This is a great critique of where we are at currently in ‘church world’.

the gospel side

Unintended Consequences: How the “relevant” church and segregating youth is killing Christianity.

I recently spent six-months doing a rotation as a hospital chaplain. One day I received a page (Yes, hospitals actually still use pagers). Chaplains are generally called to the rooms of people who look ill: People gray with kidney disease, or yellow with liver failure, discouraged amputees, nervous cancer patients. In this room, however, was a strikingly attractive 23 year-old young lady sitting up cheerfully in the hospital bed, holding her infant daughter and chatting with family and friends.

Confused, I stepped outside and asked her nurse, “Why did I get paged to her room?”

“Oh, she looks fabulous. She also feels great and is asking to go home,” the nurse said.

“…And you are calling me because?” I asked in confusion.

The nurse looked me directly in the eye and said: “Because we will be…

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37 thoughts on “

  1. “This is a great critique of where we are at currently in ‘church world’.”

    The writer seems to be talking about the Anglican church world.

  2. It’s all about relationship. The young people mentioned in the article attending church simply because their parents do are no different to many other Christians who attend church every week – they do it out of duty, and many church services are run that way too. The bible says you must go to church, therefore they do it out of obedience. But how many people sit in church of a Sunday and watch the clock, gaze longingly out the window, or dream about what they will have for lunch? But when you have a real, dynamic relationship with Jesus, you want to be in church. When a young person develops a real, living relationship with Jesus, and the church is one where the Holy Spirit turns up, then you won’t be able to keep them away from the place, regardless of whether the church is “cool” or not.

  3. Cool or uncool doesn’t matter. Make disciples.

    And there are plenty of 20 and 30 somethings at Hillsong and C3.

  4. Hi Raymond,
    What I was writing was that there are very good youth programs that never develop mature Christians who become people who live their faith through the church. Youth leaders do have good relationships with students, and do challenge them spiritually. What they do not do in a ghettoized, segregated, “one-eared mickey mouse” youth ministry is create an affiliation bond with the larger church because they are not a part of it.

  5. There are a few Anglican churches that follow the “relevant”model, but I am mostly critiquing the larger evangelical world’s youth ministry and the relevant “seeker service” that grew from it.

  6. Youth groups are relevant, but only as a connecting point for teens, not as the main criteria for working with young people in the local church. Church should be holistic relationally in terms of different age groups interacting.

    It is important to the young to see the elders continue in faith and of significance to the elders to see youth come through, as their prayers, endeavours and ministry is confirmed by continuation of what they put into the church in their youth.

    The so-called seeker service model has, in fact, helped grow churches significantly, and, rather than be a weakness to the Church as a whole, it has shown that there is a place for meeting unsaved people where they are to draw them into a deeper relationship with Christ.

    Jesus Himself was certainly seeker sensitive, even drawing people who were not seekers into becoming seekers, such as the woman at the well, whom he first sought, helping her to see what she was actually missing in what she did seek, which was true worship, and pointing her to the truth about Who she should worship and why.

    Drawing youth into a youth pot where there is youth activity is wisdom, as long as there is a witness of Christ included in the model.

    As an unsaved, unchurched teen I went to an evangelical youth group with my unsaved friends, and enjoyed it for several months, becoming an integral part of the sporting and social activities, which were tremendous fun, and even mingling with the established Christian youth in the same group, but never once were we told about Christ, witnessed to or even aware that this youth group was Christian apart from the fact that it was held in a church hall.

    This, in later life, when I was saved, I found and still find astonishing.

    Had they posed at least the question and spoken of Christ I am certain would have responded in a positive way, but leaving Christ out, as far as I am concerned, was negligent on their part, and not just the leader’s part, but the Christian youth should have taken some responsibility for at least showing themselves to be different or have a lifestyle which would attract us to the God they served, even at the risk of us rejecting their offer.

    Contemporary churches, in my experience, certainly do not leave Christ out of the equation, nor do they omit giving an opportunity for young people to respond to an offer of new life.

    But, when they do respond, they need to be brought into the greater flock and allowed to develop amongst a group from many ages, experiences and skill sets.

  7. Thank you so much for coming by and commenting on this re-post of your original article. I hope you’ll stick around a bit and engage with us.

  8. “Jesus Himself was certainly seeker sensitive, even drawing people who were not seekers into becoming seekers, such as the woman at the well, whom he first sought, helping her to see what she was actually missing in what she did seek, which was true worship, and pointing her to the truth about Who she should worship and why.”

    I understand your point Steve. but the interaction between Jesus and the woman at the well is an amazing comparison to the seeker sensitive services. Churches like that usually do away with crosses or any other things that could be a barrier, and take a long time to hit theological issues.

