It can be difficult for children to conceive of church looking different than what they know and experience. In fact, if you were to ask them when the church began, they’d likely give you the puzzled look they’d give you if you asked if they were alive or if the sky is blue. In their minds, church is and always has looked and operated as it does today. Acts gives us insight into how Christ’s church formed after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. In this lesson, children will explore Acts’ description of early groups of worshipers, noticing how they chose to demonstrate their faith and build community. They will then consider if and how the elements of the early church fit into contemporary worshiping communities.
You will need:
- A Bible
- Chart paper or a whiteboard and a marker
- Sheets of white construction paper cut in half, markers or crayons, glue sticks, and a large sheet of roll paper (optional)
- A computer with Internet access connected to a data projector or television and access to the website for South Presbyterian Church (optional)
Greet the children as they arrive.
Have the children sit in a circle on the floor or around a table. Ask the children to list all the things your congregation does. Write their answers on the chart paper or the whiteboard.
After they have listed several items, ask them which of these activities is most important. Circle any items they listed. Have them explain why they believe these items are important.
Exploring the passage
Say a prayer.
Provide context for the lectionary reading (Acts 2:42-47):
- The passage comes from the New Testament book of Acts.
- This story takes place after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. If the children are unfamiliar with the ascension, you may want to offer a brief description of it.
- When Jesus ascends to sit at the right hand of God, he tells his followers to teach others all he taught them when he was on earth and to baptize them and help them become disciples.
- At the beginning of Acts, we hear the story of God sending the Holy Spirit to live among the people so that it might inspire, move, and connect them to God and to one another. (We’ll hear this story on Pentecost.)
- As Jesus’ first disciples begin teaching people about Jesus, the Holy Spirit drew them together into a community. This community was the beginning of the church.
- This story describes this early church.
Read aloud Acts 2:42-47.
After reading, ask the children:
- What did the people in this community do together?
- What do you think was important to these people?
- Where did the people gather? Did they have a church building?
- What activities did the early church community do together that our congregation does today?
- What activities described in the story aren’t part of our church community? Do you think they should be part of our church? Why or why not?
- Which of the activities described would you most want to be a part of?
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children connect the practices of the early church to their own lives through one or both of these activities.
- The full picture: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: sheets of white construction paper cut in half, markers or crayons, glue sticks, and a large sheet of roll paper. Ask the children to list all of the activities described in the Acts reading. Write their responses on a sheet of chart paper or a whiteboard. Hand each child a half sheet of white construction paper. Ask each child to draw a picture of one of the activities on the list. Encourage them to use their imaginations to create a representation of what this activity would have looked like in the early church. Then, ask the children to glue their drawings on a large sheet of roll paper. Hang the roll paper up so the children can see it. Have them wonder what it would have been like to be part of this community. What would they enjoy? What would be difficult? How would their lives be different than they are now?
- Church without a building?: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a computer with Internet access connected to a data projector or television and access to the website for South Presbyterian Church. NOTE: Before engaging in this activity with the children, you may want to read this profile of the congregation from the PC(USA) Mission Agency and explore their website on your own. Begin by asking the children if a congregation needs to be in a building for it to be a church. Ask them to explain their thinking. Note that the gatherings described in the scripture reading take place in both the Temple and people’s homes. If your congregation has a church building, explore the website of a congregation that chose to sell its building so that it could be integrated into the community, South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. Notice what church looks like for this congregation. Discuss the benefits and challenges of this church model. If your congregation does not own a church building, discuss the benefits and challenges you have faced as a worshiping community.