The seeker friendly purpose driven church growth movement
By Don Koenig - 2004
The largest Christian movement of the 21st century is clearly the seeker friendly purpose driven explosion of churches. They are modeled on church growth teaching seminars offered for church leaders at Willow Creek Community Church at Chicago and Saddleback Church at Lake Forest California. They claim over 400,000 pastors and leaders have attended these church growth seminars. It is estimated that about 40,000 church pastors and their congregations have already bought into the seeker friendly purpose driven church growth movement model.
The latter-day Christian gurus
If you have been in a Christian bookstore lately, you might have noticed that half the books on the shelves were written by the same few authors. This is because the bookstores generally only stock what sells. Probably more than half of the sales in Christian bookstores today come from a dozen or so authors. One example is the book written by Rick Warren who is pastor of Saddleback Church. His book, The Purpose Driven Life , has sold 30 million copies alone. If you look at most of the books that are selling in Christian book stores you will see one trend that says wonders. In one way or another most of the books are Christianized self-improvement or motivation books for living a more abundant life while in the flesh. The self-improvement gurus that write the books have crafted them to attract materialistic people who want more success in life.
The seeker-friendly church growth movement world view
Most of those attracted by these authors and the seeker friendly purpose driven churches share a worldview where evil on earth is conquered through the good will of men. The dominionist leaders pushing this agenda believe that the Church will bring about a Christian paradise on earth before Jesus returns.
Those in leadership who buy into this purpose driven seeker friendly church growth movement believe Christians need to make their churches so appealing that the whole world will want to be part of it. After all, their version of "Christianity" promises a purpose driven life for everyone.
Most of the leaders of this movement generally have or their methodology suggests a Preterist or Postmillennial theology. They teach or imply that the Church will make the world a paradise and only after that happens will Jesus return. Many leaders in this movement teach that all the negative prophetic judgment passages in Bible were fulfilled around 70 AD.
This is a paradox because many of the purpose driven churches are premillennial or were premillennial before they adopted this church growth movement model. Premillennialism teaches Jesus will come after judgment on the earth. It teaches that the tribulation judgments are still in the future and only after Jesus physically returns to deal with evil will the world become a paradise.
Let me clarify this: Many of the churches in the purpose driven church growth movement were premillennial before they bought into the purpose driven agenda. Many of the people in these congregations still think they are in a premillennial church because no one has told them differently. The way the local pastors in the movement deal with this paradox is they now downplay any teaching on Bible prophecy; they call teaching on any future Bible prophecy a distraction or a diversion. Of course, they were taught this concept by Rick Warren's books or by the church growth seminars offered at Saddleback and Willow Creek.
People who attend these purpose driven churches need to understand that many of the leaders of this church growth movement believe the Church will become perfected before Jesus comes and this will be demonstrated through her converting the world to Christianity. The Church will be ruling on earth and all will be under biblical law. They believe the Church will bring the world back to the paradise like state it was in before the fall of man and only after this will Jesus come back physically. Therefore, in their theology, there is no pre-tribulation rapture, there is no great tribulation for the world, and there is no literal thousand-year reign of Jesus on the earth. There is no need for Jesus to physically return to restore the earth because the Church can do it all without His physical presence. Many of these leaders say Jesus will just be here in Spirit through His Church until all on earth is accomplished.
Conversely, If one believes the prophetic scriptures are to be fulfilled literally none of these concepts can be supported. Rick Warren and other leaders in the movement give the perception that with the right marketing strategy, anyone and everyone can be won to Christ and that is their major error. The Bible teaches that only those who the Holy Spirit draws can come to Christ and the gate to salvation is narrow and few will find it.
