The Long View

The blog of Justin Long: research-informed stories and analysis to inspire new workers for the unreached. We work with ActBeyond, a 30-year old mission seeking to start church planting movements among the least-reached peoples of the world.
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Swarming 01 - Introduction Swarming 02 - Vision

One man band

Super empowerment is a big factor now: technology tools that enable single individuals to do significantly more than they ever could before.

Super empowered criminals can use tech to harvest millions of credit card numbers… to deploy weapons that kill thousands if not tens of thousands… to stalk every action of an individual target… to infect millions of computers and harness them for criminal activities.

Super empowered do-gooders can use tech to raise thousands of dollars for social justice projects… to provide ideas and information that inspire and equip millions… to provide education for people worldwide.

But one overlooked challenge: we are tempted to use tools to replace people. Tempted to think we don’t need people so much as we need a few software tools.

For any activity to scale and be truly world changing, we need people who use the tools. We forget or neglect those people at our peril.

One immediate application: are the people warming the seats in your church the target of your message – or the people you are trying to inspire and equip to reach others? To put it another way, as an example, are you a pastor of people or a pastor of pastors?


Saturday night was the absolute bottom for humanity.

Sunday morning brought an infinite “up” that will not end.

Everything is better after Easter.

The world’s greatest evangelist?

After watching this, consider that globally, three times as much church growth comes from children in Christian homes as from conversion, and think about the role of the “world’s toughest job” in global church growth.

Timelines for Closure

Consider the following, backing up from the goal:

+2 years to find a person of peace, once working at a CPM strategy

+2 years to for language/culture acquisition, before strategy & after arrival

+6 months to 2 years to raise $ and get on the field, once mobilized

?? how long to mobilize?

In other words, if we had all of the workers we needed now in the pipeline, we would be most likely 8 to 10 years from the initial disciples for a CPM among each people group (and this doesn’t count how long it takes to mobilize workers, or to get from the first person of peace to the first church, or to a CPM that sweeps the people group).

The task won’t be achieved overnight. We don’t have all the workers we need now, obviously. If we were seriously working at this right now, we would in all reality probably be at minimum 20 to 50 years from our goal, and more likely 50 to 100 years.

If you’re passionate about missions but not thinking long-term, you should start, now. We have to have structures, systems, supports, commitments that are prepared to remain for at least 2 and maybe 3 generations.

This is not cynicism. This is reality.

The problem of pedestals

Is it possible that when we put people up on a pedestal–

– “They really know how to teach”

– “If you need prayer, you need to get them praying – the really know how to pray”

– “He’s a pastor’s pastor”

– “He’s really got the gift of evangelism; why, he even shared the gospel with the checkout lady”

–that we make people who don’t “reach up to that standard” feel like their actions in the same arena are really ineffective–

If I don’t feel like I can teach, or evangelize, or pray, or give, like person _X_, then that’s perhaps not my calling.

–and thus I don’t act.


Reaching the World together

To say you want to reach the world implies you want to work in partnership with other believers.

Jesus didn’t give us a task we could do on our own.

Anyone, therefore, who says they want to reach the world, but isn’t involved in some partnerships as part of the job, probably isn’t really serious about the task.

This doesn’t mean you have to work with everybody, or just anybody. But working with nobody should be a big red flag.

Decentralized Decision Making

I’m hearing the phrase decentralized decision making more and more. This is an aspect of swarming functionality: pushing decision making as close to the grass roots as possible. The biggest killer of a swarm is not the wrong action but apathy–taking no action at all.

When a swarm clearly understands its promise (where it is going) and its values (how it will get there) then appropriate behavior becomes more obvious. People are held accountable not for wrong behaviors per se (not a list of prescribed actions) but rather inappropriate behavior in light of the swarms values and promise. Behaviors are judged not by whether they are on prescribed list so much as whether they are in line with the values of the organization.

With this in mind decision making can be pushed downward. At ActBeyond, our organization has a “decision matrix” which describes the kinds of decisions that can be made at each level (family, team, cluster, affinity block, leadership, and board). The goal is that something like 90% of all decisions are made at the family and team level (with another similarly high share of what remains made at the cluster level).

It may seem dangerous to some but in fact most decisions are neither expensive nor threatening. Enabling simple decisions to be made rapidly without need for approval by some distant authority increases the likelihood of action in the moment. Organizations that require approval before a Bible Study is formed lower the likelihood that a study will be formed at all. Give people training and then get out of there way while offering coaching and requiring some level of accountability.

The implausible promise

Swarmish organizations tend to form from people gathering around the idea of a “plausible promise.” This is similar to a “mission” but more specific–a specific product or goal. Linux is a “plausible promise.” A YWAM base is a “plausible promise.” The eradication of polio is a “plausible promise.” A Discovery Bible Study or a Church Planting Movement can both be “plausible promises.” The “plausible promise” was originally characterized in the essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” as something that would (a) run and (b) demonstrate the potential of scaling into something really cool.

