(Series: “The Early Church of Jerusalem” post #8)
A megachurch is generally defined as being any Christian congregation that has a sustained weekly attendance of 2,000 people or more in its worship services. Using that as a definition, we find that the world’s first church was also the world’s first megachurch. Acts 2:41 tells us that Peter’s Pentecost sermon resulted in approximately 3,000 souls getting saved and baptized. These new believers then “…continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42, N.K.J.V.). In other words, they became the world’s first church, the church at Jerusalem.
And the impressive numbers didn’t stop at 3,000. Acts 2:47 says that new converts were added daily. Consequently, Acts 4:4 says that not long after Pentecost, “…the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (N.K.J.V.). While it’s possible that this means that another 5,000 new believers were added to the fold, the more likely meaning is that another 2,000 were added to the existing 3,000. Either way, it’s noteworthy that the term “the men” is used. Evidently, the woman and children weren’t even counted in that overall number of 5,000.
Still, there was more growth to come. Acts 5:14 says “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women” (N.K.J.V.). Also, Acts 6:1 says: “Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying….(N.K.J.V.).” Some preachers and commentators contend that we should take that word “multiplying” literally, which would mean that the church (at the very least) doubled in size during that time. Certain translations, however, use the word “increasing” rather than “multiplying.” So, I guess all we can say for sure is that the increase was quite substantial. At any rate, there’s no denying that the church at Jerusalem was the world’s first megachurch.
But it certainly didn’t look like or function like any megachurch we see today. Consider the following:
- The church had the apostles as its founding pastoral team (Acts 2:42; 4:33-37; 5:1-2). How’s that for a staff?
- God performed many signs (miracles) and wonders through the apostles, and these signs and wonders caused great fear to fall upon not only the church members but also many of the other inhabitants of Jerusalem (Acts 2:43; 3:1-26; 4:23-31; 5:1-21).
- All the church members sold their possessions and donated the proceeds to a communal church fund from which every member’s basic needs were met (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 5:1-2). While this setup certainly spoke to the love, unity, and “we’re-all-in-this-together” attitude those believers felt toward one another, it also had its practical purpose. Keep in mind that all those foreign Jews who had chosen to remain in Jerusalem after responding to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:5-12) had, in essence, left behind their previous lives, including their jobs, to remain on in Jerusalem as part of the church.
- The church met daily — not just on Sunday — in the outer courts of the Temple complex (Acts 2:46-47). The meeting place was most likely the Temple’s courtyard of the Gentiles, which commentators suggest could hold upwards of 200,000 people. Such a large area would be required to accommodate the thousands of church members.
- In addition to meeting daily in the Temple’s courts, the church’s members also met regularly for meals in the homes of the members who had houses either in Jerusalem or in close proximity to it (Acts 2:46-47). Once again, this was a way of meeting the needs of those foreign Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost and had remained in the city after responding to Peter’s Pentecost sermon.
- The result of all this daily activity, to say nothing of the evangelism that was being done by the apostles and the other members of the church, was that new converts were made to the church each and every day (Acts 2:47).
The church at Jerusalem is oftentimes described as the ideal church, an assertion that is usually followed by a call to make that church the template for our churches today. The fact is, though, that this is an impossibility. Here’s why:
- We don’t have Christ’s apostles to provide the leadership.
- God isn’t working the signs (miracles) and wonders through us the way He did the apostles.
- Even if a church today could get its members to sell all they have and contribute all the proceeds to a communal fund (and could that really happen?), that set-up was never intended to be the norm. Nowhere else in the New Testament do we read of any other church operating like this. Peter never rebukes churches for not following the Jerusalem’s church’s example, and Paul never describes the plan as being God’s standard. For that matter, even the church at Jerusalem didn’t continue to use that system. No, that set-up was a temporary, unique situation that addressed a temporary, unique opening moment in the history of the Jerusalem church.
Of course, what we can do today is glean the important elements from the world’s first megachurch and apply them to our modern churches. These elements are:
- the role of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the life of each Christian
- assembling ourselves together for worship
- following the pastoral leadership that God has in place
- right teaching and correct doctrine
- love for our fellow church members
- an understanding that our money is in reality God’s money, which means that we should always use it as He leads us
You show me a church that has all of these elements in place, and I’ll show you a healthy, vibrant, growing church that knows what it believes and puts it into practice. You see, God’s work through His church didn’t end with the early chapters of the book of Acts. That work continues on today in churches all over the world. So even as we look back with wide-eyed wonder upon the early church at Jerusalem, we must recognize that God isn’t a one-hit-wonder and that He wants to do wonderful new things through our modern-day churches. Our job is simply to let Him.