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The Growth and Methods of the New Testament Church

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  • Tip Bones

The New Testament church, the original trailblazers and trendsetters which are directly responsible, through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, for the commencement of the Christian faith, but what enabled them to accomplish the growth that they experienced, and what methods did they use to do so? In the following academic paper we will attempt to discover the answer to these very questions.

How did the New Testament church grow?

To answer the question of just how the New Testament church grew so rapidly, considering that conversion to faith in Jesus Christ was such a radical decision required by the hearers of the time, one that would mean persecution and even death, what allowed the church to grow?

The message of the New Testament church

Jesus was very clear in the message He wanted to be proclaimed to the uttermost ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14), it was not a complicated message, rather it was to be a simplistic message about Him; a message about His death, burial and resurrection. That whoever believes in Him shall have life eternal, a life that never ends, a life that will not perish (Joh. 3:16), by Christ and Christ alone, all might be saved (Terry 1994:15).

One of the greatest conveyers of the Gospel message has to be the apostle Paul who could adapt to any circumstance and use any given situation as a means to proclaim the Gospel. His adaptability gave him the ability to reach many a person that would otherwise not listen, what remains true however is that Paul preached Christ crucified, offensive to Jews and foolish to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23).

The strategy of the apostles

By carefully studying the book of Acts one can begin to see that the early church probably did not have what modern church strategists would term a ‘missions strategy’ in the strict sense of the term. Paul could maybe have had some form of strategy; however, this is not likely the case, what one can see however is that Paul had clear principles as he approached his missionary journeys. In Terry (1994:18-19), Herbert Kane outlines these nine principles as follows:

1. Paul continued his relationship with his sending church, the church at Antioch, reporting of his journeys (Act. 14:26-28).

2. Paul worked within the Roman regions.

3. Paul focused on larger towns.

4. Paul liked to commence his work from the local synagogue (Act. 13:14-15).

5. Paul worked amongst receptive peoples (Act. 18:6).

6. Paul would baptise people from the moment they believed (Act. 8:12) (Act. 8:36-38) (Act. 9:18) (Act. 16:33).

7. Paul stayed in a place long enough to plant a local church.

8. Paul equipped and commissioned and team to minister with and on behalf of him.

9. Paul was willing to adapt to any people to convey the Gospel message (1 Cor. 9:19-23).

The Holy Spirit in the apostles

The Holy Spirit is the key player in the book of Acts, without Him nothing would have been accomplished that would amount to any significance. Jesus instructed the disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit would empower them before they were to go out and proclaim the Good News (Act. 1:8), doing so with a very good reason; He knew that they would need Him.

Terry (1994:20-22) suggest that the Holy Spirit affected the early church in several different ways:

1. The Holy Spirit provided the apostles great boldness (Act. 4:31).

2. The Holy Spirit gave substance to the preaching of the apostles (Col. 1:28-29).

3. The Holy Spirit enabled the early Christians to work many signs and wonders (Act. 4:31) (Act. 11:14-17).

4. The Holy Spirit called workers for the ministry such as missionaries and evangelists (Act. 13:1-3).

5. The Holy Spirit distributed spiritual gifts amongst believers (1 Cor. 12) (1 Cor. 14).

6. The Holy Spirit directed the apostles as they continued to proclaim the Good News and expand the church (Act. 16:6-10).

Methods of Evangelism

Having considered how the New Testament church experienced growth, let us now look at the methods they used as they attempted to preach the gospel to the whole world in accordance with the command of Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:14). Terry (1994:24-26) suggests that ten methods were used in accordance with the given situation:

1. Mass evangelism

If the opportunity arose, the apostles would preach the Gospel to massive amounts of people at a time (Act. 2) (Act. 14:8-13).

2. Public preaching

The apostles made use of public places such as the temple to proclaim the Gospel (Act. 26) (Act. 28).

3. House-to-house witnessing

It was through the conversion of initial believers and their proclamation from house to house that people were being saved on a daily basis (Act. 5:42) (Act. 2:47).

4. Evangelistic campaigns

Philip was the first to lead an evangelistic campaign, successfully doing so in Samaria, prompting a follow up from apostles Peter and John (Act. 8:5) (Act. 8:14).

5. Personal witnessing

Throughout the book of Acts, there are many examples of personal witnessing, one of the most prominent being Philip conversing with the Ethiopian eunuch, leading to his conversion and baptism (Acts 8:26-38).

6. Public debate

How often this was used is unknown, we have one such an example however of Paul discussing the Gospel with Athenian philosophers (Act. 16-17).

7. Lay evangelism

Evangelism was predominantly actioned by Christian-laymen witnessing within the context of their normal daily activities (Act. 8:1-4).

8. Literary evangelism

Several apostles used pen and ink to convey the Good News; John and Luke clearly stating this of writing their particular Gospel narratives (Joh. 20:31) (Luk. 1:1-4).

9. Church planting

Planting and establishing churches was of utmost importance in the activities of the apostles.

10. Home Bible studies

The New Testament church did not have a set church building as we understand them today, rather they made use of what was available, this often being homes made available by new converts, resulting in much quicker church expansion (Act. 20:20).

To summarize that which we have learned looking at the New Testament church, we see clearly that they did not try and overcomplicate a simple message of reconciliation between man and God, they zealously through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and various available methods proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the result was the beginning of what would be a message that would, and continues to change the world.

Let us therefore in light of the above learn from their example, that our message too might be effective in bringing about change wherever we go.

Works Cited

Terry JM 1994. Evangelism: a concise history. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Written by Dwain Donovan Stewart