I have often run into promises that are improbable–they are plausible, but I think the likelihood of them actually being kept is pretty low. I also occasionally run into promises which, on reflection, appear to me to be implausible–they just ain’t happening. This can be something of a judgement, and I often think of myself as a little judgmental for making it. Still, people are judging your promises all the time. One of the big factors in whether a person joins your “swarmish” organization or not is whether they think the promise is, in fact, realistic or plausible.

What makes a promise implausible? Here are some thoughts on this, and what they mean for the swarm.

1. The promise cannot be achieved. There are two variants of this. One is the “dream something so big that unless God does a miracle, you’re sunk.” This variant can be very inspiring, but we will be judging the swarm based on the likelihood of God doing the miracle. (Some miracles feel to us to be “small” and thus more probable; others, very large.) The other variant is, “this is not possible by the rules of the universe.” For example, faster than light travel. I think “an impossible promise” is not actually the promise at all–it’s more likely the “vision” of the founder, being cast as a promise. Visions often are seemingly impossible. The promise is a “small step” toward the goal. The solution is to cast vision as vision and then ask: what’s the “first promise” to be kept on the way to the vision?

2. The promise cannot be achieved in the time frame specified. “Eradicating polio” (a curable and preventable disease) was a completely realistic promise. “Eradicating polio in two years” would have been manifestly unrealistic. Think: “just how much time is required for the component parts–training medical teams, producing vaccines, getting teams and vaccines in, and delivering the vaccine to the population? and is enough time being allocated?” Now, apply this to church planting: consider “reaching” a country of, say, 1 million people using a church planting movement methodology. If we say we’re going to “reach” the country in 2 years time, then we must ask just how long the component parts take: training teams, field teams, learning language as necessary, finding the initial People of Peace, seeing the CPM process begin. Most teams report that the going from 1st Person of Peace to a consistent 4th generation CPM alone takes on average 2 to 3 years. The goal to see an entire, large country saturated with a church planting movement in 2 years thus appears to be unrealistic. Solution: work out what is required and identify a reasonable timeframe. (Or, alternatively, you have to figure out a way to keep the promise far faster than it is presently being kept.) One example of a promise with a doable time frame is Wycliffe’s “plausible promise” of seeing translation work begun in all remaining languages by 2020. They aren’t promising to finish the work – it’s not really possible, I think, to know just how long a translation would require – but beginning the work is possible to promise.

3. Keeping the promise requires a skill or technology that we do not presently have. Facebook would have been impossible before 1995, when the Web was invented. Curing AIDS requires a cure. This does not make the promise completely implausible, but it does mean a prospective swarm member has to believe the skill or technology could be created. This is a bigger leap than, say, electing a presidential candidate or eradicating a now-curable disease or the like.

4. What you are doing to keep the promise now will not achieve the goal. In other words, you’re not putting your “money where your mouth is.” A plausible promise is something that “cannot fail to run” now. Alternatively, the processes you are “married to” or “insisting on” are not capable of achieving the promise in the timeframe you are suggesting, and you are obstinate about changing your processes (e.g. your “values” or your “behaviors” do not match your “promise”). If you aren’t doing what it takes – willing to leave the good for the great – to keep the promise yourself, why do you expect that I will?

5. The promise is not measurable. It doesn’t imply a finish line. We can’t know if we’ve kept the promise or not. It needs to be restated.

6. Keeping the promise requires agreement by a large number of people. Some promises are implicitly implausible because the number of people who must agree with them is too large to be achieved. (For example, along this line, I think the idea that the United States would hand over sovereignty to a one-world government is an implausible promise because of this.)

These are the most common areas that I see. What about you?

The cost of efficiency

Duplication may be redundancy, not waste.

Lack of coordination and communication may be security, not disunity.

A list of every church is useful for efficient arrests.

Streamlined efficiency may be a single point of failure.

A go to guy in a country, useful to many, can be a high value target.

Perceptions, GACX and the difference between CPM and DMM

Today I am attending the GACX conference in Dallas. GACX is “a” Global Alliance for Church Multiplication. Gacx is a swarm.

Partially what I am doing is trying to understand GACX. Swarms are occasionally hard to understand, but fortunately GACX is making it pretty easy.

GACX’s goal is to plant 5 million new churches by 2020. And not just any churches, anywhere: a secondary goal is one churc for every 1,000 people. So the first reflexive evaluation: is this goal plausible?

Next GACX is communicating some values through their talks, videos and the like. One of the most interesting was a phrase on a video: we plant churches because planting churches is the most effective way to make disciples.

Now, I don’t mind this value (other than the question of whether it is plausible). But though there is nothing sinful or wrong about this value, I am not sure it is one I agree with. And it is important when partnering with a swarm to agree with both its goals and its values. Our means are just as important as our ends.

There are two ways we can go about the CPM/DMM goal:

1. We can train leaders who plant churches, with processes by which disciples are made. These churches can in turn raise up leaders who go out and plant churches, thus having churches multiply churches. This seems to be about multiplying structures and processes in which people are matured.

