In an interview of 230 people,* asking them what they expected from church, 61 percent said that the quality they wanted in the church was that of a loving church. People wanted to feel loved and accepted by their community of faith. I believe the greatest need that we have is to love and be loved. That love should always be found in a biblical church founded on God’s Word.
People will tell you that they want a friendly church, but our research shows that the definition of friendly has changed. In the past, being friendly meant being nice, saying hello, acting courteously. Today, it means offering acceptance and respect for the person. It means community in a safe and loving environment. It means that whether people go to church in a blue suit or blue jeans, whether they show up with a bottle of water or a cup of coffee, whether they quote Ellen G. White or Oprah Winfrey, they are welcomed, respected, and valued.
I have been to a lot of churches, some of them full of warmth, love, and a spirit of acceptance; some of them harsh and full of backbiting; some of them perfectly happy with each other and with no desire to bring in any guests. But I have never heard any of them say, “We are critical and faultfinding; we’re not as loving as we should be,” or “We are friendly with each other, but we tend to alienate visitors.”
One of the distinguishing traits of the early church was its members’ love for one another. You could see the love in the early church because they looked out for each other. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44, 45, KJV).
Every church says they are a loving church. Compare your church with this definition.
A loving church is . . .
- defined by the quality of caring, not the formality of the greeting time.
- a “home” where one’s fears, joys, yearnings, and aspirations can be shared without fear of condemnation and rejection.
- a supportive community for those who are struggling.
- a place for friends who can be trusted, depended upon, and enjoyed and who share the same goals.
- where God’s love is experienced in a concrete way through His people.
- where imperfections are acceptable and people discover their greatest potential.
- where people are open and honest together without the fear of being judged.
- where distinctions of personal rights, possessions, thoughts, emotions, and actions are secondary to a commitment to each other and the kingdom of God.
- where people laugh with others, not at others; cry with others, not because of others; forgive others, and are forgiven by others; love others, and are loved by others.
Through God’s grace and power, your church can become a caring and warm community of faith where all kinds of people are accepted and loved, where members are excited about coming to church and bringing their friends with them because they will have a feeling of belonging.
Here are some ideas to make your church a loving church.
1. Pray about it. The power of God has a way of changing people as nothing else can. Pray that your church will be the place where people feel at home and experience love and grace.
2. Be loving. Our study found that loving congregations are led by loving leaders. This becomes contagious.
3. Preach and teach about it. Change in the church happens by example, encouragement, and biblical principles. God wants His church to be a reflection of His love, grace, and acceptance.
4. Highlight the loving people in the church. Let them share stories about giving and receiving love. This is a way to inspire and motivate people to act more like Jesus in His love and treatment of people.
Keep doing the things above, and eventually your church will be like the church of the book of Acts, filled with God’s grace and love.
* This group of interviewees included about 15 pastors, 40 leaders, 40 members from growing churches, equal numbers from plateauing or declining churches, and about 40 seekers in the same geographical area. We defined a growing church as a congregation experiencing a 3 to 5 percent growth in membership, baptisms, and attendance for a minimum of three years.