Book Review: The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World
The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World
Can early church history change the way Christians think about evangelism, relationships, church growth, and cultural change? Historians have consistently struggled to account for the phenomenal ascent of Christianity from backwater sect to official religion of an empire. Sociologist Rodney Stark boldly challenges prevailing academic assumptions, rejecting the common sociological assumption that religious belief is inherently irrational. In the process, Stark provides surprising insights into the sources of Christianity’s rapid expansion. A fascinating historical and sociological study, The Rise of Christianity demonstrates how much today’s church can learn from studying yesterday’s church.
Despite a dearth of hard statistical information from the early Christian period, Stark’s eclectic use of research tools points suggestively to key elements of early Christian expansion. Perhaps most encouragingly, Stark breaks down the astonishing growth curve of the early church. The few thousand believers in Palestine had blossomed to the majority faith by the time of Constantine. While the three centuries of sustained church growth are astonishing, Stark demonstrates that such growth could result from 40% growth per decade. On a yearly basis, that represents roughly 3.5% growth. A congregation today could outpace the early church with average sustained growth of 4% each year. Would such a figure change the way church leaders think about healthy church growth? Read more…