2. We can make disciples who make disciples who make disciples, and see churches spontaneously form, processes grown, leaders raised through the self assembly of those disciples. Churches multiply as disciples move about and make more disciples.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both.

I think this could very well be the defining difference between the term CPM and the term DMM as these two are popularly understood (if not in any technical definitions). I am not saying either method is right or wrong. But if I am doing one and you are doing the other, our thinking, methodologies, behaviors and strategies will mix much like oil and water.

Will post more later as I understand more.


If one pioneer team of 2 to 3 missionaries
could work in an unreached area
and raise up 100 local ministries,
each of which disciples 1,000 people over the course of 10 years
(thus reaching 100,000 people)–

–we would need 43,000 such teams, roughly, to reach all of the world’s “unreached”

–(of which, 22,000 would be needed to reach the world’s unevangelized people).

If one pioneer team is made up of 2 to 3 missionaries,
this means to fill those 43,000 teams,
we would need on the order of 150,000 new missionaries
(and about 60,000 would be deployed to very difficult-and-dangerous-to-reach places).

From “Swarms: Introduction

Plausible Promise, defined

We begin with a vision: a huge picture of something, a brilliant treasure beckoning in the distance. A common proverb is “to attempt something so big that unless God does it, you’re sunk.” It always seems like the most powerful visions are actually a convergence of two or three different kinds of vision: a dream, a Holy Spirit-inspired realization of a specific application of the dream, and plenty of “data” to go along with them.

Great as the vision is, they are often simply that: visions, illuminating the night sky in the distance, like a great fire on a distant hill. In our analogy, the vision is a treasure that we must seek. We may not even know what the treasure is, specifically. We may have nothing more than a map and a whispered hint of untold riches on the other end.

The next step is to ask: what will we do?

It may seem like a silly question, but there are in fact any number of things we might do. We might set out in search of the treasure ourselves. We might attempt to sell the map. We might decide this particular treasure is better left untouched: and so bury or destroy the map. There are always many things we can do in response to a vision.

In 1956, Loren Cunningham experienced his supernatural vision of waves of youth. Four years later, he and his wife had successfully created a new kind of mission organization whose goal was to send young people out on short-term mission trips after high school to gain a sense of purpose. It was called “Youth With a Mission.” Cunningham had created a process which he franchised out all over the world.

In 1991, a young student named Linus Torvalds posted a note on an electronic group announcing that he had developed a simple computer operating system that he was offering for free download. He invited people to use it, fix it, and extend it. They did–first just a few, and then hundreds–until today “Linux” has become one of the most popular operating systems in the world, driving a multi-billion dollar economy and the birth of the open source movement.  Torvalds had created a product which he gave away for free, encouraging the creation of a large group to extend it (which eventually became a movement).

In 1992, having witnessed the horrendous effects of landmines, six non-governmental organizations came together to seek a solution. They realized the only answer was a comprehensive and complete ban. Together, they created the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It was a small office which ran a decentralized campaign resulting in the Mine Ban Treaty of September 1997. The ICBL created a small office with a big goal.

One year, we told our four children we were going to travel to Nina & Papa’s house and spend a few months visiting our family in the north while we were on missionary home leave in the United States. Our children had “visions” of what this visit would be like: seeing their cousins, their grandparents, perhaps going apple picking, perhaps going into the country side. They focused entirely on the idea of “Minnesota.” We, as parents, knew that to arrive at this “vision” required actually traveling there. Would we drive? Would we fly? In the end, we opted to drive: which meant traveling in a van over highways for 24 hours from Virginia to Minnesota. It meant packing food, and items to entertain the children. It meant planning for rest stops, eating, and times when any one or all of us might be grumpy and complaining about the length of the trip.

Micro-missions are inspired by a vision, yet they driven by the choice they make about what they will do. They articulate this choice as a statement or product that is specific and measurable. That “statement” is what I call a plausible promise.

Eric Raymond, an open source social theorist, coined this phrase in his essay, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” which documented differences in how software was developed by big corporations (such as Microsoft) and open source movements. He wrote:

When you start community-building, what you need to be able to present is a plausible promise. Your program doesn’t have to work particularly well. It can be crude, buggy, incomplete and poorly documented. What it must not fail to do is (a) run, and (b) convince potential co-developers that it can be evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future. (Read more about the idea of a “plausible promise” as originally drafted in the essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar.)

The Linux operating system was in itself a plausible promise. So is YWAM: itself a process more than an organization. Cunningham started the first base, not YWAM as an organization. Unlike the International Mission Board or even Campus Crusade, YWAM does not exist as a centralized, registered entity. There is no charitable organization or NGO of which all bases are members. Each base is its own organization: some are legally registered, and some have no registration at all. They are connected to each other through shared values and relationships. The YWAM Base is a “plausible promise”: like a computer program, it might indeed be crude, buggy, incomplete or poorly documented–but it can (a) run and (b) become something neat.

