Is the Church supposed to grow? Should it be expanding, fulfilling its mission to spread love to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE? Church in America seems different, somehow, than the one mentioned HERE: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they [the church] were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NASB)
Exciting New Growth
The first days of the Book of Acts must have been exciting. There was a new Spirit at work on planet earth. The small group of believers had started to grow. A movement had begun that literally changed the world. Those early believers broke down social barriers, changed habits, and initiated transformation that ultimately brought down the mighty Roman Empire. Believers enjoyed a sense of unity and fellowship that no repression or persecution could break, that no apathy or boredom could diminish.
Tell me, has there been a movement in your life that changed your world? Among the first-century believers, people were devoted to helping each other. They practiced what was preached, and committed the two most personal items they had: time and resources. The new church had started to grow. Relationships provided a basis for loving evangelism, and spending time together daily provided a platform for organic growth. They went deeper in order to get wider.
What’s the Right Metric?
As a result, Luke says that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Is the Lord adding folks to your church day by day? Are you and your church being transformed by love? In our modern world, there are marketing plans and efforts made to get folks to come on Sunday by promoting celebrities or hooking up to what’s hot in culture—but surprisingly, with all of our marketing sophistication, church attendance in the US is actually down.
It’s a little awkward talking about growing numbers, 1) because most churches today aren’t growing numerically, and 2) because numerical growth is truly not the end game. Maybe we need to grow the church internally before we worry about growing the church externally. The focus of the early church was not on larger numbers but on being together, breaking bread, sharing gladness and sincerity, and praising God together. Growth was a by-product of unity and gladness.
Sad But True
Unfortunately, unity is often in short supply. A man became shipwrecked upon a desert island. It may have been a Southern Baptist man. (And I don’t pick them out just because I go to church there.) When rescuers found him, they discovered three huts on the island. Curious, they asked the man about them. “Oh, the one on the left is where I live”, he said. “The middle one is where I go to church. And the one on the right is where I USED to go to church.” A fanciful story, but one that unfortunately reflects our current denominational church culture. Institutional religion is rife with conflict and abuse of many kinds. Conflict, culture and bureaucracy often seem to destroy the mission of the church.
It’s important for us to remember Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Man-made religion, even when it is nominally Christian, doesn’t always reflect the calling and teaching of Jesus. The Church is not someplace we go, it is something we ARE. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means, “a called out assembly”. Followers of Jesus are called to be like him! And if we all became more like HIM, we’ll definitely be more like ONE ANOTHER.
What Luke describes is still the blueprint for the church: be of one mind. Enjoy mealtimes and fellowship together. Be glad! Keep God in His proper place, and get along with others. It’s a simple recipe. When believers come together to share sincerely, praising God in love and gladness, the church will grow. And since we ARE the church, it’s up to us to go deeper in order to get wider. Have dinner with somebody from church this week. Invite somebody who’s not. If you’re too busy to love somebody this week, then you’re too busy.
Breaking bread with one accord,
believers served before the Lord.
Christians gave the church its start
from house to house, and heart to heart.
It wasn’t how much stuff they had,
but how the Lord had made them glad!
Focus on love, and not on growth;
I think you’ll find you have them both!
Have fellowship with those who search;
unite in love, and BE the church.
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