October 24, 2018 Tony Morgan

4 Signs Your Church Is Inwardly Focused – Episode 65 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

One of the most important things you can do to get your church unstuck is to become outwardly focused.

Has the way you do church become more important than why you do church? It’s tempting to try to keep the people you already have happy. But the moment you stop focusing on reaching non-believers, you’ve become stuck.

It’s not always easy to refocus a church that has turned inward, but it’s vital to every church’s health. In this episode, Amy and I identify four signs that your church has become inwardly focused and we give some solutions on how to reach new people.

In this conversation, we discussed:

  • Who should be the main target of your services

  • The unexpected way your finances show who you’re reaching

  • The dangerous strategy that is keeping people away from your church

  • The mindset you need in order to reach non-believers


Want to have a discussion with your team? We have put together a one-page discussion guide for you to print out and bring to your team to start the conversation. Enter your email address below for an instant download.

Join the Conversation

We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.

Some things we are hoping to discuss:

  • Which elements of your service have been successful in reaching non-believers?
  • How have you effectively engaged your church the other 6 days of the week?
  • What strategies have you used to create a missional culture in your church?

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.


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Podcast Transcript

Tony Morgan:               00:00                Hey, before we start, I wanted to share a resource I’m finding churches need but don’t often realize they can actually afford the church lawyers is a solution focused national law firms serving the legal needs of churches of all sizes. Their membership program gives you high quality legal expertise that’s really affordable. The team prioritizes the relationship part of the attorney client relationship to learn more about becoming a part of their membership program. Contact the church lawyers@thechurchlawyers.com.

Amy Anderson:             00:42                Welcome to the unstuck church podcast. I’m in Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck and today we’re going to be talking about some ways to help you identify if your church is inwardly focused. So Tony, let’s start with this. How would you define an inwardly focused church?

Tony Morgan:               01:04                Yeah, so in the simplest definition of this, amy, I would say inwardly focused churches are more concerned with who they’re trying to keep rather than who they’re trying to reach as a church. And you know, you and I have talked about this on several occasions. There’s just a tendency in churches that they begin to shape their ministries, all of their worship services, all of their events over time, toward the people that are already connected to the church, and this is what’s most comfortable for them. This keeps the church comfortable and more importantly, I think it keeps church people happy and you know, if it were the right balance of keeping people connected and taking next steps, folks that were already connected to the church, that’d be great as long as there was an offsetting focus too on reaching people outside the church and outside the faith, but in an inwardly focused church, there’s a lot more emphasis on believers and those that are already connected to the church and the simple way that we’ve described this is the way they do church becomes more important than why they do church and for a church to become outward focused. Again, those two have to be reversed.

Amy Anderson:             02:26                Right? So what is a sign, you know, as our listeners here, thinking about their church and where they’re leading, what’s a sign that would tell them that they’re leading and inwardly focused church?

Tony Morgan:               02:37                Well, the first sign I want to talk about today is this, it’s when people in your church don’t look like the people in the community around your church. And so what, what I would suggest is we really do have to look, are look at ourselves as missionaries and if we were a missionary entering in a foreign land to begin to, uh, present the Gospel to engage people, we would consider what’s the culture that we’re going into, what are the customs, what’s the language that they speak, what are the unique needs and challenges that people face? And I would just suggest as churches and church leaders here in the US, primarily that’s where folks who are listening from though here, we have some Canadians and the audience as well. I don’t know if that’s true. Um, I just assumed all Canadians were just listening to Carey Neiuwhof and nothing else.

Tony Morgan:               03:34                If you’re going into a foreign land, you just consider who it is we’re trying to reach before you design your ministry ministry strategy. And then before you engage in presenting the gospel message, again, another similar way to look at this would be to think like a church planter. If you were going into a brand new community here, even in the US, you would probably consider those things same things. What’s the culture of the community? What are some of the unique customs of the community? How do we speak to the people that live in the community? And then probably most importantly actually what are the unique needs and challenges of those people. And so when we engage with the church at the end group, we go through a process to help the church identify what’s your mission field?

