The role of persecution in movements

Do you remember the famous “child’s prayer”: “Now I lay me down to sleep / I pray the Lord my soul to keep / If I should die before I wake / I pray the Lord my soul to take”? This is the epitome of a very ‘childlike’ prayer: ‘Please make every thing okay, and let nothing bad happen.”

Still, bad things do happen. Sometimes they seem to happen through natural disasters, like tornados, earthquakes and hurricanes—regular weather events in which people are caught. (Sometimes, we try to interpret these events as something other than regular or quasi-random ones.) Sometimes they happen as a consequence of our own actions, rash or sinful: if you bump into or touch a hot thing, you will probably get burned. Sometimes they happen because of someone else’s rash or sinful actions: if I get mugged in an alley, it’s the mugger’s sin, not mine (which is  a bit of a theological statement in itself).

Recently, in south Asia, I was interviewing leaders of a major movement. One of the questions I asked was: over your years of ministry, what habits, disciplines, or mindsets have helped you to endure in ministry and eventually become fruitful? The question was being translated and was eventually shortened to, ‘over the years, what has helped you grow in ministry?’ (which is similar but not quite the same thing, and led to some interesting answers). One of the leaders, without pausing a second, answered: ‘Persecution.’

That kind of thing frequently showed up in the interviews-—that persecution was common, and came typically in the form of insults and arguments but physical violence was not rare. Threats, slaps, blows, beatings, and serious violence (where the victim was hospitalized) all occurred. Mostly the perpetrators were members of common society, but organized gangs of religious fundamentalists were not uncommon.

Persecution isn’t unique to this movement. It’s a prominent feature of nearly every movement I’ve examined. It has several significant effects.

First, it purifies and refines. Knowing that following Jesus will almost certainly lead to persecution makes people more likely to pause and count the cost; those who do decide to follow Jesus are more committed to the decision. Active persecution tries and tests and refines the pre-believer. As a result, most say if a new believer endures the first bit, they almost never fall away.

Second, it accelerates. People who have counted the cost tend to be more aware of the treasure they have. Because they value Jesus, they have a greater desire to share Him. Persecution can be ‘fuel to the fire’ of passion.

Third, it highlights the difference between belief systems. In Iran, many leaders have said they were thankful for Khomeini and theocratic Islam, for example, because it showed the people the difference between Christianity and Islam. In India, people see the difference between the oppressive caste system and the unity and equality people have before Christ. These differences heighten the appeal of Christianity.

Fourth, it can lead to church decline and extinction. We do need to acknowledge persecution—especially severe persecution—causes some to leave Christianity. It can lead to church decline in other ways, too: people can leave the town, the state, or even the country. For example, there is a significant decline in Christianity in the Middle East—not because people are abandoning their faith, but because they are abandoning the place. We hear ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church’ but the reality is the church in a specific location can be, and in many cases has been, stamped out.

Fifth, it can degrade church growth. Even if the church is not destroyed, little foxes spoil the vine. A place might not have ‘terrible persecution,’ yet have ‘just enough’ regulation to hamper growth. In the Internet age, when things can easily be recorded and shared, many oppressive governments are going this route.

Sixth, can be a sign of a ‘win.’ When the church is very small, it may be ignored entirely and remain underground, fearful and afraid. As it becomes bold and grows through Gospel sharing, and its numbers grow, persecution will likely pick up. This is a sign of conflict between two societies, as well as a marker of rapid growth. As Christian gets large enough, persecution slacks off again-—this is a sign of a win. As one leader from another region told me: “Many church leaders today were persecutors in the 1990s. Now, there are so many believers and churches that persecution wouldn’t work-—people know too many believers.”

Persecution for most movements is unavoidable. How can we better respond to it?

1. We need to develop a ‘theology of persecution’-—that God can use it for good. Examining Bible stories of persecution and how believers responded can help us with this. Consider each of the instances when Paul faced threats—how did he respond?

2. We need strategies shaped by persecution. Although we shouldn’t shirk from bold action, we don’t need to seek persecution out, either. In some places, movements have found that community ministries in which believers were a blessing had the side effect of short circuiting the motives and opportunities for persecution: ‘wait, don’t persecute them, they’re helping us.’

