10 Symptoms of an Inwardly-focused Church

Re-Post by Tony Morgan

Can you imagine a business that never focused on reaching new customers? Imagine Apple saying, “We have no plans to sell phones, tablets, and computers to new customers in the future. We’re going to focus solely on our existing customers from now on.

For a season Apple would likely continue to thrive because it has plenty of existing customers. But, over time, Apple would slowly lose it’s customer base until eventually everyone has either started purchasing products from other companies or passed away.

The thought of a business like Apple only focusing on existing customers seems ludicrous and a recipe for disaster, but the crazy thing is that I see churches embracing this “strategy” on a regular basis.

Let me help you discern whether or not you are part of an inward-focused church. Here are ten symptoms I’ve noticed in my interactions with churches across the country.

1. Your bulletin is loaded with announcements. Usually this is an indication that your church is focused on programs rather than people. Programs are competing for people’s attention rather that creating a clear path for new people to take next steps.

2. There are lots of meetings. The more inwardly-focused a church gets, the more board and committee meetings there are to talk about buildings and budgets. When people are on mission, there are fewer meetings.

3. You don’t hear and share stories of life change. Instead, you’re more likely to hear all about all the activities that are happening in the church.

4. There’s only one service on Sunday. Inwardly-focused churches are more concerned about knowing and seeing everyone. That becomes the higher value over reaching new people.

5. If you have more than one service, you have multiple styles of worship. There’s a traditional service, a blended service and a contemporary service. That’s an indication that the worship is more about the people who already attend your church.

6. The greeters are talking with their friends rather than meeting new people. If there isn’t an intentional strategy for guests services with people and signage, it’s a good indication that you aren’t expecting new people.

7. Change of any sort is resisted. It doesn’t matter how big or small the change. Service times. Paint color. Room assignments. Service order. Song selection. Inwardly-focused churches are more interested in preserving the past.

8. The church is led by people-pleasing pastors. The pastors are trying to keep everyone happy rather than prioritizing fulfillment of the church’s mission. The first question is probably not, “What does God want me to do?” Instead, decisions are made based on the perceived response of individuals in the church.

9. The church is attended by pastor-needing people. The “members” are consumers. They are expecting to be served rather than engaging the ministry to serve others.

10. People are not inviting their friends. And your gut may be to teach more on evangelism, but that typically doesn’t fix the problem. More likely, your services and ministries are not designed to reach people outside the church. When we intentionally create environments where life change happens, people want to attend and invite their friends.

Where does your church stand? One symptom may not be a strong indication of a serious illness. If you identify several symptoms in your ministry, it may be time to call the doctor.

The challenge, of course, is that even though your church is inwardly-focused, it could still appear to be thriving. Just because you have lots of people showing up doesn’t necessarily mean you have an outwardly-focused church.

tony-150x150Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of TonyMorganLive.com. He’s a consultant, leadership coach and writer who helps churches get unstuck and have a bigger impact.

She’s not a megachurch. She’s my sister.

Re-post by Shauna Niequist

When I was three, we lived so close we could walk to the church my parents started. When the first building was being built, we’d walk over every evening to watch the construction. We had little hard hats, my brother and I, and we’d check every day what had been done, what new beams or walls, what new electrical or plumbing.

I know that my church’s name is shorthand for all manner of things—seeker movement, megachurch, modern evangelicalism, whatever.  But those words don’t tell you who she is.

She’s my sister. She’s less than a year older than me. Here in Chicago, we call that Irish twins. She was my playground, my safest place, my home more than the house I grew up in. I’ve worked there, cried there, stood in weddings there, witnessed funerals there. I fell in love there, working alongside the man who became my husband.

People ask what it’s like to be a pastor’s kid. I don’t know the difference. What’s it like to be anyone else’s kid?

What I know is that the church is my family every bit as much as my aunts and uncles are. What I know is that the very best parts of who I am today were nurtured along by that incredible community—by Sunday school teachers and junior high small group leaders and mentors and friends who walk with me still.

I know it’s a thing. I know people write about it, rage against it, have strong opinions about it. But I’m not talking about all that. I’m talking about who she is.

