The spontaneous expansion of the Church reduced to its element is a very simple thing. It asks for no elaborate organisation, no large finances, no great numbers of paid missionaries. In its beginning it may be the work of one man and that a man neither learned in the things of this world, nor rich in the wealth of this world.…What is necessary is faith. What is needed is the kind of faith which uniting a man to Christ, sets him on fire.
Out of his mission experience around the turn of the nineteenth century in China Roland Allen reflected on the factors that encouraged and inhibited the spontaneous expansion of the gospel. These were his conclusions:
Factors that encourage spontaneous expansion:
• When people whose lives have been impacted profoundly by the gospel tell their story to those who know them.
• When from the beginning evangelism is the work of those within the culture.
• When new Christians are immediately given the opportunity to learn by ministering to non-Christians rather than sitting in a classroom.
• When the church is self-supporting and provides for its own leaders and facilities.
• When true doctrine results from the true experience of the power of Christ rather than mere intellectual instruction.
• When new churches are given the freedom to learn by experience.
Factors that inhibit spontaneous expansion:
• When paid foreign professionals are primarily responsible to spread the gospel which is seen as an alien intrusion.
• When the church is dependent on foreign funds and leadership.
• When spread of the gospel is controlled out of fear and both error and godly zeal are suppressed. Allen believed the great things of God are beyond our control. He observed that control produces sterility. “Our converts have not gone astray but they have produced nothing.”
• When it is believed that the church is to be founded, educated, equipped, established in the doctrine and ethics and organisation first; then it is to expand.
• When emerging leaders are restricted from ministering until they are fully trained and by doing so learn the lesson of inactivity and dependency.
• When we attempt to convert by clever argument rather than the power of Christ.
• When a professional class controls the ministry and discourages the spontaneous zeal of those who are not members of their profession.
Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (pdf)