Yesterday at the church where I pastor, I shared one characteristic of what C. John Miller calls an ‘ingrown church.’ Below are a synopsis of all seven characteristics from his book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller(Zondervan, 1986) pp. 27-40.
1. Tunnel Vision
Members of the ingrown church body are characterized by tunnel vision that limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand. These possibilities are often further limited by recollections of past negative experiences and perceptions of present obstacles. At bottom, this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirit’s power—His ability to supply us with God’s goals for the church and the supernatural means to reach them.
2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority
This visionless church is often characterized by a sense of superiority to “the others.” Many smaller congregations and their leadership have become egocentric because of their fear of extinction. Struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations. . . . This assumed positive feature leads to an unconscious elitist attitude. If we are proudly clinging to an ecclesiastical tradition and making it our hope, we may have secured our status in our own eyes yet failed miserably with the Lord.
3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion
The members of the ingrown church are also likely to feel inferior and shrivel up and die at the first sign of opposition. A world of disapproval from a “pillar” of the church is enough to rattle the ecclesiastical squirrel cage and send everyone running for cover. . . . The sad truth is that one negative critic with a loud voice who speaks from within the inner circle of the ingrown church usurps the role of Christ, wielding the power to make or break programs. . . . An ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God.
4. Niceness in Tone
The ingrown church has the shared desire to be seen as “nice.” What is often wanted in the local church is unrelieved blandness: a “nice pastor” preaching “nice sermons” about a “nice Jesus” delivered in a “nice tone” of voice. . . . It is likely that those who are walking with Him in close fellowship will not always be nice and predictable. But the introverted church wants to secure the church doors against divine surprises and unannounced entrances by the King.
5. Christian Soap Opera in Style
In the introverted church we find that the members use their tongues a great deal—not to witness or pray or praise or to affirm one another, but to publicly review on another’s flaws, doings, and sins. We all know how easy it is for church members to go home after hearing a sermon and have “roast pastor” for lunch. Why does this happen? . . . . Unbelief and fear characterize the mental outlook in the ingrown church. The members of the church do not see themselves as living, praying, and talking in partnership with Christ and one another through His indwelling Holy Spirit. There is often a failure to cultivate among leaders and people a spirit of forgiveness, mutual forbearance, and love.
6. Confused Leadership Roles
In many churches the members of the congregation do not want officers who are trying to be pacesetters for God’s kingdom. This is especially true of the small church, where fear of change runs high. In the typical self-centered church, there is a hidden determination to eradicate enthusiasm that disturbs the comfortable routine dictated by self-trust, self-exaltation, niceness as a defense mechanism, and the rights of gossip. . . . In this system elders also lack great convictions about God and His gospel and have little active role in the daily lives of church members.
7. A Misdirected Purpose
It is clear from the foregoing that the controlling purpose in the ingrown church has to do with survival—not with growth through conversion of the lost. We can recognize this misdirected purpose by noting what goes into the church budget (and what is left out) and how visitors to the church services are welcomed. No planning is devoted to finding ways to assimilate visitors into the fellowship.
Read through Romans 1, Psalm 95, and Matthew 28:18-20 each day for a week. Ask God to show you how to prevent or to overcome being an inward, ingrown church.