Rick Rusaw has been senior minister at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, Colorado, for 15 years while church attendance has grown from 700 to about 3,300. As an “externally focused church,” LifeBridge has become connected to the culture of its community by providing volunteer services for a wide variety of agencies. Rick’s new book, Living a Life on Loan (coauthored with Eric Swanson), chronicles the journey a Christian can experience in such service. Standard Publishing releases the book September 1.
What is an externally focused church?
An externally focused church cares about the health and well being of its community. Service outside the church becomes normative for every believer good deeds and good news go together. There is opportunity for us to meet the needs and dreams of the community. As we respond, we create relational opportunities to talk about grace.
If there are externally focused churches, there must be internally focused churches. How does a church get that way?
Churches work hard at ministering to the people they have and view the community as outsiders who need to come to church. “If they come we’ll do everything we can to connect with them, but we’re more about come than we are about go.” Historically, in our country, liberal churches gave up biblical values but held on to the social gospel. Evangelical churches have held on to biblical truths and gave up serving. I’ve never seen it as “either/or.” I’ve seen it as a “both/and” thing.
Is the external focus all about evangelism?
We see external focus as an opportunity to talk about grace. We don’t see what we do as “strings attached.” We look to partner with the community, rather than start a new ministry, and we don’t care if LifeBridge gets the credit. We choose to take a much longer view. The best opportunity to share good news with someone comes through relationship. Yet, churches have lost the relational strength to speak into the fabric of the community. Service has been a great vehicle to grab that relational strength back.
Was there a time when LifeBridge intentionally became an externally focused church?
All we did was provide an outlet for people to do something they would naturally do. We said, “How can we reach the needs of our community?” We discovered there were already all kinds of opportunities for serving in our community. We simply tried to find ways to encourage people to be intentional with their service.
How do you track who is doing ministry in the community?
Do you have a pastor or department for external focus? We see external focus as part of the DNA of LifeBridge. While we have a community transformation team and a part time staff member, we don’t do a project if it doesn’t connect back to one of our ministries. We don’t just do “externally focused”; it’s who we are.
Your Web site says your goal is to have 50 percent of your congregation in “meaningful, regular volunteer service.” How are you doing on that goal?
We’re pretty close to getting there. We encourage people to think about three hours a week, an hour where they worship, an hour of personal growth (small groups or personal study) and an hour of service (either through the church or in the community as long as it is helping others and honoring God).
Do people at LifeBridge think of themselves as “externally focused”?
I think for awhile people didn’t think of it that way, but I know now they do. They get it. They know they’re serving the community. We love Ephesians 2:8, 9 (“For by grace you have been saved, through faith”), but verse 10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The whole parable of the Good Samaritan really started when the guy got off his donkey and did something.
Is this about growth? Depth?
It has given people a lot of opportunity to discover God’s grace in their lives. We’ve had a lot of people come to Christ as a result of this. It has also raised the church’s reputation in the community. We have the opportunity to be salt and light in a positive way. It has also given us a voice in the community.
This doesn’t sound like brain surgery. Isn’t it what the church should be doing?
We don’t feel we’ve invented or discovered this. We just feel we’re doing what the church is called to do.
Brad Dupray is director of public relations and advertising with Provision Ministry Group, Irvine, California.