If I could reach through the computer and take you by the hand, I’d walk you through the hallways and tell you stories of confession and redemption. I’d show you where I learned to read God’s word, where I learned to listen for his Spirit, where I gave my life to him and to his purposes here on earth.

I’d show you where I got a concussion in junior high, and where I was standing when a boy reached to hold my hand for the first time. I’d show you where I was baptized, where I was when I watched the Twin Towers fall on September 11th, where I sat trembling just before I preached there for the first time, scared out of my mind.

I’d introduce you to Casey, who I met in 6th grade, who is one of my dearest friends to this day. I’d sit you down to talk with Dr Bilezekian, my Dad’s mentor, a man who’s been like a grandfather to me. I’d introduce you to men and women who’ve been volunteering there for more than thirty years, holding babies or packing up groceries in the care center or sweeping up, long after the services are over.

My church isn’t perfect. Sisters, of course, know each other’s faults better than anyone else. But being a sister also means you get a front row seat to the good, the beautiful, the fiercely loving and thoroughly grace-soaked best parts of it all. The view from here is breathtaking.

For a long time, I didn’t write much about my church. I needed, for a long time, to talk and write about other things, to make a way and a voice for myself that wasn’t only defined by the pastor’s daughter part of my life.

But this church of mine, this sister: it’s not only the church of my childhood. It’s the place where I pray, sing, confess, take communion now. It’s the community that shapes me, walks with me, instructs me, holds me now.

I’m not little anymore, and neither is she. But she’s still my sister.

You learn all sorts of things growing up the way I did. And one of them is this: the labels never suffice. The articles and blogs and books and outside opinions never will capture the real thing. They’ll reduce it to policy, numbers, data.

They fail to capture what a church actually is: real live actual humans, showing up day after day, year after year, building something durable and lovely over time, together, with prayer and forgiveness and love.

They forget that it isn’t an institution. It’s a family. She’s my sister.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 10.18.16 AMShauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life–friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God. (View her original post here.)

The GLS is a Turning Point

Stories from Hong Kong:

The GLS committee in Hong Kong displayed incredible leadership when they hosted the event this year. The team of committee members worked together to serve more than 500 guests in the new auditorium, which was almost filled to capacity.

“Very inspiring. It helped me see many areas to be improved. It was a tremendous help to both my church and myself. Many thanks! God bless you.” GLS attendee, Hong Kong.

“Excellent! It broadened our horizon to develop leadership in the church and spread the Gospel. I really hope for more of these training and learning opportunities for the churches in the Mainland.” GLS attendee, Hong Kong.

The Korean GLS in Los Angeles:

Nearly 1,200 leaders gathered at a Korean GLS site in Los Angeles last week, almost
filling the auditorium to capacity. First and second generations gathered together in unity,
worshiping and growing together through each session.

Stories from Nepal:

Through Christians are in the minority in Nepal, where only 2% of the country practices Christianity, the church is growing fast, even in the face of oppression. However, many pastors are facing burnout due to a lack of training, skills, and
resources to handle the growth, especially in the rural areas where there are very few resources available in the local language.
“I was on the verge of quitting when someone gave me a few of the GLS DVDs. And that was the turning point. The GLS has changed me, my working style as a pastor, and the way I look at every Sunday. I want to take this training to my colleagues who only speak the local language.”

Local pastors in Nepal have joined together, and are beginning the work it will take to hold a GLS there this year. They’ve formed a steering committee, and are in the
process of organizing the translation of the GLS into Nepali for the first time. God
willing, the first GLS will occur in Nepal in the Nepali language this year and in the Hindi language by next year. We are excited to see how the GLS will spread to pastors in the rural villages and the impact it will have on the church and their communities when the GLS is translated into local languages.

View more pictures and stories at www.willowcreek.com/followthegls

Women Step Up in Leadership

The GLS in Pakistan

The ripple effect of the GLS spreads to some of the most unexpected places in the world. Christian leaders in Pakistan face great opposition, often at the risk of losing their lives, for the sake of bringing the Gospel into their communities.

