I’ve had two trees in our backyard since we moved into our house five years ago. They have grown rapidly and have quickly exceeded my ability to manage their growth.
As I was thinking about this problem, I realized that this is a common problem in churches that are experiencing growth. When the growth exceeds the capacity to manage the growth, the result is a poorly maintained organization that leaves people frustrated on the outside and burnt out on the inside.
Growth can be challenging, so how does a healthy church grow?
The early church is a model of church health and as we have seen in Acts 2:42, there were 4 distinctive indicators of a healthy church.
- Devoted to the study of the Word of God
- Devoted to community and fellowship
- Devoted to breaking bread together
- Devoted to prayer.
These are the four devotions of a healthy church and being devoted to these four principles leads to dramatic results as we see from verse 43 to 47.
- Awe resulting from miracles (v 43)
The apostles had walked with Jesus, they had seen his many powerful miracles and they began to do the same things. Signs and wonders are for the express purpose of bringing glory to God. Today, all over the world, amazing miracles are happening, and the primary purpose is to declare the glory of God and the Gospel message. We see this throughout the book of Acts; signs and wonders lead to salvations. Awe or fear came upon everyone because they recognized a greater power at work, they couldn’t ignore that God was working in power and it caused a reverent fear (See Hebrews 2:3-4).
- They were a unified church (verse 44)
This was the church in its infancy. There were no arguments over false teaching, doctrine or opinions. This was before the church began to argue about buildings and programs. A church that is devoted to the things of God, will be a unified church. The moment we lack unity, it is because we have lost our purpose.
The early church had an intense feeling of responsibility towards one another (see John 17:21-22). The early church as described in Acts 2, was an answer to that prayer of Jesus, and many were drawn to the Savior as a result.
- They were a generous church (verse 45)
This verse is not promoting a form of socialism, rather this was a voluntary caring for each other as they shared their wealth to help those in need.
The rapid growth of the early church resulted in many physical needs. During Pentecost, there were Jews from every nation of the world, who had been converted and most of them stayed in Jerusalem. They would have quickly run out of money and food, and they needed places to stay. There was an outpouring of generosity as the unity of the church led to caring for these needs.
Generosity must be an essential mark of the church (see 1 John 3:16-18).
William Barclay wrote, “a real Christian cannot bear to have too much while others have too little.”
- They were a rejoicing church (verse 46).
Daily the believers were celebrating their salvation, they were celebrating that Jesus was alive and that their lives had purpose. They weren’t simply following a religion of going through the weekly and yearly festivals, this new devotion to Christ affected every aspect of their lives.
There was not a separation between secular and sacred, they didn’t only gather once a week for a time to dress up in their Sunday best and try to impress people with their holiness. Their lives were transformed by being totally committed to the Lordship of Jesus in their lives and it affected every aspect of their lives.
This is such a challenge for us in the western culture, we have bought into the idea that we can be Christians so long as we attend church regularly and give to the church. This is not what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Being a Christian affects every minute of every day of our lives, whether it is at home, work, school or in fellowship with other believers.
We don’t add Jesus to our lives, we give our lives to Jesus, that is Lordship, and real Christianity.
- They were an attractive church (verse 47).
There have been many books and seminars regarding the subject of church growth, encouraging churches to change the décor, the music, the lighting, the website and much more. Some even encourage pastors to reduce the amount of teaching using the Bible and please don’t tell people that they are sinners! These books and seminars have made a lot of people rich, but what they have also done is created a church culture that is so focused on the desires of the attendees that the church has forgotten their reason for gathering.
A consumer driven church culture has been created and it is extremely damaging to the understanding of the Church. If we cater to what people want in order to gather a crowd, it will necessitate a deviation from the Gospel message.
The church is good at religion, creating a list of things to do that a good Christian should do. But the early church focused not on what they should do, rather they focused on what has already been done by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The early church praised God for all that He has done, they were not seeking any fame or notoriety, they gave all the glory to God. As a result, they grew in number. People were attracted to the miracles that were being done, and to the genuine, authentic worship of the early church.
True church growth must be a work of God as it is an authentic display of individuals living as followers of Christ which will draw others to want the same.
We can do our part to welcome people and invite people and witness to people, but ultimately Jesus is the one who builds the church (see Matthew 16:18).