How could the 120 disciples in the upper room possibly have taken care of 3,000 new converts? (See Acts, chapter 2.) These disciples were trained by their Master to take responsibility to disciple these new believers. Part of the secret of the early church is found in Acts 2:46-47: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
The Early Church and Small Groups
The House to House Principle
God’s people gathered at the temple and met in small groups in homes, “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). They began to minister to one another and to the unsaved on an individual basis, and the Lord kept adding to the church daily! In Acts 20:20, the Apostle Paul declares to members of the church at Ephesus, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.”
The letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome was written to believers in Jesus Christ who met in peoples’ homes. In his letter to the Romans, Paul indicates that one of these groups met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house” (Romans 16:3-5).
Paul also sent his greetings to the household of Aristobulus and the household of Narcissus (Romans 16:10-11). When Paul wrote to his friend Philemon, he expressed his greetings to the church in his house, ”…to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1:2).
What Was the Early Church Really Like?
Imagine living in the days of the first century church. T.L. Osborne once told the story of a possible conversation with Aquila in Ephesus, from the book of Acts:
“Good evening, Aquila. We understand you’re a member of the church here. Could we come in and visit for a while?”
“Certainly. Come in.”
“If you don’t mind, we would like for you to tell us about the way the churches here in Asia Minor carry on their soul-winning program. We read that you have been a member of a church in Corinth and Rome, as well as this one here in Ephesus. You should be very qualified to tell us about evangelism in the New Testament Church. If you don’t mind, we’d like to visit your church while we’re here.”
“Sit down, you’re already in the church. It meets in my home.”
“You don’t have a church building?”
“What’s a church building? No, I guess we don’t.”
“Tell me Aquila, what is your church doing to evangelize Ephesus? What are you doing to reach the city with the gospel?”
“Oh, we already evangelized Ephesus. Every person in the city clearly understands the Gospel… We just visited every home in the city. That’s the way the church in Jerusalem first evangelized that city (Acts 5:42). The disciples there evangelized the entire city of Jerusalem in a very short time. All the other churches in Asia Minor have followed that example.”
Periodically, down through the ages, the church has lost the New Testament component of meeting in small groups in the homes of individual believers and has placed an emphasis on the church as it meets in large buildings. In fact, according to church history, it was in 323 AD, almost three hundred years after the birth of the church, that Christians first met in a “church building.” For all three hundred years before that, the church met in homes.
“Temple ministry” is beneficial for corporate worship, teaching and celebration, but the Lord wants us to get back to seeing the church as people, not as a place where believers meet. Our homes, places of business schools, and other circles of contact provide excellent places for the church to meet as we infiltrate our spheres of influence with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This post on the early church was adapted from an original article by Larry Kreider titled “The Underground Church,” found on Dove International’s website.