Here is a word cloud of the terms that Luke uses in Acts to describe the followers of Jesus. The larger the word, the more often it is used.
Notice the variety of terms, each rich in their meaning. Notice the rare use of the term "Christian". You can hardly see it.
The three most common words are Disciples, Brothers and Sisters, and Church. The terms and their meaning are important, but even more important is the reality they represent.
For Luke, and the rest of the New Testament you can't be a disciple of Jesus without being in the community of his people. You can call that community whatever is helpful, but it must function as God's people.
Just as connecting with people is incomplete without sharing the gospel. Just as sharing the gospel is incomplete without training disciples. So discipleship is incomplete without gathering communities that become "church" (or whatever term you use).
Practically how do you help groups of new disciples become church?
Here's some wisdom from Steve Smith:
- Know what you are trying to achieve: a clear definition of when a group becomes a church.
- From the beginning when you start a training group, model the parts of church life.
- Make sure you have a specific lesson or lessons on church and its ordinances in your early discipleship.
- Use church health mapping to help a group evaluate if they have all the elements of church life.