How seeker friendly purpose driven churches achieve growth
This seeker friendly purpose driven Church growth movement is founded on world corporation marketing strategies and pop psychology concepts that are known to be successful to reach large numbers of people. Most of the theology of Christianity that is less appealing to the world is shrouded so it will not be an offense to anyone. The theology of personal fulfillment that the movement presents on the surface appeals to broad groups of people. It attracts many in Pentecostalism that believe kingdom-now/dominion/reconstruction theology. The movement appeals to liberal Christians who believe that humanistic efforts will bring a paradise on earth. It appeals to Catholics because they have been taught a similar worldview by their church. It appeals to the holiness movements because the end conclusion of these movements is that the body of flesh can be brought into total submission before death. It even appeals to Messianic Jewish groups who wish to believe there is no future time of trouble coming to natural Israel. In addition, the movement appeals to secular humanists who believe we are all God's children and there are no evil people but only misguided ones. It also appeals to those who have bought into the major pop psychology self-improvement concepts of our day. Therefore, it should be obvious why this movement attracts so many people.
The movement in reality has become a clearinghouse for all who believe in the basic goodness of man, for those who think all paths lead to God, for those who hold a theology that does not take the prophetic scriptures in any real literal sense, for those who do not know the scriptures, for those who pick and choose words of scripture out of context to make them say what they want them to say, (thus, the popularity of paraphrased versions of the Bible) and for those who think sins of the flesh are really just sickness and addictions.
In many ways, seeker friendly churches are a social replacement for those who attend or once attended Catholic and liberal mainline denominational churches. Like the liberal mainline churches, the seeker oriented teaching lacks any depth on Sunday so people out of mainline churches feel very comfortable attending their services They are especially attracted by the strong sense of community within these churches that are often missing in the mainline denominations. The seeker movement is therefore popular with those who want the social benefits that this type of church has to offer. However, many that attend these churches have never personally read through the Bible even once and do not have any personal relationship with the Savior that the Bible speaks of.
These churches teach nothing that they think is negative, because they want the church to be a place where the unsaved seeker is comfortable and not threatened by any guise of religion. They generally do not tell seekers what denomination they are, and they come up with a name for the church that is appealing to the community that they are located in. The services are also shaped to appeal to the type of community that they are located in.
The services generally have contemporary music and skits led by professional quality singers and performers. This is followed by a short positive message from the pastor. There are no altar calls, or any type of soul searching or prayer that anyone might consider a threat to their present belief system. They generally do not teach on hell or sin or even why man needs a Savior at all, during their main Sunday service.
They claim that once a person becomes interested in their church they will come to smaller groups to find out essential truths of Christianity. This non-threatening environment makes it very easy for anyone to attend their services because it can be simply a spectator event where no commitment is required until one joins the church. As a result, large numbers feel free to attend on Sunday without making any commitment to Jesus or to the church. They claim that the numbers themselves will eventually bring some to Jesus and that is what the seeker sensitive church growth movement is all about. Numbers bring growth and some converts and if there is growth and converts, they say God has to be in it.
The seeker friendly church growth movement can be compared to Wal-Mart
When 40,000 churches are involved you cannot paint all the seeker oriented churches with one brush. However, we can make some generalizations for the movement as a whole. Obviously, some people are being led to Christ through the techniques they use but unless the Holy Spirit drew them first, they would not have come in regardless of the techniques used to get them into attendance. Further, if the Holy Spirit were drawing them to Jesus they would find Jesus in any biblical church or even outside of a formal church. The real question is not whether people are being saved, people will be saved until Jesus comes with or without this movement. The real questions to be answered are: Has the seeker movement caused more people to be saved than would have been saved without the movement and is the movement building up the saved that are already in the Body of Christ?
A study of demographics does not indicate that the percentage of Christians in the world is increasing. In fact, true Christianity is losing ground to pagan beliefs and Islam. So where are most of the people in the seeker friendly churches coming from? For the most part, the people they attract come from other churches or those that stopped attending any church for some reason. Some have never previously attended church but they are only a small minority of those who attend.
The seeker oriented church growth movement has many parallels to that of major world corporations. Wal-Mart is very popular in the world but the cheap products they offer meant the death of mom and pop businesses wherever they located. The seeker churches likewise have moved into high population growth areas and have become mega churches that have prevented smaller traditional churches from growing or from forming at all. The products offered in these churches on Sunday is a cheap version of the true gospel that our forefathers preached at the cost of their lives.