3. We need to prepare for persecution. Pre-believers should be told to count the cost first (in most places, they are all too aware). New believers should immediately be considering how they will respond to persecution Biblically.

4. The best solution to persecution is church growth. Government can only restrain evil; the sole long-term solution for persecution is the transformation of the persecutor’s heart. This will require not just evangelism and discipleship, but reconciliation and forgiveness between persecutor and persecuted. Consider how the early church responded when they heard Paul had come to faith.

The biggest danger of persecution is not the death of the body, but fear that paralyzes the spirit and prevents the bold sharing of the Gospel. We have to battle this with love, which casts out fear.

Stuffing vs. Starving: isn’t the Gospel available to all?

While I was on a recent panel discussion about the status of the unfinished task, one of the observers commented in the chat window: it’s hard to imagine, in this day and age, that someone has no access to the Gospel. They went on to describe how they had long had access to Christianity and the Scriptures before they became a believer.

This is the typical situation of the typical believer. Most believers come to faith young: of the (on average) 60 million additions to the church yearly, 45 million are children born into Christian homes. These might ‘come to faith’ (however they describe that—‘born again’ or baptism or membership in a church) in many different ways, but old or young they undoubtedly had access to the gospel for some period before the moment of faith.

Of the 15 million ‘adult’ converts per year, a large number are in situations where they long had access to the Gospel before they converted. This is how the church grows on the ‘edges’: adults convert, and then their children are born into Christian homes. Adult converts are mostly in places that have the Gospel, and an individual convert has probably had access for some time (so their questions can be answered); it usually takes more than just one offer of the Gospel for a response.

Since this is the typical situation, it’s hard for us to imagine a situation where people don’t have access to the Gospel—it’s just not part of our daily realities. Most Christians live in places where the majority of people are some form of Christian (‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘nominal’ or ‘true believer’): we don’t deal with people of other religions on a regular basis. For most of us, the non-Christians around us are lapsed Christians. Consider this chart from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity: look at the individual regions (East Africa, West Africa, etc) and note how the largest populations of Christians are in regions where Christians make up over 70% of the region.

Or, for another way to look at it, consider this from a recently released book on religious diversity:

The places where Christians live are, further, swamped with Christian ministry. The enormous numbers of Christians make a huge market. There are numerous church buildings (well attended or not)—I’ve been in one rural American town with a population of 1,336 and at least six churches (Assembly of God, Baptist, First Christian, Catholic, and Lutheran). There are Christian billboards on the highways, Christian radio stations in our cars, a plethora of Christian television programs (some good, some not so much, some whose goodness is debated), Christian films, Christian music, Christian bookstores, Christian websites, Christian events—the list goes on and on. As a graphic illustration of this, consider this screen shot of a Google Map for two cities—Dallas, where we live right now, and London.  I simply searched for ‘church’, and this is the result.


I’m not making a qualitative statement about the forms of Christianity in these places. I’m simply showing us how for most Christians, too much Christianity (in a cultural sense) is the norm. We are so ‘stuffed with bread’ we cannot even imagine what hunger is like. (An analogous situation: when kids say ‘I’m starving,’ simply meaning that lunch is a half hour later than usual.)

Much of this readily available Christian culture is ‘mass’ content—radio, TV, books, films, music, websites, and so on. This stuff surrounds us rather like a ‘cloud’ (we even talk about ‘the cloud’ for storing and broadcasting and the like.) And we ‘know’ the ‘Internet’ and ‘radio’ and ‘TV’ is everywhere. The ‘Arab Spring’ revolution was ‘tweeted.’ We have Youtube videos from all over the world. We can meet people from other places on Facebook. We hear about satellite broadcasts into highly restricted places. So we think that in this day and age, everyone must have access to the Gospel.

But having a large mass of humanity with some level of access to global media doesn’t automatically correlate to everyone worldwide having access to global media–much less access to the Gospel. Here are just a few of the barriers.

1. Large portions of the Internet and Western media are blocked in many places. Although many labor to get around it, many more do not. In China, for example, much of Western and Christian media is inaccessible. Many countries in the Middle East and Western Asia control what is accessible to their citizens through control of DNS servers. This study of web blocking in Saudi Arabia is but one illustrative example.