Our friends in Pakistan courageously host the GLS in order to train, encourage, and build up leaders in this difficult region. While all Christians leaders in Pakistan face opposition, women in leadership battle even greater challenges. But this does not stop them from pressing on to satisfy their hunger to learn and grow as leaders and women of Christ. One woman, moved by the GLS and the impact if had on her and her leadership, started a women’s leadership training program. “We will do all we can to get trained.” she said.

More than half of the 45 women who enrolled in the 11-month leadership program, were forced to drop out due to pressure from male leaders in their churches. Undeterred, 22 women (ranging in age from 18-72) continue with the program, learning from world-class GLS teachers including Bill Hybels and John C Maxwell. The vision of the program is to reach every woman in Pakistan with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and teach every woman how to read, write, and lead.

We celebrate these 22 courageous women who graduated from the Women in Leadership course, the first of its kind in the history of Pakistan. These women who lead as teachers, medical professionals, evangelists, church leaders, college students, and women’s rights activists have been encouraged and empowered by this program. The 2013 graduation was a celebration attended by many pastors, leaders, and citizens of the Christian community in Pakistan. Already 60 women have enrolled for the 2014 program! Pray for the impact this training will have on these women and their communities.

The GLS in Costa Rica

“Leadership training is what the Costa Rican church needs to grow and be relevant in a fast-changing society.” -GLS Leader, Costa Rica

350 leaders gathers from every corner of Costa Rica to attend the GLS. Participants were welcomed by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, among them a group or 10 women who have been freed from sex slavery, and are now a part of the Rahab Foundation. This organization is recognized for their work and focus on relief from from sex trafficking. Since becoming a part of Rahab, they’ve received protection, support, training, and even funding to start a new life. At the GLS, they also received leadership training. The collaboration between the Rahab Foundation and GLS organizers was a great blessing to these women who volunteered to serve food and were invited to attend the GLS sessions.

This is a great reminder that God redeems and restores the broken and continues to use us to further the Kingdom in the roles we can play. Everyone was stirred and impacted by all the sessions, including the ones focused on vulnerability, a healthy culture, and innovation. Many are already asking about the next year because they desired to continue to grow in their leadership for the sake of the Church and their communities.

View more pictures and stories at www.willowcreek.com/followthegls

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

5 Reasons the Church Can’t Outsource James 1:27

Post by Jedd Medefind

Barna Research last week highlighted the growing Christian engagement with adoption and foster care among its “Three Major Faith & Culture Trends for 2014.”

I’m seeing this every day. Across the US and globally, Christians are embracing orphans in amazing ways–from local foster care and adoptions to support of orphan care world-wide.

And this is key: it’s not just about lone families adopting or fostering or sending checks. It’s most of all about the local church living out James 1:27 as a community.

Why? Here are 5 reasons there is no replacement for the local church in caring for orphans:

  1. “Government makes a terrible parent.” Those are the words of a friend who spent  25 years in government child welfare. Good government can play a vital role in protecting kids from abuse, but government can never provide the love, nurture and belonging that every child needs most.
  2. It’s Hard. Every child’s journey as an orphan began with tragedy. Usually it gets worse from there. So when we welcome these children into our lives, we taste some of that tragedy, too. Loving a wounded soul to wholeness is a journey no one family should walk alone. The encouragement and aid of a supportive church community is essential.
  3. Loving Orphans Shows the World God’s Heart. Far more that a mandate from God, care for orphans is a mirror of God’s heart. Before Isaiah directed, “Defend the fatherless, 1:17″ the Torah described, “He [God] defends the fatherless.” (Dt. 10:18). When a church embraces orphans, we’re offering the world a small yet potent reflection of how God first loved us.
  4. Welcoming in Orphans Remakes the Church. Abstract discussion of “justice issues” suddenly become a precious child, now in our midst. The challenges and joys of loving this child bind us to each other, build community and deepen faith. A pastor friend described foster care in his church, “I see it growing our understanding of biblical love–that it involves real sacrifice; it gives like God does to those who have no way to pay you back.”
  5. We Can Be the Solution. If just one of three US churches adopted a child from foster case, there would be more families waiting for children than children waiting for families. Yes, the global number of orphans is daunting, but the local church in every nation can become the primary answer. What a way to bring glory to God and re-shape the world’s perception of the Church!

