Why are so many of our churches today insular and siloed, unable—or unwilling—to look out the window at the world beyond our walls? Here are seven of the top barriers to engaging with those around us:
1. We aren’t experiencing God ourselves.
If we’re not experiencing God in our daily lives, we’ll be less motivated to reach out to others. After all, if God doesn’t make much real difference in our lives, why would anyone else need him?
2. Too much inward focus.
When we get so zeroed in on meeting the needs of people who are already within the church, we feel the need to make the church a one-stop shop for fixing people’ problems.
3. Not knowing where or how to start.
Some people in churches may genuinely want to reach out but have no clear avenue for getting started. They may not have any real understanding of the needs of the community or even who is in the community.
4. Freeing up time and energy.
In these cases, people would like to reach out, but feel they are already too busy. Consider what your church is offering that requires people’s time and energy. If church programming is preventing outreach, you’ll want to take a hard look at your goals and how they align with the way you use your time.
5. Being in the comfort zone of fellowship.
Fellowship with other believers can feel good, but it’s not the primary activity Jesus has called us to as his church. In these cases, consider ways you can be a support to one another as you are serving, ministering, reaching out, and making disciples.
6. Fear and an unwillingness to reach out.
This scenario will require some honest reflection. What are some of those fears? How can you facilitate people’s engagement with one another about those fears? What concerns or perspectives might need to be addressed?
7. We just don’t really care.
People who are far from Jesus are not our problem.
How to look out
“[With] an undivided heart—that is, a heart undivided in its commitment to Jesus—we engaged in compassion ministry, volunteering in a variety of ways in hands-on ministry as we sought to make and multiply disciples… all flowing from our deepening connection with Jesus under the guidance of the Spirit.” –An Undivided Heart: Living and Loving Like Jesus
Different barriers will call for different solutions. For example, number three—not knowing how or where to start—can be readily addressed with some logistics: survey and pray over the community, talk to people within the community and get to know them, consider how God is already at work within this community and how you might come alongside those efforts.
Number one might call for spiritual formation, while number four might call for time management and re-prioritization. Numbers six and seven will require some deeper work, perhaps facilitated by an outside consultant, and followed up with a refocus on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Identity the issue
Before you start trying to put forth a solution—because not looking out of our own windows to those people God has placed around us is definitely a problem—be sure you’re looking at the right underlying issue.
How would you assess your own church in this regard? Which of the seven reasons listed above hit closer to home than others? What kind of reflection—and action—might God be calling you toward?
Guides for Discipleship
One way to identify the root and begin taking action is to look through the 9 Guides for Discipleship—each addressing a different topic—and consider them through the lens of this blog entry. What might God be calling you to focus on next? Where is the real barrier? What issue—if addressed well—will help you move forward most fruitfully?
Experiencing God: Intentionally and consistently engaging with God in order to develop a deeper understanding of him and deeper relationship with him.
Spiritual Responsiveness: Actively listening to the Holy Spirit and taking action according to what you are hearing.
Sacrificial Service: Doing good works even when it’s costly, inconvenient or challenging.
Generous Living: Faithfully stewarding what God has given you so you can contribute toward the advancement of the Kingdom.
Disciplemaking: Living in obedience to the great commission given by Jesus, which entails making more and better followers of Christ.
Personal Transformation: Changing your attitudes and behaviors in positive ways as a result of your relationship with God and others.
Authentic Relationships: Engaging with other people in ways that reflect the heart of God toward them.
Community Transformation: Personal involvement with others to facilitate positive change where you live and beyond.