In spite of the persecution and in spite of their lack of technology…the early church experienced explosive growth. A quick glance at the book of Acts reveals just how much the church was growing in its early years.
Acts 2:41 – “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
Acts 2:47 – “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Acts 4:4 – “But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.”
Acts 5:14 – “Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”
Acts 6:1 – “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing,”
Acts 6:7 – “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Acts 9:42 – “This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.”
Acts 12:24 – “But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.”
Acts 13:47-49 – “For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles (ethnos – nations),
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
Acts 14:1 – “At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.”
Acts 17:4 – “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.”
Acts 17:12 – “As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
Acts 19:20 – “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”
Acts 21:19-20 – “Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.”
The early church grew at a rapid pace. What is fascinating about this is that we see this same phenomenon today. Christianity grows the fastest in places where faith is a challenge and stagnates in places where Christian freedoms abound.
They say that churches are like people…they have a life cycle. You grow the most when you are young and the least when you hit your mature adult years. Churches often experience decline in their 50s-70s just like people do with their physical bodies. We see it all the time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Churches can return to their first love – loving God and loving others and the mission such a love will call them to carry out.
What is also interesting about this is that the church is designed to grow. It is in our DNA. Jesus taught about this kingdom principle in his parables (parable of the mustard seed and the sower for instance). Now, those parables do not always equate to numerical growth and multiplication but it stands to reason that the Christian faith is designed to be expansive…to grow even in dark and dreadful places…it is in those places where the light shines brightest.
Some have said that the thing the church really needs today is a little persecution. I don’t want to agree with that statement. I would like to think that we could get serious about what God has called us to do without the persecution. I am afraid, though, that like a marriage gone south it may be that we don’t try to address our issues until it is too late. I pray that is not the case. In fact, I am confident that is not the fact because we have a generation of young people who are determined to make a difference. The sad part is, they don’t see the institutional church as the place to do that. Many prefer to go into para-church ministries and non-profits instead of traditional ministry. Others opt for vocational ministry rather than bear the burden of church politics and the stress of traditional ministry. Nonetheless, I believe people are getting more serious about faith, not less…it just may not always be expressed in expected ways or expected places. But the truth is, faith has never been confined to expected ways or places…if you read back over these chapters in Acts where growth was taking place it wasn’t because their was a pattern or a blueprint that worked every time. God grew His church through various methods and means at various times and we should be open to that as well.