There have been thousands of books written over the last twenty years or so on the sticky subject of “church growth.” Interestingly enough, this sudden proliferation of books on how to grow churches has taken place during a period of rapid and steep decline in church membership and attendance in the North American mainline Protestant Church. As fewer and fewer people in this country relate to church these days, there seem to be more and more experts eager to tell us how attract them. Some will focus on the message, others on the medium, or the music, or the latest proven methods of the business world. I have read enough of these books to know that, in the end, churches can become so obsessed with searching for new ways to grow that they overlook, or entirely lose sight of, practicing the simple, ancient ways of Christ, such as prayer, study, fellowship, eating together, sharing one’s resources, and caring for the poor.
If you want to operate a successful burger restaurant, you probably can’t be a vegetarian. You can develop a brilliant business model, and implement all kinds of catchy marketing methods, but if you don’t eat the burgers you’re selling, you likely won’t sell many at all.
In the church, we feast on the Word, on the fellowship we share with one another, on opportunities to give whenever there is a need or occasion, and on our common calling to serve, to feed, to care for those with real human needs. We do not do such things in order to be the church, but because we are the church. If we didn’t do them, or couldn’t do them, we wouldn’t be the church.
In Luke’s story from Acts 2: 42-47 we capture an image of the vibrant life of the early church. We learn that, in those early days when the church was most vulnerable and endangered, it grew by leaps and bounds. Why? It wasn’t because of a beautiful building, or because they served premium roasted coffee between services, or because of their prime location on the corner of First and Main. Luke says it all came down to this:
“They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers… And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met… They followed a daily discipline of worship…, followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God…”
When you think of the word “Church,” what image comes to mind?