There is so much information about how to grow churches. There are so many different ideas, programs, worship styles, outreach strategies, and other ideas that it can seem very complicated and confusing. In Acts, we see some of the firstfruits of growth.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Here is the result most people would want to see: God adding daily to the number of those in the fellowship community. So it would be wise to see what caused such a response by God.
First, there are four aspects of life in the Church that these believers hold: the apostolic teaching, community, shared meals (breaking bread), and prayers. Let’s look at each of these:
Apostolic Teaching: This is the proclamation of the Good News that in Jesus Christ the long awaited kingdom of God and the restoration of all things has begun. It is the preaching and teaching from Scripture (in this case only the Old Testament since there is no New Testament yet!) to show how God has been preparing the world for this from the beginning. It is faithfulness to what God has done in the past, application of those past actions to the experiences they had with Jesus, and how these things now apply to people’s lives at that moment.
Community: This is more than Bible studies and fellowship meals. The former is in the apostolic teaching and the latter will be dealt with below. This is the kind of community that shares with one another emotionally and physically. It is the kind of community that seeks to care for each other and provide for one another. It is a community that creates a new family based upon following Jesus. It is people that truly love and care about each other and want to be a part of each others’ lives.
Shared Meals: Eating together transforms fellowship time into something more. There is something that is almost sacred when people get together and eat. And while these first believers were sharing meals with one another, building their relationships and community, this is also inclusive of the sacramental act of breaking bread, Holy Communion. In this way, people experienced God’s grace afresh and anew every time they gathered together because in the breaking of bread, Jesus meets them. People have debated for centuries what actually happens in the Lord’s Supper, but what we know for sure is that in some mysterious way Jesus meets those who gather in his name to celebrate his sacrament.
Prayers: This is a time of spiritual fellowship and communion with God. The term in Greek is actually the prayers, which implies something radically different than what many people in today’s reading would understand. This implies the believers were still participating in the times of prayer established in faithful Jewish life, complete with the prayers that go with those times (and this is shown in the beginning of chapter 3 when Peter and John go to the Temple at the time for prayer at 3:00 pm). It would also include the Lord’s Prayer and other, specifically Christian prayers that the community was taught (which we get hints of in Paul’s letters).
Beyond these four things that grew and enhanced the believers’ spiritual lives, they “praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.” Spiritual growth, faithful participation in the life of the Church, and practical demonstrations of God’s love to all. If we had congregations like this, God would most likely add daily to them “those who were being saved.”