2. Many unreached people with access to the Internet do not speak a Christian language, and so Christian media on the web is inaccessible to them. Much mass media is being done in non-Christian languages, but there’s only so many broadcast hours and so many translators, so the larger languages are the ones targeted; smaller minority languages (where many are unreached) have nothing.

3. Many with access to the Internet have very limited access. Bandwidth is precious. People use the Internet for the things of daily life, and do it through limited screens. The idea that they have time or bandwidth to wander through the Internet over all the Christian sites just isn’t realistic.

4. Access to media in some places is dangerous. Some countries block Christian websites. Some monitor where their citizens go. If posts on Facebook could get you arrested and jailed for six years, ponder what watching or downloading Christian videos could do in some places. Fear is often pervasive.

5. Mass media does not translate into a personal witness. This is perhaps the most important point: that while someone might hear the Gospel through a tract or a Youtube video or a radio broadcast, it’s a very limited form. People will have unique questions that cannot be answered through a broadcast. Disciple-making is done person-to-person, life-on-life, with someone who demonstrates how the Christian life is lived.

I’m not saying mass media hasn’t led to millions hearing the Gospel for the first time. ‘Isolated radio churches’ were one of the discoveries of the first edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, and there are hundreds of thousands in Iran whose only contact with Christianity is satellite broadcasts. Mass media does enormous good—but it is far more effective when coupled with field networks of workers who do follow-up and offer the opportunity of discipleship and training to be disciple-makers.

Still, we should not conclude the ‘Christian cloud’ reaches everyone. There are millions across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, for example, who do not have Internet access, or televisions, and may not have radios. They do not personally know a Christian and have no access to the Gospel.

We in the Christian world can stuff ourselves on Christian thinking, debate, and entertainment day in and day out. We should not make the mistake of thinking everyone in the world has access to the same amount of Christian protein-and-cotton-candy. Much of the world is malnourished spiritually—and an estimated 2 billion are starving. We have to think about what their life is like.

Here’s another Google map: this time, simply searching “churches” in northeast Africa. It’s not a perfect map (it doesn’t claim to be a pinpoint of all the churches), but it’s accurate as a representation of the situation.

Discipling households vs. individuals: a key shift

You’ve no doubt heard a proposition like one of the following:
“If each Christian won one more person each year…”
“If the church doubled in size each year…”
Or, my personal creation: if 1 person discipled 10, who each discipled 10…
1x10x10x10x10x10 = 100,000 discipled.

Of course, this rarely happens. Why not?

We can blame it on apathy; or, as Zwemer did, on the ‘wicked selfishness of Christians.’ I theorize the real reason is a little more dull, and has to do with “Dunbar’s Number,” uncovered by the psychologist Robin Dunbar. This is a theoretical mental limit on the number of people—about 150— with whom you can have a ‘stable’ social relationship.

There have been a variety of reasons suggested for why this is the case: Dunbar extrapolated it from studies of primates and correlations in brain sizes. Whether you blame it on the size of your head or the amount of time you have to spend with people (vs. work, sleep, family relationships, etc), the obvious reality is: you can only be “besties” with so many people.

Further: ‘Dunbar’s number’ is actually a series of numbers. ‘150’ are ‘casual friends’ who you might invite to a large group event. Closer to you are the ‘50’: you see them often, might have some of them over for dinner, but are not ‘best friends.’ The ‘15’: who you turn to for sympathy, confide in, seek help from. Finally, the ‘5’: close supporters, intimates, often family members. (And, more broadly: ‘500’ acquaintances, and the ‘1,500’ is your wider ‘tribe,’ for whom you can probably put a name to a face.)

If you’re going to evangelize someone (‘go over and share the Gospel with them’), they are probably somewhere between your ‘500’ and your ‘50’. But if you’re going to disciple someone—spend time with them on a semi-weekly basis, probably—they will rapidly become at least one of your ‘50’ if not one of your ‘15’.

And there is one of the costs. Ask yourself: how many people do I have regular, close, weekly, semi-daily or daily contact with? Make a list. Several names are probably family (I have a wife and four children on my daily list). There are people we work with, people we go to church with, who we hang out with, and so on.

What you will probably see: of the 5, 15, and 50 slots you have, most are already taken up by believers. One reason: most Christians live in places where Christians are the vast majority (so most of the people you naturally know are believers). Second: most Christians were born into Christian households and grew up as Christians, so most of your ‘5’ and ‘15’ were Christians before you arrived.  Third: in our regular social contacts, we prefer people like us (‘don’t smoke, chew, or run with those who do.’)