    The unchurched Harriet at the well wasn’t invited to a thematic sermon series on relationships and slowly made to feel comfortable.
    WIthin five minutes Jesus went from “Give me water” to “You Samaritans don’t know what you’re worshipping.”, to “Messiah? You*re looking at him!”

    Not as sensitive as the modern day idea of sensitive.

    “It is important to the young to see the elders continue in faith and of significance to the elders to see youth come through, ”

    I like that.

  9. I think Paul was being seeker sensitive with the Greeks at Athens too, by referring to their Unknown God and telling them who He is!

    But maybe we’re talking about two different kinds of seeker.

  10. As far as being sensitive to seekers or sinners is concerned, I have no problem with that. It”s a basic concept of respect, manners and comes under the general idea of loving your neighbor.

    I think in my life I’ve been possibly TOO sensitive to the point of not saying things when I should, and not reaching out when I should.

    Yeah, I know, you wouldn’t believe that based on how I talk here, but I mean when people know me by a name longer than one letter or the alphabet. lol

  11. “Jesus Himself was certainly seeker sensitive […]”.


    Movements such as C3 and Hillsong are “seeker sensitive”, which is simply mega-church shorthand for a syncretistic mish-mash of pseudo-Christian gnosticism, new age and occult teachings, and self-help psycobabble that is driven by love of the world and fear of man.

    Jesus moved in wisdom by the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, which is an entirely different thing altogether.

    It’s quite easy to spot the genuine article: Jesus once observed “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me”, whereas pedestrian plonkers like Phil Pringle are apt to come out with pearlers like “Maybe I’m your Elijah”. Exponents of “seeker senstivity”, such as Phil Pringle and Brian Houston, don’t understand that the glory belongs to God alone.

    Furthermore, Jesus acted out of love; whereas “seeker sensitive” exponents are interested in bums on seats and the resultant cash flow; they don’t give a fig for the sheep. Their kingdoms are of this world; they are constructed of sand and will come crashing down at the judgement. Truly they labour in vain who sow nothing but wind.

    For someone who is reputed to have been a “pastor”, you really do consistently display astonishing levels of Biblical ignorance and spiritual dullness. Perhaps you should stick to commenting on matters that are within your ken (that’s assuming that there are any, of course).

  12. I have often wondered why you’re so filled with hatred, Zorro, especially for people who are, whether you like it or not, and assuming you are Christian, on your side.

    I would not actually consider C3 or Hillsong amongst the more seeker sensitive type of churches. That would be groups such as Willow Creek or Saddleback.

    C3, for sure, has a far more Pentecostal outlook that either of these, and does evangelistically press unbelievers to make a decision in a more defined way than a purely seeker sensitive setting, which would usually consist of a meeting room after a service where people could speak to one of the leaders in the church and from there join other classes, such as Saddleback’s Christianity 101 groups to find out more about what Christianity is.

    So your criticism is both unkind and unrealistic.

    What else do you say? Oh, yes, the numbers game. Well, as far as I am concerned the more people in attendance the greater the opportunity for them to be evangelised, discipled or brought into a more effective role within the local church, and bring a stronger dimension of outreach to those they know.

    I agree that Jesus was always in the Spirit during His ministry. That goes without saying. But I disagree with you that a person is not in the Spirit simply because he engages in a methodology that is not of your liking. God moves through and with people of all types, and is no preferrer of persons.

    Jesus certainly did approach people evangelistically and where they were. Zaccheus he reached despite the fact that he was not everyone’s favourite. He met Zaccheus at the point of his need, which was acceptance. He so profoundly changed Zaccheus simply because he went to his household, that Zaccheus promised to return any funds he had taken which caused hardship to people.

    I think you may be so prejudiced about churches that have grown large through effective outreach methods that you have misunderstood what they mean by being seeker sensitive.

    I also agree that my Biblical understanding might need some more input and I am inadequate at best in my understanding, which is what compels me to continue seeking God.

    Hopefully He will meet me at the point of my need also, since He promises to reward those who diligently seek Him.

  13. But, since, being a critic, you appear to know so much about seeker sensitive strategies, Zorro, please remind us of how churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek utilise this means of reaching people…

  14. …and kindly inform us how you and your local church ‘moves in wisdom by the power and authority of the Holy Spirit’ to reach people so that we can take note of how it should be done…

  15. Hi Steve,
    Interestingly, Willow Creek, inventor I the seeker model service has unraveled it. They have found that the back door was open so wide that they did away with it as unsustainable. Instead they are working in very interesting ways to experiment with liturgy and to do some of the most intentional small group assignment imaginable.

    So, many mega churches are seeing the phenomenon I write about. Interestingly, North Point’s response, rather than to return to church for the Christian rather than for the non-Christian, has been to holographically project Andy Stanley on stages.

