Control vs. Empowerment Structures

While talking with a CPM practitioner today, I was struck by something he said that crystallized something I’ve heard and seen many times.

There are two kinds of organizational systems which can be created: systems that control, and systems that empower.

We create controlling systems largely out of our fears. These systems say, “Wait, let’s think about this.” There are things in life that can go wrong – sometimes mildly wrong, sometimes horribly and tragically wrong, sometimes fatally wrong, sometimes eternally wrong. We want to prevent this, so we create structures of prevention and control.

  • We provide controls on the flow of finances to prevent misappropriation and criminal activity.
  • We provide border guards, stations, and processes to prevent the “bad guys” from getting in.
  • We provide education, laws, and police to prevent bad driving and accidents on the road.
  • We put in place controls of who can teach in positions of theological authority because we’re afraid of heresy and wrong belief.
  • We put in place controls over medicines–especially potentially fatal or addictive drugs–because we’re afraid they’ll be used wrongly or abusively.
  • We provide different levels of management, from supervisors to middle management to executive decisions to boards of directors, to prevent bad corporate decision-making.

Controlling structures are, by definition, intended to constrict possible forms of action and to literally slow things down so that bad decisions aren’t made reflexively.

Controls are about the things we must do but we might do wrong.

The problem with controlling structures in the church: it tends to reinforce the idea that without proper training and authorization, we should not be evangelizing or making disciples. We want to prevent bad disciplemaking, but controlling structures do not naturally encourage good disciple-making. Controlling structures say “no, unless..”

Empowering systems, on the other hand, encourage our passions. They say, “Yes, and…!” There are things in life that can go right – sometimes wildly right, sometimes fantastically and eternally right, with thousands coming to faith. We want to encourage that, so we create systems to lift up, encourage, fuel, catalyze, power. Yes, you should share your faith, and if you will let us, we can help you do it better.

  • We encourage you to speak up and tell people what God has done for you.
  • We encourage you to ask people how you can pray for them.
  • We provide training to help you better share your faith and to make disciples, which we are all commissioned and commanded to do.

Empowering structures are intended to speed things up – to make things better in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness – we say “yes” to the things we should do and we do them well.

Yes, there are times we need control structures in the church. But if controls outnumber empowering structures – structures that intentionally lift up, encourage, and improve activity – then we will have a problem, and that problem will demonstrate itself through very slow growth, stagnation, and decline.

Small Spaces and Security

One of the things to bear in mind when sharing stories is: the smaller the space, the more sensitive to security it will be.

It’s easy to say “India [or China or Indonesia or similar places] are engaged by missionaries.” These are huge population zones, and saying this gives little away that isn’t already obvious.

It’s really not too bad to say this about very large provinces (e.g. places with, say, populations of 10 million or more).

But if we were to say this about a very small population area – for example, with populations in the range of 1,000 to even 100,000 – it could be far more problematic.

Saying such things about such places could result in punitive action by either governments or mobs. There have been cases where people posted stories on Facebook or Twitter, which were then seen by people living in those places and resulted in mob action. (There are people on social media who are running active searches for their people group or their place; I have had to block people on Twitter so that I don’t show up in their searches.)

I have also seen news articles in secular press–even recently–about Christian efforts in very restricted spaces. We need to be thoughtful and careful about sharing with the press, and even resharing even these already-public posts. It is a fine line to walk.

Being an active advocate for a people group or a place requires us to be thoughtful about how we share and who with. Mobilization does not necessarily require us to share all that we know, all the time, in all venues.

Surveillance in China

One of the big issues facing the church and work in China is its growing capacity for surveillance. We have been concerned for a long time about China’s capacity for hacking into personal emails and access to our phones, as with the developing capacity of the Great Firewall to block information (which the current generation is “learning to live with“), but this is by far the least of our worries today and over the next twenty years.

China has used Xinjiang as a testing ground for the development of AI-empowered surveillance. It has the ability to pick out faces in a crowd, identify them, follow them, and see who they associate with. (These associates, in turn, can be followed, in a widening network of interpersonal connections.) This surveillance technology is probably at it its maximum in Xinjiang but is being rolled out steadily nationwide. While we don’t know the exact limits of their abilities, the technology for reading lips and  for isolating voices in a crowd exists, so it is possible that conversations can likewise be recorded. China is certainly moving that way: to a database of voices with surveillance implications. Facial recognition is used for routine things ranging from paying for products to tracking student attudenace at school to determining how much toilet paper you should get.

