the math of Acts

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I once was a part of a church that prayed each week for at least one person to find Jesus.  Over the course of the year that added up to 52 people.  I thought it was a simple, fantastic prayer.  And an encouraging one too, as we saw God work in many many lives.  But I realized sadly that many churches struggle to expect God to work that often.  It seems too much to ask God to multiply let alone add.  Many churches hardly expect one person a month to be changed by Jesus.  Some are curious if one person a year is impacted deeply.

The math in the book of Acts is amazing.  In chapter 1 there are 120 people.  In chapter 2 there are over 3000.  In chapter 3, more people.  In chapter 4, the Jesus followers prayed for great boldness to share the Good News to others.  In chapter 5, "more people believed and were brought to the Lord."  Chapter 6, "God's message was preached in ever-widening circles.  The number of believers greatly increased".  In chapter 7, persecution against Jesus followers started.  But in chapter 8, the region of Samaria was turning to Jesus and an official of Ethiopia gave his life to God.  In chapter 9, Saul the persecuter dramatically turned his life over to Jesus and Peter shared about Jesus all over Israel.  In chapter 10, Cornelius and his family, Gentiles in every sense of the word, became followers of Jesus.  In chapter 11, a mega church in Syria grew and grew.  In chapter 12, "God's Good News was spreading rapidly, and there were many new believers."  Chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas share the message of Jesus on Cyprus and what is now southeastern Turkey.  In chapter 14, churches are started all throughout what is now central Turkey.  In chapter 15, we hear reports about how people are becoming Christians all over the place.  In chapters 16-17, the Gospel spreads all the way through Greece and is discussed by the philosophers of Athens.  In chapters 18-19, a mega church takes root in Ephesus and becomes a staging ground for mission.  In chapters 20-21, it has become clear that Christians are now all over the Roman Empire.  And in the final chapters of Acts we read about how the Gospel was being proclaimed to large numbers of people throughout Rome.

By 64 A.D.  Nero blamed Christians in Rome for burning half of the city.  By 70 A.D. there were churches in Spain, Sudan, Iran and perhaps even India.  By 110 A.D. the Roman Temple cult system in northern Turkey had all but shut down because there were so many Christians- to the point where the governor (Pliny) started executing Christians if they didn't worship Caesar and the Roman gods.

Today, in China the Church is expanding exponentially.  In South America it is growing.  In parts of Africa people are finding Jesus like it's the first century all over again.  Meanwhile today, the church in Europe has subtracted.  It is now only a fraction of itself.  The church in North America has divided and stalled. 

I think we need to get back to the math of Acts.

Ken Castor

Ken Castor is a husband, dad, pastor, writer and teacher. He serves as a professor at Crown College, Minnesota, where he equips students to pursue Jesus-Centered Faith and Next Generation Ministry. For 20+ years he's focused on equipping the next generations in places like the U.S., Canada, and Northern Ireland. He's the author of Grow Down (Simply Youth Ministry, 2014), Make a Difference (Broadstreet, 2016), the Blue-Letters Editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible (Group, 2015) and numerous other articles and Bible Study guides. But, whenever possible, he gets down on the floor and builds Lego with his kids. Connect with him @kencastor.

5 thoughts on “the math of Acts

  1. Ken — I am looking forward to reading your next post on this topic.
    As I think about this more, one of the things that strikes me about the North American church over the last 20 years has been their emphasis on 'going' and 'doing'. Sometimes it is go and do because the Bible tells us to, and sometimes it is go and do because that's what Christ is calling us to do. Sometimes it is go and do simply because you have the abilities.
    I wonder if we have it backwards? I wonder if we shouldn't start, continue and end with our love relationship with Christ? Is going and doing a natural result of being in love with Christ? Or does going and doing build a love relationship with Christ?
    When Jesus asked Peter – 'Do you love me?' what went through Peter's mind? Did Peter think about how he fell in love with his wife? How he had to get to know her, to fall in love with her. Did he think about how once he knew her, how he had to be willing to journey through life together with her? Was Peter counting the cost of truly falling in love with Jesus, to get know Christ, and to follow Him?
    I wonder where the North American church would be today if first we explored the first commandment – 'to love the Lord your God'? When was the last time we searched our souls and pondered Jesus' question 'Do you love me?'
    Are we willing to take the time to truly get to know God, so that we fall head over heals in love with God? As we are doing that, are we willing to journey with God wherever He takes us?
    The difference to the North American approach is subtle, but if we have truly fallen head over heals in love with God we can't help but talk about Jesus. Just as we can't stop talking about our wonderful spouses. As our love for God develops, we will become so changed by God, the one who loves us best, that we won't be afraid to walk with Him wherever he takes us…

