Friday, April 20, 2012

Allegheny District Conference: The Externally Focused Church

Heather and I are enjoying our time at the 30th Annual Allegheny District.

This year's theme is The Externally Focused Church. We've listened to good talks from Alvin Sanders and author Eric Swanson.

In 2007, I read Swanson's book by the same title and reviewed it for EFCA Today.  I agree with what I said then. These are important things to think about and to do.
Book Review: The Externally Focused Church
by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson

I picked this book up at National Conference in my search for answers to my “Samaria Questions.” If we are going to “go through Samaria,” we have to learn to focus past the four walls of our church buildings.

Rusaw and Swanson are trying to convince church leaders to combine both good news and good deeds in reaching their communities. Externally focused churches serve their neighborhoods and cities in tangible ways so that they become a vital part of their communities and, at the same time, introduce them to Christ. The opposite are internally focused churches who make no impact on the community in which they are located. Churches like that could disappear and nobody would notice.

The Externally Focused Church is a book for leaders, and it got my leadership-juices going with a bigger vision for our church. It is easy to read and full of Scripture, inspiring stories of churches that are really doing it, and practical wisdom on how to lead in this direction. It is meant to be read together by leadership teams. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, application points, and even lesson/sermon suggestions.

I especially appreciated how clear the book was on the relationship between good news and good deeds. Both are essential. Neither are optional. Good deeds demonstrate and validate the good news (footnote: Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 12). But no one is saved without the good news (footnote: Romans 10:14-15).

I don’t think that I would want to lead a church that was solely externally-focused. My current definition of church is Jesus’ worshiping community of gospel-centered disciplemakers. That entails at least three necessary foci: God (upward focus), church members (inward focus), and the world (outward focus). External focus, however, is probably the easiest one to lose sight of, and if we don’t give it lots of attention, resources, and effort, we can quickly fall into an ecclesiastical myopia. This book will help a church grow more externally focused, and I think that’s great.


Learning to be Externally Focused is one of the critical needs of this American moment for the church. Sounds like you are at the right place doing the right things. Appreciate you brother.