Church Networks and Movements
At the start of this month I got to take part in the Renew.org national gathering as well as the National Disciple Making Forum, put on by Discipleship.org in Nashville, Tennessee. These conferences packed a powerful punch of renewing the teachings of Jesus to fuel relational and intentional discipleship. I'm writing this blog to offer my personal impression of these ministries and to give an explanation of how disciples and churches come together to form networks and movements. First I'd like to offer a brief definition of movements and networks, before giving a vision of how these can work together for disciple making and revival.
What is a network?
It's not a TV station or a 1976 Sidney Lumet film. A network is a group of people connected together. Healthy church networks occur when leaders have strong convictions and compelling vision for God's church which are articulated as a DNA to be shared by ordinary people in expanding relationships. The people become action oriented and focused on the mission of spreading the DNA, which is continually promoted by leadership and actualized by small circles of people in relational connection either in person or virtually.
The early church that we see in the book of Acts was a network of gathered and scattered believers. Centuries later, the American Restoration Movement that started in the early 1800s was a revival movement of God that also operated as a unified network, unlike other denominations at the time. The Restoration Movement was marked by the unity of thousands of disciples denouncing denominationalism, traditions, creeds, and sectarianism in order to restore primitive Biblical Christianity. The denominations of the 1800s for the most part were centralized with someone in charge, a headquarters, centralized knowledge and power structures, and directives coming from the head. The restoration movement was a decentralized network in that no one person or group was in control, no headquarters, no centralized knowledge or power structure, with direction coming throughout the network itself rather than one head.
"Renew is so much more than a hub for disciple making resources - it is a rapidly growing tribe of disciple making practitioners who believe good theology and good methods are both essential in making disciples with Jesus"
Some modern church planting networks include Stadia, NewThing, Exponential, and Renew. Often these networks work together rather than in competition, which allows for individual disciples to be a part of more than one network if they wish. Multiple networks can collaborate to resource and equip one disciple, or multiple networks can act as missions organizations to help local churches. For example, I lead an Oregon prayer hub empowered by New Generations, receive ongoing disciple making coaching from the Elife Movement, collaborate with the ICOC NW Family of Churches for relational discipleship, study up on preaching with the ICOC Small Church Leaders, and interact with the greater International Churches of Christ to help bring Christ around the world.
The ICOC is a cooperation of churches that started as a campus ministry revival movement within Churches of Christ, growing to over 100,000 members in 700 plus churches around the world, all committed to go anywhere, do anything, give up everything, and become anyone for Jesus Christ. What then is a movement and how do networks, cooperations, collectives, churches, missions organizations, para church ministries and most importantly God work within movements?
What is a movement?
Christianity is currently spreading faster than it ever has in the history of the world. That's tough to hear as a westerner, where churches are in sharp and drastic decline. In fact my mind and experience want to reject the notion before even seeking to understand it. Around the world, revival movements are spreading so contagiously that the original movement of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts almost seems tame in comparison. How is the Holy Spirit renewing hearts and stirring revival today?
In the year 2000 there were somewhere around 10 Disciple Making Movements around the world. At the time David Garrison defined these as Church Planting Movements or CPMs based on his findings of rapidly multiplying indigenous churches sweeping across entire people groups. Specifically, he observed the work of David Watson training indigenous leaders amongst the Bhojpuri people of Northern India. David Watson's strategies were reverse engineered and applied around the globe, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa with incredible reproducible success.
In 2003 there were maybe 30 DMMs. 2008 saw a total around 80. By this time, movements were birthing movements, with about 1,000 spread across the globe by 2020. A conservative estimate in 2022 is that more than 1,500 movements are currently multiplying and reproducing disciples, with the 2,000 mark coming in the very near future. Overall these movements see 23% average annual growth, doubling in size every 3.5 years, while traditional Christianity grows at 1.7%. On average, each movement church contains 14 disciples, with 50-60,000 disciples per movement. The largest has grown to 30 million, with the smallest around 10,000 disciples. So what defined a DMM as all of these movements emerged?
DMM: "A rapid and exponential increase in disciple making churches (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)"
While Garrison was describing the result [planting churches], in 2018 New Generations [an international team amassing various indigenous DMM organizations] preferred to describe the process [disciple making]. Multiplying churches was the result, and disciple making was the process. New Generations felt the need to have a specific definition for CPMs / DMMs as many organizations started to adopt the "movement" branding.
“When you make disciples, you always get churches, but when you plant churches you don’t always get disciples”
1% of the world's population is currently in a DMM. This is an incredible miracle, considering that all of these movements have been birthed within our generation. Looking at the past three decades of movement growth, the 2414 organization estimates that at the current rate Christianity has the potential to double in size by 2045. Unfortunately, there are currently no viral disciple making movements in the US, except small inroads amongst diaspora peoples. Can it happen here?
Amongst prisoners in Chicago (18 generations deep in one jail), or immigrant populations in Dallas (130+ indigenous led DBS groups), there has been some headway. Accelerated by Covid, some mega churches have radically changed their structures, transitioning from thousands of members to thousands of micro church planters seeking to see millions of disciples made in the US. In fact today, thousands of US pastors have been trained in DMM practices and are striving to see movement occur in the US. The seed has been planted and it is growing.
One of these growing seeds in the US is the NewThing Network which has pioneered the hybrid idea of MDM or movements of disciple makers. Effectively this is the trend of local churches to operate more as decentralized networks and missions organizations. While DMM is a rapid, immediately viral, multiplicative, indigenous movement, creating new disciples from lostness four generations deep on multiple strands, MDM is a slower, eventually viral, multiplicative, indigenous movement, creating new disciples from believers in the church four generations deep on multiple strands. In DMM the direction of mobilization is from the harvest toward the church, with regeneration of the lost into disciple-makers. In MDM, the direction of mobilization is from the church toward the harvest, with canalization of believers into disciple-makers. Many legacy churches in the US are training members in MDM with hopes of DMM efforts. One thing seems clear, if DMM is to happen in the US it will be in some form of partnership with the local, legacy church.
How could all this work together?
God's plan is for the local church: spiritual families growing in surrendered obedience to all the teachings of Jesus Christ who gather together regularly under Biblically recognized leadership for the purpose of fulfilling the great commission (making disciples) with a Great Commandment heart (loving God, loving people). Where you see the church responding to God's Spirit, following God's reliable word, surrendering to Jesus as King, championing disciple making, loving like Jesus, living in holiness, and leading courageously you will see God move. God's plan is also for the world: Matthew 28:18-20, Revelation 7:9-10. In some shape or fashion local churches need to be networked together in collaboration with a plan to disciple the nations.
After visiting the Renew and Discipleship conferences in Nashville, I am more inspired than ever that God is doing incredible things in America. I saw the top disciple making practitioners coming together in prayer and fasting to see the Holy Spirit move. More than just a church growth conference reverse engineering success, these disciples were coming together to repent and restore Biblical principles neglected in America. The message and methods of Jesus are being restored.
Networks and movements are working together to see the Kingdom come. How are you working to advance Jesus' Kingdom? Are you a part of a plan to disciple the nations? Are you adding or multiplying? If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.