For many churches, “community” is a value. That is, they want to develop among the people of the church a sense of belonging to the group. Their goal is to get people to think about “we” and not just “me,” which certainly agrees with scriptural descriptions of the church being an assembly, at least, and a body, at its best.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to forget that the body that is the church is not merely a body of individuals built together to form a community; it is the Body of Christ lived in community. While we might value togetherness or belonging, we must value the church as a body whose health and activity is expressed in community but not defined simply by putting people together and keeping them together.
Community often starts with simple interaction, when individuals visit and return and begin to feel welcome and comfortable. That comfort and connection leads to association, when someone feels comfortable saying, “I am a member of Thus-and-Such Church.”
However, we can’t reduce membership in the church to mere association; to be a member of the body of Christ, one must be united with Christ. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans 6, where he uses phrases like “crucified with him,” “buried with him,” and “raised with him,” among others. Joining the church is so much different than joining an organization; it is not merely putting one’s name on a roster but becoming a whole new person. Being joined with Christ changes our identity and our nature, as Paul reminds in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” That’s where we start; that’s where the growth begins.
As it grows, community transforms as individuals whose initial connections were found in having similar interests, experiences, or needs truly begin loving and caring for each other. This is what we see in the early church, as Luke documents its beginning and growth in the book of Acts. This summer we will follow the early church in a series of sermons through Acts. While there’s a lot of names, places, and events that happen in this historical account, we’re going to focus on the early church as a community.
In the book of Acts we see the formation of the church on the day of Pentecost, when thousands heard the Good News about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the first time. When they heard the message, they responded in faith, and it changed them. Peter preached; they were baptized; they devoted themselves to the Gospel; and they started taking care of each other as they had needs. And God responded: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). They didn’t simply join the church, God built the church from this newly formed body.
So when we value community and desire to see the community grow, we can learn a lot from the early church. Regardless of what the big church across town or across the country might be doing, our model comes from the Scriptures. The church growth experts agree: programs, events, and gimmicks might be valuable, but only if they’re used as tools to build on the foundation of the Gospel and if they’re used to help people grow in their relationships with God and with other people. Otherwise, they’re as healthy and effective as fad diets; the dramatic changes might bring quick results, but they’re not sustainable (trust me; I know).
If you’re worried about a lack of activities; don’t. There are a lot of different things we can do to make sure this community continues to grow and be healthy. The book of Acts reveals growing community through devotion to the Scriptures, prayer, worship, evangelism, giving, serving, and more. As we wrestle with the issues of being the healthy, active body of Christ, as we struggle with growing as a community, let’s stay focused on the Gospel. Programs, events, and trends come and go; they’re expensive, time-consuming, and temporary, but “the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).