It just so happened that as I was driving up to Utica in prep for writing this sermon that I was listening to a podcast. It’s not uncommon for me. I try to listen while I drive since I spend so much time in the car, and I try to listen to people who know more than I do, or who are at least willing to talk about things of which I’m interested in. One of the podcasts I routinely listen to is called 200Churches. It’s dedicated to encouraging leaders in 80% of the churches in the US; in other words, churches that have 200 people or less in them.
Small churches is very much a thing. We are in the majority, even though when we look at media all we see is the mega churches. But I digress. One of the questions they asked during this particular podcast, episode 39 if you’re interested, was a question I had been planning on bringing up with the elders. A question we all need to ask. So here it is: What are we doing that is keeping our church from growing?
What are we doing that is keep our church from growing?
I can easily come up with some small quick and snarky answers, as I’m sure a lot of us can. But to think about that question deeply, to really look at the make-up of our church, how we function, how we think, how we act and respond to the culture around us—now that takes time. It takes thought. It takes repentance and social responsibility.
It takes exactly what Peter is talking about in his sermon. Peter tells us what it is we’re doing and what we should be doing. It takes change. It takes belief and repentance. It takes moments like these where we’re smacked face first with what it is we’re doing to prevent the kingdom of God from expanding, as an individual and as a church.
One of the issues today is that we’re a very individualized society. The culture back in Peter’s day was not. It was communal. They relied on each other heavily in order to live and function each and every day. Today it’s not a huge deal if you stay cooped up in your house and don’t see a soul for twenty-four or forty-eight hours. Eventually you’ll have to come out, get groceries, see the sun. But back then? That wasn’t the case at all.
People needed people. That was how society was. But our culture is so vastly different today that it seems as though we’ve completely lost and forgotten this communal understanding. It was posited during my studies for this sermon: Could it be the purpose of repentance, the turning away from sin and toward God, that the purpose of repentance is to redirect our view from self-centeredness, from individualized society, to compassionate consideration for others?
In other words, what are we doing that is keeping our church from growing? What are we doing that is keeping and preventing the message of Jesus, the message Peter gave to us in Acts 2, the miracles and signs that have happened from reaching out into the culture surrounding us?
Certainly that wasn’t an issue for people near Peter. It starts with verse 40, “And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them…So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
We are certainly not Peter. We have the very real problem of being a society that doesn’t see the benefit of the communal, the benefit of being together to break the bread, in fellowship together, in teaching and learning together. We’re not where the early church was, where the beginning of our faith was. We’re very different, yet we need to realize that our repentance is to for us to reject our individual ways and to go back to the communal. To be together in fellowship. To break bread together, in communion and in an agape feast. To pray together.
What are we doing that is keeping our church from growing? Well we’re not listening to Peter, that’s for sure. We’re not listening to what the early believers did and said. They were baptized by water as an outward demonstration of their faith and by the Holy Spirit as an inward work of regeneration. That means they knew they would fail in their call to God, but they knew through their faith they would be redeemed, forgiven, and renewed again.
They had all things in common, that was their responsibility to each other. The passage states, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
To sum up: They taught and they learned together, they fellowshiped together—or in the vernacular of todays teens, they hung out—they prayed together, they broke bread together in the Eucharist and in feasts and meals, they shared possessions and distributed the goods to those who were in need, and they worshiped and praised God’s name together.
I know there are a few scary ones in there. There are commands and actions that we’re not doing in this church together that the ancient church was doing. And you know what? They were growing. It says so right in Scripture. Not only did three thousand souls join in the mission of Jesus Christ right after Peter finished preaching, but verse 47 tells us, “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The ancient church asked themselves what they were doing that was keeping the church from growing, and they took steps to prevent stagnation. They wanted growth. They were a communal group who loved and praised the Lord, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, who were blessed to be living this life together.
We need to learn from them. We need to teach each other about God, about faith, about living together in this world. We need to be together in fellowship, in love, in times of sorrow and in times of joy. We need to pray together, for this world, for each other, for the blessing God has already bestowed upon us. We need to break bread together, commune with each other. I always say there’s not one church I’ve been to where the food isn’t fantastic, and this is why. We are following God’s command to break bread together and that is why the bread tastes that much sweeter here, that’s why the meals are so much more fulfilling and satisfying.
We need to worship together. To praise God’s name, uplift the wonders and signs that are being done in our lives and in the lives of the apostles before us. We need to share our possessions. This is the tricky one, right? It is for me at least. We are innately selfish people. We don’t want to share. But God’s gift is to be shared. God’s love is to be shared. This money, this food, this love I have—it’s not mine. It’s God’s.
God owns everything, and by understanding that, by truly believing it, that makes it not so difficult to sell my possessions in order to help someone else out. It makes it easier to follow my faith, because that is following my faith. It makes it exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.
We are to repent; to turn away from sin and turn toward God. To make this change in our state of mind and life in order to become more focused and centered on God and God’s people. By repenting, by admitting our failures, our selfishness, our individualization of everything in this culture and this world, we know we will come to God, we will have a social responsibility to those who are on this journey with us and for those who could be on this journey with us.
By asking the question, what are WE doing that is keeping our church from growing, we will know the way to help us grow, the way to follow Jesus’ commands more closely, to have stronger faith, and to bring more people into the beauty that is God’s love and grace and mercy. Amen.