The First ‘Mega Church’ and their Habits
July 28, 2002 / Rev. Bryn MacPhail
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the term ‘Mega-Church’. My understanding is that a ‘Mega Church’ is a church with at least 1,000 people in attendance on Sunday, but they often have many more than that.
As you can see, St. Giles Kingsway is not quite there yet. I want to emphasize the ‘yet’ in that sentence because I maintain that we should pursue church growth; and we should pursue church growth because it is the will of God.
Remember, we have found the perfect medicinal compound for our soul, and it would be a travesty for us to keep this medicine to ourselves. There are thousands in our community who are living apart from Jesus Christ and, whether they realize it our not, they desperately need the medicine of the gospel.
God’s desire to add to His church is plain to see from Acts, chapter 2. We see this, beginning with Pentecost—that day when the dynamis of God, the Holy Spirit, rested on the disciples. And we see this in the people’s response to Peter’s sermon, which we pick up at verse 41, “So then, those who had received (Peter’s) word were baptized; and there were added that day about 3,000 souls.”
There were added that day about 3,000 souls. This is an amazing occurrence any way you look at it, but it is even more astounding when you take into account the size of the church at the time. For we learn a chapter earlier that, until this mass conversion, the Christian church was made up of only 120 persons (1:15).
Charles Spurgeon, commenting on the growth in the early church writes, “(Today’s) churches, if they have one addition in twelve months make as much noise over that one (addition) as a hen does when she has laid an egg. Now, in the early church they would not have been contented with so small an increase; they would have gone weeping and mourning all over Jerusalem if there had been additions but once in the year.”
Spurgeon makes an important point. In a day and age where many congregations are experiencing declining attendance, most of us would consider it a positive thing if a few members were being added during the year. But surely, this is settling for a standard that is much lower than the biblical standard.
Friends, do you think that significant church growth was intended only for the early church? Or do you think that the Lord might actually do that today, at St. Giles Kingsway, if we took His Word seriously and tried to emulate what was established in the first century as the pattern for the church of all ages?
In one day, the church grew from 120 to over 3,000—how is this so? Was it the programs they were running that attracted such a crowd? Surely the apostles must have been using Alpha. Was it their choice of music—perhaps a blend of traditional and contemporary? What kind of Sunday School curriculum were they using?
Of course, it was none of these things that caused the conversion of 3,000. It was, of all things, a sermon.
The conversion of 3,000 souls was a direct response to the Holy Spirit working through a sermon. This is the key—if the Spirit of God is not at work in the preacher, if the Spirit of God is not at work in the listener, there will be little profit gained from a sermon. But, in this instance, there was both—the Holy Spirit at work in Peter, and the Holy Spirit was at work in the hearts of the multitude.
As the early church began to take shape, we learn from Luke that they were regularly engaged in, and committed to, particular habits. And, as we examine verses 42 through 47, I expect that you will clearly see that what contributed to the growth of the early church was their commitment to these 4 primary habits. And thankfully, none of these habits can be termed ‘culturally bound’. That is to say that the 4 habits of the early Church should be, and must be, St. Giles Kingsway’s primary habits.
Friends, these 4 habits form our ‘game plan’ for church ministry. And, for us to succeed, for us to grow, we must be committed to understanding and applying this game plan. A member of a church who does not understand the plan of the church is like a football player who goes to the line of scrimmage without knowing the play. A football player who does not know the play will inevitably do one of two things: he will either go offside, or he will go in the wrong direction of the play. So it is in the church. If you do not understand our Lord’s plan for the church, you will find yourself frequently going offside; you will find yourself going in the wrong direction.
Our game plan unfolds in verse 42, but I would like to highlight, first of all, verse 44: “all those who had believed were together”.
With 3,000 converts, you might have expected the new believers to go about in every which direction. You might have expected them to split into a number of churches, each with their own preferences, and each with their own way of doing things. But they do not do this, for Luke tells us that “all those who had believed were together”.
I highlight this because growth at St. Giles Kingsway is not contingent upon our individual application of these 4 habits, but on our corporate application of these 4 habits.
The first habit of the early church we read about is that “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching”(v.42).
This tells me, first of all, that the early church was a studying church. This was not a group of ‘know-it-alls’, but a group that understood the value of the apostles’ teaching. What is also interesting and significant about the people’s desire for teaching is that it comes on the heels of the miracles of Pentecost.
The people, apparently, had no ambition to recreate Pentecost. We do not find the people saying, ‘What we need to do is experience Pentecost again. We need to recreate that setting so, perhaps, the Holy Spirit will come down again in little flames of fire’--you don’t find any of that here.
You find, rather, the people studying the Word of God. You find that “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching”(v.42). A church that honours God then, is a church that is devoted to studying and applying Scripture.
The second thing that we learn about the early Christian church is that they were “continually devoted . . . to fellowship”(v.42). The Greek word, translated “fellowship”, literally means, “sharing”. This is an important distinction. We read the English translation “fellowship” and we conclude that they must have got together a lot to drink coffee. The Greek word, however, will not lead us to this inference. What Luke is telling us by this word is that the early Christian church was a generous church.
Verses 44 and 45 say that they “had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing with all, as anyone might have need”.
Now I don’t want you to picture every Christian selling everything that they owned, because that was not the case. Verse 46 describes another facet of their fellowship when it says that they went “house to house” for the purpose of “having meals together”. From this we conclude that they still had homes. The imperfect tense of verse 45 should also lead us to conclude that the selling and giving were occasional, and were in response to particular needs.
The third thing that Luke says about the early Christian church is that they were “continually devoted . . . to the breaking of bread and to the prayers”(v.42). This is to say that the early Christian church was a worshipping church. With the inclusion of the definite article “the” we see that Luke is not referring to a regular meal here, but to “the breaking of bread”--that is, the Lord’s Supper. By the same token, the members of the early church were not simply committed to prayer, but to “the prayers”--that is, formal prayer meetings.
Note, also, how their worship was both formal and informal. Verse 46 describes how “day by day they continued to meet in the temple courts”--not simply on the Sabbath, but everyday Christians gathered in the temple courts for formal worship.
And verse 46 describes how the Christians were also in the habit of “breaking bread from house to house”--that is, Christians were regularly worshipping informally, in each other’s homes.
The fourth thing that we learn about the early Christian church is that they were an evangelizing church. The verses before you do not specifically say that the people were out sharing their faith, but we can safely infer this from the final sentence of verse 47, “the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved”.
Notice that the final result is credited to “the Lord”. At the end of the day, we rely on the Lord to build His church, not us. Church growth is not something that can be contrived by human ingenuity. And yet, I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Lord caused tremendous growth in the midst of the church’s commitment to these 4 activities.
Friends, I ask you again: Was this church growth intended for the early church only? Or do you think that the Lord might actually do that today, at St. Giles Kingsway?
Our game plan is before us. I do not want us to go offside; I do not want to go in the wrong direction. Let us therefore be committed to becoming a studying church, a generous church, a worshipping church, and an evangelizing church. For only when we progress in these things can we expect the Lord to add to our number daily. Amen.