By David Church
You have probably seen articles with titles like this before. Every leader has a few good thoughts about increasing the attendance of their church on a given Sunday or about growing the overall attendance of their church. If you happen to lack for idea’s there are all kinds great idea’s in books and magazines, on blogs and on websites, but I will leave that to you. I want to take you back to the book of Acts and investigate what caused such tremendous growth amongst the first century church.
The Bible says in;
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
The final verse of Acts, chapter two, ends with two phrases that really catch my attention:
- Having favor with all the people.
- The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
The last phrase ,"added daily to the church", is our goal, yet it cannot be accomplished without first having, " favor with people." You will never grow your church unless you have favor with people. You will never win people to Christ unless you first win peoples favor. One of the reasons that Jesus was so successful and had so many people following Him was because He had favor with man.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Jesus had favor with God and with man. The Greek word for favor is ‘charis’, which simply means gratitude. To have favor with people is for people to feel grateful to you for something you have done. In the simplest of terms, you gain favor with people by the way you treat them and the way that you love them. If you love people, you will win them!
People were grateful to Jesus because He cared for them, loved them, fed them and healed them. In order for your church to grow, people must feel grateful for what you are doing for them through the ministries of your church.
In this text there are five things that these very first Christians did that give us a clear and concise blueprint for consistent growth in our churches. In each of these efforts, I believe that the church gained favor with the people.
1. They Continued in the Apostles Doctrine.
The scripture is abundantly clear that there is only one truth. The Apostles had that truth. As the church progressed, there were many false prophets that began to rise up and teach other doctrines. Paul wrote of this in;
6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
One of the things that caused tremendous growth in the early church is, "they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine." The Apostles and the early leaders of the church did not go running after other doctrines. The loved this truth and eventually died for it. They guarded this truth, yet they shared this truth. The lived this truth and they preached this truth. Although we live in a different time, I believe that people still want to know the truth. People do not like to be lied to. Programs are great, but what people really need is the Truth.
When people understand that you hold nothing back, when they understand that you will tell them the whole Truth, they will see that you really do care for their souls. People will drive for miles to hear a preacher who feeds them with Truth. Ultimately it is the Truth that saves people, when people begin to see and understand that, there is nothing that will stop them from coming to your church. Paul stated in;
27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
People will be grateful for a pastor and a church that does not shun to declare the whole counsel of God to them. People will be grateful for a pastor who compassionately warns them of following false prophets. You will gain their favor, and ultimately you will grow your church by continuing in the Apostles doctrine.
2. They fellowshipped and broke bread together.
How do you feel when you are invited to dinner at somebody’s home? Are you grateful for their friendship? Do you want to return the favor? Of course you do. So I could say then, that they have gained your gratitude or favor.
One of the easiest ways to gain favor with somebody is to invite them over for dinner, or take them out for dinner. Break bread with them. Fellowship with them. You can grow your church by simply having more fellowship together. It is as easy as that, yet because we are so busy, we fail in this effort over and over again. Don’t let that happen in your church, make time for fellowship. Jesus gained favor with publicans and sinners when he sat down to eat dinner with them.
15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
The scripture states that many began to follow Jesus because he sat down and ate dinner with them. It can’t get much easier than that. Fellowship, Fellowship, Fellowship, you can’t have too much. It is a key to growth. Show me a church that is fellowshipping together and I will show you a church that is growing.
As a pastor, you must find ways to keep the fellowship going. Care groups, friendship groups, prayer groups, youth functions….whatever causes fellowship to happen is great. Be the example and lead your church in fellowship with one another. People will follow you if you do.
3. They Prayed together.
It goes without saying that there is nothing that can replace prayer. We all need our alone time in prayer with God, but we must also pray corporately. There is nothing like a good old fashioned prayer meeting. Getting together with one another and interceding for their needs. When you bind together and truly pray for someone’s needs, that person becomes so grateful to you. You will win that person’s favor in no time at all if you continue to show them that kind of compassion.
I had the privilege of attending one of the Tuesday night prayer meetings at Brooklyn Tabernacle back in 1990. Since that time their prayer meetings have become legendary. Many have heard of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, but what really built that church was their Tuesday night prayer meetings.
