The Outward Focused Church

“What is the one thing every leader needs to listen to, understand, and implement in order to succeed?”

It has been less than a year since my family and I planted Grace City Church in San Diego, CA. Being in ministry for over a decade, I have seen and felt the temptation to become more inward focused than outward focused. Many of us have heard the question in church circles, “If your church closed tomorrow, would anyone notice?” This question somewhat helps us to stay on mission, but does not decisively answer whether or not we are outward focused. We want to say, “Of course my community would notice if we were gone! Of course our church is outward focused!” But are you? Just because people notice that we are gone, doesn’t mean that our community would care. Honestly the allure of becoming a local celebrity is more powerful than devoting our lives to being humble servants. Big crowds of people listening to us preach on a Sunday seems better than loving our neighbor. But if large crowds are our goal, we will never have a truly outward focused church. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s true. That subtle pull to become inwardly focused is deadly and just because people know about our church doesn’t mean we are focused outside our walls. So with that in mind, what are some questions to check our hearts, and our churches to ensure we are keeping an outward focus?

Do you have an outward focused vision?

Look at the vision of your church. Write one if you need to or edit the one you have. Does it speak to serving your community? If you don’t have an outward focused vision, you won’t have an outward focused church. The vision for Grace City is intentionally outwardly focused. “We are a church for our city that seeks new life in Jesus.” We are a church for our city. God has placed us in UTC San Diego, and so we are here for the people right around us! We say our vision every week, and every time it is read, it’s accountability. We constantly ask our selves – “How are we a church for our city?” This helps us remember that we are not here for ourselves, we are here for others. This type of vision will fight against the inward pull of self.

Are you equipping people to live on mission daily?

Too many times we try to convince people that the only ministry they can do is serving in our churches. This is a lie that needs to be confronted. Ministry is seven days a week, not just one day! Paul tells is in Colossians 3:17 what this looks like “…and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Are you equipping people for the daily ministry of loving their co-worker? Loving their neighborhood? If not, your church will become the hub of every “good deed” for your city. Unless people are properly prepared they won’t be ready for the ministry He has called them to have – to live on mission everyday! The greatest way to be outward focused is for everyone in your church to think of themselves as missionaries.

Do you truly believe that simple acts of love can make a big impact?

I had a church planter friend tell me when we started, “Learn to be hosted before you start hosting.” As churches we become very good at thinking we know the needs of our city better than the people we are trying to reach. Start small. Learn the rhythms of the city. Be willing to make small, positive interactions with your neighbors rather than jumping in with a bang. Give it time, God will open the right doors during the right season. For us, it’s simply taking Chick Fil A and writing thank you notes for the staff at the school in which we meet. It might not be received well at first, but keep trying. Simple acts of love and kindness go a long way and make a big impact.

Are you building bridges in your community?

First, I need to say this, your church is not the only one in your city! Get to know the leaders of churches right down the street. At the end of the day there is only ONE church. Jesus’ church. We live in a part of the city where over 97% of people don’t go to church. There is only a handful of us church leaders here, but we stick together! We pray for each other. We meet up monthly. It’s that important. We need each other. Secondly, do you know your city leaders? Or should I say, do they know you? There are so many opportunities all throughout the city to get involved. Let’s stop making things up about what we “need to do” for our community and look for the areas that they are crying out for help! There are many.

Have you planted roots in your city?

Are you living among the people that you are trying to reach? I have seen a number of pastors, and I’ve even done it myself, that don’t live among the people they are preaching to every week. There are many reasons why. Schools, cost of living, convenience. My advice is – bite the bullet. My family and I are rooted in our community, we rent a home here and my son goes to school here. Is it easy? No! It’s super expensive! Is it worth it? Yes. We have a connection with our neighbors that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We know the idols of our city. God has given us favor here because University City is our home.

Take some time to process these questions and pray. Ask God to give you His vision for what an outward focused church looks like in your city.

Randall has a passion to see people get connected to solid resources that can help forward their mission. He’s worked in the large church context for almost a decade and in 2015 he, his wife, and three kids moved to the Left Coast and planted Grace City Church in University City San Diego, CA. He’s now the Church Relations expert with Catalyst Creative and the man to go to for all your church support needs.