What is a Successful Church? | Acts 2:46-47

What is a Successful Church? | Acts 2:46-47

Sermon Acts 2:46-47 | Outward Church: What is a Successful Church?

46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The unit of thought starts at verse 42 or perhaps back at the beginning of the chapter/book.

Subject: What is a Successful Church

Compliment: The Church is people committed to community, worship, and mission together.

Homiletical Idea: Being the church requires commitment and participation.


I’ve been thinking, reading, listening, and praying about something for a long time. Years. Over this time, I will occasionally share something with Jonathan or one of the elders, and several weeks ago I did just that when Jonathan called me to talk about something else. When I mentioned this to him, he asked me if I would want to preach on that in December, that it would probably fit in the Acts series. It takes a lot of faith and trust in me, and in God, to hand over the pulpit without any preview of what I am going to say. Especially so given the topic. I was not eager to preach this sermon, but I was willing. So, I agreed. I know God’s been teaching me things, but I wasn’t certain that the message he was giving me was for the church as a whole. Now, I am more certain that there is a good chance God has given me this message to share with the church. Last week’s sermon by Jonathan helped me feel more confident as he prepared the way for this sermon without even knowing it.

Last week, Jonathan’s sermon was titled, what is a successful mission? Today’s sermon is titled, what is a successful church? During that sermon he touched on what he called the three B’s used to measure church success by many people. Can anyone remember what the three B’s are? Buildings, Budgets, and Bottoms. I agree with Jonathan that those are not the best metrics to measure the success of a mission or a church. They are probably really good metrics if you are measuring a business, a university, a theater group, etc… What is a successful church? I think it is impossible to define the success of something until you define the thing itself. So, what is the church? Not a church, but the church. We all know the big white building with a steeple in the center of a quaint New England town is a called a church regardless of the last time it housed the church. So, what is the church? I don’t mean the universal church, the bridge of Christ, that is made up of all believers of all places and all times. So, what is the local church? What makes it a church? What makes it different from other groups of people?

Anyone have any thoughts?

Acts 2:46-47 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. 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.

Look at those verses on the screen or in your Bible. Do those two verses about the early believers give more insight into what it means to be the church?

Sometimes it is helpful to define things by looking at what they are not.

If we strip away all the things that are not essential to the church, what are we left with? What are the things that if we removed them, would cause us to no longer be a church? Brian Sanders calls this the irreducible minimum of the church and defines it as this: worship, community, and mission. There is a fourth thing that isn’t in the list, but implied; commitment.

If we look at the verses, we see that every day they continued… that is a commitment. Every day. What were they doing every day? …meeting together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together… that is community. Next it says they were praising God – worship. And finally, it tells us that God was adding to their number – mission.

  1. Worship
    1. Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
    2. Just like the word church, where most people with think of a building or a place, worship is restricted by an immediate thought of singing. This leads to the thinking that a church is a place that fills with people for an hour of weekly worship. Even the term worship team always bothers me, as does worship leader. We really mean music team, song leader, etc… Worship is certainly singing praise to God, but it is so much more. The church must be filled with true and proper worshippers – those who offer their lives as a living sacrifice. I told you commitment wasn’t one of the three things but implied throughout. Talk about commitment – offering your bodies as a living sacrifice. That’s the worship God wants and expects.
    3. If worship is reduced to singing and preaching for an hour a week, what is the power of the church? If worship is each member of a church committing to living the way of Jesus and surrendering in response to God’s mercy each and every day – do you see the power in that church?
    4. A group of people without worship, no matter how tight the bond or unified the mission, is not a church. If it were, the fire station would be a church, the football team would be a church, CrossFit might be a church…
  2. Community
    1. John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
    2. Our deepest longing is for a place where we are loved and known. A place where we belong. The church is not the church without building deep and sincere relationships.
    3. Being known can also be one of our biggest fears, and it is the large, anonymous versions of church with optional or no community that allow us to go to church without being the church.
    4. But, you see, this deep love and community Jesus called us to have for one another is not just live giving for those of us in the church, it is the very thing that should identify us as followers of Jesus and make us attractive to the world around us. We are called to be a new family – brothers and sisters; mothers and fathers.
      1. Matthew 12:48-50 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”.
      2. The church should be attractive to the outcasts, the fatherless, those without friends or family. A place to belong.
    5. Mission
      1. God is a missionary God. He sent his son to save us, to establish his kingdom. Jesus called his followers to be an ecclesia, an assembly, a church. Jesus said I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18b) Jesus established and builds the church, not man. Remember that someone tells you they believe in God but not the church.
      2. Since God is a missionary God and has been on mission for a long time. Our mission is His mission. He graciously, through Jesus, has allowed us to take part in growing his Kingdom. Jesus called us salt and light.
        1. Salt preserves. It stops decay. We are to work to slow and stop of the decay of the world around us. What do you see that is rotting? How can you help?
        2. We are called to be light. Can you think of some dark places we can shine some light?
      3. Think about this. The church was not given a mission. The mission was given a church. If that is true, then it is inarguable that a church that is not on mission, is not a church.
      4. A group of people with community and worship but not on mission are like salt that has lost its saltiness. Jesus says that is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled. I wonder if that is the picture of the lukewarm church described in Revelation? Gathering together, worshipping, but useless to the rotting and dark world around them.