Tony Morgan:               04:28                Where has God placed your church? And then based on that conversation, encouraged churches to get a narrower focus on who they should be reaching within that mission field. And that sounds a bit counterintuitive, but what we’ve learned is this, when you have focus on a certain person that you’re trying to reach within your mission field, you begin to design ministries with that person in mind. You design your discipleship path with that person in mind. You design worship services with that person in mind and over time those churches that have that type of focus ended up reaching not only that person, but then they also, for whatever reason, ended up reaching a broad cross section of the community as well. The reverse though is not true. When we find, when we go into churches and they’re doing all kinds of different ministries and offering all kinds of different worship services and programs and events for all types of different people, we find that those end up being very oftentimes very small churches and so the way, the way we talked about it at the unstuck group is when you understand your mission field and then you narrow your focus of who you’re trying to reach within that mission field, you will hopefully become more intentional as a ministry, but this is not about being exclusive.

Tony Morgan:               05:56                In other words, someone shows up to your doorstep on a Sunday morning and they don’t look like the person in your mission field or the person that you’re intentionally trying to reach. You don’t just turn them away and say, I’m sorry this church isn’t for you. Instead you welcome them in because we want everyone to hear the gospel message and ultimately to be in relationship with Jesus Christ and so it’s about being more intentional, not about being exclusive and amy because we believe this is so critical to churches included in the leading and unstuck church course. The very first module of the of the 12 modules in that course is on this topic we cover in the course, how do you identify your mission field? We provided additional resources and exercises to identify where God has placed or church and then we give you access to our team to connect and to determine your next steps. And so again, I think we want to equip churches around this issue because we think it’s foundational to churches to become healthy because it hopefully helps them begin to have more of an outward focus.

Amy Anderson:             07:17                You know, we’ve had this conversation many times, but when you were talking and talking about narrowing the focus, it just makes sense when you’re focusing, you’re not doing as many things and when you’re not doing as many things, you’re probably doing what you’re doing a lot better. That’s right. That’s actually when you’re trying to reach everybody, then you’re doing everything and nothing’s really all that good. So yes, that’s true. Was just a little insight.

Tony Morgan:               07:41                Yeah. I, uh, you know, we live here in Atlanta. I know you don’t share our love for chicks. Well, actually I heard you’re a chick fil a fan. Amy, is that true?

Amy Anderson:             07:49                There is now one in Maplewood, Minnesota.

Tony Morgan:               07:53                So amy loves it when she comes to Atlanta because there are literally on every street corner here in the Atlanta Metro area. It’s a wonderful thing. And of course one of the things we love about chick filet so much as they do one thing, chicken and with that focus, they’ve become the fastest guy, I believe. Last stats, I saw the fastest growing fast food chain in America today. And so for those that love chick fil a, you’re not complaining about their focus and there’s no, there’s no doubt about it. They’re getting lots of chicken converts with that focus as well.

Amy Anderson:             08:28                Well, they must be growing fast because they made it to Minnesota. All right. All right. We’re on a roll. Let’s keep going. Uh, what’s another sign? You’re leading an inwardly focused church.

Tony Morgan:               08:39                Well, the second sign is your weekend services are designed for believers only and the goodness. Again, I want to encourage you, when you’re designing a worship services you’re teaching on Sunday morning, you certainly should have in mind there Christ followers. They’re going to be here on Sunday and we need to encourage those Christ followers to take their next steps toward Jesus. You should definitely do that, but I would argue, and I, and I’m going to point to a passage here in a moment that I really think it’s God’s design when we gather for worship on Sundays or whenever we gather for worship, that we actually not only plan for believers to be there but for unbelievers as well. But the problem is many times the preferences of people inside our churches. Well, the reality is those preferences are always going to be louder than the preferences of people that are currently outside our church.