Want to learn more about how you and your church can wisely engage adoption, foster case and global orphan care? Join us for CAFO2014 at Willow Creek Community Church, May 1-2.

Yes, government and NGO’s have a key role to play. But when it comes to loving orphans, there is no replacing the local church. We just can’t outsource James 1:27.

Jedd Medefind serves as President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. His most recent book, Becoming Home, helps Christians and churches engage adoption, foster care and orphan ministry.


Leitungkongress: The Summit in Germany

Over 7,500 pastors and church leaders from across Germany and Switzerland gathered in Leipzig, Germany March 6-8 for Leitungskongress, The Global Leadership Summit in Germany. This event is the largest of the WCA’s international events and was one of the first international locations for the GLS in 1996.

Leipzig, the host city, is located about two hours south of Berlin and is home to St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach was a composer and cantor in the 1700′s. It’s also home to one Pastor Christian Fueher. He and his church led the “Monday demonstrations” in the 1980s that were instrumental for bringing down East Germany’s Communist regime and played a critical role in the reunification of Germany. With this year being the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, it seemed a fitting location to host the event. While the wall has fallen, the deep work of rebuilding lives and communities is ongoing, and in the midst of that, the church is Germany is growing stronger. While pastors and leaders in attendance represented a wide array of backgrounds and denominations, the spirit of unity among all of them was evident.

Bill Hybels fittingly opened the first session of the event saying, “What are we all trying to build collectively? We all have a desire to build churches that honor God and build one another. Churches that impact their communities. It’s a dream that unites us all today.”

Throughout the two-and-a-half day event, speakers from the USA including Kara Powell, Richard Webb, John Ortberg, Heather Larson, and Pranitha Timothy shared the stage along with German pastors Michael Herbst, Gottfried Locher, and Martin Schleske. Additionally, content from Jim Collins’ GLS keynote in 2013 was played, translated and contextualized for the German leaders.

A theme resounding throughout the event was the need to build strong and healthy churches that, with compassion and mercy, are making a difference in their communities. Words from Heather Larson of Willow Creek put it best, “There is too much at stake for us to not do our part.”

The event concluded with everyone in the audience filling out little sheets of paper with their hopes, prayers, and dreams for what they were believing for God to do through them in their local churches. The question simply asked, “What, God, will you have me do?”
If what happened in Germany over those few days is any indication of what’s to come, then it’s clear God is going to do something great in churches in Germany, Switzerland, and all throughout Europe.

This is just one of hundred Global Leadership Summit events that happen throughout the year as an ongoing commitment by the WCA to invest in the leadership development of pastors and church leaders around the globe. Through your faithful giving to the WCA, we help build strong leaders and churches throughout the world. Thank you for playing your part and supporting the work of the WCA.

5 Ways the Son Of God movie can create a Jesus conversation in your church

Post by John Edgar Caterson

As a church leader you know the challenge of finding common ground with people who are open to God but closed to the church.

Sometimes culture does that for you.

Jesus is coming to the big screen on Feb 28. And the Son Of God movie, produced by 2013 Global Leadership speaker Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, will expose millions of viewers to the central figure in the Word of God.

So the big question is: How can you lead your congregation to use Son Of God for its intended purpose—to spark new conversations about Jesus and the Bible? These conversations take on more and more urgency as our culture becomes increasingly jaded about the Bible.

A few tips to share with the people you lead:

1. Create a safe space for conversation.

Every conversation is unique, but here’s the key:  People want to talk—not just be talked to. Create an environment where the movie is THE primary topic of conversation and people feel safe to express their doubts, opinions and reactions.

This accomplishes two goals. First, it gives people a support system, both inside and outside the church, to consider Jesus and his claims in the Bible. Second, it creates an opportunity to explore questions about the movie and its central character, Jesus.  If you have trouble thinking of questions, American Bible Society has a Son Of God movie discussion guide that can help.

2. Start with some easy reading.

The Bible is a critical resource, but it’s daunting for many to begin reading. The questions “Where do I start?” “What does it mean?” and “How does it apply to me?” are real.   Consider directing people to the  Son Of God Bible devotional, which explores the subject of the SON OF GOD from the pages of the Bible. It’s an easy, accessible way for people to begin exploring the Bible’s claims about Christ for the very first time.

