They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
How do our churches reflect the spirit of community evident in the early church?
The book of Acts gives us glimpses of the early church. The picture is one of fellowship and prayer, of selflessly meeting each other’s needs, and of breaking bread together. God worked powerfully through the early Christians and the gospel spread in dramatic ways.
How do our modern churches reflect the values and emphases of the early church? Do we adequately know and care for each other in ways that would cause the world to take notice? Two Orchard Group churches emphasize home groups as essential to being the church.
At Everyday Christian Church in New York City, the main ministry happens in Everyday Groups, which meet in homes. Lead pastor Chris Travis explains,
“The action of our church is in our groups. The worship service supports what happens in the Everyday Groups.”
Because of this emphasis, the public worship gathering is kept as simple as possible. New elements, including technology like video, slides and additional musicians are added to the service only as members volunteer.
Everyday started with one group in 2011 and has grown to three groups, with a fourth starting soon. As each group grows to 25-30 people, it starts a new one. The desire is to grow exponentially through these gatherings. Hundreds of groups of 30 can meet all over NYC. Because of very practical issues of space in the city, this type of growth can be limitless. Many more spaces exist that accommodate 30 than spaces that accommodate 300 or more.
Missio Dei Community in Salt Lake City started in 2010 with three house churches. Those house churches grew before Missio Dei started gathering publicly on Sunday mornings. They did not advertise the Sunday services but encouraged members to invite people to their local house church. Missio Dei has now grown to nine house churches, with 250 people meeting for Sunday morning worship.
According to lead pastor Kyle Costello,
“We believe real, honest relationships will lead to more meaningful lives. God has not created some sort of heavenly pipeline for each of us to relate to Him in isolation. Rather, he has called us into relationship with other people.
How we love God is how we love others, and how we love others is how we love God.
So we pursue relationships based on vulnerability and humility. As we serve one another, suffer with one another, and encourage one another, we will be formed into the people God wants us to be, a peculiar people. And as this happens, the greater culture will take notice.”
Missio Dei Community Church and Everyday Christian Church share experiences that can help churches who desire to place more emphasis on growth and discipleships through home gatherings.
Groups are slightly larger (20-30 people) rather than the typical small group of 8-10 people. This size gives more energy and momentum, and also allows newcomers to feel welcome. It is also more comfortable for introverted people. When personal discussion is needed, the meetings can divide into smaller sizes.
Groups are essential to discipleship and community. While Sunday morning gatherings are important, and executed well at both churches, that gathering cannot replace what happens in the mid sized group context. Everyday prioritizes groups as the highest value, while Missio Dei stresses a both/and approach. Missio Dei’s house churches are given study guides that accompany the sermon series to go deeper into the scriptural themes being taught.
Early growth happens through groups. Because church members form vital relationships, both pastors see people meeting each other’s needs naturally. Chris credits that connection to sharing meals and praying together. As a pastor, he does not have to spend as much time worrying about whether or not people are being cared for, because it is obvious.
Groups often share a meal. This setting puts people at ease, and over time forms bonds so that people are willing to be vulnerable and open. “Over the course of two years, people in Everyday Groups will share 50+ meals together. Some American families don’t sit down together for that many meals!” explains Chris. To walk alongside each other in faith, to encourage and even challenge each other requires trust that can only be built over time.
Groups move from an early inward focus to an outward focus as they mature. At Missio Dei and Everyday, groups are encouraged to adopt a mission that fits the personality and passion of that gathering. Missio Dei sees groups volunteering regularly at the homeless youth center and assisting the foster system. At Everyday, groups minister to children in their neighborhood and reach out to local artists.
Acts 2 concludes with the description: They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. This is an apt description of Everyday Christian Church and Missio Dei Community Church! May God continue to bless the ministries in their cities.