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  2. James… don't apologize for a powerful word! That was awesome. I loved your North American math comments here! And you've really nailed it… we're missing awareness of God in our lives everywhere we are. We treat God like an appendix… (either as an add-on or as a rather unmeaningful part of us). We need to be transformed like those first believers were- by the Holy Spirit. Not in a stereotypical hands-raised worship experience (though I love doing that!) but in a life change always driven by the Holy Spirit way of being.
    Acts 4- Peter says he can't help but to talk about Jesus. He can't shut off what God is doing in his heart! He has been so changed by God that he can't possibly stop. I wonder how many Christians in North America can truly relate to that kind of life?

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  3. I was speaking tongue in cheek – If god (lowercase g) only worked in the time of Christ to 110 AD, and is now only working in China and Africa then logically he is not omnipresent. Sadly most religious institutions in North America in practice use this logic to say that god does not intervene in life, that miracles no longer happen, and that God should be relegated to Sunday morning and small groups only. And then they wonder why there is no growth. I used the word 'inconclusively' because this is very faulty logic, and I know and believe that God is omnipresent.
    Tongue in cheek again – we are not missing anything in North America, we just use a different kind of math. North American math counts the 50 different english translations of the Bible and multiplies that by the countless shapes and sizes each translation comes in. North American math counts the exponential growth in worship and praise music with new music being released constantly. North American
    math adds to this the proliferation of 'christian' fiction and 'end-times' prophecy so that believers can build their faith and doctrine on the whims of pop Christian authors. And don't forget that in North America we have boldly taken the Gospel where it has never gone before -to the airwaves and even to cyberspace and facebook. By North American math Christianity has exploded in the last 50 years. (Don't get me wrong in my opinion, none of these things of themselves are bad).
    Although this may sound simple, and trite – what made the expansion of Christianity happen in the first century, and what we are missing today – is individual believers demonstrating a visible lifestyle that shows God is omnipresent. A lifestyle that shows that God makes a difference in every aspect of life, at home, at school, at work. That God cares about and enters into our daily routine of shopping, playing, working and worrying about the stock market. One of the key evidences of this was the love and respect that the early church showed for fellow believers, and those outside the church, each person a creature with infinite value, being created in God's image. To me this love is the mark of the power of the Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost.
    Ken – you have an excellent example of this with what's happening with the Hub.
    What we need today is individual believers who when they are asked by Christ 'do you love me?' are willing to count the cost like Peter did and then respond not just verbally but by their lifestyle with a resounding 'yes'.
    Why does anybody need a Christianity that means giving up Sunday morning to be told how to behave / live? Who needs a church where the people show the same lack of respect and love for other people that is found at work and school? Who needs a powerless Christianity where there are no miracles, no healing, no forgiveness, no transformed lives?
    I recently heard a youth pastor admonishing parents of teens that they have to spend more time talking to their teens about Christ. I wondered how that was supposed to happen, when the parent relegates Christ to Church, small group and meals, and sees no need or relevance to talk about Christ in the workplace. What is their about God that this parent can tell their children? I was thinking, why not teach these young people that God wants to make a difference in school and in their friendships and get them so excited about God being real, that they want to talk to their parents about Christ, and in so doing transform their whole family.
    I apologize for a long answer to a short question.

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  4. Thanks for the prayer, James. Hey- I'm a bit confused about the first part of your comment. The "inconclusively" and the way the rest of it is written is curious to me.
    I certainly believe that God is omnipresent and God is not limited to work in specific time a space. And certainly I believe that God is at work in North America and Europe… I can testify to that myself. So I'm not sure I understand what your saying there, James. Maybe you can clarify for me?
    The next thing I was thinking about writing for this post had to do what WHAT makes the expansion of Christianity happen in the first century? What are we missing now in North America?

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  5. Thank you for proving inconclusively that god is not omnipresent; that god is limited to work in specific times and places, which currently does not include North America or Europe.
    May the one true omnipotent, and omnipresent God send the Power of His Holy Spirit to rest upon you Ken, and may He work through you to bring many to Christ, right here, right now.

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