By Mario Vega, www.elim.org.sv .—
Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, presents startling information about the living conditions in the Mediterranean world of the first century. Considering the demographic information of the cities of the time, their geographical extension, and the small size of the houses (no more than 9 feet by 18), he concludes that the churches founded by Paul were small communities. With one or two exceptions of large cities, such as Corinth, it is unlikely that the number of Christians exceeded one hundred. In some cases, the churches would have one or two dozen believers.
Those of us who read the New Testament from a 21st century perspective are inclined to imagine the churches founded by Paul much like our robust congregations today. That can lead us to underestimate the powerful potential of small principles in cell church planting. But, according to Stark, the initial communities Paul established were modest and grew out of house meetings. By the time Paul wrote “From Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have filled all things with the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19), Stark estimates that in the region mentioned by the apostle there were an estimated one thousand Christians. In keeping with Paul’s strategy of planting churches in major urban centers, he had “fully preached the gospel” because there were no more major cities where he hadn’t planted one of those small communities.
But that was how, over time, an entire continent was influenced and Christianized. That was the New Testament method, and it is the model for Christians of all time. Today, as then, we must continue to plant churches that are established in houses, in small groups. Because that is the best resource to make new disciples who generate other disciples and multiply to the point of influencing cities, countries, and continents.