What made each New Testament church unique? Did they meet in Jewish synagogues, or in buildings specifically erected for believers to gather and worship God, or in some other place? This map series will explore the first century A.D. churches that existed in and near the Roman Empire.
The New Testament reveals one of the primary reasons Jesus came to earth was to start building his church, his ekklesia (Strong's Concordance #G1577). His ekklesia is a spiritual community of believers built on faith in Him that He would personally lead (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 5:23).
The means by which God would achieve his goal of starting churches would be through His spirit. His Holy Spirit would teach believers what they need to know and then lead them to tell others or "witness" about Christ and what he taught (Acts 1:7 - 8).
The birth of the church Christ spoke about began on the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D. God first gave His spirit to 120 disciples who had heard Jesus speak during his ministry, then he inspired Peter to give a powerful message that led to the conversion of at least 3,000 others (Acts 1:15, 2:41).
Scripture states that on the special Feast day of Pentecost there were people in Jerusalem visiting who lived in Asia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Persia (Elamites), Media, Egypt, Libya, Judea, Arabia and Crete, as well as the Roman provinces of Cappadocia, Pontus (also referred to as Bithynia), Phrygia (which is within Galatia) and Pamphylia (Acts 2:9 - 11). There were even Jews and proselytes from Rome who came to keep this Holy Day and were among the first to hear the gospel from his followers (verse 10).
These converted people took God's truth back to their homelands and became the seeds from which a new fellowship could sprout. It did not take long before Christian groups began to spring up like wildfire around the known world.
"After Jesus' death and resurrection, the Gospel exploded out of little Palestine and swept the known world like a quickly spreading flame . . . In a few brief decades, between the A.D. 30s and 60s, churches were established in most of the major population centers of the Roman Empire, including Rome itself" (Bible Reader's Companion, comments on John 21).
Who starts them?
Not only did well-known New Testament leaders like the apostles or Paul begin fellowships but also those who the Bible does not individually name. In fact, the first mass conversion of Gentiles (non-Jews) delineated in Scripture did not occur through any apostle but through zealous believers from Africa and the island of Cyprus!
But certain men among them who were Cypriots and Cyrenians came to Antioch and spoke to the Greeks, preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:20 - 21).
It was only after a body of believers existed in Syrian Antioch that the "mother" church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to find out what was happening! He then sought out Paul to help teach the new believers who were gathering before they arrived (Acts 11:25 - 26).
Maps used in this series do not show all possible cities where early Christians lived or where all fellowships existed during the period of the New Testament. This is because the Bible sometimes records believers living in general areas of the Roman world and does not specify an exact location. For example, although Scripture states churches existed in the areas of Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31) it does not provide a detailed city list.