What I experienced wasn’t a church service, it wasn’t a typical prayer meeting. It was something that I will never forget. From the first moment that I witnessed the crowd, I couldn’t believe there were so many there for prayer meeting. There were over two thousand people in attendance. When we call our prayer meetings, we are lucky if twenty percent of the church shows up. As I searched for a seat in the balcony area, (when was the last time you had to search for a seat at a prayer meeting) I noticed a very large group of people in the choir loft. I figured these were the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. That would explain why so many people were present, they had come to hear this famous choir. Yet as I sat there and observed, the only people that sang where a group of praise singers. The people in the choir loft were not singing, they were praying. At one point, as Pastor Cymbala led in prayer, those in the choir loft came out and started praying over the lives of those in the sanctuary. They were weeping and crying and praying the will of God over every person in the building.
I wept and watched as the people in the balcony prayed individually, in pairs, in small groups, and also corporately. From about 5 pm when the doors first opened, to about 11 pm when the last person left there were people praying for the needs of their community. What an amazing experience it was. Is it any wonder that Brooklyn Tabernacle has gained favor with the people of New York City, and the entire world for that matter?
Our churches have to get back to praying together just like they did in the first century. God has always intended that His house be a house of prayer for all people. Brooklyn Tabernacle is a house of prayer. We need to turn our churches into houses of prayer.
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
2 Chronicles 7:14-16
14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 15 Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.
Do people recognize your church as a church that prays? When people come into your church, do they immediately feel the presence of God? They should. They should always remember your church as the church that prays, and the church where God answers. There is nothing that will gain favor with people like answered prayers. Your prayer meetings will grow, your church will grow, and people will spread the word wherever they go.
4. They sold their possessions and goods for those in need.
Everyone who calls themselves a Christian is called to provide for those in need! That is what Jesus did when He walked amongst us, and that is what we should do. In fact, if we want to make it to heaven, it is a requirement. Jesus had to explain this to His disciples one day. The passage is found in;
42 For I was an hungry, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
The reason God requires this of us is because we are called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and we are called to love one another as God has loved us!
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
There is an underlying principle of love and compassion at work in this part of ministry. Would you feed yourself if you were hungry? Of course you would. Would you sell a piece of your own property if you and your family were in need of finances? Of course you would. Would God do the same? Of course He would. So we can do no less for others than what we would do for ourselves or what God would do for us. The scripture also says;
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
This is how all men will know we are Christians. This is how your community will recognize that your church is a "True Church". They will know by the love that you show to your community. A church that gives to the needy will be recognized in your city as a loving, caring, and compassionate church. The entire city will become grateful to you. When the time comes that they need a church, they will remember your church because your church was the church that helped one of their family members, your church was the church that visited their aunt in the hospital.
Every church must be involved in the ministry of benevolence. Start a food pantry. Offer free dinners to the homeless on a regular basis. Purchase shoes for those who need them. Start a prison ministry. Visit the sick. Have a block party in an inner city area where you can give gifts to those who might never receive any from their own families. Find some way to give back to the community. Let your city know that you are there to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Your city will be forever grateful to you for doing so.
5. They continued with one accord at the Temple every day.
There are two messages that I get out of this passage of scripture. The first is consistency. We all know that simply being consistent in our efforts will bring success. A little bit here and a little bit there. Don’t change when everyone else is changing. Keep at it every day. Take up your cross every day.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
The second message that I get out of this passage is this; The fact that they went to the Temple every day, tells me that the Temple was open to the public every day. A church that has its doors open for guests and members every day is a church that has something going on. People will come to a church that has something going on.The bible states that we ought to gather ourselves together more and more as we see that day approaching;
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
There is no doubt that the day of the Lord is quickly approaching, yet it seems that we are meeting fewer times a week than we ever have before. The first century church had success in part by meeting in one accord at the Temple every day. I know that is not feasible in our society. We all have jobs and commitments that pull us away every day. I am not saying that we have to have a service every day, we don’t need to have an organized event every day, but what we do need is a church that is available to our community every day.
It wouldn’t be difficult for the church doors to be open every day for prayer, for fellowship, for bible study, for basic the needs of the community. Sometimes they just want to know that you are there, that is what causes favor in people. That makes a huge difference. A church that has its doors open every day is a church that has something happening. People will go where it is happening. People go where the action is.
Have you ever wondered why Catholic churches get so many members? A large part of their success is in their availability to the community every day. The priests are available every day. In fact, a Priest is required to perform at least one mass every day, even if no one else is there. It is one of the vows he takes upon his ordination. Their doors are open all the time. With the doors of the church open every day, it is easier for people to go in and talk to a priest on a weekday when the crowds are smaller. This gives the people are closer connection to their leader and causes them to feel grateful for the time that he spent with them.
Why can’t our doors be open more than they are? Why can’t we be available more than we are? It wouldn’t be that difficult. I believe that people would be very grateful for the effort. Remember gratefulness is favor, and favor will bring great growth to your church.
47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved