I am a firm believer that the mission of the church is both inward and outward. The thing many churches face is that the inward focus has so far outweighed the outward focus that we find ourselves in need of balance and so we have a tendency to over correct. In a new article at Lifeway it is pointed out that the number one factor of declining churches is inward focus. This has been my experience as well so I am not at all surprised to see that backed up.
What do we do about that? We don’t over correct. We correct to the degree needed and I don’t think that the correction is to become 99% outward focused. Here is why. In Galatians 6:1-10 Paul writes about the need for us to do good to other people. He makes it clear in 6:10 that our priority is the saved, not the lost but not the exclusion of the lost,
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10)
In other words, we must support other Christians first and foremost but not to the neglect of reaching out to non-Christians. This is where many churches have fallen short and this is one reason younger people get so upset with church is because we are really good on the “especially” part but not as much on the “all people” part.
From what I have observed it seems to me that many churches are focused about 80-90% on themselves. Going back to Paul’s point that we do good to all but first and foremost the household of faith we aren’t talking about a 80% shift in our focus. We are talking about a 20-30% shift in our focus…from 80% to 60% or 90% to 60% maintaining the “especially” part without neglecting the “all people” part. In other words, we need to keep the majority (over 50%) of our good works focused on other Christians but once we near 100% inward focus we neglect the first half of Galatians 6:10.
A point of clarification. I see a distinction between being inwardly focused (as church growth folks would use the term) and Gal 6:10. Gal 6:10 speaks of doing good for those who belong to the church. In context, this seems to be about works of a charitable nature. Compare 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens.” It’s a natural corollary to Jesus’ command that we love one another as he loved us. It’s a command to sacrificial love among Christians.
I would consider the ideal for Gal 6:10 to be found in Acts 2:44-45,
(Acts 2:44-45 ESV) 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
We read in the early chapters of Acts of the church doing many acts of charity, and only for its own members. But no one would accuse the Jerusalem church of being inwardly focused. They grew rapidly, in part due to their excellent reputation for mutual concern. Acts 5:13-14, in the context of mutual but strictly internal generosity.
To me, a church where the members truly love each other – sacrificially — is attractive to the lost and will find its evangelistic efforts enhanced by being Jesus to each other.
A truly inwardly focused church is self-indulgent and self-interested — more concerned to have their own style of music and their own order of worship and their own way of doing things without regard to the impact on the lost. It’s a form of selfishness. But Gal 6:10 is the very opposite of selfishness.
Hence, there’s no need to worry about balance or shifting priorities. Rather, the more we pour ourselves into sacrificial service and giving to each other, the more we’ll grow like Jesus, the more attractive we’ll be, and the easier we’ll find it to love others.
It’s a strange thing that very few churches set aside monies in their budgets to provide for their own members’ needs. Very few churches assign a deacon to make certain that internal financial needs are met timely and confidentially and with dignity — but without enabling irresponsible behavior. It’s a very hard thing to do, but it seems to be something we are very plainly called to do and to be.
We find it much easier to provide for the needs of non-members because it avoids difficult conversations — and because we tend to see financial difficulties as a moral weakness. We really do look down on those who struggle, and so we expect church members to be self-reliant men and women. Thus, we don’t help those we should help first.
And that, I would say, is more like the inward focus the church growth people look askance at (correctly, I think), because it’s selfish. And ultimately the test isn’t inward vs. outward but selfish vs. sacrificial.
It all depends on your definition of inward focus. I am taking a non-traditional view and definition taking the term literally. On a literal level inward focus is perfectly biblical and actually enhances our outreach as why would an outsider be attracted to a group unwilling to take care of its own?
According to Heb.10:24-25 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The mission of the assembly is to build each other up.
But the mission of the saint is to help others…give them the word and give them need.
The actual assembly is represented very slightly in the scriptures as opposed to the good that the saints are supposed to do towards other saints and others who aren’t saints in general.
I see Gal.6:10 as more broad as it doesn’t explain what good, but just “good”, which could be anything good.
I agree Jay, we store up money, but little of it goes inward to those that need it. That is because it is in the “church coffers” and once in it is usually hard to get out unless planned.
In Acts the saints gave money that went to the saints without much storage time. It was very organic giving.
The church should be naturally focused on each other as family in supporting our long range focus on the Kingdom and adding to it.