This is an article from the March-April 2020 issue: Movements: God’s Way of Reaching Entire Peoples

Rapid Mobilization: How the West Was Won

Rapid Mobilization: How the West Was Won

Editor’s Note: On page 15 of this issue we highlight the power of the Methodist Movement in Britain. That nation was transformed by John Wesley and the Methodists as people became members of mandatory small group “class meetings.” They came to know Christ, learned to read by studying the Scriptures and singing hymns, confessed their sins one to another and became frugal, hard working and sober. Through obedience to the Word, they became circuit riders and non-professional pastors to spread the gospel even further. They employed many of the characteristics of the Church Planting Movement methodology of our day to very remarkable effect. The following story tells of the similar impact the Methodist movement had in the United States as the country moved westward. Like the movement in Britain, the movement in the U.S. also began to decline when “class meetings” were no longer required and the Methodists began to require seminary education instead of allowing pastors to rise up from the class meetings. See the sidebar on page 17 for more on this.

When the 26 year-old Methodist pioneer, Francis Asbury, arrived in the American colonies in 1771, he believed he was called to fulfill a great destiny. He was right—although that destiny was far greater than he ever imagined. In 1771 there were only 300 American Methodists, led by four ministers. By the time of Asbury’s death in 1816, Methodism had 2,000 ministers and over 200,000 members in a well-coordinated movement. By 1830 official membership was almost half a million, and the number of actual attenders was six million. Most of these people had no previous church connection before they became Methodists.

Asbury, like his mentor John Wesley, modeled the commitment required to achieve such success. Throughout his ministry Asbury delivered more than 16,000 sermons. He traveled nearly 300,000 miles on horseback. He remained unmarried so that he could devote himself fully to his mission. He was often ill    and had no permanent home. He was paid the salary of an ordinary traveling preacher and was still traveling when he died at 70 years of age.

Asbury’s leadership and example inspired an army of circuit riders, many of whom followed his example and remained unmarried. There were no formal vows, but in the early days of the movement the majority of the riders lived by the three rules of the monastic orders: poverty, chastity and obedience. Methodism was a kind of Protestant missionary order under one leader, adapted to reaching isolated communities in harsh conditions across an entire nation.

Jacob Young, a typical circuit rider, was 26 years old in 1802 when he took up the challenge of pioneering a Methodist circuit along the Green River in Kentucky. Young developed his own strategy to evangelize the region. He would travel five miles, find a settlement and look for a family who would let him preach in their log cabin to interested friends and neighbors. Sometimes he found groups already gathered, waiting for a preacher to arrive; in one location he discovered a society run by an illiterate African American slave with impressive preaching and leadership skills. Young established class meetings wherever he went to be run by local leaders in his absence.

Circuit riders like Jacob Young began with limited formal education, but they followed the example of Wesley and Asbury and used their time on horseback for study. They spoke the simple language of the frontier.

They faced ridicule and even violence, with courage and endurance. Above all else they sought conversions. Within a year of his call, Young had gathered 301 new members; for his efforts he received just $30—a cost of ten cents per new member.

In 1776 only 17 percent of the American population was affiliated with any church. By 1850 that number had doubled to 34 percent. Most of the growth was as a result of the gains by the Methodists and Baptists on the frontier. Francis Asbury could never have reached a nation as vast as the United States, no matter how many miles he rode and no matter how many sermons he preached, without rapidly mobilizing young circuit riders like Jacob Young.

The Protestant mainline denominations (Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Congregationalists) failed dismally to keep pace with these Baptist and Methodist upstarts. Having succumbed to a more settled version of the faith and having lost the zeal for evangelism, the message of the mainline denominations became too vague and too accommodating to have an impact.

The clergy of the mainline churches were well educated and refined, drawn from the social elites. At least 95 percent of Congregational, Episcopalian and Presbyterian ministers were college graduates, compared to only 10 percent of the Baptists. As a combined group the mainline denominations had trained 6,000 ministers before the first Methodist minister graduated from a seminary.

Higher education lifted the mainline clergy above the social status of their congregations and turned them into religious professionals. Secularized theological education and social background influenced both the content of their message and how it was delivered.

The clergy preferred to educate their hearers rather than convert them. The clergy’s carefully drafted scholarly sermons did little to stir hearts; they were out of touch with the common people. There also weren’t enough of them; it was not possible to mobilize enough well-educated, well-paid clergy to respond to the challenge of the rapidly expanding frontier. If expansion had been left to the older denominations, American Christianity may have ended up today looking more like the church of Europe—theologically refined, but declining.

So the mainline clergy watched from the safety of the larger towns and cities along the Atlantic seaboard while the Baptists and Methodists moved west. On the frontier it was hard to tell Methodist and Baptist preachers apart. They were ordinary folk with limited education. They spoke the language of the people and preached from the heart about the need for salvation from sin. As they preached, the power of God was not only spoken about, it was experienced. Methodist pioneer Peter Cartwright recalled that, “while I was preaching, the power of God fell on the assembly and there was an awful shaking among the dry bones. Several fell on the floor and cried for mercy.”

The Baptists and the Methodists developed strategies that made it easy for gifted and committed laypeople to take up leadership and go where the people and the opportunities were. Deployment was rapid because very little upfront investment of resources and education was required. Methodist preachers, many of whom were teenagers, were trained on the job as “apprentices” by more experienced workers. They were expected to be continually studying as they traveled. They practiced lifelong learning and graduated the day they died.

The Methodists were centrally governed, whereas the Baptists believed in local autonomy. But in actuality, both movements planted self-governing congregations. The Methodist circuit riders did not have the time to settle down in one place and take control. Their role was to pioneer new works and mobilize local workers to continue the ministry in depth. These self-governing congregations were well suited to rapid multiplication in the frontier culture.

Methodism gave unprecedented freedom to both women and African Americans to engage in ministry. Methodist preachers called the converted to join a growing movement and offered them the opportunity to make a significant contribution—as class leaders, lay preachers or even circuit riders. Some women served as preachers, and many more served as class leaders, unofficial counselors to the circuit riders, network builders and financial patrons.

Large numbers of African American Methodist preachers emerged following the Revolutionary War. Some were well-known public figures. Harry Hosier, probably born a slave, traveled with Asbury and other Methodist leaders and preached to large crowds, both white and black. Methodists and Baptists, unlike the established churches, preached in a way uneducated slaves could understand and affirmed the place of spiritual experiences and emotion. African American preachers played a significant role in shaping the Methodist movement.

The Baptists and Methodists flourished because they mobilized common people to preach the gospel and plant churches wherever there was a need. The Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists languished because they were controlled by well-paid clergy who were recruited from the social and financial elite. Early growth was dramatic for the Methodists—from 2.5 percent of the church-going population in 1776 to 34 percent in 1850, with 4,000 itinerant preachers, almost 8,000 local preachers and over one million members. This made them by far the largest religious body in the nation. There was only one national institution that was more extensive: the U.S. government. This achievement would have been impossible without the mobilization of ordinary people—white and black, young and old, men and women—and the removal of artificial barriers to their engagement in significant leadership such as class leaders, local workers and itinerant preachers. Unfortunately, the Methodist rise was short-lived. Whereas before 1840 the Methodists had virtually no college educated clergy among their circuit riders and local preachers, their amateur clergy was gradually replaced by seminary educated professionals who claimed the authority of the church hierarchy over their congregations. Their relative slump began at the same time; by the end of the 19th century the Baptists had overtaken them in numbers.


This is an article from the November-December 2016 issue: 40 Years of the USCWM/Frontier Ventures and the Unreached Peoples Movement

Vision for a Refugee Kingdom Movement

Vision for a Refugee Kingdom Movement

God is moving in unprecedented ways in our generation in the Muslim world. Too often Western believers are filled with fear at the pictures of refugees crossing the borders of Western nations. Such a view fails to look at this migration from an eternal perspective.

The current migrations are consistent with the ways God has moved throughout history to bring people groups to the knowledge of Christ.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-27, ESV, emphasis added)

God has consistently changed the allotted periods and boundaries to bring people to know Him. We should praise the God of heaven in giving a myriad of Muslim people groups open hearts and greater access to the gospel, while at the same time weeping with them at the suffering they endure.

God’s heart is for a kingdom movement to flow through hundreds of refugee locations and then back into the home countries from which they have been thrust—some places difficult or impossible for missionaries to access.

Thousands of evangelists have descended upon Europe the last two years to purposefully bring the gospel to refugees resulting in many salvations. In the excitement of good evangelism, however, what emerges as the dust settles will determine if this becomes a lasting kingdom movement. God’s desire is for disciples and churches, not simply decisions, to multiply throughout the refugee populations, to the surrounding majority populations (e.g. Germans and Greeks) and back into home countries. Will we settle for good evangelism or press into enduring Church-Planting Movements (CPMs)? The latter is God’s heart.

A Case Study

My interactions with the refugee outreach have been to promote the latter (CPM) rather than the former (abundant evangelism). In one country, the Great Commission partners are doing an amazing job of reaching out to refugees with the gospel. They have hosted hundreds of short-term volunteers and the gospel has been shared thousands of times. They have been so busy hosting each team to do evangelism efforts that they have had little time to catalyze the next stages of a CPM—on-going discipleship training, church formation and leadership development. Their effectiveness in doing a good thing (evangelism) threatens the needed shift into the next stage (making disciples who can make disciples, resulting in multiplying churches.)

For three days we worked together on how to translate evangelistic fruit into a kingdom movement. Two weeks later, one Muslim-background believer immediately baptized 18 people and formed two groups into churches. He is making the shift to give enough time to the new disciples, churches and leaders.

What changed in him and others was a sense of the larger vision of what God is doing. Refugee believers have been particularly envisioned by the Joseph account (Gen. 37-50) and find almost exact parallels between Joseph’s journey and theirs. These new disciples stand on the edge of the refugee outreach becoming a Joseph movement.

The Joseph Movement

We may fail to recognize how much of the Genesis account the Joseph narrative takes up. Genesis is painted as follows in broad strokes:

Creation             2 chapters

Fall/Cain 2 chapters

Genealogies         4 chapters

Noah                 4 chapters

Abraham            12 chapters

Isaac                  2 chapters

Jacob                 9-10 chapters

Joseph                14 chapters

In sheer proportion the Joseph story occupies the largest amount of text—14 out of 50 chapters. We rightly accord huge emphasis to the critical stories of Creation/Fall, Noah and Abraham (the father of all who live by faith). But how often do we contemplate the message of the Joseph movement?

Refugee believers are drawn to Joseph because his story gives meaning to their story. It helps to explain what God is doing according to Acts 17:26-27.

The Joseph Movement Parallels

Joseph appears as a prophet in the Quran; Muslims are familiar with his name. But as Muslim-background believers learn the true story from the Old Testament, they find a number of parallels with their situation:

The salvation of many: The theme verse of the Joseph account is Genesis 50:20:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen. 50:20, ESV, emphasis added)

From the comforts of Western Christianity, we quote “what was meant for evil, God meant for good.” But can we quote the verse’s purpose statement? The operative word is “to”. God has a purpose in turning evil to good—to save many people. In Western Christianity, we fear the invasion of our way of life in the refugee situation. Refugee believers see the overarching vision—God’s purpose is to save multitudes of people for eternity. The grand purpose of God is sovereignly moving people groups to bring His kingdom fully to them. God is answering the Lord’s prayer we pray regularly.

Embracing the uncontrollables: Joseph chose to embrace the goodness of God despite having no control over his situation and being moved against his will. Rather than bemoan his situation, Joseph embraced the uncontrollable as signs of God’s goodness and sovereign orchestration. Refugee believers are learning to celebrate the uncontrollables as God’s sovereign goodness to bring about the salvation of many.

Suffering: The uncontrollables included intense suffering for Joseph, even being blamed for things he didn’t do. Often refugees are lumped into the same category as terrorists. Often they are mistreated simply because they belong to a disdained group. Refugee believers see in Joseph an example about how to bear up under suffering and mistreatment in the midst of knowing God has a grander plan.

Dreams: The Joseph story is filled with dreams about God’s purposes. God gave Joseph the discernment to believe and interpret these dreams. When God moves in unprecedented ways, He often initiates them through dreams (even in the New Testament). Within the Muslim world, God is appearing to and speaking to people in dreams and visions. Refugee believers recognize that God is speaking clearly, tearing down defences and giving vision for the future to them.

Salvation of a new land:  Joseph was adopted into a new land (Egypt) and eventually became a source of blessing for that land in the midst of famine. He was the source of salvation to the majority population though he came from a despised minority—Hebrews (Gen. 43:32). In the hard soil of European evangelism, God is going to use Muslim-background believers to bring salvation to Christian-background lost people (Germans, Italians, etc). Refugee believers are learning that this is part of their calling.

The salvation of the old land: The purpose of the Joseph story, however, was the salvation of the old land/people. Joseph was not preserved alone by God but seventy others from the old land were saved that they might become a people of God. A vision is growing among refugee believers that God wants to both 1) save many refugees along the refugee road and 2) bring this movement back to the home countries. We must help believers in the diaspora to become movements that bring salvation to home countries from which they emerged.

Seasons of darkness: Doubtless at times Joseph felt forgotten by God, his family and friends. Yet in the darkness he did not despair but continued to trust God. The situation had to get very dark before it got better. Refugee believers take encouragement from Joseph’s faith while in dark places. They know that in time God will bring about His purposes.

A new hope: The Joseph story is one in which a new hope emerges, one Joseph could never have imagined despite the foreshadowing of his initial dreams in Genesis 37. From the darkness, a much greater purpose came to light. How shocked Joseph must have been years later when his brothers showed up to buy grain. In that moment, the greater purpose became clear:

5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:5-8, ESV, emphasis added)

Three times Joseph stated: “It was God who sent me here!” The purpose became clear—a new hope emerging from darkness. For the refugee evangelism efforts to become a kingdom movement, refugee leaders must embrace this new hope—they have been sent ahead by God for the salvation of many. If we fail to call them to a bigger vision or if we shrink back from calling them to suffer for a greater purpose, then we will likely reap a few hundred or thousand new disciples but lose a potential movement to rock the Islamic world.

Don’t compromise: During the dark times and light times, Joseph refused to compromise. As Potiphar’s steward, he refused to sin with Potiphar’s wife. As a prisoner in darkness, he refused to use underhanded ways to escape prison. As the second-in-command of Egypt, he refused to abuse the rank and privilege accorded him. Refugee believers identify with the need to remain true to God’s Word no matter their circumstances—to refuse to compromise or use underhanded ways to better their situation or seek retribution.

Expect helpers along the way: Joseph’s destiny was ultimately in God’s hands, but in the earthly realm was in the hands of others. He trusted God to guide the hands and hearts of the rulers toward God’s ultimate purposes. Along the way, God provided helpers in this journey—Judah to sell Joseph rather than let him be killed, Potiphar purchasing Joseph, the keeper of the prison giving Joseph privileges, the cupbearer bringing Joseph to Pharaoh, Pharaoh raising Joseph to his right hand. Refugee believers have to trust that God will provide advocates along the way to move them toward the destiny God has created for them.

Create relational networks along the way: The challenge of the refugee road becoming a movement is that relational networks change from week to week. Families are torn apart and new living situations present themselves each week or month. Joseph was torn from his family and moved from place to place. Rather than see only his blood family as his relational network, Joseph created new relational networks along the way—Potiphar’s household, the prisoner network and eventually the palace network of Egypt. Refugee leaders with a vision for a movement realize they must help new believers create and embrace new relational networks face-to-face, by phone, and online. As they embrace these new networks and disciple each other in these various forms, the movement is growing and finding stability. 

God’s favor will be upon you: God’s hand of favor was continually upon Joseph. The seed of saving his family planted in the dreams of Genesis 37 was watered all along the way. God’s promise was one of favor and purpose he could hold onto in dark times. Refugee believers frequently ask: “Why did God save me first rather than my brother or my cousin (or someone else)?” They find a growing sense that God’s favor is upon them to be the channel of salvation and this favor fills their hearts with gratitude.

God’s school of suffering: Years ago a greatly persecuted Chinese underground leader shared with me: “Prison is God’s seminary for me. It is when He lets me stop long enough to study my Bible more deeply, write and hear His voice more clearly.” God’s school of suffering. Suffering was Joseph’s seminary. It was the crucible of shaping Joseph into the man who could be the channel of salvation. The Joseph of Genesis 37 was not ready for the throne of Egypt; the Joseph of Genesis 40 was. Refugee believers must embrace periods of suffering as God’s seminary to prepare them for the greater works Jesus promised (John 14:12).

The Joseph Movement: A Vision

The story of Joseph is one of uncanny precedent that refugee believers can learn from. It is a biblical case study for a movement that can be repeated again today. The key will be refugee believers taking on the identity and vision of a true Joseph movement. Such a vision will be as costly to them as it was to Joseph. But if believers can identify this moment as a Joseph opportunity, then it may well become multiple kingdom movements intertwining their fingers both in the diaspora and back home in the sending countries. Will Muslim background believers take on this identity? Will they embrace the cost that comes with the promise?

And for Christian leaders around the world working with these precious brothers and sisters, will we embrace the same vision and communicate it with faith to them? Will we communicate it to our own churches? Will we reinterpret the unfolding events to demonstrate God’s amazing purposes?

If we do, then we are casting a vision of what is on our Father’s Heart.

And, in case you wondered how to cast vision in general, this article has been an example—bringing an encouraging and inspiring word to growing disciples based on Father’s heart.

This is an article from the May-June 2016 issue: Getting to No Place Left

Our Role in Hastening “No Place Left”

Excerpted from Hastening

Our Role in Hastening “No Place Left”

Used by permission of 2414 Ventures.

A few years ago Mission Frontiers featured David Platt’s Radical, a strategic book for mobilizing the church. We are delighted now to feature Steve Smith’s thriller “No Place Left” saga, designed to carry the Church further in the same direction. This excerpt is from Hastening (Book One).

“Congratulations, my imperturbable accomplice,” John said. “We made the Washington Post.”

Christopher sighed as he scanned the headline: L.A. Pastor Speeds Up the Return of Jesus. “Really, bro, you shouldn’t pay attention to these things.”

“They’re saying we think we can dictate when Jesus returns. They’re saying we’re taking Matthew 24:14 and 2 Peter 3:12 too far, as if the moment the last unreached people group is reached, Jesus has to return,” John said.

Christopher studied his longtime friend. “There’s more to it, though, isn’t there, bro?”

“Well,” John admitted, “I’ve had similar questions, lingering questions. We’re gaining a lot of momentum, so I haven’t wanted to rock the boat—especially since I often appear critical.”

“I’m not! I support you and this mission unreservedly! But, Christopher, what if they’re right? Are we trying to dictate when Jesus will return? How can we actually hasten Jesus’ return? This is the question that plagues me. Isn’t God sovereign? Hasn’t He set the date for Jesus’ return? How can we speed up the coming of that day?”

“Bro, I wish you had said something sooner,” Christopher commented. “Actually, I wish that I had said something. We’re getting a lot of kickback on this, so I’ve been studying it more deeply—making sure we’re not off base. And here’s the thing. Of course God is sovereign. And at the same time, we play a role in bringing about His sovereign plans. Think about it this way. Remember when you came to faith?”

“I was quite the rabid dog, wasn’t I?” John said, smiling. “Couldn’t shut up about my new life.”

“Well, not exactly. You were also really, really nervous about talking to your dad about it, remember?”

“Well, who wouldn’t be?” John said. “He was a Rhodes scholar. Tenured faculty. Twice the intellectual—and cynic—I am. And always finding fault with born-again Christians.”

Christopher nodded. “You kept praying, ‘Lord, send someone to witness to my dad, someone with the intellectual faculties to back him into a corner.’ Remember?”

John winced. “Yes, until that fateful day when I realized my dad was my responsibility. It was up to me to share the gospel with him.”

Christopher leaned back in his chair. “Now, think about it, bro. How long did you wait to open your mouth? Six months?”

“Yeah, but I finally got convicted to do something about it. Otherwise I probably would have waited six years, or perhaps even sixteen.”

John paused. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was buying that plane ticket to Boston. But you know, after we had spent a little time together and I shared my story, he just melted. I was speechless.”

“Bro, the testimony of your changed life and your love for him was more powerful than any apologetics someone else might have debated with him,” Christopher said, smiling.

“I—I guess so. I’m still amazed my dad’s a Jesus-follower. The cynic now an evangelist!”

Christopher leaned forward. “Now think about this, bro. You were the instrument God used to lead your dad to faith. You wanted to wait years and very well might have if God hadn’t convicted you to speed up the process.

“You and I know the date of your dad’s salvation was set in heaven before the earth was formed. But, in a way, you hastened that day by buying that plane ticket and witnessing to your dad. Perhaps if you had waited six years, he would have believed later, but you didn’t wait. You hastened the day, though from heaven’s viewpoint that had been God’s plan all along. Your motivation fit within God’s plans.”

“God destined my father’s day of salvation, but I became His instrument,” John repeated to himself. “From my vantage point, I speeded up that day by acting in faith sooner rather than later. Someone was going to win him. Why not me, and why not then? How was I to know it wasn’t to be his day of salvation?”

“It was the same when Church in the City sent our first short-term team to China,” Christopher said. “Remember the medical clinics we did in the villages? There were people there who might not have heard the gospel for many more years if we had not come. God knew when He created them when they would believe, but from our perspective, we hastened the day of their salvation.

“Look, bro. Fatalism drove those who opposed William Carey. They told him, ‘Sit down, young man. … When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or ours.’”

John chuckled. “Uh, yeah, I could have been one of them.”

Christopher continued, “All I know is that someday God will raise up a generation with the motivation, the wherewithal, and the perseverance to finish the task—the last generation. From earth’s vantage point—whether or not we become that generation—we are hastening that day by focusing on finishing the task. From God’s vantage point, He has chosen someone to finish the task and appointed the times and seasons of their final work. If we are the ones He has chosen, we’re not speeding God up; God is speeding us up to usher in the day He prepared long ago.

“Bro, we’re on solid biblical ground. Solid not just according to me but also respected theologians. Listen to Marvin Vincent’s hundred-year-old comments on 2 Peter 3:12.”

Christopher picked up an ancient tome, gently leafed to the appropriate page, and read:

I am inclined to adopt, with Alford, Huther, Salmond, and Trench, the transitive meaning, hastening on; i.e., “causing the day of the Lord to come more quickly by helping to fulfil those conditions without which it cannot come; that day being no day inexorably fixed, but one the arrival of which it is free to the church to hasten on by faith and by prayer.”

John contemplated these words.

“Will Jesus come back the moment the last UPG is reached?” Christopher asked. He glanced once more at the headline as he grabbed the paper again. “I don’t know. I just know that this is the mission He left us with, and that He said we would finish before His return. I want to finish the task He has given us.

He tossed it back down again and said, “He’s not waiting for permission from us to come back. Rather He is patiently waiting for us to do what He commanded, and He’ll come back when the time is right. …

“There will be a last generation. Why not us? Carey suggested his generation speed up the Great Commission by going. I ask why we can’t hasten finishing this task. By God’s grace I will lay down my life to see it completed. Perhaps God’s plan all along has been to raise up this generation as His vehicle for finishing the task before He sends Jesus on the day appointed from the foundation of this world.”

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Longing for the Golden City

How 42,500 Buddhist-Background Believers are Proclaiming the Gospel

Longing for the Golden City

The author of this article would like to clarify that this work is C4, and all believers call themselves “Christians” or “Children of God.”

There have been tremendous evangelistic breakthroughs among animistic Tribals, Chinese, nominal Christians, Hindus and now even Muslims, but there have been very few breakthroughs among the 350 million Buddhists of the world. Surely the Buddhists are one of the few remaining giants in global evangelization.1

Indigenous elements of church multiplication movement vision and principles

In February 2004 two of my trainees, the Lawyer and the Farmer, started to see a breakthrough among their Buddhist Unreached People Group. Within two months we saw the first seven new churches.  Six  months earlier  we had started a temporary training church  modeled  after what we learned from Dr. George Patterson. This training allowed the Lawyer and the Farmer to develop a Buddhist-friendly style of worship.  I asked, “How can we help Buddhist seekers and Buddhist background believers feel comfortable worshipping Jesus?”2 The  trainees decided to use a Buddhist gyzee bell available on the prayer alter in every  Buddhist  home  in  the  country.3  We adapted its purpose and the gyzee is struck three times to indicate the beginning and end of worship in homes. The trainees adapted the basic outline and terminology of the Buddhist monk’s ordination ceremony to baptism. New believers (novices) are trained in an easily reproducible curriculum we call the Ten  Commands  of  Christ4 and asked if they lovingly commit to obey our Abbot wherever they go. The novices reply with a Buddhist Pali term amabondi (I promise). There is only one Monk—Jesus—whom they bow before.5

When they pray, the believers use the Buddhist term for amen or well done, thadu.6 In Adoniram Judson’s translation of the Bible into Burmese, Jesus uses this word in Matt 25:23, giving precedent for its use.

Rapid obedience to Christ’s commands has led to rapid multiplication of new disciples and churches.7

Sister Than Than’s alcoholic husband left her in 2005 because he found out that she was earning money by way of the oldest profession in the world. When Than Than  traveled  to  the  city  where  the Lawyer and I lived looking for her runaway husband, she heard the gospel, was baptized a week later and was shown a simple model for church. We trained her, shared the vision for a movement and sent her back home. By Christmas 2005, Than Than had started fourteen churches in her area. I asked her how she did this and she was irritated at my amazement. She went on to share her waterfall strategy: “People come to my house on Sunday morning and my daughter Phyu Phyu tells a Bible story using our picture Bible.8 Then the trainees repeat the Bible story back to the group and I ask the four inductive questions.” The last question is “Who are you going to share this story and truth with?” She challenges the trainees to repeat this story at their homes that afternoon. Therefore the Bible flows out of Than Than’s house to the second, third, and fourth generation like a cascading waterfall. Nine-year-old Phyu Phyu is the best preacher in that area out of 200 new house church leaders.

