A recent survey revealed that 90% of young people today think a main identifier of Christianity is that it is anti-homosexual. For people in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) community, they wrestle with reconciling a message about a loving God with a feeling of rejection from the church. As Christ-followers, we are called to love our LGBTQ friends and create an inviting atmosphere for them in our churches.

No matter what our beliefs are about same-sex attraction and relationships, there are ways we can love our LGBTQ friends well. And this love can change their perspective on faith and God and create a safe space where they can be authentic and experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ.

1. Be aware of the LGBTQ community’s struggles.

Before we can build relationships with people within the LGBTQ community, we need to be aware of their unique struggles as they navigate faith and culture. While most of us struggle with sexual sin, same-sex attraction has different challenges because of the social stigma attached to homosexuality and of the lack of our understanding of how and when our sexual identity forms.

To love our LGBTQ friends well, we need to understand many people in the LGBTQ community face rejection and alienation in their schools, workplaces, churches, and even in their families. Same-sex attracted Christ-followers often struggle with reconciling their faith and their sexuality, making them feel unsure of how to deal with the issues of intimacy and sex as they pursue God. They struggle with confusion as they hear the church talk about sex, relationships, and marriage while feeling attracted to their same-sex peers.

And even if they are committed to following God’s plan for sex and marriage, they struggle with trying to experience relational intimacy, especially in a culture that portrays sex as the way to achieve intimacy in our relationships.

Being aware of the LGBTQ community’s struggles does not have to change our theology or how we view marriage. It can simply change our perspective of the people within this unique community. And perhaps, a greater understanding can lead to a greater sense of compassion and love.

2. Build friendships within the LGBTQ community.

We were created for community. We were created to have personal relationships to help us grow and transform. And those personal relationships should include those that have been marginalized, including the LGBTQ community.

“When Christians jump straight to Bible passages or straight to theology and then stay there, it’s easy to treat an entire population like they are a category and not actual people. But when we have personal relationships, it puts a face and a story on our theology. All theology is personal.” — Chase Oaks Communications Pastor Greg Holmes

One of the best ways to love our LGBTQ friends is to meet them where they are on their journey and allow them to be themselves around us. We need to recognize they are real people with real struggles and real hurts. We are all people dearly loved by God who share many of the same struggles and have the same needs, including the need to connect with others. We all need friends.

Building relationships will open the door for conversations around the topics of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage. While having these conversations can be helpful for us, we need to remember to lead with love and grace, even if our friends do not agree with our views. We need to be willing to listen to their perspective and to their story. You never know how their story will impact you.

“Conversations change when we get to know somebody’s story.” — Chase Oaks Central Ministry Groups Pastor Eric Torrence

3. Choose to love our LGBTQ friends no matter what.

As we build meaningful relationships with our LGBTQ friends, we need to remember the point of connecting with them is not to change them. Whether they choose celibacy or to be in a same-sex relationship, we need to love our LGBTQ friends.

40% of homeless teens are part of the LGBTQ community because we have failed to create safe spaces for them to explore their sexuality and faith. This staggering statistic shows how we need to fill the basic need of belonging for these teens and adults. To have a sense of belonging means they need to experience love.

We need to create spaces where our LGBTQ friends feel loved and secure. A space where they can be themselves and talk about their lives and theirstruggles. A space where they can experience empathy and compassion. And the only way to create these spaces is to love them no matter what—the same way Jesus loves us every day.

4. Provide ways for our LGBTQ friends to experience community and intimacy.

“We need to do a better job in providing community and that type of intimacy that they are not going to receive from a spouse. And what I mean by that is that emotional connection and that physical touch—those are needs that every person has.” – Chase Oaker Paul Martel

Most churches need to do a better job in coming around the LGBTQ community and finding ways to create community and intimacy within their doors. The church should serve as the family for many that feel alienated from their family and friends.

We need to talk about ways we can experience intimacy in our relationships with one another. We need to make room for our LGBTQ friends in our groups and social circles. We need to create community without alienating our LGBTQ friends.

Most importantly, there should be room for everyone to feel at home in our church no matter their sexual identity or orientation. Anyone who feels open to God should feel right at home in our church. Where else would we want them to be? We are all on a journey. Everyone needs community. Everyone needs to be surrounded by people who encourage them to develop their relationship with God, serve others, and make a difference in the world.

To dive deeper into topics surrounding sexual orientation and the LGBTQ community, check out Page2Podcast, where we go behind the headlines and beyond Sunday morning sermons to discuss in-depth issues of faith, life, and culture.