Defining movements

Part of the challenge when talking about, thinking about, describing and measuring church planting movements (also called disciple making movements, CPMs/DMMs), is defining them. Many different definitions are floating around.

When most practitioners speak of “movements,” they do not mean “we added a few more people to the church this month than we did last month” or even “a few more this year than last year.” A key part of movement theory has to do with scalability and rapid multiplication. 

The most commonly used definition of a movement is something that consistently gets to 4th generation: I make a disciple, who makes a disciple, who makes a disciple, who makes a disciple. If at any point a movement stops consistently getting to 4th generation in most of its branches, it is described as “stalled.”

Another way of thinking about a movement is in terms of where it’s coming from and where it’s going to. Our car has movement when we travel from our house to someone else’s. The gospel has movement when it travels from believers to non-believers, and ideally to the “boundaries” of a particular segment (be it geographic, linguistic or cultural). If the “speed” of the movement in question will not reach the defined edges in a timely fashion, then it may be moving, but it’s not a movement.

We can see parallels to this in secular companies: as they try to scale toward market saturation. There’s quite a lot in business literature that is helpful when thinking about movements. Unfortunately, most churches structure themselves more like “owner-operated businesses” – the mom & pop grocer down the street – then they do in terms of markets, market penetration, and multiplication across various markets to saturate a country. You can’t serve a nation like Walmart does while retaining the methods and models of the neighborhood grocer.

When movements become the “it thing” of the moment, we want to call what we are doing a “movement.” But the problem is, doing that just means we want to be part of the “it thing” without giving up the things that don’t work and with discipling doing the things that DO work to get us to be a movement. Defining what we mean by “movement” and measuring ourselves to a standard is more important than simply slapping a hip label on something.

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