Thursday, November 13, 2014


As a “traveling evangelist” I’ve had the privilege of preaching in churches from coast to coast. And, until I have the microphone on over my ear, most people have no clue that I’ll be the preacher that day, so most treat me like a first time visitor. Over the course of many years of visiting churches I have had great experiences as a guest along with some not-so-great ones.

And, lately, my trips to new churches have accelerated in my own city. I hate to use the term “church shopping” but that’s what we’ve been doing as a family for the last several months. The church we’ve been attending as a family for several years is a great one but it’s a 35 minute drive away. So my wife and I decided in September to start looking for a home church in the Arvada area. All the churches we have visited so far have been pretty good.

As a result of my visits to churches over the last several years and, with my family, over the last few months, I did notice some things about how first time visitors must feel when they walk into a brand new church.

Speaking as a visitor, here are some suggestions I would give to pastors when it comes to creating a context that is just the right amount of welcoming.

1. Equip your parking lot team to wave us in with a smile.
The last church we visited was a true blessing. Although it was their very first service as a church they seemed like old pros. The silver-haired parking attendant in the orange vest waved our car in, pointed to the space where we should park and chatted it up with me and my family when we got out of the car. From square one we felt welcome.

2. Have people greet us at the door and offer to answer our questions.
It takes more than just smiling faces and handshakes. Walking into a new church with kids hanging on both arms can feel overwhelming. We don’t know where the kids go, where the bathrooms are or even where the church auditorium is. In most of these churches I felt a bit like cattle, meandering toward the right meadow, instead of gently being shepherded by the greeters to our proper destination.

A question like, “May I answer any questions for you?” could go a long way to making a wide-eyed family feel welcomed.

3. Put up dummy-proof signs that are easy to read and understand.
Just this last month I was preaching at a church in Houston I had never been to before. From the time I pulled in I knew exactly where I should park. The signs were big, clear and designed for first time visitors.

Visiting a church creates a certain amount of tension, a low level angst if you will. Good signs, both inside and outside the church, help alleviate that a bit. The last thing you want to do visiting a new church is to screw it up by parking in the wrong space or walking in the wrong door or whatever.

4. Don’t point us out in the service.
Speaking of angst, when it comes to welcoming the visitors, my wife and I could feel the blood draining from our faces when we thought the announcement givers at these various churches were going to have us stand and recognize us as visitors (thank the Lord none of them ever did!) I don’t know whose idea it was to have visitors stand in a service to be “welcomed” in the first place but, whoever you are, it was a bad idea. We don’t want to be pointed out. We don’t want to wear a special colored name tag. We just want to check your church out and talk to friendly people along the way who make us feel welcome.

5. Give the gospel clearly enough for us to understand and believe.
Okay, okay, I have already put my faith in Jesus (along with the rest of my family) but I listened to every service with the ears of a lost person. I asked myself, “If I were to come to this service as an unbeliever would I hear the gospel clearly enough to understand the gospel.” In most churches there were brief overviews of the gospel but I would say it was only in one church where the gospel was clearly and completely given in a way that unbelievers could easily understand and put their faith in Jesus. This doesn’t require an “altar call” but it does require a call from the altar for unbelievers to put their trust in Jesus based on his finished work on the cross for the salvation of their souls.

6. Have a check in system for kids that is hastle-free and quick.
Most of these churches we visited had a quick process for checking in our kids. Some were really quick. Others made us fill out semi-extensive information. Yes, I know this is a must for legal reasons but I would encourage children’s ministries to make it as quick and painless as possible for newcomers.

Think about it. If it’s your first time at a church you usually show up a few minutes before the service time is scheduled to start. But if it takes 10 minutes to check in your kids you will miss the opening of the service and risk feeling like you are interrupting. All this can make visitors feel uneasy.

7. Beware weird Christian things.
Over the years I’ve witnessed a lot of weird Christian happenings in churches across America. And, because I was new to most of these churches, I witnessed them from a visitor’s vantage point. I’ve seen leaping, leotard-clad, banner-waving dancers flood the aisles during worship. I literally had no idea what was taking place and could only imagine what an unbeliever would be thinking if it was their first time in church. More recently I watched a lady awkwardly jerk and move (dancing?) across the back of the auditorium during the service. The people around me tried to ignore her but it was hard for us, as visitors, to look away. In other churches I’ve heard incessant “ameners” who say “amen!” about anything and everything (even during announcements and at the parts of the sermon where a hearty amen doesn’t make sense!) I’ve heard church leaders close the service in prayer and go WAAAAAYYYYY long trying to impress the audience with their use of the old English language. Dost thou knowest what I meanest?

