Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How'd They Do It?

Something to ponder from The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Question

About four years ago I attended a seminar on missional church where the speaker asked a question. “How many Christians do you think there were in the year AD 100?” He then asked, “How many Christians do you think there were just before Constantine came on the scene, say, AD 310?”
Here is the somewhat surprising answer.

AD 100 as few as 25,000 Christians
AD 310 up to 20,000,000 Christians

He then asked the question that has haunted me to this day: “How did they do this? How did they grow from being a small movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in two centuries?” Now that’s a question to initiate a journey! And delving into this question drove me to the discovery of what I will call Apostolic Genius (the built-in life force and guiding mechanism of God’s people) and the living components or elements that make it up. These components I have tagged missional DNA, or mDNA, for short. So let me ask you the question—how did the early Christians do it? And before you respond, here are some qualifications you must factor into your answer.

• They were an illegal religion throughout this period. At best, they were tolerated; at the very worst they were very severely persecuted.

• They didn’t have any church buildings as we know them. While archaeologists have discovered chapels dating from this period, they were definitely exceptions to the rule, and they tended to be very small converted houses.

• They didn’t even have the scriptures as we know them. They were putting the canon together during this period.

• They didn’t have an institution or the professional form of leadership normally associated with it. At times of relative calm, prototypical elements of institution did appear, but by what we consider institutional, these were at best pre-institutional.

• They didn’t have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, commentaries, etc.

• They actually made it hard to join the church. By the late second century, aspiring converts had to undergo a significant initiation period to prove they were worthy.

In fact they had none of the things we would ordinarily employ to solve the problems of the church, and yet they grew from 25,000 to 20 million in 200 years!
So, how did the early church do it?

The rest of the sample chapter...