What We Can Learn from Movements Around the World
By Doug Lucas
In the last couple of decades, researchers have identified more than 700 examples of rampant church growth. New believers have been coming to Christ in such numbers that they are using the term movement to describe the phenomenon. An outside research team recently identified a movement of 2 million believers. It’s nothing short of miraculous.
Here is a summary of what typically happens in these movements.
Telling + Training = Multiplication
These movements usually start with a strong personality with relentless determination who seeks an answer to the question, “What’s it going to take to reach these people [this tribe, caste, kindred, city, or nation]?” He or she begins with extraordinary prayer and abundant gospel sowing. This multiplier sees his or her future as a behind-the-scenes trainer rather than as a pastor or up-front missionary. Their applicable Scripture might be, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
This movement starter scans the horizon constantly for spiritual seekers who have a circle of influence and are willing to share and obey the gospel. These spiritual seekers are sometimes referred to as “persons of peace,” a throwback to Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10:1-12. The emphasis at first is on lots of telling. The moment new believers begin to rise up, the emphasis switches to training these new advocates to reproduce. The focus is on multiplication through repeating chains of gospel sharing.
Training New Believers to Discover Biblical Truth
Along the way, the movement starter also trains new believers to read the Bible like crazy—for example, five chapters per day. Education happens much more through “self-feeding” than listening to sermons. In addition, the movement starter helps these new Jesus followers to form groups that study the Bible together using a unique approach (often called “discovery Bible study”) that involves asking a template of questions and discovering biblical truths in the pages of Scripture. The Bible—rather than sermons or tracts—is lifted up as the highest authority.
It’s not uncommon for new believers in these movements to read 30 Bible chapters per week, share their faith with others, and launch a couple groups of new prospective disciples, all within the first few weeks of encountering Jesus. Then it becomes a matter of training these new believers how to train others.
Once the movement hits “critical mass,” a corresponding inertia sets in. The church grows through an unending supply of God’s Spirit, giving strength and mighty power to fuel ongoing generations of growth.
Redefining Our Christian-Education Systems
This entire scenario is very different from church as we know it in North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. For some unknown reason, in these lands where the church has flourished for so long, we developed church education models based mainly on knowledge. To know God was to learn about him. Faithfulness came to be defined by our presence in the pew. The bedrock of Christian education became listening to the sermon and remembering it. If we were particularly holy and perhaps striving to become professional leaders in Christianity, we went to college where we exchanged our pews for classroom chairs. So, we left our cultures (and perhaps even the region we hoped to serve) and listened to innumerable lectures.
I loved my home church, and I credit my Bible college experience with helping me remain loyal to Christ through some very difficult questions of faith. But, when I’m thinking objectively, I have to admit—our education system in these lands (North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand) seem designed more for maintenance than explosive growth.
So, what does education look like among movements, and how will it change our definition of “Christian education” for tomorrow? That is still being studied. But we know one thing for sure: Movements move! One practitioner wrote, “The success of any movement lies in that movement’s ability to mobilize its entire membership in the constant propagation of its beliefs” (see “The Legacy of R. Kenneth Strachan” in the January 1979 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research). In these movements, remember, believers are compelled to action within days, and sometimes hours, of conversion.
This might seem unsafe and perhaps even an invitation for heresy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in these movements. A researcher who traced church reproduction and multiplication across multiple generations in that movement of 2 million in Asia told me he discovered a consistency for uniform belief as much as he confirmed uniform practice.
Maybe we always thought that “right knowledge will yield right behavior.” In movements, it appears that “right behavior somehow yields right knowledge.” Strachan indicated that “constant propagation” brings about consistent faithfulness. So, movements turn Christian education upside down, or right-side up, depending on your perspective. (For more on this, see the Epilogue of my book, More Disciples.)
In this model—lots of Bible input combined with lots of retelling, that is, obeying—it seems that “just-in-time education” is working fairly well. God alone knows what will happen to these movements once they reach maturity. But for now, with nearly 7,000 people groups still remaining unreached, maybe we can afford to focus on explosive growth for a while, as long as we maintain an emphasis on lots of Bible input—through reading, discovery, and then retelling it—along the way.
Where will Christian education go in tomorrow’s version of disciple-making movements? I hope to write that article here in a couple of decades. I hope the executive summary will be this: Right behavior brought about right knowledge and more explosive church growth worldwide.
Doug Lucas is founder and president of Team Expansion, which seeks to multiply disciples and churches among the unreached. Learn more at www.TeamExpansion.org. Lucas’s new book, More Disciples, discusses disciple-making movements. The book’s profits will go directly to train more workers in how to launch new movements.