There are many ways of measuring the impact of a church on its community and the world at large. Here’s one you don’t often see: A leading management authority cited Ebenezer’s Coffee House, a project of Capitol Hill-based National Community Church, as a prime example of what organizations should do to connect with their neighbors.
The authority is Gary Hamel, dubbed by The Wall Street Journal in 2008 as the “world’s most influential business thinker,” and he uses the outreach location in lectures to business and nonprofit leaders. That’s impressive, since not too many religious organizations are lauded for their marketing savvy.
But it’s not only smart marketing that has made the National Community Church a standout: Mark Batterson, its pastor, is a dynamic communicator who is as committed to reaching beyond the local area as he is to shaping things in his own neighborhood. His newest book, “All In,” from Zondervan, is really “a 200-page decision to be made: [that] you are one decision away from a totally different life,” he said in a recent conversation.
That decision is to truly surrender your life and priorities to what God would have you do. It means exploring the Bible to find those priorities, and then acting on what you’ve learned, he said.
“We’re very satisfied with superficial spirituality in our culture, and that’s very dangerous, an inch deep and a mile wide,” Mr. Batterson explained. He said many Christians are the equivalent of “rim-huggers, hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, they’ve seen it, but they haven’t really experienced it,” and that the book is an “invitation to hike into that canyon, to go a little deeper.”
Mr. Batterson emphasized the need for a deep exploration of what the Christian life entails: “I think our fundamental problem is [interpreting what the Bible] says figuratively, literally, and what it says literally, figuratively.” The result is “legalism,” an emphasis on rules over a relationship with God. It can also lead to Christians not understanding the imperative to “take up your cross,” as Jesus instructed His followers, meaning that one has to sacrifice one’s own goals for those God reveals.
“Taking up your cross looks very different in a 21st century First-World country, but I hope this book takes readers to [that] different place,” he said.
If that sounds as if believers have to endure a joyless existence, Mr. Batterson offers a different view: In following God, he said, “you haven’t given up anything at all. The only regret at the end of the day will be anything that we didn’t give back to God. I think it’s the normal Christian life as modeled by 1st century believers.”
Mr. Batterson puts these concepts into practice at the National Community Church, which began with a core group of 19 and now counts 3,000 attending each week, mostly young single adults pursuing careers in the high-stress, status-conscious world of official Washington, D.C. He said those attending NCC are demanding customers.
“They aren’t looking for half a Gospel,” Mr. Batterson said. “They don’t want a watered-down, dumbed-down version. They want something they can give their life to. That’s what Jesus put on the table: a call to die to self and to come alive in the way that He intentioned.”
In the case of NCC, that giving of one’s life includes outreach, both locally and overseas: ” This year we’ll take 25 missions trips,” Mr. Batterson said. “We bought a property in the Anacostia area and will build a Dream Center. We’re rolling up our sleeves and serving our community and showing the love of God in practical ways.”
And, it means renting out local cinemas to hold worship services, instead of buying or constructing a traditional sanctuary. “Jesus didn’t just hang out at the synagogue, He hung out at the well,” Mr. Batterson explained. “I want to build a place where church and community can cross paths,” particularly for those who “might not darken the door of a more traditional church.”
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.