Summary: Every Christian is either a first-generation Christian or on who has a family history of some faith and dedication to the Lord. Both are valuable assets to the church when used properly.



A. How many of you are ‘first generation Christians’? By that term, I mean people who do not have parents or close family members who were members of the church of Christ who taught or influenced you to obey the gospel. You studied the Bible for yourself. Perhaps through the help of friends or acquaintances, you became familiar with the precepts of New Testament Christianity and made your own decision to be baptized into Christ. You were not “brought up in the church.”

Please hold up your hand if you fit into that category.

B. We are indebted to first generation Christians for a number of reasons.

1. The church grows only when we are active in evangelism. The product of an evangelistic church’s work is people who have not known anything about the Lord’s church being taught and being baptized into Christ. Then they are added to the church. Any congregation which has more first generation Christians than other members has a history of people going out and teaching their friends and neighbors.

2. The church also benefits from the experiences of first generation Christians.

a. These people have searched for truth. Jesus promised “seek, and you will find” [Matthew 7:7]. They have sought and they have found.

b. They have tested what they have heard from various sources of religious information. Many of them were brought up as Protestants or Catholics. They may have been Calvinists. They may have been pre-millennialists. They may have believed doctrines like “saved by faith only” and “once saved, always saved.” But they were honest enough to search. . . the Scriptures. . . to find out whether these things were so [Acts 17:11].

c. These first generation Christians have learned from personal experience the fact that there are many false teachers in the world [1 John 4:1 (NKJV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.]

3. These church members have discovered God’s truth for themselves in a way that not all who were blessed with having parents and grandparents who brought them to church all their lives have experienced.

a. They are convinced of the truth because they have worked hard to acquire the skills to “rightly divide the word of truth” [2 Timothy 2:15]. They know what the Bible teaches because they have worked hard to learn it.

b. They are committed to reaching the lost because they know first hand what it’s like to live in the world of sin.

(1) Even in this worldly world, you can find adult men and women who were brought up by godly parents and who themselves acquired early in life a strong faith in Christ and a dedication to living disciplined Christian lives.

(a) People like this may never have tasted alcohol.

(b) They have not taken illegal drugs.

(c) They have not used bad language.

(d) They have not had sex outside of marriage.

(2) All those things are positives. It would be a wonderful world if everyone could make those claims.

(a) Those people have committed some sins along the way, but they may not have a true appreciation of how awful sin really is.

(b) For that reason, perhaps some of them don’t really appreciate the awesomeness of salvation.

(3) But some of these first generation Christians have been down in the dirt and filth of worldly living. Whatever you’re talking about, they’ve been there and done that. And now they have been forgiven.

(4) People like that are excited about salvation. They want others to experience the blessing of being cleansed of sins. They want others to feel the joy of having guilt lifted from their shoulders.

(5) These first-generation Christians are usually the best personal workers the church has . . . because they are motivated to do everything possible to change lives of people who are now where they once were . . . before the saving power of the gospel worked in their lives [Romans 1:16 (NKJV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.]


A. How many of you had parents, grandparents, or other close family members who were members of the Lord’s church? For most of your life you have ‘gone to church’ without ever making a conscious decision about whether this is the lifestyle you want to follow. It’s second-nature for you to be a part of the church. Please hold up your hands.

B. This illustrates the tremendous power of influence.

1. Parents have a tremendous ability to shape the direction of their children’s lives [Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.] Sometimes faithful parents don’t produce faithful children. There are other influences at work in the world, but it is a proverb – a statement of what usually happens – that godly parents are able to train and influence their sons and daughters in the right direction.

2. That influence passes from individual to individual down through the generations.

a. You may have heard of the concept of “six degrees of separation.” It is the idea that everybody is connected to everybody else in a chain of no more than six links. Back in the 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment which was reported in Psychology Today magazine. Milgram selected two target individuals . . . one living in New England, the other in the Midwest. People from all over the country were selected and told the recipient’s name, occupation, and general location. They were told to send postcards to the one person they knew on a first name basis who was most likely to know the target individual. Postcard recipients who did not know the targets were asked to send the message on to their acquaintance most likely to know the target. Like all chain-letters, many of the chains were broken and never arrived at their destination. However, of those who did reach the targets, 80% got there in four or fewer steps. Almost all of them were delivered with no more than five go-betweens.

b. The implications of this theory for reaching the lost are tremendous. If you would teach the simple truth of the plan of salvation to everyone you know, and convince those you teach to spread the message on to everyone they know . . . and the process continued for only five or six steps . . . virtually everyone would hear the message of the gospel and it all starts with you. Those schemes don’t ever work out, of course, because many of our acquaintances aren’t willing to study with us. And some of those who study will never obey the gospel. Some of those who are baptized will never try to teach others. But this illustrates the potential of what could be done through the power of Christian teaching and the spread of influence.