The networks often hold leadership trainings inside monasteries and homes. The Lawyer works with monks on community development projects. A handful of monks have been identified as persons of peace9 who have embraced the Messiah while others have been identified as persons of goodwill.10 A few monks, however, have proven to be strong opponents of the gospel and have driven 300 believers from nine villages. They are jealous of the large numbers turning to Christ and have placed curses on our leaders, which we have  broken.11  We have learned a great deal about handling spiritual warfare thanks to these monks.

Living in an area with one of the lowest cell phone penetrations in the world, our network leaders continue to struggle with lack of communication between mentors. We have sent “runners” with hand-written letters to encourage other leaders and organize future trainings. The house church networks have taken up offerings to build schools, care for children at risk and provide aid in natural disasters and ethnic conflict zones. After cyclone Nargis washed away 140,000 people in May 2008, the movement crossed cultural barriers and spread into the majority people group numbering sixty million Buddhists.

Eight barriers to Buddhists receiving Christ12

While many cross-cultural workers have developed various methods for sharing the gospel with Buddhists, it is more crucial to identify the barriers.

  1. The term for heaven: Buddhists desire to be set free from the cycle of sin and suffering (reincarnation).
  2. God’s wrath and justice: “Your God killed people in the Red Sea?”
  3. The term for sacrifice: “Your God wants me to drink blood and eat flesh? Is he like a hungry ghost?” See the story of   the Rabbit in the Moon for our way of dealing with this issue.13
  4. Eternal life: “You want me to be stuck in reincarnation forever? No thanks.”
  5. The preeminence of Buddha: “Buddha lived before Jesus; therefore Buddhism is correct.”
  6. God’s grace versus merit: “If salvation is free, then it must be worthless.”
  7. Sin versus crime: “You said ‘for all have committed crime and fallen short of the glory of God.’ I am not a criminal.”
  8. Creation: “The monks told us not to think about creation; that it is not important in our religion.”

The Lawyer’s Method
(The Four Noble Truths of Christ)14

Taking these barriers into  account,  my trainee the Lawyer developed a presentation of  the gospel for those who live under the four laws of Buddhism (Four Noble Truths).15 He presents the bad news of Buddha’s law before proclaiming the liberating good news of Christ. Buddhists call this liberation nirvana16 in Sanskrit (nibbana in Pali). The Lawyer proclaims Christ as the way to nirvana. The following is my version of his method.17

Jesus and Buddha are in agreement that humans have to be perfect. It is impossible with men but possible with God.

1st truth:  Suffering and death have an origin (a cause). Suffering and death is the effect of that cause.

2nd truth: The origin of death is sin. Share the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience Gen. 3:3 and Rom. 6:23.

3rd truth: There is a place where suffering and sin no longer exist. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:4, NIV) The goal is to go to nirvana. Ni means no, vana means fire or burning. Nirvana is a place of no sin and no suffering.

[Editorial Note: My Buddhist-background friends have redrawn the diagram above in a simplified way, since the average layman would recognize only the general categories into which the abodes can be grouped, rather than all the individual Pali names. Their simplified diagram shows a huge gap between the top of the triangle and nibbana, in order to emphasize the enormous difficulty in reaching there from any one of the planes, according to Gautama Buddha.]

4th truth: The way out of the cycle of sin and suffering is faith in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Christ walks the perfect road through his disciples. He makes them perfect in his eyes. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV)

After praying for the sick, the Lawyer reminds persons of peace that there are many stories in Theravada Buddhism about salvation by grace through faith. For example, most are familiar with the story of a man named Angulimala who murdered his father and repented before the enlightened Gautama Buddha.18 The Buddhist background believers announce that Christ is very similar to the Lord of Compassion, the Ari Metteya.19

Miracles, Muslims, Hindus and Jews

Not only have the Buddhist-background believers in Myanmar seen a missiological breakthrough among Buddhists, they are also spearheading church multiplication movements among Muslims who have recently embraced the good news. Through them over 400 Hindus have also been  baptized and are worshipping in 70 churches. My trainees from Israel have conducted a signs and wonders training in Asia. Now our networks in Myanmar are reporting hundreds more healings and  even one resurrection. Only Jesus can bring Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and  Jews  together  in the body of Christ. All the power in the world cannot break down the walls of religion, but with Christ all things are possible.

When I inquired to why he made this comparison of Buddha’s grace to Christ’s grace the Lawyer stated that according to Buddhism, Buddha has already gone to Nirvana and cannot offer grace for people of today. He could only offer salvation during Buddha’s and Angulimala’s lifetime.

  1. 1 With the advice of Dr. Victor Choudhrie, I have identified six church multiplication movements across the Buddhist world. There are hundreds occurring across the Muslim world even though there are far more missions focused on Buddhists. My Thai friends are seeing one of these Church-Planting Movements. I have interviewed their first-generation leaders who reported to me 17,000 baptisms in 2012.

  2. 2 All Buddhist background believers identify themselves "Christians" or "Children of God."

  3. 3 In an email to me in 2006 Dr. David Garrison states that there is a difference between contextualization and indigenization. Contextualization is the form and concepts outsiders choose to bridge the gospel cross-culturally as Acts 17 clearly shows. In regard to contextualization and indigenization, mission workers in the Muslim and Hindu context are light years ahead of those of us in the Buddhist context.

  4. 4 Ten things from the gospels that Christ taught his followers to do, including repent, pray, give joyfully and make disciples. This is an adaptation of the Seven Commands of Christ Dr. Patterson developed with Honduran house church leaders. For a further description see http://www.justobeyjesus com/#.!who-jay-has-served/c1i0v.

  5. 5 I Tim. 2:5, NIV.

  6. 6 We learned this term from the Thai Covenant Church.

  7. 7 I have noticed that over emphasizing “rapidity” frustrates new house church network trainers. Rapid multiplication will come when seekers and leaders learn to lovingly obey Jesus rapidly and radically rather than rushing them to multiply churches.

  8. 8 We have developed a Picture Bible with a beardless Christ that emphasizes the missionary theme of the Bible. This theme of Scripture is preferred in the Perspectives course over the sacrificial theme popularized in animistic contexts. Buddhists can relate to an all-powerful, all-loving Lord of Compassion for all nations.

  9. 9 Luke 10:6, NIV.

  10. 10 Dan. 1:9, NIV.

  11. Gal. 3:13, NIV.

  12. 12 With the guidance of T. Wolf I listed the barriers that were discovered by the leaders of the Buddhist background believers church multiplication movement and are described further at!8-barriers- for-buddhists/c1c4x.

  13. 13!sacrifice-story/c24zj

  14. 14 Before I could describe the Lawyer’s Method and how my Buddhist background friends are leading Buddhists  to Christ, Church-Planting Movement consultant David Watson said to me in a phone conversation, “You know how Buddhists understand the gospel? They need to hear about Heaven.”

  15. 15 For a list of the Four Noble Truths, see

  16. 16 Spiro, Melford E. 1970 Buddhism and Society. New York: Harper and Row, 74. The contemporary Burmese Bud- dhist exhibits three points of view concerning the mean- ing of nirvana (nibbana). A small group says that short of experiencing nirvana, nothing can be said about it (other than that it entails that absence of suffering). A second group says that although we cannot say what nirvana is, it is not extinction or annihilation. Some members of this group argue that although nirvana means complete extinction of the physical aspect of life, its spiritual aspect of the mind remains. Others insist that although mind, too, is destroyed, there remains a special kind of awareness.

  17. 17 The Lawyer’s Method was  developed  and written before I found a very similar presentation described in “From Buddha to Jesus” by Thai pastor Steve Cioccolanti www.

  18. 18

  19. 19 Buddhists in our country are familiar with three facts about this Coming One; he is called the Ari Metteya, he is the Savior of the world, and when he comes the world will be cleansed with fire. It is highly likely that Gautama Buddha learned of King Darius’ decree in Daniel 6:25-28 and that he learned about the Coming Savior and the cleansing of the world through fire.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Celebrating the Gift of George Patterson

Tributes from those whom he impacted

Celebrating the Gift of George Patterson
The contribution of George Patterson is one reason why we keep finding ourselves surprised by the content of the Perspectives course. Because of George’s writing and teaching, long before CPM or DMM were named as recognized approaches, the Perspectives course had been presenting the basic ideas of multiplying movements of disciples with Patterson’s teaching. He had formed his guiding principles in practice, but he was aware of how he was building on some of the best missiology that preceded him. He gave his article the name, The Spontaneous Multiplication of the Church, which is an obvious reference to Roland Allen’s important book, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, published more than 50 years before George taught the material at Penn State in 1980.

Only recently I have come to recognize that George had given us far more than a practical methodology. In his simple insistence that local leaders could and should obey Christ, George gave us the heart, soul and center of what a church really is: Christ Himself, obeyed and served by a community of followers. This is also the essential reality of the kingdom of God: people loving, worshipping and serving Christ together, as a new form of life on the earth.

This new life form, alive withthe life of the resurrected Christ, will not only grow, it will multiply  and bear the fruit of the Spirit in the local community. The heart of this life is the relational reality of Christ being served, worshipped and loved—or, we could simply say, obeyed. This goal of mission, in Paul’s words, is “the obedience of faith among all the peoples” (Rom. 1:5, 15:18, 16:26).

This relational reality of Christ, and Him obeyed, is why movements (CPM or DMM) actually move. These movements cannot be dismissed as if they were no more than a bundle of gimmicks and tricks to report greater numbers. The great fact is that our Lord is calling people to serve, worship and love Him in every people. Evangelization aims at this hope and goal. Let’s celebrate the gift of George Patterson. He helped us with practical, simple ways to work with our Lord.
—Steve Hawthorne co-editor of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader and author of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Study Guide. He works with WayMakers, a mission and prayer mobilization ministry and helps launch Perspectives courses in strategic settings.

George Patterson was already a veteran in church-planting and church multiplication when I first began writing about Church Planting Movements a quarter century ago. So many of our missionaries have been the beneficiaries of his pioneering work in this field. As he enters heaven, he will undoubtedly be greeted by the thousands upon thousands who have come to faith as a result of his pioneering efforts.

—David Garrison, author of the book, Church Planting Movements and director of Global Gates.

I didn’t know George well, but we were acquaintances and I greatly respected him. In my opinion, his greatest contribution was establishing and popularizing a recognition of the concept of ‘obedience-based discipleship’ which is a critical factor in movement thinking. He also made great nefforts at getting house church approaches used in the USA. While he didn’t have much numerical
fruit in that area, he softened the soil considerably, making it far more possible for the next generation to start making a bit more headway. In terms of tooln development, his “Train & Multiply” materials were (and are) greatly influential. OMS International, and especially their ECC division still utilize these tools widely. Though the tool was developed forn bLatin America, it has since been used to great effect in Africa and Asia as well. That resource was groundbreaking and ahead of its time in many ways. George was a gracious and influential ambassador for the kingdom. He was a humble giant whose legacy will live on in the many people he impacted.

—Curtis Sergeant, CPM trainer and founder of the Zume Project and Metacamp.

George told me: “Mentor, mentor, mentor.” We developed strong coaching for our church-planters, and it has made a huge difference. George’s concept of being “people of yes” (who support and encourage ...) has also been very important for us. And. of course, every church-planter in All Nations can recite, sing and dance to the seven commands of Jesus!

—Pam Arlund, All Nations International

Dr. Patterson’s teaching of The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches was a favorite of the various lessons in the Perspectives course and probably still is. In the summer of 1987 at the U.S. Center for World Mission, just as the Perspectives class was about to take a break, Dr. Patterson said, “Oh and by the way we are not the ones who are going to complete the Great Commission. I was planning to go to Mongolia at that time and was out of my seat in a shot exclaiming, “What do you mean we’re not the ones who are going to finish the.Great Commission?” Little did I know I had fallen right into Dr. Patterson’s trap and he calmly said, “You ask that question when we come back from the break” and he dismissed the class. After the break, even as the students were still taking their seats, Dr. Patterson was at the front of the class.  He looked at me and said, “Now you ask that question again.” So in a much calmer voice I repeated what Dr. Patterson had said and my question. No one in the class had ever heard of near neighbor evangelism. But as George Patterson unpacked this true nd beautiful thesis being one of the keys to  the spontaneous multiplication of churches, no one could object. Near neighbor evangelism is simply equipping and releasing believers who are culturally closer to your focused unreached people than you are. These discipled believers will then be the ones to bring the gospel to their unreached neighbors across the river, over the mountain or on the other side of town, etc. These believers are culturally near to the unreached tribe and speak the same trade language they do.

—Rick Leatherwood, veteran missionary in Mongolia and numerous other places

George  Patterson  helped  me  move  from  teacher-classroom-centered training approaches to Paul-Timothy training approaches, which included on- the-job training, on-site and immediate application and follow-up. Thanks George and Denny for getting the mission community back to Jesus’ and the apostle Paul’s effective methods.

—Jean Johnson, Director / Missionary, Five Stones Global

The late Dr. Ralph Winter described George as “one of the two or three world experts in the growth of the church,” and called his missionary career “legendary.” The work of our team in Erdenet, Mongolia and the planting of Mongolia’s first and largest Disciple Making Movement is a testament to the New Testament discoveries of Dr. George Patterson. He trained all of our YWAM team’s primary church planters and it was his teaching and article in the course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement that launched my own career into multiplicative church planting. Very little in the content of my trainings over the past 20 years is original—most of what I teach is simply an echoing of George and what I have learned through putting his “Obedience Oriented Education” into practice among unreached people groups. All of us in YWAM’s Frontier Missions look to him as mentor and “Guru George.” I am blessed to have had as my friend!

—Brian Hogan, YWAM Church Planting Coach, Perspectives and mission speaker, publisher, and author of There’s a Sheep in my Bathtub: Birth of a Mongolian Church Planting Movement, An A to Z of Near-Death Adventures, and Boy Centurions.

Fifteen years ago, I was an ambitious, high performing leader in the American church system. But I felt empty. Although I’d been relatively “successful”—raising  money,  recruiting  staff, gaining an increasingly large following, etc., I didn’t feel like I was actually following Jesus.That year,  I stumbled into a training taught by an  elderly man who seemed to bounce around the room like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. His name was George Patterson. He taught in a way I’d never seen anyone teach. His enthusiasm was virally contagious. He emanated an attitude of playfulness as he taught about the Great Commission and how to create disciple-making relationships and form churches that can multiply virally. He gathered us into groups to create skits to illustrate his principles. Of course, he never claimed these were his principles—he simply said he was lowering the bar about training to get back to the basics of how Jesus and the Apostles formed disciple-making relationships and churches. We didn’t fill out massive volumes of notebooks. It felt like the 30 people in the room were playing together as we rediscovered the Great Commission. I was blown away, not only by the way George taught—so different from conventional lecture styles I was used to, but by his concepts about church and disciple-making multiplication that so much more clearly seemed to reflect the way of Jesus and the strategies of the Apostles in the Book of Acts. My heart was gripped. But my mind was filled with questions. These Church Planting Movements George talked about were occurring in Unreached People Groups—far removed both geographically and culturally from the context in which I worked here in America. I approached George during a break. “Dr. Patterson, is it possible to see one of these things you call a CPM in the Western World?” He looked at me, pausing for what seemed like theatrical, reflective effect, and replied, “Hmmm. Well, that depends. How willing are you to abandon everything you’ve learned about American models of planting churches and return to a biblical model of making disciples?” Seeking to go on a new adventure with Jesus across the U.S. and find more effective ways of creating communities of disciples among pre-Christians, I’d just resigned from my job as a pastor on staff at a church. I’d lost most of my
friends in the process. Having not much else to lose, I replied, “I’m willing to try anything.”

He responded with his “Tigger” type bounce again. He became exuberant. In a high-pitched voice, he said, “Then it’s totally possible!” George began a mentoring relationship with me that day. He was a master at coming alongside creative, messy, misfit leaders like myself and guiding them to go out and dare to do something spectacularly fruitful for the kingdom of God, simply by obeying Jesus, learning from New Testament examples, and avoiding the pitfalls of modern church traditions that don’t adhere to the model of Jesus and the Apostles. The fingerprints and DNA of George Patterson have been reflected through my life ever since. Church Planting Movements are possible in the Western World. I’ve experienced it. I’ve reproduced those unforgettable skits George led that day (Extraction Evangelism, Great Commission relay race, etc.) and taught George’s principles of the Basic Commands of Jesus and the Three Levels of authority for the last 15 years. I pray we can all be more like George—willing to offer ourselves as mentors to movement makers and givepermission to next generation leaders who dream of seeing both spiritual awakening and reformation of culture by simply obeying Jesus.

—Erik Fish, Global Disciple Making Movement Catalyst, All Nations,, Mentor Leaders: Multiply Movements

George Patterson practiced the principles that he taught to others: “You cannot predict who will be successful, so mentor those who are willing to learn and to put their learning into practice. When you mentor those who start or lead new little churches, listen carefully to their reports, to learn their churches’ urgent needs. Then plan with them what they will do in their churches, immediately, to meet those needs. Give them something to read that suits their educational level. If they were unable to implement their plans, then you probably gave them too much, so make new plans. Always pray with them, by name, for those whom they mentor, in turn.”

—Galen Currah, DMiss, long-time friend and colleague of George Patterson

My beloved mentor George Patterson has gone into the presence of Jesus. I feel sad but also have a sense of joyfulness. We know George is with the One he lived his life for. We will see George again, but he leaves an empty spot in our lives. Lives which he
changed through his faith in God and in us, his wisdom gained through experience, his energetic enthusiasm, constant encouragement, practical love and practical jokes. As one of George’s interns in1986, one of my projects was to help him with his book: The Church Planting Guide. I told him all of this was new to me and wondered how I could possibly be of any assistance to him. He excitedly told me that I was his target audience and if I could understand it, anybody could. Many years later I wrote a very simple illustrated book: Keys to Church Planting Movements using much of what I learned from George and the experiences of training others in these principles. George graciously wrote the foreword. Currently I am working on writing a story of the various, practical ways George mentored me. It will be posted on

—Kevin Sutter, International Director of YWAM Frontier Missions

In the early 1980s the only teaching on cross-cultural church-planting I knew was by George Patterson. I was living among a beautiful tribal group and I had no idea how to approach them in the full respect of their culture and beliefs. That small booklet on church-planting written by G. Patterson was always next to my Bible. I applied the principles he taught and they worked! The fruits are still multiplying today. My sincere condolences to his family.

—Jackie, YWAM FM working with an unreached tribe in Philippine mountains

There was today in heaven an enormous welcoming home party for a great servant of God—Dr. George Patterson! His passion for
the lost and “simple church” was contagious! He was one of the fathers of modern-day CPMs on discipleship principles. He always stressed simplicity, reproducibility and obedience to Christ’s commands. Sacrifice and persecution were part of the package of planting churches where the kingdom of God was not yet. What a privilege to have been able to learn from him and by applying the principles he taught see the Father’s House movement among Iranians and Afghans start.

—Willem, YWAM FM launched a DMM among Muslim refugees

George had a tremendous influence on the YWAM FM family in the 80s. I’ll always remember him for his passion and how he invested so much into the FM leaders in those formative years. His focus on keeping things simple and reproducible still guides my thinking in almost everything I do. Discipling new believers by training them to walk in obedience to the 7 commands of Christ continues to be a simple yet profound discipling strategy. We are grateful for a life so well lived and we can follow his example as we continue on our journey of being disciple-makers.

—Kevin Stabler, YWAM FM, worked for 25 years among a tribe in the upper Amazon

George Patterson exemplified what it meant to be strong in the Grace of Jesus. He emphasized grace so much because of the extreme legalism rampant in the traditional evangelical churches he dealt with in Honduras. He modeled grace to the old traditional churches as well as to the new churches he and his trainees catalyzed, and the Lord honored George. God’s grace was evident in the humor and creativity in which George poked fun at the grace killing rules that inhibit the Spirit’s work in churches to spontaneously multiply. It is the Grace of God that multiplies, not heavy handed or authoritarian mentoring so predominant in the world. I knew I didn’t have the abounding grace I saw in George, but I aim to be strong in it as he was.
—Jay Judson, DMM Church-Planter in Burma
A few years ago I was in Addis Ababa and asked a Christian worker who had served in Ethiopia for 50 years if she knew George Patterson. She said, “The George Patterson? I don’t know him personally, but by reputation. You know, many churches were started all over Africa because of him!” When I shared this with George, he said with a smile and his usual humble spirit, “Oh, well it wasn’t me, I was just plagiarizing the Apostle Paul!”

—Rex G

George was a tremendous blessing to India and had the gift of simplifying complicated concepts in leadership training to equip countless thousands of leaders to rapidly accelerate the Great Commission. He was as humble as he was bright and was always
improving his training and material according to the needs of the local people. During seminars or traveling to the next one, George would be constantly asking questions and making adjustments. He practiced what he taught and mentored many associates who could carry on and multiply the training globally.
—Michael Jackson
George Patterson was a spiritual giant in more ways than one. This missionary and church planter, expert in church growth, coach and mentor, story- teller, author and expert trainer—to name a few of his titles—has passed away. We at All Nations owe so much to him and his training and mentoring over the last 20+ years. When All Nations first began equipping cross-cultural workers for the mission field, George didn’t just offer his wisdom but twice a year, he actually came to us and spent an entire week doing hands-on training with our people! He sowed into All Nations with his life, his passion and his expertise. To this day his training shapes us. Core concepts such as the Seven General Commands of Christ, “just-in-time training” and mentoring chains are still at the forefront of our equipping today. Personally, I loved his enthusiasm combined with his humility. I will never forget when he stood and cried out “Importantissimo!!!” when he wanted to emphasize a point. He was passionate, but also humble—always open to hear the perspective of our people, learn from them, and coach them. Thank you, George, for investing in us and in the kingdom. We have seen the Lord bring so much fruit in movements, through your guidance. We can’t wait to see you again on the other side!

—Meredith Johnson, All Nations

Every training I lead, every class I teach, every book and article I’ve written all have George Patterson’s fingerprints all over. “There are literally millions of people around the world who have never heard of Dr. George Patterson, and yet have been discipled and/or trained as a follower of Jesus because of his work.”

—Dr. George G. Robinson, IV Professor of Global Disciple Making, Southeastern Baptist Seminary



This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Gaining Church-Planting Momentum During COVID-19

Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (44 months)

Gaining Church-Planting Momentum During COVID-19

The social distancing and isolation related to COVID-19 brought great challenges to Disciple Making Movements around the world because movements thrive on ongoing and intensive personal interaction. But  the  Lord  encouraged  us that every crisis has a kingdom opportunity embedded. We have long believed that helping hurting people is part of being disciples as well as making disciples. Applying this principle in fresh ways demonstrated that the kingdom can still thrive in the midst of extremely bad news.

In East Africa, we faced a perfect storm that was more than just COVID-19. Prior to COVID we had severe drought in many parts of North Kenya and other places in East Africa. Then in October 2019, we experienced pouring rain and severe flooding in a week’s time. Between drought and floods, everything was affected because most of the people groups are nomadic. Any animals that remained from the drought were killed by the floods.

Then in December, we started seeing locusts for the first time in our lives. The locusts came and destroyed the remaining vegetation, the animals’ food and even the farms.

Toward the end of February 2020, COVID-19 hit us and right in the midst of movement activity came this series of challenges. By early March the situation was very depressing for many of our leaders. The government of Kenya was closing down the country. I had traveled to the northern part of the country at that time and got locked down  there  from  March until August.

One of the challenges was that we couldn’t travel to other parts of the country; we  couldn’t even engage with the people.
We started thinking,  “How  are we going to respond to this? We need new ways to do ministry, to
be able to engage.” We came up with three responses.

Our first response was prayer. In mid-March we called for prayer  among all our team members:  our  core team and our country leaders, representing all the countries where we work. We all started praying at the same time, using WhatsApp to distribute the prayers. We prayed that God would sustain the movement, because we realized that leaders and families were suddenly losing all their sources of income. Prayer was very key for us to keep the momentum. We all started praying, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we called for fasting on Wednesdays. It was a whole day of fasting every week, which still continues today.

Second, we said, “We will engage with our team in ways that encourage them, because everybody is going through this.” We started sending texts and we assigned the leaders to their countries and regions and  started  encouraging them with Scriptures and asking them, “How are you doing? How are you going through this  situation? What are you doing to help?” We knew that if our leaders were not encouraged, that would affect the momentum of movement. So, we set aside Fridays for calling our leaders to encourage them. The people who called them were people they  did not expect. They would receive a call from somebody who had never called them before. The reason for calling was just to  say,  “We  are  in this with you and we want to encourage you.” That really helped us to stay together.

Then in April we started having Zoom meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays with all our team. In those meetings we discussed the situation, which helped keep communication flowing. When we started Zooming, we began to grow closer through getting to see and hear each other.

Third, we said, “There must be some practical ways of engaging people during this crisis. How can we sustain what has been started?” (We  are   at the stage of sustaining movements. We went from starting  and  multiplying  to  sustaining.) Part of sustaining leaders, groups and churches was to help with income for pioneer church-planters since their income had disappeared. We asked, “How can we help them with food? Many families have run short of food; they cannot get access to food because Nairobi is locked down, and all our supplies to different places come there.” This led to something new. We started seeing the generosity  of disciples; they started sharing the small things they had with practical love. At this point it was not how much you could share, it was just sharing the little that you had.

Neighbors  started  giving  to  their  neighbors.  We started seeing groups multiplying because of the practical kindness that their disciples were showing. We started receiving amazing stories of people who had just enough food for their own families, maybe for a week, yet started sharing with families that did not have anything. And mostly, those they shared with were their Muslim neighbors. This love, shown at a time when everybody was going through the same difficult challenges, helped people to open up to hearing the gospel.

