He stood in the pulpit on Monday surveying the empty church auditorium. As he stood, he began to picture the same view on Sunday. He could see the Smiths in their normal seats, he chuckled as he remembered John and Lisa’s frustration over their toddler’s fidgeting, and he remember the kindness in Sister Ida’s eyes as she listened intently to the message from God’s Word. He continued scanning the pews in his mind and suddenly felt saddened. There were too many empty seats, too many faces were missing, “Where is everyone?” “Why are we not growing?”
I know a lot of ministers and church leaders and I can tell you that we all stand in that spot that looks out over the seats or pews and have similar thoughts. We will stand there and pray. We pray over the message we speak, we pray over those who fill the seats, we pray for those that are missing-in-action, we pray for the children, teens, young adults, newly-weds, new parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents – we pray for you. And we wonder, “Why is the church not growing?” “Why are so many missing?”
He picks up a Bible from the front seat and opens to Acts 2 and reads the last two sentences,
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Act 2:46-47
That last sentence echoes in his mind, “And the Lord added to their number day by day . . .” This early group of disciples, this fledgling church was growing every day! Why aren’t we? The answer is right there in the context. He reads again and includes the previous verses for context,
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and ibreaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Act 2:42-47
- Members of a growing church devote themselves to God’s Word. That is what the apostles were teaching – God’s Word. That is what we have handed down to us as Scripture – God’s Word. The church will grow when Christians spend time with God in His Word.
- Growing churches have members who focus on worship. They praised God. They reflected on all that God in Christ did for them. They praised God for His love, mercy, and grace. They reflected on the sacrifice of Christ and the forgiveness of their sin. What an thrilling realization. We will grow when we express our joy for what God does.
- Growing churches focus on fellowship. They were together. They prayed together, they remembered Christ together, they spent time together every day. I don’t think the text is saying that all 3,000 assemble each day. But disciples were together each day in groups in their homes and in the public places (the temple). This connection helped them grow closer and helped them grow individually. We become like those we spend time with. We will grow when we spend time with each other.
- Togetherness lead to a real sense of community. If a brother had need, they took care of it. They knew of the needs because they spent time together. Brother and Sister A saw that Brother B was going without meals, they invited him to their home for dinner. Sister D learned that Sister C had no where to sleep, so she opened a room in her house. No church program or ministry, just members taking care of members. We will grow when we care.
- Growing churches are friendly. Many churches claim to have a reputation of being friendly. In many cases they are friendly, but mostly to each other. They seem to camp out on John 13:35 “By this will people know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” but they do so to the neglect of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” When we speak to the same people at assembly every week or when we walk by other members and guests without greeting them, we are not being friendly we are not gaining “favor with all the people.” If you are afraid that you might introduce yourself to a fellow member who you think might be a guest, you are part of the problem. You are admitting you don’t engage with more than a handful of your favorite people. Change, accept that you will meet other members for the first time and that you will also meet guests, out self to death and be friendly for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. Your efforts will help build the community – the togetherness – the church needs.
He will stand in the front this Sunday and open God’s Word, will he see you engaged with the Word of God? He will be sitting or standing as the congregations joins in praise to God, will he hear you singing from the heart? He will be standing in the back of the auditorium this Sunday after the final, “amen.” Will he see you building community? Will I be part of the solution? Will I help the church grow?