I just read The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (2004). It’s a good book about the church in action through service.
Rusaw and Swanson suggest, “Externally focused churches are internally strong, but they are oriented externally” (17). They are “convinced that good deeds and good news can’t and shouldn’t be separated” (24).
Externally focused churches “identify needs of their communities and start ministries or programs to meet those needs” (29). They also “partner with existing ministries or human-service agencies that are already accomplishing a shared mission in the community” (30).
The focus isn’t really about growing the church as much as it is about transforming the community in which the church exists.
The church has a place in creating healthy, transformed communities. Churches don’t have the luxury of withdrawing from the community. Whether they feel wanted or not, churches must realize that the community cannot be healthy, and all that God wants it to be, without their active engagement and involvement in its life—that’s the way God designed it. (58)
Service, or faith in action, is also part of one’s discipleship. The authors contend, “We learn from the scriptures, but we grow by serving others” (76). They say, “In serving, people have all kinds of opportunities to have their faith stretched” (77). Further, “The way to inwardly build a church is through outward service” (87).
Relationships are key. The authors devote an entire chapter to the importance of relationships. They argue, “The church that develops long-term, trusting relationships with the community is the one that has an opportunity to influence its culture” (94), adding that “Building long-term, trusting relationships with the community doesn’t happen overnight” (95).
On the connection between good works and good news, the authors argue, “Good works are the complement but never the substitute for good news” (120).
They write …
The Christian faith, for the most part, has been reduced to a philosophy—principles and tenets that we believe and can defend but don’t necessarily practice. It is our actions toward others that separate Christianity from philosophy. It is tying loving God to loving our neighbors as ourselves that puts legs to our faith. (116)
There’s also a chapter on casting the vision for an externally focused church. While I’ve always considered myself a visionary leader, the authors argue that all leaders are visionary leaders. They say, “It is a myth that not all leaders are visionaries. If you lead, you are a visionary” (147). That makes sense.
The work of vision is no small part of what a leader does. Rusaw and Swanson assert, “An effective leader spends part of every day focused on turning vision into reality” (150).
Well, if you’re looking for a resource on becoming an outward focused church, The Externally Focused Church is worth a look.