Seven Habits of Outwardly Focused Churches

It was not a dramatic moment in time. Instead it was subtle, almost too subtle to be noticed. It became evident first in mainline churches. But evangelical churches followed a few years later. The erosion was slow, but it became glaringly apparent after several years.

The change of which I speak is the movement away from outwardly focused ministries in churches. Over time, most of the resources of time, money, and ministries have shifted more toward the members. Churches are now gathering in holy huddles with little intention of breaking out into a world of lostness and loneliness.

How It Happened

How did this negative trend develop? Though many perspectives could be offered, allow me simply to share the practical perspective. There was a time when most churches had an outreach ministry. And more times than not, this ministry was a type of program with predictable patterns.

But church leaders, vocational and lay alike, became program averse. So they slowly began eliminating outreach programs in their churches. I understand why this development took place. The programs seemed ineffective, not culturally relevant, and often cumbersome to lead and implement.

The problem, however, is that nothing replaced the programs. And the mild culture of outreach in churches was replaced with no culture of outreach.

At the same time, more churches started sending members on international mission trips. This development was good. But it gave many in the church a sense of false comfort that the church was really outwardly focused. The problem was that many times the local community became a neglected mission field.

Possible Beginning Points for an Outwardly Focused Church

So I began asking leaders in outwardly focused churches about their practical steps. I made certain the leaders were in different size congregations lest I offer suggestions limited to one group of churches. The leaders were in churches with worship attendance ranging from 50 to 2,500.

The answers I received were immensely practical, very helpful, and highly doable. Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are seven of the more common habits.

  1. The church takes time during each worship service to pray for the community. Prayer is powerful; and the church members become more focused about their communities.
  2. A volunteer or staff person is accountable for the outreach ministry of the church. If no one has leadership responsibility, it does not get done.
  3. A regular report is provided to church members about outreach and ministry efforts in the community. What gets reported gets done. Have you noticed most churches provide financial reports to the church members? That says the money is important. We need at least equal emphasis on the importance of outreach ministries.
  4. Churches have regular “mystery” guests come to the worship services. One church leader told me that his church asks someone in the community to be a mystery guest every quarter. Those guests are always first-time guests, and they share their experiences with leaders later that day or week. The church members thus get to see the worship services through the eyes of a community member.
  5. The church gives obsessive attention to their websites. A church website is the new front door for churches. It’s almost always the first place prospective guests go. These websites should be designed in a very guest friendly way.
  6. The churches are intentional about scheduling ministries, events, and activities for reaching the community. One pastor told me that his church always focuses on one key community outreach ministry per month. The church’s attendance is less than 80, but it was under 40 two years ago.
  7. Churches are intentional about connecting with their communities through social media. It is mindboggling that we have the most pervasive form of communication in history, but very few churches use it strategically. I know a pastor in a rural community who worked with a Millennial and asked her to lead the social media outreach. It has been a great success because someone is responsible for it.

Share Your Stories

There are many great stories from other churches about effective community outreach and impact. I would love to hear your stories. Indeed I would love to hear any of your thoughts about this article and the seven traits I noted.

I look forward to your comments.

Posted on May 28, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • John Cooper says on

    All of these characteristics are great. I just left a church where so much of these things were not considered important. I updated our website constantly, and yet, now that I am gone, most of the calendar dates back to a year ago. We had a community carnival that drew around 100 children from the community, but, because we didn’t fill the pews, the event was a one-time-only event. What we ended up with was a great facility that could serve 500-600 people, with an attendance of only 150 at two services! We have since left and are looking at more vibrant congregations. This is true of so many churches today-they are stuck in the 1950’s model and can’t or won’t move. Sadly they will be beautiful buildings that will sit empty or serve other purposes…

  • Hi and thanks for the blog.

    Social media is an ideal place to post the outreach events that do happen. We have definitely seen that posting about Sunday communion or an invite to the Sunday when lunch is shared, or any gathering where two or more members are together for real time, old fashioned face to face socializing is a easy (and effective) way to get visitors.

  • These are great observations. Thanks! I often remark that even churches who are missionary minded or send mission teams may not themselves be “Missional” when it comes to their approach to the great commission. A truly missional church will do everything in light of the mission to bring people to Christ. They will be active locally and internationally. I also believe we should evaluate whether the ministry efforts impact people in ways that are efficient and effective. If it’s not whether we “feel good” about our ministry but how many people come to Christ, learn of Him, and are transformed by His Spirit.

  • Margie Lamb says on

    Our minster prays for our community all the time. We have started some little groups that anyone can come to and just visit with each other, play games, color or whatever they would. We have also had a Big block party the last 2 years that is open to not only the neighbors around our church but the community. We also have a Halloween event the end of October that is open to the public where we decorate tables all around the perimeter of our fellowship hall and kids can come and we have treats for them at each table. We also serve hot dogs, chips and drinks for anyone that would like. Our town is around 11,000 people but we try and reach out to the community as much as possible. Our church also started a community garden on our grounds and we also got a Missions going for our town several years ago to help people fix up their yard, porches, etc. It is a community thing with people from the whole town volunteering. We do this in June and are starting to do in September also. Our minister is big on missions across the sea but in your own town and this country.

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