    After more than 200 responses on my original post ( and hundreds more on other sites, the really amazing thing to me is our lack of imagination. Most simply cannot fathom a world in which church for the Christian and Christians share Christ in the world- yet that is the model o most Chrstians around the globe and of the church brought the centuries. No one would have fathomed that the sermon on Mars Hill/Great Awakening/revival formula would be considered the normative model for worship. The things we do today in the mega church come out of the homogenous unit principle articulated by Wagner. He warned not to use them inside the church, but rather in the world for evangelism.

  16. I’m disappointed to read that a out Andy Stanley; I’ve been listening to his podcasts Nd really enjoying them.

    Steve I agree with you that God is not disposed to any preference of person, leader or church style…that God’s people are effectively evangelizing and discipling is the only benchmark I can see.

    Zorro I am disappointed that you wrote disparaging comments about Steve’s knowledge. Please be mindful that we are holding a conversation here, not attacking one another.

  17. I remember as a young guy at seminary moaning about how people off the street would see our traditional Anglican worship as irrelevant and how we needed to jazz it up so people could come in and hear the gospel. And why didn’t we do altar calls like the other churches?

    It was then that one of the bishops said to me that Christian worship services are for Christians to gather and worship God as in the New Testament, The disciples didn’t go out and drag people to a church service. They went out and told people the gospel.

    He was right.

  18. Amen and Amen. We have gone from sharing the gospel to inviting others to hear someone else to share…leaving nothing as a platform from which to edify Christians or to worship of the Most High.

  19. I think the term “different strokes for different folks” applies here. Having one single church model cannot work, because it will alienate people or polarise people. Look at Zorro. He is completely polarised into thinking that his way of church is the ONLY way, and so he speaks out of that sad belief. The fact is, seeker sensitive churches attract certain people, as do Catholic Churches, Anglican, Pentecostal, Evangelical and Lutheran. As Paul said, as long as Jesus is being preached, that’s all that matters.

    Philippians 1:15-18 “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

  20. I just noticed that in the photos accompanying this article that the supposed “uncool” church (ie mainstream) is empty, and the supposed “cool” church is full. Says it all really

  21. Proverbs 31 (Amplified Bible)
    1 THE WORDS of Agur son of Jakeh of Massa: The man says to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal:2 Surely I am too brutish and stupid to be called a man, and I have not the understanding of a man [for all my secular learning is as nothing].3 I have not learned skillful and godly Wisdom, that I should have the knowledge or burden of the Holy One.4 Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?5 Every word of God is tried and purified; He is a shield to those who trust and take refuge in Him.6 Add not to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.7 Two things have I asked of You [O Lord]; deny them not to me before I die:8 Remove far from me falsehood and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me,9 Lest I be full and deny You and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and so profane the name of my God.10 Do not accuse and hurt a servant before his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty [of adding to the burdens of the lowly].11 There is a class of people who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers.12 There is a class of people who are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their own filth.13 There is a class of people–oh, how lofty are their eyes and their raised eyelids!14 There is a class of people whose teeth are as swords and whose fangs as knives, to devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among men.15 The leech has two daughters, crying, Give, give! There are three things that are never satisfied, yes, four that do not say, It is enough:16 Sheol (the place of the dead), the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water, and the fire that says not, It is enough.17 The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young vultures will devour it.18 There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand:19 The way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid.20 This is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, I have done no wickedness.21 Under three things the earth is disquieted, and under four it cannot bear up:22 Under a servant when he reigns, a [empty-headed] fool when he is filled with food,23 An unloved and repugnant woman when she is married, and a maidservant when she supplants her mistress.24 There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise:25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they lay up their food in the summer;26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet they make their houses in the rocks;27 The locusts have no king, yet they go forth all of them by bands;28 The lizard you can seize with your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.29 There are three things which are stately in step, yes, four which are stately in their stride:30 The lion, which is mightiest among beasts and turns not back before any;31 The war horse [well-knit in the loins], the male goat also, and the king [when his army is with him and] against whom there is no uprising.

  22. “Look at Zorro. He is completely polarised into thinking that his way of church is the ONLY way, and so he speaks out of that sad belief.”

    Actually Raymond, I didn’t mention “my way” at all, but spoke only of Jesus’ motivation and methodology. I’m not the slightest bit interested in the ways and thoughts of men, any more than God is interested in such things.

    Is it the case that you find fault with what Jesus said and did, or are you perhaps one who is “ever seeing but never perceiving”? Who is the one here who really is speaking out of “sad belief”?

  23. “I was referring to your general demeanour, not your specific post.”

    My specific post is entirely consistent with my general demeanour.

    If you agree with the substance of the former, perhaps you need to rethink your evaluation of the latter. As I said, I am not the slightest bit interested in the ways or thoughts of men. Are you?

  24. Unfortunately, Zorro, you tend to generalise, as I’ve said before, so there is rarely a point to discuss with you and rarely any point in doing so because it only invites an unpleasant response.

