The Seeker-Sensitive Model

The most popular American church-growth strategy is often referred to as the “seeker-sensitive” model. In this strategy, Sunday morning services are designed so that (1) Christians feel comfortable inviting unsaved friends, and (2) unsaved people hear the gospel in non-offensive terms to which they can relate and understand. Midweek services and small groups are reserved for discipling the believers.

By this means, some individual churches have grown quite large. Among American institutional churches, these may have the greatest potential to evangelize and disciple people, as long as everyone is incorporated into small groups (which they often are not) and discipled there, and as long as the gospel is not compromised (which it often is). At least seeker-sensitive churches have implemented some strategy to reach unsaved people, something that most institutional churches do not have.

But how does the American seeker-sensitive model compare with the biblical model for church growth?

In the book of Acts, God-called apostles and evangelists preached the gospel publicly and from house to house, accompanied by signs and wonders that attracted the attention of unbelievers. Those who repented and believed in the Lord Jesus devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and regularly met together in houses where they learned God’s Word, exercised spiritual gifts, celebrated the Lord’s Supper, prayed together, and so on, all under the leadership of elders/pastors/overseers. God-called teachers and prophets circulated among the churches. Everyone shared the gospel with friends and neighbors. There were no buildings to construct that would slow the church’s growth and rob God’s kingdom of the resources that would help spread the gospel and make disciples. Leaders were quickly trained on the job rather than sent off to seminaries or Bible schools. All of this resulted in exponential church growth for a limited season, until all the receptive people in a given area were reached.

By comparison, the seeker-sensitive model is normally void of signs and wonders, thus it lacks that divine means of advertisement, attraction and conviction. It depends heavily on natural means of marketing and advertising to attract people to a building where they can hear the message. The preacher’s oratory skills and his powers of persuasion are the primary means of conviction. How this differs from the methods of Paul, who wrote, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).