The greatest communication success story in human history is how the gospel message spread across the Mediterranean world. Followers of Jesus grew from a few hundred on the day of Pentecost to more than six million people by the end of the second century.1 That’s an amazing number, considering the only media were word-of-mouth encounters and hand-written letters–their delivery schedule giving new meaning to the term snail mail. It’s tempting to assume that the growth of the church at this time was due to the effective preaching of Peter, Paul, and a few other gifted communicators. After all, the apostles planted churches in key cultural centers, and these churches then spread to the countryside.
Yet while their efforts were important, more important was the attitude of ordinary Christians, who recognized that sharing the message of Jesus was everyone’s mission. The gospel spread like wildfire from household to household (oikos to oikos)2 and from province to province—as men and women personally gossiped the gospel to friends, relatives, acquaintances, colleagues, masters, slaves, students, teachers, customers, shop owners, and fellow soldiers in their everyday networks.
Many Christians miss this fact, ignoring their most significant mission field, their oikos, their network of immediate relationships. Just before Jesus departed the earth, he gave these marching orders to his disciples.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
In this short strategic plan to take the gospel to the human race, Jesus made it clear that His plan included the entire planet. But, taking the gospel to the world began with the people in closest proximity to His followers. Jesus describes four mission fields that can be graphed along two axes: cultural proximity and geographical proximity. Use these categories to identify the people in your network of influence.
Our Jerusalem (culturally and geographically close): Family, neighbors, and work associates fit into this group. We have regular contact with these people in the course of our daily activities. We speak their language and know their culture.
Our Judea (culturally similar but geographically more distant): People in our socio-economic and ethnic group that are not in our immediate network of relationships.
Our Samaria (culturally different but geographically within reach): Every community today has a group of disenfranchised people who need ministry. For example, inner-city ministries would target people in our Samaria.
Our Ends of the Earth (culturally and geographically distant): This group includes people we can only reach via short-term mission trips, global initiatives, and mission partnerships in cultures all over the world.3
1. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), Page 6.
2. Oikos to Oikos could legitimately be paraphrased as business to business since the oikos was the basic economic unit of the Greco-Roman world.
3. Adapted from What God Does When Men Lead by Bill Peel