Some time ago, I spent a Sunday with a small congregation, nestled in a suburb of Rochester, New York. When the dictionary defines wonderful people, a snapshot of these friends would suffice. They are simply genuine, loving people, and that covers a lot.
As in many settings like theirs, there are some desired resources missing. Their building is functional and decorated nicely, but it also presents some real challenges with space and stairs and such. Their music may not ascend to the capacity of some larger places, but it’s heartfelt and enthusiastic, and the very definition of worship. Like the pastors, many of the saints are older, but students dot the room and actively participate. One young man kindly handed me his chorus book (already opened to the right page) so I could sing along.
It’s just a good church. And what makes it a good church is genuine love…for God and for people. As a consultant, my task is to help them find ways to greater effectiveness. But the biggest piece is already in place–they love. I know that if we can help them connect with people outside their walls, they’ll be amazing at the rest. They will deeply love anyone we can bring into their lives.
You see, I’ve been to churches that have amazing music, attractive facilities, plenty of resources, and well designed systems. But perfecting the processes doesn’t make a church truly friendly. Friendly people do. Banners can proclaim God’s love and coffee cups filled with candy can say, “We’re glad you’re here,” but nothing can replace people who actually love people.
In fact, real love makes up for a lack of the other trappings of “quality” church life. Real love lets people smile with understanding when the singer misses a note or two. Real love makes too-small bathrooms almost invisible. Real love even makes a bumpy sermon seem almost brilliant. You see, real love helps people feel at home–and things don’t have to always be perfect at home in order to be wonderful.
People can tell if you care. They know if you’re just trying to get them to come to your church or if you are really interested in being their friend. They can tell if you’re practicing your polished welcome speech. smiling and nodding in all the right places, or if you really care and actually want to know the ages of their children and grandchildren.
On Sundays, are you on the job or are you really loving people? The first option forces you out of comfort zones, but the second feels as natural as a walk across your living room. A good test might be to count how many people you greet on Sunday (best friends don’t count) before the platform person directs you to greet others. Counting the number of strangers you treat with friendliness during the week will help you see if your love is showing.
Jesus said that people would connect us to Him by our love. He knows the power of love to open hearts and ultimately change lives. And while we want to do our best at everything we do, if you love people then you don’t have to be perfect at everything else. If you love people, then you represent Jesus in the best possible manner–just like my friends in Rochester.