They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
There exist many different types of churches from house churches to the so-called “mega church.” Regardless of the size, the authentic and growing church will share some marks or characteristics in common. Countless books have been written on the subject of church growth but sometimes a quick look at the scriptures, especially the Book of Acts, will provide all of the information necessary.
The Book of Acts is the history of the early church. Not a chronological history with dates and names, but the writer of Acts gives a glimpse of the struggles of the early church and how they overcame them. Early on in Acts, the author shares what have become known as the Four Marks of the Church.
- They devoted themselves to the Apostolic Teaching. Now I know this may make some of you’re a little nervous and it might even smack a little of tradition but just relax a little. What the writer of Acts calls “Apostolic Tradition” we can call the scriptures. We need to dwell on the scriptures and make them a part of our lives. It is nice to read the devotional material and what not, but the scriptures are what we need to dwell on. I am not a believer that the scriptures are inerrant, but they can speak to us if we listen. As a church, and as individuals, our lives should spring forth from these pages but also leave room for the movement of the Holy Spirit to influence us as to how they should be applied in our lives. Our faith life will grow if we nurture our relationship with scripture on a daily basis inside and outside of the church.
- They devoted themselves to fellowship. This is more than just the fellowship hour after church. As the church, and as individuals we need to be invested in people. Faith is all about relationships, relationships with God and relationships with other people. Relationships require investments, and that takes time and energy, we need to work at it. A mark of authenticity and vitality in a congregation is the quality of peoples’ relationships and then their efforts to include others in those relationships. How open is the congregation to new people? Are they made to feel welcome? If there a follow-up to their visit? These are all important questions to ask. Devotion to fellowship means a nurturing of the habits of hospitality not just to those inside the church but those outside the church as well. If the congregation is nurturing this concept of hospitality, then people are made to feel at home and will become part of the family.
- The devoted them to the breaking of the bread. It does not matter how often communion is served in the church be it, four times a year, once a month, or every week, communion should feed the congregation and the spiritual life of the members. There is a richness in the offered in Christ’s broken body and shed blood which is the promise of the Gospel that is shown in more than words. Jesus took the bread and broke it, and gave it to those with him. He called this broken bread his body that he shared with those with him. The example is not that we are just to share our food with others but that we are to share our very lives with them. We are to break ourselves open and share ourselves with others inside and outside of the community.
- They devoted themselves to prayers. A mark of authenticity and vitality is how the congregation is involved in prayer. If prayer is just something that happens on Sunday during the worship service the community will not be vital nor will it be authentic. “They devoted themselves to prayer” this is not a causal this but a way of life. Do we pray for the church? Do we pray for the leaders of the church? Do we pray for each other? Not just in bad times but also in the good times. Prayer, like the other three marks, is important not only in the life of the congregation but the life of us as individuals.
Our growth in faith and our growth as a church community only comes through God’s grace, but these marks of the authentic and vital church, serve as ways of nourishing the church and making the ground fertile for that grace to work.