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The Church is more than the building we go to on Sundays or Wednesdays, it’s the people inside. We know families are having to embrace this now more than ever- from living room worship to online services. Though this season of separation is hard, this is a great time to teach our kids about the early church, which often met in homes. Over the next several weeks on #MinnoLife we’re discussing the history of the church—and how it looked a lot like what we are experiencing today.
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The very first church started just 50 days after Jesus was resurrected. That day is called Pentecost, and it’s the day we celebrate as the birthday of the Christian Church. Did you know lots of churches celebrate Pentecost with balloons and cake?!
Before that day, there were a lot of disciples who followed Jesus—120 of them, but they didn’t really become “the Church” until the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Remember, the Church is the group of people who follow Jesus, the ones who are His body—His hands and feet in the world. The body of Christ is held together by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). When the Holy Spirit visited those 120 disciples at Pentecost, they became the body of Christ—the very first Church.
Ten days before Pentecost, Jesus told His followers that He would send His Spirit and that’s when things would really get started. That’s when they would start on their mission as the Church—to share the Good News with the whole world. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His disciples that when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they would receive His power and they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And that is exactly what they did. If you read the book of Acts, you can see them fulfilling Jesus’s words.
- Acts 1:1-8:3: In Jerusalem (their city)
- Acts 8:4-9:31: In Judea (their country) and Samaria (their enemies)
- Acts 9:32-28:31: To the ends of the earth
Where Was the First Church?
The very first church started in Jerusalem, and then it spread to Judea and Samaria, and then all over the rest of the known world at the time. The map below shows that area. On the far left is Rome, in what is now Italy. On the far right is Jerusalem, in Israel. The cities on the map are where the disciples planted some of the first churches. If you go to the Mediterranean today, you can still see some of the ruins of some of these ancient cities.
Many of the cities you see on the map below of Paul’s missionary journeys are where some of the first churches were—churches to which Paul wrote letters. But there were many more churches throughout this whole region.
How the First Church Grew
In the beginning of the book of Acts, the Church started in Jerusalem and grew very quickly there. On their very first day, they went from 120 people to 3,120! Then God continued to add more people every day. Their number grew to 5,000 men, not including women and children, and Acts said that their numbers just kept multiplying. In Acts 8, the Church in Jerusalem also started being persecuted, and many of the disciples scattered all over Judea. This didn’t cause the church to die out, it only caused it to grow more, because everywhere they went, those people told other people about Jesus and started new churches. One of the original twelve disciples, Philip, and others went to Samaria and planted new churches there.
Next, God told Peter that He wanted them to preach to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. God also called the Apostle Paul to be His follower and lead the mission to the Gentiles. Paul had been one of the people who were persecuting Christians, but Jesus appeared to him and his whole life changed. From that moment on, his whole life was about telling people about Jesus. Paul went on several missionary journeys to tell people about Jesus and start new churches.
Why it Matters to Us Today
The early church grew incredibly fast in the first few generations because the people of the early church were on fire for Jesus. We don’t just use that phrase metaphorically. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and appeared as tongues of fire over their heads. From that moment on, the church exploded in numbers. They went from 120 people to 3,000 to 5,000 and God was adding to their numbers every day. They also grew far and wide geographically. In less than one generation, the Church spread all the way from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the known world at that time. Just a few people reached out and changed the entire world forever, simply because they followed Jesus’s command to “be His witnesses” to tell their stories of how Jesus changed their lives—and because they were on fire with the Holy Spirit.
As the Church today, we still have that same mission. We are called to be His witnesses, to share our stories far and wide. To tell anyone who will listen about who Jesus is and how He has changed our lives. Jesus didn’t say we had to be Bible scholars or professional evangelists. Just be witnesses. Just tell our stories of what we have seen, heard, and experienced. If we are filled with the Spirit, if we are as on fire for the mission as the early Church was, we can change the world in our generation too.
Family Conversation Starters About the Early Church
- Where did Jesus tell His disciples to share the Good News?
- What does it mean to be a “witness”? Why do you think it’s important to be God’s witnesses?
- What is our mission as the Church today?
Next Post: What Did the First Churches Look Like?
Check out the rest of the posts in our series Church History for Kids for more topics and stories.