‘SEEKER SENSITIVE’ VS. ‘EXCELLENCE’
The first thing that needs to be clarified about ‘seeker-sensitive services’ is that they do not necessarily have to value ‘excellence’ or feel like a ‘performance’. Consider the following table…
It is possible to have a service that values ‘excellence’, but only caters for believers (Quadrant 1).
It is also possible to have a service that doesn’t value ‘excellence’, but is very good at catering for both ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’ (Quadrant 3 & 4).
Certainly a church needs to decide if valuing ‘excellence’ is an important part of engaging the culture in which they are called to reach. But regardless of whether they value ‘excellence’ or not, there are some practical steps that can be considered for all ‘seeker-sensitive services’…
SHORT, INTERESTING, AND RELEVANT SERVICES
The Australian Community Survey (1998) found that the most frequent reason given by unchurched Australians as to why they don’t go to church is ‘boring and unfulfilling church services’.[i]
Top 10 reasons people don’t go to church (Among infrequent attenders and non-attenders):
1. Boring or unfulfilling church services 42%
2. Beliefs of the church 35%
3. Church’s moral views 35%
4. No need to 34%
5. Prefer to do other things 31%
6. “My beliefs are too weak” 27%
7. The way churches are organised 24%
8. Other commitments 21%
9. Bad experience among church people 16%
10. Not enough time because of work 15%[ii]
According to the same survey, 53% of non-attenders claim that a ‘short service length’ is an important consideration in going to church.[iii]
ANNOUNCEMENTS & PREACHING WITH THE UNCHURCHED IN MIND
> Use language that unbelievers can understand and relate to
Tim Keller says: “Preachers often use references, terms, and phrases that mean nothing outside of our Christian tribe. So we must intentionally seek to avoid unnecessary theological or evangelical jargon, carefully explaining the basic theological concepts behind confession of sin, praise, thanksgiving, and so on. In your preaching, always be willing to address the questions that the nonbelieving heart will ask. Speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity. As you prepare the sermon, imagine a particularly skeptical non-Christian sitting in the chair listening to you. Be sure to add the asides, the qualifiers, and the extra explanations that are necessary to communicate in a way that is comprehensible to them. Listen to everything that is said in the worship service with the ears of someone who has doubts or struggles with belief”.[iv]
Andy Stanley agrees: “Our culture is biblically illiterate. I bet you knew that. The Christians in your church may not be. But society in general is. Which means you have a decision to make. If you want to engage secular people with your preaching, you’ve got to quit assuming your audience knows anything about the Bible”.[v]
Mark Driscoll suggests that “a missional church speaks the language and sings the style of the culture without using pious talk, or what one pastor calls ‘dearlybelovedisms,’ because it is biblical. When God inspired the writing of the New Testament, the options were academic or street-level Greek, and God chose to have his Word written in the language of the street”.[vi]
The following table gives some possible examples of how to use ‘seeker-sensitive’ language….
> Let unbelievers know that you’re glad they are here, even if the sermon isn’t for them
Andy Stanley argues that “the key to engaging unchurched people through your weekend communication is to include them. But for them to feel included, they’ve got to know you know they are out there and that you are happy about it”.[vii]
> Specifically address unbelievers during the sermon
Tim Keller says:
Directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Talk regularly to “those of you who aren’t sure you believe this or who aren’t sure just what you believe.” Give several asides, even trying to express the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian doctrine and life better than they can do it themselves.
Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even as you challenge them directly for their selfishness and unbelief. Admonish with tears (literally or figuratively). It is extremely important that the nonbeliever feels we understand them. Always grant whatever degree of merit their objections have.
• “I’ve tried it before, and it did not work.”
• “I don’t see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God.”
• “Christianity is a straitjacket.”
• “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.”
• “I could never keep it up.”
• “I don’t feel worthy; I am too bad.”
• “I just can’t believe.”[viii]
Andy Stanley says:
Don’t just address “those who are here for the first time” or say, “If you are visiting today….” That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve got to develop your own style. And you should never say something you don’t mean or aren’t comfortable saying. But here’s a sample of the kinds of things we say all the time:
“If you are here for the first time and you don’t consider yourself a religious person, we are so glad you are here. Hang around here long enough and you will discover we aren’t all that religious either.”
“If you don’t consider yourself a Christian, or maybe you aren’t sure, you could not have picked a better weekend to join us.”
“If you’ve got questions about faith, the Bible, Jesus, maybe even the existence of God, you need to know we built this place for you. Our goal from the beginning was to create a church unchurched people would love to attend.”
“If the only reason you are here today is because you are visiting relatives and they said they wouldn’t feed you if you wouldn’t attend church with ‘em, my apologies. We all still have a long way to go.”
“If this is your first time in church or your first time in a long time, and you feel a little uncomfortable, relax. We don’t want anything from you. But we do want something for you. We want you to know the peace that comes from making peace with your heavenly Father.”
“If this is your first time in church, or your first time in a long time, and you feel out of place because you think we are all good people and you are not so good, you need to know you are surrounded by people who have out-sinned you ten to one. Don’t let all these pretty faces fool you.”
“We may not all believe the same, but we all struggle with the same temptations, fears, insecurities, and doubts. You have more in common with us than you might imagine. And we are so glad you took a risk and came to church today.”[ix]
> Don’t expect unbelievers to behave like believers
Andy Stanley argues that we need to “give ‘em permission not to believe… or obey. The imperatives of the New Testament are addressed to Christians. Consequently, Christians are accountable to each other for how they live. But for reasons unbeknownst to me, Christians love to judge the behavior of non-Christians. What makes this doubly perplexing is that the apostle Paul addresses this issue directly. Here’s what he says: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5: 12– 13)… On most weekends, non-Christians are not your target audience. They are welcome guests. Just as we don’t expect guests in our homes to clear the table after dinner and serve the coffee, so there are things we shouldn’t expect nonbelievers to do while visiting our churches. And we need to tell ‘em”.[x]
HIGH-QUALITY, CONTEMPORARY WORSHIP
> Choose worship songs which connect with culture through their use of music and language.
