|FPC, Lowville, NY|
Most churches recognize the importance of fellowship although not all of them are very good at it. For many people, however, the church family is an important part of their personal and social life as well as (often even more than) their spiritual life. A generally healthy church, in any event, cares for its own flock.
Many years ago, a church history text I was using for a course on early church history at the McGilvary Faculty of Theology, Chiang Mai, Thailand, (where I taught an occasional course) noted a number of factors that led to the rapid growth of the church in the Roman Empire. Apart from the usual factors of good communications and the zeal of the early Christians, two other factors were central and left a lasting impression on me. One factor was the person of Christ. From the beginning he was spiritually attractive especially to the urban underclass but even among the wealthy. His love, gentleness, and humility stood in stark contrast to the gods and prophets of other religions in the empire.
The other factor was the quality of congregational life in the early house churches, which popped up like mushrooms all over the place. People became Christian because of Christ and because of the love Christians showed each other. The earliest church was mostly a movement with little organization, no manuals of operations, and no agencies to carry out the work of the church. It mostly grew of its own inner power, which centered on Christ and the love his disciples felt for each other. In spite of the persecution, which could be intense at times, it was better to be part of a church than not. The church grew in important measure because of its fellowship, which was augmented by evangelism.
It's a lesson we do well to remember even now. A church can be large, wealthy, and well-known, but it is only as strong as the strength of its fellowship. Amen.