Resident but Alien: How the early church grew

By Stuart Murray
February 4, 2010

How the Early Church Grew, by Alan Kreider
DVD (Great Commission Distribution/YWAM, 2009) £48.95

For many years, Alan Kreider has researched the Early Church, exploring in particular the reasons for its extraordinary growth in the first three centuries. In this pre-Christendom period, the church was marginal, illegal and subject to persecution. There were no social advantages and many dangers in joining the church. But people became Christians and the church grew and spread throughout and beyond the Roman Empire.

We look forward to a long-awaited book – the fruit of these many years of research, which is Alan’s major project now. But, in the meantime, we can sample the likely contents of the book in this series of six half-hour teaching sessions, commissioned by Youth With A Mission, with whom Alan has worked periodically, teaching on the Early Church in the context of a series of Reconciliation Walks.

In each session Alan sits with two students, with whom he discusses various aspects of his topic. Together they read early Christian documents and examine Christian art and architecture. The DVD comes with a study guide and discussion questions, making it suitable for a small group to watch and discuss together.

The titles of the teaching sessions are: Odd but Intriguing; Spiritual Power and Life-Giving Deviance; Living and Talking; Becoming a Christian; Worship Shapes Witness; and Losing a Vision – and Regaining It. Alan asks how the Early Church could grow so impressively when it was much too dangerous to evangelise publicly, when they did not allow enquirers into their corporate worship, when they never seem to have urged their members to be missional, when the preparation period for baptism was very lengthy, and when all kinds of rumours circulated about these communities.

These sessions offer some clues. The extracts from early Christian (and some pagan) writings and the images in the early paintings reveal a community with distinctive values and practices. The way in which the Christians lived, their apparent access to spiritual power, the ways in which their worship shaped their witness, their readiness to talk about their faith to friends, colleagues and neighbours, and the care with which new members were taught and inducted into the faith – these were some of the crucial components in this vibrant missional movement.

In the final session Alan explores the impact of the conversion of the emperor, Constantine I, in the fourth century. Previously, the churches had grown through attraction, but now they began to grow through advantage and, before too long, it would involve compulsion as the Christendom system developed. The former ‘resident aliens’ became residents, and the churches largely lost their missional vision, their intriguing practices and their spiritual power. The series ends with Alan posing a challenging question: can we recapture the priorities and vision of the early Christians? Might this equip us for effective witness in a post-Christendom world?

This DVD is not cheap! But it is a remarkable and unusual resource for individuals, churches, study groups and theological colleges.


You can buy Resident but Alien: How the Early Church Grew (DVD), by Alan Kreider, from Ekklesia's online store here:


(c) Stuart Murray is a writer, church practitioner and academic specializing in Anabaptism and contemporary Christian witness. He initiated the Paternoster Press series on Post-Christendom ( and has a long standing involvement in the Anabaptist Network UK (

Keywords:early church
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