The early church in the book of Acts gives us a great model for a growing church. Acts 2:47 (NIV) tells us, "The Lord added to their number daily." That means at least 365 new people every year! Some have estimated that the early church in Jerusalem had 100,000 members – half the size of the city.
Our churches can and should learn from the book of Acts. Over the next two issues, we'll look at seven principles from the early church that must apply to our churches today. Here are the first three.
1. We must minister in the Holy Spirit's power.
We must rely on the Holy Spirit's power to minister through us each day. No ministry paradigm, strategy, or dynamic staff can replace the power of God's Spirit. In Acts 1:8 (NIV) Jesus says. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
To have the kind of church they had in the New Testament, we need the kind of members they had in the New Testament: Spirit-controlled members. That's anyone who's making Jesus Lord of his or her life. To make Jesus Lord is to let the Spirit take control of your life.
A lot of people try to minister without the Holy Spirit, and it doesn't work. Pastor, you and I have to make sure we're teaching our congregation to rely on the Spirit to do ministry. If we don't, our people will end up exhausted. We never have enough energy to minister how we want to. But if we lean on the Holy Spirit, we'll have all we need.
Jesus knew all that was before the apostles. He knew they couldn't do it without the Spirit, so he said, "Don't leave Jerusalem without the Holy Spirit." That's where all ministry begins.
2. We must maintain a warm fellowship.
The New Testament church gives us a great example of warm fellowship. In Acts 2:42-44, God's Word says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common."
Notice that when Luke wrote this account of the early church, he didn't write, "See what great buildings they built." He said, "See how they love one another." That's a crucial mark of a world-changing church. A church that makes a difference in its community is one that truly loves one another. When God has a bunch of baby Christians and soon-to-be baby Christians, he looks for the warmest incubator he can find. God blesses a warm church with new believers because he doesn't want them in the church of the Frigid-Air. He wants them in a warm environment where they can grow.
Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts, the Bible says the early church was unified. Luke uses phrases like, "They were of one accord…one heart…one purpose…one spirit...all united in thought." God can overlook a lack of facilities, a lack of programs, and a lack of leadership. But he won't overlook disharmony in the church.
3. We must multiply small groups.
Acts 2:46-47 (NIV) says, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
You see two gathering places for the church in this passage: "house to house" and "temple courts." Both types of meeting places were used by the early church.
Why use small groups?
- They are infinitely expandable. No matter what size of a building you build, at some point you'll max it out. You'll have to start more services to continue to grow. In small groups, you can grow through homes.
- They promote fellowship. Put a guy in a classroom on Sunday morning in a suit and tie for Bible Study, and he won't say a word. But you put him in a Bible study in a home on a sofa on a Friday night with a cup of coffee in his hand, and he'll talk his head off. Why? That home environment is relaxing.
- They are unlimited geographically. If you have people attending services that live far away, they can't be all that involved in your church. But they can be a part of a small group in their neighborhood. You can have small groups across a wide spectrum of geography. At Saddleback, we have small groups throughout cities in Southern California. We could never minister effectively in all those communities without small groups.