A new approach to evangelism, SEEKER SERVICES, using contemporary music, drama and a user-friendly, jargon-free message has mushroomed to become a major Church movement. Pippa Rimmer investigates.

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According to Andy, there are ways other than singing, such as prayers and quiet communion. Andy says that a few have made a commitment while taking communion. It's a very private affair for non-Christians who may feel more than a little self-conscious in a meeting or going forward in an altar call.

"We make it very easy for people to either participate or feel free to simply listen," says Andy. "It's often easier to leave people seated for some of the worship songs which is less threatening. This is an issue we're continually looking at. The key thing is whether you're introducing it to help non-Christians to find God or whether you want to keep the Christians happy."

And what about church members? Are they happy at the way things have progressed or has there been any opposition to the new face of evangelism? Chris Stoddard steps' in with his opinion. "We're a church that has experienced a lot of changes in the past. In the last 10 years or so we certainly haven't been a traditional church because of our contemporary worship style. In some ways we had a bit of a head start on some places who have a lot of history behind them. It hasn't been easy for some folk. Some people struggle with the performance element.
Although we incorporate a degree of worship it's not the extent of worship there used to be on a Sunday night. The use of the different arts takes getting used to."

Riverside and Altringham experienced similar teething trouble, although for Riverside, the phoenix of creativity has risen out of the ashes of a changing church structure. "I'm not as aware of the people who struggled with it as other leaders in the church are," says Andy with honesty. "My understanding is that people did struggle with it and decided that it wasn't for them and went off elsewhere. But for a lot of people, it's given the church generally a greater sense of purpose and it's also given a sharper focus to people as to why we're here. It's also brought to the surface a lot of creative talent within the church."

Riverside School Of Performing Arts has sprung out of this verdant field of creativity, and is a mixture of professional training in the performing arts and discipleship. Andy adds, "This is affecting not only the Seeker Services but similar ministry into prisons, schools and even the Midlands Arts Centre."

Riverside also puts out a tape called 'Just Looking', a simple audio tape with a testimony, a short talk and a song from the band, which is given to people who are keen to window shop without going in to buy. On average 30 go each month and the brave ones are fed into a Sunday morning service while the others are directed towards the Alpha course, which is run alongside the Seeker Services. This is real hands-on, all-out evangelism at work!

All three churches use Alpha courses as an integral part of their evangelism. Altringham run Workout, a 'Seeker Service version' of the ever-popular Alpha, but it differs in that it has drama and song, like a mini Seeker Service. On one of the latest courses they ran, 15 people came to faith in God. Aylesbury and Riverside have had their fair share of successes too. Andy is quick to excitedly inform me, "We've seen quite a few people become Christians. One of the key things about this whole strategy is this: rather than as in the past, where someone had just one service to make a commitment. Alpha and Seeker Services have introduced the principle that evangelism is a journey that people take time to consider and to work through. We want to respect that in people and to give them the freedom to come back week after week."

Given all the evidence. I wonder whether we will see a huge churchwide boom in Seeker Services. Are they the way forward? "I think the way forward in this is on principles more than methodology," says Roger thoughtfully. "Methodology will change but principles are absolutely vital. We've spent time looking at values for the future -whatever you do must be based on the similar values of what you believe in as a group, such as creativity and art."

Taking this holistic approach to evangelism in a post-modern, pre-millennium society seems to work, to touch and change lives. How is it that a message and a whole new way for living, brought by one man 2,000 years ago, translates into our get-rich-quick, technologically-driven cosmos? Roger has a theory: "Jesus is an incredible role model for Seeker Services. It's exactly what he'd do. He'd sit them down and use images, stories and creativity. A lot of the time people would ask him direct questions and he'd say something completely different. Actually, he was trying to move people on in their thinking. Seeker Services are based on the principle of people making a journey towards God."

However long that journey takes, it seems that more churches are prepared to go all the way in the belief that reaching the unchurched is a long-term process, not a one-off series of events. And if every single church adopted these Seeker Services, would their evangelism reach infinitely more people than ever before? Where do we go from here? Andy Mackie has the last word. "It's exciting, challenging and hard work but we're encouraged by it. We're enthusiastic about it and there's a lot of development which will continue. I think a lot of it has just thrown up the sort of questions we need to be asking and we're only really beginning to work through some of the answers to those questions." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.