The intersection of surveillance with China’s new national Social Credit System is nearly of apocryphal proportions: the SCS determines access to transportation, markets, jobs, education, etc., and can be affected by who you associate with, your Party standing, etc. This will regulate society and can be an effective jailer: if you hang out too much with foreigners, your SCS might be reduced, and you might no longer have access to planes, trains, taxis, or the subway system. China doesn’t have to send you to prison camp; it can imprison you in a certain section of life and keep you from affecting other areas of life. This could hamper movements.

Trying to get around these systems will be impossible and illegal. Already VPNs are generally outlawed, and you can get in trouble for accessing them or selling them (companies have some wiggle room, but not much). Surveillance cannot be avoided with all-pervasive cameras. It can penetrate things like hats and scarves.  It’s monitoring the movements of cars.

China is complimenting surveillance and the SCS with a grid system of surveillance (neighbors reporting on neighbors) rolling out nationwide and with an inexorable move to a cashless society (where all transactions can be monitored). The three of these approaches are leading not to new laws, but to better enforcement of existing laws and tightening controls on churches, which can be stifling. (The Communist Party of today in China is, notably, not about governance, but about control of governance.) And even if you are not in China, you will still be subject to its influence. Through the impact of Chinese media abroad and through government departments that follow Chinese nationals (also FP and Chinoresie), control is exerted. It’s not limited to Chinese citizens: foreign companies that want to do business with China are likewise coming under its influence, to the extent of determining which business systems they use (ones that China has access to), the business decisions they make, and who they hire and fire. And an even more ominous shadow: the control of the Party, the technologies used, and the methodologies will leak into Africa (where China is influencing everything from development to wars to peacemaking to elections) and other places touched by the Belt & Road initiative (“building the post-Western world“). China’s pattern is welcomed by would-be authoritarians and despots, and the pattern/technology is being implemented even in some free countries (not necessarily with direct links to China, but once the pattern is there, the tech will be welcomed). Some free countries will welcome it and spin it as “tracking citizens will help make a city better.” And China is also demanding information about people in other countries from those national governments.

None of this will make life easy on the church, or for the spread of the Gospel: we think a lot about things like “Back to Jerusalem” and China missionaries, but I’m a little surprised that this piece on Han mission work among ethnic minorities doesn’t mention the challenge of these issues. China is already cracking down on would-be mission efforts to other nations. And I have reports of both foreigners and nationals working amongst various groups in China who have been identified on surveillance; the nationals have been detained for questioning and the foreigners have been forced out (or not had their visas renewed).

Still, I don’t believe the darkest days of the church are behind it. The church has thrived in many places of overt persecution; in fact, persecution in China has already been shown to strengthen the church. Let us watch these trends with discerning but courageous eyes.

Sharing stories: security vs. fear vs. pride

One of the key ways to mobilize for missions is to tell stories. When missionaries come back from the field and work on mobilizing more workers, they tell stories about their time in the field. When agencies want to report on how they are doing, both from the perspective of mobilizing new recruits and fundraising, they tell stories and testimonies. When we look back at missionary newsletters, reports, and missionary biographies, they are mostly stories.

I do a lot of research & documentation, and one of the big problems I face is security. People are hesitant to tell me what’s happening on the field because they don’t want it to get out. The stories can, in many cases, damage what’s happening on the field: the government or radicals can read the stories and then crack down on the work. While we hear some amazing things, the true extent of “amazing” isn’t known to most people. (I’ve gotten to the point where I assume I don’t know the “majority of amazing” in most fields: therefore, I assume that, for any given field, something is happening even though I don’t know it, can’t see it, and may never hear it.)

It’s hard to know when the fear is justified and when it’s overblown. I can only trust the people in the field. Worse, I often get conflicting thoughts about those fears and security issues. It’s a bit of a landmine field for personal relationships, and we must walk it with care.

