Occasionally, church leaders explain their lack of congregational outreach activity by suggesting that God’s people witness personally within their God-ordained vocations. One does not doubt or downplay the importance of God’s people witness within their vocation as spouse, parent, neighbour and co-worker, but the corporate energies and resources of a group can accomplish mission objectives that individuals cannot achieve. In the following quotes, Dr. William Weinrich, professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana emphasizes the importance of the congregation (as a whole!) being in mission as he discusses the exponential growth of the early Christian church.
Weinrich quotes Adolf von Harnack who explains why early Christianity expanded so rapidly, “The most numerous and successful missionaries of the Christian religion were not the professional teachers but Christians themselves, in virtue of their loyalty and courage.” A similar judgement is given by Karl Holl, “The ancient Church conducted no obvious or planned propagation of the Word … Each individual was a missionary.” (p. 30, emphasis added)
Weinrich adds, “However, while it is certainly true that the personal witness of individual Christians, both in word and deed (esp. charity and martyrdom), were vital elements in the propagation of the faith during the early decades and centuries of the early church, it may well be doubted whether personal witness alone can account for the rapid expansion of the Christian faith and the remarkable social cohesion and stability that usually accompanied it. After all, while sometimes the scattered nature of the evidence makes it look like early Christian missions was a conglomeration of individual efforts, it can hardly have been only that.
Individual effort, as it were, autonomous and independent may achieve individual conversions, but we may not forget that the early spread of Christianity was integrally bound up with a web of Christian communities which at the same time were developing their doctrinal, liturgical, and institutional shape. Early Christian missions did not consist only or even primarily in individually based evangelistic work. Early Christian missions was essentially the work of Christian congregations whose mission goal was not so much the conversion of individuals but the foundation of other congregations, although to be sure that encompasses individual conversions. To use the modern phrase, ‘church planting’ was the goal of Christian mission, not personal witnessing.” (p. 32-33, emphasis added)
The previous quotes are from: Dr. Weinrich’s article entitled, “Paul and the Early Church: Witnesses to the Ecclesial Character of Missions. The article was published in God’s Mission in Action: A Booklet of Essays delivered at the First Annual Missions Congress, April 24-27, 1986 (ed. Eugene Bunkowske and Michael Nicol) Published by The Great Commission Resource Library.