A huge advantage we see when we look at the New Testament model of church is their flexibility of meeting places or locations. As we saw in a previous post, it was illegal for the early Christians to build facilities in the Roman Empire…they could not have a permanent location even if they desired one. However, we see that this limitation did not hinder the growth of Christianity, and it is very possible that it contributed to its expansion. Simplicity and flexibility are our friends in church planting, not our enemies.
The early church did not look for or depend upon permanent facilities. They simply adjusted to their situation and never missed a step. The interesting thing to know is that at the beginning, when the church was mainly comprised of Jewish converts, the Christians knew they were leaving their temple and pursuing Jesus “outside the camp.” (Heb. 13:13) However, they quickly discovered, as Jesus had taught to the Samaritan woman, that true worship was in spirit and truth…not in a mountain, temple or city. (John 4:19-24)
Where did these early believers meet? For the first three centuries Christians met in the everyday places associated with their life. The lack of permanent facilities actually gave them a flexibility to adapt to the situation, stayed focus upon the real meaning of Church and expand with little added expenses. In the NT we see them meeting in:
Houses – This is the primary place where believers gathered for fellowship in the NT. Here are some main verses revealing this. (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 18:7; 20:20; Rom. 16:5; 1Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2) It was the obvious choice and one which did not require anything special…no overhead, no special maintenance, no special up keep. And because the average house at that time could only hold around 20-30 people, we know that churches were small in size.
Public Buildings – The early Jewish believers met in Solomon’s Porch in the Temple at Jerusalem. (Acts 2:42; 5:12, 42) This would have ended shortly after persecution began against the Christians.
School – For two years we see Paul teaching and proclaiming the gospel out of the School (lecture hall) of Tyrannus in Ephesus. (Acts 19:9-10) We do not know if Paul rented it, or if he used it freely since he probably taught during the off hours from normal business. (11 a.m. – 4 p.m., heat of the day)
Riverbank – We see Paul, Silas and Timothy going to a prayer meeting down close to a river outside the city gates of Philipi. (Acts 16:12-15) This is where Lydia, the first European convert came to the Lord.
Let us also consider how Paul and Silas engaged in worship in a Philippian jail with great success in leading the jailer and his family to the Lord. (Acts 16:25-34) Also, Paul conducted two years of meetings in a rented house while under the custody of Roman legal authorities. (Acts 28:30-31) Again, successfully leading many to the Lord, including a runaway slave (Onesimus, Phil.1:10) and members of Caesar’s household. (Phil. 4:22, believed to refer to civil servants connected with the Imperial household)
Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility! Let us look to simplify our meeting places and get busy reaching out to hurting souls with the gospel of repentance and salvation. Church planting does not require million dollar budgets and permanent facilities. Let us wisely use meeting places which affords us the flexibility to focus on the call to go and make disciples. (Matt. 28:19)
Should we shut down our permanent facilities? Of course not. If we have them, we can use them for celebration gatherings. That is, the gathering of smaller church plants to enjoy a larger context of fellowship, worship and teaching. All I’m saying is that we do not restrict our thinking about planting churches to the equivalency of erecting buildings. (We’ll discuss this in a later part.)
Is it OK to have church meetings in homes, public facilities, schools, outdoors or in jail? The answer is a resounding Yes. Is it OK to have permanent facilities? Yes. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water by having a pendulum swing from reacting to permanent facilities. Also, let us reach out beyond the modern day practice of asking someone to join us at church (meaning a building), and began intimate and everyday life involvement like the early believers. We may like to hear an eloquent sermon sitting on a comfortable pew in permanent facilities. But once we experience entering into people’s life, up close and personal, the truths of the New Testament will explode with meaning and application.
Open your homes. Invite your neighbors and friends. Let them know you are going to be studying the bible. Get involved in their lives. Let them see you without any religious airs or pretensions. Share life and share the gospel. You may be surprised…
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.'” (Isaiah 6:8)
What are you thoughts? Agree/Disagree?