Sunday, February 22, 2009

Becoming an Externally Focused Church

We are part of a new small group at our church, and I'm excited about where things are going. We're studying the book by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson called The Externally Focused Church. The goal of the book is to encourage congregations to move outside their own buildings' walls and move into their communities. The crucial question for me is this:

If your church vanished, would your community really notice?

This is something that has been on our hearts for a long time. A few years ago our congregation spent six months raising money to build a Habitat for Humanity house, and then a few months building the house. It was a phenomenal experience from start to finish. Everyone in the church participated with unprecedented enthusiasm. We seemed actually unified—one body, even. And then it was over. The house was built; the good deed done.

We went back to business as usual, and the vast majority of the business had to do with our congregation itself.

We want to change that. The first chapter of the book lists the characteristics of the externally-focused church:
  • They are inwardly strong but outwardly focused.
  • They integrate good deed and good news into the life of the church.
  • They value impact and influence in the community more than attendance.
  • They seek to be salt, light, and leaven in the community.
  • They see themselves as the “soul” of the community.
  • They would be greatly missed by the community if they left.
That's the kind of congregation I'd like to be part of. I feel that we are right on the cusp of reaching outward but need some serious kicks to get going and to make service a habit rather than a very occasional event.

My Dad facilitated the group last night. My father is an amazing man, and he is more outwardly-focused than he thinks. But he began by holding up a toy airplane and explaining how there was a fundamental problem with him explaining how to fly a plane: he lacked experience. He went on to say that, although he'd been a church-going Christian for 60 years, he didn't know how to be externally focused. He'd never really been part of a congregation that made a habit of impacting the community in a positive way—a congregation that would be missed by the community if it disappeared.

And so we are making a start, and I'm excited. We're in the brainstorming and learning phase now. So tell me: what does your church do in your community? I'd love to hear your ideas and experiences!

(Want to read more about the Externally Focused Church Network? Click here.)


  1. Sounds like an interesting book, I'm going to follow the link. This is a great question to to be inwardly strong and outwardly focused.

    I've seen churches be very successful at this, from running soup kitchens - all the time, not just as a one time event at Thanksgiving, to having a clothing ministry or other needs-based ministry.

    What I'd like to see is what's described in Acts about the first church - the body of believers caring for one another and living in community together in an unprecedented way.

  2. This sounds like a good book. I will look into it. On a side note, I love that you have a Laurel, too! So, do we. Brenda


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