    But let’s give you another go. Can you answer the following questions, repeated from above:

    …since, being a critic, you appear to know so much about seeker sensitive strategies, Zorro, please remind us of how churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek utilise this means of reaching people…

    …and kindly inform us how you and your local church ‘moves in wisdom by the power and authority of the Holy Spirit’ to reach people so that we can take note of how it should be done…


  25. mattarino,

    I’m not a huge fan of the seeker sensitive model, because I think it leaves out more than it needs to on the basis of not offending people on the way in.

    But the gospel is offensive to those who resist it. It is both sweet to those who receive it and bitter to those who reject it, so I would rather tell it as it is – the good news – and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work on people in convincing them of sin, righteousness and judgment.

    Jesus never told us to water down the gospel. He just said preach it, but the gospel is good news announced to a lost world, not a message of turn or burn.

    Willow Creek actually held a survey and discovered that there were many sitting in meetings who had never made a commitment to Christ, which is probably what you are referring to. They then took steps to rectify this by giving people the opportunity to respond to Christ.

    At least they discovered the missing ingredient, and thousands were saved as a result, but it asks the question of how many slipped through their fingers.

    I think it is wiser to preach the gospel in every meeting, no matter what the topic or exposition may be, and follow it up with an opportunity for people to respond.

    It is interesting what you sa about the liturgy, beca=use I beleieve every church has a liturgical meeting of some kind, even the Pentecstals. It consists of the parts of the meeting which are regularly factored in, including, these days, segues and announcements, offering messages and altar calls.

    There is nothing new under the sun.

    And I agree with what Bones said, that we should be out in the highways and byways, both inviting them in, but winning them first if we can. The gospel, as T. L. and Daisy Osborn always said, is to be preached out on the streets, in the homes, in factories, stores and warehouses, the marketplace, the schools, the universities, the offices, wherever the people are.

  26. Hi Steve,
    I was actually referring to conversations that Columbia Seminary prof Rodger Nishioka had with Bill Hybels that are reported in a new book he has coming out on young adults in the church…and his experiences with the phenomenal way they had him connected with other people from Atlanta within minutes of arriving.

    Turning up biblical content in preaching and giving an opportunity to respond to the gospel sounds very consistent with that. I am also referring to retreats their worship leader is setting up with Episcopal priest, Ian Cron, and videos online wih him discussing the Eucharist from his book, “Jesus, my father, the CIA, and Me.”

    Folks get a bit adversarial here. It is interesting. 🙂


  27. mattarino,

    I think Bill Hybels has a lot of wisdom and is genuinely concerned to see people saved and taken through to salvation.

    Young people face so many opportunities to fall away these days, probably no more than in other eras, but it seems more intense and instant somehow.

    Gathering and shepherding is a huge responsibility, and we do have to lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance as much as ever.

    The Church needs a holistic approach to community by promoting the whole Body to be interlinked through their call, grace, gifts and love so that every joint is supplying nurture and connection.

    Isolation is not an option.

  28. “Segregation. We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church. It started with youth rooms, and then we moved to “youth services.” We ghettoized our children! (After all, we are cooler than the older people in “big church”. And parents? Who wants their parents in their youth group?) Be honest: Have you ever thought you know more than your your student’s parents? Have you ever thought your youth group was cooler than “big church”?”

    This passage fits,in terms of segregation,

    James 2
    Amplified Bible (AMP)
    2 My brethren, pay no servile regard to people [show no prejudice, no partiality]. Do not [attempt to] hold and practice the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ [the Lord] of glory [together with snobbery]!
    2 For if a person comes into your congregation whose hands are adorned with gold rings and who is wearing splendid apparel, and also a poor [man] in shabby clothes comes in,
    3 And you pay special attention to the one who wears the splendid clothes and say to him, Sit here in this preferable seat! while you tell the poor [man], Stand there! or, Sit there on the floor at my feet!
    4 Are you not discriminating among your own and becoming critics and judges with wrong motives?
    5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and in their position as believers and to inherit the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him?
    6 But you [in contrast] have insulted (humiliated, dishonored, and shown your contempt for) the poor. Is it not the rich who domineer over you? Is it not they who drag you into the law courts?
    7 Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?
    8 If indeed you [really] fulfill the royal Law in accordance with the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as [you love] yourself, you do well.
    9 But if you show servile regard (prejudice, favoritism) for people, you commit sin and are rebuked and convicted by the Law as violators and offenders.

    And your post just sounds PROPHETIC,

    2 Timothy 3
    New International Version (NIV)
    3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

    6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

    Thanks Matt.
    (Ps, what about the XFACTORISATION,XFACTORISM.I think the big one was the IDOL anomaly.Now there is THE VOICE,XFACTOR and not to mention YOU TUBE fame.Seems to drive a lot of people nuts.)

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