I have talked to a lot of people about their involvement in a church. As a result, I have heard a lot of complaints and wishes about churches. If you’ve had many conversation like this, then you undoubtedly have, too.
With all the differences in what people look for in churches –– e.g. some look for a strong sermon while others just want the sermon to end as quickly as possible –– I have never met anyone who didn’t want their church to have a good community. No one visits a church and then complains that it has too much fellowship. Or that it was too friendly. Or that it was easily to get connected.
No. Every Christian wants a strong community at the church they attend. Before I entered ministry, my wife and I attended Oxford Church of Christ while I was in graduate school at the University of Mississippi. Within a couple of weeks, we made friends with a few other people and went to a small group with them. This small group was our community for the two years we lived there. We looked forward to spending time with them. And it was through them (several of whom had been at the church for years) that we became better integrated in the larger church community.
We often reminensce about those days.
Everyone wants to be apart of a strong Christian community. But most churches and ministries struggle to produce great community among their members. Many Christians feel isolated in their own churches.
Reflecting on Acts 2 and the community that is referenced at the end of the chapter, I saw three characteristics of the community in Acts 2.
Characteristics of Christian Community
In Acts 2, Peter preached a sermon to thousands of people in Jerusalem. Three thousand people were baptized. And Acts 2:42-47 describes the early Christian community that emerged in Jerusalem after this.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Three points stand out to me.
First, it was a community of converts. The first step to a vibrant Christian community is that most of its members need to be converts. (I say “most” because in any outreach-focused church there will be non-believers among the community.) Several passages in the New Testament (e.g. 1 John 2:9) teach that some people who claim to Christians were never actually converted. Any Christian community will have great trouble if it is made up of a significant number of people who claim to be Christians but have never been converted. In fact, I am less concerned about there being interested unbelievers among the community than those who claim to believe but are not really disciples of Jesus.
The community in Acts 2:42-47 was the result of thousands of people being “born from above” (John 3:3). And such people seek to form the radical Christian community that is described here.
Of course, this exact pattern of community doesn’t continue for the rest of Acts. There is no indication that later in Acts they met daily in the temple courts, or even that they met anywhere daily. But it is important to see the values they display: the love of fellowshipping with other Christians, a drive to continuously learn more about God, and a sacrificial lifestyle for God and others.
If you want this type of community here, pursue God and bring others to Christ.
Second, the community life is arises from what God had done in their lives, not from a church program. This community flowed from their relationship with God. It wasn’t well-crafted programs or a cool business-plan-like vision that did this. It was the work of God in the lives of His people. Too many churches rely on programs to energize and encourage the fellowship of the Church. Every new idea turns into a budget item, an administrative issue, and finally some program that long outlives its usefulness.
But this should not be the norm.
If you want this type of community, don’t wait on your church to start a program. Grab someone in your church and pray with them. Talk about what God is doing in your lives. Read through a book of the Bible. Or ask a fellow Christian if they have any need you can meet, but be ready to sacrifice to meet the need.
Three, the community made great demands upon those involved, both on their time and their possessions. It’s true that being involved in a church can be draining. Churches burn out a lot of their members by overloading them with responsibilities or chores.
Some people, though, want a great Christian community without it making any demands on their time except for an hour or so on Sunday morning.
But this should not be so. The early Christians met daily to hear the apostles’ teachings, take communion, eat together, and serve one another. They had jobs. They had families. But there was so much joy about their faith that they threw themselves into a deamnding community. Undoubtably this joy flowed from their salvation. But they didn’t just have joy in their individual salvation, but also a joy in the corporate aspect of the salvation, that is, that they were the saved people of God.
A Worthy Vision
Many churches have communities that lack the vibrancy of the community in Acts 2:42-47. But I don’t think such a vibrant community is out of reach. Instead, though following Jesus and becoming a people overwhelmed with the joy of salvation, I think this type of community can result.
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