“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…”—Acts 6:7
Any reader of the divinely-inspired record of early Christianity written in the book of Acts will note the attention given to numbers. Those who were saved in the days after the coming of the Holy Spirit were “added to the church” (see Acts 2:4, 47). Then later, “believers were the more added to the Lord” as the evangelism continued in Jerusalem (Acts 5:14). The math begins with addition. Then we read that “the number of the disciples was multiplied (Acts 6:1, 7).
We read about churches in many places that were “established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). We find that because of the preaching of the gospel in a certain city, “a great multitude” believed, and that “not a few” of the “chief women” became believers (Acts 17:4).
To the inspired writer of Acts, more was better than less. We understand that God is interested in adding people to churches, multiplying the membership, and eventually in multiplying the number of churches in any part of the world. We ought to pay attention to this scriptural math, and to its theological meaning.
Several important spiritual facts can be gleaned from studying Acts arithmetic.
1. When a church is healthy, new converts can be expected to join. Jesus teaches us in the book of John that healthy Christianity is lived by the principle, “Abide in me” (read John 15:1–8). When a believer lives his life absolutely submitted to the will of Christ (John 15:9–10) and in total dependence on Him for power to live and serve Him, he can expect to reproduce.
The fruit-bearing of John 15 is reproduction—Christians producing new Christians through divinely empowered evangelism. The first church was full of abiding-in-Christ believers (or “filled with the Holy Ghost”) after the day of Pentecost, and the result was amazing reproduction (see Acts 2:37–47). New believers were being added to the church every day for a time. This is what can be expected when we are living in Christ as we should. There certainly should be addition.
2. When discipleship is the emphasis of the work of the church, as well as evangelism, we can expect the growth to rise to multiplication. Discipleship in the New Testament has to do with how we live, and the call to discipleship is, “Follow Me” (read Matthew 4:18–25, 8:18–23, and 9:9).
Disciples of Jesus are followers of Jesus. They seek to follow His teachings, His example, and His leadership. We believe on Jesus to be saved, and we follow Him to be His disciples. Every believer in Jesus has a moral obligation to live as a follower of Jesus. That’s why Jesus said to “those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32). It’s also why Romans 12:1 beseeches us on the basis of God’s mercy to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in the service of Christ.
Christians have the duty to live for the One who died for them (see also 2 Corinthians 5:14–15). And they need training to know how to do so. This is the reason why, in the book of Acts, believers who join the church by baptism are called “disciples.” When believers joined the church, they were signing up to be disciples. They would be trained to be true followers of Jesus Christ (remember the instructions our Lord gave us in Matthew 28:16–20, where the word for “teach” in verse 19 is translated from the Greek word for making disciples, and the word “teaching” in verse 20 means instructing the would-be disciples).
When the church is training believers as disciples, the result is multiplication. The new converts will soon have the know-how and the faith to reproduce themselves, and to instruct their spiritual children to reproduce themselves. Just do the math. The disciples will multiply. Effective evangelism will add believers to the church, and intense discipleship will multiply them. Soul-winning churches ought to become disciple-making churches.
3. Growing congregations should be expected to eventually plant new churches. This is what happened when the churches, “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Because of the great persecution waged against the Jerusalem church, “they were scattered abroad” and “went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
The Lord was and is serious about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, given for the last time in Acts 1:8. Because the first church didn’t move past evangelizing their own city, he helped them to go forward to the next stages of the Acts 1:8 program by sending them withering persecution. As a result, “they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (compare Acts 8:1 with Acts 1:8). These scattered Christians evangelized new areas and started new churches (review chapters 8 and 9). After a while, the scattered disciples actually “travelled” to new areas deliberately to evangelize the people and found new churches (read chapter 11).
One of the churches planted in this time of multiplying churches became the first missionary church, sending some of their own to regions beyond them to preach the gospel and start new churches all over the world (see 2 Corinthians 10:14–17, and watch the missionaries work, producing believers through the preaching of the Gospel, multiplying disciples by instructing believers, and multiplying the churches, in Acts 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, and 19). This scenario is what we should be seeing in the world today. And as God revives us, we will.
4. Increasing numbers of believers, of church-members, and of New Testament churches should be the hope and prayer of every dedicated Christian. Now, of course, the increase of the numbers is not the ultimate goal. The membership and attendance at the Jerusalem church was devastated in Acts 8:1 by divine design. But the spread of the gospel and the forwarding of the Great Commission was accomplished. The ultimate goal of our lives and churches is the fulfillment of God’s will to His glory. But His promises and His revealed plans include addition and multiplication. This is not numerical growth at any price, but it is also not “numbers don’t matter.” More saved and serving God is certainly on some level better than fewer enlisted in the Lord’s army, from a biblical perspective.
5. We can expect a plentiful harvest if we follow God’s plan. Those in our day who expand their church attendance by abandoning God’s plan fail to glorify and please Him, and ultimately fail to reach their own goals. Those who follow God’s plan for evangelizing the world not only do the right thing, but also do it in the right way! God’s plan for us in the New Testament age is Acts 1:8:
But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Notice the steps we must take. First we must engage in vertical action. The power to be witnesses is God’s power. We must be filled with the Spirit before we engage in horizontal action among our fellowmen. In Acts, they engaged in intense and prolonged prayer meetings in order to come into union with the Lord for the work He had given them to do (find such prayer meetings in chapters 1, 2, and 4).
Then we must evangelize our cities, our countries, and the next countries, in ever-widening circles of labor (Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria).
Then we must establish new churches in order that our witness can be “both” here at home and “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” The role of churches is vital to world-wide evangelization. Romans 10:9–15 has the message of salvation being preached at home by the believers here, and elsewhere by preachers they have “sent.” And this pattern is what we can see in the book of Acts. Each church had a global witness by evangelizing its own city and area and then sending people to evangelize in places far and wide.
When all of this is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, the cause of Christ prospers according to book of Acts arithmetic! And this miraculous progress of the gospel is the great need of the world in our time.
Every Spirit-filled Christian can expect to see new believers “added” to the Lord through his witness, as did Barnabas, of whom it is said that, “He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith, and much people was added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:24). John 15 says that one who abides in Christ will not only bear His fruit, but actually “much fruit.”
Based on faith in what the Lord says, a revived church can expect to add members regularly who have been converted to Christ, and eventually to start multiplying. As the people of God in general experience revival, we will begin to see churches start new churches regularly. The appearance of Bible-believing Christianity will change phenomenally according to Acts arithmetic, and in many places the gospel will powerfully prevail (look at Acts 19:10–20).
The numbers and the math in the book of Acts give us insight into what to expect when churches are revived. All of this scriptural material gives us more motivation to pray every day for revival in our lives and in our churches, and to believe that what God has told us in Acts is what we can expect Him to do through us.