Tony Morgan:               09:36                So one way we can look at this, amy, to find out whether or not we’re truly creating worship experiences both for believers and unbelievers, is to look at the number of first time guests that are attending our church. In fact, what we see as for for churches to be effective and reaching people outside the faith and outside the church, they have to have a lot of first time guests throughout a 12 month period. In fact, what we see in growing churches, churches that are actually connecting with people outside the church, they have the equivalent number of first time guests over a 12 month period as their overall average attendance, including adults and kids.

Amy Anderson:             10:21                So math now. So let me help for the people who aren’t math to do that, but I want to see if you can do it. So go ahead and I’m tracking with you. So if I’m leading a church and on average we see a thousand people a weekend, adults and kids, you’re saying that I should have a thousand new people through the doors on an annual basis.

Tony Morgan:               10:40                That’s right. That’s right. You are good at math. Amy. I know we constantly talk about how that’s not your thing, but I’ve seen you, I’ve seen you do a mean excel spreadsheet in the past to so I know that’s not true.

Amy Anderson:             10:53                Well, I’ll give you throw the math back at you because let’s break it down. If we want to see that many first time guests over the course of a year, how many first time guests should we be seen on a monthly or weekly basis?

Tony Morgan:               11:07                I have no idea. Have you done that before?

Amy Anderson:             11:11                If I’m leading a church of 5,200 people. Oh, there you go. See? In a weekly basis.

Tony Morgan:               11:18                100. Thank you.

Amy Anderson:             11:19                Okay. Oh Wow. That’s a lot of new people each week.

Tony Morgan:               11:22                It is. Yeah, and so and the reason why it takes so many first time guests as we have learned that if you, if you roll out the red carpet and you have a great welcoming experience for first time guests and then you provide a great weekend service for people to experience worship together corporately and you provide great teaching, that’s relevant to people’s lives and then you follow up with them in an effective way. If you do all of that, well, the are that you’re going to connect 20 percent of those first time guests to your church eventually, and so it just takes, it takes a lot of guests in order to help us continue to reach people outside the church and outside the faith. And so I’ll have pastors complain to me, well, it’s just because our people aren’t inviting friends to services anymore.

Tony Morgan:               12:18                And I will say that’s, that’s rarely the challenge. That’s rarely where the problem is. Um, well actually it could be the problem. They’re not inviting friends to church, but the underlying issue isn’t the invite. The underlying issue, I believe is the service itself. In other words, this weekend experience isn’t designed for our friends, our family members, our coworkers. And so, uh, because the weekend car services aren’t compelling, they aren’t relevant to the needs, the challenges that people are facing in their lives. The messages aren’t answering the questions that people are asking because that’s not the case. Then people aren’t inviting their friends to join them. And so, uh, like I said, I believe this is not just a good principal, uh, I believe this is consistent with scripture. And so when you are looking at, should we or shouldn’t we design our services both with believers and unbelievers and mine, I think one place in scripture that you should spend some time wrestle with as a team, as in First Corinthians, uh, right after the love chapter, First Corinthians Thirteen, Paul is talking with the, with the church about, um, it’s actually gifts with that are used within the church and he’s talking about how unbelievers, the perception, unbelievers will have of how we gather, how we meet together, how we worship in the use of certain gifts.

Tony Morgan:               13:57                And if you look in First Corinthians 14 at actually describes Paul’s coaching the church, we have to be sensitive to people that are unbelievers being among us when we meet. And so, uh, I think that would be a great passage for you and your team to wrestle with because it challenges us again when we should be preparing our worship experiences for Christ followers. But at the same time, I do think we need to be mindful of the fact there will be, hopefully, hopefully there will be unbelievers, people outside the faith that are joining us, uh, as well and the experience as to keep them in mind. Uh, so a watch for insider language, a watch for referring to stories of people, names of people inside the church that, that unbelievers, new people will be completely unaware of and watch about, watch about how you talk about scripture itself and just referring to people in scripture and passages and things like this.

