Christianity 201

September 28, 2012

First Century Church Growth

We tend to think that church growth has just been a concern in the last dozen or so years because there was an explosion of published books the subject, as ecclesiology became of interest to lay people as well as vocational ministers. So I was intrigued this week to discover a 1973 book — that’s about 40 years ago — titled How To Grow A Church: Conversations About Church Growth by Donald McGavran and Win Arn (Gospel Light). The book follows an interview format and the words which follow belong to McGavran.

The New Testament speaks of and demonstrates tremendous church growth. In fact, the church was born in an explosive series of conversations. Before the Day of Pentecost, only 120 were meeting in an upper room; then… 3000 people turned to the Lord. I marvel when I think of the courage of that little band of inexperienced apostles baptizing 3000 people in one day.

Those first ten wonderful chapters in the book of Acts tell of notable church growth, for example, in Acts 2:41, “And the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.”  In 2:47 we read, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved.” In 4:4 we read, “and the number of them which believed was about five thousand men.” If you add 5000 women and 5000 women, there were 15,000 believers in Jerusalem in a relatively short period of time.

Later in that fourth chapter we read, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” They counted them not by congregations, but by multitudes

…In Acts 5:41 we read, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” … We’ve been talking about added to the Lord, but…Chapter 6 records, “And the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” (v.7) From addition to multiplication. Another important event was that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  Up to that time the Christians had been the common people, the rank and file, the poorer element. Then after a period of time — we don’t know exactly how long — a multitude of the priests became obedient to the faith…

In chapter after chapter we read of growth taking place… Acts 9:35, we read about two whole villages Lydda and Sharon…

Reasons for Growth

There were many reasons. A principle one was God’s purpose — His ongoing, unshakable, unchanging purpose — for the salvation of men. The growth and expansion of the church throughout the world does not take place in and of itself. It is God’s will…

…[T]his one unifying purpose motivated the apostles and the new Christians…

Another important reason for the New Testament church growth was the expectation of the Jews. They were looking for the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel. Peter and the other apostles proclaimed that He whom you have been expect has, in fact, come.

Then there was the Resurrection. Think what an impact the Resurrection made in Jerusalem! The man whom everybody knew had been crucified was alive and was seen…

…[A]nother reason: That the message was proclaimed by common people. The Pharisees…said of Peter and John and the other apostles that they were ignorant and unlearned me, just ordinary people; laymen. They didn’t have theological degrees. This factor no doubt gave their message added power. …3000 people were baptized and received the Holy Spirit, there were not just 12 apostles preaching but 3000 Christians preaching…

Foundations for Growth

First, we must realize that the growth of the church took place in the midst of the Jewish people… there had been prior preparation.

They were looking for the Messiah. They were accustomed to a God who speaks and acts righteously. The Jews were intended by God to be the seedbed of the church. The Holy Spirit encouraged the church to grow strong among the Jews so that it could break out to other people.

…[M]any who became Christians on the Day of Pentecost must in the preceding years have seen some of the miracles recorded in the gospels. In fact, some of them must have been directly involved. I wonder if Lazarus wasn’t there on the Day of Pentecost…

selections from page 17-24

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1 Comment »

  1. I appreciated this post very much. In our church, we have been walking thru the book of Acts; preaching and teaching from a few verses at a time. It has been very encouraging and inspiring to learn from the experiences and examples of the first generation of Christians.
    Thank you for sharing this!

    Comment by Jim Williams — September 29, 2012 @ 8:54 am | Reply


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