I believe the most overlooked key to growing a church is this: We must love unbelievers the way Jesus did. Without His passion for the lost, we will be unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach them.
Jesus loved lost people. He loved spending time with them. He went to their parties. From the Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus enjoyed being with seekers far more than being with religious leaders. He was called the “friend of sinners” (see Luke 7:34). How many people would call your church that?
Jesus loved being with people and they felt it. Even little children wanted to be around Jesus, which speaks volumes about what kind of person he was and what kind of pastor he’d be. Children instinctively seem to gravitate toward loving, accepting people.
The honest reason many churches do not have a crowd is they don’t want one! They don’t like having to relate to unbelievers. Attracting a crowd of unbelievers would disturb their comfortable routine. Selfishness keeps a lot of churches from growing.
The command to love is the most repeated command in the New Testament, appearing at least fifty-five times. If we don’t love people, nothing else matters. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
I like to ask the new converts I baptize “What attracted you to our church family?” Out of all the people that I’ve asked this question, I’ve never had one person say, “It is because of the Reformation theology you believe.” No one has ever said “It was your beautiful buildings” or “It was your full calendar of activities.” Instead, the most common response was “I felt an incredible spirit of love toward me that drew me in.”
Did you catch the focus of the love in that sentence? Many churches are full of members who love each other but still the church is dying or at least not growing. In a small church, the fellowship can become so tight that newcomers are unable to break into it. They have a wonderful fellowship among the members but they don’t have a love for unbelievers.
It is simply a myth that large churches are always cold and impersonal, and small churches are automatically warm and loving. Size has nothing to do with love or friendliness. The reason some churches remain small is because they aren’t loving. People want to go where love is.
Love draws people in like a powerful magnet. A lack of love drives people away.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also the founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.