Your church exists to make disciples, therefore, your mission is about people. When talking about your mission, the question will arise For Whom does your church exist? The possible answers to that question, always boil down to these choices:
The Insider answer speaks to a church seeing its primary mission as the spiritual care and well being of its own members. This inward focus is by far the most prominent, honest answer for most churches and church members. My own surveys of churches as well as national surveys reveal that in anonymous surveys, the desire to take care of the needs of members almost always scores as the highest desired result, (often over 80% of a congregation). People will pay lip service to outreach, but when given a choice, they choose an inward focus.
The Outsider answer speaks to churches and church members who are outreach minded. The particular model or method a church may use to express outreach varies widely, but churches who are focused primarily on Outsiders prioritize those who are not followers of Jesus, most often those in their local community.
The Both answer speaks to the desire to be for everyone, to minister to both Insiders and Outsiders equally. It seems Biblical. If you look mindfully at the Great Commission, Jesus clearly says to make followers and to teach them once they are in the fold. The Both answer seems to serve a human sense of equality and lessen the risk of dividing a church over the issue of Insiders vs. Outsiders…just say both and everyone is happy!
Let me be clear on my answer to this question: Your church should exist for Outsiders. Not Insiders. Not Both. Outsiders. To some, that may sound a bit too definitive and divisive. Am I drawing lines where none need to be drawn? Am I ignoring the spiritual care and growth of church members? Am I just dumb? (There may be something to that last question.) Let me explain the rest.
Let’s first look at why I do not believe that Insiders is the correct answer. While there are many potential pitfalls to focusing almost exclusively on Insiders, I will focus on two.
Prioritizing Insiders is not Biblical.
Prioritizing the care and need of members over Outsiders goes against the words of the Great Commission and pretty much the entire New Testament that describes the work of the early Church. There is nothing wrong with tending to the earthly and spiritual needs of church members; in fact, churches should teach and build up the body of Christ that is already part of the church. The problem occurs when those needs intentionally or unintentionally come at the expense of gaining new followers. Churches who prioritize Insiders are not living out Christ’s command in Matthew.
Your church will be divided and will not grow.
Church members have different spiritual needs, earthly needs, and various opinions on almost everything that happens in the life of the church. If you focus on the needs of members, those needs often conflict with each other. One member thinks we should do more for the youth. One member thinks that we need more comfortable chairs. One member thinks she should have been visited more when she was sick. With limited time, energy, capacity, and resources, the felt needs of all members will never be satisfied. The needs, and the conflict over the needs, will become what the church spends its time and energy on. A church that is divided on member needs cannot focus on Gospel outreach. A divided church has no passion or movement for the Gospel and it will not grow.
A church that chooses to focus on Insiders at the expense of those who do not know Christ is not a church that is on a Biblical mission. I hope I’m not unclear.
So, what’s wrong with focusing on Both the Insider and the Outsider? To be forthright with you, there is nothing wrong with this answer. It’s a fine answer. It’s a safe answer. It’s an answer very few people with take issue with.
Here’s the rub: Who will your church prioritize? Who will your church serve first?
If your church says that it wants to serve both groups equally, here is what will happen: You will focus on the Insiders almost exclusively.
Even with the best of intentions to serve both groups, you will end up prioritizing the needs of Insiders over Outsiders.
The Insiders will always be standing in front of you.
The Outsiders won’t.
The Insiders’ needs are the squeaky wheel that will be addressed. An Outsider won’t make a sound, because they are not there. If your church believes that you can prioritize Insiders and Outsiders equally, your time, energy, and resources will be spent dealing with Insiders and you will not escape the natural inertia to focus inward.
By choosing to hold up both Insiders and Outsiders as your primary mission, you are really choosing Insiders. If you want serve Both, I have good news for you. You can!
If you focus on Outsiders as your primary mission, you serve the spiritual needs of both Outsiders and Insiders!
If you follow the Word’s of the Great Commission, you will prioritize spreading the Gospel to Outsiders. Jesus says the way to do that once you are baptized is to teach people the things He said. It takes disciples to make disciples! Should the church teach and build up those who already believe? Yes! Why should we do that? To go into the world and make disciples. If your mission priority is to make disciples from Outsiders, you will need a mission team (Insiders) to do that! Discerning who to put first is key. The mission is Outsiders, but teaching and building up the mission team (insiders) is a close second.
The early Church was all over this! The book of Acts follows the work of the early Church. I count fifteen references in Acts that mention and celebrate the number of new followers that the church was gaining. They didn’t stop teaching or caring for people once they became followers, but the priority was clear: make new disciples.
You can minister to both Outsiders and Insiders. The way to accomplish this is clear: Your mission needs to be focused on Outsiders; it’s why your church exists