Why Did the Early Church Have Explosive Growth?

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We don’t know exactly how many followers Jesus had when he ascended into heaven. In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to over 500 of his followers. Then in Acts 2 Peter preaches and 3000 more are baptized. In his book The Forgotten Ways Handbook, Alan Hirsch says that by the year 100 there were roughly 25,000 Christians and by the year 300 there were roughly 20 million. That is 800% growth over 200 years. If that amount of growth had continued it would result in 2,684,354,560,000,000 Christians today. With only 7 billion people in the world that is impossible but it shows how impressive and explosive their growth really was.

There are all kinds of books written about how to grow a church. Many of those books, including the book mentioned above are extremely helpful and worth the read. But let me save you a ton of trouble. Here is what it all boils down to. Jesus said go and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20) and they took Jesus seriously. If we take Jesus that seriously we can experience growth as well. Any church that is willing to be obedient to Jesus’ last recorded words on earth will experience growth. It is as simple as that.

The problem we have is that Christianity is full of distractions that we hinder our own growth.

20 Responses

    1. Charles, just curious if you have read any of Mike Breen’s work. I am in the middle of Multiplying Missional Leaders and he is addressing your question in his own way – missional communities approach.

  1. I think the growth can be explained by the fact that they believed what Peter preached about Jesus in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. Namely that this is the “last days” in which God is now reigning through Jesus, whom they crucified but whom was raised by God and exalted to the right had of God as Lord and Messiah (2:32-36). Because they believed that, they committed themselves through repentance and baptism to living exclusively “in the name of Jesus Christ” by the power of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2.38).

    That is missed today because baptism has been reduced merely to the same function as “the sinner’s prayer”…a way of knowing we have our “get out of jail free” ticket to heaven. Thus we first can be a Christian exclusive commitment to Jesus. In other words, read through the book of Acts and we’ll read stories of the church refusing to cooperate with the expectations of both Jewish and Roman authority. Today, it seems common to hear Christians defend their dual participation with Jesus and Caesar or Jesus and _______ (fill in the blank). But we can only be passionate about one thing and today it seems that Jesus too often gets the back seat. Secondly, we have ignored the power of the Holy Spirit that is to animate our life as a witnessing community. Read through Acts and we’ll discover a church that prays and is filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the word of God with boldness. Yet in my experience, I can get Christians to participate in a congregational singing or fellowship meal but to get them to come together for prayer…not so easy. Could you imagine what would happen if we spent more time coming together as a church for the express purpose of praying?

    Grace and Peace,


    1. Sure it grew in direct relation to the amount of people who believed. But to quote Paul in Romans 10 – ” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

      If Peter and the rest had thought Jesus meant to sit at home and do nothing we wouldn’t have the book of Acts. By the same token, it is obvious that all of this is also the result of God’s working and empowering by the Holy Spirit.

    2. I’m not suggesting that we sit at home and do nothing. I believe a commitment to living “in the name of Jesus Christ” by the power of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” that our repentance and baptism makes propels us into active witness. In other words, when we live in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit, we will live as witnesses of Jesus like the church we read of in Acts.

    3. You said, “I believe a commitment to living “in the name of Jesus Christ” by the power of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” that our repentance and baptism makes propels us into active witness. In other words, when we live in the name of Jesus by the power of the Spirit, we will live as witnesses of Jesus like the church we read of in Acts”

      That is what I was referencing…there are people who say they are Christians who don’t care anything about what you wrote there. I am not their judge…just pointing that out.

    4. Yeah…I’m not going to act as their judge. I just want to point out to them what the scripture says about the the church in Acts and suggest that it is more than just coincidence for their growth.

      Any ways, I think we’re agreeing :).

  2. Many churches get together week in and week out with few to none thinking about the lost. We know it is biblical to assemble and so we do it. We know it is biblical to sing and so we do it. It is just as biblical to do outreach and yet it lacks. We have cherrypicked out of Acts the parts we are most comfortable with.

