Most churches are pretty good at taking care of our people. We offer a comfortable worship service where we sing familiar songs or hymns. We organize Sunday school classes to help people learn more about Christianity and the Bible. Many of us even politely greet unfamiliar people who happen through our church’s door on Sunday morning. These efforts are commendable, but God calls us to more. Too often, we attempt to live out our faith while confined within the walls of our church’s building. What would it look like if we were to turn our churches inside out?
In their book, The Externally Focused Church, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson challenge church leaders (both lay and clergy) to invite people to meaningful service in the broader community. Through service, existing members will grow spiritually as well as establish relationships with those who might not know God’s love or be connected to a faith community. Rusaw and Swanson point out that Christians need more than spiritual sustenance to grow—we need to be challenged to put into action that which we believe (or think we believe). Most of us know that a good diet alone will not keep our physical bodies healthy. We also need exercise. Similarly, our churches provide us with a good spiritual diet, but we need to go outside to practice our faith. Living as a Christian in church is very different from living as a Christian in the broader community.
Through addressing community needs through service, we’ll also begin to form meaningful relationships with people who might not know Jesus’s love and forgiveness. Such relationships create bridges by which people may enter into Christian community. After all, few unchurched people will come into a church without a connection. No matter how friendly we think we are, others find our churches rather intimidating.
As we turn our churches inside out, we’ll live out our Christian calling more faithfully. In the United Methodist Church, we have a shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. If we maintain an internal focus, we’ll fail to reach or be relevant to those whom Jesus wants to follow him. How would being an inside out church change your community?