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Richard Webb


Outward Focused Congregations A discussion paper 1 Introduction You will no doubt remember that in the AGM reports it was noted that while there was so much good stuff happening at SBC, there was still yet more to be done. We want to praise God for all he is doing – a growing church, continued healings, increased involvement in the community and the list goes on. However, we believe that God has given us a vision of a church of a seriously significant size. This vision is not about seeing people leaving other churches and coming to worship with us. While we rejoice when God calls gifted, passionate, fully devoted followers of Jesus to join with us, it is not our primary aim. Our aim is to see the kingdom of God extended and one of the key things in that, is people who used to be far from God, becoming close to him. While that is happening to an extent in our church, there are still so many people living and dying in our wider community without knowing Christ. This reality has caused us to seek God and ask what he might be asking from us. Combined with this is the thought that we have yet to understand fully what God is asking from us regarding our Outward Focus. Last, we must remember that along with God's promises to do all we are hoping for at SBC, and even more, the prophetic word came with an indication that there would be a cost. This cost was not detailed at the time, but it seems likely it will be a sacrifice we must be willing to pay in order to see the significant growth of which we are dreaming. As a team we believe that we have begun to discern what God might be saying. The next stage is for all of us as a church to explore this together. It is radical and will need a lot of prayer, thought and planning. It is probably scary and maybe threatening. However, our key question is not whether we like it or whether it makes us feel comfortable, but whether it pleases God.

2 Outward Focus Congregations We believe that God is calling us to explore planting Outward Focus Congregations. There is clearly a great deal wrapped up in that phrase, but here are some highlights.

2.1 An Outward Focus Congregation is:    

Defined by an outward focused objective  E.g. reaching parents of young children, reaching those in a specific care home Led by volunteers  Though comprehensively supported (see later) Given a specific name  Again appropriate to the outward focused objective Released to define how, when and where meetings take place  Elements of worship, teaching and ministry will be tailored according to the outward focused objective  Meeting roughly three times a month

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No more than 50 people in size  Before this barrier is reached OFCs will multiply  A more typical size will be 20 to 30 people Called to meet together with the whole church twice a month  Once a month on a specific Sunday  Once a month on a specific mid-week evening Supported by the Staff and Leadership Teams  These teams become focused on releasing and equipping volunteers to extend the kingdom through OFCs Resourced centrally  E.g. OFCs will be provided with teaching materials for adults and children

2.2 The benefits of these OFCs are:     

Greater focus on extending the kingdom More flexible and quicker to respond to the needs of those to be reached More volunteers released to serve Distinction between church and outreach removed Going out of the church to meet people where they are, rather than expecting them to come to us

2.3 An analogy - boats A great way of thinking about this approach is to consider boats. Stay with it – it will make sense in a minute! At the moment you could liken our church to a cruise ship. It is fairly large and is certainly comfortable for those onboard. It is also safe and feels very secure. However, as we sail through waters littered with people in the water who need saving, it is in reality not the best vehicle for the task. Instead we need a series of lifeboats. These will be much smaller and better able to get to those needing to be saved and get them onboard. Naturally these lifeboats will be less comfortable and will feel less secure. The approach outlined in this paper is one where the cruise ship does still exist! However, we do not spend all our time on it. Instead, most of our time is spent in the lifeboats, rescuing people, with smaller amounts of time back on the cruise ship re-energising and reequipping for the next mission.

3 Scope Here's the bit where this gets exciting. We believe that being part of an OFC is not just something for a passionate few, but something for all of us. This is probably the scariest part of this vision. If we go ahead with this way of being church, we will only come together as a whole church twice a month as detailed above. I.e. everyone should get in a lifeboat. Not only that but it is envisaged that our current Small Group programme will also stop. This is not because we do not value the community that is found in meeting in smaller groups, just that the same need can now be met in different ways, i.e. within OFCs. For example, it will often be the case that smaller groups are born out of OFCs.

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4 Questions / comments 4.1 I'm really scared – this changes everything Too right! This would undoubtedly be the biggest change in the life of our church. It would also change so much of what we have grown comfortable with. However, fear is no reason not to proceed.

4.2 I don't want to do it We can understand that response. All we ask is that you prayerfully consider the proposal and take the time to find out more. It is not our desire to leave anyone behind. However, the final question will not be whether we want to do it, but whether or not God wants us to do it.

4.3 Is this just the latest fad? This is certainly new, but it is not a fad. This approach is actually thoroughly biblical and is not something we envisage only lasting for a short period of time.

4.4 Can this really work? Yes. A number of churches in the UK are now pursuing this model and excitingly it is something now being 'exported' to the US (the reverse of the direction we might expect). One church in particular, St Andrews Chorleywood, has pioneered this approach. It has released them to grow from 600 people to 1,600 people attending weekly services, thereby dramatically increasing the number of people being served and having a chnace to hear abour Jesus. It can also re-assure us that while we may envisage many problems, there will be solutions. This really can work!

4.5 This has just come out of the blue! Not really. When you look back at where God has been leading us, you can begin to see how God may have been preparing us for this time. God has been speaking to us for some time about doing things for the benefit of others and not for ourselves (Outward Focus). He has also been speaking to us about taking a full gospel approach (evangelism, social action and kingdom ministry) to the community around us. One prophetic word recently suggested that God was going to do great things, but that it wouldn't happen in the church building.

4.6 We should take a really long time to consider this Not really. There is an urgency to see the kingdom come as we heard back in the series God On The Inside. What we do need to do is take the right amount of time to seek God's will. A longer time is not necessarily better, nor is a shorter time.

5 Where next? Our hope is to invite everyone in our church to an evening event, entitled 'Exploring Outward Focused Communities', to consider the concept of OFCs further. More details will be available soon, but the format will be such that everyone will be able to get to a session. In addition, we will continue to pray about this as a church in our Small Groups and Central Prayer Meetings. Praying in Small Groups enables the largest number of people to be

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involved in prayer. While it may seem appealing to increase the number of meetings where we can pray centrally, this will naturally exclude some and limit involvement. Our hope is to come back at the December church meeting and finally seek God's will for our future as a community. If you have any questions, and the chances are you will, you can of course ask any member of the Leadership Team. However, you may find it most helpful to get booked in to an 'Exploring Outward Focused Communities' event where there will be more information and a chance to ask all your questions.

6 Final thoughts This is clearly a bold and challenging vision. It offers huge potential and exciting new opportunities. Above all it will not be without cost. However, if anything this just reinforces the potential for God to be in it. If we are right, and this has the ability to release significant growth in our church, then we should not be surprised that we will attract some opposition from the enemy. We all need to be vigilant against attacks that may either knock us off course or may even cause us to knock others off course. During this time we all need to remember to value relationships and that if we need to disagree we can do it without being disagreeable. We all know that God has plans for us. We believe that these plans are awesome and beyond our wildest dreams. Our task is to put fear aside and with faith pursue Him with surrendered lives. Leadership Team

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Outward Focused Congregations  

A discussion Paper

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