Swarmish micro-missions always begin this way: with an “answer” to the “problem” defined by their vision. A mission might be concerned with the unreached in the whole world, but their “promise” is to the unreached in a specific area. Or, their promise might be to help people who are helping the unreached: the Viva Network, for example, has a vision of reaching children but a promise of helping people who are helping children. Lausanne has a vision of world evangelization but in practice is a forum of people who are involved in world evangelization.

To draft a plausible promise, consider a goal which fits the acronym “SMARTER”. The earliest record of this system was probably by Peter Drucker (something like it is in his The Practice of Management, from 1954). SMARTER typically means: Specific, Measurable, Agreed-upon, Realistic, Timed, Exciting, and Reassessed (although different people have used slightly different terms for each of the letters).

  • A plausible promise is specific. A functional computer operating system, a Discipleship Training School, an Internet Evangelism Toolbox, a pledge to missionary service, a trip to Nina & Papa’s on a specific date–all of these are specific kinds of things. Some promises may be specific products (like a book), while others may be specific process. YWAM falls more into this latter category: it is a process for sending youth on a short-term trip to find a sense of purpose and help fulfill the Great Commission.
  • A plausible promise is measurable. You should be able to know when you have fulfilled the promise. Based on the promise, you should be able to write specific goals and milestones. Before leaving on our trip, I printed out directions and we put a map book in the car. Along the way, we pointed out signs to our children as we entered a new state: “Welcome to West Virginia, 5 states left!” In the morning when our children woke after sleeping through the night in the car, they asked, “What state are we in? How many states are left?”
  • A plausible promise is agreed upon. It must something around which a core of people can unite. If you can’t find anyone to agree with you, then it is not plausible. My wife and I had to agree to share the driving and to help the other person stay awake when necessary. People will have to agree not only that the promise is doable, but that they will do it.
  • A plausible promise is realistic. It has to be something you can really do. Generally, if it is specific, measurable and agreed-upon, then it will be. Not everyone in the world, or even in your relational network, has to agree that the promise is realistic: but enough people have to agree to build a team.
  • A plausible promise is time-bound. It has a deadline. We knew we would leave on our trip at a specific date and time, and so we could tell how far in advance we needed to do things to prepare for the trip. Later, we’ll see how this deadline is used as a measure of appropriate speed: if Teachable Behaviors are too slow to reach the deadline, then they need Continuous Improvement.
  • A plausible promise is exciting. It has to be something that gets people motivated, and willing to act. This doesn’t mean that the people involved have to be highly magnetic personalities. The goal itself has to be something that interests people.
  • A plausible promise is reassessed. When the plausible promise is reached, then it needs to be reassessed in light of the overall vision. Some promises, once reached, lead to the disbanding of the swarm. In other cases, a promise reached may simply be discovered to be a “first stage” in a longer journey. Remember that the vision is often bigger than the person, or the organization. When one promise is fulfilled, another promise may be made as you walk toward the vision.

With a plausible promise in hand, the swarm knows what it is going to do about the vision. The next question is: what must it be to get to the finish line?

More on swarmish structures. This was originally published as part of Focused Vision. You can get the whole kit here.

May Middle East Trip: $1750 total, $970 in, $400 pledged, $380 needed

Total for trip: $1,750
Total donated to date: $970
Total pledged “if we raise the rest”: $400
Total still needed: $380

Coming up in May, there is a potential ministry trip to a restricted access area for a conference in which hopefully a new Ephesus team will be launched.

I received this email: “We wanted to follow up with you to confirm if you are able to come to the Ethne gathering in [...] from [dates in May]. Stan and I really hope you will be able to come. You would be a huge blessing and asset to this as we are trying to launch Ethne in the region. Currently we have people from 8 countries and 10 organizations planning to come…”

I emailed him back and told him that I wanted to come, and to mark me as tentative – but to pray that God provided the funds.

Your one-time gift toward this trip would be very much appreciated.

Simple Swarm Template

1. Vision and Values: a) Define “Plausible Promise” or SMART Goal – specific, measurable, time-bound. b) Define Values – the principles by which the Goal will be achieved - defines character of org – Promise + Values helps to define who is “in” and “out”

2. Define specific behaviors – measurable actions each member of the swarm will be encouraged to undertake – must be simple, scalable,
teachable, for maximum replication

3. Identify simple logistical network structures for finding things/people in network, routing introductions, verifying trust/credibility, providing access to resources, routing money - trust based, “enough backbone to work, not enough to strangle” – who makes what kinds of decisions – keep individuals and teams as autonomous as possible

4. Simple systems for monitoring information, communications, “seeing beyond the horizon” to identify looming opportunities / threats

5. Advanced – systems to enable coordination / collaboration to empower synergy, ability to experiment, learn

6. Define levels of publicity, security, response to threats.

7. Understanding what happens when the Plausible Promise is reached, dissolution, death of org

For more of what we’ve written about swarms, see our Swarm Index.

Think Tank 4, the Shoal Creek proto-Movement, with Roy Moran

Think Tank 004 Roy Moran from Justin Long on Vimeo.

