In “The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church”, Roland Allen describes the beauty and genius of God and his kingdom – [that] “One or two little groups of Christians organized as churches…could spread all over an empire.”
This whimsical and sanguine movement of Christianity, propelled by the Holy Spirit can’t be manufactured by religious institutions, church programs, or any amount of singing in the worship service a congregation may try. Explains Allen,
“…this is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to the others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new Churches.”
Allen’s expansion is native people evangelizing to other native people, 14-year olds witnessing to their peers, auto-mechanics sharing Christ with other auto-mechanics. So, although Allen writes as a missionary visiting foreign lands and dealing with their native peoples, the idea of “Spontaneous Expansion” is just as applicable to Christians working to establish churches in their backyards. Youth ministry in particular often resembles strange soil, even to those who aren’t that far removed from their adolescence.
The Christianity that Allen is advocating is unlike the brand seen it most of America’s tired and failing churches. It is instead a powerful force, a revolution. Our job, as missionaries and church planters is not to try to control this force, but more akin to lighting and dropping a match in a dry forest.
In Allen’s words, “If we want to see spontaneous expansion, we must establish native Churches free from our control.” However, this is a problem for missionaries who would rather come in and impose their ways and rules for doing “church” than raise up a competent indigenous person to do their own church. It flies in the face of institutional Christianity that would rather prevent cussing than unleash a revolution.
Allen states a stern warning to those who attempt to try to control the movement of the Holy Spirit:
“We fear [spontaneous expansion] because we feel that it is something that we cannot control. And that is true. We can neither induce nor control spontaneous expansion…simply because it is spontaneous.”
After all, controlling behavior and implementing rules is easier than starting a revolution, but it’s nothing more than death warmed over. It’s the reason why the Church’s youth is being lost to the universities and the sultry seduction of the Kosmos.
Moreover, starting a spontaneous, sweeping Christ-like revolution is impossible for men. As Roland Allen puts it, “The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ; our control cannot reach as far as that.”
An interesting application for Allen’s thesis is today’s youth which has become disenfranchised with their parent’s church. The church has driven them away with stale rules and moldy traditions that block access to authentic Christianity. Most Churches are quick to admonish cussing teens, while NeoXenos lets them teach bible studies full of their peers. While NeoXenos may not have the market on youth ministry, we are following Allen’s model for ministry.
At Kent State, what started out way back when as a bible study of a few middle-school aged kids has become a ministry of almost 40 strong. The Holy Spirit is manifesting itself in the most unlikely sources, such as knuckle-headed teens praying with their friends to receive Christ. This seems improbable, but after all, as Allen points out, “For centuries the Christian Church continued to expand on its own inherit grace, and threw up an unceasing supply of missionaries without any direct exhortation.”