Beware of weird Christian things. I know we’re not of this earth but we need to make sure that we’re not doing things in our services to perpetuate stereotypes that make Christians look needlessly kookie.

8. Give visitors a pass on the offering plate.
The last church we went to asked the visitors NOT to give anything in the offering plate except a completed information card (name, address, phone number, e-mail, etc.) The pastor reassured the visitors that giving was for their regular attendees only. This gave us a pass when the offering went by. Another way some churches did this was by not passing the plate at all. Some had offering boxes at the exits that church members could put their gifts into on the way out of the service.

9. Don’t get too aggressive with the church follow up e-mails.
Okay, I know this can be a sensitive one because we definitely want to follow up with newcomers. But one church I visited literally was relentlessly sending me e-mails, almost daily! That’s way too much. Nobody wants spam from a church, either at their annual potluck or in their e-mail box.

10. Call us after, ask about our experience at the church and invite us back.
Not one time at all my church visits was I ever called and invited back personally. That seems weird to me. In every church we registered our kids and wrote down our names and phone numbers as first time visitors. But not one time were we called and followed up. A phone call is more personal than an e-mail. A simple phone call would go a long way in making me think about coming back a second time.

Hopefully these 10 things will help you create a more welcoming church environment for 1st time visitors.

Monday, November 3, 2014



Some churches start new ministries by purchasing a prepackaged program that has been used successfully.  Such an approach is fraught with challenges and difficulties.  Every ministry designed from scratch is created in a specific context.  That means in a particular ministry setting with very specific resources, dynamics, experience and mission.  Unless the next group using this ministry has a context that mirrors the first, there is no guarantee that it success in the first setting will be replicated in the next.

Far better in almost every case is a ministry designed from the beginning for a specific setting.  We often resist doing that, however, because we believe we lack the creativity and leadership necessary.  Better to borrow and tweak.

Most churches, however, can create a new ministry uniquely suited to its setting and capable by the Spirit’s empowerment to be fruitful.

There are some simple planning questions that can guide this creative process.

1. What is the purpose of the ministry you are attempting to create?  Be specific.

2. Who is the specific target (or beneficiary of this ministry)?  Name names of real people.

3. What kind of leadership gifts and passions will be needed to accomplish this?  Again, be specific.

4. What other resources will this require? Space, time, money, workers.

5. How will we know this ministry is successful? By what fruit will you measure it?

6. Is this the right time?

And, of course, all of this needs to be pervaded with prayer.

This post originally appeared in another of my blogs BEING THE BEST CHURCH FOR THE COMMUNITY.-May 2014

Sunday, November 2, 2014


From ChurchLeaders.Com comes this important checklist which originated with Greg Stier of Dare@Share, a great youth ministry resource. - STEVE

10 Signs You're Attending a Great Church
When you're plugged into a church that's focused on the things of God, you can tell the difference.
I love the church. She is Christ’s bride and the key to cultural transformation. In that sense, every church is great. But let’s be honest, there are a ton of churches that leave much to be desired when it comes to truly making a difference in their congregations and communities. So, when you plug into a church that is getting it done, it’s a true blessing.

Of course there are no perfect churches, but there are many that are pressing toward the high water mark we see in Scripture.

Here are 10 signs you may be going to a great local church:

1. It is lead by a team of godly leaders not a Lone Ranger pastor who gathers Tonto-type leaders around him to say “Yes, Kemo Sabe” to his each and every idea (Titus 1:5-9).
2. The Gospel is central to every sermon, program and meeting (1 Corinthians 15:3,4) and the advancement of it both locally and globally drive strategic initiatives (Acts 1:8).
3. People are using their spiritual gifts not just watching the “stage team” exercise theirs (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), resulting in disciples being made and multiplied (2 Timothy 2:2).
4. It, like the early church, is integrated, fully representing the demographic of the community in which it resides (Ephesians 2:11-21). By the way, my buddy Derwin Gray has got a lot of great material (blogs, sermons, etc.) on this particular point.
5. Love, demonstrating itself in friendliness, generosity, internal/external care programs and community involvement, dominates the atmosphere (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
6. Most likely there is a thriving small group program where members truly can have great biblical conversations, share struggles and pray with/for each other (James 5:16).
7. The people are being inspired and equipped to share their faith relationally, resulting in more and more new believers being added to the church (Acts 2:47).
8. The teaching/preaching is biblical, theological and immensely practical (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-4).
9. Ministry to children and teenagers are top priorities, not afterthoughts (Titus 2:1-8; Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
10. Intercessory prayer fuels everything. It’s the engine, not the caboose, of how the church rolls from top to bottom (1 Timothy 2:1-8).
These are 10 signs you may be going to a great church. What are some other signs?  
© 2014 Dare 2 Share Ministries. Used by permission.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Some straightforward counsel to outward focused churches from Perry Noble.


