Sociologist turned historian Rodney Stark has written a number of volumes devoted to the rise of Christianity. He points out that Christianity took off not because we got people into churches and preached Jesus to them, but because we got out of our churches into the community and showed Jesus to them. In fact Stark notes that most churches were closed to non-believers in the first three centuries of the Christian era. Yet Christianity grew to the point where it dominated the Roman Empire. Stark suggests the reason for this:
Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.
The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History
It makes me wonder what it is we offer our society? What are the deep needs that Jesus shaped living answers to today?