In May and June, we started asking for help.  Help trickled in and by December we were able to feed over 13,500 families (a family in our context has an average of eight people). Through this, each of those families were multiplying churches.

We did some analysis and reporting in December, as we came to the end of the year. We found that through people intentionally sharing—not only the gospel, but also sharing love—we saw multiplication of groups and churches. Any churches that had depended on meeting in a church building could not meet there. So, people started meeting in homes, and the meetings in homes started to multiply. In that area, the homes are very small; they could not fit many people. So, the home gatherings started dividing themselves into multiple homes. As a result, more neighbors, more people, and more Unreached People Groups were reached.

I looked at what has happened in the last 15 years of our movement in East Africa, and 2020 was the peak. We saw 1,300 churches planted in just that one year. This was amazing because earlier in the year, we had scaled down our goals by 30%; we said we’ll trust God for 600 to 800 new churches. But God took us way beyond that, as only he can do. I could hardly believe it, as all the teams presented their data for the year. I had to see the graphs and look for myself at people group by people group.

God did this through what we call the triangle of disciple-making: loving God, loving your neighbor and making disciples. Practical love was able to open people’s hearts to respond positively to the gospel. New people groups were engaged, new areas opened up and we are carrying on with that. I just came from meeting with 40 coordinators who have started processing this to determine how to build on this momentum for this year and years to come.

The Role of Learning New Technology

Before COVID-19, many of us in our context (myself included) were IT illiterate. Any mention of using Zoom for a meeting met a lot of resistance about bandwidth. I had tried a couple of Zoom meetings, somebody would have to call me and give me instructions on how to do it. Even knowing how to turn on the microphone in zoom was very difficult. During the first meeting we held you could hear all kinds of things in the background. It was very noisy, but at least we could see each other’s faces and that was exciting. We started learning platforms like Zoom, WhatsApp and others. Because of COVID we overcame that resistance, despite the challenges.

I was locked down for months in northern Kenya where the internet was extremely poor. I remember the first day of the basic DMM training. We had about 130 people joining from all over the world, and   suddenly   my   internet   stopped   working.  I couldn’t get any signal whatsoever. So, I got in my car and started driving around, looking for a signal on my phone. Finally, at a small airstrip, I found the only signal in the whole town. People stared at me, thinking: “What is this crazy guy doing with a computer in an open field?” It was embarrassing but I was willing to do it. By the time the signal allowed me to connect again, people were already in discussion, but they were happy I could make it back. I felt so bad, because this was the first day of the training, but we did what we could to learn and be creative and find new ways of connecting.

We started recording teachings and sending them to our teams. We could do Discovery Bible Studies with all our country leaders or all our coordinators on the same platform. When we started using Zoom, we actually kept growing. We started nine weeks of basic DMM training with 115 people from around the world. We had people from India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, South America and all over the place. People we’d never met continued for the whole nine weeks and we ran cohorts, some of which still continue.

We had many mission organizations and global teams bring most of their missionaries for first level training courses, second level training and leadership classes. That kept expanding way beyond East Africa. God used COVID-19 to connect us with others and become a greater blessing to the global body of Christ through our training.

We run a DMM Global Catalyst Camp every year. In October, we said, “Why don’t we try doing this virtually?” We didn’t know how it would turn out, but we had people from 27 countries join us for the three days of the catalyst camp. Those are some of the amazing ways God used technology to expand the boundaries of our ministry.

I expect this greater use of technology to continue. We are not looking back. We still prefer face-to-face for coaching and local relationships. But the way forward is using the new technology to reach people we could not reach in traditional ways. For example, last week I started mentoring a group of DMM catalysts on Thursday for one hour. It’s not me teaching, I’m just facilitating. How could I not do that, now that God has provided this tool? In the past I could only meet people in Kenya or around our area. Now I am talking to a team in North India and coaching a team in Panama City—places where I’ve never been. We’ve learned through all this that we need to be creative and make use of every opportunity (including new platforms and technologies) for extending God’s kingdom.

Two Lessons Learned, That We Can Carry into the Future

We’ve learned first that bad times can bring out good results, so we should not be discouraged by bad times. God has a way of bringing His own results in bad times. We look to God for the results because the results depend on God, not on the situations. That’s why we don’t allow the situations to take away what God has given to us.

Second, leaders need to be creative in facing challenges and problems. But that response should come out of prayer and dependence on God because the Holy Spirit will lead us.

In the book of Acts, we see that whenever the apostles or the church faced challenges, persecution or problems they always prayed. Sometimes we want to solve a problem we know is beyond us. As leaders, we pray to get direction from God for the next thing or for the next way to solve a problem. Even in the worst situations, the Holy Spirit can show a creative way forward.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

14 Steps of Mobilization to Reach the Unreached!

14 Steps of Mobilization to Reach the Unreached!

How do we get there from here? How do we mobilize the Body of Christ to see a church established in every people group? George Patterson of Cultural Adaptation Training suggests the following steps, working backwards from final result to first step— 14 Links of Mobilization:

To disciple all peoples, mission decision makers, curriculum developers and career counselors must mobilize 14 sets of persons: six are in the field already; three sets are in the process of forming  on the field and five sets of those needing to be mobilized are at home.

Existing Workers on the Field



Wise mission planners, like military strategists, begin with long range objectives stated so clearly that each preparatory step is easy to see. Look ahead to see a national church in a currently reached or unreached field, obeying Jesus’ commands and therefore reproducing--often in tiny house churches—among its own people and across cultural barriers to an unreached people (Matt. 28:18-20). Keeping their limited resources or freedom in mind, reason backwards through preparatory steps, avoiding programs too expensive or electronic for national churches to reproduce. Before that, there must be:


For this reproduction, new “servant leaders”  on the regional level must mobilize other pastors—a skill acquired from disciplers who take personal, loving responsibility for others’ fruitful ministry; otherwise they become grasping and demanding. For this to happen we need:


who mobilize others for ministry (Eph. 4:11-16)—a skill likewise acquired by being discipled on the job, not in classrooms. This will require:


Pastoral students, we find, are not simply “educated” but mobilized to edify the local body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16) where trainers harmonize their teaching with other gifts (I Cor. 12-13). Balanced discipling relates the Word to the work in love—teaching in love to do the Word. In most pioneer fields formal training is impractical (“elder” types cannot leave their responsibilities; economically motivated youths respond, but lacking preparatory education, cannot assimilate the intensive input, and lacking models of well established churches, they cannot realistically apply it). Obviously this requires:


We teach believers first to obey Jesus’ commands (Matt. 28:19-20)—believe, repent, be baptized, love, break bread, pray, give and disciple others (Acts 2:38– 47). Long indoctrination before loving obedience stifles mobilization for sacrificial ministry.


Converts must see missionaries model the loving relationships needed for further discipling: witnessing of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection in a way they can imitate with their family and friends. Before any of these results, there must be:

Potential Workers on the Field



Teams that not only combine the needed gifts and cooperative spirit but screen out technology, equipment and methods which national leaders cannot imitate, afford and pass on.


We must join with emerging churches now mobilizing their own foreign missionaries who relate better to many unreached peoples than do Westerners. Cultural training never equals being born culturally close, with similar politics, race, language, economic and education levels, family size, rural/urban life style and world view.


Tentmakers can penetrate most remaining unreached fields. Like Paul, they need cross- cultural church planting experience, teams, formal commissioning (Acts 13:1-3) and employment (especially small business) that enables them to penetrate the working class first (Jesus, avoiding being crucified prematurely in Jerusalem, began with fishermen). These links build on:

Workers on the Homefront



So missionaries, including thousands of bi- vocationals joining 2/3 world workers, need training for discipling leaders on the job, vocational skills and apprenticeships in small businesses.


Considering all the above, more trainers must disciple missionaries on the job, reproducing daughter (or house) churches, involving 2/3 world workers and cross-cultural entrepreneurs.


Agencies, therefore, need more church-based teams (“midwives” accountable to home churches to reproduce daughter and granddaughter churches through relationships rather than programs) involving skilled disciplers of pastors/elders, workers from 2/3 world and businessmen.


Mission program leaders, then, must plan sacrificial reproduction of their churches among an adopted people through balanced discipling of church-based teams, more partnering with 2/3 world churches and missionary businesspersons.


Sending churches need counselors to plot career paths through all aspects of mobilization leading to unreached peoples. Otherwise, most missionaries cluster in fields already reached.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

A Historic and World-Changing Life Well Lived

A Historic and World-Changing Life Well Lived

When the history of our times is written in the decades and centuries to come, the Church Planting Movements that are currently in the process of transforming our world will be recognized as the most powerful move of God since the  book  of  Acts. And when these future historians write about what led to this powerful move of God, one person will stand out as the conceptual source of these movements—Dr. George Patterson. Undoubtedly, many wonderful servants of God currently involved in CPMs all over the world have added to and refined to great effect what Patterson started with, but all these movement catalysts are standing on the shoulders of Dr.  Patterson and what he gleaned from his efforts  to start spontaneously multiplying churches in the remote mountains of Honduras in the 1960s. Literally millions of people have been impacted by the vision of church planting initiated by Dr. Patterson. That is why we take time in this issue of MF to honor him and to be reminded of the foundational principles of mission that Patterson garnered from the Bible.

Patterson was one of the first in our day to believe that the powerful move of God we see in the book of Acts could also happen. He has been proven correct by the 1,855 Kingdom Movements now taking place all over the world and impacting over 80 million precious souls. Please note that the latest number of 1,855 Kingdom Movements on our cover is a huge increase of 364 new movements just since our last issue of MF. Praise God for this remarkable progress! Each of those 364 new Kingdom Movements represents hundreds or thousands of new Jesus followers entering the kingdom  because  of  the  ground-breaking  vision  of disciple-making and church-planting that Dr. Patterson initiated so many decades ago. But this is only the beginning. One of the foundational ideas that he promoted was that the exponential growth of the gospel was something we can expect if we simply obey Jesus and what He has commanded us to do, along with some simple, biblical and reproducible principles.


In one sense, what Dr. George Patterson did was not terribly remarkable. He simply believed the Bible and did what Jesus has asked all of us to do in Matt. 28:18-


20. But the fact that he was one of the first people in 1,700 years to draw from the Scriptures the principles of exponential disciple-making and church-planting, that were there in the Bible all along waiting for someone to discover, is truly stunning and worthy of recognition. Certainly, there have been other people over the centuries, such as John Wesley, who have employed some movement principles, but Patterson stands out in his ability to articulate these principles from Scripture, put them into practice, and mentor others to employ them also.

Dr. Patterson demonstrated incredible courage and tenacity in pursuing his biblical vision of missions. He was willing to challenge 1,700 years of history, church tradition and entrenched thinking in order to find a more biblical and effective way of doing church. He was willing to endure the naysayers, critics and outright enemies of the gospel in order to relentlessly pursue the application of his biblical principles of mission  in the real world. He did not just come up with some great ideas, he developed his principles through many years of hard work on the mission field in Honduras.

Of all the great church leaders and reformers throughout history who accomplished so much, Patterson stands out in that Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Carey, Taylor, on and on, did not recognize and put into practice the biblical principles of mission that lead to exponential movements of disciple-making and church-planting. In this respect, Patterson stands out as a major historical figure in the ongoing mission of the Church.

A Mentor Extraordinaire

Dr. George Patterson not only developed earth-shaking biblical principles of mission, he also demonstrated a unique ability to mentor and train faithful disciples  to put these principles into practice one generation after another. In other words, he practiced what he preached and proved through real world results that his book of Acts principles of mission worked in fostering exponential movements of disciple-making and church-planting. As you read through this issue, you will be introduced to the  incredibly  creative  and visionary methods of mentoring and training  that Patterson employed with great  effectiveness.  He used skits, audience participation and much more to create a learning experience that was powerful and life-transforming for anyone who had the privilege of being taught or mentored by Dr. George Patterson. His motto was  “mentor,  mentor,  mentor,” and  he did this as well or better than anyone  of his time.  For decades, he was one of the most popular of speakers in the "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement" course. You can look at the articles by Brian Hogan and Jay Judson to see the impact that Patterson’s mentoring had in their lives and ministries. He also regularly came alongside organizations like All Nations to help them implement the biblical principles of exponential disciple-making. Patterson’s focus on mentoring younger leaders guarantees that the impact of his life and vision will carry on long into the future.

The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches
In 1983, I was a student at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon where Dr. Patterson  taught  prior to my arrival. I was taking an introductory course on missions. As part of that course, I was handed a big thick book titled, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. As I made my way through  the various articles, one article stood out to me, "The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches" by Dr. George Patterson. It opened my eyes to the potential for the exponential growth of the gospel for the first time. It has been my goal to understand this strategy ever since. Then in the year  2000,  I  came across Dr. David Garrison’s booklet on Church Planting Movements, and I have been learning about and promoting this new strategy of doing missions ever since. So, if you wonder why I emphasize movements so much in each issue of MF, you will have to credit Dr. Patterson for getting me started. This article has been in the Perspectives Reader from the first edition until the latest. Amazon would not allow us to reprint this article in MF, but I suggest you get ahold of    the Perspectives Reader and read "The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches" for yourself. Perhaps it will change your life too.

As the mission of the global Church moves forward, we owe Dr. Patterson a debt of gratitude for helping us to discover a more biblical and effective way to reach the world for Christ. We have much work ahead of us in order to reach the 7,400+ unreached peoples that Joshua Project lists, but thanks to Dr. George Patterson and many others who have followed in his footsteps, the remaining missionary task of fostering Kingdom Movements in all peoples and places, and how to get that job done as quickly as possible, is clearer than ever before.
Dr. George Patterson Resources
1. Paul—
5. MentorNet Articles— mm/06_MentorNet.html
6. Church Planting Dashboard—http://peopleofyes. com/jit-cp-dashboard/
7.—Coming soon. The move from multiplication to exponential growth of disciples, leaders and churches.
9. Pocket Guide to Church Planting https://allnations us/tr.ain-and-go/pocketguide-to-church-planting/

Pastoral training studies
Workshop Manual

Printed books, Available at Shepherd’s Storybook: For Training New Pastors of New Congregations, Anne Thiessen 2011
Come Quickly Dawn: A Training Novel, 2012
Church Multiplication Guide Revised: The Miracle of Church Reproduction Hardcover, 2013
¡Que venga el amanecer!: Una ficción educativa, 2017
“Come, Let Us Disciple the Nations” is an interactive, electronic novel suitable for self-instruction and
as a textbook in a basic mission course. For MS Windows.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Cultural Difference and the Spread of the Gospel

Cultural Difference and the Spread of the Gospel
We finished the 2022 Ralph D. Winter Lectureship— held in person at Biola University and virtually. In the July–August 2021 issue of MF, I mentioned the topic of this was going to be Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP). Simply stated, it is that people like to become Christians with others who are like them without crossing linguistic, class or race barriers.
Since HUP was introduced some 60 years ago, some embraced and used it as an effective strategy to see the gospel flow into and through a population segment. Others felt it could become an unintended excuse to keep churches segregated or create disunity in the church. Some were trying the best they could to look through the eyes of a non-believing, non-church- goer. Others were looking from a “down-the-road perspective” of what should a local church look like as it matures and seeks to present a unified witness to a diverse world?
We must use both: to “see” from the perspective of the not-yet-believer, as well as try to understand what a fellowship might look like over time. As we seek to spread our faith, we all adjust our methods to fit other contexts. We call this: contextual-ization. The question here is: how should we adjust when we share our faith and gather as a church and seek to draw in others?
The presenters at the original consultation in 1977 shared through the lenses of anthropology,  history and ethics in addition to the biblical and theological interpretations and perspectives. Some of the material is quite engaging and stretching to our thinking—even though it is 45 years old! This is why I worked to put all the papers together in book form. At times, I found myself agreeing with points from all sides of the debate.
As I reflected on all of this, something stood out to me which is quite different today—at least in the West. That is the huge increase in the ethnic and racially diverse make-up in so much of our experience today. In the 1970s, while we had well-documented tensions and struggles with race, when you talked about diversity most people would think about broad categories such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and perhaps Native Americans. But there was little nuance within each of them.
This was reflected in the discussion at the Consultation itself, where illustrations were used about sub-cultures in the U.S. Early in the discussion, John R.W. Stott asked, in essense, or another way to say it; nothing is really meaningful without a context. If you are church planting in LA or New York today, multi-ethnic people within different multi-economic situations must be factored in.1
Naturally though, it is a challenge when you shift from a Western urban  “churched”  context  to  a  very different, often less culturally diverse culture somewhere in the world. People there may  have very limited—or even negative—exposure to the church. Some have estimated that 86%+ of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of the world have not personally met any kind of Christian. In those kinds of situations, perhaps more than others, believers must pray, observe and learn in order to understand what might open them to Jesus and the truth. That does not mean we change the message.   It does mean that we seek to be as sure as we can that what we understand from our faith is understood and heard as “good news” that they might want to embrace.
More will be published in the near year from this event by and a book of original papers by William Carey Publishing (http://www.missionbooks org).. Contact me if you want more information.
  1. Alan Tippett’s archives, held at the St Marks Theological Centre, Canberra Australia, includes fifteen hours of discussion between twenty-eight participants, which was recorded during the 1977 Consultation. You can find more information, at: collections/the-tippett-collection/. We have those audio files digitized and transcribed at the Ralph D. Winter Research Center and Archives in Pasadena, California.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Come Quickly Dawn

Come Quickly Dawn

Become Holy by Nurturing the Fruit of the Spirit with Others’ Help (pp. 89–90, 92)

Julio groaned. “Leaping over Mount Silverado would be easier for me than to be holy. I can’t live with purity like you guys do.”
“You will soon, son.” Jethro clasped his arm. “When you were baptized, you died with Christ to sin and were raised with Him to new life. God is working in you, transforming you into the image of His Son. In His sight, you’re a saint.”
“A saint! Wow! Kiss my ring, guys! I’m a saint, Pastor Jethro? That’s crazy!”
“Scripture says you are. You’re a spiritual baby and you still dirty your spiritual diapers—a soiled saint, like all of us! Take heart, Julio; you’re growing and God watches your faltering steps with joy. Join a group that makes disciples as Jesus said, and you’ll grow faster than that papaya out there.”
We prayed for Julio and I exhorted, “Let’s deal with holiness in small groups just like we’re doing now and the Lord will grant victory. There’s tremendous power in a cell group that’s also a real church.”
Colombo asked, “How can a cell group be a real church, Tiger?”
“Just let your group do what God requires of a church. What more can God expect of your group if it follows His orders? Call it what you may, small group, cell, flock, house church, congregation or simply ‘Colombo’s Cluster’.”
Jethro sighed. “The word ‘church’ has been so abused! Define it, Tiger.”
“We know it means both the Universal Church and a local congregation, but the New Testament also uses the word for the closely-knit groups that met in homes in a city or area—the regional body. Church history mentions no buildings used solely for Christian worship until nearly three centuries after Christ.”
“Are buildings bad?” Colombo asked. “Have you read about that, too, Tiger?”
“No building is intrinsically good or bad; that depends on how people view and use it. Excess institutionalism and professionalism weaken churches, and buildings can reinforce those excesses. Common sense and financial reality forbid forcing all churches to build; it would kill church multiplication in our field.”
Roger clapped. “God has given ‘professor’ Tiger the gift of wisdom!”
“For sure!” Arturo agreed. “Let’s name him as a shepherding elder.”
“You’re joking! Me, a shepherding elder?” A cyclone of doubts assailed me.
“Tiger’s new in the Faith!” Pacho sputtered. “You forgot that, Arturo!”
“Does mere time produce spiritual maturity? Or living in the Spirit, obeying Jesus? Tiger’s grown more in a few months than most believers do in a lifetime.” Pacho pondered this, agreed, and they prayed to commission me there and then.
“In conclusion,” Arturo ordered, “all elders will lead a cell for new believers.”
… “Ahoy!” Julio called to me across the square that night; he and his grandfather Gerardo came bearing a treat—a bowl of berries! I tried some and they were superbly sweet. The old man used them to illustrate how to extend mentoring chains as the apostle Paul told Timothy to do. “Anna planted them and they sent out runners that started new plants. We give the surplus to our neighbors and tell them the gospel.” Gerardo drew a plant in the dust with his toe. “Jesus likened growth in His kingdom to that of plants.” He drew more plants. “Its creeping runners take root, sprout and new plants send out more runners. A church sends out runners, too, with its God-given DNA.”
Julio asked, “Can we multiply churches like this in the villages, Tiger?”
“We can if we train leaders the way Paul told Timothy to do it: one trains others who train still others at the same time. Jethro’s church multiplies that way. Leaders break the chain if they wait until every church can afford an academically trained pastor. There are never enough new leaders then, to keep multiplying.”
Gerardo remarked, “Inflated egos also wipe out the runners.” He rubbed out a plant with his foot. “I’ve seen plenty of ‘em! Proud leaders won’t share real authority with apprentices. They got to run things, loathe to let the work grow beyond their control. They just want their own flock to grow forever bigger and start no new ones. They’d win hundreds more to Jesus if they did.”
After I ate the last berry, Gerardo clasped my shoulder. “Tiger, I've been watching you. God will use you to extend His work. He gave you the vision. Others are too busy griping to step out, but you will surely lead them out of that darkness.”
They left and I puzzled over Gerardo’s prophecy that I’d extend God’s work.

Tiger Shuns Popular Trends that Lead Churches into Mediocrity (pp 280–283)

We returned on foot to Arenas to buy oil, and Fred looked like he was ready to cut and run back to the States. Such woes were routine for Gadget and me,
and Roy enjoyed the adventure, but  I pitied  Fred; he was sweating in spite of the cool air, clearly unused to physical exertion.
Back at the car, the oxen’s owner  came  to  say, “You gentlemen are soaked and shivering. Stay in our house tonight. You can’t cross the river yet, anyway.”
Ernesto’s two-room house had mud walls whitewashed with lime, a roof of palm fronds and glassless windows with rustic wooden shutters. His wife roasted coffee mixed with corn and raw cane sugar on an outside, earthen stove until the mixture was almost ash; the process was too smoky to do inside. The potent brew penetrated to our bones, and we stopped shivering.  I was grateful, but Fred spit the black stimulant back into the cup. “Bitter!”
“Add sugar, man!” Ernesto laughed. “No one can take that stuff plain!” He shaved sugar from a brown block into Fred’s cup.
“You call that sugar? It smells like molasses.”
“The best!” Ernesto pointed at an apparatus outside. “We squeeze cane with that ñongoté, and then boil it down in a round mold.”
“Ñongoté?” queried Roy. “How does it work?”
“I’ll show you; the rain’s quit.” Ernesto sat bouncing on the end of a pole while his ten-year-old daughter Rina inserted cane stalks under the pliers-like lever, squeezing out the sweet juice, and we all drank the raw beverage. To warm us, Ernesto built a small fire on the mud floor in the middle of the room. We tried to sleep on the floor but even with our exhaustion, we couldn’t ignore the floor’s unforgiving hardness, the smoke that stung our eyes and odorous emanations from an obese sow that accompanied us. Fred griped, “You’d think they’d at least get some decent furniture.”
“They have what they can afford,” I replied. “Poverty’s extreme in these villages, and yet they share with us what they have. Be grateful, sir.”
Roy affirmed, “I’m grateful; such hospitality to strangers warms my heart.”
The next morning Rina petted the pig and boasted, “She’s mine!”
“I’ll buy her from you,” Gadget teased. “She’ll make tasty bacon.”
“I’ll pay to you ten times the value of a big pig, Señorita.” “No!”
“Let’s swap, then, Rina. My luxury car out there for your fat sow.”
Ernesto’s wife brought beans and tortillas. There were too few chairs for all of us, so we took turns eating. Rina watched for a while, fascinated by Fred’s red hair and freckles. “You’re awfully pale. You been sick? Your skin’s ugly.”
“Rina!” her mother scolded, “Don’t be rude! That’s the natural color of the gringos. Their skin lacks normal pigment, and they can’t help it.”
“Maybe if they’d eat chocolate or licorice…” “That’s enough Rina. Finish your tortillas.”
I told Ernesto, “We follow Jesus Christ, and it’s our practice to pray in His name for folks’ needs. Is there something you’d like us to pray for?”
“Oh, yes! Our corn. Animals got into it and ruined half of it. Tapirs, maybe. And my aunt who lives in the next village up the river is down with malaria.”
We prayed for these, and asked God to bless each family member; Ernesto thanked us heartily. Fred muttered to Roy, “I’m surprised how they welcomed your prayer so readily; it didn’t seem at all unusual to them. Most of the Americans I’ve been around would’ve been uncomfortable.”
“Not here, Fred, and not in most of the world’s major societies. They’ve escaped Western rationalism; Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even many Communists respond readily to an offer to pray for them or their families.”
I asked Ernesto, “Do you pray with your family?”
“No. We’re rather out of touch with God. Haven’t been to a church for years; it’s a bit far to town. Your prayers are different from what I’ve heard in mass. You pray like you’re talking right to God, like to a friend you know.”
“I used to find prayer hard; my sins made it unpleasant to talk to God. But Roy here and his family led me into the Presence of Christ, and I discovered His forgiveness. He died on the cross for us, as you know, rose from the dead and promised followers forgiveness and new life. He called it being ‘born again’.”
“I’ve heard that, but never understood it.”
“He gives us a new, loving heart, a desire to obey Him joyfully and eternal life as part of His heavenly family. He’ll give you and your family the same assurance. We don’t earn this blessing by doing good works; it’s all by His grace.”
To illustrate grace, Roy related the parable of the Prodigal Son and other Bible stories. The entire family listened, their eyes reflecting intense interest. Fred started to expound the doctrine of salvation in an abstract way; those eyes lost their luster, and Rina followed her mother away to do chores.
The next morning Ernesto was all smiles when I offered to return another day to talk again, pray together, and have worship with his family and friends.
“We’d appreciate that very much, Tiger. Most of our neighbors, too.”
On our way again to Bat Haven, Fred remarked, “You were rushing things, Tiger, to offer to have worship with them on your next trip.”
“They’ll be ready for it, and we might baptize them.” Fred looked shocked at this, and I explained, “Where the Holy Spirit brings families and social networks to Christ, things can move lightning fast compared to where a traditional church like ours once was demands a slower speed. Don’t doubt the work of God in those folks’ hearts. If you do, such doubts become contagious and discouraging.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Roy. “I feel like I’ve stepped into heaven!”
“You’re blind then,” Fred growled. “I feel like I’ve fallen into hell!”
This dampened conversation until Fred remarked, “Few Americans are that receptive to the gospel, and I wonder why not.”
“Some are,” Roy replied, “especially among the poor. Fred, in America you’ve been trying to push ‘camels’ from the middle class through the needle’s eye, as Jesus put it. Rationalists say religion is for the poor and uneducated, and in a sense, they’re right. God wants to save everybody, but the poor respond quicker; Jesus said it would be that way. Poverty helps people face reality and trust in God; wealth lures people to trust in themselves.”
I asked Roy, “Is that why God allows so much poverty?”
“Widespread movements have always begun with the poorer working class, Tiger. It trickles up; poor believers’ children become the next middle class.”
“Did you notice how much easier it was to talk with Ernesto and his family about the Lord after we’d eaten in his home? Some Christians try to theologize too soon, before the Holy Spirit has awakened seekers’ thirst for God, and they act superior because they know Christ and theology; this deters seekers. The apostles never witnessed in a theological way; they simply related the Good News—the historical facts—and let the Holy Spirit convict and convince.”
“You dealt with the entire family as a unit,” Roy said. “Most Americans tend to view salvation as an individual affair, and aim for one to make a decision on his own, to receive Jesus as his personal savior.”
“You said ‘decision’ and ‘personal’—two enemies of evangelism; Scripture uses neither word in connection with it. Mere decisions rarely include repentance; most folks who merely make decisions fall away.
Faith is personal only in that one’s heart consciously embraces it, and not simply because one is a member of a social group; the word is fatal for a movement if we add the Western spin to mean private. God doesn’t see a person as an isolated individual, but part of a network. The apostles dealt with the networks of the jailer, Cornelius, Lydia, and Crispus. People repent more readily along with their friends and kin.”
“Very true,”  Roy replied, “now that I think about it. I came here to learn.”
“Well, I didn’t come as a pupil,” Fred grumbled. “I came to start churches.”
I told him, “If you’re looking for neglected fields, then you’ll have to travel a ways from Bat Haven. We already have churches in the villages nearby.”
“So you’ve got the area all sewed up, have you?” Fred sneered.
Folks smiled and waved as we drove slowly through a mountain village, and Roy waved back. “This culture fascinates me. It’s delightful, except the poverty.”
“It doesn’t impress me,” growled Fred. “I’m going to change things.” The stark contrast between the two Americans stirred anxiety in my mind.
“Wow!” Roy exclaimed. The sun goes down fast in these high mountains!”
“The brief twilight is not due to the altitude,” I explained. “It’s because we’re near the equator where the sun does not cross over the horizon at a slow slant as you’re used to in the north; it swoops almost straight down. The morning’s the same; dawn, once it makes up its stubborn mind to emerge, leaps up boldly!”

