The Seeker Service at Fair Haven
Fair Haven Reformed Church is located in Jenison, a southwest suburb of Grand Rapids. Although formerly a very conservative town—a place where nearly everyone was Dutch and nearly everyone went to church on Sunday—our community has changed considerably in recent years. Georgetown Township, where Jenison is located, now boasts a population of thirty-nine thousand, a sizeable proportion of whom are non-Dutch and nearly half of whom have no church ties.
A Local Mission
Fair Haven Church began as a small congregation thirty years ago, comprised almost exclusively of people who transferred from downtown churches. Growth was rapid. Within five years 250 families had joined our congregation. The quality of our worship services and our attempts to be on the "cutting edge" in ministry attracted large numbers of people—and still do. We now claim 602 families, and 1716 baptized people in our membership.
Why would a church such as ours—the largest church in our area and a congregation with an excellent "track record" for growth—consider beginning a seeker service? Because although we have done very well in attracting church people to our church, we have not succeeded in attracting those who do not attend church regularly. Above the clock in our sanctuary are printed the words, "We are now entering a mission field," but we have not been successful in reaching people in our local mission field.
For many months the church staff struggled with the issue of evangelism with considerable frustration. What could we do to improve? Our struggle led me to talk to some personal friends who serve on the staff of the Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. Due to their encouragement, all of us on the church staff and our spouses attended a leadership seminar in May of 1990. We learned about the philosophy of the Willow Creek Church and their successful attempts to reach people in their community through a seeker service, a carefully planned weekly service to which members invite their neighbors and friends. In a nonthreatening atmosphere the "seekers" share a delightful, thought-provoking hour in which they are introduced to the person of Jesus Christ.
Developing a Model
Developing a seeker service appeared to be a live option for us to consider in our attempts to reach the unreached in our area. So our staff spent considerable time discussing the possibility. Wouldn't this be a rather radical idea for a Reformed Church in Jenison? we wondered. Would it work? As we studied the issue carefully and prayerfully, we felt God was leading us to propose a seeker service to the leaders of our congregation. They adopted the proposal unanimously!
We decided to hold our first seeker service on the second Sunday of September 1990. Before that date, we shared the plan frequently with the congregation. We encouraged them to pray about inviting people to this service and asked for their help in publicizing it to the community.
As we planned a format for our seeker service, we thought carefully about what Bill Hybels, pastor of the Willow Creek Church, had told us. Hybels believes seekers want to be anonymous and do not want to be expected to sing or give money. We took his counsel seriously.
A Typical Service
During the forty-five minute service most of the music is contemporary. We use a synthesizer. And though there have been exceptions, soloists generally provide the music; rarely do we ask the congregation to sing.
We normally include drama in every service, as preparation for the message. The message itself, normally about fifteen minutes long, is topical and biblically related. The speaker attempts to stimulate people to think seriously about a relevant issue in their lives and points them to Jesus Christ.
We do not pass the Friendship Register in our seeker service. Neither do we receive an offering, though an offering plate is placed on a stand in the narthex for the sake of members who attend.
We have seen a steady increase in attendance at our seeker service. We are now averaging 175, approximately two-thirds of which are Fair Haven members, one-third seekers. We think it is a good ratio.
Some of our members have visited the seeker service and do not like it: they miss the sermon and the congregational singing. But others prefer the seeker service—especially because it's a good place to bring a non-Christian friend. Many really appreciate the drama.
We are amazed and heartened that our church members support the concept of a seeker service. We have not heard any criticism of the idea. Thus, though we began the seeker service as an experiment, we are committed to continuing what we believe is a valid and successful means to bring people to the Lord.