With 75 million or more believers in over 1,400 movements as of this writing, the ‘mean’ number of believers per movement is around 50,000. Looking at the individual data points, it does seem clear that a lot of movements are well under 50,000, and a few over well over 100,000, many near or over a million, thus pulling this ‘mean’ average to where it is. Seeing a disciple-making movement (or an individual stream of one) move over that 50,000 line may seem daunting—but it is possible, by taking it in stages.
First of all, movements are technically defined as ‘movements’ when (1) they reach 4th generation in multiple streams, (2) they continue to add generations “rapidly” (usually people mean less than 2 years), (3) (for some) they reach 1,000 believers. Many things that we call ‘movements’ we could actually think of as ‘large movements’ or ‘movement networks’ or ‘movement families’ that are themselves made up of multiple streams. (I have so far documented about 35 of these families, with several more in the process of being documented.) Each stream engages different languages or different places and rightfully could be called a movement in and of itself. One ‘movement family’ might therefore have 10, 15, or more ‘movements’ within it. When we say ‘movements launch movements’ what we’re largely talking about is a ‘movement family’ that sends a catalytic team to start another stream in a different place or amongst a different language or people group.
Worldwide, we know the average number of people in a church within a movement is about 15. So a stream that is just getting started could reach ‘movement’ status—four generations, with around 1,000 believers—in a configuration of 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 15 (or 3^4 X 15)—four generations in multiple streams, each featuring churches with 15 believers. (This simple configuration will actually reach over 1,200 believers.) This would also feature a ‘cluster’ of 80 to 100 leaders (3^4=81).
This cluster could, in turn, be mentored by a ‘cluster coach.’ Think of this as adding yet another generation of ‘3’ on top of this network. Coaching levels tend to grow organically as more generations are added. A cluster coach might be mentoring 3 people, who each have four generations under them (again, most movements aren’t this ‘clean’). So this configuration then becomes 3x3x3x3x3 (or 3^5). That is 243 leaders; if each mentored a group of 15, that would be 3,645 believers.
Movements are messy and never so clean as this. A cluster coach who is mentoring leaders of 4-generation streams probably isn’t himself leading a house church of 15 people. On the other hand, these tend to be very apostolic types of people, and likely aren’t just mentoring 3 4-generation leaders—stories are here are men and women who are constantly out there, talking to people, training people, touching base with people. They may not be leading a house church of 15 but they are more likely to be mentoring 10 to 15 leaders than just 3.
Having envisioned moving from 3^4 to 3^5, it’s a simple matter to consider 3^6, or 729 leaders, or 10,935. 3^7=2,187 (32k believers). 3^8 = 6,561 (98k leaders).
Four generations thus gets us to 1,000. Five to six generations will bring us to at or near 10,000. Eight to ten generations will get us over the 100,000 line.
One of the principles I’ve picked up is that things change at 10^y. The 10^y is where you add another zero to anything. With a 3×3 matrix, 10^y scale changes in total number of believers happen at generation 4, generation 6, generation 8 to 9, generation 11, and generation 15. At each stage, movements can expect to reach a ‘level up threshold,’ when systems and processes will likely encounter growing pains. However, anecdotally, what we’ve generally found is that reaching gen 4 can be the ‘most difficult’ early process—to build something that goes beyond 4gen than what most people use (charisma, large buildings, technologies, multisite, etc) to get to gen4.
Most of this process has to do with organizing coaches who are “one step beyond” the next level down–the old 2 Timothy 2:2 process.