Ten tips for finding a church that has love

I have a friend who is looking for a church that has real, Jesus-like love. It sounds fair, right? Jesus said love is a non-negotiable. The only commandment he left with his disciples is, "Love one another" (John 13). 

The problem is, it can be hard to find a church with love. Churches get distracted with all sorts of other priorities (being right, getting larger, having more money, making a mark in their city, etc.). When a church gets distracted, love can erode quickly. Hence the need to look for a church with love.

This being the case, I offer a few ideas that might help anyone find a church that has love. Disclaimer: these are generalizations, so I know there are lots of counterexamples. Okay, here we go. Ten tips for finding a church that has love:

  1. Be open to a church without a great building. The reason? Buildings often become a powerful distraction and can erode the value put on people. If a church doesn't have a great building, you won't hear them say, "We can't have those neighborhood teens in here. They mess up the place."
  2. Look for a church with a healthy share of misfits, and observe how they are treated. Misfits get run out of a lot of churches, either blatantly or subtly. If you're a misfit, you might have experienced this yourself. Find a place where people welcome misfits, treat them as equals, and happily listen to them. Then you are hitting paydirt.
  3. Look for a church that has been humbled. Love doesn't mix with a "we are all that" attitude. A  church that has been through the school of hard knocks is often prepared to be a church rich in love and compassion.
  4. Look for a church where the pastor doesn't pretend to have all the answers. Some churches become storehouses of knowledge but are bankrupt in love. Usually, when leaders are humble, it helps set a tone of listening throughout the congregation. And you can't have love without listening.
  5. Look for a church that isn't authoritarian. When leaders talk a lot about authority and loyalty, it's often a sign that they are willing to sacrifice people for power. In contrast, Jesus said the greatest in the kingdom will be the lowliest servants. 
  6. Look for a church that values authenticity. If you have to put on a "church face" before you walk in the door, you might as well not walk in the door.
  7. Look for a church that trusts Scripture. The Bible holds up the world's highest standards for love. Scripture doesn't settle for anything less than laying our lives down for one another. If a church takes seriously the Bible's teachings, it stands a better chance of being a church of love.
  8. Listen to the stories people tell. As you begin getting to know the church, what do people talk about? Buildings? Projects? Numbers? Successes? Or do they talk about people laying down their lives for one another, and seeing lives change through relationships?
  9. Pray! Pray for discernment. Sometimes churches have love on the outside but not behind the scenes. Pray for God's leading, and then trust him. Pray that God will help you be a person of love so you can be a giver and not a taker when you enter a church.
  10. Finally -- and this might make or break your church search -- have your priorities straight. Most people choose a church on criteria like "my friends go there" or "they have a good children's ministry" or "I like the preaching" or "the music is cool." If we choose churches on consumeristic criteria, can we complain if we find that the church doesn't have love? And if we enter that community of people as consumers, aren't we decreasing the level of love instead of increasing it? There is a better way. Make love your highest priority, and put everything else on the back burner. Then be prepared for God to surprise you. You might find yourself in the greatest church you never thought you would attend!
I'm sure there are other suggestions for finding a church with love. These might not all be solid. But I'm pretty sure there's a lot of truth in them. I've been in churches with love (I currently pastor one), and I've been in churches without love (a terrible experience!).

Finally... two of my favorite summary statements on love:
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Philippians 2:3-4) 
Be a giver not a taker.

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