3. Challenge people to do ONE thing.

The Bible (especially the message of Jesus) calls us to think differently and live differently. Challenge your congregation to identify one behavior of Jesus they resonated with and ask God to help them do that for a month.

4. Pray.

As you and your staff pray, ask God to surprise movie viewers with ONE dimension of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Pray that viewers would then have the opportunity to explore that theme in the Bible.

5. Avoid a one off.

Make a point to connect people to other Bible engagement resources.  For some, God will use the movie—and what your church does in response—to awaken a curiosity or greater desire for Jesus. Be ready to direct them to resources to follow up on that interest. Several tools you might consider include the Son Of God movie discussion guide and Journeys—a site that allows readers to sign up for online Bible devotionals.

Mark and Roma Downey have given us a fresh, compellingly visual take on the central figure in God’s redemptive story for a culture that loves a great story.  Let’s use this opportunity to serve those who need a fresh perspective or might not otherwise know the Bible’s story.

John Edgar Caterson currently serves as Executive Director of Church Engagement at American Bible Society. He has served as a church multiplication associate in the Christian & Missionary Alliance (CMA) with 30 years of ministry experience, and currently serves as the CMA overseer for the City of Tampa.  John Edgar lives with his wife and three children in Lithia, Florida.

Becoming Light in Darkness

As people around the world surrender to God’s call on their lives and demon­strate a hunger to learn, His church grows into a powerful force. In Bacolod, Phil­ippines the church has become a light in the darkness. Through the GLS, leaders are uniting and the church is thriving and impacting the communities.

Hosting the GLS here began as a journey in May 2013. Ikthus Church, where the GLS was held, was just a shell, but by early 2014, it was transformed into a beautiful, vibrant auditorium with a capacity to seat 1,200. More than 900 church and city leaders gath­ered for the GLS and there is room to grow for next year. 

“I had nearly bailed from ministry, but today has changed my heart to finish strong.”

“I am one of three Elders here from my church. We have recently been forced to move on from another church and a week ago, we were praying for God to lead us. The GLS has answered our questions. God’s timing is perfect.”

“Dear Lord, there is blood on the floor for you have pierced my heart—thank you!”

Just a snapshot of the GLS in Ger­many. 8,000 pastors and church leaders gathered here for training, encourage­ment, and inspiration to build a stronger church in Germany.

Click here to view the worship from Ger­many!


 More than 300 leaders from different de­nominations packed into the hall in Chennai, India for the GLS. Severaltraveled all night to be here. This kind of encouragement and leadership training is what they need in order to continue to reach their communities for Jesus.


In Panama, more than 300 church and marketplace leaders gathered from the central re­gion of the country to learn, grow, and think outside the box.  Pastors from different churches workedtogether to make the GLS in Santiago de Veraguas, Panama a re­­ality, and they organized the most influ­ential leadership event in this region. Looking beyond their own denominations and communities, they fixed their eyes on Jesus and what He can do in the Kingdom. In this rural area of Panama, their leadership is inspiring and life changing.

“This is the first time I was invited by my church to come to a conference that really teaches about leadership. Usually they teach about religion and Bible top­ics, but this time I learned lessons that I can really practice.” -Comments from an  lawyer who attended.

After the GLS in Racife, Brazil atten­­dees were moved to action and to start diving deeper into addressing the needs of the rural poor in Brazil.

Pastor Agreste was fired up. With plans to broaden his influence in the church and in his rural community, he hopes to serve under-resourced areas and trans­form the lives of those in need in Brazil. The GLS host church has formed LEAD, a new group that aims to train leaders and help bring the Summit to rural areas of Brazil, like the area where Pastor Agreste is from. They want to make a way for every influential leader, regard­less of their economic background, to have access to leadership training in or­der to transform their communities.

A glimpse at the Baltic Church Conference where 1,000 leaders gathered from 4 different countries in the Baltic region as a follow up to the GLS

View more pictures and stories at www.willowcreek.com/followthegls

So do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being rewarded day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18