The Eastman Kodak Company dominated the photography market for over 100 years. No company commercialized the camera and its associated products as successfully as Kodak. Some of Kodak’s landmark products include the Brownie camera introduced in 1900, Kodachrome color film, hand-held movie cameras, and the easy-load instamatic camera.
Today, Kodak is only a shadow of its former self, largely due to shifting its focus away from photography to other interests. In the late 1980s, Kodak began expanding into pharmaceuticals, memory chips, healthcare products, document management, and a host of other non-photography related fields. During this time of diversification, photography began its transition from a film-based industry to a digital one.
But because Kodak had lost its focus, it failed to recognize the seismic shifts occurring in the photography world. It didn’t take long before Kodak, who had been a leader in their field for over a century, found themselves chasing several competitors who had aggressively embraced the digital era. Within a few short years, Kodak was unable to catch up, and unable to recapture its magic. Kodak’s stock price today is about 97% below its peak of the mid-1990s. Kodak is all but a relic of the past because it lost its focus. Other things, not all bad, distracted Kodak from its main purpose.
I wonder if the church isn’t suffering from the same mistakes Kodak made – failure to focus on the essentials. Pick up any book on church growth or church planting, and you will find a list of things the church or the church planter should do to start or grow a successful church.
Many of these books are filled with great ideas based on wise leadership and organizational concepts, but at the same time, they often miss what the Bible tells churches to focus on. Many of the books lead its readers to conclude the church should be devoted to well-planned events, solid mission statements, catchy core values, innovative media, or relevant music. Nothing is inherently wrong with any of those things, but they are just not where the Bible instructs the church to focus.
It took Luke only a few short words to summarize what the first church was centered on: “and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42).
We see four things the first church made a priority. The first church was devoted to the Gospel–the teaching of the apostles. They were devoted to living together in fellowship that was a direct result of their mutual fellowship with Christ. They were devoted to practicing Christ-ordained, cross-centered worship, including the Lord’s Supper. They were devoted to private and corporate prayer.
We do not see the first church establishing business meetings, writing vision statements, starting special programs, doing community events, or trying to be relevant to the culture. None of these things are bad, as long as they are peripheral and not central. These things can become distractions if they become the church’s focus.
Like Kodak’s fateful diversification, the church’s failure to devote themselves to the four things the apostles and the first church devoted themselves to, can distract us from our Acts 1:8 mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
God does not need the church in America with all its innovations. God needs simple churches focused on His Word. Churches are springing up all around the globe, many under severe persecution. These churches are not distracted by programs and man-made philosophies, but are following the footsteps of the early church. These churches may not boast huge buildings and multimillion-dollar budgets. They may not make Outreach Magazine’s list of “most innovative churches,” and they may not have satellite campuses broadcasting their pastor to tens of thousands. But what they do have is an Acts 2:42 focus, and that’s all they need. These are the churches God will use to truly change the world.
Steve Doyle, pastor