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The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

When our churches become so inwardly focused that we lose sight of our God-given mission, it is time to chart a new course. Worship wars are a major sign of inward obsession in the church. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, weighs in on signs of a church that has turned its gaze inward in this reprint from his blog:

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.

dying-churchBut 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?

About The Author

Kenny Lamm

Worship Consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. A frequent worship clinician and guest worship leader. Extensive work in worship renewal in several Asian countries.

7 Comments

  1. Sadly, it seems that no matter what topic is central to church division and strife, when we allow ourselves the luxury of pushing our own agendas at the expense of others, we have then lost sight of the very reason we united as a church body in the first place. That attitude demonstrates that we are living too much in this world with little regard for the promise of eternal life waiting just a “Few Short Years Away”. How can we as Christians let the style of music, or the topic of a Bible study become of such importance that we forget to “love one another”, to treat others as you would have them treat you, or if feeling hurt, to turn the other cheek in true forgiveness. The anser to inwardly looking churches is to change the individual hearts of the inwardly looking members. Remember that our commision is not to build huge church buildings or to establish the greatest bible study groups in the land. Our commision is to “Go” unto alll the lands and make disciples for our Lord and Savior. That’s hard to do when your bickering over musical selections and bible study topics. Go unto all the world! While your out there the issues back home will seem insignificant indeed.

    Reply
  2. Wow—I hate to say it, but I’ve been a part of several churches that now, after reading this list, I can recognize has having been inwardly obsessed. My current church only has one of these characteristics, and you can guarantee that I’m going to forward this to my fellow church leaders and ministers to see if they agree that we have a few things to work on.

    Reply
  3. Some of the “worship wars”, though, are begun by people who are doing “change for change’s sake” or who have bought into the ideology that we “have to” do contemporary music without taking into consideration the demographics of the congregation. I have several organist friends who were in essence told that their talents and gifts are no longer relevant in today’s world. What an insult to God, who granted these individuals these talents and desires. We must be careful to consider the gifts, talents, and abilities of all of God’s children.

    Reply
  4. Ongoing squabbling at monthly business mtgs. over “anything.”

    I personally know of a Sr. Adult Mens Sunday School Class who voted to “not participate” in the Watchman Prayer Ministry when initiated at their church in Virginia.

    God’s using you as an alarm clock! Thnx.

    Reply
  5. This is where our church lives and we are currently in the war zone trying to change our focus. We have lost sight of the Great Commission for the great comfort. This article will prove helpful as we share with key leaders what we have been trying to communicate. We have all 10 signs currently in our church, and have had several families have begun to leave the church. Business meetings are hostile and groups have been meeting to try and oust the leadership. So far God has prevailed and attempts have been thwarted, but there is damage. We are now trying to get the remnant refocussed on what the church’s purpose is.

    Reply
  6. Wow, I recognize some of those. (Very well put, by the way.)

    I agree that “most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season.” My question is, if “a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period,” what can we do about it?

    Thanks, and keep up the great work,
    G

    Reply
    • Excellent question. This is something that the Baptist State Convention’s Congregational Services Group has spent much time in working through ways of helping churches become healthy and more outward looking by creating a disciple-making culture. Take a look at this page to see what is coming.

      “We will lead you through a Christ-centered process to help you DISCOVER where you are and where God is leading your church, DEVELOP a strategy to get there, and resource you to DELIVER that strategy. We will walk with you through the entire process as you prayerfully seek God’s direction for your church.”

      It is a way of assessing the total health of a church and helping to seek ways to get things back on course. Too many churches are resting happily in the inward-focused, country club atmosphere approach. Thanks for reading!

      Reply

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