In recent years many of us in church leadership have begun paying attention to what is happening in Disciple Making Movements (DMM). If you are unfamiliar with DMM, let me give you the definition that Discipleship.org has developed. A Disciple Making Movement may take a few years to be established, but once it, the following description prevails:
A rapid and exponential increase in disciple making disciples (1,000 or more) within a local culture who plant multiple churches and these churches are churches who multiply disciples, groups, and churches of obedience-based disciples so that we can see at least four generations of churches produced in six streams of disciple-making activity and these streams multiply consistently into churches (100 churches or more within 2 to 5 years).
Now, if you are thinking, I’ve never witnessed anything like that, there’s a reason. The vast majority of these movements exist in the global south. To this date, according to some of my friends who are most familiar with these movements, there are no clearly established DMMs (among non-immigrants) at present in North America—at least not yet. But for many, this is the hope–we want to see movement here. We want to see entire communities of ordinary followers of Jesus saying yes to the extraordinary calling of being disciples who make disciples, through the power of God at work in them. It is movement like this in areas of Africa, Asia, and even in the Middle East, that is behind the Christ-centered transformation of millions of people.
So, some of us started to ask the question: Why not here? If it’s happening there, why can’t it happen here? Some of the regions globally where movements are currently advancing—sometimes at almost unimaginable rates—are those in which there is great opposition to the gospel. I believe we are, at times, tempted to think that opposition to the gospel must be greater here in North America—certainly there is opposition here—than in places where true movement is occurring, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, as I will point out in the remainder of this article, the presence of movement has very little to do with whether or not there is strong cultural opposition to the gospel. I’ll say it again…the climate of the culture is not the deciding factor that governs movement. If we allow ourselves to believe this, however, we will miss what is truly distinctive. Here it is. It is not the climate of the culture, but rather the climate of the Church in those regions that has paved the way for movement.
Think about that for a moment. If this is the case, what does it say about North American churches if we cannot yet show evidence of DMM here? (click here to see the Discipleship.org/Exponential/Grey Matters study for an in-depth evaluation.) [JS1] I was told recently that there are currently more than 1,700 movements worldwide. In other words, more than 1% of the world’s population is currently following Jesus as a part of a Disciple Making Movement. That’s incredible! But this type of disciple making multiplication is not happening here.
And I believe it should. This is the reason several of us at Discipleship.org and Renew.org [JS2] have devoted time in an effort understand what exactly it is that makes the DNA of DMMs so different from the DNA of North American churches. I want to share with you what we have been learning through our conversations with DMM leaders such as Shodankeh Johnson, Curtis Sergeant, Josh Howard, and others. The list of eight value/action-oriented principles below reflects our current thinking, which we hope you will find both helpful and challenging.
1. Radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit, witnessed through in-depth fasting and prayer that empowers the mission.
Global DMM’s embrace a deep and radical reliance upon the Holy Spirit in all they do. This is visibly reflected in the amount of time they often dedicate to the practices of prayer and fasting. The leaders of these movements hold deeply to the belief that prayer and fasting can and will lead to mission centered breakthroughs. Many times, groups of DMM connected Jesus-followers will wait until they hear from God in one form or another before moving forward in action. They don’t rely upon clever tools such as decision-making matrixes to determine what God would have them do next. They rely upon the Holy Spirit–plain and simple. Here’s a short statement that succinctly and accurately characterizes the bottom line of this first principle: The people of God are dependent upon the presence of God for the work of God.
For more on Fasting and Prayer, check out the discipleship.org resource by Dave Clayton: Revival Starts Here.
2. Scripture is the curriculum.
In Global DMMs intentionality often prevails in a simple, effective, and reproducible Bible-dependent system. Faithfulness (obedience) and sharing are at the core of this system and lived out within a group environment. One of the tools often used is Discovery Bible Study (DBS). A key question that Christ followers in DMMs ask when studying the Bible is: How can I obey or be faithful to what I have just read. This exists as a contrast to the favorite North American question: How can I understand what I have just read. Understanding is important. But, too often we have allowed understanding a teaching to become more important than following that teaching—that, or we decide that until we understand, we don’t need to obey. Here’s a key take away we have been learning connected to this principle: Until the people of God embrace faithfulness to the things of God, we shouldn’t expect to see a movement of God.
3. The mission is clear all the time.
There is an urgency as it relates to reaching lost people, being disciples, and making disciples. Sometimes you will hear the mission centered urgency phrased this way: Jesus’ final command must be the Church’s first priority. Leaders within these movements reiterate the urgency of the mission frequently. The burden they feel for those who are lost apart from Jesus is nearly tangible at times. The Great Commission and the Greatest Commands compel every Christ-follower to mission-centered action. Sharing the gospel is not simply something pastors and teachers do, but something every disciple is committed to. Simply put, the North American concept of nominal Christianity is entirely foreign to those who are a part of global DMMs.