Tony Morgan:               14:58                Because if it’s an unbeliever, somebody brand new to the church that’s going to be completely unfamiliar with them for them. And frankly more and more on finding it’s not even familiar with Christians. And so I think it’s okay for us to go back to the basics in these areas. And then remember that, uh, people outside the faith, they have spiritual needs, they have relational needs, they have emotional needs. And I would say some of those same needs. Many of those same needs. Actually, Christians have those needs as well. And so let’s just be sensitive as we’re engaging in worship and as we’re teaching specifically and encouraging people to take next steps that we’re keeping in mind. We’re teaching believers, but we’re also teaching people outside the faith.

Amy Anderson:             15:47                So can I add one? You drove by it, but I think that whole thing, if you’re really trying to assess, are we an inwardly focused church? Take a look at your bulletin or your program. Does it speak to an unchurched person or is it all just insider information? When you welcome people at your church, do you have any language that actually welcomes people that are outside of the church that are new? Do you give them a sense of what they can expect? I think those are a couple things and we’re always just talking to the club. Um, we aren’t, we aren’t too disciplined on how we welcome and how we help people through the service. All right, thank you. What’s the third sign, Tony, that you’re leading an inwardly focused?

Tony Morgan:               16:27                So the third sign has to do with money, and this is going to be counterintuitive, but we see this play out time and time and time again. A sign that you’re an inwardly focused church is that your, uh, your per capita giving, the giving per person goes up and it goes up in a big way. In fact, a churches start to look at their giving increasing and they think we’re really healthy. And in some respects you are because there, that’s a sign that there’s maturity happening among the people that are connected to your church. Um, there’s no doubt about it. As people take their next steps toward Christ, I’m a consideration of whether or not they are really giving God control of their lives is also, if they’re got giving God control of their finances. And when that happens, people tend to give more to the ministry that God’s doing in churches.

Tony Morgan:               17:23                And so when giving goes up on a per capita basis, church leaders look at that and think that church is healthier. And again, spiritual maturity is happening. But what we see is many times that’s also a sign that the church is not reaching new people because what we know is new people, New People that are not yet believers or people that are brand new to the faith and or even Christians that come and they’re brand new to the church, but not really understanding the full mission and vision of what the church is trying to accomplish. They’re slow to begin their giving and it takes time for them to connect in giving and contributing to the Ministry of the church. And so if you see that per capita giving numbers start to creep up a, that can be a sign that you’ve actually become an inwardly focused church and this is why I want you to to kind of listen closely to this and consider is this happening at our church or not?

Tony Morgan:               18:26                The reason why is if this is happening and and you confirm we are, we’re in, we’re. We’ve become inwardly focused. We somehow we need to start connecting with new people outside the church. Again, you want to catch it now because the changes in that moment, while the giving is still strong there, they’re gonna. You’re gonna require to make some changes to get unstuck and to kind of grow beyond that and and turn outward focused again, but you want to begin to make the changes at that point rather than waiting for the financial crisis to set it in. Because what we see is when the financial crisis sets in and the giving also drops that the amount of change that’s required at that point to become outward focused is significant. I mean you almost have to become a brand new church all over again in order to get to the place where you’re again, reaching people outside the church, outside the faith, and not only reaching new people and seeing growth as far as people are concerned, but then it’s going to take even that much longer for you to see growth again financially to support the ministry that your church is trying to accomplish.

Tony Morgan:               19:44                So looking for that high per capita giving number. That that again is an indicator of whether or not your church is inwardly focused.

Amy Anderson:             19:53                So I often call you the disrupter Tony, so you had some people at the start of this call who are probably pretty happy with their financial situation and you just made them sad because now they know it. Maybe they’re not reaching people, but there were some sad people at the beginning of this call that are now happier because they’ve got a low per capita giving, which means they’re probably reaching some new people. So yeah,

Tony Morgan:               20:16                I’ll go in and do some coaching and planning with churches and all. Let them know my. My hope for you this year is that your giving will go down and they just looked at me with a strange face and kind of shake their head. But yeah, sometimes I pray that prayer for churches,

Amy Anderson:             20:34                It’s good to have tony on your side. That’s the final sign that you’re leading an inwardly focused.

