Let me start this blog with its ending point:

Friendship—your friendship—is the key to someone coming to faith in Christ.

When most Christians think about the days of the early church and how it spread across the Roman Empire, we think of the boldness and preaching of the apostles like Peter and Paul. We think about the miracles that got people’s attention and pointed to Jesus. These things certainly played a part, but it doesn’t stop there.

Christianity spread rapidly because of relationships.

I recently read Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity. Stark is not a Christian, and as he researched the causes for the rise of Christianity in the Roman empire, he made no reference to the truth of the gospel or the work of the Holy Spirit. He did note, however, how Christianity spread through families, close relationships, and people believers already knew.

Stark had previously studied other religious groups, and he had noted the impact of relationships among Moonies, Mormons, and Muslims. I am not equating the teachings of these false belief systems with the truth of Scripture, but the principle of “conversion through relationships” is universal. For example, Muhammed’s first convert to his new religion was his wife, Khadijah. Joseph Smith’s first converts to Mormonism were his brothers and two of his close friends.

Stark’s research pointed to the role relationships played in the early days of the church. When Andrew encountered Jesus, the first person he told was his brother, and Philip did the same with his friend, Nathanael (John 1:40-45). As individuals embraced the gospel of Christ, they told family and friends. These are people who didn’t just hear the gospel, but they saw the changed life of one they knew well.

“The basis for successful conversationist movements is growth through social networks, through a structure of direct and intimate interpersonal attachments” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Harper Collins, 1996, p. 20).

In the church, we often think the irreligious—those with no religious affiliation or beliefs—are the hardest to reach for Christ, but Stark’s research painted a different story. What makes a difference for the irreligious is when they know someone of faith. The historian Robin Lane Fox said, “Above all we should give weight to the presence and influence of friends. It is a force that so often escapes the record, but it gives shape to everyone’s personal life” (Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, Knopf, 1987, p.316).

We should find this highly encouraging. Our relationships matter! Unfortunately, too few Christians “take advantage” of the relationships they already have. Lifeway Research discovered that, while half of Americans are curious about the religious devotion of others, 60 percent of them said their Christian friends rarely talk about faith.

Let that sink in. Believers have an incredible message of truth—the gospel of Jesus Christ—but we rarely talk about it among our family and friends. We are in a position of incredible influence, and so many of our friends want to hear what we have to say! We are prime tools for the Holy Spirit to work through, if only we would open our mouths.

“People do not seek a faith; they encounter one through their ties to other people who already accept this faith” (Stark, p. 56).

“No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:15-16).

Friendship—your friendship—is the key to someone coming to faith in Christ.

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