by Ed Stetzer
(Editor’s note: This is the 6th in a 10-part series on how our theology informs our evangelism.)
When we think about the intersection of theology with evangelism, we immediately and rightly consider God’s love for humanity, the sending of His Son, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work among other well-known concepts. One often overlooked aspect of God that should bear significant influence on our evangelism is His being a God of multiplication.
We find hints of the impulse of multiplication in the Old Testament in places like Genesis 1:28 (“be fruitful and multiply”) and Genesis 15:5 (God’s promise to Abraham of an innumerable number of offspring).
In the New Testament, Jesus multiplied a little boy’s five loaves and two fish into enough to feed a multitude and gather 12 baskets of leftovers (John 6:1-13). Then, as the Early Church grew, multiplication became the model by which Paul sought to reach as many people as possible with the gospel.
Scripture reveals that God’s global mission connected to His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8). Thus, in light of passages like Matthew 28:18–20, Acts 1:8, and Romans 15:20, we see a mission to the nations, multiplying believers and churches.
Paul, understanding the mission of God, implemented a strategy that included: (1) targeting populated urban centers, (2) evangelizing the city, and (3) planting and establishing churches. This strategy of intentional multiplication resulted in churches all over Asia Minor within two centuries of Christ’s ascension.
- As Paul journeyed, he went to cities. Part of his mission strategy included going to the largest or most influential cities of a region. This is why most of his epistles bear the names of recognizable places. Seldom do we see Paul navigating away from population centers (we can make an exception with the shipwreck, I think). It seems Paul believed cities had the greatest potential for gospel impact and gospel multiplication.
- Once in a city Paul first evangelized people. Paul evangelized through preaching at the local synagogues, participating in small group Bible studies, meeting people in the marketplaces, renting halls and lecturing, and engaging people through tent-making—his profession. As we see in Acts 17, he wasn’t above hanging out in ‘enemy territory’ for the purpose of clarifying the gospel.
- Paul planted multiplying churches. As Paul made disciples he organized them into churches—a quite natural strategy. In Church Planter Manual, Tim Keller summarizes Paul’s missional engagement with the cities in this way:
When Paul began meeting with them [converts], they were called “disciples” (Acts 14:22), but when he left them, they were known as “churches” (see Acts 14:23). To put it simply, the multiplication of churches is as natural in the book of Acts as the multiplication of individuals.
As we see in Paul’s ministry, multiplication requires intentionality. This is not a haphazard affair. It requires going to where people are, sharing the good news of Jesus, and planting and establishing self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating churches.
In short, Paul’s method of multiplication became the missional practice of the Early Church. For the Church to be effective, we must participate in God’s missional intent of multiplication. We must strategically go to where people are, making disciples (micro multiplication) and planting churches (macro multiplication).
Effective and biblical evangelism must have multiplicative DNA. One disciple and one church become dozens through exponential growth. Every individual Christian should understand God’s desire for multiplication and seek to reach those around them with the gospel. Every church must have multiplication in its DNA as it seeks to multiply groups within the body and multiply itself through the planting of churches nationally and internationally.
God’s desire for multiplication should fuel our own. We should want to reach new people and plant new churches because God has been about multiplication from the beginning and used Paul to initiate it as a preferred method of the rapidly-growing Early Church.
Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer) is executive director of LifeWay Research, executive editor of The Gospel Project, and lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He also serves as senior fellow for the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.