Part 1: Outward versus Inward Focus
The growth patterns of churches and businesses are similar in many ways. I provided consulting services to companies for many years and now provide community outreach services to churches. I have seen many new companies focus entirely on sales at first, grow rapidly to the point where they realize they had to regroup, turning their focus inward toward building infrastructure. Later, they struggled to redirect their attention back to “evangelism and outreach” and never attained their former level of excitement and growth. This pattern actually makes good business sense – there is a time to focus on sales and marketing and a time to put the house in order. However, the most successful executives are those that do not allow the organization to lose sight of the importance of sales and marketing as they encounter internal growing pains. Steady growth, the primary objective of any CEO, requires maintaining a balance across each of the company’s primary activities.
Churches are no different – they often lose focus on evangelism and outreach when the internal demands of a growing congregation stress the “infrastructure.” When growth slows and stagnation occurs in the church, it can be difficult to recapture the enthusiasm that once existed.
Outreach is a Main Purpose of the Church
According to Dr. Rick Warren, author of the Purpose-Driven Church, two of the five purposes of the church, growing “Broader through Ministry” and “Larger through Evangelism,” relate directly to outreach. Dr. Warren recommends that all churches maintain an equal balance between each of the five purposes stated in the book. This means that at least 40% of the church’s time, energy and finances should be directed toward outreach. Unfortunately, few Christian churches operate that way today. In Dr. Warren’s assessment “very little actual ministry takes place in many churches. Instead, much of the time is taken up by meetings.”
Infrastructure and Outreach Must Balance
An interesting note, based solely on my personal experience, is that there appears to be inverse relationship between an emphasis on building buildings and building disciples in the church today. Churches that have ambitious building programs often seem, to me, to lack ambitious discipleship processes and a bold message from the pulpit. Maybe in those cases the attention has shifted so much internally, like the company that is overly focused on building infrastructure, that the church is not maintaining a reasonable “balance” across its purposes, under emphasizing evangelism and outreach ministry. Understanding how to grow without building new buildings is a difficult question, but Dr. Warren contends based on his experience at Saddleback that “if you will concentrate on building people, God will build the church”.
It is impossible to determine, whether the shift that often takes place during building campaigns is a temporary loss of focus or an indication of a more intrinsic problem within the culture of the church. At the very least, it should be a cautionary note. The real concern is the lack of focus on community outreach in churches all across America. In two subsequent posts, I will examine the importance of community outreach and the barriers to effective outreach faced by most churches: time and money.
Note: This article touches on principles from The Purpose-Driven Church but the viewpoints expressed herein may not necessarily be ascribed to its author, Dr. Rick Warren.