Rice Lake, Wisconsin and West Orange, New Jersey are two entirely different cities. One is a rural farming community, total population ranging from 8,000 to 15,000 depending on how far out you count. Rice Lake was settled primarily by Scandinavian and German immigrants, and is almost entirely Caucasian. As a bedroom suburb of Manhattan, West Orange is a bustling place filled with all kinds of people – including many recent immigrants from Africa, Europe, South America, etc. In the past month, I had the privilege of visiting a thriving church in each of those places, and though their environments could not show a more striking contrast, those churches share some vitally important characteristics. I can best describe it by the T-shirts proudly worn by many of the Rice Lake members of Red Cedar Community Church that declare, “I love my church!” The Life Christian Church folks in West Orange did not wear similar shirts, but if they were available, I am quite certain they would sell out. I feel like I am still glowing from the warmth, joy, delight, unity, and love in both communities.
Many of us who coach and advise churches dig deeply into issues of strategic planning, staff alignment, clarity of mission and values, design of ministry plans, fiscal concerns, spiritual formation assessment, and on and on it goes. All of those things matter, but after visiting these two churches I sometimes wonder if we make all this more complicated at times than it needs to be. The bottom line is that anyone walking into Red Cedar or Life Christian Church would be drawn to a contagious culture of love and grace. It is unmistakable. You can almost smell it. And I believe that is what is propelling both of these churches to flourish against some difficult odds. Mother Teresa said:
“We do not need to carry out grand things in order to show
a great love for God and for our neighbor.
It is the intensity of love we put into our gestures that
makes them something beautiful for God.“
Of course, all of us want to know how to create a community marked by love and joy. I am not sure there is a secret formula for that, but I do sense that the roots of such a culture are grounded right where they should be – in the outrageous grace of God whose love fills us with so much wonder and awe that we cannot help but show it. The attenders of Red Cedar and Life Christian Church do the simple things really well – they welcome each person with a spirit of inclusivity; they worship with abandon and joy; they treasure the authenticity of their humble leaders who guide them to truth and model the love of Jesus; they serve with a sense of privilege that they get to be a small part of what God is doing in the grand adventure. Just like Jesus told us, others will be attracted to the Father by how we love one another. It is not all that complicated…and all of us can do this. Would the attenders at your church proudly wear a shirt that declares, “I love my church?” I sure hope so.
Nancy Beach| Slingshot Coach