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Rainer wrote, “In a recent survey of churches across America, we found that nearly 95% of the churches’ ministries were for members alone. Indeed, many Ram A. Cnaan and others, The Invisible Caring Hand: American Congregations and the Provision of Welfare, (New York: University Press, 2002), 10-11.

churches had no ministries for those outside the congregation.”6 The “mission” of the church can not merely be to maintain itself. Jesus never commanded the church to merely survive.

Theological Factors A second issue is theological. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the eschatological teaching of premillennialism became a prominent popular theology of the day. A tenet of premillennialism is the imminent return of Jesus Christ followed by a thousand year reign of Christ on earth. A prerequisite to Christ’s return was the preaching of the gospel to the entire world “as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). It was this conviction that helped fuel the great missionary efforts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An aberration of this teaching, however, was that any effort Christians spent trying to make this world a better, morelivable place, as opposed to getting people into heaven, was to hinder and delay the return of Jesus Christ. It was this attitude that exempted the church from engaging in the ills and hurts of the community. This theological stance, which set itself against amillennialists, who don’t accept a literal thousand year reign of Jesus, was the beginning of what church historian David Bosch refers to as the “great reversal,”7 where most of the evangelical church, as they came to be called, exempted themselves from societal ills.

Thom S. Rainer, “Seven Sins of Dying Churches,” Outreach Magazine 5, no. 1, January/February 2006, 16.

Bosch, 318.

Secular Factors The third reason churches have refrained from social ministry is because of the secularization of social services. Although it can be argued that the fount of human services is the church, little by little the church has both relinquished this role and been eased out of this role by government and human service agencies—the “professionals.” Dr. Beryl Hugen, Professor of Sociology and Social Work at Calvin College, writing in Christianity and Social Work, notes that secularization is not without effect. He writes, Additionally, “the spontaneous will to serve,” so evident in earlier church volunteers was subverted by the drive for professionalization. Previous values that had stressed compassion, emotional involvement, and vigorous love of humanity… were “educated out” in preference for a “scientific trained intelligence and skillful application of technique.”8 Average congregants often feel underqualified to engage the homeless, immigrants, orphans, widows, etc. when so much expertise seems to be required.

The church is often absent from the conversation regarding societal ills and social needs. In the author’s own community of Boulder Colorado, in a publication entitled, Quality of Life in Boulder County, 2005: A Community Indicators Report,9 there is not a single reference to churches being part of the solution in addressing the top community needs such as at-risk youth, health care, homelessness, etc. although “public agencies,” Beryl Hugen, ed., Christianity and Social Work: Readings on the Integration of Christian Faith and Social Work Practice, (Botsford, CT: North American Association of Christians in Social Work, 1998), 22.

Quality of Life in Boulder County2005: A Community Indicators Report;

available from http://www.bococivicforum.org/pdf/bccf_report_2005.pdf; Internet;

accessed 2 February 2007.

“business” and “non-profit” agencies are frequently cited. Addressing the absence of religious-based literature in social services, Dr. Ram Cnaan writes, A review of over 35,000 abstracts written between 1977 and 1997 for social workers 220 sources mentioned the term “religion.” A close review of Social Work Abstracts failed to identify a single source that dealt with the religious-based social service organization as a service provider and/or a partner for social work. Nor was there any mention of religious-based social services that complement the services provided by the state, foundations, residents’ associations, and academic disciplines.”10 Cnaan further notes that similar patterns were found at papers presented at academic conferences, in textbooks, course outlines, and encyclopedias of social work.

Surely a church that focuses primarily on itself is not the church that Jesus came to build.

Believers are called to be salt (Matt. 5:13) and light (Matt. 5:14) not for and to themselves but to the world around them. In Matt. 25:35-46 Jesus says the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, the hungry, and thirsty are part of the community the church serves not the community the church avoids.

–  –  –

But there is hope. There are an increasing number of churches that are rediscovering their purpose and thinking differently about what the church should be.

These are externally focused churches—churches that measure their effectiveness, not by how many are sitting in the pews but rather by how many of their congregants are engaged in community. These are churches that firmly believe that if they are not engaged in meeting the needs of their communities they are not the church that Jesus called them to be.

Ram A. Cnaan with Robert J. Wineburg and Stephanie C. Boddie, The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 51.

–  –  –

My own experience with externally focused churches began in April 2001, when I was hired by Leadership Network (LN) to investigate urban churches that might become part of an “Urban Church Network.” Through site visits and phone conversations with over 150 church leaders I discovered that LN was identifying a genre of churches that were thinking differently about what a church could be and should be in a community that took me beyond urban settings. We at LN were identifying churches that were incredible agents of transformation in the community. Many urban churches have historically been involved in their communities. Early in this process I met with talented, hard working pastors and leaders from some of the most influential African-American congregations in the United States. Such churches included West Angeles Church of God and First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Christ in Los Angeles, Bethel Gospel Tabernacle, and Concord Street Baptist Church in New York City. These churches had extensive community engagement. To these pastors, it just “wasn’t church” if they weren’t involved in the needs and dreams of their communities. One study of 2,150 black churches revealed “67.9% of black churches are involved with social service agencies and non-church programs in dealing with community problems.”11 The impact of urban Latino leaders was equally impressive. Luis Cortes of Philadelphia’s Nueva Esperanza has helped thousands of Latinos become home owners in the Philadelphia’s Latino corridor in North Philadelphia. On the West Coast pastors and leaders like Daniel DeLeon of Templo Calvario, Rudy Carrasco of Harambee in West Pasadena, and Larry Lincoln, Eric C. and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 150.

