The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

  1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.
  3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.
  4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.
  5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
  7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.
  9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.
  10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

My list is not exhaustive. You may have some items you could add. Have you ever been a part of an inwardly obsessed church? What signs were evident that led you to know the church was inwardly obsessed? Do you affirm some of the items on my list?

Posted on May 2, 2012

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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  • Great article and great comments, thank you. When outreach is only a special event and evangelism is a planned activity instead of the natural by-product of a healthy flock there is decline and death in a church body.

  • Thanks for a great post! This is so true. And is sadly more prevalent than we’d like to believe. It’s so easy to get caught up in the doings and trappings instead of simply seeking the face of Christ. This should be a point of prayer for all of us, that eyes will be opened to the full revelation of who God is (and who He isn’t). If I get to a Church and I’m angrily told I’m on someone’s seat (and yes it has happened), I’m probably never going back. That said, I also know how easily we get caught up in all of this which is why relationship should always trump religion in the life of anyone proposing to call themselves a Church Leader.

  • My wife and I have returned from Eastern Europe and Central Asia after over a decade of missionary work there and agree with Mrs Tadlock about having severe culture shock coming back to a country we mistakenly thought was the one we left.

    We began pastoring a small church and encountered these issues but after lovingly working with the congregation for 2 years we have seen God change hearts. Not all of them and it helps to have tough skin. It would certainly be hard on a young pastor and family who needed the salary to live on and might not have the freedom of being retired and having the freedom to take a more independent approach.

  • Don Matthews says on

    Another way of stating # 8 is to say they become more concerned with placating the saved than reaching the lost.

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