On the other hand, even when I can share the stories, pride can be an equal danger. Pride rears its head when (a) we want to be seen as the one “in the know”; (b) we want to be associated with the greatness of the story; (c) we want to take some level of credit for the story. Just because I can tell the story, doesn’t always mean I should tell the story.

We need to acknowledge not every story needs to be told. For many stories, I encourage the person I hear it from, pray with them, and “roll the statistics up” into regional and global totals.

We who live in more open societies, with fewer risks, need to be careful about retelling stories we hear on the field. We can be in a rush to retell something “really great” – without hearing the concerns of the field or considering the temptations involved in doing so.

Why movements succeed

Why do movements succeed? The way I’ve seen trainings done, they rely on Biblical principles. But every movement is different, and while principles are generally the same tactical implementation is nearly always different. At bottom it’s not because there is some kind of ritualistic or legalistic implementation of a formula. Instead, movement success boils down to this:

  1. They use prayer and abundant seed sowing to find spiritually hungry people
  2. They feed their hunger, bringing them to Jesus
  3. They help new believers discover how to live out faith in an uncomplicated, authentic and sustainable way
  4. They disciple these believers to become abundant sharers as well, seeking more spiritually hungry people
This works simply by upping the % of a movement that is sharing (not everyone will share, but in most denominations very few share at all). A professional clergy often gets locked into serving existing believers and the church turns inward and fails to attract new members faster than the population around it grows. Marginalized it turns defensively further in, hardening barriers and producing a downward spiral. Abundant sharing and teaching people to share keeps the view of the network pointed outward.

Is USA’s Millennial (Gen-Z) generation post-Christian?

In January Barna released a study which claimed “Generation Z” (born 1999-2015) is the first “post-Christian” generation. “More than any other generation before them, Gen Z does not assert a religious identity.”

The data then goes on to say 14% of GenZ is atheist, 13% is agnostic, 42% Christian (non-Catholic) and 17% Catholic (thus 59% Christian). One wonders how this can possibly be post-Christian.

A 2010 study from Pew notes the progressively less religiously affiliated nature of the generations.

But an important caveat is included in the Pew study:

Yet in other ways, Millennials remain fairly traditional in their religious beliefs and practices. Pew Research Center surveys show, for instance, that young adults’ beliefs about life after death and the existence of heaven, hell and miracles closely resemble the beliefs of older people today. Though young adults pray less often than their elders do today, the number of young adults who say they pray every day rivals the portion of young people who said the same in prior decades. And though belief in God is lower among young adults than among older adults, Millennials say they believe in God with absolute certainty at rates similar to those seen among Gen Xers a decade ago. This suggests that some of the religious differences between younger and older Americans today are not entirely generational but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age.

In other words, just because young people say they are non-religious today, doesn’t mean they will always. It could be the Barna data is a function of their current age.

And there are other reasons for the change: it’s likely not a change in the number who actually attend church, but rather a change in how those who are non-church-attenders talk about their lack of attendance. See this, and this with data from Rodney Stark (with chart back to 1974), about how the % attending weekly church services hasn’t changed.

Also look at this “40-year-study that shows us what’s different about GenZ” – but again, don’t expect these things to be fixed in cement. Generations change.


First, Multiply

I suggest that the emphasis of the “first team” to engage an unreached people group should not be to be a witness, evangelist or church planter. Instead, early efforts should focus on catalyzing leaders with large, strategic visions for the whole of the group, and a preference for multiplication and mobilization of additional leaders.

Consider: a single team deployed among 10 million people obviously cannot reach the whole group on their own. Additional teams are needed. Consider also that, in every successful CPM/DMM analyzed, there was an outsider paired with an insider – the outsider catalyzed and assisted, encouraged, served, connected, etc. the work of the cultural insider. (Side note: I’m not talking about insider movements, but rather E-scale outsider/insider.)

Example stages:

  1. A single team engages 10 million people.
  2. The team catalyzes a local worker. Insiders are now 1 to 10 million.
  3. With encouragement the local raises up an additional 10 workers. Insiders are now 1 to 1 million.
  4. These 10 workers, probably geographically/ethnographically distributed, now work on raising up 10 teams each. Insider teams are now 1 to 100,000 – which is doable. Disciple-making and church-gathering should clearly have begun at this stage.
  5. These 100 teams/church networks will raise up DBS/house-church planting style groups. 10 each brings insider teams to 1 per 10,000. That level of penetration is equivalent to a lot of Christianized places. (What I’m describing here is more a leadership movement, but might involve churches already started – this is now 4th generation of leaders). The benefit here is that these teams will be geographically distributed with a DMM-oriented plan.
  6. One more 10X multiplication would get you to 1 per 1,000, or at least 1 per village.