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Principles Gleaned from 20 Years of Catalyzing Movements in Myanmar

Principles Gleaned from 20 Years of Catalyzing Movements in Myanmar

I had the honor of having Dr. George Patterson  as a teacher, mentor, prayer warrior and friend for 23 years. George was strong in the grace of Jesus and the way he modeled “behind the scenes” discipleship to catalyze and sustain house church movements where there weren’t any was quite revolutionary.

I knew God had supernaturally called me to preach His word. I became a pretty good preacher during my four years at Union University and I had preaching opportunities all over my native west Tennessee.

During this time my father, also a preacher, invited me to go on a mission trip to the Philippines. After the first trip, I realized that God wanted me to preach in closed countries and unreached peoples where there were no churches as Paul wrote in Romans 15:20. It was then that I realized that I had a problem, “How can I preach in a closed country where   preachers are regularly imprisoned?”   I knew how to preach very well and lead many to Christ, but I did not know how to make disciples.

I could not see how this would work until I met  Dr. George Patterson at a Perspectives class. Patterson’s challenges perplexed me when he said, “Preaching crusades don’t catalyze sustainable movements.” I quickly chirped back, “But I just returned from seeing thousands of Filipinos make professions of faith.” George kindly yet firmly pointed out that the Philippines was no longer predominately a pioneer field. I was  amazed  at not only George’s depth of content, but I was even more amazed that he bounced around the room dramatizing, like Tigger, as if the book of Acts was actually supposed to be happening. George invited me to move to Oregon and be trained by him, “If what I tell you doesn’t work to start churches where there are no churches, I will make sure you get your money back.” I realized that I probably would never hear another offer like that in ministry again.

Over several months in his “Mentoring for Ministry” class, Patterson showed me that greatness in the kingdom was found in John 3:30, “I must decrease so that Jesus might increase.” It is not enough to teach but I must train others to preach. The greatest in the kingdom passage found in Matthew 11:11 repeats John’s attitude of humility. George kept talking about “behind the scenes” greatness. In Acts 18, Aquila and Pricilla decreased, behind the scenes, so that Jesus could increase through the ministry  of Apollos. Patterson challenged me, “What is the purpose of preaching? After a long pause, giving me time to answer, he said, “The purpose of preaching is to make disciples. How many  different  ways can you make disciples?” He  helped me develop  a curriculum to make disciples in a decentralized multiplying network behind the scenes in a closed country. I ended up ministering in the “closed country” of Myanmar (Burma) for the past 20 years. We have seen at least 10 different branches of multiplication totaling tens of thousands  of  new churches with each network  baptizing  tens of thousands of new believers from Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds.

George modeled an informal theological education based on the Bible in an outline he called L.E.A.P. found in Luke 10:17-24. Christ outlined how to coach others in a Multiplying Movement. Not  only does Luke 10 describe how Christ trained His disciples to find a Person of Peace but Luke 10 also outlines Christ’s model for continuing to coach leaders behind the scenes in order to sustain an indigenous house church movement.

Christ and His leaders listened to leaders' reports behind the scenes. Coaching behind the scenes was modeled for me by George for a year and a half. He based this model on Luke 10:17–24 and trained me in a temporary Underground Training Church at Western Seminary. I actually received seminary credit for this course and later wrote a paper on what I learned. This simulation was not a game but merely had an element of a game in that a “judge” appointed two secret police to find the time and place of one underground house church meeting. I was a leader and it was revealed on judgment day that I was the one who invited the wife of a secret policeman, so then they were on to me and our network from the very first week of the two-month simulation. During this two months Patterson helped me plan for the worship meetings and we discussed the problems I encountered as    I learned  how  to  do  house  church  movements. I was blindfolded and tied to a pole before being “executed” with water balloons at ten paces on a cold February day in Portland, Oregon. This exercise broke me out of the typical ways Americans know how to advertise and do “church.” I learned more  in this leadership simulation than any book I have ever read on church multiplication movements.  Dr. Patterson and his small team of trainers also had me study movements with a computer game that he and Dr. Galen Currah developed called “Come let us disciple the Nations.” In this game, Satan would pop out and laugh at the player if they got the church multiplication answers wrong.

When I got to Burma, I listened to local leaders explain how we should help Buddhist Background Believers feel comfortable  worshipping  Christ.  I listened to “the Major’s” highly unusual gospel bridges for sharing truths of the Bible with Buddhists. I helped the Major  summarize  his  long gospel bridge presentation for  Buddhists.  Dr. Thom Wolf calls this the napkinization of ideas. We must help new leaders make everything easily reproducible.

The Major was the exact type of leader that George encouraged me to prioritize. The Major, a spry 68-year-old, was an educated responsible Buddhist Background Believer with a military career who wanted to reach his people for Christ but didn’t need a salary, like many pastors. On top of all that he already spoke English. Thank God for the British Empire and their influence on Burmese to know a little English.

Leadership Principles Learned:

1. Leaders Evaluate Multiplication of New Churches through Link Analysis Reports (L.A.)

These L.A. Reports help track and evaluate a movement’s quantitative and qualitative fruit. We got an outside independent assessment with the help of Dr. Bill Smith. You can read Drs. Patterson’s and Smith’s assessment on our team of coaches at the website We&nb.sp; used the 8 Commands of Christ as the 8 Marks of   a healthy church taken from Acts 2:37–47. Several years ago, Sister Than Thans started a network of multiplying churches that flowed out of her house like a cascading waterfall. This former prostitute along with another leader started 14 house churches in four months after coming to Christ. We trained her to ask: 1) Who is Jesus? And 2) What does Jesus want you to do?: 10 Stories to allow people to start Experience God Groups (E.G.G.) and 8 Commands of Christ curriculum for new house churches. We did not start to see many miraculous healings until I changed my attitude about healing and started teaching that healing the sick, raising the dead and driving out demons is a basic command of Christ (Matt. 10:8). We have seen every miracle in the book of Acts including three people raised from the dead.

2. Leaders Assign New Tasks and New Studies to Trainees Who Obey

Jesus did not continue to train leaders who did not obey Him. It creates arrogant leaders. He only gave His disciples deeper doctrinal insight into who He was, after they obeyed His commands. “I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven.” Luke 10:18. After leaders are familiar and repeating 10 E.G.G. and 8 Commands of Christ stories we get leaders into the Train and Multiply program. TM is a Theological Education and Evangelism by Extension curriculum that Dr. Patterson called Obedience Oriented Education which uses cartoon booklets to train house church leaders behind the scenes systematically. www. Director Mike Dragon.

3. Pray For and Praise Trainees as Christ Did

Jesus bragged on His disciples to the Father. Sometimes a leader does not meet personal goals. I have erred in that I have doggedly hounded trainees for results. One night after a long hard coaching session the Holy Spirit slapped me, “These people are obeying me. They did not meet their goals to see thousands of new house churches start, but they are obeying My commands. Praise them for obedience to Jesus, not for their numbers."

4.  Yourself in the Lord as David Did

Protect new leaders from the ruthless attacks of naysayers, as Nehemiah did. Second Great Awakening leader Charles G. Finney once encouraged his leaders, “Don’t get down in the plains of Ono"(Ono sounds like Oh No, woe is me, self-wallowing pity party). You can walk through the furnace of affliction but try not to smell like the smoke. Let go of the resentment and find your sanity in Church history. Every move of God led by a godly leader has been opposed and there is an interesting record of what happens to those who oppose moves of God. Jonathan Edwards’ opponent, Charles Chauncy started the Unitarianist/Universalist Church.

5. Identify Capable Leaders

Rajkumar was a Hindu seeker of Jesus. He founded a small church of 15 Indian Christians who worshipped together for 15 years. I met Raj and he asked me for a Hindi Bible which I brought back to him from India. I gave this Hindi Bible to his pastor who couldn’t read Hindi but assured me that he would give the Bible to Raj. A month later I met Raj and learned that his pastor had not given him the Bible. The reason was because Raj “had sin in his life.” When I met Raj a few weeks later for a translation project he was doing for me, I asked Raj if he wanted to be baptized. When he affirmed yes, I told him, “I will baptize you, and you must start to baptize others. If I find out that you allowed a pastor or someone else to baptize people that you lead to Christ, then I   am going to take back my baptism.” Raj baptized 400 Hindu Background Believers who now meet in 30 house churches on the Road to Mandalay in central Burma. We do not clean ourselves before taking a bath. We take a bath because we are dirty. We don’t get baptized because we have become good, we take baptism because we   are sinners saved by grace through faith. This is not of ourselves lest any man could boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

6. Equip Leaders to Rise to a Greater Fruitfulness

We need to help leaders identify the hindrances to movements. We also need to help them confront these hinderances with seriousness, yet with humor. The “velvet hammer” approach is much more grace-filled and reproducible than the stomp and snort, heavy-handed condemning way that many preachers employ to drive congregations to change.

Sister Nee Nee, the daughter of the Major, was a widow and school teacher who started a house church movement in the cyclone devastated Delta region. In 2012, fighting erupted among Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims when the two sides started slaughtering each other with machetes. While thousands of people were dying at the hands of their neighbors, I coached Nee Nee in what to say to the Muslims when she provided food for them. I gave her a phone number of some Rohingya I had met. She walked into these villages with bags of rice, and I showed her how to pray in a way Rohingya could understand and to use the Arabic word for Jesus, Isa Al Masih. I also gave her several copies of the Injil, New Testament, in the Muslim language. This little Buddhist background widow witnessed to a Muslim man whom she quietly baptized. This Rohingya man became the Apostle for his people—those the U.N. calls the most oppressed people in the world.

7. Leaders Learn the Language

Learning the language is not an end in itself and often those who learn well are prideful and do not empower others to lead. If you love your trainees, then you will learn their language. I can effectively share the gospel with Buddhists, and I am growing in my proficiency, even though I am not yet fluent in Burmese.

8. Leaders Invest Funds in Fruitful Workers

We have used resources like relief supplies and funds for trainings to strengthen relationships between house church leaders. Enhancing ties between churches  is just as important as strengthening ties within churches. Whenever these resources have diminished, the multiplication of new churches has suffered.

We have witnessed  the  best  practice  of  a  “Handful  of Rice”  in our region that has led to a breakthrough   in communicating the vision for a self-sustaining movement. The churches we coach have distributed one ton of rice to displaced people in western Burma in the past two months through house church networks. We do not want to rob the leaders of house churches of the joy of giving for Christ’s mission, but many times the networks need outside help in times of crisis.

9. Don’t Focus Too Much on Methodology

Don’t get overly focused on how to do a meeting. Many Westerners have shown great eagerness to practice the correct method for having a house church. I encourage trainees to focus on the new trainee reproducing the word of God to others. “And the word of God increased and multiplied more and more” (Acts 12:24). If you can get the Word of God being discussed and spreading like gossip then you can expect a significant harvest. We got the Word of God multiplying through story-telling but primarily through picture Bibles. These black and white pictures drawn in an indigenous Asian manner allow seekers to get the truths of Christ discussed among their families and friends without the common roadblock of “we can’t learn from a foreign god.” Buddhist temples are covered with pictures of Buddhist scriptures. Another trend I have noticed when coaching others is an over- reliance on technology. This over-reliance doesn’t work to catalyze movements.

10. Prepare Leaders for Spiritual Warfare that Is Constant and Vicious and Equip Them in All the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

It has been enlightening to witness other Westerners—whom I have trained to multiply house church movements—undergo the same intensity of spiritual counter attacks from the evil one. Heinous things start to happen when leaders are empowered to simply obey Jesus. Satan doesn’t really care about how many people you get to receive Christ or how many people’s homes you get into, but his claws come out when you allow lay people to baptize newer believers. When leaders are raising up other leaders who walk, talk and move in the power and all the authority Christ promised in Luke 10:17-18 it seems like all the forces of Hades will come out in battle formations against Christ’s warriors. “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.”

Note that this is not your own power to “just hold on.” Wrap yourself in the promises of God.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Unreached of the Day May-June 2022

This is the new Global Prayer Digest which merged with Unreached of the Day in 2021.

Unreached of the Day May-June 2022

Click on the .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

George Patterson’s Principles Led to a Mongolian Movement to Christ

George Patterson’s Principles Led to a Mongolian Movement to Christ

Note: The block quotes below are excerpted from There’s a Sheep in my Bathtub: Birth of a Mongolian Church Planting Movement, by Brian Hogan and used by permission of the author. Brian Hogan’s books are available from or at

In 1988 Louise and I took Perspectives on the World Christian Movement in a remote class in the center of the Navajo Reservation.

"One of our Perspectives professors was an older man with a surplus of energy and passion named George Patterson. George and his wife, Denny, had served in Honduras, pioneering principles of church-planting that resulted in spontaneous multiplication of churches. I shouldn’t say pioneering, but rather rediscovering. The principles George taught us were straight from the New Testament. George had taken Jesus seriously in the Great Commission: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ He had begun training his disciples to immediately begin obeying the simple and clear commands of Christ in the New Testament with  things like: loving God and other people; repenting, believing, and receiving the Holy Spirit; getting baptized and baptizing others; celebrating the Lord’s Supper; praying; giving generously and making disciples. This resulted in explosive growth not only in  numbers  of  believers,  but in daughter and grand-daughter congregations.

This possibility captured our hearts. We longed to be a part of starting a Church Planting Movement out among the completely Unreached People Groups we had been learning about.

Suddenly, the call we had been struggling to bring into focus, our calling to missions, was crystal clear. We had been created to plant churches where the name of Jesus was not even known. Like Paul put it, we were not to build on someone else’s foundation (as we’d been doing in Hardrock (on the reservation)), but where Christ had never been preached. Our future was clearer than it had ever been, and the next step was to finish our two-year commitment at Hardrock and head out for the unreached. The most accurate term for this job was the Bible’s word for it: apostle. The original meaning of ‘sent one’ described perfectly what we were called to be as church-planters."

We ended up giving notice at Navajo Gospel Mission and redirecting toward  pioneer church-planting  in Mongolia, newly opened to the gospel after seven decades of Communist darkness. We went for in-depth training with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) after George Patterson recommended their approach to us. George himself would train us.

During the last week of our DTS [YWAM basic training], I went to Hong Kong to participate in YWAM’s Strategic Conference on Mongolia. It was there I met a young Swedish couple who’d just finished a School of Frontier Mission in The Netherlands and had gone to Mongolia for their outreach. Magnus told us he and Maria felt God’s call to plant a church movement in Mongolia. As they shared their vision with me, I realized we had been called to do the exact same thing using the same New Testament principles George Patterson had shared with us. [We’d all been trained by George!] It was like finding my heart beating in someone else’s chest. We were all utterly committed to following the leading of the Holy Spirit as we used the New Testament as a filter for everything we did in birthing the Church into this virgin soil. We were convinced that the answers for seeing the Church multiply among Mongolians were in the New Testament, rather than the methods and strategies of the experts. I told them right then and there we wanted to be a part of their team.

From 1993 to 1996 our team pioneered a Disciple Making Movement in Mongolia. We simply put into practice the New Testament keys George had entrusted into our young and untested hands. The full story is told in There’s a Sheep in my Bathtub: Birth of a Mongolian Church Planting Movement, as well as being recounted in brief in the Perspectives Reader; Distant Thunder, Mongols Follow the Khan of Khans. Our Mongolian disciples continue to plant churches and send out missionaries 25 years after the missionaries left.

George Patterson wrote this about our work:

I count it a privilege to be among those who have helped Brian develop his field strategies. He took seriously the New Testament guidelines that I taught while he coordinated the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement classes and later, in a YWAM School of Frontier Mission in the fall of 1992. I first learned to apply these principles in Honduran villages where traditional church-planting methods were ineffective. Brian likewise learned to apply them in Mongolia, where God brought about a Church Planting Movement under conditions that made Western methods impractical.

The most important of the New Testament guidelines that I helped Brian to apply,  is that of building discipleship, church-planting and ongoing ministry on the foundation of simple, loving, childlike obedience to Jesus’ commands, as Jesus’ Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel requires. Jesus said, ‘If you love me, keep my commands.’ Brian’s love for Jesus and his resulting obedience to Jesus’ commands simplified church-planting in Mongolia. Many church-planters follow such a long list of things to do to start a church that they fail to give top priority to the few essential activities, and end up doing so many things that the key, pivotal elements of church-planting are buried in the plethora of work items. If you disciple others, plant churches or multiply  cell  groups,  Sheep in the Bathtub will help you also to simplify the work by forming priorities that line up with Jesus’ commands. Often the surest way to discern God’s will is simply by starting out doing what He orders us to do in the New Testament!

In an age when many missionaries limit their commitment to a short term, doing what they have set out to do, and no more, Brian and Louise went way beyond what they had expected. They stuck it out in spite of sub-zero weather, hostile authorities, deception from trusted friends and other obstacles that would have deterred the average missionary. They persevered to see a movement for Christ in Erdenet, Mongolia develop through an inauspicious birth, growing pains and many trying setbacks, to finally become a mature, truly indigenous Church Planting Movement that has served as a model for many new workers. — George Patterson

We will always be grateful to our mentor and friend George Patterson for pouring into us and trusting the Holy Spirit to do great things as we attempted great things in Mongolia. As I have passed this training on to thousands since 1996, I am always acutely aware that I am simply teaching others what I received from George “in the presence of many witnesses…so they can teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

George Patterson and the Movement- Movement

George Patterson and the Movement- Movement

In this issue we are remembering and reflecting on the life of George Patterson. I take this as an opportunity to reflect as well on the movement-movement, that is the reality that we are in the midst of—a movement in which more and more emphasis is being placed on movements.

Today there are more movements to Jesus than any time in history so far as we know. Many are documented with reliable updates and reporting. Today there is more training available than ever to help form movement catalysts. There are more varieties of such training, with more varieties of principles and approaches.

And one of the most influential pioneers of this movement-movement is George Patterson.

My purpose is not to dig into his principles or history. Instead, I will take a more personal approach to his impact, meaning his impact in my own thinking and application over the years.

I first came across George’s work when I was serving in a Muslim context and looking for “models.” While George’s work was primarily in Latin America, he was on the radar of others who sought to apply what George had been learning, and do so in very different contexts, such as where I was.

In fact, several colleagues from another organ- ization were proactively trying to apply George’s Phases and “Seven Commands of Christ.”

I had a mixed reaction. On the one hand, it seemed simplistic and reductionist to say “there are seven commands.” In fact, my whole approach to Scripture in the context of discipling movement leaders is to allow them to discover such things. They might find eight commands, or twelve, or four, for example. They might categorize things differently. I prefer that approach because it prevents the idea that an outside expert has been able to discover a definitive number of steps, or principles, or truths and now we need to depend on that expert to give them to us.

I am not saying there are no steps, or principles   or truths to be discovered, and I am not saying a missionary should not help others discover them. But I am more happy to discover them together. And in the process, I often see some I would not have seen otherwise!

But, as I say, it was a mixed reaction. There is value in a simple, summarized, easy to recall set of tools or principles or steps. And George did that brilliantly. The simplicity can give a great deal of confidence to the worker. It offers the realization, “I can do this. It is not rocket science.”

I later encountered George again, this time in the form of a computerized training program created to try to help more workers like myself learn what he had discovered and developed. Keep in mind, when I say computerized I am looking back  to  the early 2000s and this was training not available “in the cloud,” but in physical material that had to be inserted!

Be that as it may, it was an early attempt to help training go viral.

Again, a mixed reaction in me!

I found myself asking about the missing elements, the hands-on, person to person, incarnational dimension needed (in my experience) for this kind of training to really take root. So, I was skeptical. Still am skeptical when this human element is missing in training.

However, George was creatively pioneering attempts to overcome a training barrier. I never met him but based on what I know second or third hand, my  guess is that he would read my comments above and my reticence about the human touch and reply, “well, of course! I don’t intend this computerized training to replace that but  to  supplement  it.”  And with that, I would agree.

In conclusion I want to applaud, and in this case  I have no mixed feelings. I applaud a pioneer on whose shoulders many in the movement-movement stand. I applaud a man of God who stayed focused on his sense of purpose, a long obedience in the same direction, as it were. I applaud the willingness to take the heat of criticism in the earliest days of the movement-movement.

Thank you George Patterson, and thank you Father for all you enabled to be done through him.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

The Phenomenon of Church Multiplication in the Book of Acts

Excerpted from the Just Obey Jesus Coaches Guide by Jay Judson

The Phenomenon of Church Multiplication in the Book of Acts

A Vision of Church Multiplication Movements

Why aren’t we seeing more disciples made and more churches starting?

Part of the problem is that our standards of what church is have become far too high and our standards of what it means to be a disciple have become far too low. We need to reverse this.
The Movement that Jesus catalyzed was ignited in rural, not urban areas in northern Israel. It started up-river from the big city in fishing villages around the Sea of Galilee where people spoke Hebrew with a funny accent. In Matthew chapter 10, Christ chose and trained the Twelve sending them out in teams of two. By Luke chapter 10 the Twelve had multiplied to 72 workers.
In Acts 2 the movement then spread down to Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit empowered the original 12 Apostles, and as a result of their message 3,000 were baptized on the Day of Pentecost.

These new believers began to meet in homes and worship the Risen Lord in tiny clusters of micro churches. They did not meet in one congregation led by one man.

In Acts chapter 7, due to persecution, these clusters of churches began  to spread  to Samaria  and  then to Caesarea in Acts 10 when Peter’s team started churches through the home of Cornelius. By Acts 13, lay believers had started a church network in Antioch that multiplied northward to the region of Galatia when the Holy Spirit directed them to send Paul and Barnabas “for the work I have chosen for them.”

The mother churches in Jerusalem started daughter churches in Samaria and Caesarea who started grand-daughter churches in Antioch who birthed great-grand-daughter churches in Galatia and Ephesus. This multiplication primarily occurred through average believers and not through the Apostles alone. The story of Acts follows the journeys of Paul, but you can see that the multiplication did not revolve around the Apostles but around simple believers who just obeyed Jesus.

The Ephesians then multiplied great-great-grand- daughter churches in the cities of Colossae, Heiropolis, and Laodicea. Paul coached Ephapras who coached women like Nympha and the church that met in her house. Paul  also trained Timothy  to coach “responsible people who were able to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul got this pattern of mentoring leaders behind the scenes from Peter who received it from Christ in Matthew chapter 10.

