Outward vs. Inward Focused Churches

Over the last several years, I’ve worked with church leaders from close to 200 different churches in consulting and coaching relationships. These churches are all different shapes and sizes. There are denominational and non-denominational churches. Traditional and contemporary churches. Small churches and megachurches. Church plants and churches who have existed for over a hundred years.

After working with all those churches, though, this is probably the key distinguishing factor when it comes to the health of the church: It’s whether the church is outward-focused or inward-focused. That issue is always what creates the most tension when it comes to the potential for change.

At the heart of the issue is this basic question: What are we willing to do to reach people outside the church and outside the faith? For some churches I’ve worked with, the answer is just about anything short of sin. For others, it’s just about nothing if it means losing people who already attend the church.

Here’s what I’ve found to be true about these two types of churches:

  • The Outward-Focused Church — The primary challenge will be how to we help people take steps in their spiritual journey after they accept Christ. The fact is, though, most outward-focused churches are very sensitive to this challenge. These leaders are uncomfortable with people getting stuck spiritually, and they recognize that people with vibrant relationships with Jesus want to continue to reach people outside the faith. Maturing Christians join the mission.
  • The Inward-Focused Church — The primary challenge will be how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to this challenge. These leaders are uncomfortable with any changes that might address that challenge for fear that it might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die.

This may be hard for you to hear, but I’ve seen most (though not all) outward-focused churches have a very intentional path for spiritual development. Many offer discipleship opportunities to help people take steps toward Christ outside the weekend service. And, of the churches I work with, most of the students and adults who attend those churches are engaged in that discipleship path.

On the other hand, I’ve never seen an inward-focused church have an intentional path for reaching people outside the faith. In those instances, the inward-focused churches hope (and sometimes pray) people outside the faith will somehow join what the church is already doing for existing church members. When it comes to reaching people outside the faith, I’ve never seen that strategy work.

What kind of church are you leading? In either instance, are you willing to engage the primary challenge your church faces? I’m hoping you will step up to the challenge…even if it makes others (including you) uncomfortable.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of TonyMorganLive.com. He’s a consultant, leadership coach and writer who helps churches get unstuck and have a bigger impact. More important, he has a passion for people. He’s all about helping people meet Jesus and take steps in their faith. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). With Tim Stevens, Tony has co-authored Simply Strategic Stuff, Simply Strategic Volunteers and Simply Strategic Growth – each of which offers valuable, practical solutions for different aspects of church ministry. His book, Killing Cockroaches (B&H Publishing) challenges leaders to focus on the priorities in life and ministry. His most recent books on leadership and ministry strategy are available on Kindle. Tony has also written several articles on staffing, technology, strategic planning and leadership published by organizations like Outreach Magazine, Catalyst and Pastors.com. Tony and his wife, Emily, live near Atlanta, Georgia with their four children — Kayla, Jacob, Abby and Brooke.

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Recent Comments
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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