The Seven Qualities of an Ingrown Church—and Why We Need to Outgrow Them

A number of years ago, I came across C. John Miller’s book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, first published in 1986.  I found this book refreshing and challenging.  No church ever puts on their mission statement, “I want to be ingrown and only think about me and mine.”  All we have to do is to be non-intentional, taking care of that which is manageable and controllable.  Being an ingrown church takes very little action, but has horrendous consequences for the Kingdom. 

C. John Miller outlines seven qualities of an ingrown church.  May God continue to set us straight as we take those next steps in our journey with His Son.

  1. Tunnel vision: limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand.
  2. Shared sense of group superiority: “Struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations.”
  3. Extreme sensitivity to negative human opinion: A word of disapproval from a “pillar” of the church is enough to rattle the ecclesiastical squirrel cage and send everyone running for cover. This ‘pillar’ can usurp the role of Christ, thus can make or break a church. Give in to intimidation at the leverage wielded.
  4. Niceness in tone: Where a church wants a nice pastor preaching nice sermons about a nice Jesus in a nice tone of voice. The problem is, nice usually means safe, and Jesus is not safe at all!
  5. Christian soap opera in style: Inward churches often use their tongues, not to witness or pray or praise or affirm one another, but to publicly review one another’s flaws, doings, and sins. They have become horizontal in thinking rather than vertical. Thus, forgiveness and healing, forbearance and love are rare.
  6. Confused Leadership Roles: Inward churches do not want leaders who are pacesetters for the Kingdom. Fear of change runs extremely high. Leaders therefore must operate in an unexpressed but clearly defined social contract. As a result of these boundaries, leaders have little input in the daily lives of church members. Zeal and enthusiasm are squelched. Missing out that every member is a minister to use their gifts and talents to help others grow in grace.
  7. A misdirected purpose: Inward churches are concerned about surviving, not thriving. Winning souls to Christ takes a backseat to keeping the doors open and the traditions moving. Outsiders have to wait a certain amount of time before they can contribute. Forgotten are the three W’s: worship, work, and witness for Jesus.

(From C. John Miller’s Outgrowing the Ingrown Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986, pp. 29-36.)

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