For Wal-Mart, the end result of cheap goods was the biggest corporation in the world and for the seeker-churches, the end result is the largest super-churches that follow the teachings of the board of director who lead the movement. In Wal-Mart, you can only find inoffensive products that the corporation buyers approve of and in the seeker sensitive purpose driven churches, you can only find a politically correct inoffensive message approved by the directors of the movement. Many of these churches do have a back room where you can find the real goods but they certainly do not display these goods on their shelves. You have to have a compulsion to come back after normal business hours to get the real goods.
One of the biggest dangers in this purpose driven church growth movement
Putting Christian theology in the hands of a few gurus can be dangerous. If their theology is wrong, thousands of churches and millions of Christians will have bought into bad teaching. With the smaller traditional Evangelical Protestant churches, you may have had some bad teachers but any error did not reach tens of millions of people. If these gurus are wrong, they can incorporate apostasy into the Evangelical church on a scale never seen before. There are some indications that this is already taking place. Their influence is so powerful that their books have now basically taken over the shelves of Christian bookstores and they now seriously influence the theology and the educational techniques of major evangelical denominations.
Some errors taught in the purpose driven church growth movement
Postmillennial and Amillennial Theology are error. There simply is no way that the Church will Christianize the world before the King comes back to rule it with a rod of iron. The Bible does not teach this Dominion Theology. Christianity is losing ground in the world and true Christianity is even losing ground with those who identify with Christianity due to many forms of apostasy in the church. Scripture does not teach that the world will be Christianized before Jesus returns. It teaches that the world is heading for destruction and that Jesus comes back physically or no flesh on earth would survive (Mat 24:22).
They are replacing the literal rule of Jesus with the Church and the literal role of Israel with the Church. This is Replacement Theology twice over and it sets the foundation for those who identify with Christianity to ride the Beast of Revelation (Rev 17:17). They rob the prophets of their prophecies with their Replacement Theology and they do not teach what God inspired the prophets to tell the world. The few seeker friendly churches that still do teach these scriptures interpret what the prophets wrote in such a way that this interpretation cannot be found in any plain reading of the words of the prophets.
Many of those who lead this movement have no clue that we are in the end-times because they took the prophecies that speak of it and say it all happened in 70 AD. Yet, almost all scholarship says the book of Revelation was written after 70 AD and the judgments within that book were never literally fulfilled. One sixth of the Bible is still unfulfilled prophecy and could not have been fulfilled in past times by any literal reading of the text. They rob God of all the future events He foretold by His prophets and replace them with a strange doctrine of western market driven Churchianity on earth. The Bible teaches that Jesus removes the true Church at the rapture, deals with evil people on earth in judgment, and only then comes back with His Church to rule and reign.
The Bible many of them use and quote is not really the Bible; it is a paraphrase of the Bible that in many cases corrupts the text according to the theology of the author. In The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, he uses whatever translation he can find to make the Bible say what he wants it to say. The paraphrased version he quotes from the most often, The Message, in the opinion of most biblical experts is one of the worst paraphrases of the Bible on the market. These Bible experts claim that The Message often twists the meaning to the opposite of what the most reliable translations of the Bible actually say and The Message often contains a very humanistic view. Dr. Rick Warren is a very highly educated man. He is quite aware that a paraphrase of scripture is not scripture, yet he claims to be quoting the Bible to support what he writes in his book but in truth he almost always quotes paraphrases. He knows the difference between paraphrases of scripture and real scripture. Apparently, he thinks the end justifies the means. Most of the seekers, and sadly even those who claim to be Christian, do not really know the Bible and just accept the paraphrases that Warren uses as gospel truth.
They teach messages directed at the seeker in their main Sunday service. Yet, in these messages they give the seeker no clue that mankind is sinful and can only be changed by a spiritual rebirth in Christ. In addition, Christians in their congregation who only find time to attend the seeker services are not fed what they need to grow. They become anorexic and no longer have any desire to eat God's true word. These churches often become sanctuaries for unbelievers and biblically illiterate baby Christians. This movement provides for the needs of the flesh on many of their campuses. You often can find a nice lounge where you can get a Danish and a cappuccino but real spiritual nourishment hardly can be found. These churches are physically very rich and appealing but spiritually if one calls himself a Christian, attends a seeker-friendly service, and has no other function in the Body of Christ, he most likely can only be identified with Laodicea (Rev 3:16 ). This lukewarm church example found in Revelation is spewed out of the mouth of Jesus.
