I just finished reading “The Externally Focused Quest” by Eric Swanson & Rick Rusaw. If you’re a leader in a church, or have a passion for the mission of the church? This book will challenge you. Here’s a summary of the book…
Most churches, blatantly or subtly, have an unspoken objective—“How can we be the ‘best church in our community?’”—and they staff , budget, and plan accordingly. How a church answers that question determines its entire approach to its members, staff, prayers, finances, time, technology, and facilities. Becoming an externally focused church is not about becoming the best church in the community. The externally focused church asks, “How can we be the best church for our community?” That one little preposition changes everything, and this is the big question this book seeks to answer. This is your question; this is your quest.
We can think of churches as either “aisle-seat” or “window-seat.” Aisle-seat churches
are almost exclusively preoccupied with what is happening inside the four walls of the church; window-seat churches, by contrast, have a focus that is external to the church, and their vision extends far beyond the four walls. If you want to be the best church in the community, choose the aisle seat (in first class, if you can), but if you want to be the best church for the community, slide over to the window seat.
Churches that transform communities are those that are inwardly strong but outwardly focused. An increasing number of churches are rediscovering their focus and thinking differently about what church should be. These are externally focused churches—window-seat churches that measure their effectiveness not by how many congregants are sitting in the pews but rather by how many congregants are engaged in the community. These churches firmly believe that if they are not engaged in meeting the needs of their communities, they are not the church that Jesus called them to be. Does your church take the window seat or the aisle seat?
A few years ago, Eli Morris, from Hope Presbyterian Church outside of Memphis, sketched three concentric circles depicting how he gauges the spiritual progress of folks at his church. Morris said, “There are people who give money and things, there are people who engage in projects, and there are people who engage with people. Life change happens when people engage with people, so we want to move people from the outer circle (those who give money and things) to the inner circle (those who engage in ministering to people).” Jesus invites us to become engaged deeper and with greater frequency. Yes, that means it gets messier. But like a child who sees a mud puddle for the first time, let’s touch it with grace and see what God does as a result.
Externally focused ministry focuses on the kingdom rather than the church for the simple reason that there are many things externally focused churches engage in that do not directly bene t the church itself. People may come to faith in Christ but join a different church. Kids at the elementary school may all learn how to read, but the fruit of a commitment to a local school may not be realized for twenty years. If churches only have a local church perspective, eventually the business manager or executive pastor will say something such as “We’ve been doing this externally focused ministry for a couple of years now; what has been the result in our attendance and giving?” If the direction has not been “up and to the right,” most likely the conclusion will be “Let’s try something else.” We’d like to report that all externally focused, kingdom- minded churches grow dramatically, and some pastors do swear by the growth they have seen, but the truth is that some churches grow and some don’t.
Churches that are transforming their communities think in terms of sinking wells rather than building walls. Theologically, the “well” is Jesus, of course, but this image also serves to define what people in the community mutually care about. Churches that are transforming communities don’t divide over their differences but unite with other churches and community service organizations (faith-based or not) based on their common love for the community. We can unite and work together with other churches and other groups in our communities not because we share the same theology but because we care about the same things. Whether it is a church-to-church collaboration or a church-community partnership, it’s always about the well and not about the wall.
The expression fellow worker is used twelve times in the Apostle Paul’s writings. Logically enough, Paul calls his vocational Christian friends Timothy, Mark, and Luke his fellow workers; this title is not just reserved for the professional Christians but applied to his other partners from other parts of the community. The tent makers, Priscilla and Aquila, are his fellow workers (Romans 16:3), as is Philemon, the businessman from Colossae, and Urbanus, perhaps a government official from Rome, along with a host of others. The expression fellow worker is a translation of the Greek word synergos, from which we get our English word synergy. Synergy implies that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts: 1 + 1 =>2. When we partner with others outside the walls of our church or ministry, synergy happens. We accomplish more together than we could ever accomplish alone. When synergy is present, we not only accomplish more but also become better people in the process. To become the best church for the community, we need to learn to work well and play well with others.
If your goal is to become the best church for the community rather than the best church in the community, the scorecard for what you measure must change. This is not to infer that you stop counting the offering or the weekend attendance, but if you really want to be the best church for the community, you need to come up with additional measurements.
What is your scorecard? What does “winning” look like? How do you measure what really counts in your life and in your church? When you describe your church, do you talk in terms of inputs (size of staff, budget, and facility), activities (numbers of Bible studies, ministries, and programs), and outputs (number of people who attended your events, programs, or activities) or in terms of outcomes and impacts—the difference you are making in changing lives and changing communities? As we’ve said many times, becoming the best church for the community is a different game than wanting to become the best church in the community. You will need new skills, new eyes, and new like-minded companions to help you on this new journey. But we assure you that it will be worth it, and you’ll have the time of your life.
Here'a a link to purchase the book. http://amzn.to/2a6cML3