Sunday, February 23, 2014


Thom and Sam Rainer have some of the best research on the traditional church.  Increasingly I find that churches "talk a good game" because an outward focus is the ecclesiastically-correct position to take, but Thom tells us why too many churches will not make any substantive changes to reach out.-STEVE


10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church
Thom Rainer: "In my research of churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession."
Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place, the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed, most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

1. Worship wars.

One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings.

The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus.

The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program driven.

Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget.

A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care.

All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

7. Attitudes of entitlement.

This issue could be a catchall for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

 8. Greater concern about change than the gospel.

Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many, but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

9. Anger and hostility.

Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

10. Evangelistic apathy.

Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


From Marty Duren comes a timely and insightful look at keeping our focus on our mission and our strategies realistically capable of supporting that mission.  Thanks to Justin Meier, the Church Expansion Specialist for the Churches of God, General Conference for bringing this to my attention. - STEVE

Sports Illustrated, Blockbuster, and Your Church

 By Marty Duren

Years ago there was a world-beating sports magazine called Sports Illustrated. It was the one thing that every football, baseball, basketball loving person could not wait to see weekly in the mailbox or on the newsstand.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the throne crumbled. An upstart cable TV network called ESPN became the must-watch channel for sports fans. ESPN provided sports updates all morning so people getting ready for work could catch up on the scores and highlights from the previous night. No more having to wait a week for Sports Illustrated. Fans did not even have to wait until the sports segment on the evening news.

Now ESPN boasts multiple cable channels, a partnership with ABC Sports (via parent company, Disney), its own Olympics (the X-Games), its own magazine, and a host of other properties. ESPN is now THE undisputed leader in sports. Sports Illustrated still exists, but its once dominant foothold is long gone.

What is the difference? Sports Illustrated mistakenly thought it was in the magazine business. ESPN correctly understood itself to be in the sports information business. If Sports Illustrated had understood its true position and leveraged its talent base, reach and influence, ESPN might still be a channel.

Remember when there were Blockbuster stores? People got into their cars, drove miles to a brick building (or strip mall) to rent movies on VHS, and later on DVD. Remember when Blockbuster dropped their late fees even though it made up a large portion of its revenue? Why would a company willfully drop revenue?

This other out-of-nowhere company called Netflix had arrived. A Netflix membership allowed you to order DVDs online and have them sent directly to your mailbox! There were no late fees. Instead, you simply had to return the movies you had rented before ordering more. No driving in the snow or rain, no penalty for being forgetful—and no need to rewind. Netflix was a game changer.

As if that were not enough, Netflix was an early provider of online streaming movies and TV shows enabling subscribers to watch on their desktop, laptop or tablet. Now Netflix produces its own shows and movies.

What is the difference? Blockbuster mistakenly thought it was in the movie rental business. Netflix correctly understood itself to be in the entertainment content delivery business. Blockbuster had both the market share and the leverage to do everything Netflix did. They simply did not have the understanding of the times or vision of the future.

Unfortunately many churches are like Sports Illustrated and Blockbuster. They rightly see themselves are repositories of truth with a responsibility to get truth to others. Unfortunately, they hold to a singular content delivery system—the Sunday morning service—as ultimate. This is a time when people expect multiple delivery systems as the norm. For churches, the content will not change; the gospel is the same. But our delivery systems and touchpoints with “customers” must change both for the sake of our members and those who need Jesus.

One way to make our content (the gospel) more readily available is for churches to re-evaluate everything about their online presence from the website to use of social media. People who live in your area do not reach for the Yellow Pages or the church directory of the county newspaper. If they are looking for a church at all, they will use a search engine or the search bar on Facebook. If you have a website that looks like a template from Geocities or a middle schooler’s 2006 Myspace page, you have blown it.

Websites need not have elaborate image sliders and be covered in HTML5 moving parts. They simply need to be clean and easy to navigate. Remember: the landing page needs to be friendly to non-attendees, so service times and contact information need to be prominent. Members—those who visit the website regularly—know where to look for other information. Ease of use is for non-members, not for members. Additionally, make sure your social media is just that: social. Do not make announcements on your Facebook page then neglect to answer related questions. Social media is a conversation, not an info dump.

So much content can be provided via a church website it is hard to cover it all in such a short article. Podcasts of the sermon, videos of the entire service, new member training, a pastor’s welcome, bulletin downloads, student ministry permission forms, and so much more are all content pieces just waiting to be added to your church website.

Churches should learn from Sports Illustrated’s missed opportunity and Blockbuster’s failure. Do not isolate yourself into a single content delivery system. Put the Internet to work for you and your church for the sake of the gospel.


Monday, February 10, 2014


We have been on hiatus on this blog for several months, evaluating its purpose. From its inception THE OUTWARD FOCUSED CHURCH has reflected a personal passion of mine--- connecting people to Jesus Christ and helping churches provide thoughtful,faithful,fruitful and welcoming ministry. In this effort I received much encouragement, especially from Rick Russaw of THE EXTERNALLY FOCUSED CHURCH who saw in me a kindred spirit. Along the way, I found myself developing other blogs with various niches: preaching, leadership development, evangelism, discipleship, even humor. Some of those blogs are listed in the BLOGROLL.

In the last 18 months, much of my personal emphasis has centered around a ministry that I developed with the encouragement and financial support of the Commission on Evangelism of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference. That ministry is called Bridgebuilders and has as its mission helping churches reach their unchurched neighbors. Basically it is teaching churches how to be missionaries to the mission field that begins at their front door. I began teaching for them and also developing on-line newsletters, the latter depending heavily on my own original writing.  It is supported by a blog linked particularly to Bridgebuilders Seminars called BRIDGES TO THE BRIDGE.

I have also developed a consulting and training ministry that goes beyond my parent region of my tribe, and works cross-denomination.  It is called Bridgebuilders Minstries and is supported by a blog called BEING THE BEST CHURCH FOR THE COMMUNITY. 

Both blogs go beyond techniques, programs. etc to educate in making a shift from a traditional church or membership culture to a disciple or Gospel culture.  They contain the bulk of my original work these days.

But I continue to come across materials that cross a broad spectrum of ideas and issues, all focused on one powerful necessity--making sure the church has a outward focus--a focus that keeps them on mission with Jesus.

So I am resuming this blog with that purpose in mind.  Much of its content will be repostings from excellent leaders like Sam and Thom Rainer, Charles Stone, and others. Watch tomorrow for the first of these as THE OUTWARD FOCUSED CHURCH develops a 2.0 version of itself. - STEVE DUNN