message they need and that is the fact Jesus loves them, He died for their sins, and that without a relationship with Christ they will die one day and spend eternity in hell. That was the message of Jesus, it was the message of Paul, it has been the message of all the great men and women of God thougout these last 2000 years, and will continue to be the only message that can transform the hearts and lives of men until Christ returns and this world as we know it comes to an end.