Discipling someone requires spending time with them. But if it means one of our ‘150’ becomes one of our ‘50,’ it also means we will (probably) spend less time with someone else—one of our ‘50’ will become one of our ‘150.’ We only have so much time.

Of course, maybe you already have a non-believer in your ‘50’ or ‘15’. Why not disciple them? Here’s the second issue of Dunbar’s Number for us: we can offer them the Gospel, but the challenge is their ‘5’, ‘15’ and ‘50’.

In The rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark details how the sociological process of conversion makes it more likely when “people have or develop stronger attachments to members of the [Christian] group than they have to nonmembers” (p. 18). The nonbelievers we meet will likely fall into one of three categories:

1. You and the non-believer share most of your ‘50’, ‘15’ or ‘5’: the non-believer is the hold-out of a mostly Christian group. An example might be the errant child, uncle, backslidden parent, etc. In such a case, they have already made a choice against the Gospel. Getting them to reverse it will be a challenge. If they refuse, you may have to spend less time with them in order to spend more time with another non-Christian who is hungry. We often don’t want to do this, but it is Biblical (Matthew 10:14, Acts 13:51). (And I’m not suggesting cutting off contact entirely—we’re talking about reducing total time allocation, only.)

2. You are a more distant acquaintance of a non-believer: one of his ‘150’ but his/her ‘5’, ‘15’ and ‘50’ are mostly/all non-Christians. An example is the believer who lives in the same neighborhood as a non-believer. He may see you in the morning when you head out to work, but has ‘stronger attachments to members of the non-Christian group,’ and often more material/security reasons to remain non-Christian.

3. You are relatively close: perhaps one of each other’s ‘50,’ but his ‘5’ and ‘15’ are non-Christians. An example is a believer who works in a secular company, and whose close work colleague is a non-Christian. The two meet daily at work, but the non-believer’s closest family and friends are largely non-Christian, and it is to them he or she is tied.

The most intimate connections can help determine response. Except for three (Paul himself, the Ethiopian Eunuch, and proconsul Sergius Paulus), those who came to faith in Acts did so in groups and households. (The three came to faith in the context of a miracle.) The Bible tells us frequently: ‘you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 11:14, 16:15, 16:31, 16:34, 18:8).

If one individual converts to Christianity when his ‘5’ and ‘15’ are not, he may be seen to have taken a stance against them. He is won, but at the cost of the ‘5’ and ‘15’? Is it possible by reaching out to the whole group you can avoid that choice altogether?

Accordingly, disciple-making movement thinking takes the extraordinary step of saying: As far as possible, don’t disciple the ‘1’—disciple the ‘5’ or ‘15’. Try to get the ‘Person of Peace’ (the non-Christian who is a seeker, or who is at least interested) to open their network, so the whole group hears and decides at roughly the same time. We ask: “Why don’t you bring your family over, and we’ll read some stories from the Bible together?”

This shift in thinking is one of the keys to rapid expansion in movements. If you’re interested in DMM training, email me to get connected to training opportunities.

Sola Scriptura: is the Bible alone enough?

Karl Dahlfred wrote an excellent post: “Is the Bible alone really enough for Christian life and faith?”

In it he notes those in the Protestant tradition firmly hold to the idea of Sola Scriptura–that “Scripture alone is authoritative and sufficient for teaching and leading the Christian life.” As he helpfully highlights, we generally equate this with inerrancy (authoritative). But equally important is sufficiency.

One of the key elements of Disciple Making Movement thinking is the Discovery Bible Study. This is a form of inductive group study. A very rough outline of the process of an oral DBS (you can also do a written process) is as follows:

  1. read the story through multiple times
  2. close the text and have each member of the group retell the story, with the rest of the group helping correct (this helps with accuracy & memorization) – if the group is too large you can do this in subgroups.
  3.  discuss the text using three basic questions: a) what does this tell us about God & his character; b) what does it tell us about people including ourselves; c) how will I obey God from this passage?
  4. Final question: who will I share this story with, this week?

