The Lighthouse in Cape Hatteras NC is the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation. It stands 193’ tall. It was rebuilt in 1869 and it was a half mile from the coast. After over a 100 years of beach erosion the lighthouse was dangerously close to the coast so in 1999 the Army Corp of engineers relocated the entire lighthouse inland another half mile.
If they would not have moved it, it would have eventually collapsed and they would have lost this important beacon to ships in that dangerous area. The purpose of a lighthouse is always the same; to warn ships of danger and guide them safely on their way.
Churches are similar to lighthouses as they exist to warn people of dangers and Satan’s schemes and to guide people to the Savior Jesus. The church also helps people to navigate difficult waters.
As we look at the early church and then compare it to the church today, there has been a lot of erosion over the last 2,000 plus years. The erosion of the church has led to a decline in the influence of the church. Churches in America are closing at a rapid pace.
I don’t believe the church will collapse because enough of them have made changes and are healthy. Jesus said that “I will build my church upon this Rock and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is Jesus’ church, not our church or my church.
Yet the reality is the church in America is on the decline. Did you know that on average 86 protestant churches close every week in America, that’s 12 per day. Lifeway Research out of Nashville Tennessee compiles a report about churches every 5 years. In 2019 they found that 4,500 churches closed. The good news is that in that same year 3,000 churches were planted, including Grace Sugarcreek! That was the first time since they started doing the research that more churches closed than opened.
In 1972, 92% of Americans identified as Christian. In 2020 that number declined to 64% This is not due to other religions growing faster, according to Lifeway a combined total of only 6% of Americans identified as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist.
So why the decline in the number? It’s because more and more people are identifying themselves as religiously unaffiliated.
Here is why I am sharing this: In Acts 2:42 we find 4 foundational elements of the early church. Without these elements there will be erosion of the church, and the church will become more and more irrelevant to new generations.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” verse 42
These things were important back then and continues to be important today. When these things are missing in a church you have an unhealthy church at best and a dead church at worse.
These aren’t the only things that help make a church healthy and thriving, but they are foundational and many of the other things like outreach, worship, missions, students and kids flow from these four.
I firmly believe that Grace and many other churches in our community and around the nation are holding fast to these foundational elements and are healthy and growing and making a difference. There is hope for the church in America and around the world.
Here at Grace we have grown from one location in 2019 to four locations in 2024. We are praying about what other rural towns might be next and asking God to guide us in that.
Last year we had a record year with more than 30 people getting baptized at Grace, 12 here at Grace, two more next week! We have more people than ever volunteering, giving or in a small group. All glory to God!
So here are the Four Foundations of a Healthy Church:
- Devoted to the Apostles Teaching (Bible) Doctrine: So when we say devoted to the Apostles teaching we are saying in a broad sense the teaching of the entire Bible. In the early church teaching the Scriptures was held in high regard, it was central to everything they did. When churches start to shape the Bible to suit the culture they are eroding and declining. The Bible should shape us and our culture, not the other way around. The Primary message of the Bible is about eternal life, the secondary message of the Bible is how to navigate everyday life. Teaching the Bible is a foundational key to Church health.
- Devoted to Fellowship. (Koinonia): Koinonia means a closeness, a togetherness, caring for one another, and sharing with other people who are united in the common bond of Jesus Christ. The point here is that we need each other, we all need healthy Christian relationships. We are better together, but it takes getting out of your comfort zone and being intentional. You have to make time for this, because we were made for relationships and it helps us live out our purpose and use our gifts for the Kingdom.
- Devoted to the breaking of bread. (Communion): Communion should be a regular part of a church’s worship services. Why? Because it’s a constant reminder of what Jesus did and who he is. It helps churches keep Jesus at the center. Here are some thoughts about communion.
- It’s a simple act. The Bible says that the very first communion, the Lord Jesus, on the night that He was betrayed, took bread and broke it. The Lord’s Supper is a very simple act. He took bread and He took wine and He gave it to the people and explained what it meant.
- It’s a reminder. “And when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, `This is My body which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.'” The whole purpose of the Lord’s Supper is for us to remember what Jesus did on the cross.
- It’s a symbol. “In the same way, He took the cup, saying, `This cup is the new covenant in My blood; drink it to remember Me.” When Jesus said, This bread is My body and this cup is My blood, He didn’t mean that literally.
- It’s a statement of faith. “For whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes back.” When you take of the Lord’s Supper, you’re making a statement that you are a follower of Jesus Christ and that you have surrendered your life to him and that he is in control.
- Devoted to Prayer. Prayer was a huge part of the early church. Jesus demonstrated this repeatedly to the disciples. He even taught them how they should pray. Prayer is about inviting God into every part of our life. It should be our first instinct when facing any challenge, hardship, decision, conflict, or temptation. When you are feeling lonely pray, when you are feeling depressed, pray, when you are feeling anxious, pray, when you can’t sleep at night pray. As a church we need to be a house of prayer.
These are four solid building blocks for a church and the people that make up the church.