In the last two posts, we talked about counting small movements and small portions of movements, as well as counting larger representative chunks of movements. One way of attempting to verify these counts is to use a different lens, where we look at the geographic and ethnographic contexts of the movement. The way I usually do this is to think in terms of a playing field and goal posts.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario: someone tells me there is a movement happening in the United States. My next question is going to be: where in the United States? It’s a big country, but there are 50 states. My source now tells me that the movement is mostly in Texas and a little bit in Oklahoma.

I now have “two goal posts”: I know the movement must be bigger than 1 person, and must be smaller than the combined populations of Texas (28.3 million) and Oklahoma (3.9 million). The next step is to start moving these goal posts closer to each other.

Are they in particular counties? Perhaps they are in the Dallas Metroplex (7 million) and blending over into southern Oklahoma (Bryant county (46,000). The maximum size of the movement is, therefore, likely not more than 7 million.

I can then begin asking questions about where in the Metroplex the movement is, and move the goal posts yet further. Some places have geographic organizations: provinces, districts, sub-districts, villages. Each of these have different order of magnitudes in terms of population. We can begin asking local experts questions like: “So, how widely distributed are churches in these movements? One per district? One per sub-district? One in every village?” These kinds of questions can get us to rough percentages of the populations.

While these rough percentages and populations won’t be very precise censuses, they should be within the same order of magnitude as what’s being reported elsewhere.

We can further use this to begin comparing the generally known % Christian of each of these places with what we are learning about the movements. I am presently using four categories (Stage 1, <2%; Stage 2, 2% to <8%; Stage 3, 8% to <32%; Stage 4, >32%). Places in each of these four categories are generally similar to each other the world over. Movements can be “less visible” in some places, but if a movement were to “tip” a place from one stage to another, it would be slightly more visible because that place would start to take on the characteristics of the next stage (e.g. if it was at Stage 2 and tipped to Stage 3, we would start to see some of the frictions of that tipping, even if the movement weren’t as visible because it was still a very small movement).

Asking these kinds of geographic questions can help us understand the movement better. Some movements “sound” big to us, and we think, “why can’t I see that?” But, if such a movement is geographically dispersed over a large area, or over numerous people groups, it will in fact be far less visible because it’s only a small percentage of certain areas. Parts of the Bhojpuri movement in India – one of the largest in the world – are well over 10 million in size — but they are often less visible because they are dispersed, and 10 million within Northern India is still a very small percentage. (Plus, of course, much of this movement is underground.)