I would guess “reached” threshold would clearly be found at stage 5 or 6 above. The job wouldn’t be done, but it would be sustainable.

The point I’m making here: at the earliest stages, most workers should likely be focused on raising up the insider leaders and developing a multiplying strategy. Remember, just six 10X multiplications is enough to reach nearly any people group. Teams should therefore focus on how to 10X at each stage.

I’m not saying this is easy! But one thing we have to keep in mind is that multiplying is hard. When the multiplication is 2X (“each one win one”) progress will be slower than if the multiplication is 3X, 5X or 10X at the same rate.

(Another way to think of the above: as stages or thresholds of progress at each stage.)

Projecting Cluster Populations to 2050

Joshua Project organizes People Groups into Clusters. Whereas there are thousands of people groups, there are only about 255 clusters. These clusters of groups are related to each other, and generally fall into one of three categories: a cluster that’s nearly all one group (e.g. Koreans), a group with a very large majority group and a few small minority groups (e.g. Turkic), and a cluster that’s made up of lots of small groups somewhat related to each other.

For each cluster, I calculated the portion of the population of that cluster’s constituent groups in each of the various UN regions. I then grabbed the UN region’s population in 2025 and 2050, and calculated what the Cluster’s population would be if it’s percentage of the region remained the same (this is a big assumption, but it’s a doable initial one). This helps us to see which clusters generally get bigger or remain the same or smaller, based on fluctuations in regional populations.

The result, for the least-reached clusters, is the following. It’s interesting to see where the remaining task could get bigger, and where it might even shrink.