The National Church Life Survey (1991) found that churches which make use of contemporary music are more likely to reach newcomers and minister effectively to young adults.[xi]
> Ensure that the music is performed and sung at a high quality
Tim Keller says:
The power of good art draws people to behold it. It enters the soul through the imagination and begins to appeal to the reason. Art makes ideas plausible. The quality of our music, your speech, and even the visual aesthetics in worship will have a marked impact on its evangelistic power, particularly in cultural centers. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Why? Their faith makes the words of the hymn or the song meaningful, despite its lack of artistic expression; what’s more, they usually have a personal relationship with the music presenter. But any outsider who comes in as someone unconvinced of the truth and having no relationship to the presenter will likely be bored or irritated by the expression. In other words, excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre aesthetics excludes. The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come. For the non-Christian, the attraction of good art will play a major role in drawing them in.[xii]
USE COMMUNION TO INVITE UNBELIEVERS NOT EXCLUDE THEM
Because most Christians and Churches believe that Communion is only for believers, it is difficult to know how to approach it with unbelievers present.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Use this time to give a 1-2 minute gospel presentation
2. Explain that this part of the service is for those who have come to place their faith in Jesus to pay for their sins. Then invite unbelievers to take this opportunity to become a Christian.
KEEP UNBELIEVERS IN MIND WHEN TALKING ABOUT MONEY
> Don’t Expect Unbelievers to give
Many Churches are reluctant to talk about money or take up an offering because they fear offending the unchurched. However according to Willow Creek’s Good Sense Ministry, unchurched people are comfortable with the church dealing with money if it is approached in a seeker-sensitive manner.[xiii]
The key is to distinguish between ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’, explaining that the offering is an opportunity for ‘believers’ to give in response to what Jesus has done for them, and that there is no pressure for ‘unbelievers’ to give.
Some churches distinguish between ‘visitors’ and ‘regulars’, however this is often unhelpful for a couple reasons…
1. There are lots of Christians who consider themselves to be ‘visitors’, even after many months of attending. We don’t want to give them the impression that they are not called to give.
2. The key is to help unbelievers understand the differentiation between ‘believer’ and ‘unbeliever’, not someone who is involved at church vs. someone who isn’t.
> Use money to make a tangible difference.
Consider giving 10% of the offering away to outside causes (such as World Vision, Salvation Army, School Chaplaincy etc.) This communicates that the church is not after their money, but it concerned instead with making a difference in the world.
> Remind people that a generous lifestyle is the best way to live.
Andy Stanley says: “When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them”.[xiv]
INTENTIONALLY RAISE THE VALUE OF WELCOMING EACH OTHER
“One factor that will naturally affect people’s willingness to invite is whether they think their friends will be treated well. Churches with higher levels of sense of belonging have higher inviting levels the closeness of the group no doubt helps confidence in the church as a place where friends will be welcomed. A culture of inclusion is as important as a culture of inviting if new people are to stay, and eventually consider themselves belonging to the church. Churches that provide ways to intentionally include new people have significantly more success in retaining them”[xv]
Rick Warren claims that the first people to leave after the service are the visitors. For this reason, he provides an opportunity during the service for people to meet and say hello to someone who they don’t know.[xvi] This is valuable for two reasons…
1. Communication: It publicly reinforces the importance of talking to newcomers.
2. Opportunity: It provides newcomers with an opportunity to meet someone before the end of the service. Once the service is over, they are much more likely to stay and talk if they have already met somebody.
EVALUATE THE SERVICES
> Create feedback forms which ask those giving feedback to deliver it at a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative.
These feedback forms can be given to a few select people every service. They can contain some criteria by which people can assess things. And ensure that every part of the service is evaluated.
[i] Australian Community Survey (1998). Cited in Bellamy, J. et. al., “Why People Don’t Go to Church”, (Australia, Adelaide: Open Book Publishers, 2002), 14.
[ii] Why People Don’t Go to Church, 1998 Australian Community Survey
[iii] Australian Community Survey (1998). Cited in Bellamy, J. et. al., “Why People Don’t Go to Church”, (Australia, Adelaide: Open Book Publishers, 2002), 83.
[iv] Keller, Timothy J. (2012-09-04). Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (p. 304). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[v] Stanley, Andy (2012-09-25). Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 2970-2973). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Driscoll, Mark; Breshears, Gerry (2009-01-31). Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods (Re:Lit:Vintage Jesus) (p. 228). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
[vii] Stanley, Andy (2012-09-25). Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 2788-2789). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[viii] Keller, Timothy J. (2012-09-04). Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (pp. 304-305). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[ix] Stanley, Andy (2012-09-25). Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 2795-2813). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[x] Stanley, Andy (2012-09-25). Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 2855-2861, 2876-2879). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[xi] National Church Life Survey (1991). Cited in Bellamy, J. et. al., “Shaping a Future”, (Australia, Adelaide: Open Book Publishers, 1997), 23, 28.
[xii] Keller, Timothy J. (2012-09-04). Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (p. 305). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[xiii] Cited in http://www.goodsenseministry.com/goodsense/howtostart/FAQs.asp#12, 11th of May, 2003.
[xiv] Stanley, Andy (2012-09-25). Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Kindle Locations 2759-2760). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
[xv] Cited 1st Dec, 2013. http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=6507