May 21, 2019

How to finish the task in 10 easy steps

I confess, the title is something of a joke. I wrote it, however, to make a point. Getting to ‘closure’ or ‘finishing the task’ can appear to be an almost impossible job. There are over 7 billion people in the world, more than 4 billion of those are non-believers, and over 2 billion of them having no access to the Gospel. Breaking the task into chunks can make the task more manageable.

The numbers are huge, but the individual people are found in individual population segments. If we use a fairly simple multiplying strategy, 8 generations of church planting would be enough to ‘reach’ a population segment by the standard definition, and 10 generations would thoroughly disciple it.

Let’s do some math:

  • Assume the world is broken down into 100,000 population segments. You can divide any million-person population into 100,000 segments. Of course, they aren’t divided that cleanly geographically—there are, for instance, more people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where I live than in many states in America. However, once you get down to the ‘district’ level (one below provinces/states), often district populations are measured in terms of hundreds of thousands. My ‘city’ within the DFW area is 250,000 or so.
  • Assume each discipling leader mentors a group of 6 people. This is fairly conservative; of the 900+ movements we track around the world, the average group size is 15. I use six here because in many highly-restricted places, groups will average 5 to 6 due to security issues. These figures should work most anywhere.
  • Assume, of the six the discipler is mentoring, three go on to gather groups of 6 themselves. Again, in our experience, this is fairly common. In restricted-access areas with smaller groups, more people become disciplers with groups (because they have a higher commitment due to the security issues); in less-restricted areas, 3 out of 15 in a group isn’t uncommon.
  • Now, wash-rinse-repeat. Each leader of six in turn mentors three who gather groups of six, and so on.
  • You’ll get a chart roughly like the following. I’ve attached some years to this as general mile markers. Many places are seeing growth far faster than this.
Generation Year Leaders Adherents
1 1 1 6
2 2 3 18
3 4 9 54
4 8 27 162
5 10 81 486
6 12 243 1,458
7 14 729 4,374
8 16 2,187 13,122
9 18 6,561 39,366
10 20 19,683 118,098

Most ‘movements’ are considered ‘movements’ when they reach 4th generations in multiple streams, and sustainably add more generations within a relatively short period of time. Because of this definition, many movements use ‘circle’ diagrams (often on pages) to track 4 generations at a time: in a sense, for one person to both know their ‘grandparent’ and their ‘grandchildren’ (Really, 5 generations.)

Three generations of such diagrams (e.g. 3 cycles of 4 generations each) in which leaders each lead groups of 6 would (as the chart shows) easily exceed 100,000. This would be a substantial portion (and often bigger than) any given individual district.

Ten to twelve generations of leaders mentoring three leaders would serve to engage a population that ranges from 100,000 to perhaps 250,000 (and any network that gets to ten generations in this sense, can carry on to 12 to 15 generations, as required, for larger population districts). While not formalized as a strategy, this process is already being functionally used in some movements. How do we get from here to finishing the task more broadly?

The simple answer is in the last article: sending same and near-culture workers from this movement to neighbor district(s). Once there, they start another 10-Gen cycle. The question is, when (how quickly) can a multigenerational movement like this one ‘send out’?

If they have to wait until Generation 10 and it takes 20 years to get there, we are a long way indeed from finishing the task. On the other hand, if any ten-generation cycle begins sending out workers at, say, generation 4 or 5, and it takes months-not-years to get through each generation, then the rapid engagement of whole provinces, countries, and regions can be had within one twenty year cycle.

To summarize, here are three challenges that need to be engaged:

  1. We need to think less about ‘how many generations down’ and think more about ‘is each generation going as wide as possible?’ To fully spread out and engage a population, it’s not enough to go A->B->C->D and so on to 19 generations unlessyou are going ‘wide’ (Generation A mentors 3 Bs, who mentor 9Cs, who mentor 27Ds, etc). If a movement has one stream that goes deep and three streams that are ‘sterile’ or who have only a few ‘children’ who never reproduce, it will not become a significant percentage of an area. At the same time, it doesn’t mean each individual leader has to mentor tensor hundreds. If each leader mentors, say, six, three of whom mentor six, a movement can multiply rapidly.
  2. We need to think about how we speed up the next generation at each turn (e.g. months not years for leaders to begin mentoring their own ‘3’). By keeping all leaders in coaching relationships with each other, spiritual maturity can be further grown over time. I didn’t wait until I knew everything I know now (at 50) to have children. Walking the path together from an early stage is better than waiting to walk at all.
  3. We need to intentionally speed up the sending of leaders to nearby unengaged areas (the next district over). Again, if believers in District A wait until they have reached 100% of the people in District A before sending to District B, the whole world will end up waiting forever.