4. Disciple making is the underlying cultural identity of the church.
In global DMMs we see this principle reflected in the lived reality of the church’s values, actions, and words. As a disciple making culture is developed, this new cultural identity becomes the filter through which financial and strategic decisions are processed. As these churches spend money, they are constantly asking the question, how will this purchase/expenditure support and advance the mission? As they prepare to make strategic decisions, they ask similar questions. All that supports the mission is naturally prioritized, while the things that do not support the mission directly are either modified to create alignment or put aside.
5. Leaders/staff make and coach disciple makers.
This action-centered principle is reflected in the fact that the focus of the core leadership within the structure of DMMs is not only on making disciples, but on making disciple makers. Leaders often seek to identify those who appear most likely to reproduce other disciples. This is how movement happens. Catalytic leaders invest their time and efforts developing other catalytic leaders. In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Jesus talks about seed that once planted will yield a crop one hundred, sixty, and thirty-fold. After sharing this parable with His disciples, He tells them that those who comprehend this parable possess the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Very simply, the Kingdom grows in multiplicative fashion through the faithfulness of catalytic disciple makers. Yes, every disciple plays a role, and every disciple is intended to be a disciple maker. Some seeds once planted, however, yield a crop that boggles the mind. It is these seeds, these disciple makers, that leaders set out—through the power of God—to find and train.
6. Stories of disciple making abound.
As disciples of Jesus are trained and equipped to become disciple makers, a culture emerges, in which leaders of the church hear stories on a weekly—at times even daily—basis of formerly lost people who not only came to faith in Jesus, but are now also actively making disciples. These stories trickle back to leadership regularly because of the joy disciple makers find in sharing what God is doing as His Kingdom advances in visible ways. Leaders often collect and share these stories with others they are in contact with as they provide inspirational examples of what God can do through and in the lives of those who are faithfully obedient.
7. Disciple making expectations are high.
As I have talked with those who are connected with DMMs I have noticed that there is a joyful expectation that every member is committed to being a disciple and becoming a disciple maker. When a new disciple is made, there is an eager anticipation of the moment in which that new disciple faithfully embraces the call to become a disciple maker. Many of these new disciples don’t only accept the call to make other disciples, but eventually plant churches as well—this is especially true of Church Planting Movements, but that’s a topic for another article.
Within the North American Church, some have set a hopeful target that would see 20-25% of adult lay leaders personally engaged in making disciples—this would be a major shift from what we are currently experiencing. In Global DMMs, the percentage of disciples who are making disciples is often significantly higher. As we begin to see a shift from our previous framework—pastors and staff own the majority of disciple making efforts—to a framework that equips and empowers all disciples to make disciples, our expectation of what God can and will do through ordinary believers will shift as well.
8. Multiplication prevails at every level.
While DMMs differ in the multiplicative model and structure they individually embrace, they are all committed to multiplication. This multiplication happens at every level. Disciples make disciples—as we have already touched on, we are talking about ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things as they rely upon the power of God. Groups and micro-churches seed more groups and micro-churches. And churches continually and regularly plant new churches. (In fact, at the church level, it would be inconceivable that a healthy church would not plant other churches. If a church did not plant churches that would likely be seen as an indicator of lack of health…certainly lack of dedication to the mission of Jesus). This is just how those connected to DMMs think. They are committed to reaching entire people groups, not simply gathering as a church on Sundays. As my friend Josh Howard told me, “When we started dreaming about reaching all of India within our lifetime, because each new generation of people brings with it a new Great Commission–we discovered the only way this would be possible is through multiplication.” If we want to be a part of reaching the world during our generation, this will only be possible through multiplicative movement.
A growing number of North American churches, mine included, are making an effort to devote themselves to the principles and practices that are central to global DMMs. Here’s what I like about beginning with principles as opposed to simply trying to bring in a system that seems to be working in another location. Principles are often universally applicable.
Systems are not nearly as translatable.
Principles, and the values they reflect, help build and transform cultures. Systems are of course helpful, even necessary, as we seek to undergird and reinforce culture once it has been established. But we don’t create culture with systems. It is shared values and principles that do that.
Ultimately, if we are to see movement that arises from within existing churches, it will require cultural transformation. I am greatly encouraged to see a building awareness of this reality. I am even more encouraged as I have conversations with church leaders, to see the presence of the kind of desire and commitment it will take to see this through.
We believe we are asking the right questions: God if you can do it there, why not here?… and why not now? If these are questions you are also asking, know that you are not alone. If you are looking for a place to begin your journey toward movement, I want to challenge you to begin with these eight principles. I am more convinced than ever that God is doing something here in North America, and I am equally convinced that these principles are the starting point we need.
The Eight Principles
- Radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit witnessed through in-depth fasting and prayer that empowers the mission.
- Scripture is the curriculum.
- The mission is clear all the time.
- Disciple making is the underlying cultural identity of the church.
- Leaders/staff make and coach disciple makers.
- Stories of disciple making abound.
- Disciple making expectations are high.
- Multiplication prevails at every level.