The early Christians were in a difficult position. The church began with immediate and considerable financial responsibilities. Transitioning from a small sect led by a homeless prophet with no regular revenue into something organized was not going to be easy.
They could no longer count on Jewish provisions to care for the poor and infirm, which meant that there had to be a plan in place to meet the needs of converts. On top of that, carrying out the Great Commission was not going to be cheap. Taking Jesus’ message to the ends of the earth required a significant investment of capital into the travel and daily needs of workers and into the establishment of new churches.
The Early Church Had to be Creative
In order to grow, the early church needed funds. But without a strong base and with zero budget, it had to do some creative financing to meet those needs.
There is no end to the good we could do—and the Kingdom growth we could experience.
The first Christians underwent a change in how they viewed ownership. It is interesting to note that Luke brings this up more than once; it seems important to him that readers recognize this is not normal. It is a supernatural response to a genuine conversion.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” —Acts 2:44
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” —Acts 4:32
Selling possessions for the apostles to redistribute
This sense of common ownership led them to go as far as selling possessions of great value and giving that income to the apostles.
“And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” —Acts 2:45
“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” —Acts 4:34–35
Collecting funds from established churches on behalf of struggling ones
As more churches were established in various towns, apostles were able to take collections in order to cover the needs of other congregations.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.” —1 Corinthians 16:1–3
What did the church do with their funds?
The early church had significant needs that these funds went to support.
Helping entire congregations
For instance, when the church in Jerusalem was suffering from famine and persecution, the church in Antioch took up an offering to help them.
“So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.” —Acts 11:29
Christians were regularly exhorted to consider the needs of the various churches.
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” —Romans 12:13
“At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” —Romans 15:25–26
This included caring for those who could not care for themselves.
Assisting needy individuals
In the sixth chapter of Acts, we see the disciples responding to a crisis regarding the care of the Hellenist widows. They were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, not receiving the same care that the Jewish widows did.
The apostles dealt with the problem by choosing seven spirit-filled men to care for these widows. They would have needed considerable funds to distribute food daily to both sets of widows.
While the church’s first order of business was to take care of the saints, they also cared for the needs in their communities.
“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” —Galatians 2:10
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” —Galatians 6:10
Funding mission work
Lastly, there were funds needed to take care of those who had committed themselves to outreach, mission work, and teaching. This included the disciples and ministers in various congregations.
“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” —Galatians 6:6
“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” —Philippians 4:14–16
“I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.” —2 Corinthians 8
How is church fundraising similar today?
The church still requires funds in order to deal with some of the same sorts of concerns. We are all caring for those who minister to us in our own churches and making sure there are adequate funds to keep and maintain our facilities. And like the early church, we also raise funds to extend benevolence to those who have needs in our congregations—and in our communities. We send money to meet the needs of persecuted Christians and those suffering from poverty and famine across the world.
How can you help?
Needs are basically met in the church today in the same way they have always been: through the sacrificial giving of everyday Christians whose experience with Jesus has caused them to think differently about their resources and belongings.
If you do not give regularly and sacrificially to a local church, it is time. If we all had the same mind that the first Christians did, there is no end to the good we could do—and the Kingdom growth we could experience.
However, when it comes to financially supporting God’s work, giving to your church is just the beginning! Check out CDF Capital’s list of 11 ways you can use the finances God has given you to grow His kingdom.