4 Ways to Move Your Church from Inward to Outward Focused

The natural trajectory of the church is to drift inward, but its design and destiny is to move outward. 

An inward focused church is not a bad church, it is merely a church that has become consumed with taking care of its own, solving the problems of the church, and investing its energy to keeping the programs good and going.

An outward focused church also cares for the congregation, works hard to keep ministries meaningful, but directs a substantial amount of thought, energy and resources to those who are outside the church.

Over the last few years, we’ve experienced an elevated level of influences that pull churches inward. For some, it was a sense of what was required, for others it was perceived as a means of survival. For all of us, it was not expected.

Pulling back is a natural response to the punches that life can serve up at times. Like a boxer in a ring, when the opponent is advancing and the hits are hard enough, you can’t help but retreat. The problem with that retreat is that once you are in a corner, it’s easy to get stuck there. Then you’re in trouble.

For the leader, like a boxer, it takes intentionality, willpower, and strength to get out of the corner, away from the ropes and back in the fight.

When a church has drifted inward it’s more difficult to see it than you might expect, and it takes a leader with a strong team to lead the church outward again.

The following are a few common reasons a church can drift inward:

Concerned about safety and security
Safety and security matters to everyone, but if it dilutes the effectiveness of the vision, or pulls the leaders and congregation inward, it may be more about fear than security.

Progress meets with resistance
The book of Acts is quite clear throughout the narrative of the early church that progress and problems are inseparable. Progress for the sake of the gospel will always meet with resistance, yet it remains our responsibility to press forward.

Setbacks and discouragement
We can all relate to the reality of setbacks and discouragement. Over time, that drains a leader’s energy and vision which allows drift toward inward rather than reaching outward.

Disconnect with current culture
The moment we fail to connect with or understand current culture we automatically begin to drift inward. It doesn’t mean we don’t care, but it translates that way to those outside the church because we don’t understand how people think and therefore can’t connect or communicate our compassion well.

Leadership has a comfortable sense of busy
It’s easy for churches in general to become “busy machines,” and to eventually find a kind of comfort in that place. The church operates well, but there is little sense of urgency or energy to reach the community.

4 Ways to Move Your Church From Inward to Outward Focused:

1) Shake off the past

Whatever reasons may have caused your church to drift inward, you don’t have to remain stuck there. Determine to shake off the past and re-engage the passion and confidence you once had to move intentionally outward.

This is not meant to sound like an annoying platitude. We know it’s not easy. The church wants to drift inward, but the pain of remaining stuck there is greater than the risk of pressing forward.

Let me offer you some starter ideas.

  • Remember your dreams and vision when you first came to the church.
  • Simplify your ministry.
  • Take a few days for a quiet retreat to find spiritual rest and resolve to make some changes.
  • Ask others to help you. You may have all the gifts and talent you need, and still need a little help to get a breakthrough.

2) Become a student of human nature

To be a compassionate spiritual leader requires more than merely heart to consistently care about people, we must also understand human nature to truly connect and care.

If we are distant from the realities of everyday life because we’re consumed with the inner workings of the church, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s happening around us and therefore lose relevance.

We then lose our salt and light.

We need to take our heart for people and add to it time with people who are outside the church, think and live differently. That will always change the direction of our ministries.

Engaging new friends through kindness and meaningful conversation creates a hunger to do so all the more! It’s a gospel-centered way to lead a church toward outward in nature.

3) Focus on forward

There is a unique leadership nuance that tethers us to the truth that outward must also be forward.


Because progress is always forward. That’s not so easy to see when you are in the trenches of daily ministry. It’s far too easy to be busy but not productive, and surprisingly common to work hard but stand still.

This is nuanced because there’s a subjectivity connected to your definition of forward.

The definition and measurement of forward must always aligned with your purpose and vision, or again, you may fall into the not so apparent trap of busy but not moving forward.

Here’s a good starting point. It’s difficult for most of us to say no and cut favored but unproductive projects and ministries. Nonetheless, what are the irreducible essentials that cause forward motion toward the fulfillment of your mission? Focus there.  That list is nearly always shorter than you think.

4) Invest in the mission over the machine

The larger a church grows, the easier it is to become over-organized and under-evangelized. This results in feeding the machine over the mission.

The machine of the local church can become a monster that is always hungry and growls for more food.

We understand the nature of machine, the necessary but draining functions of operation. More policies, more meetings, more money, more systems, more staff, more stuff. You get it. Just more. Soon all your time and energy goes there — machine over mission, inward not outward!

The remedy isn’t easy, but it’s clear.

Mission over machine.

If we discipline ourselves to feed the mission, that is putting our best thought, time, effort and money there, we eventually move both outward and forward.

This is not to disregard the operations of the church (the machine); it is needed and necessary, but the responsibility of leadership is to keep the mission first.

The machine must always serve the mission.

One great way to do that is to elevate your ministry to the next gen. A subject for another post.

8 thoughts on “4 Ways to Move Your Church from Inward to Outward Focused”

  1. As always, thank you Dan! I am encouraged through this personally as well as corporately. May we all move forward with God’s mission of the Gospel first and foremost in our hearts.

  2. Sick redesign Dan, love what you did! As always love your stuff. Tried and true and I MAKE myself open the weekly email and every time there’s a timely reminder

  3. The article was quite good and realistic. Many years ago I realized as I studied churches and businesses that had existed a long time, many died while the very experienced were leading. The leaders had far more experience than many others but what they were leading was dying. As I noticed that I pondered why those churches and business were dying or had died. I think the article describes why those things happen.

  4. Hi Dan
    Yes Thank you for this article, a really good reminder. I first read of this inward “gravitational pull” on planet “church” from Andy Stanley. Thanks for the work-throughs.
    But im also interested in your “Daymakers” word in the comments above. That really caught my attention. Where is that from?

    1. Daymakers… the team (staff) at 12Stone Church have embraced that concept as an approach to reaching out, caring and ultimately evangelism. It’s a new effort, so I don’t have long term results to report, but early on it’s has great traction! As for the origin… nothing new under the sun, so I don’t really don’t know. But the staff landed on it and are running with it!

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