01:00 Q. What started the vision?
We ran out of space.
We were praying for the 300,000 living within 30 minutes of us. We wanted to make it hard for them to go to hell.
We ran into the story of David Watson and the Bhojpuri.
We developed a hybrid “come/go” strategy.
On the “come” side, we have a Sunday morning service (which doesn’t feel like church to most, so we don’t get a lot of transfer growth);
on the “go” side, we train them in DMM strategies to plant the church where we live, work and play.
We wanted a scalable model that would encompass all 300,000.

03:30 Q. What is a scalable model?
We felt responsible for seeing those people connect with the Gospel, for putting the genuine story of God in front of them.
Our building, which seats 1,000, wasn’t a viable model for the 300,000.
In fact, if you put all the seats in all the churches together, they wouldn’t hold 300,000.
If your strategy doesn’t meet Jesus’ dreams, you need to change the strategy.

06:40 Q. How did you start?
We already had a strategy in place that really loved lost people.
We didn’t want an either/or situation – EITHER a Sunday morning service OR a DMM.
We were seeing fruit from Sunday morning – 10 new families per month, 5 of which self-identified as nonbelievers.
The other 5 are “dechurched” – not people who had a “bad” experience with church, but people who had a “dull” experience with church.
“Come” strategy = “Come to me, all you who are…”
On the “Go” side we had people who realized at some point an invitation to church became an irritation.
You could only invite some people so many times. They just weren’t going to come.
But people realized their friends wanted to talk about spiritual things.
Didn’t want to be sold, but wanted to have a conversation.

“Stop teaching people to be salesmen for Jesus and instead to be event planners for God.”

13:45 Q. What does that model look like?
Sunday morning meant to be catalytic. Leave with more questions. Start the discussion, don’t finish it.
How to create points of discussion with their friends. Help people understand what it looks like to invite people to the table and use a simple process.
6 questions of any Discovery Group:

a) what are you thankful for
b) what’s stressing you out
c) what are the needs we’re praying for that this group can meet
d) what is the Bible saying in this passage we’re reading
e) what will we do about it
f) who will we share it with

16:30 “At some point prayer became an excuse for delaying. … Finally just got frustrated, went for it, went around, asked all 6 neighbors… all 6 said yes. They began to read the Bible together, discover what God has to say about life.”

17:30 The people that are doing these groups… how do you find them?
We’re attracting Persons of Peace to Sunday morning. Lots of people who come to Sunday morning come not because they are invited, but because they drive by.
We’re in a non-connected world. We’re connected but not alone. When we seek spiritual things, because we don’t have any legitimate friendships, we turn to strangers.
We do Journey groups in the church, 6 questions, exact same thing as Discovery on the Go side. The whole thing at Shoal Creek is this big training ground for people to understand how to plant the Gospel.

Q. So Journey groups are Discovery groups done in a church environment.
But some of those are reaching out into the community, into those that never come into church.
And then you have new people coming in who are nonbelievers doing the same thing.
And it gets to be a mess. People ask us how many groups do you have? I can kind of tell you what we think we have… but we are always discovering someone doing it here, or here, or here… really hard to count sometimes. It gets messy when you release it and let it go, and you can’t control it or count it.

21:00 Q. So you actually don’t have a notification of a new group forming.
On our “Come” side, we have a semester based process, looks like most churches, 3x a year.
We have a concept called the “7 Journeys” – From earner to heir (relationship with God, trust), self-hearted to soft-hearted, isolation to community, consumer to producer, charitable to extravagant, traveler to guide. Each has a Scripture list for the Journey; they are essentially Discovery Bible Studies going through these Journeys. Each goes around this spiritual discipline.

23:00 Q. You do a structured list of Bible scriptures on this particular topic using a Discovery format.
If you wanted to lead one, what we’d say to you is:
a) will you ask all 6 of those questions every night your group meets
b) will you use the Scripture list we give you
c) will you learn to make sure the Bible is the authority – redirect to the Bible when someone brings in Dr. Phil or Oprah. – we’re here to find out what God says about life.
We have a 4-hour training. Then we would release you to go lead the group.
We won’t ask you about your relationship with Jesus. We’re not that concerned you can identify a date and time and your salvation. We’re more interested in you being our ally with the Gospel in getting it out there. We’re more excited if you aren’t what most would say is a genuine believer, because you have more connection with the lost world.

25:15 Q. So you could have someone who is a fairly new believer, like 3 or 4 weeks old…
We have people who are not believers leading these groups.

Q. Someone who’s watching this just sucked in their breath in shock. How do you do that?
John 6:44-46, everyone who comes to Jesus is taught by God. We look at – what is the power of God that leads to a Bible connection with God? We believe it’s the Good News, not a qualified, equipped teacher. The spiritual dynamic is all but denied in the common practices of the church. If people will literally let God speak for Himself, He will draw people to Jesus. There will be a genuine conversion process. I might not be able to put a datestamp on it, but … I have people in my life, I walk with, I’d die for the fact that they’re saved, but they can’t for the life of them tell when it happened. We were reading Scriptures together and they came into a genuine relationship with God.

We want people who are interested in spiritual things. We give them a list and a process and they go.

