I hate friendly churches.
OK, I don't "hate" them in the common sense of the word because hating people is not cool. When I say I "hate" friendly churches what I am referring to is the mindset that leads them to be friendly, not the people themselves.
Now you may be wondering, why would anyone hate friendly churches? Here are three simple reasons.
1. Friendly is relative. I once attended a church that was far from friendly but for some reason, the head elder of the church thought it was a very friendly church. His definition of friendly was being met, so he was satisfied. I also remember a sermon I heard by a pastor who visited a church where no one said hello. Not a single person. Finally, during the lunch he decided to approach a member and strike up a conversation. During the conversation the member invited the pastor to return with these words "we are the friendliest church in town".
That's the problem with "friendly" churches. Everyone has their own definition of what it means to be friendly and for those who have been in the church a long time, that definition is really bizarre. Somehow, not saying hello to guests is friendly to them. Weird. I know. Its as if, so long as they aren't being mean to people, then they are friendly. And so long as they, themselves, feel comfortable they assume everyone else does as well. Newsflash: No.
2. Friendly is cliche. Walk into any business who values customers and you are bound to be met by a friendly staff. They smile, shake your hand, ask how your day is going and if there is anything they can help with. They exhibit superb politeness and civility, do everything to make you, the customer, feel welcome and make your experience so good you will want to return in the future. And you do.
But here is the thing: No matter how friendly that business is, you know deep inside they don't really care for you individually. Their friendliness is nice and you may even strike up a personal friendship with one or two of the staff. But that business itself is not your family, and it never will be.
Friendly churches are like this and what makes them cliche is they are not doing anything different to what the world is already doing. Their love goes no further or deeper than the local Target or Kmart. The members may boast of the church's friendliness, but in the eyes of the outsider, such friendliness is cliche.
3. Friendly is powerless. The bottom line for why I hate friendly churches is because God never called us to be friendly. Instead he called us to be loving. Being polite and civil may get you the reputation of friendly, but being inclusive, intimate and a servant to the needs of those you encounter is what being loving is all about. Love is a lot harder to be relative about because the Bible gives us a clear picture of love in Jesus and a clear definition as well. Love is putting others before yourself. Love is unconditional - it welcomes, adopts and embraces people of all walks of life.
God called our churches to be loving because love is powerful. In John 13:34 Jesus commands us "Love one another as I have loved you." And how did he love us? By sacrificing his own life on our behalf. He continues in verse 35 by saying, "By this [this = love not friendliness] all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." In Romans 12:10 Paul writes, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another."
That kind of love is far deeper, broader and higher than friendliness will ever be. It goes beyond a smile, a handshake and small talk. This kind of love invests itself in the other. It seeks to serve, to bless and to honor. It goes beyond the call of duty to make someone a part of your family and bring healing, community and transformation to their lives. In short, this kind of love is powerful.
And here's the reality: No matter what the church does, its always going to be hated by the world. Jesus told us that. If they persecuted him, they will persecute us. So then, if we are going to be hated and persecuted, we might as well be hated and persecuted for being just like Jesus the "friend of sinners" (Mat.11:19) - a people who are inclusive, intimate and embracing of all.
- Is your local church friendly or loving?
- What can you do to nurture a loving culture in your church above and beyond just being friendly?
- In your opinion, why are do so many churches fail at love?