July is the conference season for mathematicians. I have done many in my career but a history conference is a first! I spent two days at the International Medieval Congress (IMC) in Leeds. Now, what has this to do with church growth? Well, medieval history is dominated by religion, in particular the Christian church. A group of us interested in using physics to understand the spread of religion and ideas decided to hold our meeting within the 1500-strong IMC in order to interact with historians.
My thinking is that if my models and theories of church growth have any credibility, there should be some evidence to support them in history, not just the revivals of the modern period. What I have learned has fascinated me. There was not just the growth of the state religion but of sects such as the Waldensians, heresies like the Cathars and even the growth of the monastic movement. There is much to learn here before the models can be applied to history, but I am hopeful.
I also learnt that historians and medievalists are really nice people with a very generous spirit towards others in their field, and those like me outside. This is still an area where an enthusiastic and well-read layperson can make a serious contribution. My own subjects of maths and physics are now just too technical. You need a PhD before you can even dip a toe in the water!
My other thoughts took me back to a famous science fiction series by Isaac Asimov called Foundation. Here the hero was a mathematician who could apply his theories to history – he called it psycho-history. He was so successful he could predict the future of the galactic empire for 1000 years and deduce what could be done to help it through its collapse. Inevitably he became a man in much demand – by all sides!
Of course, current mathematical models are far from being able to understand human behaviour this well. People do not behave like atoms in a gas – each person is an individual known by God – which makes the maths torturous – and also comes as a relief as well! All the same a convincing theory of mass human behaviour is a dream of many modellers. However, I will be glad just to have a better understanding of church growth that could be used to help build the kingdom and bring glory to God.