29:00 Q. Conversion happens in the context of relationships.
The teacher is not the teacher. God is the teacher. You have to buy into that wholeheartedly.
Yes. We’re just the meeting planner. The facilitator. We’re not the main element in the meeting, we’re not the main speaker, we’re behind the scenes. We handle the logistics so the meeting can happen. We try to help people understand, that’s all we are. We aren’t the message, we bear the message. It’s the message that has the power, not us. All you need to do is relate to it in an authentic way, whether you’re doing well or bad, relate authentically, and that’s appetizing for people.

31:00 Q. This was not an easy process for you to get to where you are right now
It hasn’t “taken off.” We’ve started a lot of groups. Couple hundred. Better than half have failed. Early on we got to 4th generation in one little section, but it died.
We have a lot of people we work with who are not churched, dechurched people.
Hard to help them think they can have a legitimate church experience without coming to Sunday morning service.
Teaching them a biblical expression of Christianity begin to pervade their neighborhood
We’re still building the foundation, getting enough of a critical mass of people who think in terms of movement.
What does it look like to build “The Gospel rapidly moving away from us.”

Q. So you have a lot of 1st generation groups? Yes.
2nd generation? Yes.
3rd? not many.
The Journey thing – the groups situation in a church – the generational thing gets a bit difficult.
We have people who joined a Journey group, started a group of their own, and then someone started one out of their group.

38:00 Q. Would you say that multigenerational thing happens as it moves away from the church, out into the community?
The generational thing happens more on the Journey side than in the community.
We start a lot of discovery groups. Amazingly easy to start groups in the community.
We found bus stops are very viral places. (wonderful story of living spiritual life out loud)

40:30 Q. A lot of people have this sense they will be persecuted, ignored, ostracized.
You’re saying it’s easier to start a Discovery group in the local neighborhood than in the church.
Oh, yes. Yes, it is. Inside the box of the Christian ghetto we’ve created… they will be persecuted. Thought of as weird. We’ve taught them to sell Jesus. We live in an over pressurized, over sold world. Buyer’s remorse is a common feeling. When it’s not a selling situation, simply… doing life, and I’m doing it in a legitimately authentic way, here’s my spiritual journey – it’s not just a Jesus joy journey, but a legitimate, up and down spiritual journey – people love that. Want to engage it.

42:00 Q. What kind of training do you give people who are doing this?
We ask them to attend a 4-hour training process. They’ll experience a Discovery group. We’ll go back through and teach them how to manage their time well. (Some questions can lead to responses that will go all night.) How to redirect to the authority being the Bible. (People will say, … person X says this. How do you get back to the Scripture?) Where does it say that in this passage? We want to find out what God says about life.
Happy hour group coaching. 6 times per semester. 5pm after-work meet at a restaurant. We’ll have them show up, check up on their groups. Have a couple of touch bases during the semester. Have an electronic system we use to stay in touch and do group evaluations. Small assessments. Encourage everyone to always come to the trainings. Have different people do the training so new perspectives are had.

46:00 Q. I hear quite frequently that CPMs won’t work in the USA. Work in Asia or Africa. But you’re doing it.
What do you think at this point is the thing that keeps it from getting it to 4th generation?
I think of this in 4 stages. This first stage is learning to get people who have traction with God themselves (reading the Bible…). Think of the ability to spread a virus: potency (strong enough), proximity (close enough), duration (for long enough time) for the virus to pass. Before we even started DMM, we had taught people to read the Bible, journal, spiritually self-feed. This builds potency.
We have to build the skills. When people learn to lead a discovery group, they can actually do it themselves. Don’t have to be highly qualified, subject matter experts.
Third is just enough time… enough people. Critical mass to bust through. We probably have a quarter of what we need. We need 40 to 50 people who have gained movement thinking and learned to live a discipled life.

49:00 Q. But you don’t think there’s anything in American culture that prevents this happening.
I went through that, back in 2003, … that it can only work in Asia, Africa. Until I began to think, I don’t have a legitimate strategy to reach anything. If someone honestly takes a look at the whole movement concept, obedience-focused, they will get over this idea quickly. There are things in our culture that set it up royally. The aloneness in our culture now – so connected, but alone. The aloneness, hopelessness, the Millennials giving up on church – what we need is an expression of Christianity that shows there is life outside some kind of religious, liturgical format. That God makes a difference. We’re ripe for what could happen.

IN 2003, we were 170 people. We are 1,100 today. Huge investment that has taken place. It takes a lot of effort and time. Probably one of the biggest detriments is that we are so addicted to success. We don’t want something that will work in 7 years. We want it to work in 13 weeks. Hard for people to do the hard work it takes to build critical mass. They want flash in the pan success.

Q. You didn’t have to completely abandon the church. You took the church in a direction. You can take an existing wineskin and go in this direction.

