It was not a dramatic moment in time. Instead, it was subtle, almost too subtle to be noticed.
It became evident first in mainline churches. But evangelical churches followed a few years later. The erosion was slow, but it became glaringly apparent after several years.
The change of which I speak is the movement away from outwardly focused ministries in churches.
Over time, most of the resources of time, money and ministries have shifted more toward the members. Churches are now gathering in holy huddles with little intention of breaking out into a world of lostness and loneliness.
How it happened.
How did this negative trend develop?
Though many perspectives could be offered, allow me simply to share the practical perspective. There was a time when most churches had an outreach ministry. And more times than not, this ministry was a type of program with predictable patterns.
But church leaders, vocational and lay alike, became program averse. So they slowly began eliminating outreach programs in their churches.
I understand why this development took place. The programs seemed ineffective, not culturally relevant and often cumbersome to lead and implement.
The problem, however, is that nothing replaced the programs. And the mild culture of outreach in churches was replaced with no culture of outreach.
At the same time, more churches started sending members on international mission trips. This development was good. But it gave many in the church a sense of false comfort that the church was really outwardly focused. The problem was that many times the local community became a neglected mission field.
Possible beginning points for an outwardly focused church.
So I began asking leaders in outwardly focused churches about their practical steps. I made certain the leaders were in different sized congregations lest I offer suggestions limited to one group of churches. The leaders were in churches with worship attendance ranging from 50 to 2,500.
The answers I received were immensely practical, very helpful and highly doable.
Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are seven of the more common habits.