A thought occurred to me one morning while catching a glimpse of a Sunday morning service broadcast on Christian TV. I don’t normally watch such programs, but we had a guest staying with us who was an avid fan. Sweeping over 180 degrees, the TV camera captured row after row after row and section after section after section of an immense arena packed with well-groomed, well-dressed, prosperous-looking men and women. It was impressive indeed. What should be the primary purpose of such churches at this time during these Last Days—these days following the appearance of our Lord Jesus on earth one hundred generations ago?
Not long before he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, He declared: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Now the sole mention of a possible mega-church in the book of Acts occurs in the first verse of the eighth chapter: “…On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”
Up until that time the early disciples had preached the gospel only within the comfortable confines of Jerusalem. That of course (surely to the delight of the apostles) resulted in large crowds gathering in the Jerusalem Temple courts to worship the Messiah. But they had neglected taking the gospel outside of Jerusalem. It was now time for the gospel to be preached to all nations—to those who had never heard—in order for the end to come. Therefore the Lord allowed the persecution and subsequent scattering of the believers throughout Judea and Samaria—in order for the gospel to go out from Jerusalem. That was indeed what subsequently took place.
Acts 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Now the presence of several mega-churches (and thousands of smaller churches) in a certain region can mean that the gospel is already mostly available in that region, whether through trained local disciples, through the churches found on nearly every street corner, on radio and TV broadcasts, or through other media. One might say that such a region has been “reached” for the gospel—especially in comparison to regions at the ends of the earth where the gospel has never been preached, not even once.
What, then, should be the primary purpose of mega-churches during these Last Days, or churches in the West in general for that matter?
Yes, we know that part of the Great Commission is discipleship (Matthew 28). But how long does it take to disciple a believer: a year, five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years, forty years? It is not at all a stretch to say that in America, Christians have generally been over-discipled and overfed given the voluminous teachings which are available to them whether in church, on TV and radio, in print, and on the internet.
Not only that, what is the primary purpose of believers being discipled? It is for them to become witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but also in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Indeed that is the primary purpose for which we are given the Holy Spirit according to Acts 1:8.
It has now been an eternity of one hundred generations since Christ gave the Great Commission to his disciples. Yet the Church in America is mostly self-focused and spends most of her resources on herself. It is estimated that she spends well over 80% of her income on simply maintenance alone.
It is now time for the Church in America to send forth laborers into the vast unreached swathes of the globe where billions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and idol-worshipers are devoid of eternal hope, having never heard the life-giving gospel even once. Let us do that before like the Church in Acts 8 we are forced to do so—after we are scattered by the coming persecution. In America we are already seeing signs of that persecution on the horizon.
Will there be a repeat of Acts 8 for the Church during these Last Days? Or will we learn from the experience of that first mega-church that the Lord’s primary purpose for us during these Last Days is to preach the gospel in the whole world as a testimony to all nations?