If non-Christians are not knocking down your door to get into the church, maybe your focus is wrong. I am not suggesting a seeker-friendly service or gimmicks to get people in. According to Rick Risaw and Eric Swanson, getting people into church means we must first get out of church. In their book, The Externally Focused Church, the authors have offered the tools necessary for reaching our communities with the Gospel of Christ in an effective and practical way.
I first heard of this resource, published by Group, last year when interviewing pastors of churches who had very high percentages of members involved in active ministry service. These pastors saw their ministry in light of the community and they were more concerned about mobilizing the people for impact outside of the walls of the Sanctuary. Several stated that they had been challenged by The Externally Focused Church.
Church leaders have a choice: focus on the membership or focus on the community. I am not trying to create a false dichotomy here, but one will serve the other. Either our churches exist to reach the community or they exist to serve the members (a consumer mentality). Most churches fall into the latter and most churches are also declining in membership. Rusaw and Swanson resurrect an idea from the past- all the way back to the first church.
“Externally focused churches are convinced that good deeds and good news can’t and shouldn’t be separated,” the authors state. This book provides a perfect balance between the proclamation of the Truth and caring for people outside the church. Preaching without compassion is empty and unfruitful. Likewise, a “social gospel” approach does not impact lives for eternity. Rusaw and Swanson recognize that Christians “…are not social workers but kingdom builders!”
The Externally Focused Church embraces a relational model of evangelism. Effective outreach occurs when church leaders “…recognize that the gospel is most powerful when Christians are living in face-to-face relationships with those in their community.” The vision of the church is clear and the programs typically interface with existing organizations and community events. Externally focused churches are active in assisting schools, hospitals, civic organizations, businesses, and other non-profit agencies that benefit the community. Serving others opens the door for sharing the Good News of Christ.
There are several key benefits to this book. First, there is an uncompromising vision that every Christian ought to be involved in reaching people for Christ by serving. Jesus had a servant’s heart and we are called to no less today. Second, a simple outline for sharing the Gospel with others is presented. This plan is personal and powerful, focusing on the work of God in the Christian’s life. Third, it gives an honest evaluation of the Body of Christ at this current moment. Lastly, the book has an abundance of testimonies and examples of actual congregations reaching their communities. Weaving these stories into the content makes this book easy to understand and sparks a wealth of ideas for the reader to consider.
Church leaders need to heed the warning given near the end of the book: “If we keep heading in the same direction, we are likely to get where we are headed.” If we choose to ignore the community into which God has placed our congregations, we will find that the people in the community will ignore our church.