52:50 Q. Four transitions – how important are these? Know to obedience, telling to asking, qualified to willingness, evangelizing to disciple. How important were those transitions?
Critical thinking mind shifts that took place in our mind.
+ Qualified to Willing – we had a small group leader qualification process that could choke a seminary student. It’s not about the qualified, it’s about the willing. Matthew 28:16, when Jesus went to give the final command – some worshipped, some doubted. We’re in a mixed group. He didn’t have totally convinced people – some didn’t even know if he was who he said he was. Didn’t stop to retrain them, he just gave them a command. “Go make disciples, you doubters.” Jesus worked with a lot of people who weren’t qualified – they were just willing.
+ Evangelize to Disciple – where is this 4-point gospel in the Bible? huge misconception theologically in what we do. More argument for a Gospel that starts at Abraham and the Messianic promise than one that starts with four spiritual laws. Jesus discipled to conversion, he didn’t convert to faith and then try to disciple.
+ Knowledge to Obedience – in the English we translate the Greek word “pistis” as faith. I think if it were translated “trust,” it would make all the difference in how we lean theologically. “Faith” doesn’t have much verbal movement to it – it’s an assent, mental thing. “Trust” has more movement. Jesus didn’t ask for acceptance; he asked for obedience.

Q at the 1-hour mark: “Why do you do this?”

Missionary Quotes, 45

“God’s plans for your life exceed the circumstances of your day.” ~David Roads

“Success is a label that the world confers on you, but mastery is an ever-onward ‘almost.’” ~Sarah Lewis


“God uses men who are weak and feeble enough to lean on him.” ~Hudson Taylor

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~William James

“Information is only of value if you can get it to people who can do something with it. Sharing is power.” ~Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Why swarms and structures are important

Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of my time investigating the enablers behind what I call “swarmish” structures. A “swarm” is a more-decentralized-than-not organization that nonetheless has the ability to affect significant change, to realize a vision, to mobilize people to get something done. YWAM, Wycliffe and WEC are all examples of swarms. (Although the Southern Baptist Convention is a swarm, its International Mission Board, somewhat ironically, is less so.)

Structures are important because they are basically descriptions of the ways in which humans work together for a common cause. There’s an old proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” How we choose to walk together is important: whatever structure we choose will help define where we are going, how we are traveling, who we are going with, how we are going to take care of each other and stay together, how we are going to keep ourselves safe, and when the journey is going to be done.

The “swarmishness” of organizations have waxed and waned over the years. Paul’s missionary bands were very autonomous. William Carey’s work in India was, insofar as I know, equally independent owing to the distance from its London headquarters (and the lack of Internet at the time).

In recent years, as travel and communications costs dropped, organizations were able to centralize more and more, and directly control geographically distant operations from a centralized location. One example of the dangers of this was the idea of a war being micromanaged from political centers of power. However, at the same time, as travel and communications costs dropped yet further, and “amateurized” into the hands of the grassroots, more “loose structures” became possible. People figured out how to use these tools to work together to achieve common aims.

In terms of Protestant missions, in the past two centuries we’ve had two kinds of mission agencies (speaking in broad terms): the large structures (e.g. the mission boards, denominational agencies and the like), and the small “mom-and-pops” as I call them. The latter are charitable organizations founded by a single individual (or couple) for a single purpose, and never intended to send large numbers of workers. If big organizations are like Walmart, these are like the neighborhood store.

However, the proliferation of network-enabling tools has given small groups the capacity to form larger networks with other small groups. Now we see very wide (if shallow) partnerships forming (the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement was one example). The JESUS Film is another example of a huge network of various organizations being powered by a resource. When the JESUS Film counts “showings,” those showings of the film aren’t solely by teams related to the JESUS Film and Cru (formerly Campus Crusade). Most of them are local independent evangelistic teams.

Understanding how these kinds of structures work, and how we can build better networks and partnerships, is therefore key. Although some organizations will grow large, not all will. Networks scale larger than organizations ever can; YWAM, as a swarmish network, could feasibly grow to 100,000 members, but a corporate entity like the IMB probably couldn’t. Networks can have outsized influence and capacity to act. They will form; we need to form them to be the best they can be.

Plenty of organizations (like VisionSynergy, IPA, and others) are thinking about these issues. I’m certainly not alone. We could all stand to think more about them.

If you claim the title of missionary, then

Part of me rebels against the phrase “we are all missionaries.” I want to keep the term “missionary” for those who go cross-culturally and make disciples of non-believers.

Yet, most of me acknowledges the phrase is obviously true (which is why I am trying more and more to talk about ‘cross-cultural workers’ rather than ‘missionaries’).

When you hear the Greek word “Ekballo” (as in Luke 10′s “send forth laborers”), the word “ekballo” is translated in the Latin Vulgate into a form of “mittere,” and it is from this Latin term that missionary descended. To be a “missionary” is to be “sent.”

Anyone can be sent by God to someone(s) – to a “field” of some kind, that is ready for harvest. Whether God sends everyone is a matter of semantics that could be debated, but I won’t debate it here.

The problem, for me, is the same problem some people have with the term “Christian.” It’s the problem of those who say they are missionaries, but never do the missionary task (just as the problem of those who say they are Christians, but never show any fruit).