  3. When I have appropriate opportunity as I go about promoting the work of Eastern European Mission, I tell the story of Alexander (Sasha) Propochuk of Donetsk, Ukraine. I elaborate on that in a blog here. After I tell the story of his conversion and development as an evangelist, I make three points about his success in establishing scores – or even hundreds – of independent congregations over the past dozen years. He and those associated with him teach these principles in an annual “Church-Planting Seminar” on the shores of the Black Sea. 400 – 500 commonly attend these seminars where the “newbies” learn from Sasha and those whom he has taught three principles.

    First, if you are not already doing so, when you go home begin to worship God – “for Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them’ – and you do want Jesus to be with you, don’t you?”

    Second, tell others what you are doing and why.

    Third, go home and make a difference in your community. Then he shows them a very effective way of doing this by working with the many orphans in government-run orphanages all over Ukraine. You can read about that here, along with how that story impacted an American Christian lady who had asked about how to have obedience without legalism as she began a “boiled egg ministry” to the homeless.

    Then I ask, “Will the same principles work here?” I have yet to find anyone who disagrees; the problem is finding people who will apply the principles, especially the second and third ones. No one of these alone will work. It takes all three.

  4. Great post Matt. Everything I’ve heard and read (so far) about revivals says the one thing they all had in common was unified, coordinated, concerted prayer. I suppose that would include the 120 disciples praying in the upper room just before the 3,000 were saved.

  5. We have to be baptized with the Holy Spirit to be empowered witnesses for Christ.Remember,even Jesus had to wait for the Holy Spirit,then after being tempted by Satan in the wilderness (He was in a desert after 40 days without anything to eat or drink),He was able to be the effective and powerful Witness for our Heavenly Father.Also His disciples had to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit to do signs,wonders and miracles after He ascended back to our Father.This is what John the Baptist was referring to when he said that he baptized with water,but there was One coming after him that would baptize men (and women) with the Holy Spirit and with fire.But before we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit,we first must humble ourselves and ask God to purge everything that is not in His nature and give our whole entire lives to His will and plan for our lives.We must become heavenly minded,not earthly minded.And to become heavenly minded,we must spend more time in prayer and reading His Word.We must learn what God’s overall will for the Body of Christ and the world is.We must let our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be involved in every aspect of our lives.Because when you think about it,He knows everything about us and is acquainted with us way more than we are even acquainted with ourselves.He knows what we need before we even have a idael or thought of what we need.We must also obey the Holy Spirit in everything He tells and lead us to do,no matter if we understand or not.

    Proverbs 3:5-6 says: 5)”Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;6)In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” (NKJV)

    We must also learn who we REALLY are in Christ.Jesus is the King of Kings,Lord of Lords.Who do you think are these kings and lords that He is King and Lord over? US!!! WE will be kings and lords with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven literally for 1000 years after the Battle of Megiddo (Armegeddon).We must get into the Word because Jesus IS the Word of God.I pray that whoever reads this will be stirred up to hunger for the Lord like never before because that’s exactly what He WANTS us to do.He is waiting for US to make His enemies His footstool.That’s the reason why He has given us the Holy Spirit in the first place.

    1. Kyron,

      Psalms 110 and Hebrews 10 talk about God making Christs enemies a footstool for his feet, not Christians themselves. This is a decree about the work the Father will do in establishing the eternal kingdom of Christ. We are never given the command in scripture to conquer the enemies of Christ, rather to make disciples of all nations. I think sometimes we can over emphasize our role in the eschaton and it can get our focus off of our main charge. I believe that scripture teaches us to focus on making disciples of all nations in fulfilling the great commission. I agree that the only way we can effectively do this is if we are living lives devoted to Jesus and in step with the Holy Spirit.

  6. One more thing,read 1 Corinthians 13.Love is the real power behind the power of the Holy Spirit.Without love (God’s agape love),the Church in the Book of Acts would not have been able to perform a single healing or miracle that was written for us.The same is true for us today in these last days.

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