Seeker Sensitive Churches

Religions, Cults & Worldviews: Valuable Answers for Valid Questions.

WCA- seeker sensitive

Robert Schuler – Crystal Cathedral (Norman Vincent Peale connection)

Rick Warren – Saddleback – Purpose Driven (Norman Vincent Peale connection)

Joel Osteen

Steven Furtick

(Bill Hybels 1975) Researching the history of Willow Creek turned into the most difficult pursuit of information yet. Part of the problem is, the history of the Willow Creek Movement has been largely doctored on church historical sites and/or removed entirely from the Willow Creek website. In fact, of all the active denominations that I have researched for this site, Willow Creek is the only movement/denomination with absolutely no self-reported historical information. That is alarming to say the least.

This “movement” does not consider itself a denomination, however, its late-20th century philosophy and theology termed “seeker sensitive” has permeated many evangelical, pentecostal, and mainline Christian denominations today. It was founded in 1975 by a man named Bill Hybels who was a youth pastor at South Park Church, a non-denominational evangelical church in Park Ridge, IL. According to the South Park Church website, it began in the 1940s as a non-denominational church. However, historical archives of the Chicago Tribune report that there was a Congregational South Park Church in existence as early as 1890. It is safe to say that Bill Hybel’s church began in the early 20th century as a non-denominational offshoot from a Congregationalist and Friends background and still maintains an evangelical liturgy to this day.

In 1975, Hybels and a friend joined together to form a church that would reach out to the “irreligious” by making their church as “irreligious” as they could. Crosses were removed, talk of the atoning blood of Christ, the fallen sinful nature of man and his subsequent need for repentance were also removed and were replaced with pop culture reference and entertainment and state-of-the-art media presentation. They also shortened sermons to 20-30 minutes and praise and worship was reduced to performing bands for 10-15 minutes, all to accommodate that “irreligious” soul with an attention span problem. Biblical terms like “altar” and “sanctuary” are replaced with entertainment cultural terms like “stage” and “auditorium”. The liturgy resembles more of a entertainment variety show than a Christian gathering of corporate worship. The common The term used for this approach in reaching the irreligious or “seeker” is called a seeker sensitive approach. However, this approach has taken on certain negative connotations in recent years and the term for this approach has been changed internally to “culturally relevant church”

This irreligious approach worked in drawing in the numbers and church attendance grew. Today, according to an article on sermoncentral.com listing the top 100 largest churches, the largest church in America is a Pentecostal seeker sensitive church called Lakewood Church at 43,500 visitors per week. Lakewood is followed at a distant second by a Baptist seeker sensitive church called Second Baptist Church with 23,500+ attendees and third by a church called Northpoint Community Church, founded by Andy Stanley, the son of Charles Stanley, a prominent mainstream Southern Baptist Pastor. Willow Creek, founded by Bill Hybels comes in at number four with a weekly attendance of 22,500 but in 2008, according to an article on Willow Creek Shifting Focus, Christianity Today reports that Willow Creek has, through the same straw polls that founded its irreligious approach, recognized the deficiency of the seeker sensitive doctrine in bringing about real fulfilling discipleship and “closeness to Christ” and has begun to move away from the irreligious appeal to offering Bible and theology courses during its mid-week services.
Cultural Relevance = Spiritual Irrelevance