There’s more to a DBS than just this, but these are the important points. There are certain assumptions critical to the success of a DBS. Here are a few:

  1. There is no single group leader or teacher–the whole group participates in discussing the text. (Any “leader” is simply a facilitator of the discussion, making sure everyone participates and no one dominates the conversation). The Scripture is the authority–not a teacher.
  2. Different people in different life situations will have different applications of the text; individual applications do not represent normative interpretations that must apply to everyone. Everyone has their own “I will” statement in response to the text.
  3. No “Bible study” outside of the text itself is required. The Holy Spirit is the one that teaches, opening our eyes to what the text tells us. This is infinitely scalable: if you have the written text (or an oral retelling, in the case of an orality situation), you have enough.
  4. Having a group reading the Scripture together, using a self-correcting process, significantly prevents error (if someone goes off a bit, just ask–“can you show me where you find that in the text?”–and most heresies are started by influential and charismatic single leaders cherry-picking verses, not by groups reading the text).

DBS does not mean Bible teachers are wrong or bad. We should all be learning from each other, and from others; books and published studies are ways to access the wisdom of many. I have learned much from the writings of people like C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, Beth Moore, and Tim Keller, to name just a few.

That said, the power of DBS is that it gets us into the text itself, and teaches us to listen to the revelation of God, which is profitable for application to daily life. Sola Scriptura means Scripture is all we need. Reading endless commentaries, studies, books, and hymns on 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t the point of life–the point is to live it out, and for that, we need little more than the text itself and a willingness to put it into practice on a daily basis.


The “democratization” and “amateurization” of missions

democratization. transitive v. 1) to make more democratic. 2) to make something available to all; to make it possible for all to understand.

amateurization. Coined by Clay Shirky, and defined as the process whereby the dichotomy between experts and amateurs is dissolved, creating a new category of “professional amateurs.”

expert. n. a person with special knowledge, skill, or training in something: “a computer expert.”
expert. adj. done with, having or involving great knowledge or skill: “an expert driver” or “to seek expert advice.”

professional. adj. 1. relating to or belonging to a profession. 1b. Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person (competent, skillful, assured). 2. Engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a matter.

amateur. n. 1. a person who takes part in a sport or other activity for enjoyment, not as a job. 2. a person who is not skilled (related: amateurish).

The last two decades have seen a trend in the “amateurization” of trades that recently required a professional. This has been true of web design, encyclopedia editing, photography, construction, book writing and publishing and sales, product design and marketing and sales, and even mission.

Ralph Winter was not thrilled with amateur missions. But by “amateur,” he meant the unskilled, incompetent hobbyist who doesn’t care to hone their craft.

Globalization has made “amateurization” possible. Amateurization does not mean a degradation of a trade to an amateurish level, but rather the broad dissemination of previously professional skills into the mass audience. (See Shirky’s definition at the P2P Foundation). In other words: amateurization makes it possible for the untrained to become inexpensively trained, until with knowledge and practice they rise to the level of expert.

Before, the terms “expert” and “professional” were linked, and “amateur” was one who was not.

Now, “amateurization” unlinks “expert” and “professional.” Professional now means mostly “one who is paid” (while generally implying competence). Amateur now can be linked to expert.

Last night I read “What went wrong in Flint” (about lead poisoning); in part 3 of the story, LeeAnne Walters taught herself the skills of water sampling, until she knew more than the “experts” (thus becoming an expert herself).

Another example: my wife and I have undertaken the renovation of a bathroom. This involves replacing the toilet, retiling the floors, repainting the walls, the replacement of a bathtub, and re-tiling the walls around the tub. Previously, these skills might have required a trained professional. Now, there are many Youtube videos showing us the process step by step. The only thing we needed a professional for was the plumbing required to install the tub. In that case, I wanted a licensed professional (certified by a governing authority as skilled) so I would know absolutely it was done right. (You don’t want water leaking behind the walls.) I didn’t have access to that knowledge. The rest of it, I could easily learn and do.

Today, it is easy to move into a missionary context. We don’t need the logistical support of an agency or a church. We can get a passport, an airline ticket, a job overseas, and the other things needed to put ourselves in a cross-cultural setting. (People do this all the time; my wife and I occasionally watch “Househunters International” which shows case studies of people moving to other settings for a variety of reasons.) Location does not make you on expert missionary.

