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4 traps of ingrown churches

Jan. 28, 2016 | by Bob Whitesel

Slowly over time most churches grow primarily inward in their focus, rather than focusing outward to meet the needs of those outside the church.The result of this inward focus is that churches stop reaching non-churchgoers because they are less frequently meeting the needs of those outside of their fellowship. 

Most non-churchgoers will avoid an ingrown church all together because it does not appear to be sensitive to their needs. Even newly launched and emerging churches are not immune to becoming ingrown. The close fellowship created in new church plants, multiple-site churches, cell-churches, art churches, café churches, and house churches often subtly redirect the leaders’ attention inward and away from their mission field. 

Ask yourself, “How much of my volunteer time at church do I spend on meeting the needs of the congregation rather than meeting the needs of those who don’t go to church?” If you do not see a balance, then the church you attend may be ingrown. 

Good churches have this problem too

Ingrown churches actually arise for a good reason. A church’s fellowship often is so attractive, compelling, and beneficial, that before long most of a congregation’s attention becomes directed toward these benefits. Donald McGavran in Understanding Church Growth summed up these positive/negative attributes by saying a good church will create “redemption and lift.”By this he meant that once a person is redeemed (restored back to a relationship with God), the person’s fellowship with other Christians will lift him or her away from previous friends who are non-churchgoers. The cure, according to McGavran, is to realize that this lift is good (it raises your life to a new level of loving Christ) but also bad (it separates you from non-churchgoers who need Christ’s love too). McGavran argued that balance is needed in meeting the needs of those inside the church and those outside of it, and so does this post. 

Good reasons that trap churches into ingrown behavior

Let’s look at four common church characteristics characteristics that when left unattended can unintentionally redirect a church into a closed, inward focus:

History Trap—A church with a long history. 

A church that is focused internally will eventually lose sight of its original mis- sion and gravitate toward being an organization consumed with helping itself. Years and years of internal focus will result in a church that knows little else. Leaders raised in an internally focused church will think that the volunteer’s role is to serve the existing congregation, perhaps to the point of burnout. Time erases the memory of the earliest days of a church conceived to meet the needs of non-churchgoers. 

The Organizational Trap—A sizable congregation that must be managed. 

Have you ever noticed that when new churches are started, they often have an outward focus? This may be because a newly planted church is often keenly aware that without reaching out to others, the new church will die. However, I have noticed that once a new church is about eighteen months old, it starts becoming so consumed its organizational needs, that it spends most of its time internally focused. Thus, any church with a history over eighteen months long will usually be internally focused. 

The Experience Trap—A church with a talented and long-serving team of volunteers.

 When a church has a cadre of talented and gifted leaders, these volunteers are often asked to stay too long in their positions. They thus become regarded as experts by others and newcomers. The result is that leadership unintention- ally becomes a closed clique, which newcomers with innovative ideas will often feel too intimidated to penetrate. 

The Infirmity Trap—A church with a ministry to hurting people.

Hurting people are often seeking to have their hurts healed by the soothing balm of Christian community. A church that is offering this is doing something good, because to help hurting people is what Christ calls his church to do (James 1:27). And a ministry to hurting people must be conducted with confidentially and intimacy. 

An unintentional result of such confidentiality is that these churches can become closed communities too. Subsequently, churches often thwart their mission to reach out to the hurting and instead gravitate toward a closed fellowship where outsiders find it increasingly harder to get in and get the help they need. 

There is a difference between an internally focused church and one that is balanced with equal emphasis upon internal and external needs. Check all that apply to your church. The column with the most checks may indicate whether your church is growing in, growing out, or is equally balanced (the goal of an uncommon church).

Is your church ingrown?

Check all that apply to your church:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More curated ideas from professor, award-winning writer and consultant Bob Whitesel DMin PhD at ChurchHealth.wiki, WesleyTours.com, MissionalCoaches.com & ChurchHealth.expert

Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health,by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012)


Bob Whitesel

Bob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is professor of missional leadership and founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A sought after speaker, church growth consultant and award-winning writer of 12 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth; he also holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded “The Donald McGavran Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth.”



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