Information is advancing daily on a global stage through the connectivity of the Internet. Email, blogs and social platforms contribute to the viral spread of content in real-time to shape culture, capture polarized opinions and broadcast the news of "right now" to the ends of the earth.

On Facebook alone, there are 1.3 billion active users who log in monthly to read news, connect with friends and share relevant content. People are not only getting information online but they are living their lives there as well and the church can be a part of the conversation.

Here are 7 ways you can leverage social media this week to help your church grow!

1. Be an active part of the conversation on social media platforms.
Before stepping foot into your building, people get their first impression of your church online. If your social media platforms are empty or haven’t posted anything new for months, people will think your message is out of date too!

2. Contribute content worth sharing.
We're all strolling around the Internet asking, "What's in it for me?" while hunting the funniest video, the latest controversial article or the cutest picture of puppies we can find. Once we do, what's next?

We share it! People share content that moves them, and creating content that stirs emotion takes effort.

Social content is often visual so think about how you can leverage what you’re creating for Sundays or midweek services that will empower and encourage your fans to continue conversations around what Jesus is doing in your church in their social circles. Short tweets, sermon recap videos and content formatted for phones can be great content that’s easy to share.

3. Answer questions people are asking.
Everyone is asking three questions: What happened? What’s happening? What's next? If you're not answering one of these three basic questions about your church on a daily basis, you're missing a great opportunity to contribute to the conversation online and in the workplace.

4. Know your audience and the platform.
All social media platforms are not created equal. Posting the same message on all the different social media outlets is like using a hammer to put screws in the wall or painting with a fork--it may get the job done, but it’s not the best way. Know who’s there and why they are there. Then, craft your message and communication specifically for them.

5. Listen to the conversation.
Broadcasting information but not engaging in conversation is like holding up protest signs in a public place but never speaking to the people around’s just stupid! Similarly, hijacking conversations instead of participating in them is rude in real life and the internet too.

6. Provide excellent customer service.
Excellent customer service lets your audience know that you’re listening. And, when they know you’re listening to them, they’ll listen to you. You are the expert for your organization. If someone asks a question on your Facebook page or tweets it @you, let them know they matter by answering it in a timely manner.

7. Empower your staff and volunteers.
One of the greatest ways your church can reach people in your community is by empowering staff and volunteers to share their stories and connect with others. Gather your church’s leaders and volunteers and teach them to share their story. Then as they live their life and faith online it will naturally point people to Jesus and let your area know that your church is a place where people can grow in a community.

(This post was put together by our AMAZING social media team. This year at our Double Conference they will be doing breakouts on how to do promotion for your church that is VERY inexpensive…but more effective than television commercials!! To learn more about using social media to advance the Gospel and help your church grow, make plans to join us for the Double Conference on August 28th and 29th. It's going to be AWESOME!!!)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014



Who are your neighbors?

Increasingly traditional churches cannot answer that question with any specificity.  Some congregations are reverse commuters, returning Sundays and perhaps Wednesdays to gather and worship in a community in which they no longer live.  Other churches live in a bubble of doctrinal isolation (i.e., we do not want to tainted by the world and therefore have little contact) or inward-focused fellowship, spending almost 100% of their time with other church people.  Some congregations are even afraid of their neighbors.  As a result no attempt is made to reach those unchurched neighbors except the billboard or sign out front.

Who are our neighbors?  The scriptures make it very plain – they are the people for whom Christ died and who Christ loves.  Some of them are connected to churches, some are not.  Some are Christians, some are not.  Some are church drop-outs.  Some have absolutely no Christian roots and have barely a clue as to what you do behind closed doors on Sunday morning.

If we think of those neighbors at all, we generalize them as the lost and then act as if they’re not really lost by largely ignoring them.

Do you want to reach your unchurched neighbors?  That is an essential question for every congregation that claims to be an obedient and faithful part of the Body of Christ.

If you truly want to reach your unchurched neighbors, then there some realities you must come to grips with.

1. They are not your enemies, nuisances, nor your project.  These are three perceptions that will drive your neighbors away or create barriers across which they will never pass.  They may not like your faith nor approve of it, but if you see them as your enemies and approach them as such, they will fight back.  They are not persons who get in the way of your ministry. They are people who need your ministry.  Reaching them is far more important than all the church suppers, small group Bible studies, and projects your church may pour its energy into.  They are not a project, a number to be counted, a victory to be one.  They are people, created in the image of God, loved and respected because Christ died for them.  They are people who need a relationship with Jesus Christ and with you, the Body.