It’s a dangerous thing to say “God has sent me as a missionary to ____” — and then not do anything about it.

Jonah was a really extreme example of this: a man who really didn’t want to see a people saved, and then railed bitterly against God when they were. A lot of us don’t go so far as Jonah. We don’t say “God has sent as a missionary to my job” and then go out and get a job somewhere else just to avoid it. We don’t rail against God when all our coworkers respond to our invitation to come to church.

No: we go to Nineveh, and we don’t speak at all. We just go and stand in the market, and buy our food from day to day, and eat it–and don’t do anything else.

If you are indeed sent as a missionary to a place, then you already know you have a responsibility – a fearful responsibility – to act. I have no problem agreeing that you are a missionary – but I say to you, if you claim the title, then woe to you if you do not act on it.

(a half dozen people caught my glitch with Job. My wife was the first. –J.)

Responsibility for the 86%

Here’s a graphic way of illustrating the challenge of responsibility for the 86% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists who do not personally know a Christian.

The big circle are the world’s Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. The small circles are (some of) the world’s churches.

One theological position: any individual church is responsible for the people God has given them, and (possibly) the people they are related to. We could think of this as their “parish” – the people in their geographic area or in their social network.

Thus, the churches encompass the Christians and intersect with a small number of non-Christians.

But, in this scenario – if churches are only responsible for this section of people – who is responsible for the remaining, huge, circle of people, not intersected by any church?

We can say the “Church” – “big C” – but the “big-C” Church is made up of little-c “churches.” If no “churches” take on the responsibility, neither does the big-C Church, regardless of how many nice theological statements it articulates.

Book Review: Searching to Serve

Searching to Serve” (by James Nelson and Carla Foote) is the newest book being released by GMI. The topic is optimizing websites to respond to people who are searching the web for opportunities to serve in missions.

Chapter 1 is largely introduction. Chapter 2 introduces to five kinds of searchers, who the authors name tourists, scouts, enthusiasts, strategists and faith matchers. Each type has a different “search goal.”

Each of the next five chapters focuses on one specific kind of searcher, providing a basic overview and some suggestions on how to adjust your web and social media presence to embrace them.

Chapter 3 is all about the “tourists.” Just as a side note, I think these are unfortunately named; a better name might have been “explorers” or such. Tourists has negative connotations in the mission world that the authors have to spend some space correcting. In any event, this category is about people who are looking for specific destinations for short-term service in the immediate future. The authors draw out the reality that many candidates are using a short-term service as part of their discernment process.

Chapter 4 is about “scouts” – people who aren’t necessarily planning on mission service in the immediate future but are looking for information that inspires them, and that they can share with their social circle. They are information-gatherers and information-filers, tucking the data way for the day that they are ready.

Chapter 5 is about “enthusiasts” – who are basically different in that they consume all the information that the others select from.  So, if you please the other 4, it seems you’ll please the enthusiasts.

Chapter 6 is about “strategists” – people who are planning on long-term service in the very near future, and are trying to see how their goals mesh with the agency. Their looking for clear information and connection points.

Chapter 7 is about “faith matchers” – people who primarily want to make sure the agency’s theological position matches well with theirs. (There are a lot of “fine print” theological positions that aren’t readily evident from most websites.)

Chapter 8 works to bring all this together and make suggestions about fine-tuning your web presence – visual appeal, content, and organization and navigation. Chapter 9 makes similar suggestions for an organization’s Facebook presence. Chapter 10 looks at two “model” websites – NTM and AIM.

Overall, the book’s useful and I’d certainly recommend it for anyone involved in mission communications and website maintenance. I would couple it with Jakob Nielsen’s material (particularly Designing Web Usability and Homepage Usability).

However, as I read it, I kept thinking – are we to be all about tailoring our websites to appeal to anyone who comes, or should we focus on tailoring our website to appeal to the kind of person who is most likely to apply, get through the candidate process, and last on the field? Yes, we should not “pre-judge” candidates. At the same time, organizations have specific goals. For example, my own organization (ActBeyond) doesn’t send short-term. Do we simply ignore those who are searching for short-term opportunities? Try to “persuade” them to long-term instead? Provide links to others doing short-term work?

Another challenge: mission agencies (particularly those working among the unreached, like ActBeyond), when trying to implement the book’s suggestions about “great images” and “great stories,” can rather quickly run up against the security issues we deal with in the work we do. Just showing a picture of a particular people group can be a security risk (because those groups can be identified, and then it’s a short hop from there to the people working with them). So while I concur that great stories are needed, telling them is hard.

Then, the final challenge I thought of: the “paralysis of information” – where we spend all our time gathering information, praying over information, gathering more information, learning more, trying to become an “expert” in missions first – and never actually go to the field. Again, this is one of those tensions we have to deal with.

These are difficult issues, but in spite of them we all need to do keep improving our web presence. “Searching for Service” reminds us that, in today’s mission environment, it’s not just agencies looking for candidates — candidates, likewise, are looking for agencies, and we need to help them find us.