In case you didn’t read the post of yesterday, I include the final two paragraphs here. Skip them if you remember what I said. The issue I’m dealing with is how much and how fast did the Christian church grow over the first four centuries. I would very much like your feedback, and if you’re a numbers person, I would love it if you would check my calculations to see if I’m making any egregious errors. All of this is lifted, again, from a rough draft of ch. 6 of my book on the Christianization of the Roman Empire
Thus it appears that the beginning of the Christian movement saw a veritable avalanche of conversions. Possibly many of these are the direct result of the missionary activities of Paul. But there may have been other missionaries like him who were also successful. And so let’s simply pick a sensible rate of growth, and say that for the first forty years, up to the time when Paul wrote his last surviving letter, the church grew at a rate of 300%. If the religion started with twenty people in 30 CE, that would mean there were some 1280 by the year 60. That’s not at all implausible as a guess. But growth cannot continue at that rate. If it did, a century later, in the year 160, there would be well over a trillion Christians in the world.
So let’s say that there was a burst of initial radical enthusiasm generated by the new faith, both among people who had heard Jesus preach during his public ministry and who believed the witnesses who said that he had been raised from the dead and among those evangelized through the extraordinary missionary work of Paul and possibly others like him. After Paul’s death there was almost certainly a rapid decline. The change would not be immediate or steady, but we are dealing with ballpark figures here. Say it went down on average to 60% per decade for the next forty years, while there was still a lot of energy and enthusiasm among those who thought not only that Jesus saved them from their sins but that he was coming back very soon, creating a kind of urgency for their message. This would be a rate of growth just under 5% per year. Every year each group of twenty people need to make just one convert. At a rate like that there would then be something like 8381 Christians in the world in the year 100 CE. That sounds about right.
There is no point – and no way – to do a breakdown decade after decade. Clearly…
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