Thursday, July 20, 2006

Acts 2 Congregations

At our United Methodist Annual Conference (West Ohio), our bishop encouraged us to be Acts 2 Congregations "fully engaged in transforming lives, [their] communities, and the world. Acts 2 Congregations are reaching and baptizing new believers, growing worship, forming disciples, and engaging in vital mission in the community and the world" (quoted from West Ohio News, July 14, 2006, p. 2).

Interestingly, I got this article at the same time I was preparing a sermon from Acts 2:36-42 (in a series on the first 2 chapters of Acts). To continue quoting from the Bishop Ough (pronounced "O" in case you don't know him), "The apostles and earliest disciples of Jesus bore much kingdom fruit. They were able to do so because God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, was in them, and they were responsive and obedient to the Spirit's leading."

The sad thing is that many of our churches are not Acts 2 churches. Many go for years without seeing a single baptism or conversion. Many don't do mission work, though I would guess that in those churches, members do contribute to missions in their own ways. But I wonder about the place of the church that simply meets for the good of its own, for the family church that has a "chaplain" to take care of them and paying him (or her) is all they can manage (besides the expense of keeping their building standing and most of the rain out). My friend Greg is preaching this week questioning the very idea of the church building - if it's even biblical - simply because of how much money and misplaced loyalty goes into the building itself.

The Apostle Peter was pretty clear in Acts 2 about what new converts were supposed to do: Repent and be baptized... save yourselves from this generation that has gone astray." The "Acts 2 Congregation" model assumes that we are supposed to evangelize. It's part of what God does through us. It blows me away that 46% of West Ohio UM churches had no professions of faith in 2005. It blows me away that over 10% of our congregations reported: no baptisms, no professions of faith, no worship growth/membership growth, no faith-forming small groups, and less than 100% support of Apportionment giving.

Actually, the one I can most believe is the lack of apportionment giving, because sometimes that is a protest against poor Conference stewardship).

But the others -- is there any better definition of what the Church is supposed to be about? I know that the qualifiers above don't include any social or service ministries and that we're called to serve one another, but I'm just going off Acts 2 and the bishop's episcopal address (sorry about the redundancy: if it's a bishop's address, it's naturally episcopal).

What troubles me is that it's not difficult to at least have 1 baptism in a year, 1 small group, etc. The church I'm serving has grown over the past two years (and not in the style of the late Mike Yaconelli, who claimed to have un-grown his church from 60 to 30), from 87 in 2004 to 92 in 2005 to 97 in the first half of 2006, if I remember correctly, and the truth is, I haven't done anything yet. Sure, I've been taking stock of the situation and have been prayerfully contemplating next steps, and I believe this study of Acts 2 is one of our next steps, but we haven't introduced new ministries, yet we're seeing growth.

Believe me, I think spiritual growth entails a whole lot more than numerical growth, but numerical growth can be an indicator (spoken like one who is in a church that is growing numerically, I know). That said, is the church devoted to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and prayer? Are we meeting together constantly, sharing all we have?

One of our problems is that we've segregated Sunday into our God-day and the rest of the week simply isn't. Our congregation is filled with family ties, but those who don't have those ties often feel left out. Fellowship during our greeting time is heart-felt and I see God in it, but does it extend outside the walls of the church building? When people show up, they feel very welcomed, but are we doing enough to encourage them to show up?

I think we have a way to go before we can call ourselves an Acts 2 Congregation, even if we meet the bishop's criteria.


Anonymous said...

Preach on Brother! I expect that your church will grow spiritually under your leadership. Once the congregation is walking with God. Others in your community will notice. When that happens you'll be able to make a Kingdom difference in your area, and in Northwest Ohio.

muzik316 said...

Ya know... you had a good point, it's not about numbers. Sure they will grow, but only with spiritual growth like you said. So many times we focus on the former and not the latter.

GipperBlog said...

Nice message. I am on the Admin Board of my United Methodist congregation and often wonder why we aren't growing as we wish we would. Another look at Acts 2 is a fresh perspective.

Thanks for that perspective

Eutychus said...
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Eutychus said...

I enjoyed reading this. It was a challenge for me. Thank you. Our church does have growth and we do see baptisms, etc, but honestly, there is so much more that we could be doing. I often think about the early church lived their lives and the way that we live ours today, and there is a radical difference. They gave all, we often give what we can spare.

As a person that aspires to have my own music ministry, I often struggle with the time I take for me vs. the time I take for God. I know I don't give enough. My comfort is that I DO know that, and I am struggling with it rather than being unaware of the problem.

I can't wait for the day when we are with God for eternity, and our priorities are aligned exactly as they should be.