The movement then crossed the sea and entered the cities of Greece all the way around to Rome.

The movement multiplied much faster than the feet of the Apostles could travel, and a network of micro churches was catalyzed by lay believers in Rome before Paul had arrived. He wrote to the clusters of churches in Romans 15, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel from Jerusalem all the way around to Ilyricum (that’s the present day country of Albania), through signs and wonders, and there is no more room for my work.”

That is about 7 regions, with a population of 25 million people, in a period of 20 years. How could Paul make such an amazing claim? He wasn’t attempting to share with every person but catalyzing movements of indigenous churches whoseresponsibility it was to evangelize and disciple their own areas. There were no church buildings until 232 AD yet this movement conquered the Roman Empire a century later when Caesar himself bowed before the Jewish carpenter from Galilee.

That is about 7 regions, with a population of 25 million people, in a period of 20 years. How could Paul make such an amazing claim? He wasn’t attempting to share with every person but catalyzing movements of indigenous churches whose responsibility it was to evangelize and disciple their own areas. There were no church buildings until 232 AD yet this movement conquered the Roman Empire a century later when Caesar himself bowed before the Jewish carpenter from Galilee.


This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

Patterson’s Principles

Patterson’s Principles
In many settings, the drive to supply information has not been matched with a drive to influence  the formation— the character development—of  the learner. These excerpts from George Patterson’s writings help us see another dimension of training, often lacking in formal degree programs. For more, see 

Teach and Practice Obedience to Jesus’ Commands in Love, Above and Before All Else

Jesus, after affirming His deity and total authority on earth, commissioned His Church to make disciples who obey all His commands (Matt. 28:18-20). His commands take priority over all other institutional rules (even the hallowed church constitution and bylaws). This obedience is always in love. If we obey God for any other reason, it becomes sheer legalism; God hates that.

Start Right Out With Loving Obedience to Jesus’ Basic Commands

The aim for each community is to have a group   of believers in Christ who are committed to His commands. Other types of learning are fruitful only if this principle is lived out as a foundation for leaders and followers.

Define Evangelism and Theological Education Objectives in Terms of Obedience

Only disciples produce a church that multiplies itself spontaneously within a culture. Consider the two commands: “Repent and believe” and “Be baptized.” In Western culture a man stands alone before his God and “decides” for Christ. But in other cultures sincere conversion needs interaction with family and friends.
Classroom instruction is appropriate and helpful for mature believers. But teaching heavy theology before one learns  loving, childlike  obedience is dangerous. It leaves a person assuming that Christianity is merely having Scripturally correct doctrine. He becomes a passive learner of the Word rather than an active disciple.

Orient Your Teaching to Loving Obedience

We taught our pastors to orient all church activity to New Testament commands. As they taught the Word of God, they accustomed their people to discern three levels of authority for all that they did as a body of disciples:
  1. 1. New Testament commands. These  carry  all  the authority of heaven. They include the commands of Jesus which inspired the apostles in the Epistles. They apply only to baptized, more mature Christians who are already members of a church. We don’t vote on them nor argue about doing them. They always take precedence over any human organization’s rules.
  2. Apostolic Practices (not commanded). We can- not enforce these as laws because Christ alone has authority to make laws for His own Church. Nor can we prohibit their practice because they have apostolic precedent. Examples include: holding possessions in common, laying hands on converts, celebrating the Lord’s supper frequently in homes using one cup, baptizing the same day of conversion.
  3. Human Customs. Practices not mentioned  in the New Testament  have  only  the  authority of a group’s voluntary agreement. If it involves discipline, the agreement is recognized in heaven (but only for that congregation; we do not judge another congregation by the customs of our own: Matt. 18:15-20).
In all these areas, the formation of character takes precedence over formal classroom training. For younger leaders, personal mentoring and training in practical obedience will give a foundation on which further training can be beneficial and fruitful.
It is not theology, but obedient disciples who bring glory to God. Such followers of Jesus are necessary for a vital, replicating church movement.

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

George Patterson, 1932–2022 A Daughter’s Testimony

George Patterson, 1932–2022 A Daughter’s Testimony
On February 15, 2022, my father died at 89 years of age. At the memorial a week later, George Patterson’s impact and legacy in world missions shone in the outpouring of sentiment and accolades, many from people I’d never met. My husband and I have been church-planting missionaries all our adult lives and intersected with his world of influence at many points, yet we still find ourselves surprised at how far his ideas have penetrated. The mission world has lost a giant upon whose shoulders many, many of us have been lifted to see better and go further than we could otherwise have done.
And we have lost a friend—family and disciples alike. My father was always ready to play a game, to tell a story, to improvise a skit. If you had the privilege of being mentored by George Patterson, you always became a friend, too. No mentee didn’t also learn to play pinocle or other card games or was exempt from some practical joke, and all were welcomed as equals.
If you only ever knew him from his teaching ministry, after leaving Honduras in the mid-eighties, you would perhaps think he was more extroverted than he really was. He often upset established norms by running around the classroom, pulling together dramas that required yelling and chasing, putting the chairs in a circle or getting rid of them altogether. His final exams could just as easily be about the song your group created to highlight the commands of Christ as anything else.
I learned very early on that mission could consume my father. Even though his whole ministry was to empower others, the demands were endless. That makes the memories of playing games and family time that much more precious.
My parents, my sister Angela and I moved to Honduras in the mid-60s under the Conservative Baptist Home Mission Society. In the years previous, my father had completed his training at Western Theological Seminary in 1964 and had pastored   in California and Oregon. It was then, pastoring, that he felt God calling his family to cross-cultural missions. One of my earliest memories is retrieving a letter in the mailbox at our little house in Portland, OR, that I understood came from God, telling us to go to Honduras.
My father’s  first responsibility in Honduras was  to help lead the rural Conservative Baptist Bible school established many years previously. The norm in those days was to draw in young men from the villages and over two or three years, train them as best as possible in the same pattern as the North American Church was doing.
Honduras was ripe for spiritual harvest in the 60s and 70s, especially in the rural areas. Although people considered themselves to be Catholic, most villagers rarely saw a priest more than once or twice a year. They had neither the animist beliefs of the Indian population nor  the  daily  Mass  and  Communion  of the urban Catholic church to channel their spiritual hunger, so when the gospel arrived, people responded. But churches were only growing slowly, reliant on outside leadership and resources.
As my father fulfilled his teaching role, he couldn’t help realizing several things that changed his life, the life of the Honduran church, and then the world. He saw that the candidates for pastorship were young men with few family or community responsibilities and were not the natural leaders of these villages. He also noticed that upon graduating they almost always moved to the larger urban areas to look for work as paid and titled leaders in larger churches. None of them wanted to stay in the countryside and help lead the small struggling churches that couldn’t pay them much or give them status.
During that time my father had the privilege to intersect briefly with Ralph Winter's work in Guatemala in the Presbyterian church, where initial experiments in Theological Education by Extension (TEE) were unfolding. Here was a significant step forward, but my father wanted to go further. He shut the Bible school down and began to disciple the middle-aged family men in the local church.
These natural leaders were semi-literate heads of households. My father told me how in those first couple years that he came to this radical decision, he observed such men looking into the church windows, hesitant to come inside. He wondered what it would take to build a church with strong, non-imported leadership that would draw these men into the church.
So, taking members of the church with him, my father began to visit homes in the nearby villages, concentrating on heads of households. When people responded to the gospel, he baptized them and recognized them as churches—real churches that served the sacraments and ordained leaders. The first man he baptized was killed with a machete in his own home, his faith an excuse for violence. At his funeral, much of his family turned to Christ and a church was born. I remember when my father came back from that village with machete slashes in the seat of his motorcycle. The gospel was resisted but could not be withstood.
To disciple the new church leaders, my father introduced a more reproducible system of education. He had been turning over and over in his mind the difficulty in getting semi-literates to study Scripture. One day while sitting on a train (everyone travelled by train in those days) and looking around, my father noticed the passengers reading the photo-novels and comics so popular throughout the Third World. The light came on.  He started extension classes right in the leaders’ homes, using comic-sized and comic-illustrated study booklets that student-elders could immediately apply and disseminate to their own disciples.
And right here is the second pioneering aspect of what God used my father to (re)introduce to the Church. The first, raising up local leaders without formal education, was already controversial, especially once they began to baptize others and serve Communion. But when this first level of new leaders was entrusted to share the gospel in other villages and raise up a second level/generation (and third and fourth and…), the real revolution started.
The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches in central Honduras began.
Churches were being planted from village to village, spreading through the rural regions. There was great celebration as the kingdom advanced. And along came opposition, too often from established churches. And some of the things my father is most known for were born out of his efforts to give the fledgling churches ideas and tools to resist the onslaught of attacks.
The Three Levels of Authority and the Seven Commands of Christ are direct products of that time. The first tool places the obedience of the Church to Jesus Christ first and foremost. The Practices of the  Apostles  are  the  second  level  of authority, but these can’t be commanded nor restricted. And least in authority, church tradition, however well it has served in some other place, must be severely filtered to allow for new believers in new places to simply obey Jesus.
The easiest example of the levels of authority is Jesus’ command for us to baptize. That is the first level of authority. The apostles did so immediately with those coming to faith, so we are free to do the same, but we don’t command it. That is the second level of authority. The Church often surrounds baptism with human traditions—the third level of authority—traditions such as catechism and moral advancement of the new believer and requires ordained leadership to conduct the rite. Sometimes these traditions have kept people around the world from simply responding to Jesus in this initiation into the family.
The second tool helps new believers in  new  places understand what it means to obey Jesus. It summarizes the commands of Jesus in the gospels in seven commands: Repent and believe. Baptize. Love, give, pray, gather around communion and disciple. These seven can all be expanded and amplified endlessly (the rest of the New Testament fleshes them out) but can also be very simply practiced in any context by anyone, regardless of education or wealth. Notice also that they are all actions, not doctrinal points. The titles of those little booklets my father created were verbs. This is poignant in Spanish, where John 1:1 has the word Word as el Verbo, the Verb.
The Honduran churches sometimes came under attack because their leaders  were  not  schooled  in residential Bible schools. The tool of the seven commands of Christ gave them the confidence that they were obeying the Great Commission, teaching “all that I have commanded you.” They knew that  a church is a group of people gathered together to lovingly obey the “all” of the Great Commission. They had an answer for those who would deny their validity as churches and pastors.
The third aspect of my father’s contribution to mission practice has been called
. This is what he wanted to add to what had begun in Guatemala. He knew  that turning long, complex theological material into smaller portions was a necessary first step for raising up local leaders. What was further required, though, was to utilize these parts with disciples when they needed them for whatever was going  on in their churches. The material created was only ever organized alphabetically, and was meant to  be a menu, with any assigned part for study being chosen at each mentoring session depending on the circumstances.
His struggles to develop comprehensive discipling for new leaders turned into the Discipling Triangle. He realized that effective training would require a balance of relationship, truth and task.  He related these to Father, Son and Spirit.
My father wrote most of the first  studies  and  then later some of the local leaders added to the curriculum by writing their own booklets. With the residential Bible Institute shut down, the Extension Bible Institute (HEBI) became a reproducible tool in new leaders’ hands.
Three marks distinguished the movement in Honduras. The first mark was an emphasis on grace. The churches knew the difference between the essentials of the gospel of grace and the human traditions we introduce ourselves. The steps of simple obedience emphasized that. Training programs and worship style and requirements for serving or receiving the sacraments reflect human traditions. The Honduran movement experienced  a refreshing freedom from the rampant legalism   in Latin America because they knew where their loyalties lay: with grace. The last time we visited Honduras, I asked Humberto, the director of the HEBI, about their new work with the Garífuna people. I was especially curious to know what a Latin evangelist would do about their  penchant for dancing, a taboo among Latin evangelicals. His answer amazed me. “We don’t prohibit anything!” He wasn’t talking about a moral free-for-all; he was talking about grace.
The second distinguishing mark of the Honduran movement was relationships of trust. The churches were linked by a network of traveling disciplers who  maintained   relationships   with   leaders   and their churches. My father told me about a period where he was running from village to village trying to deal with  divisive  problems.  One of his regional directors pulled him  aside  and told him to slow down and trust God more. “You’re just dancing with the devil,” he told him. Because of their strong relationship, this Honduran man felt free to question my father’s decisions and help him keep perspective. The style of leadership I saw modeled was never authoritarian. The disciplers served their disciples and gave way to them, passing on authority willingly and joyfully. In 1985, my father left the Honduran movement in the hands of the Honduran leaders, giving way for the Spirit to develop their own gifts of leadership. This was the ultimate test of trust, and the Honduran church has grown because of it.
The  third  mark  of  the   Honduran   churches  on the north coast  was  obedience  to  Christ.  They distinguished themselves not only by what they believed, but also by what they did. Their goal, a list of seven commands of Christ, was made up of action verbs.
I was privileged to grow up in a great movement of people turning to God all around me on the north coast of Honduras. I was privileged to know great Honduran Christian servant-leaders. I was privileged to watch a people freed to plant church after church within their own culture and beyond.  I was privileged to see the Spirit poured out among the churches of northern Honduras, and  this  vision will always help shape my hope of what the church can be.
One of my favorite memories of my father is a trip I took with him as a young teenager. It was to a village named La Estancia high in the mountains of Honduras. This was a regular discipling visit with a pastor named Alfonso. Alfonso had very little education, but this hadn’t stopped my father from discipling him to start a church in his home, pastor it and start a couple new ones in nearby villages. During the day, during the mentoring session with Alfonso, he asked my  father to preach that night  at the church. But instead of agreeing, my father said he wanted to hear Alfonso preach. My father helped Alfonso prepare a sermon with a skit, so he even used that sermon as an opportunity to disciple Alfonso and make him a better preacher. My father, sitting there listening to Alfonso preach, was a loud and clear message to the congregation, too. “This man is a leader.” That night, I remember the church was packed. My father and I sat in the back, and he pointed out to me the signs of health of the church: the church was full of whole families, and the men were seated in front, fully engaged in what was happening. He was discipling me as a future church-planter, too.
The next morning when  we  were  getting  ready to leave, Alfonso rode over to where we were staying on his horse. Alfonso was short like most Hondurans, but he sat tall on his horse, and it symbolized to me the impact he was having on his village. La Estancia was in a valley surrounded by mountains. Alfonso swept his arms to encompass all the mountains and said, “There are villages in all these mountains, and we will not stop until we have taken the gospel to all of them.” The Lord had used my father to raise up an evangelist in La Estancia who had the confidence that God would use him to start churches in new places.
Later that morning, a family came by to see my  father and Alfonso. They had been won to the Lord by Alfonso’s ministry, but they weren’t from La Estancia but from El  Tablon,  an  hour  away.  They had been walking to church from their village for each service. They asked my father if it would be possible to hold a service in their home. My father let Alfonso take the lead in the conversation, and Alfonso told the family that not only would they come, they would plant a new church in the family’s home. I got to watch the seed of a new church being planted right there.
My father had a gift for helping the people that the world would ignore, like Alfonso, do great things for Jesus out of simple obedience. God used my father’s discipling to build confidence in people like Alfonso so that they could simply obey Jesus. What started in Honduras among poor farmers empowered to start hundreds of churches spread out into most corners of the globe, but always through disciples reproducing and enacting these ideas themselves.
My father’s passion was for churches, and he planted churches for over 20 years in Honduras. He saw churches multiply through the model of Theological Education and Evangelism by Extension (TEEE). This non-formal pastoral training resulted in about 100 new churches in northern Honduras over 20 years. This model is now used with similar results in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as well as in the United States, and is distributed as Train & Multiply (TM). For this work, Western Seminary awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1979.
My parents moved back to the United States in 1985 where my father then coached church-planters in different cultures. He mentored missionaries out  of his office at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, now known as Frontier Ventures. He was a favorite speaker for the mission course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and was instrumental in shaping YWAM’s church-planting vision. My parents  later  moved to Washington and my father taught at Western Seminary. He had an impact on many missionaries and agencies, helping them see how simple it could be to plant churches by discipling believers to “simply obey Jesus.” Even after his retirement in Sebring, Florida, he continued to mentor church-planters all over the world.
As I said before, my father’s work could consume him. It was my mother who provided a calm in the storm. My mother was the homemaker, bringing stability and rest to the home. She became my father’s manager, helping him schedule his many trips and appointments. If it weren’t for her administrative skills, my father would have burned out long ago. She became his gatekeeper, making sure as absent- minded as he was, that he honored his commitments and that he slept and ate and rested between trips.
My father had a playful side to him, too. We remember him as the father who loved to spend time with us playing games. He spent hours with us playing his own invented game, War,  as well  as pinochle and euchre. He invented skits for our Christmases, too. He was a gentle soul, unselfish and fun to be around.
His legacy revolves around two qualities: his passion for discipling  that  results  in  healthy  churches  by “simply obeying Jesus,” and his creativity in designing simple tools such as the Train & Multiply materials, as well as the many skits, role plays and illustrations that made his training come to life. Today, there are people all over the world applying the  principles he  taught, using the materials he designed, and teaching with  the  energy  that he demonstrated in his skits. He  was a trainer  par excellence. He  truly embodied the words of II Timothy 2:2 that were his motto: “Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”

This is an article from the May-June 2022 issue: George Patterson,1932-2022

The Urgency of God

I.E. We Could be Going Faster

The Urgency of God

Is there an urgent nature in the character of God? Let’s see. God tells Abraham to go, leave, leave and go all in one verse, Gen. 12:1. Then in Ex. 14:1 God tells Israel to turn, as in right now! Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like… As soon as the grain is ripe, the laborer puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mk. 4:26-29. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Beseech the Lord of the harvest. Matt. 9:37. No doubt there are many, many more verses revealing the urgency of God.

To build on the sub-title a little more we might ask, could we be going faster toward making disciples of all nations? “But” you say, “making disciples takes time.” Yes it does. But does it take years? Does it take a lifetime? Or does it take a basic foundational skill accompanied by a choice? Jesus said, “You are truly my disciples if you continue in my word.” John 8:31. But it’s pretty hard to continue in His word if you don’t know how to read. And the truth is that over half the people in the world in the year 2022, do not know how to read. What have we been doing? The world has gone to the moon and beyond and yet has inadvertently left over half of the people in the world in abject, illiterate poverty.

To apply this to the context of missions, let’s look at the question again. “What have we been doing?” In the Jan. 2021 edition of Mission Frontiers, I wrote, “There is a blind spot in missions today. Omitting the factor of literacy training as an essential feature toward making disciples of all nations has been overlooked.” I have a friend who is an excellent church-planter working in one of the more difficult and dangerous areas in the world. He and his wife are well-trained nationals of their country and have planted over 40 churches in four different languages. One of their key tools for discipleship is the booklet of chronological Bible stories I put together and had translated into the largest of this brother’s language groups. When asking him how things were going, he said, “The story books of the Word of God you gave us are excellent for making disciples, if the learner can go home and re-read the stories over again. But the illiterate believers lack the confidence to try and tell the stories to others for evangelism.”

Though  many  missionaries using storytelling to make disciples of oral learners may disagree with me, I believe there is a limit to how much an illiterate person in the 21st century can be discipled by expecting them to remember  60-100  stories for a long period of time. In June of 2021, I was conducting a Teacher Training Workshop (TTW)  in Liberia, training believers and pastors how to teach literacy. In order to reinforce the importance of what we would be doing, I asked, “How many of you attended the storytelling seminar my wife and I taught here 14 years ago?” Several people raised their hands. So I asked, “How many of the oral learners who took the course with you would remember all those stories today?” One pastor raised his hand with the obvious answer, “None.”

“I agree with you,” I said. “In addition to teaching storytelling, how much farther along and how much better might those people’s lives be right now if I had started literacy classes by conducting TTWs then, so you and other literate believers could teach the oral learners to read and write? And the most amazing thing is that the methodology we will be presenting to you today (developed by Literacy Evangelism International) enables an adult to learn to read and write their language in just four months!” Sound impossible?

Six months later, in Dec. 2021, my wife and I returned to Liberia, and were in the midst of conducting another three-day Teacher Training Workshop in Monrovia, when our leaders asked if we could let a former student speak. We then listened to the testimony of a 49 year old woman named Pricilla who had never been to school and six months ago was totally illiterate. But having gone through our literacy course she can now read and write. Pricilla then read to us the story of Peter raising Dorcas from the dead from Acts 9. This was a rather fitting passage which she had selected as a woman who was dead to being able to read just six months before. She had to stop a couple of times while reading to look at a word closely before reading the word and continuing on. She was a very sweet woman. We asked her what she was going to do now and she said she wants to become a teaching assistant in one of our next classes and to go to college. It was a beautiful moment and we nodded our heads in wonder. Our leaders then told us there were others like her who had also learned to read.

A mission pastor in the USA began looking more closely at what we were advocating and sent an email to some of his workers on the field asking them what they thought. One missionary working with oral learners replied, “Oh, it (reading) doesn’t matter.” When the mission pastor forwarded the note to me, I sent him a one word reply. Just one word. Really? However that one word reply seemed to speak volumes as the lights went on in his mind. He invited us to come conduct a three-day TTW to short term workers from his church who are going to the field so they can train national believers in that country who are literate how to teach their illiterate brothers and sisters to read and write so they too can live the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.

What we are looking at is a model of how we can accelerate movements toward finishing the Great Commission by implementing literacy classes for believers and unbelievers who don’t yet read and write. In this way the discipleship can be more thorough, sustainable and life changing as new readers and new believers can begin to read the Bible for themselves. The other key feature is that after going through a Teacher Training Workshop this methodology is so simple that students can quickly become teachers. So the literacy classes are taught by national believers in a strategy called “near neighbor evangelism.” You  probably never thought of literacy being an evangelistic strategy. Me neither. Now I see literacy training as one of the most potent and godly of all evangelistic methodologies we have available today. I borrow from my MF article in Jan. 2021:

There are many issues in the world of missions today. One that is not often mentioned is the low self-esteem of perhaps 400 million men who are the heads of their households yet do not know how to read. John the Baptist cried out, 'Every valley shall be lifted up.' What do you think he meant? I believe this verse could be interpreted that through John, God is talking about people with low self-esteem who need  to be lifted up, just as every mountain of pride needs to be brought low. So let’s say an illiterate man is in the market where he hears of a literacy class that’s beginning in which he can learn to read his trade language in just four months. Two hours a day in the evening after work, five days a week for four months and the life of this man can be completely changed. And  what can this man do after that? He can come home and gather his family around him and begin to read to them, 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' Some people will argue it is best for people to hear the word of God in their mother tongue. Yes, that’s true. So as this man has learned to read in his trade language, he can then translate the word orally into his mother tongue. Then using his mother tongue, this man begins to lead his family in a discussion of the passage he just read to them in their trade language. This father’s esteem in the eyes of his wife and children and their community just went through the roof. This man has learned to read and has a new life.

Normally a class will have 15–20 students. One class in Rwanda recently had 38 students! The Kenya Rwandan head teacher who had gone through our TTW, and who knows the culture well, then selected the oldest adult student (over 60)  to  maintain  order and focus in such a large class. It worked as the culture stipulates respect for elders. Instead of diminishing, the class grew from 38 students to 43 students (all adults) and is presently going into it’s last primer (work book) with 40 of the students already beginning to read! Hallelujah. But there is more. Nine of the students were non-believers, and seven of those nine have now come to faith in Christ.

So just a little more on what literacy evangelism looks like. This is a picture of literate national believers who have been discipled and who want to serve the Lord by going through a TTW and teaching literacy classes to those who may be of different ethnic groups but speak the same trade language. Every day for two hours, five days a week, for four months the literacy students from the near neighbor tribe(s) go to class, and are face to face and eye to eye with their teacher who is teaching them one of life’s most important foundational skills. And what is happening? A bonding and the development of a relationship is what is taking place which can lead to salvation and discipleship. For indeed as students begin to read, they inevitably will have their Christian teacher to thank who took the time to love their neighbors as themselves. It   is this simple reproducible methodology, and the opportunity for relational evangelism, that makes this methodology so compelling, attractive and successful. Ask Pricilla.

I hope my advocating the use of trade languages does not put anyone off, but on the contrary, reveals how the medium of trade languages in literacy training can help facilitate a faster MOVEMENT toward the completion of the Great Commission. After all, the New Testament was originally written in a trade language. Perhaps there is an urgency in God.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Unreached of the Day March-April 2022

This is the new Global Prayer Digest which merged with Unreached of the Day in 2021.

Unreached of the Day March-April 2022

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Jesus’ 10 Movement Principles

Jesus’ 10 Movement Principles

Edited from a video for Global Assembly of Pastors for Finishing the Task

By following Jesus’ 10 transferable and reproducible movement strategies, indigenous churches can reproduce multiple movements. Jesus applied a few basic strategies and  principles  throughout  His ministry. Knowing these things helps us tremendously in obeying the Great Commission and reaching out to UUPGs (Unengaged Unreached People Groups) around the world.

I. The Kingdom

As Jesus entered the arena of His mission, He had a commission from His Father. He had the end in mind even before the beginning. He thought very strategically about easily reproducible coverage principles and strategies. Among those was a vision of the kingdom and the harvest. Of the kingdom, He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). The kingdom of heaven was very important to Jesus’ ministry. He wanted His disciples to clearly understand what the kingdom was about, so He spoke often about the kingdom.
This was not the mission of a denomination. It was not the mission of a church. It was the mission of the kingdom. Jesus clearly enunciated kingdom principles. If we want to see multiple movements happening among UUPGs, we must clearly teach, coach and preach about the kingdom. Let people understand what the kingdom is. Understanding the vision of the kingdom makes the work simple. People need to know that their motivation for doing the work is not to be paid money. It’s also not about titles. It’s all about the kingdom of God so we need to teach the kingdom very clearly.

