Popularity is such an ambiguous thing these days. I know in our time there are many factors that make someone popular—music, sports, money, looks, power, and sometimes nothing—the Kardashians. For many popularity gives us validation and purpose—this can be such a slippery slope to nowhere.
Have you ever thought about what is popularity or what makes people popular?
Obsession With Popularity
Today’s culture is infatuated with popularity—it touches people of all age groups, economic status, and geographical location—no one is immune to it. Christianity is also infested with the popularity bug—there is an obsession with celebrity pastors, celebrity churches, worship bands/muscians, and Christian authors.
I hear the conversations. And I have been in the conversations. Christians talk about and jockey for whose church is more popular or as we say more impactful. We size each other up and compare notes on preaching, youth ministries, worship music, children’s ministry—does your church even support missionaries in a closed country… Has your pastor written books or speak at conferences and if so which conferences—because that matters? Does your worship team write their own songs and have an EP or LP? How many youth does your church take to summer camp? People don’t want to ask outright, but in the churchworld size does matter, so how many people attend your Sunday services… And now if seeking to be popular in the Christian circles aren’t enough, many Christians are now seeking to be popular outside the church.
To be completely transparent—these tensions play a part in what caused me to leave paid ministry after twenty-one years—that and three heart attacks at the age of forty-three.
I became spiritually and physically ill wrestling with the issues of popularity in the church—I knew it wasn’t right—it wasn’t healthy. Partially because I wanted to be popular! I wanted the popular youth ministry, in the popular church, and with the popular lead pastor. I didn’t set out and seek popularity, it kind of just happened. And it burned me out and made me depressed—I couldn’t keep up with it.
I believe this is what happens to many of us—it just sort of happens. Popularity is seductive and subtle. Before we know it we are desiring to be known for things that really have very little to do with God because they are important to the world. I’m generalizing some, but the reality is many Christians use the world’s standards for what it means for something to be popular.
The values God use to make something popular are vastly different from the worlds standards.
Let’s read what a world leader had to say what we experienced about Christians that made the church popular in his day…
Here is a quote from Emperor Julian:
“Emperor Julian the Apostate, writing to a pagan priest, said: “Christians have gained most popularity because of their charity to strangers and because of their care for the burial of their dead.”” 
Julian ruled the Roman Empire from 355 AD TO 363 AD. He was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, and it was his desire to bring the Empire back to its ancient Roman values in order to, as he saw it, save it from dissolution. He purged the top-heavy state bureaucracy and attempted to revive traditional Roman religious practices at the expense of Christianity. His anti-Christian sentiment and promotion of Neoplatonic paganism caused him to be remembered as Julian the Apostate by the church. Julian basically made paganism an official religion. Ironically, he was the last emperor of the Constantinian dynasty, which was the empire’s first Christian dynasty.
So what seperated Christianity from paganism or Roman culture as whole back in Julian’s day?
It’s just two words! Kindness and Caring. Kindness and caring to all people regardless of their affiliation. It was known during Emperor Julian’s day that Chrisitans extended charity to all people and not just their own…
“These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”—Emperor Julian 
So what makes you popular? What makes your church popular? What makes Jesus popular?
Kindness and Caring.
Kindness and Caring to all people regardless of who they are, where they’ve been, what they have done or what they believe.
Do you have kindness that shows charity to anyone who comes into your life?
Do you care for people even when they are least lovevable or desirable?
Think on this quote from my friend—it might just ruin your day or your popularity…
“The reason why we love people is not so they will become Christians, but because we are Christians” —Brian Mavis
If you want to be popular according to God’s rules of engagement in this day and age of the new secular spiritualism—be kind to everyone you meet and genuinely care about people.
And love without an agenda.
1. Citation Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). “St. Callistus I”. My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate – Quality Catholic Publications. p. 240.
2. Gibbon, Edward. “Chapter 23”. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
3. Quoted in : Schmidt, Charles (1889). The Social Results of Early Christianity (2 ed.). Wm. Isbister. p. 328.