One of the most important factors for the growth of your church, of any church, of the kingdom for that matter, is how loving we are as Christians. It’s absolutely essential that we lead our churches to be love-filled communities. It’s love that reaches people. You don’t argue people into the kingdom of heaven. You love them into the kingdom of heaven.
How do you have a loving church? Three steps:
1. Accept everybody.
Have you ever been in a church of spiritual snobs? We get it and you don’t. Do you know why people have a hard time accepting others? They confuse acceptance with approval. There’s a big difference between acceptance and approval. You can accept somebody without approving of his lifestyle. He may be doing something totally contrary to the Word of God, but you can accept him as a person without approving of the sin he’s involved in.
Romans 15:7 says, “Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.” That’s a start—acceptance. At Saddleback we are trying to cultivate an attitude of acceptance. At Saddleback, we communicate that the church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. If you’re perfect, you don’t belong here. This is a church where people are growing. This is a church for people who don’t have it all together. We have every kind of background you can imagine in this church. We’ve got Catholics, Charismatics, Jews, Buddhists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Evangelical Free, nothing and atheists. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. It matters where you are now and if you know Jesus. If you want to grow up more and become more like him every day, you’re welcome here.
2. Appreciate everybody.
This goes a little bit further than acceptance. Philippians 2:35 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Each of you should look not only to your own interest but also the interest of others.” Appreciate everybody. Find something you can like, not just accept. Tell them so. With some people this may require a little creativity. You may have to look a little while. Maybe you just need to value them for their uniqueness. What a boring church we would be if we all shared the same personality!
3. Affirm everybody.
Give everybody a lift whenever you can. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” When people stumble, don’t criticize—sympathize. Be an encourager, not a condemner. You can encourage people just by smiling at them. The ministry of greeters in your church is crucial and vital. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Cover your campus with people who love the Lord and who show it in their faces. Give a welcome handshake, a smile.
Absolutely nothing can stop the church that’s filled with love. Nothing. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It requires an all out effort by each member of your congregation. Everybody needs to contribute to the atmosphere of the church. Love draws outside people in. I believe that God is just waiting for a church that will love people unconditionally. He can use that kind of church to spark a spiritual awakening in your city that all the forces of hell couldn’t stop. It would change the climate of your community for Christ. Nothing can stop a loving church.