Looks like I’ll be out in Denver in May for the Externally Focused Church confernce from the 5th to the 6th. I’d love to have coffee or lunch with any of you who read this blogsite or who are friends that are attending. I’ll be at the preconference and all the sessions, let me know.

Our senior pastor at East Lanier found this conference because one of the speakers (Robert Lewis) was the author of “The Church of Irresistable Influence.” I’m reading through it right now…another church philosophy book, I know, what can I say I’ll be doing catchup reading on church philosophy type books for a long time because I’ve been in Seminary land for the past four years.

So far I’m enjoying it, particularly the bridge architecture illustrations at the start of each chapter (I’m a closet architect fan). The author comes off basically missional in his ecclessiology, and explores themes like incarnational living, problems of being ingrown communities, etc.

Below is a summary of the characteristices and strategies of an Externally Focused Church:

Characteristics of Externally Focused Churches

1. Externally focused churches are convinced that good deeds and good news can’t and shouldn’t be separated

Just as it takes two wings to lift an airplane off the ground, so externally focused churches couple good news with good deeds to make an impact on their communities. The good deeds, expressed through service and ministry to others, validates the good news. The good news explains the purpose for the good deeds.

Engaging the community with good news and good deeds is not a tactic or even a foundational strategy of externally focused churches; it is at their very core of who they are.

2. They see themselves as vital to the health and well-being of their communities.

Externally focused churches believe that their communities, with all of their aspirations and challenges, cannot be truly healthy without the churches’ involvement.   They recognize God has placed them in their communities to be salt, light, and leaven.  They are not social workers – they are kingdom builders.

3. They believe that ministering and serving are the normal expression of Christian living. 

Externally focused churches believe that Christians grow best when they are serving and giving themselves away to others.  Because service and ministry are an integral part of growth models for the church and the spiritual formation of its people, it is not unusual for a huge percentage of the congregation to serve and minister outside the walls of the church.

4. Externally focused churches are evangelistically effective.

It’s no secret that the church in North America is not hitting the ball out of the park evangelistically.  Church attendance has dropped from a high of 49% in the 1991 to 43 % in 2002.  While the U. S. population grew by 9 % between 1992 and 1999, the median adult attendance per church service has dropped 12% during the same time.

The good news for externally focused churches, according to the FACT study, is “congregations with a strong commitment to social justice and with direct participation in community outreach ministries are more likely to be growing than other congregations.”

The realities of these statistics show that an increasingly large portion of our population has no idea “how to go to church.” Externally focused churches have the advantage of deploying people into the community where they can be church through their love and service.

Although these churches serve their communities expecting nothing in return, many people are drawn into the kingdom through their presence.  Fewer people are asking how to be saved, but they are looking for “authenticity” in relationships.  When the people who talk about a loving God demonstrate love, the gap between doubt and faith is narrowed.

Strategies of Externally Focused Churches

1. They identify the needs of their communities and start ministries or programs to meet those needs. 

For example, they may start food banks, learning centers, or English as Second Language (ESL) programs for immigrants.  Experienced churches often form separate nonprofit spin-offs under which a ministry can be organized.  This separate 501©3 status often allows them to receive outside corporate and government funding to get the resources required by large-scale endeavors such as affordable housing, food banks, and homes for unwed mother’s

2. They partner with existing ministries or human-service agencies that are already accomplishing a shared mission in the community.

Nearly every community has a number of human-service agencies that are morally positive and spiritually neutral and are doing their best to meet the needs of the under-served and under-resourced people of the community.  Such agencies include food banks, homeless shelters, emergency family housing, and safe homes for abused women.

In addition, externally focused churches recognize that “parachurch” ministries are effective in ministering to specific target audiences (such as youth, unwed mothers, and the unemployed.)  Rather than starting a new ministry, these human-serve agencies and “parachurch” organizations can serve as “partner ministries” of a local congregation.  Churches can simply join what is already happening in the community, without having to start from scratch.