When I think of pandering, normally I imagine what political candidates do to win voters. They invent and reinvent themselves to conform to whatever group they're campaigning. I don't remember the word "demographic" back as I grew up, but now a population is categorized by many different characteristics, such as age, race, gender, wage, and employment status, usually for marketing purposes. I could hardly believe the relevance when reading the following, entitled Present Day Problems: Why Men Do Not Go to Church, Some Faults in the Church, written by W. C. King in 1903:
Earnest men are losing faith in the sincerity of the churches, and weary with the insipid sentimental forms and empty platitudes often emanating from the pulpit, and the futile attempts of church organizations to improve society by imitating its weaknesses: sugar coating theater-going, dancing, and card playing with a religious flavor. No longer the fosterer of the family and the guardian of social purity, churches pander to self-indulgence and anti-social practices which are destructive of domestic life and imperil the existence nations.
This isn't new! Pandering is most often the choice of the evangelical (versus a fundamentalist), who doesn't trust God or find His ways sufficient or satisfying. I'm not the only who has noticed. I like the way James Rasbeary puts it:
I suppose this “church shopping” mindset has come about with the commercialization of churches. It is no secret that churches compete with each other for members instead of trying to reach the unsaved; it is also no secret that many churches pander to people in exactly the same way that businesses do to their customers.
Thomas Clothier writes:
Sola Scriptura is fundamentally opposed to relativistic individualism. In a culture wherein the individual reigns supreme, and churches pander to “keep the customer satisfied,” the doctrine of Sola Scriptura states that all individual ideas and behaviors must be in submission to, and aligned with, Scripture. This opposes those in the church, and the culture, who justify their sinful behavior, and consequently their disobedience to Scripture, with a self-centered perspective wherein the individual’s desires are preeminent.
Dr. Dave at Truth Really Matters declares:
Seeker-sensitive market-driven churches are pandering to the worldly inclinations of the lost world, and not establishing their foundations on Biblical truth. Scripture has much to say to condemn this approach (1 John 2:15-17, James 4:4, 2 Peter 2:1-3).
In his book, Making Peace: A Guide to Overcoming Church Conflict, Jim Van Yperen concludes (p. 50):
Of course conflict will result when the church panders to a sinful culture. The church's tacit agreement with modernity before, and post-modernity today, had undercut the truth of the Gospel and bred a shallowness of faith that compromises the veracity of Scripture.
Alex Green writes:
The main focus of the activities of the church or services becomes ‘putting on a show’ for people, resulting in the attendees turning up to be entertained without anything being asked or expected from them. People don’t feel engaged or part of something, they come purely to take from and not give to the experience. The structure of the services and activities run by the church panders to the consumerist expectations, demands and lifestyle of the people that attend. Emphasis is on ‘looking right’ or ‘looking good’, on having the latest technology or most recent, most popular songs. The focus is not so much on Jesus as a living, active presence in our lives but on a sanitised, domesticated Christ that is cool or fashionable, grabs a coffee from the foyer on the way in and subtly confirms our underlying desire for everything to be about ‘me’, that life is about talent or appearance and not about character.
All of the above pretty much say it. But I want to add some more. You can't anymore go long before seeing a church pandering for attenders. Even if they aren't attempting to add to their numbers through pandering, they are sending the signal that certain qualities will be tolerated. The most conservative evangelical, John MacArthur, says that music is the gateway to Charismaticism, but rest assured that you won't need to reject that very music at Grace Community. Just know it is a gateway that you can continue keeping in your life.
Pandering goes by many different names: seeker sensitive, contextualization, indigenization, inculturation, missional, emergent, resurgent, third wave, even new Calvinism. Pandering conforms to the spirit of the age. It conforms to the world. Here's some of the reasoning that leads to pandering to the youth culture, as written by Dan Phillips:
a. Some people insist that no yoots will come if we don’t change our music/worship style from X to Z. Hence: church's sell-by date is coming due.
b. Others insist they will leave instantly if we don’t keep our music/worship style at X, and shun Z. Hence: church's sell-by date comes due even faster.
It meets people at their social level. They need associations, friends, singles need to meet singles, let's have restaurants for them, let's have recreation. That's the first wave that connects with them socially.
The pandering is called the "third wave," because it begins on a social tier, the first wave, which then connects psychologically, the second wave, and finally identifies with people at the level of sensuality -- rock music, coarse language, dancing, and crudeness. This is why evangelical churches are even pandering to same-gender couples today. Scripture on the other hand calls for watchful self‑discipline that refuses to pander to the appetites of the body at the soul’s expense.
Selfishness contaminates the Gospel. Personal ambitions, goals, dreams, and personal plans being fulfilled contradict the true essence of the Gospel. Sinners in their natural decadent state do not accept a message that does not pander to their sinful whims. Sowing to the flesh, like Galatians 6 talks about, panders to rather than crucifying the flesh.
Loving the world means having your primary hankering or longing or desire those things which gratify your flesh, to pander your physical, fleshly appetites, the things you feel. Churches use this method to grow with their choice of music, dress, activities, and style. When the Spirit of God transforms a heart, spiritual instincts draw that person away from those things that pander to the flesh.
The pandering extends in many varied directions and manners. A church might stop door-to-door evangelism. Any music tolerated. Hair length on men, not an issue. Casual clothing welcomed for worship. Unfaithfulness to services permitted. No entertainment prohibited. Social activities and occasions scheduled for almost every demographic on a regular basis. None to little standard of modesty upheld. Preaching toned down in its application. Often sermon length shortened or number of meetings reduced. Hymnbooks replaced by the screen. Pop style syncopated, sensual rock rhythm added to many of the songs. Singing styles tend towards performance. All of these strategic toward or techniques of church growth.
Any church that is different than the previous paragraph knows it is different. It knows it is being out-marketed. None of the above criteria are biblical, but they are major. Everyone knows it. They aren't treated as important in a discussion, but they are a priority in the making of a decision. Some know that they get less bible, less doctrine, and fulfill God's will less, but it is worth it for the creature comforts. Anyone who goes to church on a regular basis knows these things are so, but also won't likely admit that he had succumbed to pandering.