As of late, I have been thinking quite a bit about why churches cease to grow. Some well-intended people do not think that 'growth' should be a category by which the fitness of the church is judged; this defense, however, is usually an attempt to justify complacency or more often comfort. When looking at our 'blue print' - the Scriptures - for guidance, however, we find that the church indeed is mandated and even designed for growth. Thus, the non-growth party is simply misguided. For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that I have attempted to cast the church, as Paul has, as a "body". The failure of the church then becomes an issue of "health." A failure to grow is attributed to a variety of factors, but more often than not, it is because the members have become complacent and even rebellious in their attitudes towards health. It is like the person who has treatable cancer, but still refuses to stop smoking or working around cancer-causing materials.
But church health is more than just disease or accident. It's about focus. The church as a whole must have a singular vision. That vision may have several components, but it is still just one vision. The vision is to live in obedience to Christ. The components of that vision are to: love God, love neighbor, love one another and to make disciples. Neglect of any of those components means that the church is not seeing clearly and is bound to fall into problems. Most of today's churches then to skew their focus in one of two ways - either they have turned their focus internal or they have fought to keep it external.
The internally focused church tends to focus on keeping members satisfied. At first that focus tends to be on facilities accessibility, but then it turns into a focus on carpet colors, worship times, worship styles, worship service length, whether one should dress for church or come casually. The internally focus church is concerned about providing its membership with what it craves in order for those members to remain 'satisfied'.
The externally focused church places its resources at the service of the vision. This means part of its resources are used to promote love amongst the members (koinonia), love to God (worship), love to neighbor (evangelism) and making disciples (didaskalos mathetes). Ultimately, the eternal focus requires a shift from making ourselves the center of our understanding of the church, to God's understanding. This is difficult, but necessary.
The internally focused church, is comfortable but often in tension; the externally focused church can be uncomfortable, but exciting. The internally focused church wants to make you or at least some of you happy; the externally focused church wants to please God. The internally focused church doesn't want to 'offend' anyone; the externally focus church will always be offending someone. The biggest difference is that the internally focused church is willing to sacrifice the hard work of evangelism for the sake of a satisfied fellowship, while the externally focused church is willing to sacrifice personal comfort in order that the lost might be found and that the blind might be able to see. Where is your church's focus?