II. The Harvest

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37–38). If we want to see UUPG’s reached, we need to clearly understand and present the kingdom and the harvest. We need to impress the vision of kingdom and the harvest on the hearts of the people we teach and coach. This will help avoid the temptation and the traps many people are falling into. Things like, “It’s all about my denomination,” “It's all about my church,” or “It’s all about my own empire.” It’s all about the kingdom and the harvest.

III. Abundant Prayer

Prayer was very critical to Jesus’ ministry; He knew that prayer is the engine on which movements run. Without abundant prayer, a culture of prayer, the church is just taking a walk. Jesus Himself did a lot of praying, even before He started His ministry (Luke 4:1–2). He prayed before choosing His 12 disciples (Luke 6:12–13). He also prayed every day before starting His day (Mark 1:35). And He prayed often (Luke 5:16). Jesus also taught His disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1–4). Jesus was a praying man. He prayed before raising Lazarus. He prayed for His disciples  in  John  17:1–25. He prayed before performing miracles. He even told His disciples to pray for their enemies (Matt. 5:44). He prayed three times when He was facing death. His first word on the cross was a prayer and His last word on the cross was a prayer. He was a praying man; prayer was a powerful coverage principle of Jesus. It is easily transferable and reproducible in any culture; it can lead to multiple churches in any community. God’s people need to spend time in prayer and fasting. We should coach and teach our disciples to pray. We should pass on this message to our disciples: to pray and fast as Jesus did. Even though He was God in the flesh, He prayed  before  He  started His ministry. If Jesus prayed so much, we need to also pray so much. If we hope to see any success among UUPGs, we need a praying ministry. We need praying disciples. As we keep praying and raising up disciples to fast and pray, we can hope to see multiple movements. Remember that prayer is the engine of a movement. Just as Jesus had a clear vision of kingdom and the harvest, He had a vision of abundant prayer.

IV. Ordinary People

Jesus empowered people, empowered every believer. That is how ministry becomes scalable and reproducible:  through  ordinary  people. When we read Matt. 4:18, Matt. 10:2-4, and Acts 4:13, we see how Jesus placed emphasis on ordinary people. Ordinary people were and still are Jesus’ plan A and His only plan. Ordinary people are going to get the job done. As we coach and disciple people, we need to emphasize looking for ordinary people. This is transferable and reproducible. Wherever you go around the world, you can find ordinary people. We have huge numbers of ordinary people sitting in the pews.

Jesus knew He was not looking for professionals. He  was looking for ordinary people. As we look  at all the people around Jesus, every one of them was an ordinary person. He put His emphasis on ordinary people, coaching them and training them and enabling them to become what He wanted them to be. So, if we are going to see movements happen around the world, if we intend to reach UUPGs, let’s do it with ordinary people. Wherever we go— in every community, in every culture—look  for the ordinary people, just as Jesus did. The coverage principle and strategy of ordinary people was key to the ministry of Jesus, and it can lead to multiple movements around the world.

V. Making Disciples Who Make Disciples

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19- 20). Jesus told His disciples very clearly: they needed to go into the world. He wanted them to GO! But when you go, what is the key thing? What is the key strategy? As you go, make disciples. Making disciples is very key to the coverage strategies and principles of Jesus. He was not interested in comfort; He was interested in disciples because He knew that making disciples is transferable and reproducible. Disciples that make disciples will lead to multiple movements as they obey. He did not just want knowledge-based disciples. He wanted obedience-based discipleship.

That’s why Paul wrote to Timothy: “And  the  things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit the same to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). I want to focus on what Paul wrote to Timothy: the teaching that you had, the coaching I’m giving you, the training I’m giving you – it is very important that you heard it from me among witnesses when I was doing this. You need to now invest in disciples making disciples. You also turn around and commit to faithful disciples who will then equip others. This is the multi-generational coaching and training that Paul imparted to Timothy, who also committed it to other faithful disciples. Jesus made obedience-based disciples. If we want any chance to see multiple movements, we need to teach, preach, coach, and model obedience – the way Jesus did it and taught it to His disciples.

VI. Person of Peace

The next principle was the Person of Peace, as we see in Matt. 10:11-14. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He told them: “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it. If it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” He told them: “Go out and look for a worthy person.” We call this a Person of Peace: someone God has prepared ahead of you in the  community.  The  Person  of  Peace is the bridge into the community. The Person of Peace is the person of influence who is willing to receive you and listen to your message, and often becomes a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus knew very well that His movement would be a movement of people already inside each culture. The Person of Peace principle shortcuts all the barriers of culture and religious red tape that we have today. If we want to see movements happen among UUPGs, we need to apply the Person of Peace principle. It is less expensive. It is also very easy. Because when you have a cultural insider, they don’t need to go and learn all the languages. They already know the languages. You don’t need to spend so much on the insider.

Because that is already their culture, they have a passion. They know the area and they understand the culture and worldview and can easily relate to the people. The insider already has relationships in the culture. That’s why Jesus anchored proclamation to the principle and strategy of the Person of Peace. This is transferable and reproducible in any culture.

VII. The Holy Spirit

John 14:26; 20:22 and Acts 1:8 Jesus emphasized the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit plays an important role in sustainable movements happening all around the world. The Holy  Spirit  is the source of living water in the life of disciples and disciple makers, as promised in John 7:37-38. The Holy Spirit is the helper and the teacher in the process of DMM. We read in John 14:26; 16:14-15, that the Holy Spirit is the indwelling power that qualifies us to be witnesses for the Kingdom. In Acts 1:8 Jesus told His disciples: “Do not leave Jerusalem, until you receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and then you will be my witnesses.” The Holy Spirit worked uncommon miracles and emboldened even the most timid of disciples, as we see in Acts 4:18-20; 9:17. The Holy Spirit can use even the most unlikely people to open doors for rapid multiplication. In Acts 10:44-48 we see that the Holy Spirit is not just for people in the past; He is for all of us today. We will never see a sustainable Disciple Making Movement without the sustained power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus emphasized this coverage principle because He knew your location around the world really doesn’t matter. The Holy Spirit can reach you wherever you are. This principle is transferable; you can take it anywhere. You can reproduce it anywhere. If we want to see this work happen, we need to do it the Jesus way. The Holy Spirit is essential for this work. He is important for every indigenous church, every disciple and every disciple-maker.

VIII. The Simplicity of the Word

In Matt. 11:28-30 and Luke 4:32 we see that Jesus was not only welcoming in His character; He was also simple in His teaching. The crowds loved His teaching because of its simplicity. Jesus makes complex things simple and He makes simple things even simpler.    If we want to see breakthroughs among UUPGs, we need to follow this transferable coverage principle of Jesus: making things very simple.

IX. Access or Compassion Ministry

We see this principle in passages such as Matt. 9:35; 14:17; Luke 9:11; Mark 6:39-44. Jesus used healing as the access ministry in Matt. 9:35. In Luke 9:11 Jesus again used healing as the access ministry.  He also used food as access ministry (compassion ministry). We should learn from Jesus and hold with an open hand whatever God has blessed us with, for the advancement of the kingdom.

X. Depending on God for Our Resources
(Matt. 10:9-10; Ps. 50:10-12)

Every one of us should adopt this coverage principle. It’s transferable and reproducible. And if we adopt it, it will lead to movements. Jesus’ message was very clear: “Go with nothing and depend on God for the resources.” We know that God has supported His work in the past, and He will always support His work in the future if it’s done His way. The global church cannot in any way bankrupt a global God. His resources are unlimited. We can depend on God for His resources. When we cry out to Him, He will supply the resources. Jesus knew that if we apply this principle, we will see an explosion. We will see multiplication and reproducibility. This is so transferable – in any culture, among any indigenous church. If we do it the way Jesus did it, we can come back to what we saw in the Acts of the Apostles. What happened in the early days of the church can begin to happen again in our churches. It can surely begin to happen among UUPGs. But if we don’t do it Jesus’ way, we are wasting our time. This is God’s business, so if we want to succeed, we have to do it Jesus’ way. This is His coverage principle. It’s His plan and He will not change it for anyone.


I want to remind you again about Jesus’ vision of the harvest and the kingdom. About abundant prayer. About ordinary people. I want to remind you about these coverage principles: Disciples making disciples who make disciples, and the Person of Peace. I also want to remind you about the coverage principle  of the Holy Spirit and simplicity of the Word. And don’t forget access ministry (compassion ministry) and depending on God for the resources. We need to keep these in our minds.

I assure you that when we do things God’s way, He is always faithful, as He has always been faithful in the past. The world is changing and will continue to change, but our God will never change. You  will never bankrupt God by asking for anything in prayer. I believe God can use you for great things in seeing a movement. Let’s pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into the harvest field. Let’s also pray that wherever people go with the gospel the door will be open for them. That they will be able to bring this gospel to people who are lost and dying. Let us also cry out to God for the resources for the work. Let us pray for Persons of Peace—that God will open doors and identify the Persons of Peace.

These coverage strategies  are  transferable and reproducible in any culture. Indigenous churches can use them to lead to multiple coverage movements. This is not theory. This is what I have lived for, what I’m working for and what (if need be) I would die for. I encourage us all that this can be done. Put these things in your heart and pray for them. It can be difficult at the beginning. But trust that God will give you the breakthrough. He has done it for us as we have seen multiple churches all over. The same can happen for you. So, I encourage you to be strong. Amen.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Toward the Edges


Toward the Edges
Dear Reader,
As you know if you have been reading Mission Frontiers for any period of time, one of our consistent themes is “movements.”
We track the number of known movements on our cover.
We talk about movements and what promotes or hinders them; and in this edition, we talk about the “essential elements” of movements.
I want to add to that conversation by going back to one of our source texts, indeed a source text for all those who are concerned for seeing healthy movements to Jesus emerge and thrive: the book of Acts.
My focus will be on one key word used in Acts, a word normally translated as “devoted.” It shows up several times, but in a very concentrated way in the famous set of verses in Acts 2:42-47. Those verses describe the thriving life of what some would call the “first church.”
In them we see the early followers of Jesus devoted to five things: apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking bread and prayer and being in the Temple together.
My rationale for focusing on these has been shaped by my years of working with emerging movements to try to grow in both numbers and health, in both quantitative and qualitative ways. My premise has become simple: if the DNA is right the body will grow.
I realize that this is overly simplistic, and I am not denigrating the important focus in recent years on various activities, methods, tools and training aimed at helping catalysts of movements be more effective. But my  focus here will be  on these five qualitative ingredients of healthy movements.

Devoted to Apostolic Teaching

While we don’t know a lot about the content of this teaching from Acts, we do know from the few glimpses we are given that this happened in larger more public settings and house to house (or household to household), as Paul summarizes to the Ephesians in Acts 20.
However, assuming that the letters of the apostles are a window into the teaching theyprovided we can glean a few things: Each apostle had a unique style and vocabulary: compare the letters of Paul with those of John, or\ Peter or James. Each unique, each reflecting their personality and experience.
The teaching was also uniquely contextual. While some scholars use Paul’s varied vocabulary to try to suggest he could not have written all the letters we attribute to him, the facts seem to suggest that he employed vocabulary from the contexts of the people to whom he wrote in order to address the issues they were facing.
While there was a variety of issues unique tom different settings, such as we see when we compare Corinth with Colossae, at the same time there were certain issues which kept arising. Almost every letter of Paul, for example, continues to address the things we might have assumed to have been settled in Acts 15 (circumcision, sexual purity, food offered to idols).
To summarize, to understand something of what it may mean to apply best practices for movements today, it is good to remember that when we speak of apostolic teaching, we are speaking of how the Spirit used the distinct personalities of each apostle, inspired contextual application, and guidance as persistent issues continued to require fresh, and repeated, attention.

Devoted to Fellowship

Koinonia is the term used in Acts 2. One place that we are given a deeper look into how one apostle, at least, understood this term is in the letter to the Philippians. There Paul outlines four dimensions of koinonia as he experienced it with the people of Philippi:
Koinonia in the gospel (Phil. 1:5-6): That is, a sharing or fellowship in the advance and also ongoing understanding of the good news and its implications.
Koinonia in the Spirit (Phil. 2:1-4): The con- nection here is to how such fellowship affects and deepens relationships in the community.
Koinonia in the sufferings of Jesus (Phil. 3:10): In fact, Paul has the whole sweep of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus in view in Philippians 3. His passionate longing to know Jesus more, and  to actually share in that life, frame one of the most powerful descriptions of the spiritual life we have in the Scriptures.
Finally, koinonia in giving and receiving (Phil. 4:15ff): Paul expects to both give and receive. This is a beautiful picture of the mutuality of apostolic fellowship.
Best practices in movements? Devotion to the apostles’ fellowship presses us into the growth of the gospel, deeper relationships, deeper experience of union with Jesus and a mutuality of what we have to give to and what we need to receive from others.

Devoted to the Breaking of Bread

An early reference to communion? Or merely a description of how early believers ate together and shared hospitality?
If 1 Corinthians 11 is any indicator, it was both. That chapter portrays a community that ate together weekly, and also portrays meals that were both meals and also memorials of the Meal.
The fact that Paul had to warn the people about saving food for latecomers, and also to warn them against drinking too much of the wine shows us there was an actual meal.
The fact that Paul connects all that to the Meal Jesus shared with His followers shows us that within the meal, came the Meal.
For best practices in movements, among many implications we might draw, there is a simple one: the forms and rituals we use to express what we learn in the Scriptures are adaptable. What began as a Meal in a meal, became a ritual Meal without a meal in most of our Christian churches, but need not remain as such as new movements emerge.

Devoted to Prayer

This again could mean prayer together or individually as believers, in more extemporaneous forms. Or it could mean the actual Jewish prayers (the Greek text is plural and may suggest the latter). Be that as it may, we know from any reading of the new Testament that prayer played a vital part in every aspect of the movement. Paul’s letters, Jesus’ example and teaching and the narratives in Acts all point to this.
Many studies of movements have pointed to the role of intercessory prayer as a best practice, and I do not want to minimize that! However, in addition to that I want us to be reminded of the broad and deep emphasis on prayer in all its facets in the pages of the Scripture. Not the least of these is the prayer life that seeks after and longs for a deeper connection to Jesus.

Devoted to Being in the Temple

Why mention this? The glib answer would be because I am citing examples of the word “devoted,” and it is right there in Acts 2. But there is more to it.
Keep in mind that Jesus has just died. Keep in mind that among those who pushed for and celebrated Jesus’ death were those who were responsible for the Temple rituals and worship. Keep in mind that being devoted to being in the Temple put the early believers right in the context of those who were opposed to Jesus. Keep in mind that Jesus’ death meant the fulfillment of the sacrificial system (though this can hardly have come to the realization of these followers yet).
And yet, there they were. In the Temple. In the center of all of that. And devoted to it.
Best practices? Healthy movements will also be right there, in the center of it, even taking part, faithful to Jesus but in the ebb and flow of the life of the people they are from.


This edition is devoted to understanding movements more deeply. In addition to the other encouraging and helpful contributions you will enjoy here, I want to remind us to consider these “devotions” as well: apostolic teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer and being in the “Temple,” in the middle of it all.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

The Long Wait is Over

The Long Wait is Over
How many parts can you remove from your car’s engine before it stops working? One? Two? Most likely, it would not be very many. Virtually all the parts of a car’s engine are essential for its operation. The same is true with Kingdom Movements. There are certain essential elements that enable movements to move. If you remove those elements, movements simply do not happen. In this issue of MF we present a number of these essential elements. But even with all the essential elements in place, God still needs to show up in power for a movement to emerge. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just: if we do all the right things a movement has to take place. There is still an element of mystery and God’s timing in all of this. But experience has shown us that without the essential elements, movements will not happen.
In this issue we want to give you the foundational basics of what make movements possible so you can go and do likewise. According to the latest count listed on our cover, there are at least 1,491 Kingdom Movements currently taking place around the world. We would like to see a whole lot more of these. But for that to happen, we will need to change the way we have traditionally thought about doing the mission of the Church and implement the essential elements of movements.

Movements: The Lost Art of Multiplication

In the book of Acts, God shows us how to grow the gospel through movements, often in the face of fierce opposition and persecution. The gospel grew exponentially from home to home as people were led by the Holy Spirit to share their faith in Jesus with others. The apostles Peter and Paul proclaimed the gospel and equipped others to do the same. The gospel spread virally throughout the Roman Empire so that at one point Paul proclaims in Romans 15:23 that there was “no place left for me to work in these regions.” He had finished his work in these areas and could leave the remaining work to others. The only way he could say this is if he were employing  multiplication principles where one disciple makes a disciple who disciples others, one generation after another. We can see that multiplication was indeed his strategy when he tells his friend Timothy to employ it in 2 Tim. 2:2. The only way for Paul to reach the vast number of people in the regions in which he worked was to train people to reach people who would then go and reach others.
The parables of Jesus show us that Jesus intends for us and His kingdom to multiply exponentially; 30, 60, 100-fold. All of nature is designed to multiply exponentially and Jesus expects that  same multiplication to take place spiritually as well. In the parable of the talents Jesus condemns the wicked servant who did nothing to gain an increase for his master. Jesus praises the servants who worked and doubled what had been given to them. Jesus’ purpose in sharing these parables is for His disciples, you and me, to go and do likewise in gaining an increase for the growth of His kingdom. This is exactly what the early Church did. They used multiplication principles to grow Jesus’ kingdom and the results were amazing. But as Dr. Steve Smith pointed out in his article, Four Stages of Movements, in the March April 2020 issue of MF, movements eventually reach the “Institutional Phase,” where the vitality and growth of earlier stages is lost. This apparently happened to the movements of the early Church in the fourth century, but it can also happen much quicker than this. Take a look at Smith’s article on our website at

The Institutionalized Church

With the arrival of Roman Emperor Constantine and his endorsement of Christianity, the early Church entered the fourth stage of movements—the institutionalization of the western Roman Church. Instead of the priesthood of all believers where  the average believer brought the gospel to their network of friends and family as seen in multiplying movements, the institutionalized Church created a religious system of professional priests where the average believer became dependent upon these newly official priests for their spiritual growth. The average Jesus follower was no longer equipped to feed himself spiritually nor to disciple others. The natural multiplication of  disciples  common to the early Church largely came to an end. This institutionalized Church became the status quo for over 1,000 years.
Then came an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther was a professor of theology at Wittenberg University  in Germany. He was an avid student of the New Testament. Luther stood out in this way because those who studied the New Testament were a rare group of people in Luther’s day. Astoundingly, according to the wonderful biography on Luther by Eric Metaxas, the study of Aristotle was more common in the Roman Catholic Church of Luther’s day than was the New Testament. Luther did so much to get the Church back into the Bible and to establish a biblical foundation for our understanding of the saving work of Christ. While Luther made many innovations to Christian worship and church practice, our experience of church today still carries with it many vestiges from our roots in the Catholic Church. Like our Catholic ancestors, we are still largely dependent upon our professional church leaders/pastors for our  spiritual  nourishment.  We still meet in specialized buildings for worship instead of homes. Most professional  clergy still do not equip church members for multiplication. Church leaders still feel threatened by spiritual activities outside of their control. Most church endeavors of our day have the characteristics of  an institutionalized church.  It  is a rare thing to  see anyone in our traditional churches actually equipping disciples to make more disciples one generation after another.

A God Given Second Chance

It has been a long time in coming, but in our day, God is restoring the book of Acts like movement practices of the early Church. Beginning in the 1980s researchers started to recognize and study the practices of Church Planting Movements. In the March April 2000 issue of MF, I included Dr. David Garrison’s booklet on Church Planting Movements which described the movements Garrison was studying and the basic principles and practices that were common to these amazing movements. There  was just a handful of these movements back in 2000. Now there is over 1,491 of them. Over the last 20 years, we have learned so much more about what makes these movements work and what are their essential elements. The good news is that we are getting better at fostering movements all the time as we learn from the growing number of movement catalysts now fostering movements all over the world. For over 1600 years the essential elements of the movements of the early Church were lost in the wake of the dominance of the institutionalized Catholic and Protestant churches. Now that God has miraculously revealed the secrets of these movements to our generation, we now have the responsibility to employ these principles in reaching all of the unreached peoples. To not do so would be rank disobedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all peoples in Matt. 28:18-20. We dare not lose this opportunity in our day after waiting 1,600 years for it to finally be revealed. Learn from the experienced authors in this issue and let us put these essential movement principles into action. The impact of employing movement principles in our day could easily be far bigger than the impact of movements seen in the book of Acts. God has given us everything we need. The choice of obedience to His command to reach all peoples is now ours.

Support the Work of Mission Frontiers

As is the case with most publications, Mission Frontiers cannot cover its costs from subscriptions alone. We need additional funds from those who believe in this ministry and are willing to sacrifice to help us move forward in casting vision for Kingdom Movements in all peoples. Like most of the people who work for Frontier Ventures, my salary is supplied by the donations of churches and friends who believe in what I am doing. And also like many staff members at Frontier Ventures, there are many months when not enough comes in to fully cover our allot- ted salary. To donate to my ministry with MF go to and click on the Donate button. Put MA 323 in the dialog box. If you would like to help MF cover its general expenses and expand its influence, go to the same web address, giv- en above, click on the Donate button and put MA 030 in the dialog box. We greatly appreciate whatever you can do to help Mission Frontiers.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Key Prayer Points for Movements

Key Prayer Points for Movements
A Church Planting Movement cannot happen without a prayer movement first. God’s people need to spend time in prayer and fasting. We should teach and coach our disciples to pray earnestly. If we hope for any success among the unreached, we need a praying ministry and praying disciples. Prayer is the engine of a movement, and effectiveness in prayer often depends on knowing what to ask.
A Church Planting Movement cannot happen without a prayer movement first.
Here are the top twelve prayer points we use in our movement in West Africa. Pray:

1. For God to send  laborers into the harvest field. For an increase in disciple-makers and intercessors.

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. —Luke 10:2 NIV

2. That God touches people’s hearts and draws them to Himself.

Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched.
—1 Sam. 10:26 NIV

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.”
—John 6:43-45 NIV

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
—Acts 16:13-14

3. For open doors for the gospel.

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
—Col. 4:3-4 NIV

4. To find Persons of Peace.

When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
—Luke 10:5-7 NIV

5. That every stronghold and lie of the enemy be broken.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
—2 Cor. 10:3-5 NIV

6. That God would grant boldness in sharing the gospel.

And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word… After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.
—Acts 4:29,31 NLT

7. For fresh anointing and the power of the Holy Spirit on the disciple-makers.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” —Luke 4:18 NIV

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
—Luke 24:49 NIV

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
—Acts 1:8 NIV

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
—Acts 13:52 NIV

8. For an increase in signs, wonders, and miracles.

Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
—Acts 4:30 NIV

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.
—Acts 2:22 NIV

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
—John 14:12 NIV

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
—1 Cor. 2:4-5 NIV

9. For protection for workers in the field.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. —Matt.10:16 NIV

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.

—Luke 10:18-19 NIV

10. For resources for the work to be done.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
—Phil. 4:19 NIV

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
—2 Cor. 9:8 NIV

11. For multiplication leading to movements to burn in people’s hearts.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing  them  in  the  name  of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
—Matt. 28:19-20 NIV

Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
—Acts 6:7 NKJV

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
—Gen. 1:28 NIV

12. For other movements and disciple-makers all around the world.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
—1 Thess. 1:2-3 NIV

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Biblical Mobilization for What?

Biblical Mobilization for What?
In our previous article in the January-February issue we considered the vital need of clarifying a biblical missiology of mobilization, a core area of kingdom contribution often overlooked in today’s mission movement. We also looked briefly at the potential of an explosion of focused mission mobilization emphasis across denominations, organizations and individual local ministries as the global Church rightly views mobilization from its bigger-picture, biblical perspective.
In this article we build on that biblical missiology of mobilization, considering a big-picture, four- point Spirit-led strategy with which the global Church mobilizes and equips disciples and local ministries to engage while we also look at important global systems as platforms God has prepared for mobilization and the gospel on which to progress. History has much to reveal to help us grasp God’s intent in using global systems of the day to empower the mobilization movement God seems ready to bring forth.

Mobilized to Do What?

First, what exactly do we mobilize the global Church to do? In a global mission landscape full of often random activities and divergent focal points, it is necessary to bring biblical and missiological emphasis. Moving beyond good ideas and hit and miss activities, embracing His direction in what the global Church is mobilized to do in mission, are there specific biblical, Spirit-led means of advancing the kingdom? Does the Spirit have a progressive plan or is  God  somehow  piecing  together  all  the random efforts? The answer is yes, God has particular strategies, set forth in the New Testament and confirmed by the Spirit throughout history.

Four Big-Picture Strategies of the Spirit1

I suggest four big-picture, comprehensive strategies God has in mind. These strategies build on one another, unfolding progressively. We cannot proceed to point two, three and four without  seeing the foundation of point one firmly  in  place, which is why mission mobilization needs emphasis across the global Church right now. The global Church best understands God’s big picture intent when considering the widespread multiplication of these strategies across every people group globally, not in pockets here or there.
First, it is the will of God to multiply millions of individual local ministries across denominations, church networks and organizations emphasizing the Great Commission, putting it at the center of their local fellowships, mobilizing and equipping every disciple in their roles.
Second, it would seem that biblically the Holy Spirit wants to “scatter” at least 20 percent of these disciples from every local ministry (mostly lay leaders and lay people) to near and distant unreached peoples, geographically near and far to that local ministry.
Third, what is it that this exponentially large number of Jesus’ laborers are to be doing among unreached peoples? They are to be multiplying thousands of reproducing Church Planting Movements (CPMs) within neighborhoods, villages, towns, apartment buildings, etc. in the unreached areas the Spirit guides them. They take the Church to the people, not expecting the people to come to them.
Fourth, through the witness of these exponentially increased simple, reproducing churches planted, “people movements to Christ”2 are ignited across the many webs of relationships—family, neighborhood, work colleagues, universities—culminating in every subculture of every Unreached People Group globally hearing the word of Jesus and millions coming to saving faith and discipled.