2. They have needs that you must first understand and then respond to in the name of Christ.  Too many of us do not know our neighbors well enough to know their needs, let alone address those needs.  We often assume we know them, but that usually leads to assuming they are like us and just need to be persuaded to behave as such.  If you don’t build relationships, listen, and seek to understand–you will not reach your neighbors effectively.

3.  They are have values and dreams.  You may think those values to be sinful or their dreams to be shallow; but you do not build a redemptive relationship with people who you do not respect in some way.

There’s more to be said on this subject, but for now; know that if you want to reach your unchurched neighbors, you will have to begin thinking in new ways.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn
This post originally appeared on the blog BRIDGES TO THE BRIDGE

Sunday, May 18, 2014



One of the most popular forms of outreach for a local church is that of the Vacation Bible School. With more and more working parents looking for meaningful experiences for their kids during the summer, the potential for VBS remains undiminished.  It is clearly the front door to the church that even secularized parents appear willing to open.

Some people within the church resent being used as a babysitting service  and even seed the soil negatively by expressing that thought within the church.

Resist that feeling.  It comes from hell and smells like smoke.  Do we think Jesus resented the people who came to him in crowds out of their unspiritual needs?  No, Matthew 9:38 says clearly, “He saw that they were harassed and helpless … he had compassion on them.”  He prayed for more harvesters.

VBS is important for these reasons—especially within an increasingly unchurched culture.  (1) People like Jesus but not the church.  It is a chance to let them the love and joy found in the real church. (2) It allows people to learn what’s in the Bible and find practical applications for life.  This may be the only time these children receive any Bible teaching (and God’s Word does not return to Him void.)  (3) This babysitting can be the first step in building redemptive relationships—building bridges to the Bridge.(4) VBS is not a tool of church growth—it is a resource for evangelism and discipleship. (5) VBS gets your people interacting with the community in practical ways. (6) VBS gives your people practical ministry experience as a team. (7) VBS says “children matter God” and they matter to us as a church.

(c) 2014 by Stephen L.Dunn

Thursday, April 3, 2014

BRIDGEBUILDING CHURCHES have a kingdom-sized vision and a mission field that ultimately moves beyond Judea and Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth.  Dean Hay pastors the United Church of God in Ursina, Pennsylvania and are definitely a BRIDGEBUILDING CHURCH.  Here is their latest mission field.
     The amphibious assault ship, the USS Essex

For more on Bridgebuilders Ministries go the bridges to the Bridge.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Thom and Sam Rainer have some of the best research on the traditional church.  Increasingly I find that churches "talk a good game" because an outward focus is the ecclesiastically-correct position to take, but Thom tells us why too many churches will not make any substantive changes to reach out.-STEVE


10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church
Thom Rainer: "In my research of churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession."
Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place, the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed, most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

1. Worship wars.

One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings.

The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus.

The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program driven.

Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget.

A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care.

All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

7. Attitudes of entitlement.

This issue could be a catchall for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

 8. Greater concern about change than the gospel.

Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many, but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

9. Anger and hostility.

Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

10. Evangelistic apathy.

Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


From Marty Duren comes a timely and insightful look at keeping our focus on our mission and our strategies realistically capable of supporting that mission.  Thanks to Justin Meier, the Church Expansion Specialist for the Churches of God, General Conference for bringing this to my attention. - STEVE

Sports Illustrated, Blockbuster, and Your Church

 By Marty Duren

Years ago there was a world-beating sports magazine called Sports Illustrated. It was the one thing that every football, baseball, basketball loving person could not wait to see weekly in the mailbox or on the newsstand.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the throne crumbled. An upstart cable TV network called ESPN became the must-watch channel for sports fans. ESPN provided sports updates all morning so people getting ready for work could catch up on the scores and highlights from the previous night. No more having to wait a week for Sports Illustrated. Fans did not even have to wait until the sports segment on the evening news.

Now ESPN boasts multiple cable channels, a partnership with ABC Sports (via parent company, Disney), its own Olympics (the X-Games), its own magazine, and a host of other properties. ESPN is now THE undisputed leader in sports. Sports Illustrated still exists, but its once dominant foothold is long gone.

What is the difference? Sports Illustrated mistakenly thought it was in the magazine business. ESPN correctly understood itself to be in the sports information business. If Sports Illustrated had understood its true position and leveraged its talent base, reach and influence, ESPN might still be a channel.

