Doing Things Differently

09 Sep 2022

Doing things differently

Sep 9

In many countries, movements are not significantly larger than traditional denominations, nor are they large percentages of the country’s population. But they are significant because they are getting into the unreached portions of the population.

In East Africa, for example, movements make up a little less than 1% of the population (and a little more than 1% of the Christians in the region). But the movements themselves are largely focused on the much less-populous unreached portions of the region, and so are making a very big difference indeed.

This is due in large part to the “origin story” of most movements. Every movement “founder” (I use this term loosely) that I have talked to is (1) a “local” – e.g. is local to the region where the movement is, (2) was a mature believer and typically a pastor or church planter of some kind, (3) was passionate about the unreached in their region, (4) tried lots of things, none of which made a significant difference, (5) had a “dark night of the soul” (“give me Scotland or I die”), (6) intersected someone who thought about things in movement terms, (7) “that can’t work here”—“but I’m desperate so I’ll try something”, (8) found out that “it does work here”, (9) saw rapid expansion.

This spiritual formation process leads to a result whereby they do things very differently from traditional churches. There are three things you can change–potential scalability blockers, if you will–if you want to get a different result:

(1) what is done – if the church meets in buildings, you meet in houses. If the church invites people to meetings, then you invert and go out among the lost. If the church has a sermon, you have no sermon. If the church goes off the rails due to personality teaching, then you reduce the presence of the personalities – the “leader” becomes a “host” who facilitates people reading Scripture. And so on. (I believe with movements these are God-directed changes.)

(2) how much you do—“more is different at 10x.” If you go out among the lost for thirty minutes, you could have a very different result from spending four hours talking to people. If you pray for people for five minutes, you could have a different result (from spiritual formation alone) if you pray for an hour or two hours. Changing the amount of what we do requires we do less of the things we have done, and the shift can get very different results.

(3) where you do it—in a recent interview, a movement practitioner told me “if you’re doing all the movement things and not getting results, you may not have a practice problem, you may have a location problem.” We don’t know all the spiritual dynamics at work—we can’t see into that world—but Jesus did tell us some people wouldn’t be receptive and we should move on. Especially, doing movement things amongst traditional Christians often doesn’t seem to work well, but doing them among spiritually hungry non-Christians does seem to bear quite a lot of fruit. And so movement practitioners, following their own pre-movement bent, usually focus their efforts among the lost and especially the unreached.

One thing I have been reminded of recently: if a founder isn’t passionate about the lost–isn’t desperate to see fruit among them–they aren’t likely to have a dark night of the soul. And if they haven’t reached a point where they say to God, “do whatever you must—kill whatever you must in me so that you can use me in some way, however small, so that more of these people might be reached” – if they haven’t reached that point, they won’t be able to cast off the ‘best practices’ they’ve done in the past, some of which are preventing the wide spreading of the Gospel.

When you do cast off what isn’t working, and try something that might, and the results look very different from currently mainstream Christianity—well, it’s no surprise many mainstream Christian leaders might look at both the processes and results, and flinch. They might decry the fruit that come from processes as very different from what they are familiar with. But it’s as if apple forests are looking at orange trees and saying, “those aren’t apples.” Well, no, they aren’t. But they are fruit.