Global Systems As Platforms

Next, it is important to note how growing secular trends of the day, world systems of influence, contribute to shaping the mission, mobilization and revival thrusts of history. This understanding helps us today to effectively mobilize the global Church. Both Colonialism and Industrialization had far reaching effects on the expansion of the gospel during the “Great Century of Missions,” (1800s) opening doors among unreached peoples otherwise closed. The Industrial Revolution brought new dominance to Europe which was accompanied by a desire to exert that dominance globally. Colonialism and imperialism would soon become the common governmental policies of nations, exploiting other nations through dominance for their own financial and territorial gain.3

The Global System of Colonialism

Though in no way endorsing the morality of these systems, the mission societies of the day sent laborers to the ends of the world in the well-paved footsteps of the commercial and colonization platforms. As Patrick Johnstone concedes, “Today we abhor the competing nationalisms, arrogance and greed that drove the colonialism of the supposed civilized “Christian” nations of Europe. We see the negatives - the subjugation, enslavement and even genocide of peoples, the trading monopolies that transferred the world’s wealth to the West, the consumerism, cultural imperialism, etc. However, there were also distinct positives. The greatest benefits were religious freedom and the chance to proclaim the gospel. Colonialism allowed Western missionaries to sow many seeds in many nations.”4 The infamous East India Company, for example, made it possible for William Carey and his band of laborers to take up residence in India (though the East India Company despised the work of the missionaries). This historic tie between Colonialism and mission history has left a bad taste among many non-western peoples, lingering to this day.
Most missionaries had no desire to exploit people as their colonizing governments or industrialized companies did. Instead, they sought to enhance social progress though the power of the gospel, the democratic approach to government, schools, hospitals, universities and political foundations.5 They used the open door into these countries as avenues to preach the gospel, reaching people for Christ. Though all too often, they did so with the introduction of Western culture, leading at times to the destruction of indigenous traditions.

The Pax Romana

It is not altogether different from Paul and the Roman Empire. Yes, the gospel went forth in power in the first century across the Empire, spreading far and wide in a relatively short period of time. The Roman Empire and its policies made it much easier for the early Church to multiply as it did. There were world system forces of the day which God used to contribute to the spread of the gospel across the Roman Empire.
The most prominent was the “Pax Romana,” or “Roman Peace,” put in place in 27 BC by Roman Caesar Augustus, lasting until roughly AD  180.6 The Pax Romana produced unprecedented peace  and economic prosperity across the Empire, the government providing Roman citizens with security, law, order, engineering and  unhindered  travel across the Empire. To maintain their widespread empire,  the  Romans  built  an   extensive   system of high-quality roads, many still existing today. These elements contributed to the New Testament church expanding all over the Roman Empire, “running swiftly and being glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1). Entrusted with the Great Commission, it is necessary that local ministries discern the wide variety of world systems at play and how God may choose to utilize these for the spread of the gospel.
In the Middle Ages, there was also a system in place, providing tracks for the small thrust of global mission in that period. It was Monasticism. Though a religious system, the Church of the Middle Ages was inextricably linked with the state. This provided protections, to some degree, to the few missionaries who scattered  out  in that day. Without the monastery system in place, under the protections of the Roman Catholic Church, it is almost impossible to imagine anyone having the ability to move about in that era with the gospel.

The Printing Press

The monumental invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 was an incalculable secular development through which the Reformation of the 1500s blazed forward. The explosion  of  the  Reformation can be directly linked to the ease of widespread printing and distribution of writings across Europe. For the first time in history people could produce spiritually  revolutionary  writings  and get them into the hands of thousands of common people. Before the printing press this task was impossible. The printing press was a track the Reformation ran on. The circulation of information and ideas transcended borders, capturing the masses during the Reformation and  threatening the power of political and religious authorities. That invention is seen by many as a key turning point in the history of the world, no less Church history.
Over the last 300 years the tracks on which revival, mission and mobilization have run included continuously progressing technology. From  the printing press and books to the advent  of newspapers, radios, televisions and today the internet  and  streaming  video,  from  anywhere  to anywhere. All these enabled mission and mobilization to be done differently, spreading  the message farther, faster, quicker and in a more connected way. Another track is transportation progressing from horseback and carriages until 1830 when the railroad was introduced. That gave way to the advent of the automobile in the late 1800s and a progression from ships to the airplane in the early 1900s. Though not global systems necessarily, each of these technological advancements made the world a little smaller, empowering the revival, mission and mobilization movements to more effectively spread and to have greater impact.

The Global System of Globalization

That leads us to the present. Is there a secular world system in place now  that could contribute to the spread of the gospel among all ethnic peoples much quicker than before? The answer is a resounding YES! That world system is globalization.7
Globalization sprung onto the global scene following the breakdown of the Cold War global system and communism falling apart in 1989. According to global analyst Thomas Friedman, “technology accelerations and globalization accelerations mean we are now living  through  one of the greatest inflection points in history,” perhaps unequaled since Johannes Gutenberg launched the printing revolution  in  Europe in the 1400s.8 “Globalization is not a trend or a fad but the international world system that replaced the Cold War system. Having its own rules, logic, pressures and incentives, it affects everyone's country, company and community, either directly or indirectly.”9
A simple definition of globalization is the interweaving of markets, technology, information systems   and   telecommunications   systems   in   a way that is  shrinking  the  world,  “enabling each of us to reach around the world farther,  faster, deeper, and  cheaper  than  ever  before,  and enabling the world to reach into each of us farther, faster, deeper, cheaper than ever before.”10 Globalization connects the whole world like never before, from businesses to banking to supply chains. No one is an island unto themselves anymore, reliant on others across the world. Smartphones have dramatically changed our lives within a 15-year period. Zoom and Skype, free global video calls, have transformed our capacity to be connected in ways only dreamt of just 10 years ago. Instant messaging, streaming video, the cloud—all are a byproduct of mind- boggling accelerations in technology that have utterly transformed how human beings do life and have been centered around warp speed development of the internet. Now you don’t have to go to physical meetings, instead you are able to meet online at no significant cost. Everyone is able to do this because of the tremendous internet technology advancements of the last few decades.
As Friedman continues, “globalization means we increasingly know how each other lives—able to read about, watch a YouTube video, Facetime across oceans, peering into one another’s worlds. When we all increasingly know how each other lives, we start to want what others have. Whether that’s a certain lifestyle, effective business, political freedoms, better education, clean water, safety and protection or much more. When we can't get the things we see others have, we stand up for ourselves.”11 The Arab Spring (2010) would not have happened apart from globalization, nor would the international pressure on the Myanmar generals to release Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 have had impact. Through globalization and accelerated technology every country and culture are able to view the lifestyles of people around the world while also becoming aware of every news story affecting governments around the world. Globalization has and is changing everything. It is more difficult than ever for a government or religion to keep its people from seeing and experiencing how those outside live.
From the end of WW II to 1989, the dominating world system revolved around the Cold War, which was based on one overarching feature—division. All threats and opportunities as a country or company tended to flow from whom you were divided. That system was symbolized by the Berlin Wall. Like the Cold War global system, globalization as a global system is also characterized by one overarching feature - integration. Instead  of being divided from the world as most people were pre-1989 (end of Cold War), the world was moving toward exactly the opposite—significant integration with one another in finance, economy, business, education, media, entertainment and even ministry. In globalization, threats and opportunities flow from who you are connected to, symbolized by the Internet. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism in 1989, the end of the Cold War, we’ve  gone from a world of division and walls to a world of internet without walls. During the Cold War, two nations were in charge: the United States and the Soviet Union. In globalization, we reach for the Internet, a symbol to which we are  all increasingly connected. The central logic of globalization mirrors the logic of  the  internet.  We are all increasingly connected.12
Eighty percent of globalization is  driven by technology. “The technology exists to overcome walls, tying people together, getting access to the best technology and cheapest wages of Taiwan, Mexico, or Mississippi.”13 What globalization does by wiring the world into  networks and removing the walls is super-empower individual people, both for good and for evil.14

What Does This Have to Do with Mobilization?

Globalization has paved the way for mobilization in unprecedented ways, making it possible for multitudes of small mobilization efforts and initiatives to spring up. One major impact of globalization is that it has decentralized everything. No longer is one person, leader, organization or movement in charge. No longer are there only large, mega-organizations and denominations in the world. In the last 30 years, mission has become tremendously decentralized. We have seen a shift, potentially influenced by the accelerations of technology and globalization, from large centralized mission organizations to a much flatter decentralized model of organization, church and networking. Any church, independent ministry, mission structure or mobilization effort can more easily spring into existence and multiply as a result of the globalization system. This seems to be a major factor in the explosion of independent ministries globally. Anybody can start a ministry, just like anybody can start a business, publish a book, make a movie and so on. This can pose a challenge as some independent ministries should likely not be in existence due to lack of accountability, questionable doctrine, practices and more. Yet, it can also serve in seeing multitudes of empowered, decentralized groups contribute to the fulfillment of the Great Commission like never before. Everyone now is truly enabled in ministry, if they want to be.
Globalization and the speed at which digital technology is developing has empowered multitudes of digital platforms and social media. These are being used now for mission  and  mobilization,  yet will go to a whole new level through future insights and ideas of how to effectively reach ethnic peoples through these platforms. Globalization is empowering any mobilizer anywhere in the world to have the tools needed in an instant to mobilize churches and ministries in their area. Globalization has empowered training as now some training can be done effectively online.
As a reminder, we are not excusing immoral uses of this global system or seeking a debate as to the goodness or ills of globalization. As we considered with colonialism and imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries, globalization of itself has moral issues attached to it. Like the mission movement of those centuries, which in no way supported the injustices of their governments, workers today ought to utilize the positives of globalization while recognizing and even fighting against the obvious dangers. It is conceded that there appears to be a growing global authoritarianism that is anti-freedom and anti- Christian and suppresses alternative voices that is also riding on the back of globalization. We are only highlighting globalization’s existence, that it will only increase, and the importance of utilizing its global tracks for the glory of Jesus and the extension of His kingdom. Deep thought and careful action need to be extended, while seeing all the benefits as well. As all the global systems before it provided tracks for the gospel to run on, so does globalization.
The world system enabling the gospel to run  swiftly  and  be  glorified  globally  is in place, similar to the Pax Romana for the early church. The whole body of Christ being mobilized and engaging with the whole world is possible under the globalization system, where it was not during the Cold  War  system, with all its divisions. It is the argument of some that globalization has empowered the global Church in a way never known before in history.     I believe the increasing technology and globalization system are a part of the Lord’s plan to orchestrate circumstances globally that are conducive to seeing the global Church engaging in biblical, Spirit-led mobilization, activating her to reach all sub-groups of every Unreached People Group with the power and love of Christ.
Author’s Note—This article has been adapted from the author’s new book called Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity. The book seeks to lay foundations of a biblical missiology of mobilization while providing a practical framework to mobilize and equip the global Church in mobilization. The publisher, IGNITE Media, has given permission for portions of the book used in this article. Find more info about the book at
  1. 1 While we can only touch on these four strategies ever so briefly in this article we spend an entire chapter developing each one biblically and historically in my new book Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church To Her Core Identity.

  2. 2 This is a term popularized by Dr. Donald McGavran in the 1950s. It is a crucial concept few in the mission movement. discuss today. It needs resurrecting as it holds keys to seeing ministry breakthroughs among Unreached People Groups.

  3. 3 Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, p. 111.

  4. 4 Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church, p. 60.
    4 Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church, p. 60.

  5. 5 Ibid, p. 111.

  6. 6 Wikipedia Definitions:

  7. 7 See all of Thomas Freidman’s books on this crucial subject in the Bibliography.


  8. 8 Thomas Freidman, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimists Guide For Thriving In the Age of Accelerations (New York: Picador, 2016), p. 3. 

  9. 9 Ibid, p. 4.

  10. 10 Globalization Webpage -,cheaper%20than%20ever%20

  11. 11 Ibid.

  12. 12 Ibid.

  13. 13 Ibid.

  14. 14 Friedman, Thank You For Being Late, p. 33.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Learning Fruitful Practices through Experimentation

Learning Fruitful Practices through Experimentation
We’ve learned our ministry principles mostly through field experimentation. When we found  a little  bit  of fruit (individuals who came to Christ, groups of believers or other indicators of  spiritual  growth), we tried to examine: Why was that? What helped us progress? How can we increase those practices that were more fruitful? How can we decrease those practices that were not proving fruitful?
In short, we create experimental conditions, and do quarterly assessment to rigorously promote fruitful practices and extinguish practices that are not fruitful. Of course, we don't extinguish biblical practices, whether or not they contribute directly to fruitfulness, like helping the poor. We do that too, even though that may or may not create more believer groups, because of God’s commands to help the poor. That’s a different discussion; I’m just talking about those practices that we can modify without violating or ignoring biblical principles.
Our DNA of experimentation has been quite fascinating to people who want to learn from us. When they come, they can hardly believe it, because local movement catalysts are telling us, each quarter: a) new experiments they are doing, b) how far they progressed in the three months they were doing an experiment, and c) what they will modify as they go forward in the next three months of the experiment. Our innovation goes forward in small increments each quarter. You can imagine the creative people we’ve attracted and how their creativity has developed. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed: innovating and finding innovative local workers.
It’s not that all the fruitful people I oversee are innovative. But I especially work with the 40% to 50% of them who are innovative, because they’re the ones discovering new pathways. The nature of UPG ministry is that there have been no gains for decades. If we keep doing the things other Christians were doing, we can be pretty sure we will still get no gains in the coming decades. That’s why innovation is important in reaching UPGs, especially in areas where there have been no significant fruit gains in the past.
Here’s one example of experimental learning through a comparative case study. I would recruit good local evangelists, then watch them  work  and compare their stories. Comparing different practices of different people and comparing their fruit, is part of my learning and theirs.
Our first team leader  started  three  groups.  He seemed to provide the model for the rest of the evangelists to follow. But he never got past three groups. Meanwhile, the other guys were like a turtle in a race against a rabbit. They were far behind but kept working and eventually started one group. The leader already had three groups, then those who had started more slowly developed two groups each, then three groups each. Suddenly the planters who had started more slowly reported four and five groups, because some of their groups had started others. But the leader was still leading three groups personally. Then the three groups reduced to two groups. What was happening?
This comparison of different planters’ fruit created a question. “They’re all graduates of the same Bible College and had the same coaching, and all were working in the same area where 99.6% of the people are from the majority religion. What is happening differently?” Those who were getting to more groups were not forthcoming to share things in meetings for fear of embarrassing the leader who was getting more frustrated. They were not voicing a straightforward analysis. When I investigated further, I found out that the leader was afraid that if he talked to groups rather than individuals, he would increase the risk for himself and his family. So, he was only talking to individuals. That approach was getting a certain measure of fruitfulness, but it was not being reproduced by local people. Meanwhile, the other planters who had started more slowly, were all talking with natural groupings of people and seldom with individuals.
In our country, you almost never find someone alone. It’s so crowded, everybody's always together. Even if you go to the store, or you go running, no matter where you go you see people in groupings. They’re with their brother and their uncle and their friend: maybe four or five or six people. I don’t mean formal groups, but groupings. So those evangelists who started more slowly began to talk to groupings of local people. They adjusted their dialog style to fit into groupings. Initially, the sharing of the gospel in groupings came along more slowly than sharing with individuals. But when the people in the groups began to talk about the gospel with each other, and began to come to faith while supporting one another, those first local groupings of believers were not sterile. They reproduced by imitating the pattern. Individuals who were won to the Lord alone were sterile. They couldn’t have babies; they couldn’t copy the same process, because in our country, no one talks to an individual alone. If someone did talk to another person one on one, it seemed to signal that something was illegitimate about the topic being discussed. If something had to be hidden, it was probably shameful. “Why do you need to talk to an individual alone? Do you have something to hide?” But when you talk in groupings of people who already know each other, it’s a signal that this is something that’s good to talk about with others.
The people who came to the Lord in natural groupings, have an experience like the people in an Alcoholics Anonymous group: they give and receive support while they share what they are learning. These are people in Unreached People Groups who are doing something different than all the other people. They need each other for support to seek the Lord together through the Bible. They legitimize each other: “It’s okay to open the Bible and discuss it.” They provide protection for each other from being attacked by neighbors and friends. They can come to the Lord together and this is something they can replicate, because the social organization and dynamic supports ongoing interaction. It’s like a ping-pong game enjoyed by a group of friends: the ball is being hit back and forth while they laugh with each other. They dialogue back and forth about the Scripture and how to apply it, and the interaction  is part of the fun. They’re  fun-loving  people;  they like to do it together. So now they’re harnessing the social dynamics already present in the culture, and the groups start to multiply.
I shared the previous story as an example of how we learned one of our main principles. We have 15 or 20 fruitful practices. The fruitful practice we learned from this case was “Groups, not Individuals.” They made slogans out of each of the fruitful practices, and this is one of them: “Groups, not Individuals.” This fruitful practice is one of our guiding principles. We discovered it through experimentation, by comparing what was working to what was not working as well.
When we had been going for 10 years and had 110 groups, I participated in a conference where    I was asked to share our case study. I was on the plane thinking “They’re not going to believe it when I tell them there are 110 groups of people from the majority religion, who have come to Christ and are discussing the Bible and applying it. They’re going to think I'm lying!” But all the other case studies presented were from Africa and India, and they all had far more fruit than that!
It was such a good jolt for me, to realize that what had been developing in our country was only a little drop in the bucket, compared to what others had. It was a great encouragement to my faith to reflect: “There aren’t limits on an expandable system. This can keep going.” And during that conference, I received CPM training for the first time, done by David Watson: the DMM model.
Many conference participants didn’t like the CPM training because it jolted the way they’d been doing things in many years of ministry. They raised objections that didn’t need to be raised. I kept thinking: “I should stand up and tell them: ‘Why don’t you leave the room and let me listen to this speaker?’ This is what we’ve been learning in our country. These principles are the same things God has been teaching us. How did he figure this out, in a different country?” That was my experience in that conference. Most of us don’t want to stop doing what we have been doing and try a new model. However, what we had learned through experimentation in the field for many years, others had also discovered, in other contexts among other kinds of unreached peoples.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Fruit-Based Ministry, in the King’s Joy

Fruit-Based Ministry, in the King’s Joy
What are some of the challenges and obstacles you’ve experienced? How do you remove the obstacles?
Challenges must be considered in relation to fruit. Christ intended that we bear much fruit, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). Much fruit comes with challenges, for He prunes us to prepare us for more fruitfulness. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2). Challenges and obstacles are part of God’s pathway to more fruit. But there is much joy on this pathway, for we share His joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). We must see God behind the challenges and His desire that we bear much fruit.
Considering a different paradigm requires courage, but we may need a new paradigm when  we  face  challenges.  Most  of  us  simply  follow the paradigm or model of whatever Christian organization we’re in. One significant feature I find in many ministry paradigms is activities-based
management. Activities-based management asks, “How many people did you teach? How many people did you evangelize? How many articles did you write?” Leadership communications and reporting reinforce this activities-based  management  style. As long as we're doing the right activities, we obtain honor in our system and we’re honored by others in our system. But it lacks evaluation on whether or not those activities are the best activities to get to fruit.
In our current ministry we, by contrast, recommend a fruit-based management paradigm. Fruit-based management encourages us to identify obstacles, think about alternate approaches, flexibly modify our activities when we face challenges and explore different ways around the problem. All this evaluation and modification of activities is driven by focusing first on the fruit God wants, and on  the outcomes targeted. Then we work backwards to look at the possible ways to get to that fruit.
Setting our minds on what God honors helps us more flexibly adjust to challenges, in relation to the fruit God desires. We read in the book of Acts and the gospels that God’s people faced many obstacles. So, we ask, “What gospel advances or outcomes were recorded as honorable, as making God happy and God’s people happy? What kind of fruit did the early believers rejoice in?” The early church reported the number of people saved; they reported numbers of cities where new churches were established. They recorded stories of people who were healed and people from whom demons were expelled. They recorded the choosing of teams of elders. They rejoiced in cities newly reached. Starting with this partial list, we ask, “Did God put the spotlight on people’s habitual activities? Or did the biblical authors spotlight the joy that came from the fruit of their activities?
I found that when I moved the dialogue from activities (“What have we been doing?”) to fruit (“What are the next  outcomes  or  fruit  we  want to see?”), this shift in our attention encouraged innovation and increased resilience to challenges. Field workers became more willing  to  modify  the activities they had been doing, and consider, “Are there other ways to reach our desired outcomes more effectively?”
This shift from an activities-focus to a fruit- focus gives people more freedom, especially catalytic people, who can be very creative. Doing what has not been done traditionally requires taking a risk and demands courage, because you don’t know if the means you chose will result in fruit. And people with new ideas get criticized. But because you want to focus on getting to fruit, you use that lens to evaluate what you are doing. Then after a period of time (every three months in our model), you can look back and see your progress. If you wanted to get to 10, of some kind of fruit, but you only got three, you ask yourself, “Is my identity tied up in this?  Is evaluating my progress toward fruit a process God wants me to take?” To do this we must firm up our identity in Christ, reflecting on our riches in Christ, aside from what we do. We don’t have to do things to firm up our identity. Because we are already rich in Christ, we do things because we want more fruit for the King. Think of the parable of the minas in Luke 19: “What did you do with your one mina? What did you do with your five minas? What did you do with your 10 minas?” This appears to ask about the doing, but the focus is actually on the outcomes gained for the King through what they did.
When we are secure in Christ, problems become just part of the context God allows in our lives. They don’t threaten our security and they don’t prevent us from doing what God wants us to do.
Don’t look over your shoulder at someone else, to find out how much fruit that person got for the King with their minas. Just hear Christ asking, “What did you do with your mina? What is the  best use you could put your resources to, to get the best kingdom return on investment for the King?” As He gives you minas, He leaves room for you to make decisions; He doesn’t legislate how you should invest. This parable encourages us to think about the kingdom return on investment because the King wants certain outcomes. It’s not tied to our identity. We assess what we’ve been given and work through all the possible ways we could utilize those things for the King’s return. Then we pursue the best kingdom return on investment we can get, with all of who we are: our opportunities, our relationships, our gifts and our training. This includes periodically re- evaluating, “Could I do this in a somewhat different way, in hopes it will bear more fruit the next time?”
Many of Jesus’ parables have this perspective, “How will you evaluate?” Not from a place of insecurity about who we are in Christ. We know who Christ has made us. We’re on solid ground. We know it's all about what Christ has done in our lives to change us, to make us holy, to move us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Christ makes all the other “who I am in Christ” statements true in our lives. The Bible contains many of these, and they remain secure. Out of that place of security in Christ, “How can we best participate in the joy of the Master, through the investment of our lives?”
Each of the 16 movement leaders I mentor says the same thing when I ask, “Did you ever expect to get to this much fruit?”
They say,  “No,  I had no idea! This has been a shock to me!” They have a lot of joy. Not that it all works out easily. Leading movements involves a lot of hard parts. But God gives us only one life. If we choose one path, we’re not choosing another path. If, as we’re going down the path we chose, we sense we’re hand-in-hand with the Lord and we’re enjoying Him and what He is doing, we have no reason to think about what might have been down some other path. That’s not our story. This is our story: “Who should we invest in as part of our story today, in a way that gets to fruit?”
During COVID with its constraints and opportunities, we have asked, “What can we do  for the kingdom and how can we participate in  His joy?” You are facing many challenges, but God shows himself in the midst of challenges.
It reminds me of the way a lemon tree bears fruit. When I was young, I worked for a lemon farmer. One day he asked me to take a hatchet and scar the bark on the trunk of all the lemon trees. I protested, “I don’t want to ruin your lemon trees!” He told  me that the scarred tree thinks it’s dying and so sends out blossoms; this in turn creates more fruit. If you're in a time of trial, you can think of it this way: the Master Gardener is working to bring you to a point of greater fruitfulness.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Catalyzing Movements in Urban Areas

Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (46 months)

