We have four young children. The first two are old enough to grasp the significance of a new arrival in the family, but they cannot yet understand how babies are made.
Similarly, I’ve found that many Christians assume new churches are born somehow, without realizing the process of church birth. How did your church begin: was it planted by a missionary or by another church? Or did your church form as the result of a church split or a fellowship? And at what point did that initial group of Christians become a church?
When you consider how churches begin, you will gain more appreciation for your own church’s history and God’s grace in starting new churches. How were churches planted in the story of Acts? Here is one approach, below. (notes adapted from missiologist Ed Stetzer)
Planting a new church by going to unreached areas
Teams were gathered and sent:
- Paul, Barnabas, John Mark (Acts 13-14), first missionary journey
- Paul, Silas, and Timothy (Acts 16), second missionary journey
- Paul, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18) to Ephesus
- Paul and several co-workers (Acts 20), third missionary journey
Example from Paul’s first missionary journey:
1. They went out to the communities and preached the gospel
- They preached the gospel first in synagogues (13:5, 14; 14:1) but also expanded their ministry to Gentiles (13:46)
- They preached the gospel boldly and publicly (13:44, 14:3, 6-7, 21)
- They discussed the gospel (public / personal): “many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” (13:43)
2. God gave the increase
- “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (13:48)
- The Lord was bearing witness, “granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (14:3)
3. They trained these disciples and appointed elders in every church (14:21-23)
Acts 14:23 mentions for the first time these groups as churches. When did these groups become a church? Previously, Acts 2:42 mentions the basic functions of the sending church in Jerusalem, which would have served as a pattern: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” With the appointment of qualified leaders, these churches were born and established.
The church’s growth in Acts was historically unusual (ie, God-given signs and wonders; conversions from synagogues). But even today, when God gives the increase from the bold, faithful proclamation of the gospel, new churches will arise.
What do you think?
John Piper defines the local church at its minimum as “a group of baptized believers who meet regularly to worship God through Jesus Christ, to be exhorted from the word of God, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper under the guidance of duly appointed leaders.” Is this a good standard for a new church?