Today, it is easier to get the basic skills of a missionary – for example, language acquisition, culture acquisition, spiritual mapping, prayer, sharing Gospel stories, common challenges of communicating to specific religions, ways to communicate with folks back home, etc) are all very easily available (books, personal conversations, workshops, etc). Knowledge does not make you an expert missionary.

However, as location and skills become easier, many have been considering the implications of amateurization (as we define it here). Churches don’t always think they need the agency to send missionaries. And individual missionaries don’t always think they need anyone to send them at all.

There can be some bad things in that, but there’s also some good. We need to keep a few things in mind.

1. More cross-cultural evangelistic contact from Christians to non-Christians is always good, and if we can help people do it better, that’s a very good thing. I’m all for the “amateurization of skills” represented in things like Tradecraft and courses like Perspectives.

2. For the “hobbyist missionary” to become a “professional amateur,” they need more than access to a mission context and skills. They need an environment that encourages them to practice the skills, learning and improving. I can watch all the videos I want about how to tile a tub; but if I never pick up a tile and stick it on the wall, what difference does it make? We must encourage people to hone their craft–to do it and get better at doing it.

3. There will always be a need for a licensed, certified, highly-trained professional: doctors, plumbers, electricians, construction foremen, missionaries. The professional is someone who does it full time, who is constantly learning, constantly updating knowledge, and available for work and consultation.

4. There can be a very powerful synergy between the professional, full-time, long-term worker and the “professional amateur” that can push forward the advance of the Gospel. When we had our bathtub installed, the plumber was very generous with his advice and knowledge, suggesting things to me that would help get the job done. The professional missionary will often have a more strategic view (largely because they’ve been involved longer, and see/know more), and can help the “pro-am” missionary know where to push forward.

5. Agencies and Churches: there are many thoughts about “who should send” and “who should do what” in sending, and I’m not going to get into that here. I believe there’s a role for agencies just as much as there is a role for churches (and the role varies depending on the specific agency and the specific church). I’ve seen churches do missions very amateurishly; I’ve seen churches that have a long-term strategic “professional” role in specific countries and peoples. (And the same for agencies, for that matter.)

Amateurization simply means expert skills are available to a larger body of people in ways that are not prohibitively expensive to obtain. It does not automatically make amateurs into experts. Putting a “professional” camera into the hands of an “amateurish” picture taker means the pictures might be marginally better in technical quality (thanks to the assistance of the tech) but still won’t have the quality of an experienced photographer (who understands not just the camera but how to use it as a tool). The missionary who wishes to be an expert will have to avail themselves of both learning, mentoring and practice.

Anyone can be an expert missionary, even if they aren’t a paid professional missionary.
But not everyone automatically is, just because more missionary skills are being amateurized.
The mark of maturity is the willingness to experiment, listen, learn, and persevere!

Movements: the important power to seep

seep. v. 1) to pass, flow or ooze gradually through a porous surface. 2) to enter or be introduced at slow pace. 3) to become diffused; permeate.

There are two approaches to evangelizing a large group of people.

One: reach them all at once. If it’s a large group, this is a lot of work, and may be impossible.

The other: a movement which grows slowly at first, then all at once–exponentially, unstoppably. Doubling, then doubling again, and then again.

(Why doubling is important.)

Movements are flashy because at some point they see large numbers.

(Usually because they’ve doubled enough times that the next double is big enough to show up on some blogger or journalist or politician or fundamentalist group’s radar.)

Movements are important because of their power to sustain themselves, seeping bit by bit into a population.

(Large numbers seem important until viewed as a percentage of the population. 10 million in a movement is only 5% of an overall 200 million population.)

Movements are important not because of how many times they’ve doubled – or how fast – but because they can do it again.

Consider the difference between a political campaign and Facebook as a rough analogy.

In a political campaign, you build toward a specific event – for example, a nominating convention or an election. You work hard, you have fundraising events and public speeches, you buy advertising, you try to get people to vote for your candidate. Each event the candidate is at (like a speech) happens once, and you try to maximize exposure. Each event is once-and-done. Finally, there is the vote. In spite of all the effort, in most elections only a small percentage of the people actually vote–and they can’t vote the day after. Once the election is over, it’s finished–until the next round, often years later.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a viral movement. You can decide to join Facebook today; and if you don’t today, you might tomorrow, or the next day. There’s no point at which you can’t join. It’s been around for years. It will be around for years. The same goes for “friending” someone on Facebook–if you see my post today, you might “friend” me so you can follow more posts. But if you don’t today, you might tomorrow. There’s lots of chances. And the more of my friends join Facebook, the more chances I’ll have to join as well – and with each chance, I’ll be progressively more likely to say “yes.”

