How Did The Early Church Evangelize?

The early church took Jesus’ words at face value and sought to obey them. They did so in two different ways. Speaking in broad, general categories, apostles (church planters) and evangelists sought to reach those they did not know through public proclamation, while the other members of the church sought to reach the lost through daily interaction with people they did know. Apostolic workers proclaimed Christ in synagogues, market places, and riversides (Ac 13:5, 14; 17:17; 16:13).

The rest of the church on the other hand, witnessed primarily through their daily, regular contact with unbelievers. That’s why Paul wrote to them and said, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:5-6). Peter exhorts likewise, “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1Pe 3:15). Early church members were to respond to outsiders, and be always ready to make a defense to everyone who asks. These passages seem to indicate that the early Christians usually witnessed to the life transforming power of the gospel to those they already knew (life-style evangelism), whereas the apostles (church planters) took a more aggressive approach in proclaiming Christ to those they did not know.

What implications does this have for how our churches should reach out to the lost? It means that those in our churches whom God has gifted and called to work in evangelism (evangelists and church planters) will look for venues to present the gospel of Christ to those they don’t know. Perhaps they will engage in open air preaching, street evangelism, door to door witnessing, and tract distribution. Perhaps they will be given opportunities to speak at various events and functions.

On the other hand, other members of the congregation should be praying and looking for opportunities to speak a word for Christ to those they interact with, like classmates, neighbors, work mates, relatives, customers or other acquaintances. Additionally we need to regularly seek to put ourselves in places where we can interact with non-Christians. We can join a neighborhood watch program, civic group, or square dancing group to meet people. We can open our homes during the holidays and invite our neighbors in. We can invite unbelievers into our homes for dinner. We can start an investigative Bible study for any of our unsaved friends who are open to learning what the Bible has to say. We can ask our unbelieving friends what we can be praying for in their lives. I have been surprised to find out how many of our neighbors were actually lonely people and welcomed a loving friendship. When God gives an opportunity for us to befriend an unbeliever, we need to just be ourselves, and let our light shine. The opportunities abound to love people and thus make an eternal difference in their lives.

In addition, our churches should pray for and give generously to those God has gifted and called to evangelize and plant churches. The apostle Paul often urged local congregations to pray for him in his evangelistic and church planting labors (Ep 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4). In the texts just cited, Paul is urging believers to pray for him that God would give him boldness to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, and that God would open to him a door for the word that he could speak forth the mystery of Christ. Furthermore, Paul consistently commended those churches who generously gave of their finances to support his evangelistic work (Php 4:14-19; 2Co 8:1-5). Let’s pray for and give to those whom God has raised up as evangelists and church planters today.
Out of all the people the church witnesses to, there will be some whom God has prepared to receive Christ and be saved. What then? Well, the person who led the individual to Christ, if possible, should begin to disciple him by spending time with him, encouraging him, answering questions he has about how to live for God, and providing an example for him in serving Christ. As God saves new believers we can either add them to the existing church, or begin a new church plant. Since house churches have a built in size limitation (as many as can fit in a house), you will probably start to experience difficulties meeting together when the numbers approach 35 or 40 people. At that point plan to plant a new church! You can plant the new church either by splitting the previous church in two, or hiving off a few people and starting a new church plant, while leaving the previous church pretty much intact. I personally prefer the latter method. When people begin to form strong friendships in a church, it can be traumatic to tear them apart. It may be much less stressful to take a few new believers and a brother gifted in church planting and have them begin meeting in a new location. The church planter can begin to teach these new believers how to function as a church, and how to reach their social circle with the gospel of Christ. Hopefully, over time, God will raise up from these new converts mature brothers who can serve as elders to shepherd the flock. The church planter is now free to devote himself to planting a new church, and so the process begins all over again.
Oh, may God stir those of us involved in house churches to labor to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus might receive glory and His kingdom extend around the world!