Acosta of Santa Ana’s Hispanic Ministry Center are all helping mobilize congregants for community ministry. The impact of urban churches and ministries was encouraging news but not a complete surprise.

What did surprise us at LN, however, was the number of suburban and even rural churches that were becoming more externally focused. Churches were discovering a new vitality and level of effectiveness as their congregations made the shift from “serve us” to service. LN hosted two events to determine the interest level of churches in forming a Leadership Community (LC). We recognized enough similarity to these scattered churches that we needed a name that went beyond “urban” to describe their ministry.

“Missional Church” was our working title but it soon became clear that “missional” was broader in its description than was the term “externally focused,” which we adopted to identify churches that were ministering in the community.

The first event was a three hour briefing held in September 2002 at The Potter’s House (Church) in Houston, Texas. This venue provided the opportunity to explain what we, at LN, were seeing around the country and our observations were confirmed by the participants. The interest was significant enough to invite a select group of interested Christian leaders to join LN for a three day participatory, interactive event called “The Wild Challenge,” facilitated by our alliance partner, WildWorks (www.wildworksgroup.com) in Dallas, May 28-30, 2003. Seventy-two participants from twenty-four churches confirmed what we had suspected; we were in the nascent stage of what we believed would become a movement. It was the Wild Challenge that served as the green light to coalesce a Leadership Community for Externally Focused Churches (EFCLC). Christian leaders were contacted and invited to apply for this EFCLC.

The inaugural EFCLC convened November 4-6, 2003, at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Fifty-four leaders from thirteen churches comprised this first Leadership Community. The anticipated outcomes of this first gathering came to fruition as new relationships were formed and each team came away with a two-year strategic plan along with a six month “Action Learning Plan.” There was a sense of anticipation and excitement throughout the three days.

–  –  –

LCs are comprised of pastors and ministry leaders from nine to twelve churches who are pursuing common ministry outcomes, sharing ideas and practices, developing strategy, and benchmarking results in the context of authentic relationships. The LC utilizes a collaborative process, a varied learning environment, real-time documentation on a live Website, where peer leaders work interactively through a series of four, threeday gatherings over an eighteen-month period. It is here where they dream dreams and set goals in an environment of ongoing accountability to accomplish a significant leap in their organizational performance.

To these communities, LN brings a variety of thought-leaders, resources, and tools which address both the unique challenges of individual churches as well as the common “mega challenge” of the LC as a whole such as recruiting and training of volunteers, funding new ministries, etc. Although much planning and thought is put into the design of each three-day gathering, it is the work that churches do between the gatherings, doing the real work, which is most important.

The desired outcome of EFCLCs is to accelerate the learning, knowledge, and application of innovative approaches to externally focused ministry, which would result in the mobilization and deployment of an increasing number of volunteers serving and ministering in the community.

By October 2006 three EFCLCs, comprised of thirty-three churches, had formed and completed the eighteen-month LC process. It is the purpose of this paper to evaluate the effectiveness of these participating churches in implementing innovative approaches to externally focused ministry, increasing the number of volunteers serving in the community, the total hours served, and the average amount of hours served by each volunteer in participating churches.

–  –  –

There are four intended outcome of this project that culminate in a series of recommendations found in chapter seven.

1. To measure and evaluate the progress of each of the thirty-three churches in deploying volunteers to serve and minister in the community.

2. To measure the dollar value of such volunteer contribution to the community.

3. To identify the elements of the LC process that were most helpful and effective in helping them accelerate their involvement in externally focused ministry.

4. To identify the principles of transformational leadership in the LC process, the church leaders and volunteers.

–  –  –

There are five limitations to the scope of this study. First, the study and survey data had to conform to LN’s (the sponsoring organization) designed purpose of the LC, which was simply to measure the number of volunteers and volunteer hours expended in community ministry and service. Second, although there are five groups of churches that have entered the LC process, only three groups, containing thirty-three churches, have finished all four gatherings. Third, this study does not measure nor evaluate the value (beyond perceived economic value) of community ministry and service or the long-term transformation of the community. It merely attempts to measure the transformation of the church by quantifying the increase of parishioners deployed in community service and ministry. Fourth, the study does not attempt to measure the evangelistic implications or correlations between community engagement and evangelism. Fifth, this project feigns no attempt to be comprehensive in its scope. It does not address, for instance, the role of prayer, asset-based community development, or issues of justice. This project is simply a study of the progress of thirty-three churches engaging their communities with love, service, and ministry.


Transformational leadership is at the heart of this project and very little will happen without it. This project will focus on the transformational leadership implications of the LC process, the leaders from participating churches, the volunteers and the overall transformational effect they are having on the participating congregations at large and on the community. James MacGregor Burns, often recognized as the father of transformational leadership writes, “Leadership brings about real change that leaders intend.”12 My hypothesis is that the efficacy of the LC process is closely tied to the efficacy of transformational leadership exercised in the LC process itself and by the James MacGregor Burns, Leadership, (New York: Perennial, Harper Collins Publishers, 1978), 415.

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