A wiseacre once observed that in politics, sincerity is the most important thing; once you can fake that, you have it made! But the truth is, people can usually tell the difference. It is striking to read in Acts 2:46 that as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the newborn church at Jerusalem, “they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” So attractive was this heart-felt fellowship to those who saw it, that the next verse describes that people were being added to the church every day. “Gladness & sincerity” in a church’s fellowship are attractive — which is just where many of our churches are missing it.
It is notable that the verse says that the church at Jerusalem was sharing their food in “gladness and sincerity of heart.” This is important; for there is a kind of sharing, a type of “fellowship”, which is NOT from gladness & sincerity, but rather is “forced”; “expected”; hypocritical; grudging. People are not stupid. They can tell the difference.
An informal poll done by Lifeway President Thom Rainer may serve to reinforce this idea. Rainer contacted hundreds of people who had visited churches, in order to discover what they did NOT like most about the experience. Many of the results were as expected, but one surprised: the #1 most disliked thing in churches people visited was the “stand up greeting” time! This is so ironic because many churches employ this in order to demonstrate how “friendly” they are — but from the notes that Rainer received in the survey, most visitors saw through the “facade” and believed it to be forced, and lacking genuine friendliness and concern.
This should serve as a lesson to us, and give us yet another reason to seek God for what only He can do in our lives, and in our churches. When we have a love for each other in His church which, like that at Jerusaelm, is a genuine sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, it can be a powerful witness. But you can’t fake sincerity. We need to ask God to give us a real love for others — both inside and outside the church — which only His Holy Spirit can create in our hearts; one which manifests itself in genuine “gladness and sincerity of heart.”
(For the full text of Thom Rainer’s article, “Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests”, click here.)