I’ve visited some churches where the pastor’s lack of love is the main reason the church isn’t growing. Some pastors, by their cold demeanor and lack of personal warmth, virtually guarantee that visitors won’t come back. And in some larger churches, I’ve gotten the impression that the pastor loves an audience but doesn’t like people.
Great preaching without love is just noise in God’s view.
Every time I speak to at Saddleback, I repeat a simple reminder to myself. I never preach or teach without thinking this:
“Father, I love you and you love me. I love these people and you love these people. Love these people through me. This is not an audience to be feared but a family to be loved. There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out all fear.”
Let me suggest some practical ways that you can demonstrate your love:
Memorize names. Remembering names shows that you’re interested in people. Nothing sounds sweeter to a second-time visitor than hearing you use his or her name. While I don’t have a particularly good memory, I work hard at remembering names. In the early years of Saddleback, I took pictures of people and made flash cards to help me remember their names. I knew every person’s name in our church up to about 3,000 in attendance. After that my brain fried. I ask new members in the membership class to tell me their names on three different occasions to help me remember it. When you work hard at remembering people’s names, it pays great relational dividends.
Personally greet people before and after services. Be approachable. Don’t hide out in your study. For the first three years of our church, we met in a fenced-in high school where everyone had to exit through the same gate. Each week, I personally greeted every person that came to our church. They couldn’t get out without passing by me!
One of the best ways to warm up a crowd is to meet as many people as you can before you speak to them. Get out among the crowd and talk to people. It shows you are interested in them personally.
Touch people. At Saddleback we believe in a high-touch ministry. We give a lot of hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. Today our society is filled with lonely people who are starving for the affirmation of a loving touch. So many individuals live by themselves and have told me the only loving physical contact they ever get is at church. When I hug somebody on Sunday morning, I often wonder how long that hug will have to last.
Study the ministry of Jesus and you see the powerful affect of giving people a look, a word, and a touch. Look people in the eyes when you talk with them. Eye contact says, “You matter to me.” Give everyone a word of encouragement. Offer a warm, personal touch to show you really care.
Use a warm, personal style in writing to visitors. We have a series of letters I’ve written to first-time, second-time, and third-time visitors, telling them how glad we are to see them. I don’t sign them with “Dr. Warren” or even “Pastor Warren.” I simply sign them as “Rick.” I want visitors to feel they can relate to me on a first-name basis.
If you send a letter to visitors, write it like you talk to people, not in stilted, formal language. I received a visitor letter once that said, “Our church would like to acknowledge your presence with us last Sunday and extend to you a cordial invitation to return on the next Lord’s Day.” Does anyone really talk like that? Instead say, “It was really great to have you. Hope you can come back.”
One of the most important issues every pastor must decide is whether you want to impress people or influence them. You can impress people from a distance but you have to get up close to people to love and influence them.