They seem to believe that Christianity must conform to the world for the message about Jesus to be heard. This doctrine is not taught in the Bible; on the contrary, the Bible teaches that Christians should not conform to the world. The Church was directed to tell the world the good news that Jesus took our sin and died in our place but that death could not hold the Creator of the universe. He rose to a new creation that we all can be part of if we place our trust in Him. The Church grafted into the commonwealth of Israel was not directed to change the fallen creation to conform to the teachings of the Bible. Those who think that the Church can dictate Biblical standards to a largely unsaved world led by Satan will help bring on themselves the predicted backlash and end-time persecution of the followers of Jesus that is predicted in the Bible.
Rick Warren, seems to preach a form of fatalism. Warren seems to teach that we are exactly like God wants us to be in the flesh and there is little we can do about it other than find out our purpose in life. I wonder how finding your purpose actually changes God's purpose for anyone? Actually, a fatalist would say it does not; it just makes the person a more contented purpose driven person.
In fatalism, everything including evil was in God's design from the beginning. Even the fall of man and the Devil was by God's design. Therefore, that makes God ultimately responsible for evil. If you are now deformed through sin that corrupted the genes of your parents and you are born with two heads this was always the purpose of God for you from the beginning. The converse of fatalism would say, it was not the will of God for you to be born with two heads; this is the result of what sin in the world did to human genes but God even redeems people with two heads that believe in His son for salvation.
In fatalism, the fall of Satan and Adam was in God's design from the beginning. The converse of fatalism says, "God knows all things". He did not plan for Satan to fall or for Adam to sin but because He knows the future and all choices everyone will make, God made a plan to enter His creation and to provide the way to salvation for all those He knew would choose to follow His Son.
According to Rick Warren, if you read his book, that was because it was part of God's design for you to read his book. If you take this to the logical conclusion, then what is said in the book is also God's word for you. However, if there are errors in the teaching, was it also God's design for you to believe them?
Leaders in the purpose driven movement teach other pastors to tell long standing church members to find another church if they do not like the seeker friendly oriented format. Some of the core members of the church have been told to leave and congregations have been split. The core of these purpose driven churches is eventually replaced with a core that only marches in lock step to the teachings of the pastor and the purpose driven gurus that they follow. When you stack the leadership in your church with people who only think like you and the gurus that you follow, you are very close to becoming a cult leader!
The members must tow the line and conform to the peer pressure or they are out of your church. Some have put in decades of service to their local church and now they are being told they are divorced from their church and no longer wanted.
Government and major corporations have now embraced a new concept called team management. Teams make all the decisions. If you disagree with the majority on the team and do not endorse its decision, you will soon find yourself looking for a new job. In the same vein, if a Christian disagrees with the leadership decisions in a purpose driven seeker friendly church he is told to find a new church. No change from within is possible when the deck is stacked with team players who listen only to the market driven gurus.
Even if this were not the case, majority decisions are often proven wrong. This whole team concept idea comes from Marxist socialism. Individualism is frowned upon and all decisions are made by indoctrinated teams that are given the mandate to know what is best for everyone in the community.
Thus, the answer to my questions earlier, "Has the seeker sensitive purpose driven church growth movement caused more people to be saved than would have been saved without the movement" and "is the movement building up the saved that are already in the Body of Christ?" can be answered. The seeker-friendly church and the services they offer certainly puts some people on a path to Christ but only the Holy Spirit leads people through the narrow gate to Christ. Thus, the seeker movement can't take credit for salvation. God can call people to salvation by having the rocks cry out. They put some people on a path where some go through the door to find Christ but at what cost to the entire Body of Christ? In my opinion, they are building on the house of God with mostly straw blown out of the world marketplace and the techniques of the movement will bring more harm then good to the overall body of Christ.
There is no doubt that the purpose driven movement has brought many social benefits to the community but at what cost to the true message of the cross and other churches that still try to teach the message of salvation on Sunday and the whole counsel of God? I simply cannot see the apostle Paul standing before millions of unsaved people on Sunday and not presenting them the message of salvation. Nor can I see Paul standing before many more millions of the saved during the week and teaching them psychology concepts that originated from doctrines of demons.
