Pretty much every church leader I talk to says they long to reach their community. After all, the church is one of the only missions on the planet that exists for the sake of its non-members.
But there’s a strange tension to which leaders are often blind: As much as they say they want to reach outsiders, their services and the entire organization are geared toward insiders. As a result, when someone they’re trying to reach shows up, it’s easy for them to feel like they don’t fit in or like this church simply isn’t for them. And most leaders simply miss the signs that this is the case. So they scratch their heads and wonder why outsiders don’t flock toward their church.
The truth is there’s a gravitational pull inside almost every church to sacrifice the church’s mission by catering to the church’s members.
And while you can’t ignore the needs of your members, there’s a strange paradox that’s true about spiritual maturity: The best way to become spiritually mature is to stop focusing on your needs and begin focusing on Christ and others. Some church leaders drown in the sink-hole of trying to satisfy the escalating demands of their unpleasable members while they watch the real mission go up in flames.
Worse, others think they’re geared to outsiders when in reality, they’re not. At least not really. They’ve given in to the subtle but relentless pull of the needs of insiders.
With that in mind, here are five tell-tale signs your church is geared to insiders, not outsiders, despite your best intentions
1. Long Announcements
I know this is a weird one to start with, but really, how long are your announcements?
If they’re longer than three minutes, you’re probably geared toward insiders more than you realize.
The purpose of a welcome is to welcome people, not announce 18 things.
Churches often feel the tension of announcements as their church grows. If you have a church of 30, there’s probably not much going on. But if you’re a church of 300, you feel the pressure of everyone trying to get their message across.
What about really big churches, you ask? Well, you’ll likely never get to 3,000 if you don’t solve this problem first.
Why is this such a trap for smaller and mid-sized churches? Here’s why. Leaders feel torn, trying to please everyone, and so they cave to the ‘one more announcement’ syndrome because they fear the wrath of whoever they left out.
But think about it. If you’re coming to church for the first time, the last thing you want to hear is a long laundry list of things you’re not interested in. You want to meet Jesus, or at least learn more about him.
And if the welcome isn’t geared toward that, you’ve missed the opportunity to connect your first-time guest with their most important objective: what to do to take a next step in their journey.
And the answer to taking a next step is not to do 18 things. It’s to do one thing.
If you don’t know what that one thing is, you’re not geared to outsiders. You’re likely just catering to the needs and wants of insiders.
2. Trying to Get Everyone to Do Everything
All of this leads us to the second issue insider-focused churches struggle with in their bulletin and announcements: trying to get everyone to do everything.
I remember when our church was at this stage. We had about 400 or 500 attending and we were a program-based church at the time.
Every group was fighting for new members, so the pressure was on to get people to join. The people who led each group were also convinced that their group was the best thing for people, so it deserved a prime spot. And if you left them out, they got mad because their program didn’t grow.
That creates this strange dynamic where you’re trying to get everyone who attends your church to do everything.
Look, people can’t do 20 things. They can probably do one thing, or maybe two.
And if you don’t tell new guests what the one thing is they need to do, guess what they’ll do? That’s right—nothing.
Ditto with asking regular attenders to a lot of things. If you ask people to do 20 things, most people will do nothing.
So—just to be clear—if you want most people at your church to do nothing, keep suggesting they do everything.
As we prepared to break the 500 mark, I actually led the church through a year-long rethink which led to us shutting down most of our ministries and our Wednesday night service so that we could focus on a few key strategic steps that led the greatest number of people (including new people) into spiritual growth: serving, giving, inviting friends and groups. And we run an orientation called Next for new people and invite them to take Starting Point before joining a group. The goal? To find a few strategic engagement points for people that would help them find faith and grow in their faith.
When it comes to leading people into transformation, simplicity is your friend.
If you want more on this, read Tony Morgan’s guest post about programs v. path, and this piece I wrote on why engagement is the new church attendance.