By LOU TISCIONE
Much of the Western Christian Church has embraced the idea that men and women are seeking after God. A movement that primarily began in the ‘80s called the “Church Growth Movement” had its origin in this assumption.
At least one large congregation on the West Coast of America was started by knocking on doors in the targeted neighborhood and asking, “What would it take for you to go to church?” After compiling the results, a “church” was formed to meet those expressed needs. Churches using this philosophy have grown by the thousands. Since those early days, many church leaders have improved upon the “seeker” philosophy. Books have been written that outline methods for growing a large church. In one way or another, the methods condense down to meeting “felt needs” of the people. By definition, “felt needs” are those things people feel that they need to find satisfaction in life.
Since there are as many “felt needs” as there are individuals, unique programs are needed. Church growth experts urge pastors to develop ministry programs to satisfy the needs of people segregated into groups based on common life situations. For example, they instruct leaders of churches to have a ministry to single mothers, to teens, to divorced people, to older singles, to older couples; the lists go on and on.
There is a common thread in churches developed to meet “felt needs.” They design entertaining worship experiences. Skits or pageants replace preaching. Prayers are limited to one said by the pastor. The only Scripture read during worship may be the verses or even verse from which the pastor speaks. The worship service is designed for unbelievers with the intention of evangelism. Praise bands entertain these congregations.
The motivation may be well-intended. Those who promote the “felt needs” philosophy of church growth sincerely believe that men and women can be convinced to give their lives to Jesus. They sincerely believe there are people seeking a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Saint Augustine once said that it was wrong to judge any movement by the abuses in it. In other words, while we may not like some of the aspects of the “felt needs” seeker philosophy of church growth, we shouldn’t summarily dismiss it based on our dislikes. The Bible calls believers to hold up what they see to the light of Scripture. In other words, “What does God say concerning church growth and seekers?”
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jude wrote that believers are to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The Christian faith is the faith received by the Apostles who wrote and proclaimed the truth. The response of those who were pierced by the word and spirit through Peter’s preaching, Acts 2, devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
But, Peter’s confession was the main point. He declared Jesus to be the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said Peter didn’t come up with that truth but God, the Father, revealed it to him. Peter’s confession is the truth upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built.
Jesus’ method for growing the church is very simple. He is the builder. The means by which He builds His Church is through the proclamation of the truth (Romans 10:14-17). Other methods may attract people. But the only one that grows the church is Jesus Christ by His word and spirit.
Concerning seekers, Jesus told a Samaritan woman that God, the Father, seeks worshipers (John 4:23ff). The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament and in Romans 3:11 wrote, “No one understands; no one seeks for God.”
Men and women do not seek the one true God. People seek after what they feel they need, but not what they really need. The bottom line is that all mankind is dependent upon God. We depend upon Him to bring us to Him. He is the one who seeks His own. Those who are His come to Him; submit to Him; live for Him and worship Him. Jesus promised to build His church His way and even the forces of hell will not prevail against it.
Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).