The book of Acts is full of language like “thousands were added daily.” It seems on every page the first church is growing rapidly in just about every town the story of Jesus is told. And what’s even more amazing, is it spread in the face of extreme opposition from the Jews who didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah and later from the Romans.
Today, however, the church seems to be facing the opposite trend. It seems the numbers of churches who are closing their doors is on the race. As a matter of fact, the Gospel Coalition reported just about every major denomination is losing people. At least in America.
I can’t help but wonder if there is something we can learn from the first church. Maybe they got something right that the church today is missing.
Thousand were added then, why can’t they be added now? How come there isn’t a line of cars parked outside of our churches waiting to get in? How come we aren’t always wringing our hands because we just simply don’t have enough space?
I believe the early church has something to tell us that maybe we have forgotten.
The first apostles invited people to a family and not a building.
We have a tendency to invite people to our church as if we are talking about the building we attend on Sunday morning. This, of course, also includes everything that goes on inside of said building. Everything about our building and our Sunday from start to finish communicates something. And let’s be honest, we can go to more exciting buildings at more exciting times and with more exciting people.
But, when these first apostles were inviting people to come to their “church,” there was no building, there was no worship team, children’s environment, or parking deck. So, what were they inviting them to?
For that, we have to investigate the word “church.” The word “church” first appears in Matthew’s Gospel. In a conversation Jesus is having with his 12 merry men, he asks them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter, being the astute one he is says, “Why! You are the Christ. The son of God!” Jesus looks at him, smiles, and says, “Yessir. And it’s on this fact I will build my church.”
Again there are no buildings, just Jesus and 12 people which is not much of a church. So, what is he saying?
The word church in its original language and context more accurately means “community” or “called out ones.” Jesus is essentially saying then, “I will build my community on the fact I am the Messiah, the Son of God.”
It’s much more appealing to invite someone to a community rather than to a building. As a matter of fact, to take this even a little bit farther, the whole New Testament is full of the language of adoption (Galatians 1:5; Galatians 4:5; Romans 8:15).
Here’s what our early church fathers knew that we seem to be missing; they were inviting people into a family. They were inviting people into a community.
This is a little bit different, isn’t it?
We need to stop inviting people to attend buildings because we are pitting them against one another. The spirit of competition among churches is so real. Instead, we need to be inviting people to join the family of God as adopted sons and daughters.
This is the appeal. In a world with so many broken homes, we can be the light of the world that gives hope to families by saying, “Come join mine. We’ll love you no matter who you are and because Jesus never left us, we will never leave you.”