PeopleCluster LR TOTAL 2015 TOTAL 2025 TOTAL 2050
Aceh of Sumatra Y 4,346,000 4,805,146 6,050,321
Afar Y 3,136,000 4,134,919 9,309,380
Aimaq Y 1,643,000 1,839,059 2,402,812
Altaic Y 398,330 411,338 399,688
Arab, Arabian Y 25,841,900 30,393,189 46,764,611
Arab, Hassaniya Y 5,750,800 7,257,711 15,490,037
Arab, Libyan Y 4,380,600 5,200,611 8,350,225
Arab, Maghreb Y 70,293,300 83,087,648 132,186,860
Arab, Shuwa Y 4,471,000 5,858,573 13,390,174
Arab, Sudan Y 35,004,100 41,683,948 67,637,840
Arab, Yemeni Y 25,211,200 29,762,355 46,253,815
Assamese Y 5,116,300 5,726,827 7,482,354
Atlantic-Wolof Y 6,776,900 8,731,480 19,778,683
Azerbaijani Y 31,378,500 35,762,555 49,867,141
Bali-Sasak Y 8,619,700 9,530,353 11,999,990
Baloch Y 13,971,800 15,712,798 20,872,556
Banjar of Kalimantan Y 5,550,000 6,136,346 7,726,480
Bedouin, Arabian Y 20,639,800 24,328,199 37,570,507
Bedouin, Saharan Y 3,551,100 4,218,334 6,778,349
Beja Y 3,763,000 4,502,722 7,445,270
Bengali Y 349,886,480 391,599,171 511,579,642
Berber-Saharan Y 1,000,800 1,189,768 1,921,837
Berber-Kabyle Y 6,552,300 7,663,757 11,866,540
Berber-Riff Y 1,867,100 2,173,351 3,325,333
Berber-Shawiya Y 2,495,500 2,920,232 4,530,504
Bhil Y 20,507,300 22,954,431 29,990,984
Bhojpur-Maithili Y 13,070,500 14,630,200 19,115,005
Bhutanese Y 633,900 706,040 907,605
Bouyei Y 3,202,000 3,336,271 3,303,882
Bugi-Makassar of Sulawesi Y 11,101,600 12,274,460 15,455,188
Burmese Y 36,093,800 39,907,763 50,262,093
Kanuri-Saharan Y 11,021,400 14,295,126 32,530,536
Chinese-Hui Y 14,590,700 15,207,445 15,074,497
Filipino, Muslim Y 5,243,000 5,796,912 7,299,088
Fulani / Fulbe Y 39,826,400 51,778,450 119,435,539
Gond Y 20,707,400 23,178,409 30,283,621
Gorontalo of Sulawesi Y 1,211,600 1,339,603 1,686,739
Guera-Naba of Chad Y 494,700 673,789 1,702,765
Gujarati Y 60,034,900 67,457,391 89,882,151
Hausa Y 44,084,800 57,165,245 131,175,276
Hindi Y 368,513,000 412,492,911 539,090,967
Japanese Y 127,116,700 132,383,933 130,985,726
Jat Y 72,051,100 80,648,941 105,371,422
Jews Y 14,763,810 16,445,214 22,236,993
Kannada Y 32,449,800 36,320,918 47,450,738
Kashmiri Y 10,301,190 11,530,373 15,064,710
Kazakh Y 15,440,200 17,581,824 23,474,661
Kyrgyz Y 4,865,900 5,606,273 7,707,921
Kurd Y 35,525,900 41,262,526 61,080,972
Lampung of Sumatra Y 1,755,000 1,940,412 2,443,238
Lao Y 3,782,200 4,172,441 5,240,330
Li Y 1,897,000 1,973,886 1,942,305
Madura of Java Y 7,678,000 8,489,164 10,688,994
Maldivian Y 416,100 465,753 608,527
Malinke Y 11,083,800 14,342,111 32,770,508
Malinke-Bambara Y 6,143,700 7,926,202 17,995,310
Malinke-Jula Y 2,385,400 3,090,072 7,077,356
Marathi-Konkani Y 65,703,200 73,562,646 96,239,510
Melayu of Sumatra Y 6,497,660 7,184,124 9,045,774
Minangkabau-Rejang of Sumatra Y 7,613,000 8,417,297 10,598,504
Mongolian Y 12,058,300 12,508,836 12,254,652
Musi of Sumatra Y 4,548,000 5,028,487 6,331,537
Nepali-Pahari Y 14,583,100 16,321,105 21,329,696
Nosu Y 3,246,000 3,377,561 3,323,522
Nubian Y 2,708,070 3,228,471 5,263,967
Nuristan Y 350,900 392,773 513,175
Ogan of Sumatra Y 562,000 621,374 782,393
Oriya Y 18,235,700 20,410,037 26,660,116
South Asian, other Y 26,393,730 29,492,319 39,288,801
Ouaddai-Fur Y 3,982,100 5,032,096 10,256,077
Parsee Y 161,200 178,605 228,687
Pasemah of Sumatra Y 1,667,000 1,843,115 2,320,728
Pashtun Y 51,767,700 57,966,715 75,878,654
Persian Y 55,075,300 61,741,642 81,215,549
Punjabi Y 96,734,080 108,324,807 141,898,235
Rajasthan Y 24,943,160 27,906,864 36,436,671
South Himalaya Y 6,317,740 7,071,160 9,236,822
Shan Y 4,748,800 5,250,838 6,612,793
Sindhi Y 15,854,300 17,775,839 23,413,881
Somali Y 23,521,100 30,750,306 67,775,039
Songhai Y 6,475,400 8,390,981 19,230,323
Soninke Y 3,055,900 3,948,208 8,991,717
Sunda-Betawi of Java Y 44,564,000 49,272,092 62,040,158
Susu Y 1,716,600 2,224,584 5,099,561
Tai Y 8,308,700 8,908,095 10,001,348
Kadai Y 118,100 124,391 129,428
Tajik Y 9,269,900 10,709,178 14,845,388
Talysh Y 923,900 1,038,205 1,376,015
Telugu Y 62,350,990 69,813,114 91,337,204
Thai Y 55,184,900 60,991,902 76,744,746
Tibetan Y 6,381,180 6,667,037 6,686,514
Tuareg Y 3,397,100 4,371,184 9,802,974
Tukangbesi of Sulawesi Y 1,233,580 1,363,905 1,717,339
Turkish Y 60,819,300 71,042,767 107,354,809
Turkmen Y 8,046,100 9,235,549 12,734,284
Urdu Muslim Y 45,165,900 50,555,536 66,053,053
Uyghur Y 15,590,100 16,553,146 17,785,355
Uzbek Y 30,707,800 35,483,588 49,253,763
Yao-Mien Y 6,266,000 6,567,294 6,686,304
Zhuang Y 19,437,500 20,442,178 21,128,517
Unclassified Y 3,200 3,440 4,099
Luri-Bakhtiari Y 5,445,000 6,101,689 8,004,653
Bantu, Swahili Y 5,902,500 7,654,689 16,568,128
Banjara Y 7,694,000 8,612,123 11,252,121
Domari Y 3,679,700 4,274,762 6,387,264
Bania Y 44,371,300 49,666,117 64,890,987
Brahmin Y 94,997,500 106,333,530 138,929,477
Rajput Y 90,704,600 101,528,359 132,651,308

