The early church had a problem. Peter had just preached a scathing sermon that was sure to rile the ranks of those who rejected the message of personal responsibility for the death of Christ. His climactic statement is found in Acts 2:36:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know (and that includes you) that God has made this Jesus, (here it comes) whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Now the crowd was split. There were some who rejected Peter’s message as vehemently as they had rejected Jesus some 2 months earlier. But the Scriptures don’t tell us much about this crowd. Then there was the other group, the ones who were “cut to the heart” in guilt and conviction and cried out in desperation, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
The message to them was simple and direct. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). And they did— 3,000 of them in one day! They had grown from the faithful 120 (Acts 1:15) to what we would now call a mega-church after one sermon.
So what was the church to do now?
I know, they would probably do what all large churches do today. They would form a committee and try to determine the best way to keep the crowds coming. They would:
• Immediately move into a building plan for new facilities. After all, “you can’t have a church without a church building.”
• They would segregate their congregation by age and then hire paid professionals to take care of their needs. They would employ young youth pastors, with tight fitting shirts, fledging facial hair and NY Yankees flat bill ball caps, to take care of the teenagers. They would need children’s pastors, with exaggerated expressions and over-the-top mannerisms, to babysit the children while their parents worshiped in “big church” on Sunday. Oh, and they also had to be pretty good at puppets. Music? Well, that’s a category all by itself.
• They would send out questionnaires to determine what kind of secular music the congregation was listening to before they came to Christ and, instead of trying to direct them to music that glorified the Lord and edified each of them, they would just mimic the world’s music but change a few of the lyrics so they could sleep well at night and still call it Christian. You know, go with the rock band theme: long hair, skinny jeans, pulsating lights, loud music designed to elicit an emotional or physical response and then try to pass it off as something spiritual. “Wow. Sure felt the spirit today. Our worship band rocks!” Ahem.
• They would come up with a Mission Statement. “All organizations need a Mission statement, right? I mean, that’s what they taught us in Marketing Class.” Exactly. Marketing Class. Ahem, again. And the Mission Statement needs to be broad in order to cast a large net, broad to press all the hot buttons of those believers they want to attract, and broad so as not to exclude anyone. The Mission Statement is their sales pitch, it tells their prospective clients, their new members, what they want to hear about the church, whether they actually live by their statement or not. It tends to be the statement that helps them perform their mission: which is to get you to come and stay loyal to their church… uh, er… I mean Christ, in order to help them grow.
• They would develop a Statement of Faith. And this, for the most part, needs to be simple. The statement of faith in a megachurch has a tendency to drive people away rather than draw them in. So, let’s keep it simple, something that no one can disagree with.
Our Statement of Faith: We Love Jesus, and We Love You. Aw, how sweet.
• They would then need to come up with a logo and a brand and a website. They would have to hire professionals who would design the best color schematics for their church brand. And then they would need to take their logo and brand and build identity and loyalty to the church…again, uh… I mean loyalty to Christ. They would print their logo and website on their t-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, flash drives, hats, tote bags, chip clips, key rings, refrigerator magnets and on and on ad nauseum. Why? “Because we want our people to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to recognize who we are, to market our church to their friends, you know, to become repeat customers. We want our church to have brand recognition like Starbucks.”
• Also, they would need to promote their pastor as a celebrity. It’s his picture and his blog and his books that they prominently display on their website. They need him to become bigger than life so the crowds would continue to come, week after week, to hear him speak, to dress like he dresses, to drink the coffee he drinks, to think and look and act just like him. After all, they are a personally driven church and it’s the pastor’s personality, and not Jesus, that “keeps ’em coming” each Sunday.
• Finally, because no one can do it better than their celebrity pastor, they would need to franchise their church, their brand, their pastor, out to other locations. They would set up satellite campuses all over the city and park their people in front of a HD, 1080p image of their celebrity pastor “doing his thing” on a flat, two dimensional video screen. And they proudly call that community, fellowship, koinonia. But in reality, it’s not about the people who will never meet the pastor let alone actually talk with him when they have a problem in their life. No, it’s about the church, the institution, the brand and the budget, and how they can grow their business bigger. It’s spiritual entrepreneurialism at its worst.
That’s how we do it today. But the early church did things different, completely different.
Listen to what they devoted themselves to (and it’s not the church or the brand):
And they continued steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).
In addition, they sold their possessions so they could take care of others. There was no sermon on tithing “because we are short on the budget this year.” Acts 2:44-45 states:
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Sounds like us today, doesn’t it?
They also didn’t just show up for the Sunday service once a week and feel like they had done their duty to God. No, they met together daily in the temple for worship and they took their meals together in each others’ homes (Acts 2:46). They simply loved being with each other. In other words, church was not something they did, but something they were. They wanted to look each other in the eye, they wanted to share each others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2), they wanted to get their hands dirty together in ministry for their Lord. And they wanted to do that together. Fact is, you can’t do any of this sitting in an auditorium watching a well-rehearsed 60 minute show on Sunday morning. Especially when you view that show on a video screen sitting cheek-to-cheek with people you have never met before nor will probably ever see again.
So what appeals to you? The early church or the megachurch?
I guess that all depends on what you’re looking for in church. If you crave the show, the feel-good messages, celebrity pastors, Madison Avenue branding, and the like— I think you’d better check the megachurch box on your church preference form. But if you’re looking for true intimacy, a church family, a pastor that you can invite over to your home for a meal (and he will actually come), life-long friends you worship with each Sunday and hang out with the rest of the week— then you’d better check the box for the church that only has as many members as you can personally know. And if the church you attend grows to the point that you can’t possibly know all the people, well, it’s probably time for a church strategic split and the birth of a new church with a new pastor.
I think it’s called growth by getting smaller.
Something to consider. It’s the Acts 2 way.