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.

Resurrection vs. Raising

People don’t often get that “resurrection” and “raised from the dead” are not technically the same thing.

People who are raised from the dead will still die one day – Jairus daughter, Lazarus, the boy coming out of the village.

People who are resurrected receive a new body that is immortal, and will never die.

Jesus was the first resurrection, and unless I misunderstand Scripture, everyone else is still waiting for the resurrection.

Resurrection is what I look forward to!

Easter is the proof

I’ve heard in several places the line that “the death of Christ was the most important thing – it paid the sacrifice.”

I suppose that’s theologically true; I’ll let people who are theologically smarter than me comment on that.

But to me – perhaps as I grow older – Easter & resurrection are far more impactful.

It’s Easter and the resurrection that proves the death paid the sacrifice.

People have died for other people. Easter proves that God died for man.

Success and Failure Bars

In my work both with research and recruiting at Beyond, I do a lot of experimentation and testing. Especially in recruiting, we are constantly testing new ways of communicating vision, gathering potential candidates, and identifying high-potential prospects: people who are telling us they are serious about pursuing missions as a career.

I’ve been reading a lot from business literature about designing experiments, and trying to apply that practically. We have discovered what probably every good business major/entrepreneur knows, but seems like a rare thing in missions: the key to a good experiment is to set a clear bar both for “success” and “failure” before running the experiment!

Unfortunately, we often “do something as an experiment” in missions, and only after do we ask whether it was a success or not. “Well, we had a couple of people respond…” So, is that a success? Is it a good ROI? (“How do we measure the value of a soul? How do we know what kind of impact they will have on the field?”) We end up shooting the arrow, then painting the target around it.

We’ve found it’s a lot easier to set the win conditions first. In one of our recent small experiments, we defined a “win” as three levels: (1) at least 20 people show up, (2) people ask questions, (3) one to three people self-indicate they are “potential candidates.” The “failure” bar was an inverse: (1) fewer than 20 show up, (2) few are interested (=asks questions), (3) no potential candidates come out of it. An “abandon” failure bar was (1) no one shows up, or (2) no questions are asked.

If the experiment failed, we would then have clear questions to ask about how we performed the experiment: were there things we could to improve the show-up and participation rate? Are we inviting the right people (e.g. likely to be potential candidates)? do we have the wrong discussion topics? From every experiment we should be getting feedback and learning how to improve our success rates, before the next iteration.

The challenge for a lot of missions – especially smaller ones – is that we don’t know where the candidates are, how to find them, and how to mobilize them into mission. Experiments are a way to remove the “fog of uncertainty.” But experiments need to be run with clear conditions to know whether they should be amplified, modified, or abandoned.

Four marks of a good candidate

At Beyond, there are four “basic requirements of a good candidate” that I generally look for:

  1. They have to say “yes” to “long-term.”  If they start with, “Do you have any short-term trips? I love to take a short-term missions trip every summer,” I say, “No.” We may have differing definitions of what “long-term” means, but if you’re starting by definition from a short-term perspective, I’ll redirect you to other agencies. On the other hand, if you say to me, “I’m interested in doing something about _X_ place, maybe long-term – do you have anything, like a vision trip or a summer internship, where I can explore what that’s like?,” then I’ll be happy to connect you with some possibilities.
  2. They have to say “yes” to the “unreached.” Again, we may not be quite on the same page as to who the unreached are. But if your calling is to Christians (revival) or the people on the fringes of Christianity, then I will likely redirect you to someone else. Beyond is about focusing on the people few others are focusing on: the people who will not hear the Gospel unless something about our strategy and resource deployment changes.
  3. They have to say “yes” to “movements.” We see movements as the only thing that gets ahead of population growth. We’re all about disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. We know this is slow at the start, but we also know it has the capacity for exponential growth. Being about movements means there are some things we don’t do – things we say “no” to. So we need to be on the same page about that.
  4. They have to say “yes” to “Beyond.” (Or, at least a strong “maybe.”) But if you’re interested in a different agency and you just need help getting in touch, let me know, and I’ll do everything I can to make the connection for you.