3. A true story was written by veteran preacher Flavil Nichols. Brother Nichols wrote, “During the War Between the States, a young woman learned the truth and obeyed the gospel. Her sweetheart, J. H. Halbrook, was a Confederate soldier. He was captured by the Union army and kept a prisoner until the war was over. He was given a ticket to Nashville, Tennessee, and $2.50. From there, he returned to Centerville and found what was left of his home and family. He found his girlfriend and they were married. His wife studied the Bible with him, and he soon became a Christian. He thought the truth was so good and so simple that he began to teach and baptize many of his friends and neighbors. He began to preach, but he recognized his need for more training, so he came to the original Mars Hill Bible School, taught by T. B. Larimore. Upon completing his studies there they moved farther south, coming into Walker, Marion, Fayette and Lamar counties in Alabama. One of his many converts was Charley Alexander Wheeler. His wife taught him to read from the Bible. Along with his wife C.A. Wheeler obeyed the gospel, and soon began preaching to others. He started more than 100 congregations and baptized more than 6,000 people.

But wait, the story is not ended! One of those 6,000 was my father, the late Gus Nichols! Twelve thousand were baptized under his preaching. Among those baptized by Gus Nichols, no one knows, nor can know, how many began to preach "the glorious gospel of Christ," (2 Cor. 4.3-4) but I personally know several. I, Flavil Nichols, am ONE whom he baptized and whom he encouraged to preach the truth. And under my preaching, about 3,000 have been baptized. A few among them preach the gospel, also! Only eternity can reveal the total results of the conversion of that one girl nearly 150 years ago. The results are not yet all in! But this shows that 21,000 people have become Christians through this single thread in the fabric of one woman’s influence.

Now let me add a personal string to the end of this story. I was baptized in 1967 by Hudson Nichols, Gus Nichols’ youngest son. I haven’t kept good records about the people I’ve baptized in 34 years of preaching . . . it would be a few hundred I’m sure. Looking through the new church directory, at least 20 of our current members were baptized by me. I held a Friday night preachers’ class here at Leonard Street several years ago . . . and three young men who attended that class are now full-time gospel preachers. I have no idea how many they have baptized . . . but on and on the story goes . . . more and more links are added to the chain.

4. Others besides preachers are involved in the spreading branches of the tree of influence. I respected brother Hudson Nichols, but in truth, he was just the preacher available when I was ready to be baptized. My sister influenced and taught me the gospel. She deserves the credit. She was a first-generation Christian who was converted after she married. But she married a man with a rich heritage in the church. He grew up in the Munford, Alabama church in the early years of the 20th century. His father and three of his brothers were elders in congregations of the church. His nephew and brother-in-law were preachers. He was boyhood friends in Munford with Franklin Camp and Winfred Clark . . . both of whom went on to be influential gospel preachers. So with many of us, the influence comes from many directions.

5. Another example: My wife, Trish, became a Christian in 1999 when she was 43 years old. She is a first generation Christian. She was not brought up in the church. Trish’s mother didn’t become a member of the church until she was in her 50s when she was baptized here at Leonard Street, but her mother – Trish’s grandmother – was a Christian. Other members of that family are Christians. When we attended the family reunion in Arkansas last week, we found almost everyone there was a member of the church. Trish has done some genealogical research which showed her that some of her ancestors were members of the church of Christ well back in the 19th century.

a. This teaches us another important lesson – the influence must be maintained. We must not allow the branches to be broken off the tree.

b. We teach the truth of the gospel both by our words and by the examples we set in our lives. That teaching needs to go on . . . from one person to another . . . and on to still another [2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV) And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.]

c. However, sometimes the process breaks down. Many of our families have some ‘black sheep’ who have wandered away from the fold. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.” It is possible to fall from grace [Galatians 5:4]. It is necessary for all of us to “take heed” lest we fall [1 Corinthians 10:12]. We talked earlier about the 6,000 baptized by Charley Wheeler and the 12,000 baptized by Gus Nichols. Some of them did not stay faithful. Some who are faithful members of this church today may in the future fall away and be lost.

d. That tells us that we need to continue exercising the power of influence . . . not only with people lost out in the world but influencing and encouraging one another to stay the course . . . to fight the good fight, to finish the race, and to keep the faith [2 Timothy 4:7].


1. You have influence. There are many people in whose lives you can make an eternal difference.

2. Teach with words and teach by example. Let your light shine for Christ [Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”]

3. Invitation