We tend to think we need high tech, quality programming, a nice building, a dynamic pastoral staff, etc. in order for our churches to grow. Yet, the Early Church who didn’t have the same resources many have today, saw tremendous church growth. They obviously knew what was truly essential for church growth — the power of God at work which they tapped into through prayer.
Essential Nature of Prayer in Early Church Growth
Prior to ascending to heaven, Jesus told the disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They didn’t just sit around talking about the kind of church growth God wanted to bring about. They didn’t merely twiddle their thumbs waiting for the power of God’s Spirit to come upon them. Notice what they did: “They all joined together CONSTANTLY in prayer …” (Acts 1:14)
Later, after the Spirit came at Pentecost, we still find them praying. — “They DEVOTED themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) A few verses later we read, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
As the Church expanded, so did persecution increase. Sometimes growth in His Name can come at a cost. Again, we see the essential nature of prayer for continued growth despite the obstacles. When Peter and John were released from prison with a warning not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus anymore, they reported what had been said to the other disciples. Notice the response: “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:24) Then we read, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Another incidence when Peter was imprisoned we read, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was EARNESTLY praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). God miraculously broke him free from prison. Despite the persecution, “the word of God continued to spread and flourish” (Acts 12:24). They knew they needed God’s power to keep advancing the Gospel and so they prayed.
Prayer Essential Today If We Want to See the Church Grow
We might be tempted to say such growth had to happen to get the Church off the ground. But, God is still in the business of growing His church — quantitatively (through conversions) and qualitatively (through spiritual maturation). He delays Jesus’ second coming to give time for more people to get saved. — “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)
Perhaps we’re not seeing this kind of church growth today because we aren’t as DEVOTED to prayer, CONSTANTLY and EARNESTLY praying. Prayer is still just as essential to church growth today as it was then because it is still going to take God’s power for it to happen. In the next post we’ll look at some of the specific ways we can and should be praying about it.
Resource to Help with Praying: Prayer Ministry Manual