Being the Church requires commitment and participation.

When we planted Cornerstone, I, like many others set out to create a church perhaps with flawed understanding of what a church is. I went to Immanuel for more than 30 years before helping to start Cornerstone. So perhaps I was trying to help establish more a model of Immanuel, with a few things tweaked for perceived improvement, or a few things left out due to lack of people or funding. I remember so many conversations I was involved in that looked forward to the day we had 100 people or more, because then we would have the people to really function as a church. And growing from there would be inevitable with the children’s program, youth program, outreach team, nursery, VBS, etc. None of those things are bad, but they are not the core of the church. They are not what a church should be measured against for success.

As I saw our attendance not grow, hold steady, and slowly decline over a several year period, I was discouraged at times. Each time a family left, it was hard. When we opened our house and pool for several dates in the summer of 2019, and the response was very low, I was sad. We thought about leaving the church for the same reasons so many other people leave churches. But, I couldn’t stop thinking that you don’t leave your family.

God started showing me that being small is not bad. In fact, it is good. I’m not going to bother to argue it is better, but it is enough to believe it is good.

  1. A large church is expected to be well run and flawless, like a machine. They strive for perfection in worship, communication, publications, and experience. When they fall short, they are criticized. If you commit to production and performance excellence and come up short, it is a failure. Yet, if you are committed to being small, simple, humble, and pure, when you come up short you are simply reminding people of who you are. Being small should remove so much pressure. We expect perfection out of inanimate objects, but all living things have flaws. The church is a living thing, and its flaws are part of its beauty. Paul reminds us that in our weakness the strength of God is perfected (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  2. Large churches cannot accomplish community without small groups. In fact, some would say their small groups is where real church happens as real relationships can build. We can have community in our Sunday morning gathering, or any other gathering of Cornerstone. I think community has been one of our strengths from day one. Remember pre-COVID and back to our Saturday evening service. There were 40 people here 45 minutes after the service talking, snacking, praying, playing, etc…
  3. Jesus taught that great things come from something very small. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Sixty percent of churches in America have fewer than 75 people. Remember God used persecution to spread out the early believers, so they didn’t have one big church in Jerusalem. His plan is to reach every nook and cranny of the world with the Gospel, not to have Christians gathering together by the thousands. The early church was small and met in homes. The thriving churches in persecuted nations today are small and meet in homes.
  4. Small things must rely on the power of God, and when great things happen, they must give credit to God. Large and powerful things tend to forget their need for God, and they often fall into the trap of thinking they accomplished things with their resources or power.

With all of that laid out, I want to share what I believe to be a prophetic word. Hear it, test it, examine it. I am not 100% sure, but sure enough that I am going to deliver it.

The story God kept bringing to my mind was the story of Gideon and his army defeating the Midianites. If you remember, Gideon had an army of 32,000 men, and they were outnumbered by more than 4-1. God told Gideon he had too many men. That when he (God) defeated the Midianites, Israel would boast and take credit. So, 22,000 men left, and Gideon was down to 10,000 men. Do you remember what God said? Still too many men. God then whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 men. Then God was satisfied. 300 against more than 128000. No one could claim credit for God’s victory there.

We are in a battle too. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Previously in Ephesians 3:10-11, Paul said this about the church “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is our function as salt and light.

Here is something amazing to me. Our average attendance (pre-COVID) was 61 people. Do you know that gives us almost exactly the same odds Gideon had as compared to the population of Westford.

I believe God has this message for us today: You are exactly the size I want you to be, and if I make you smaller, it will be for my glory. Small things are great in the Kingdom of God. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. Be the church. Love one another as I have loved you. Join me in my mission. Worship me truly and properly by offering your bodies as living sacrifices. The metrics don’t matter, the commitment does.

Benediction: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.””

To see our whole sermon series on Ministry Success, click here.