Much of the contemporary church has fashioned itself to be “seeker sensitive.” But what if the seekers are no longer seeking?
Seeker-friendly churches have been shaped with good intentions. Making church ministry more accessible to the unchurched is an admirable objective.
The reigning assumption: Large masses of unchurched men and women are actively looking for—seeking—a religious opportunity, organization or event. Then, the thinking goes, we just need to create a worship service that incorporates characteristics of other professional spectator events these unchurched folks find elsewhere. And if we do a professional job on stage, the seekers will find what they’re seeking. At least that’s the hope.
Increasingly, however, the seekers don’t really fit this profile. It’s fair to say church visitors are seeking. But these visitors are typically upset refugees from other churches who are seeking a more perfect church. It’s musical chairs.
A new Pew Research Center study depicts the growing reality of the vanishing seeker. Most Americans do not regularly attend church. And the fastest growing sector is the “nones”—those who say they have no religious affiliation at all. This segment grew from 15 percent to 20 percent in just the last five years. Among those aged 18-29, the unaffiliated encompasses 32 percent of the population.
And get this: Among the “nones,” 88 percent say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. They are not seekers.
At Lifetree Cafe and Group Publishing, we spotted this trend some time ago. We decided to drop the term “seekers.” But we noted 90 percent of the population still acknowledges a belief in God. So, we now refer to the majority as “spiritually open.” They may not be seeking a religious experience, but they’re open to connecting with God.
What does all this mean for the present and future church? A few implications:
1. Look for ways to go to the people on their turf and their schedule, rather than expect the people to seek out a typical religious service that runs on a churchy schedule.
2. Learn what people are actually seeking, and find ways to meet those human needs. Then form authentic relationships and earn the right to share your faith.
3. Move from passive spectator services to settings that allow the “spiritually open” to participate, ask questions and share their thoughts.
When it comes to Sunday morning churchgoing, the majority is playing hide and seek. Without the seek.