We will also find out in time that churches that model themselves after Saddleback and Willow Creek will not be able to provide all the weekly ministries that these two churches provide. What is working there in these two mega-churches to achieve growth is not a model that should or could be duplicated in smaller communities. Most will not have the qualified teachers nor will they have the population base to draw upon. For the most part, the smaller churches that use the seeker friendly model will only help bring about biblical illiteracy.
For all these reasons I have written about, I cannot endorse that a Christian join with most seeker sensitive purpose driven churches.
This seeker friendly purpose driven movement will further split the Evangelical churches
It should be obvious that many fundamental Bible churches will find this whole church growth movement with its seeker type services to be repugnant. If we do not have enough problems now, once again a movement is going to cause a schism within the evangelicals. In order to get unbelievers to attend, many are building on a foundation that was not laid by the prophets and apostles. Some have moved away from true biblical teaching. This movement will be rejected by many as a compromise with the world system and even heretical. Adapting pop psychology concepts and self-esteem workshops into the church will conflict with what God said in the Bible. Those who are biblically literate will of course rebel against such teaching. It has already begun. This schism would not be necessary if Christians were reading God's word instead of the word of presumptuous guru's. They also should not be measuring the value of the church by the numbers of the attendees.
Should we throw out the baby with the bath water?
I am not sure there is a baby in this bath water. If there is, it may turn out to be Rosemary's baby called the "emergent church". Yet, it is clear that the seeker oriented movement does get people interested in Christianity that would never step foot in a traditional church. This says volumes about the shortcomings of our traditional churches. The traditional churches do need to change. That is really why this movement has legs. Wooden churches that have become stuck on their old church traditions are only going to appeal to the traditional. Churches that modern generation will not attend are not going to reach anyone with the Gospel. Not that God ever intended for our church buildings to be the place to reach the lost world anyway.
The major problems in this purpose driven church growth movement is the worldview of the leaders, the adoption of satanic pop psychology concepts, and the teaching that lacks any meaningful message in their main service. All the style changes can be negotiated by the membership but please do not take the cross off of my church! The Bible truths should not be compromised. The full Bible should be taught in proper context. Not many are actually won to Christ by promises of a more abundant life here. It is a false promise anyway if your only talking about their physical prosperity. Some actually need to be saved through fear of the consequences of living in sin and the Hell they will inherit if they do not repent. Some need answers for the problems they correctly see are coming upon the world. Bible prophecy gives those answers.
Even Christians need to hear that God disciplines His children that will not obey. The gospel is not a positive feel good message to the body of flesh we live in. It promises persecution by the world for those who commit their lives to Christ, not a cappuccino and a Danish and a utopia on earth in this life. The true message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to save us from our sins should not be compromised because it is the foundation of our belief and if it offends some, so be it!
The message of salvation has always offended those who are willfully heading to destruction. However, the apostles and early fathers did not preach a watered down gospel to appeal to the masses. They preached a message that appealed to those who had spiritual ears to hear.
If I were in a church that has bought into this philosophy, especially if I were in the leadership, I would want to know what the pastor believes about the return of Jesus. I can assure you it is only one step from not teaching about Bible prophecy to teaching against those who teach about the imminent and soon return of Jesus with a pretribulation rapture. When you take away this theology from our generation, the main hope of the Church is in its own humanistic achievements. This is usually measured by human values like the numbers of members, services offered for the members, and the material possessions of the church.
It may not be to late to do something about it
There is a very good chance you already find yourself in a church that has bought into the seeker sensitive purpose driven church growth movement. I am not telling you to leave your church. You always can take that option but that should be your last resort. Here are some things you can do:
I will give you a more worthy church model for Christian growth and church growth then the seeker sensitive purpose driven church growth movement.
For more information:
The Seeker Friendly Way, by Bereancall.org
The Seeker Friendly Church Model, by Letusreason.org
Seeker-Friendly Churches, by GTY.org
Willow Creek's Huge Shift, by Christianity Today
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