Remember when there were Blockbuster stores? People got into their cars, drove miles to a brick building (or strip mall) to rent movies on VHS, and later on DVD. Remember when Blockbuster dropped their late fees even though it made up a large portion of its revenue? Why would a company willfully drop revenue?

This other out-of-nowhere company called Netflix had arrived. A Netflix membership allowed you to order DVDs online and have them sent directly to your mailbox! There were no late fees. Instead, you simply had to return the movies you had rented before ordering more. No driving in the snow or rain, no penalty for being forgetful—and no need to rewind. Netflix was a game changer.

As if that were not enough, Netflix was an early provider of online streaming movies and TV shows enabling subscribers to watch on their desktop, laptop or tablet. Now Netflix produces its own shows and movies.

What is the difference? Blockbuster mistakenly thought it was in the movie rental business. Netflix correctly understood itself to be in the entertainment content delivery business. Blockbuster had both the market share and the leverage to do everything Netflix did. They simply did not have the understanding of the times or vision of the future.

Unfortunately many churches are like Sports Illustrated and Blockbuster. They rightly see themselves are repositories of truth with a responsibility to get truth to others. Unfortunately, they hold to a singular content delivery system—the Sunday morning service—as ultimate. This is a time when people expect multiple delivery systems as the norm. For churches, the content will not change; the gospel is the same. But our delivery systems and touchpoints with “customers” must change both for the sake of our members and those who need Jesus.

One way to make our content (the gospel) more readily available is for churches to re-evaluate everything about their online presence from the website to use of social media. People who live in your area do not reach for the Yellow Pages or the church directory of the county newspaper. If they are looking for a church at all, they will use a search engine or the search bar on Facebook. If you have a website that looks like a template from Geocities or a middle schooler’s 2006 Myspace page, you have blown it.

Websites need not have elaborate image sliders and be covered in HTML5 moving parts. They simply need to be clean and easy to navigate. Remember: the landing page needs to be friendly to non-attendees, so service times and contact information need to be prominent. Members—those who visit the website regularly—know where to look for other information. Ease of use is for non-members, not for members. Additionally, make sure your social media is just that: social. Do not make announcements on your Facebook page then neglect to answer related questions. Social media is a conversation, not an info dump.

So much content can be provided via a church website it is hard to cover it all in such a short article. Podcasts of the sermon, videos of the entire service, new member training, a pastor’s welcome, bulletin downloads, student ministry permission forms, and so much more are all content pieces just waiting to be added to your church website.

Churches should learn from Sports Illustrated’s missed opportunity and Blockbuster’s failure. Do not isolate yourself into a single content delivery system. Put the Internet to work for you and your church for the sake of the gospel.


Monday, February 10, 2014


We have been on hiatus on this blog for several months, evaluating its purpose. From its inception THE OUTWARD FOCUSED CHURCH has reflected a personal passion of mine--- connecting people to Jesus Christ and helping churches provide thoughtful,faithful,fruitful and welcoming ministry. In this effort I received much encouragement, especially from Rick Russaw of THE EXTERNALLY FOCUSED CHURCH who saw in me a kindred spirit. Along the way, I found myself developing other blogs with various niches: preaching, leadership development, evangelism, discipleship, even humor. Some of those blogs are listed in the BLOGROLL.

In the last 18 months, much of my personal emphasis has centered around a ministry that I developed with the encouragement and financial support of the Commission on Evangelism of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference. That ministry is called Bridgebuilders and has as its mission helping churches reach their unchurched neighbors. Basically it is teaching churches how to be missionaries to the mission field that begins at their front door. I began teaching for them and also developing on-line newsletters, the latter depending heavily on my own original writing.  It is supported by a blog linked particularly to Bridgebuilders Seminars called BRIDGES TO THE BRIDGE.

I have also developed a consulting and training ministry that goes beyond my parent region of my tribe, and works cross-denomination.  It is called Bridgebuilders Minstries and is supported by a blog called BEING THE BEST CHURCH FOR THE COMMUNITY. 

Both blogs go beyond techniques, programs. etc to educate in making a shift from a traditional church or membership culture to a disciple or Gospel culture.  They contain the bulk of my original work these days.

But I continue to come across materials that cross a broad spectrum of ideas and issues, all focused on one powerful necessity--making sure the church has a outward focus--a focus that keeps them on mission with Jesus.

So I am resuming this blog with that purpose in mind.  Much of its content will be repostings from excellent leaders like Sam and Thom Rainer, Charles Stone, and others. Watch tomorrow for the first of these as THE OUTWARD FOCUSED CHURCH develops a 2.0 version of itself. - STEVE DUNN