Is Your Church STUCK with an Insider-Focus?

Big impact with insiders, but low impact with outsiders? That’s the danger zone.

Last week I started a series of blog posts about the 5 key contributors that lead to 80% of churches in America being stuck or in decline. These key contributors have been observed repeatedly in our work with churches at the Unstuck Group. While churches get stuck and decline for all kinds of reasons, these 5 key contributors are the consistent culprits.

One of the most dangerous places a church can be in their life cycle is when the ministry they are doing is having a big impact with insiders (people who already know Jesus and are inside the church) but a low impact with outsiders (people who don’t know Jesus yet). It’s dangerous because it’s comfortable. It feels like things are going well and you have momentum because people are happy, they’re regularly attending, and they seem to be “all in” with what you’re doing. But if you aren’t reaching new people, your church or ministry is already taking steps towards unhealthiness and decline. So how do you know if your church is drifting towards becoming insider focused? Here are a couple of indicators:

1. Insider Language

The most obvious way to tell if a church is insider focused or outsider focused is the languagethat they choose to use. It either says that the church is “inclusive” or “exclusive.” And it’s important because words build worlds. There are all kinds of ways this goes wrong in churches. Preaching as though everyone already knows Jesus and comes to the room with basic Bible knowledge, coming up with cool names and brands for ministries that mean nothing to people outside the church, and mentioning people from stage by name without explaining who they are just a couple of them. Two big principles to keep in mind when it comes to the language you choose to use in your church are: clear always trumps cute or cool and you’re always better off just calling things what they are

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2. A Poor Guest Experience

Is your church prepared for guests? My wife and I were attending a church for the first time. We have kids, a lot of them. So the first thing we were looking for was where to take our children. But we couldn’t seem to find any clear signage to point us in the right direction or any guest service volunteers that were easily identifiable to ask where to go. Finally, I saw someone walking by and asked where to take my children. Instead of stopping to help us they continued to walk past us and shout and pointed down the hallway. Come to find out later this person was a Children’s Ministry Staff Member. The ironic thing is they had a great children’s ministry. Developing a culture of guest services in your church begins with developing a culture of guest services among your staff.

3. Low Percentage of Baptisms

The average healthy church in America baptizes 10% of their total weekend attendance each year. That is to say in an outsider focused growing church of 500 people (weekend attendance: worship services and kids), on average that church would baptize 50 people in a year. I always think to myself how ironic it is when I hear an insider-focused church criticize growing churches, as if to say “They are doing something wrong and aren’t preaching the Word.” Essentially saying that if they were doing things “right” and “preaching the Word” they wouldn’t be growing.

4. High Giving-Per-Head

It may sound counter-intuitive but in growing outsider focused churches I consistently see giving-per-head numbers around $25-$40 per person. In churches that are stuck and insider focused it’s not uncommon to see giving-per-head numbers between $40-$60 per person. Churches that are filled with people who have been around for a while, know Jesus and are biblically educated to tithe consistently have a strong giving-per-head number. Churches that are reaching a lot of new people are consistently going to lag in their giving.

5. Risk Avoidance Culture

New things attract new people and new churches reach new people. When a church is starting up it’s all about risk (church planting by it’s very nature is risky). Over time however it’s easier (and less risky) to do ministry programs to keep church people happy than it is to continue to reach out to people who are outside of the church. When is the last time your church risked something big for God?

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Paul Alexander
Paul is a pastor, speaker, strategist, and ministry consultant at Tony Morgan Live. He has a passion for helping churches make vision real. For more than 11 years he has served on the senior leadership teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul serves as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.