“Help us to be more externally focused!” is a common appeal from churches today, and many churches are learning that it’s much more complicated than saying that your church is externally focused, your church has to actually make some systems changes to be externally focused!
A church in Minnesota recently announced that they were externally focused because they allowed community groups to use their facility, while another church in Texas began to introduce pre-reading activities into their preschool Sunday school. While both are positive, those activities may not be enough to sustain the culture shift toward external focus. If a church is to actually BE externally focused, it will require more than a marketing campaign.
Here are a few actions that may begin the shift:
First, have conversations, preach, and teach about the value of your church in the community, with an emphasis on being the best church for the community, not just doing outreach in the community. If the congregation and leadership are not passionate about serving the community and partnering with community leadership, then it will be difficult to develop an external focus.
Next, be careful to communicate that events alone are not going to be enough to meet the needs of your community. Events, such as service days and “handout” activities should be viewed as ways to begin the external ministry process, and not be viewed as the goal.
Embed external ministry activities into the ministry description of every person serving in the church. In the list of responsibilities for each small group leader, Sunday school teacher, deacon, usher, team leader, what is at least one activity that reaches beyond the congregation and church facility and into the community? For example, one church in northern Colorado that regularly engages up to 10 worship teams on a weekend, discovered their local school district had no school music programs. Is it possible that one of the activities a worship team could provide would be some basic musical training to public school students?
Review your church’s personnel policies to see if community engagement and community volunteering is encouraged, incentivized and rewarded in human resources practices. If we expect our church membership to serve in our church and in the community, should not the same be expected for paid church staff?
Provide illustrations in teaching curriculum and in preaching which are derived from external ministries. If all of the good stories are from serving in the church, people will not understand that serving beyond the walls of the church is valid and equally as spiritual.
Invite, train, recognize and celebrate external service simultaneously with internal service. Segregating in-house service from community service can do a disservice to both service arenas. Consider doing only one ministry fair, which would include all service opportunities, and send the clear message that servanthood is the expected response, no matter where it happens.
Avoid using language which reflects a preference in serving opportunities. Integrating information for all service is most effective in engaging people to serve. Provide information on all service opportunities to a specific age-group, on a specific day of the week, during a specific month or in a specific neighborhood.
Develop partnerships with community organizations for identifying, training and developing people for service in church roles and in community leadership roles. Is service on a community-benefit organization board a requirement for serving as a board member in your church? Is service in a church prerequisite for serving on a local community-benefit organization board?
Lastly, think about the ways that your gifts, as an equipping leader, could be used in the wider community. Discover new places to use your passion as a leader in organizations that touch lives beyond your church. It will change the way you lead and equip!