The growth of Christianity in the first centuries is quite staggering when looking at the numbers. Robert Wilken in his book, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity, writes:
At the end of the first century there were fewer than ten thousand Christians in the Roman Empire. The population at the time numbered some sixty million, which meant that Christians made up 0.0017 percent.
By the year 200, the number may have increased to a little more than two-hundred thousand, under one percent (0.36).
By the year 250, however, the number had risen to more than a million, almost two percent of the population.
The most striking figure, however, comes two generations later. By the year 300 Christians made up 10 percent of the population, approximately six million.
Sociologist Rodney Stark looks a bit more closely at these numbers in his book The Rise of Christianity and wonders if such growth is possible.
He concludes that if Christianity grew at a rate of 40 percent per decade, “there would have been 7,530 Christians in the year 100, followed by 217,795 Christians in the year 200 and by 6,299,832 Christians n the year 300.”
This is an encouraging find for Stark as it is close to the growth rate of the 43 percent per decade that the Mormon church has maintained for the past 100 years.
Therefore, “the numerical goals Christianity needed to achieve are entirely in keeping with modern experience…and history allows time for the normal processes of conversion, as understood by contemporary social science, to take place.”
Now just because Stark writes that such growth “is possible” in keeping with our experience and historical understanding does not negate the miraculousness of God in growing His church. What it shows is how God works through His people in bringing about His Kingdom. And that in itself is quite miraculous!
In considering the growth of Christianity in the beginning centuries, we need to remember that the Roman Empire was very religious and had many gods. And though they were always open to new gods, they were not open to any religion that would worship only one God.
Therefore, though Jews were found throughout the Empire, the Romans did not think much of them. Why? Because they only worshipped one God and forsook all the others.
So when Jesus came, the Romans didn’t care who he was. The Jews were obviously interested because of the claims Jesus made in relation to Yahweh and the Old Testament, but the Romans had other things to worry about than what was happening in Jerusalem. Besides, if Jerusalem were to be a problem, Rome could just destroy it and go about their business (Rome did actually destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD)
So for a small Jewish group, of whom Rome thought nothing about, to grow into something that in 300 AD would estimate to over 6 million people, is quite an interesting story.
So how did it happen?