Politics is flashy because of elections. Facebook is important because the day after the election, people are becoming part of Facebook – and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. Facebook is important because it is sustained. Generations will “grow up” using it. It has slowly seeped into our society and world–until over a billion people use it, now making up a quarter of our world.

We sometimes equate a “movement to Christ” with a quick, rushing, sudden revival in which thousands upon thousands “overnight” become believers. That’s the flashiness of an election.

But movements we’ve studied are rarely like that. They are slow to start. They seep. It’s not just about how fast people come in, but whether they keep coming in: disciples making disciples who make disciples – as much in sustainability as it is in speed.

So, yes, we measure movements by whether they can get to 4 generations in a limited set of time – say, 18 months. This is a measure of speed.

But we also measure movements by whether they can do this consistently. If they can’t, the movement has stalled or worse, fizzled.

Don’t worry too much about building for speed (except to not put anything in the way of it). Build for sustainability – make it more and more possible for each disciple to make disciples – and speed will not only take care of itself, but given enough time, the movement will transform the population.

Closure: don’t rush it

The concept of “Closure” (finishing the task) has gotten quite a bit of attention from me. Today, it’s going to get some more. “Closure Conundrums” is a quick index to everything I’ve written on the subject.

Trying to finish the Great Commission “impossibly fast” can lead to failure and abandonment of the project altogether. What is “impossibly fast”?

Let’s think about the idea of “closure” (e.g. the task is finished) at three levels.

First is the “micro” level – me and my house. “Closure” is complete when everyone in my house has ready access to the Gospel. Generally, if I’m a believer, you could say the house has reached closure because they have me. Obviously there are some households where someone is a secret believer, so we might argue about whether the others actually have access to the Gospel. Most conservatively, let’s say that if I’m an open believer, the house has reached closure.

Next, there’s my neighborhood – the immediate web of relationships around my household. This could include people who live in the same area, people I work with, people I buy goods from, people who regularly come to provide services. How long would closure take with these people? If I’m an open witness, we could estimate anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a year. (This doesn’t mean they would all become believers: finishing the task does not mean everyone will believe.)

Third, there’s the wider area around me. This might include 2nd and 3rd order social connections – perhaps as much as my town or community. My own city of Garland, Texas has a population of about 250,000. By my research (see “a task too big for loners” as an example), this requires at least 2 movement strategy teams, and perhaps as many as 20 to 30 local worker teams (each with ministries covering about 10,000 people!).

This third level of closure requires another order of magnitude of responsibility, thinking, planning, and strategy than either the household or the neighborhood. While my neighborhood might take a year for me to individually reach, this third level requires time to identify the Strategy Teams, and then time to identify, recruit and train the Local Teams, and then time for those Local Worker Teams to implement whatever strategy (perhaps 10 local houses each covering 1,000 people…) to reach “closure.”

It’s no wonder when considering the third level of closure that planning and execution could take up to 2 to 5 years before any significant movement is seen. It takes time to recruit the workers, not just to evangelize the lost. It takes even more time to disciple converts. (“Not being able to capitalize on widest exposure is the illest of omens”–read this examination of the Peach social network, which this analyst feels is dead, and see the lessons for movements).

If we try to rush an evangelistic program and “mass evangelize” 200,000, we’ll probably have to use “brute force” industrial methods. These will not result in an organic movement capable of seeping into the total audience, nor an organically-grown church capable of reaching the next generation. At best, they will result in some converts and simply have to be repeated in a few years time when the next generation is older. At worst, they will be ignored as easily as advertising.

When people try to rush the task, and we don’t give enough time to put in place the kind of resources necessary to reach 100,000 or more people, early failures will lead to discouragement and quitting. All sorts of reasons are given. But the simple fact of the matter is, as parents tell their children everywhere: effectively doing a job means taking the time to do it right. Jesus took time to train his disciples – at least one and maybe two before sending them out the first time. Why should we think it won’t take time for us?