FW Handbook How did the early church grow from as few as 25,000 people at the end of the first century (100 AD) to as many as 20 million people two hundred years later (310 AD)? Now that's a question worth thinking deeply about. While considering this question we must note that Christianity was an illegal religion during this period (at best they were tolerated, at worst they were persecuted), they didn't have church buildings, they didn't have all of the Scriptures as we know them (the canon was still being formed), they had no professional leadership, they didn't have youth groups, worship bands, seminaries or commentaries, and they made it hard to join the church. 

In his book, The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch proposes that what they did have was what he calls Apostolic Genius – the inbuilt life force and guiding mechanism of God's people – and the living components or elements that make it up (a kind of missional DNA). Hirsch sees six ingredients as follows: Jesus as Lord, disciple-making, missional-incarnational impulse, apostolic environment, organic systems, and communitas (groups with a mission beyond themselves).  

Could it be that the key to the future of the contemporary church is to get back to our ancient roots. Maybe, we need an 'ancient future' approach. We need to look back in order to move forward. After all, God always includes in the beginning of something the seeds of its ongoing effectiveness.

For those serious about seeing the church become all that God intends it to be in our generation, Alan's book is essential reading. In addition, I would highly recommend The Forgotten Ways Handbook, which is a practical guide for implementing the concepts presented in the book. This is an excellent resource for church leaders or ministry teams seeking to become more missional.

4 thoughts on “Ancient Future Church

  1. Its an interesting question, which I think if my memory serves me rightly Alan came across by reading ‘The Rise of Christianity’ by Rodney Stark.
    I quote from the wikipedia on the book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Stark#Stark.27s_views_on_the_Growth_of_Christianity
    Christianity grew through gradual individual conversions via social networks of family, friends and colleagues. His main contribution, by comparing documented evidence of Christianity’s spread in the Roman Empire with the history of the LDS church in the 19th and 20th centuries, was to illustrate that a sustained and continuous growth could lead to huge growth within 200 years. This use of exponential growth as a driver to explain the growth of the church without the need for mass conversions (deemed necessary by historians until then) is now widely accepted.
    Stark has suggested that Christianity grew because it treated women better than pagan religions. He also suggested that making Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire weakened the faithfulness of the Christian community by bringing in people who did not really believe or had a weaker belief.
    I think this is a fair summary of Stark’s book and an answer to the question.

  2. Noting that there was not ven a Nicene Creed to define orthodox belief, one must assume that this 20 Million includes all of the heretical sects and movements such as the Gnostics etc.

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