A few years ago I had the privilege of taking a class on Missional Leadership with Reggie McNeal through my studies at Fuller Seminary.
For the class, we read The Externally Focused Church by two pastor-theologians, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. In the book, Rusaw and Swanson coined the phrase “externally focused” that defines a church that equips, empowers and encourages church members to be missionaries to their community, particularly through service.
Before going deeper into how a church – and particularlly Cross Church – can be internally strong and externally focused, I would like to take a brief look at other types of churches that maybe aren’t as interested in practicing both internal strength and cultivating an external focus.
Internally strong, internally focused
An internally strong and internally focused church is mainly interested in itself. This is a program heavy church with a full church calendar. The goal is to keep members busy and to attract new members by offering as many events, ministries, programs, etc. as possible.
A sign that a church is internally focused is that although it may be adding new members every month, the new members join by transfer from other churches. This type of church may baptize many each year as well but it is likely that the baptisms are of members’ children. So the church may seem evangelistic due to its new members and baptisms, but in reality, it is not reaching non-Christians outside of the walls of the church campus.
This type of church is more of a Christian country club than it is a church on mission with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Internally weak, externally focused
An externally focused but internally weak church is outstanding at evangelism. This type of church attracts a huge crowd at weekend services and consistently witnesses many adults, students and kids come to saving faith in Christ. The majority of the church’s time and resources are poured into making the worship services as exciting, creative and attractive to the lost as possible. Using a tired cliche, this type of church is a seeker-oriented or seeker-friendly church.
Because the focus is on the worship services, an internally weak church has a huge “back door”. Meaning that while it sees many new Christians come to faith, it also sees many members looking for a church that offers more depth in discipleship. The disciple making ministries, such as small groups, are an afterthought of an internally weak church.
Internally weak, externally unfocused
An internally weak and externally unfocused church is an unhealthy church heading towards closing its doors. The age of the church members tends to be older, with little interest in doing what it takes to reach new people with the gospel. While the church may have small groups and other discipleship ministries, the small groups have not added new members in recent memory. Unfortunately, the baptistry is dry with members unable to remember the last time it was used.
The scariest aspect of this type of church is that far too many churches in America are both internally weak and externally unfocused; too many churches in America are more likely to close their doors within the next generation than they are to reach people with the gospel.
Internally strong, externally focused
Externally focused churches encourage members and leaders to become involved in the community. Service, outside the walls of the church campus, encourages members to build relationships with the unchurched. As relationships are developed through community involvement, hearts will be opened to the gospel. Service allows Christians to be the salt and light that Christ has called them to be.
Church members can discern where to serve through their personal interests and proclivities. For my family, this means that I coach my boys’ soccer team. For others, it can mean active engagement in scouting, service organizations like Lions Club, dance troupes, bands, sports at all levels and ages, PTA, biker gangs, gaming (video game)…things…, etc. The sky is the limit and creativity should be encouraged.
Community engagement and service, when done with intentionality for the gospel, has great potential for the church to the unchurched with good news of Jesus Christ.
An externally focused church will have fewer activities and events. Some events, such as Fall Festival, may have to be sacrificed in order to free church members towards externally engagement. Ministries, such as upwards sports, may also have to be given up so that a church member can enlist their children in a local sports league and for parents to help lead the team.
Even though there should be fewer ministries and a cleaner calendar, the church will have to prioritize disciple-making ministries in order to be internally strong. When someone is lead to Christ through community engagement, there has to be a process in place through the church to help the new Christians to reach spiritual maturity.
In addition to a strong disciple making process, the worship service will have to be engaging, sermons will need to exposit the scriptures faithfully, small groups must be a place for fellowship, community and accountability, the pastors will have to take their responsibility to shepherd the church seriously and the church must have a means to equip church members to share the gospel. In short, the church must be internally strong in order to fulfill the great commission’s command to reach people with the gospel and disciple them.
It is my desire for Cross Church to become such a church – one that is internally strong and externally focused.