The “look outside” mission and evangelism focus in church development is basically all the rage right now. We’re talking a lot about how we’re failing because we’re too focused on navel gazing. That is absolutely true–too often we’re focused on our own church and our own practices and our own selves, imagining that people will just wander in because they would somehow want to be a part of “us.”
So, the logical thing to say is that we must totally reorient our viewpoint: we have to get out of our churches, focus all of our energy on going out–and meeting new people to bring in.
I am a gung ho, get-out-into-the-community, and get-your-hands-dirty-for-Jesus type of Christian. I believe social justice work is a primary function of the church–
However, there’s a reason that we’re not just another non-profit.
We are people who offer meaning, comfort, forgiveness with the story of resurrection and new life.
So, I want to caution people against this idea that we should be spending all of our time outside of the church.
We still need the kind of community that people would actually want to participate in.
We still need to focus on who we are, how we live out the gospel, so that we can be the kind of community that is worth inviting others into.
If we jump out into the world, and meet all these people, and invite them back to our community–but then have no spiritual depth to offer them, what then? The health of our internal community’s spiritual and religious life is also a part of our mission.
- When people arrive at your church, do they feel as though their questions about God can be explored safely?
- When people come to your community, do they feel supported and connected and integrated?
- When people visit your church service, does it give them spiritual renewal, and an uplifted soul?
- When people visit your church, would they be able to understand why members invest in this place?
If we focus outward on reaching new people, but we aren’t ready yet, we run the risk on focusing outward for the sake of our church and our selves, not our God and not the Good News. So, some navel-gazing might be necessary. We need to ask serious questions of ourselves if we’re going outward and connecting with people who don’t already know our community.
Do we practice what we preach? Are we who we say we are in all that outreach that we do?
Does our purpose and mission point to God, or point to our church?
Do people in our congregation already have the tools and language they need to invite others to walk with them in their spiritual journeys?
If your answers to those questions worry you, then perhaps some navel-gazing is necessary. That will probably involve going outward to serve in mission–to do the hard work of learning what it means to live a Christian life. It will mean getting your congregation to think of church as something that serves God, not something that serves churchiness.
It will also mean which will likely involve much more looking outward than they are used to–but, it will absolutely ALSO mean coming inward again.
It will also take the deep personal investigation that builds the integrity and soul of a place that knows its call before God.
So back up for a second. Without the roots, that beloved mustard tree will never grow.