People seem to dig the list when it comes to blogs and ministers and lay folks alike seem concerned about the decline of the church and wary of the future. More important all of us are trying to figure out how not only to lead the church but also how to be the church. Many people have pointed out that these days feel a lot more like the church of the Book of Acts than like the church of the 1950s, I wouldn’t know I wasn’t around either of those times. I can tell you that I am excited and hopeful about where the church is right now. What I offer here I hope to offer with humility; I offer it with hope that it will be helpful and practical, sometimes it just good to have things written out. I should note that no research has gone in to this other than my own first-hand experience of the congregation I pastor, a congregation I dare say is vital and healthy (as much as can be true in this broken world where churches are still really just groups of sinners). So here they are without further ado, 4 keys to a vital church according to the book of acts:
The vital church devotes itself to the teachings of the apostles. Sometimes translated as “doctrine” which is a fifty-cent word that intimidates and turns people off. When a group of Christians plumbs God’s word for revelation, not to just confirm what they already know, but to really learn more about God and about the readers, good things happen. People come to realize deep truths, they see how it all fits together, they learn to defend their faith and confidently explain it to those who might challenge them, and more importantly lovingly teach to those who are earnestly seeking. We try to teach clearly and helpfully with applications for everyday life. Scripture describes a Jesus who spent a lot of time teaching. It is no surprise then that the doctrine is important in vital churches.
The vital church devotes itself to fellowship. People spend time together, learning about each other, iron sharpening iron, learning to love one another. Fellowship, the “hanging-out” time we spend permits us to begin practicing the long list of “one-another” passages that Jesus taught. Christians build each other up, they hold each other accountable, and they offer a shoulder to cry on and a voice the cheer with. They pray together and promise to pray for one another. Fellowship is where the real needs come to light, it’s where the masks come off and the defenses are left behind. Fellowship makes us outward looking as a community and as individuals. We host garage sales and don’t worry about how much money comes in, we host game nights, movie nights, knitting circles, etc. we just want to spend some time together, it’s nothing fancy or elaborate, but it’s fun and it’s meaningful. Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with his closest buddies, is it any wonder then that hanging out is an important aspect of vital churches?
The Vital church devotes itself to eating together. This isn’t only communion, though it certainly includes the sacramental life (here in Duncan we do this once a month). Our communion service is always followed by a luncheon where the majority of the congregation will head downstairs and chat over a simple meal. Teens play soccer out one door, kids run about being kids, surrogate grandparents spoil them and make sure they get plenty of desert, parents console one another, people offer babysitting services, prayers, food, talk about sports, boats, and fishing. Food helps the people to linger and in the lingering relationships are built, plans are hatched, events are dreamed up…so we also hosts bbqs, pot-lucks, and smaller gatherings with food every chance we can. We even make up reasons to have such events because we know that they are powerful and as Kennon Callahan would suggest people just like such events, they are fun, carefree and easy. The early church clearly ate together a lot. It is no surprise that eating together as a church (and it’s true of families too by the way) is important to a vital congregation.
The vital church devotes itself to prayer. The early church did it, the middle church did it, we better be doing it, and all of us hope that the future is home to prayerful people (which is a big part of why people are worried about the health of the church). We pass a mic around and people offer requests for prayer and praises for answered prayers, it’s part of our offering. Yes, we know there can be privacy issues, but we trust and it mostly works out that, that people can tell where that line is. This allows us to be vulnerable with one another (a huge benefit in itself) but is also permits us to pray for the deepest felt needs within our community. We also begin each week with a prayer meeting at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays. It’s a beautiful time. It’s our promise that we will rely on God, that what we do begins and ends with him. The church is God’s church, He loves it and promises to acre for it. It is then no surprise that prayer is a big part of vital churches.
That’s it. Sorry, no great program you can purchase, no fast and easy fix. Grace is free to us, the life of discipleship is a long road, and God will meet us if we trust Him. If the church you attend isn’t particularly strong in these I would suggest picking just the most exciting one, or the one you most deeply wish to say was true about your congregation, and practice that one. Once you have that strength build another…