Tony Morgan:               20:40                Well, there are many signs, but the final one I wanted to talk about today is this. A. You can tell your inwardly focused your ministry strategies are focused only on one hour a week. And again, here we’re talking about worship on Sunday morning. Essentially what you’re saying is you’re waiting for people to come to you and what we’re seeing in churches that are still outwardly focused is they recognize we live today in an on demand culture. I mean, we’re all watching Netflix were purchasing from Amazon or listening to podcasts like the unstuck church podcast, and we’re not doing all of that on Sunday morning at 11:00. We do. We do all of those things on demand and it’s pretty amazing, but people are consuming content, including teaching very differently than they did just 10 years ago. And the challenge for us though is many times church strategies haven’t kept up with the shift that we’re seeing in culture.

Tony Morgan:               21:48                And so if you want to become outward focused, I think you have to. Well, I don’t think, I know you have to begin looking at your strategies for connecting with people, engaging people beyond just Sunday morning and out of necessity. I believe this needs to also include your online strategy. Uh, you need to begin creating on demand experiences for people and providing on demand content to encourage people to take their next steps toward Jesus. And if this is a new concept for you, good. I’m glad you’re hearing it. And then I want to encourage you to go back to an episode that we actually offer just about a month ago. Amy and I interviewed Tiffany from our team and I can’t remember. It was all on church communications. Do you remember what we titled that Podcast? Amy?

Amy Anderson:             22:44                Yeah, Tony. That one was released September 26. It was why church communications is stuck in 2004. Episode Sixty one.

Tony Morgan:               22:52                Yeah. And I’ll tell you what, it’s probably one of my favorite podcasts that we’ve done, amy and not because you and I were excellent in our interviewing skills in that podcast. A tiffany was fabulous, but it was more about the content of that podcast that I think can be very transforming to what’s happening in churches across America. So I hope you’ll go back and listen to that, but it speaks specifically to how churches need to engage this on demand culture that we live in today. So that’s, that’s the fourth indicator, amy, is if, if your church only has an opportunity for people to engage, to here teaching to take their next steps, one hour of the week, then it’s an indicator that you’re leading an inwardly focused church church.

Amy Anderson:             23:45                If I know you, Tony, you’re not saying, therefore let’s open up our church every night, every hour have things that people can come to. It’s really more about how are we getting content to them, not having them come back for another event, another program.

Tony Morgan:               23:58                Correct. Please don’t do that, don’t do that. Uh, it’s, it’s creating opportunities. Again, just like listening to this podcast, I can only imagine the different times that people are engaging what they’re listening to right now. And the only way to offer that type of flexibility is really to shift our focused investing more on what all of our churches are doing online.

Amy Anderson:             24:24                And Tony, I know this is number four, but this loops back to number one for me. You have to get to know your mission field because I would guess maybe 40 years ago when people had a problem, they might try church for help, but now they go to reverend Google for all of those questions and again, are we going to be in that Google search with truly helpful content that’s out there? All right. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners before we close this up?

Tony Morgan:               24:50                Yeah. I just want to acknowledge and especially when I throw out a challenge like the last one, I recognize what you do, what you do as pastors and leaders in the church. It’s challenging and it’s a high calling and there’s a high level of accountability. I recognize that, uh, but we have to continue to help people who are already a part of our church take these steps. And part of what we do as leaders is we help the folks that are already connected and faith to understand the why. Again, it’s, I believe it’s really an issue of maturity because the our Christian faith, it’s, it’s not about me, it’s about loving God and loving others. And we have to have this focus on people outside the faith and we have to help those folks take their next steps toward Jesus as well. It can’t be one or the other. God called us to do both.

Amy Anderson:             25:52                That’s really good. Well, thank you Tony, and thanks to our listeners for joining in today. If you would like to dive more into this content or work through it with your team, or you can get the show notes for this episode at the unstuck group Dot com slash episode 65. And by the way, if this episode has been helpful for you, don’t forget to leave us a review on itunes. That’ll help other leaders find this content as well. And as always, you can learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck@theunstuckgroup.com.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.