Levels of mission involvement

When we use the term “mission,” what kinds of things can we be referring to? People who “Go on missions” or who “do mission” often are doing one of the following. I think it’s helpful to have some broad categories:

1. Serving the local church. Typically short term or recurring short term trips of service to the Christian community,things like medical trips, children’s ministry, building construction, legal or financial services, vocational training, etc.

2. Serving the local (Christian+secular) community. Some variant of the first option aimed at the broader community, often as a stepping stone to enabling the local church to witness etc.

3. Witness. Some variations of short or long term enable the individual to be a witness in a secular context: eg tent,among, business investment, teaching, sports ministries, etc. Here I am thinking of people who do not go necessarily to evangelize, but rather to be a witness through the demonstration of the Christian life lived.

4. Evangelism. This is perhaps what we most often think of in terms of mission: overtly sharing the gospel across languages and cultures. Forms can range from door to door sharing, House to house, literature distribution, film teams, dramas, large or mass crusades, evangelistic concerts, etc. The key here is the sharing of the gospel with the intent to make converts who are usually funneled toward churches. Billy Graham was an evangelist. Unfortunately evangelism that does not yield or is not service to stages 5-8 will often be unharvested fruit. We must be careful of flinging seed without a thought for harvesting.

5. Disciple making. This is a next step beyond the first step of evangelism and profession of faith. Disciple making is a longer term relationship of spiritual mentoring and accountability. In my view this cannot be done in the context of a single short term trip, and it’s hard to do with recurring. It requires language and culture acquisition. It is most effectively and efficiently done in the same culture context but for the gospel to spread it must sometimes be done cross-culturally.

6. Church gathering/planting/pastoring. As disciples are made and gathered, church structures of some kind must be developed. This is another area where missionaries can help, though we must caution is a high risk endeavor. Culture creep can happen at the evangelism and disciplemaking stages but I think nowhere is it more possible or dangerous than here. Whereas broad cultural imports often neuter evangelism, a small amount of bad culture can cross through high trust channels at the church planting stage, get translated into a different culture and go on to infect the church structures that are reproduced. Culture at the evangelism level often yields spiritual sterility; imported culture at the church level can spark metastasizing cancers. Nevertheless when missionaries serve the local church by helping them develop accountability to biblical patterns, strong healthy systems can thrive.

7. Reproducing and multiplication. Missionaries are most effective when they help new church networks etc become rapidly multiplying movements. This requires encouraging simplicity, accountability to scripture, and wide implementation of disciplemaking not just by “professional clergy” but lay believers too. Catalyzing movements is how we “move the needle.”

8. Movements birthing movements. The most effective movement starters are existing movements that know how to implement these 7 stages. Missionaries who help movements jump the cultural barrier into nearby peoples can help birth astronomical change.

Note that as missionaries move into 6-8 above, ironically, their efforts will be increasingly questioned by other missionaries who are more used to/comfortable with areas 1-5 and some 6.

Student debt

One of the big things keeping new American workers from going to the field: student debt.

Several people known to Beyond are students working on finishing their degrees or paying off their debts.

In this piece for the WSJ, student loans are shown to be the biggest form of debt, and 6x larger than they were in 2004.

One piece of helping young missionaries get to the field could be teaching about student debt issues before they get to college, providing scholarships, and helping students get their debts paid down.

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