Earlier this week Dr. Thom Rainer’s post The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches garnered a lot of views, shares, and comments. If you haven’t read that post it provides the context for what follows.
Todd Wright is the pastor of Midway Church in Carrollton, GA. Carrollton’s close neighbor is Villa Rica. Neither is in the suburbs. Midway Church is between Carrollton and Villa Rica, closer to the Alabama state line than to Atlanta.
Todd became pastor at Midway nearly 20 years ago when the church was running around 200 on Sunday mornings. It was in most ways a traditional, rural church. Today, around 2,000 people join together each Sunday at Midway as part of their discipleship journey.
The following interview was conducted via email.
Lifeway Pastors: When you went to your church it was reasonably large for a rural church with 200 in attendance. Was there a concern about an inward focus?
Todd Wright: In 1996 when I went to Midway, the church did have somewhat of an outward community focus, but not in an aggressive or comprehensive way. As a whole, they knew the church needed to be more outward focused, but needed someone to lead them to it. The lack of strategic outward focus kept them in a default inwardly focused position.
LP: How did you help your congregation see the difference between being inward and outward focused?
TW: I led the church to develop an Acts 1:8 Strategy. The strategy includes: Our Jerusalem (which included ministry of the body to itself, and visiting every home within a five-radius of the church), Our Judea, Our Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth.
We emphasize both inward and outward ministry. No diligent pastor would say it’s not important to have an inward focus at all; to do so would ignore the basic heart of a shepherd. The problem exists when a church has only an inward focus.
LP: How has God changed you and Midway since you’ve changed focus?
TW: At this point the Midway Church has certainly embraced the concept of being “Driven by the Mission.” Missional living is at the forefront of my personal life and hundreds of others. Hundreds of Midway Church people are volunteering every week in our jails, hospitals, Lifegroups (small groups ministry), schools, and our Lifeline Ministry (food and clothing for the poor in our community). Others find ministry purpose through short-term mission involvement internationally.
LP: Did you lose people when they realized they would not longer be the focus of attention or decision making power?
TW: We have certainly lost people at various times for various reasons. But in regards to this issue, most people have been responsive to Biblical teaching on the mission of the church. And since our strategy includes an inward and outward focus, most people have adapted to embrace the mission.
LP: Dr. Thom Rainer notes the number one reason churches don’t grow is because of an inward focus. Have you noticed this in churches you’ve seen?
TW: Yes. I find that most pastors at one time lived and led with an outward focus. Too often over time they evolve into “preaching chaplains” instead of “change agents” leading the church to be on mission. Leading a church to stay on mission (to remain outwardly focused) requires constant attention, ministry evaluation, and frequent changes. And all change is met with passive or aggressive resistance—sometimes both. It’s difficult and tiresome. Many such pastors succumb to the pressure and just take care of the people who are paying the bills. The result is that the church maintains its inward focus.
LP: What would you say to that pastor who’s in an inward focused church who really wants the church to focus on the community and the world?
TW: I would encourage that pastor to regularly remind the people: “Jesus did not die on the cross so we could have good church services, or just feel good about going to heaven when we die. He died to redeem fallen human beings. His church has been commanded to “Make disciples of all nations.” Churches must obey this commission. It won’t happen overnight, but a clear mission, inspiring vision, simple strategy, and steady leadership will move your church toward an outward focus with a healthy inward ministry.