Catalyzing Movements in Urban Areas

A 24:14 panel discussion with Victor John, David Broodryk and Curtis Sergeant

Moderator: Urban areas have been perceived as harder to penetrate than rural areas. I’ll start by asking Victor: “What are you seeing in South Asia, related to movements in urban areas?”
Victor: The Bhojpuri work was basically semi-rural and semi-urban work. Then we moved to the urban areas. One problem was that in our urban areas, most Christian organizations  have  tended to focus on slums. Of course, compassion played  a big role, but those are marginalized groups; not decision-makers. So, we chose to do something different in the urban areas. But urban people are not a homogeneous group, so it’s very difficult. They are so separate and generally not open to the gospel. There are a lot of challenges, but we have seen a breakthrough.
We began in Delhi, which has a population of over 19 million people, in 11 districts. Now, eight years later, there are multiplying churches in eight of the districts. We are moving closer to impacting all 11 districts. We have definitely reached out to a lot of people. Many new churches have been started in cafes or McDonald’s or other places where young people meet. We have used a lot of text messaging. We require of everybody: if you’re learning one thing, you must share it with the network of your friends and families. If you learn two things, share those with others. They do that, much faster than I can speak. They are very good at texting.
Recently, during COVID, we have seen a move- ment where we multiplied as “Corona Warriors.” During the lockdown last year, many young people were pushed into a lot of problems. Suicides increased, depression increased, a lot of unhealthy sexual habits developed and a lot of people got hooked on being online. People also have lost jobs. So, we started inviting people to be Corona Warriors, who would motivate others to be vaccinated, and engage in distributing relief work that we were doing. More  than 700 young people showed up,  all from non-Christian backgrounds. Within two months of our volunteer work, we saw a tremendous change in their  attitude  and  their  behavior.  Their parents were also very happy and began inviting us to their homes, saying, “Why don’t you come and talk to us?”
And these young people said, “Can we do something more? How else can we engage?” We are using this opportunity to disciple them. Many people have now committed their life to the Lord. We’ve seen that ur- ban youth are looking for acceptance (by any group). They are looking for identity (and a group that will help define their identity). They are also looking for a place where their talents can make a contribution and their life can make a difference. We need to find opportunities to engage them, so they feel they are contributing to something valuable.
Moderator: That’s great. I’m going to move on to David. David, you’ve become a kind of specialist in urban movements—in different parts of Africa and around the world. Tell us a bit about what you see happening around the world in urban movements.
David: It’s always a pleasure, but intimidating, to follow Victor John. Anything you talk about in India is just millions, like 19 million people in Delhi. I don’t even know where to start with those kinds of numbers. I find it very encouraging that some  of the things he shared are not just focused on the marginalized. That’s really important for me. Often people who talk about urban ministry talk about the easy places, the low-hanging fruit. Not that the marginalized are unimportant. But you won’t  see  a movement by just focusing on the fringes. I also note that they’re using technology, they’re focusing on the younger generation, they’re addressing brokenness and COVID. All these things are incredibly encouraging. From our side, we are seeing movement in several regions around South Africa. I felt we needed to be doing it ourselves before we exported it anywhere else. So, in South Africa, in the cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, we are seeing these kinds of movements emerge. And we’re seeing these movements emerge in Africa more broadly: Nigeria, Uganda, and other places. I recently moved to Durban, South Africa, and we’re busy launching a new movement here. That’s in South Africa and Africa.
As a team, we’re also currently working in 48 global cities: establishing teams and helping them get to movement. We’ve seen some really exciting first breakouts of that in some of these teams, in different regions of the world. Initially, the breakout for the last few years was among the marginalized. We’ve reached a lot of gang leaders, prostitutes, drug dealers, urban poor, those kinds of people. In some ways, that’s easy. That’s not the challenge we’re actually talking about, when we discuss urban challenge.
We went to the other side of the spectrum recently, in Sydney, Australia. We focused on high net-worth individuals and asked, “Can we see movement there?”
High net-worth individuals in a wealthy G7 country:  that’s  a  pretty  high  target  to  reach.  We ran an experiment for months, with a whole new approach to reaching these people, and we’ve seen some significant breakthrough. Many people have begun a journey of discovering who God is; some are near conversion. That’s really exciting.
One challenge of cities is the complexity, and  some of that complexity is the socio-economic divide. We’re also looking at addressing the economic sustainability of movements. Part of the challenge of seeing indigenous movements fund indigenous movements means you can’t just target the marginalized. You’ve got to go at all levels. When you look at the movement Jesus  started, you see Him talk to the masses, and also to some very key individuals like Nicodemus, or a religious leader, or the rich young ruler. These were more difficult people to reach, but both were important in building a movement.
One of the things I’m observing (which Victor also mentioned): the energy in cities is largely young. In rural environments, we go for the elders. But   in cities, you’ve really got to focus on those under 35. In Africa, this is particularly true: 60 percent of Africa is under the age of 25. We find the principles are very much the same, but the expression is very different. How to crack the urban code is a very important discussion we need to have. The world is rapidly becoming urban. This is the future and we’re not looking at it and addressing it enough. So, it’s a very important discussion.
Moderator: Thanks, David. I’m going to move on to Curtis. Curtis, you’ve used technology and you’ve worked around the world. Please share with us a little bit: what do you see around the world in urban work?
Curtis: I would make some of the same observations Victor and David made about young people being more responsive. I would also echo the idea of working among the poor and refugees being easier than working among higher socioeconomic classes. And I would add recovery programs and prisoners to that list. In North America (where I’m  based),   I think all of the movements that have achieved movement status are urban based. The situation here differs from some places where all the early examples are rural.
From a tactical perspective, some things are different when working in cities. Many of these differences are because in urban centers, the relational chains tend to be shorter, shallower, and more transient. This means focusing on networks of established relationships has less powerful or enduring effects, because people keep moving. The various groups are all so transient. That means in urban situations, we need to be more open to groupings not necessarily based on someone’s oikos (unless we view oikos in a broader sense). Working among pre-existing relational networks will always be our priority in our first effort. But if that appears difficult nin a given situation, we’re open to moving toward grouping people who did not necessarily have a previous relationship but may have some common characteristics.
It also means we need greater willingness to win an individual, then have them work on reaching people with whom they have relationships. We always want our first attempt to be winning a pre-existing group and having them come to faith together. But that’s often more difficult in an urban situation.
There’s a greater emphasis on the ends of the earth, as opposed to their oikos. We’re always trying to equip every believer to have the passion and desire, then skills and the tools to reach both those worlds: their ongoing network of relationships and those outside that. We always start with their ongoing network of relationships, but relatively speaking, in an urban area we’ll give more emphasis to the ends of the earth than we would in a rural area, and move to that emphasis earlier in the process. Equipping believers with an awareness of cross-cultural work and then ability to reach out cross-culturally is more important bin an urban setting because of its complexity.
We also use a tool I call leadership cells. Those are temporary groups, whereas a church would be a nlong-term group meeting together. In the leadership cells, we model looking like church, but the cells are intentionally time-limited. We aim to equip all the nparticipants to start their own groups, then breakup to start new groups. We would almost never do that in a rural setting, but in urban settings, we find it’s often a really helpful tool, since the groups tend to be much more transient anyway. This provides clear intentionality in equipping those people, who then go out and start new groups.
Lastly, research is very important for urban areas, so people can know who is there. Although urban areas are very heterogeneous, that doesn’t mean all the groups there are aware of the other groups there. There’s still a significant trend toward insularity within one’s group and maybe a small number of other groups. Very few people have an awareness of all the different segments, whether ethno- linguistic, religious, socio-economic, or whatever. There’s not a lot of regular interaction between many of those groups. That means doing research, then making people aware of the various segments and which ones are least reached, helps sensitize them. Then when disciples do happen to run across people from those other groups, they can prioritize those segments for ministry  going  forward.  Those are some of the tactical adjustments we’re finding helpful in an urban environment versus a rural environment.
Moderator: You’re talking about places that have reached actual movement status in North America. How many places have reached that level?
Curtis: I think we’re at 11 right now.
Moderator: That’s encouraging, because  a  lot  of people have said, “It can’t happen in a Western context,” but we actually are seeing that happen here. David, I’m going to jump back to you.  Curtis talked about some of the sociological difficulties: smaller oikoses and relational chains. Are you seeing the same thing in Africa?
David: Yes, it's the same thing everywhere in the world. Movements move the same way that good news, bad news and fake news move. It’s natural social networks; that’s how movements move. So, if you see a breakdown of the natural social networks (which you often see in urban environments), you’ll see a shift in how movements actually move.
What we’ve found is that there are social networks and there are pre-existing communities in cities, especially among the younger generation, but they look very different to what we think they should look like. They’re often not bloodline families. They’re often not the village kind of community. They’re often more linear relationships. But young people understand this. They understand social media. They have networks. They have friendships. They have large oikos influence groups—that are often not as deep or as meaningful—but they are there. So, learning how the gospel moves through those networks is actually very, very important.
And just to touch on one thing Curtis mentioned: the complexity and the research. We spent three years researching urban environments: talking to teams in different regions of the world, aiming to figure out what some of the challenges are. At the end, we concluded that the number one challenge is complexity. Urban environments are incredibly complex and constantly changing. Just when you think you might have researched everything and you have your head around it, you look again and it’s all changed. So, we’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with: “How do you address complexity? How do you step into this environment that cannot actually be understood and is constantly changing?”
The Lord brought us back to something Henry Blackaby said years ago, “Our job is to figure out where God is working and join Him in His work.”
So, we went back and said, “God, you understand the complexity. If you want to reach all these different groups with all this complexity of relationship, and what we call affinities (different ways people relate to each other), if you want to reach it, then we believe you’re  raising up people to reach those groups.”  So our whole concept of strategy began to change. We used to try to understand a city, then ask, “Where should we be?” Then we tried to convince people to go to those places. Our whole concept changed to say, “If God is at work, He’s working in the hearts of people.” So we now spend a tremendous amount of time working with people, trying to figure out what God has been doing in their life. What has He been preparing them for?
The story of the Old Testament, the New Testament and Church history is that when God was about to do something, He was raising up a person. So, if there’s a group God wants to reach, He’s raising up a person, and our job is to find that person. He looks a little bit different to the “Person of Peace” who is like the head of a house or an oikos. This is what we call a champion: somebody who really wants to see a particular affinity or group of people reached.
We found that complexity is the primary challenge in cities. And disciple-making obviously holds a lot of other challenges, like time and availability.
Very often people are unavailable; they don’t have time. So, we spend a lot of time helping disciple- makers disciple in a way that doesn’t interrupt life. We disciple on life: not stopping life to go somewhere else, to do this Christian thing then come back to life. Because our traditional models of church were built around that interruption of life.
Curtis mentioned transient society: the way people are moving around. One of our responses to that   is to build everything on team. Because we found that when we trained individual leaders, before we could get them to the point of bearing fruit, they would move from the city or change jobs and go somewhere else. So now we only launch when we can launch around teams. That’s very important because community births community. If you want to birth communities, and birth healthy churches, you birth them from community. Teams are very, very important because you’re coming against a culture of individualism.
The way you communicate the gospel is also very important. In a rural setting, people are in touch with nature, looking for bigger answers, looking for the story of God. So, when we go and say, “This is the story of God,” people connect with it. But often in our busy urban environments, people’s worlds become very small: all about survival and “me.” So, if the message you communicate is not initially, “How can this help me be better? How can this help me with purpose? How can this help me move forward?” it gets rejected long before you can even communicate it.
Those are just some of the things we’ve learned in the urban environment and some of the ways we’re countering it and overcoming.
Moderator: I’m going to turn to you, Victor. You’ve heard these guys talk about some of the sociological dynamics. What are your thoughts on those?
Victor: These dynamics are true, no matter where you are. Often when we’ve reached urban people and discipled them, at first they did very little in their own community because they had no local community  or relationships. But they ended up discipling their families and starting churches where they came from. It might be 400 miles away, in a rural area or some other city. So the gospel jumped over 400 or 800 miles, rather than influencing the immediate community. We said, “Let’s focus where the actual community exists, like with sports or at a gym.” We discipled one guy who was a gym trainer and he started to win people, so he had a church within the gym. We’ve been continuously evolving and learning and changing, because as everyone shared, the urban community is always shifting and changing.
Many individuals are isolated and very lonely.  So, we have opened counseling centers,  like  a  call center. That has helped a lot of young people. They might call at all hours and say,  “I’m  going  to commit suicide.” So we call the police and go together to help the person. Then we find problems within the whole family. That gives an opportunity to counsel and help them find a way through the problems and introduce Christ in some way.
Our sports ministry has also done well at bringing people  together,  even  from  different  castes.   We try not to address caste as  an  issue  per  se. We focus more on friendship and fellowship because most people, even high-caste Hindus, are lonely. Their friends might be 200 miles away. And the young people, through technology, have friends around the country. But locally, they hardly know anyone; they don’t have any friends.
Moderator:  We’re  hearing  from all of you that it takes more creativity to reach people in urban environments. Great thoughts, everyone. Thank you for being a part of this panel today.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Mobilization to Strategy: A Personal Journey

Mobilization to Strategy: A Personal Journey
My wife and I arrived here in the summer of 1982. We took an intensive version of the course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and then attended the staff orientation/recruiting week of the U.S. Center for World Mission (now Frontier Ventures). In August of that year, Ralph D. Winter invited us to join the team. As we drove away to raise our support team, we were filled with vision. We shared that vision with anyone who would listen—and a few who probably didn’t want to! Faithful brothers and sisters joined our team for prayer and giving—many of whom are still with us!
What we shared was a passion for the people from Unreached People Groups, who woke up every day and went to bed every night not having heard that Jesus—the only hope of the world—had visited the earth and loves them.
We also remember telling people that, as an organization, we were going to "work ourselves out of a job.”  As I was reminded about that idea recently, I pondered some of the reasons we said it. One, was that we were focused on “closure” or seeing a Church Planting Movement among every people group.
Another was that we saw that some missionaries stayed too long once the church reached a people. So, we encouraged them to stay where they were and shift to mobilize those existing churches to reach unreached peoples like they had. We believe that one of the most important roles for a mission worker in a reached group, is to multiply workers to the unreached. I’m sure I’ve written about that idea here in MF in the distant past.
But in a very real way, we have worked ourselves out of the job of mobilization, which was our main organizational focus at the beginning. Perhaps it would be better to say that we have been part of getting a  mobilization is all about! Of course we still have vision and passion, but now, for me, it is further informed by profound and meaning-filled relationships globally. These relationships have given wisdom to our vision and deepened our resolve to stay at this task.
Mobilization is needed in every generation and culture. It is amazing to see that many others have picked up the mobilization mantle globally. And they do that in fresh ways which fit their specific context better than we ever could. Great friends of mine are doing an amazing job of mobilization in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Churches, in at least some places, are effectively reaching out to the refugees near them, who are from unreached populations.
Over the years, we have learned a lot about what it means to see the gospel take root in places where it hasn’t been before. We are still learning and growing. And, we have greatly clarified what remains to be done in Frontier Missions.1 We know a lot about what doesn’t seem to work, so we work hard to provide strategic tools and resources for those God is calling to a similar vision. We want them to avoid unnecessary mistakes which are costly to the spread of the great good news that is the gospel.
So I have shifted to the broader role of Global Connections Strategist—encouraging everyone I can who works, or wants to work, among the unreached. I do that by being a friend, mentor and encourager to leaders and to younger global workers. It may be a westerner, or some rare believer among an unreached group.
We continue to call every believer who will listen  to get involved in the task. That includes you! Are you and I engaged as wisely and as much as God is calling us to? That is a question we should all ask ourselves regularly. How might I engage more with the unreached who—increasingly—are all around us? Should I give more to those who are engaged in this kind of work? How can I pray more specifically that God will move to extend His love to cultures where that has not been fully demonstrated yet?
The pages of the Unreached of the Day which follow, can help you do that. Keep them near wherever you pray. And remember James 4:2c “you have not because you ask not.” Our “asking” should be that God will break through with the gospel among every Unreached People Group.
  1. 1 See the November/December issue of MF for a full issue on the remaining task at

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

God’s Word Influences Unbelievers

God’s Word Influences Unbelievers

Is it biblical to ask a non-believer, without the Holy Spirit, to obey in response to God’s word?

One role of the Holy Spirit is to convict unbelievers concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). We should not doubt that the Spirit uses the word of God to do his work in unbelievers. Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
If we examine the word messages in Acts and the gospels, only two are delivered just to disciples. Most of the word messages are delivered to mixed audiences having a higher proportion of unbelievers than believers. The two exceptions are Acts 20, delivered to a group of elders, and the Upper Room Discourse, delivered to the disciples.
Jesus told the parable of the four kinds of soil (illustrating four types of responses to the word)  to a mixed audience: mostly unbelievers and some believers. In doing so, he  implicitly  challenged all his listeners to become like the fourth kind of soil: having hearts which receive the word of God, committing deeply to embracing God’s word, and becoming transformed by it. The purpose of this teaching was not to convey the gospel. Even though most of his audience consisted of unbelievers, Jesus wanted his listeners to increase their responsiveness to the word of God.
When you read the parable of the four kinds of soil, did you ever stop and say, “Jesus didn't really expect any of the unbelievers to respond”? That was not the nature of Jesus’ delivery of the word. He was challenging all his listeners to respond, to embrace the word of God and align their lives with it, lest their lives be unfruitful. He did not differentiate believers and unbelievers when he spoke that word; they all received the same message. The word was delivered with an invitation for everyone to respond. But their responses to the word would differentiate those ready to respond to God’s word. The response to which Jesus called his mixed audience was the fourth kind of response: very distinct from the first three kinds of responses.
Jesus said some people would not embrace his word, so we do not expect everyone to respond positively to the word. This is true whether the word is delivered in a one-way preaching format to a large mixed audience or discussed in small groups consisting of a mix of believers and unbelievers. Most  churches  nowadays  do  not  contain  such  a mixed audience; participants are all believers (unlike Acts and the gospels where mixed audiences predominate).
What happens in our Discovery Bible Groups? A rejecting person (the first kind of soil, the hard soil) would rarely participate in our Bible studies, because Muslims in unreached people groups reject the invitation to come to a Bible discussion (or   are not invited – to reduce the risk to those open  to discussing the Bible). Group participants have demonstrated enough responsiveness of heart to dare to enter a Bible discussion.
Our group discussions include representatives of the other three types of soil. The words of Christ that they read and discuss challenge them all to respond to His word but they respond differently. Most Muslims in a UPG who do not respond well to the word (do not start to align their lives with what they hear) stop coming to the group discussion or may threaten the others.
Islamic people groups manifest far more social preselection and self-selection than commonly seen in Canadian and American churches, because of the high risk. What advantage would they gain by starting to follow Jesus, if they didn't really want to face the cost? They might lose their job, they might be kicked out of their house, or they might be beaten. In some ways it is surprising how many Muslims do join Bible discussion groups, yet this is a much safer environment for them than to hear the word one-on-one or to enter a church building. Each quarter, many of the Muslims who have emboldened themselves to join a group Bible discussion, put their faith in Christ. Others  in  their same group may need another quarter before coming to faith.
The Spirit of God does not indwell an unbeliever. But they have access to God’s Spirit working exter- nally to bring them toward faith. Jesus explains this in John 16:8. The Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. This differs from the Spirit’s role in  believers, and He often uses believers discussing God’s word with unbelievers to bring them to faith. So, believers should help unbelievers by discussing the word with them. That's the replicating pattern in the Gospels and Acts. In this way, God’s Spirit awakens the hearts of some unbelievers to respond to God. So, we should expose unbelievers to the word of God. If they  get  into  the  habit of reading and discussing God’s word in a group of people they know (even joining the group before they believe), we often find that over time these people come to faith.
You might reflect on your own experience, especially if you came to faith at an older age. I grew up in a was a point where God came to me and took off my blinders. This happened during the first Bible discussion group I attended, which had a mixture of believers and unbelievers. I became convinced that God was personal, that He saw my sin and forgave me, and gave me faith in Him.
We shouldn’t doubt that God will speak to unbelievers when they interact with His word. Most unbelievers who begin responding to God’s word try to do what they think will please him, but then God breaks through and shows them the real issue is their sin, and their faith in grace that comes through Christ, not in what they do.
If you reread the Book of Acts, how many times did God surprise people in the book of Acts? God did many things  that  surprised  believers.  We must be open to what God’s Spirit may do in our day, to bring salvation through His word to those who have never-before heard the good news. Very often God’s Spirit uses His word in the process of drawing unbelievers toward saving faith.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Expect and Train for Persecution

Expect and Train for Persecution
“2021 was a demanding year. I can’t anticipate what 2022 will bring, but of one thing I’m certain: God will be with us in whatever comes our way.” These words slipped across my lips this morning as I sat around our kitchen table drinking a steaming cup of coffee with a friend who had come by for an unexpected chat.
The past two years were filled with transitions and uncertainty. It makes it hard to look forward  to the new year with a typical goal-setting model. It’s more difficult than before to project what the year may bring. The past two years make us cautious about planning too far in advance, especially if your ministry normally involves international travel.
Yet, as I reflect and consider, I see that the  past two years have been some of the most fruitful years ever.
Despite the pandemic, through online Disciple Making Movement training, I’ve impacted people in countries where I’d previously had little to no influence. For those who pressed forward  amid the virus situation, many would say the same. God’s kingdom has been growing and expanding. New movements have been catalyzed. Our Lord was not hindered by what happened in our world. He has used it to advance and grow His kingdom in unusual, new ways.
The theme of this issue is Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements. As I pondered that theme, together with the beginning of a New Year, a particular practice came to mind. It’s one we don’t often consider and don’t particularly like to talk about.
This practice has to do with training disciples to expect persecution. They must be prepared to expect it, endure it, and grow through it. Those who prepare people for persecution are not surprised  by it. Instead, they face it boldly and with biblical understanding.

Preparation for Hardship Starts Early

Preparing people for persecution starts before they become Jesus followers. This has to do with how we present the gospel. Some people share Christ this way: “Become a Christian. You will have joy and peace. All the difficult things in your life will become easy.” On a visit to Africa this past year I trained a group of disciple-makers to share their three-minute testimony. In their first attempts, it often went like this. “Before Jesus my life was hard. After Jesus my life is easy.” This is not the gospel. It is not even true!
We need to be genuine about the cost of following Christ. Our presentation is not a “bait and switch.” We are not to “market the gospel.” Instead, we call people to embrace the truth of Christ’s message and to repent, to a complete change of mindset and lifestyle. This is far more attractive than a gimmicky, freebie Christianity.
We must lead people to embrace the only path that leads to God, though hard and costly. We share the message that Jesus and His kingdom are like the pearl of great price, worth giving up everything to find. That is the gospel message of  Jesus  (Matt. 13:45-46).
The cause of Christ is worth dying for. His truth is worth selling all we have in order to gain. This must be our message and what our lives also demonstrate.

Share New Testament Stories and Scriptures About Persecution

As we study the movements of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament they are full of instances of persecution. This is an easily observed pattern found in the book of Acts.
Persecution - Growth - Persecution - Growth. The church grew, and it was persecuted. Likely, the more the movements we start grow, the more we will be persecuted. The converse can also be true. The more we are persecuted, the more we grow.
Why not create a story set with New Testament stories of persecution? Include Discovery studies on what Jesus said about persecution as well. Jesus promised persecution would come. Study those passages with those you are training as disciples. Here is a sample of verses and stories you could use, or you may want to create your own.
• Acts 4:1-4
• 2 Timothy 3:11-12
• Acts 7:51-56
• John 15:19-20
• Acts 8:1-4
• Matthew 5:10-12
Movements that grow rapidly will encounter seasons of great persecution. It is normal if the movement grows exponentially. Training every disciple to understand that this persecution is expected, from the beginning, is biblical.

Share Current Examples of Persecution

Let me share the story of one of our online DMM course trainees. There are many stories you can find from Voice of the Martyr’s website or magazines as well. As you share these kinds of stories with those you are training, they will not only pray for those who are persecuted but begin to see it as an honor to be considered worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake.
A few months ago, we had just begun the beta run of our next-level Disciple Making Movements online course. The new course is called, “Moving Forward in Disciple Making Movements.” It is a follow-up to the Getting Started in Disciple Making Movements course (find out more at courses. In 2021, this was my “one thing.” It was the one task I knew God was calling me to complete this past year.
It’s important, though, that anyone truly pursuing a movement, understands that suffering and persecution are part of the package.
When working with my team to create the curriculum, we knew we must include a module on both suffering and persecution. This isn’t what we usually lead with when casting vision for DMMs! It’s important, though, that anyone  truly pursuing  a movement, understands that suffering and persecution are part of the package.
When we recorded the videos for the module, as a Westerner who has only faced limited or indirect forms of persecution, I knew we needed to include a guest video. I asked my friend from Bangladesh who lost his inheritance,  family  property  and  was excommunicated from his village to share something for us to include.
What I didn’t know was that just a week after we started the cohort, one of our students would be arrested. This brother works in a Southeast Asian country where Christian activities and proselytizing are prohibited by law. He and his wife were arrested together. As they were taking him to prison, he managed to send a quick Whatsapp message to our group. “Please pray! We are being arrested.”
The group of trainees from Australia, India, Angola, Kenya and Nigeria began to do just that. Immediately, others posted on the group assuring him of their fervent prayers. Scriptures were sent to encourage and prayer was mobilized internationally. After some days, the word came that they had been released but may be asked to leave their locality and perhaps the country. The trainee in my course is an ex-pat while his wife was a local.
Again, our community prayed and stood with them. A legal case was brought against this brother and his wife. Again, we prayed. Others around the globe interceded for them as well.
In the midst of this, the team’s determination  to obey Jesus’  commands  was  strengthened. They continued to boldly share Jesus, realizing more than ever the cost involved in doing this. Finding a Person of Peace, they prepared to baptize her. The trainee again asked the WhatsApp group for prayer. “Please pray for the upcoming baptism. We realize that if we are caught, our punishment will be far greater than it was before.”
Finally, joyous news was posted on our group. The case has been dropped! “We are free to stay here with no restrictions, at least for the coming months.” Praise God! He had answered prayer. They then went on to share about the upcoming Christmas gathering. They planned to share a Creation to Christ presentation to 40 people.
It was just at this time that we came to that module in the course—the one on persecution. This is what he wrote to the group as he reflected on the material presented. “I needed this lesson. Thank you! The verses below tell me that suffering for Jesus’ name is a blessing, an honor and a privilege to rejoice. “They left the council rejoicing because they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name. And every day both in the temple courts and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.” [emphasis mine] (Acts 5:41–42).
Glory be to God for all He has taught this trainee. May we all learn and be inspired by his words and attitude.

Pray for Others Who Are Persecuted

Another key practice that can help prepare disciple- makers for persecution is to pray for the persecuted church around the world. In the movements we begin, we need to be outward-focused from the very beginning. We also want to help new believers see that they are part of a large, global family we call the Church (capital C). When some in that body suffer, we join with their suffering and we pray and give. This is the New Testament model.
As we pray for them in their troubles, we do not pray with pity. We do not ask God to remove them from their troubles, but to give them the courage  to stand firm in the midst of them. We pray for boldness to continue to proclaim the name of Jesus. In Ephesians 6:20, Paul penned these words while in chains for the gospel, “Pray that I may declare  it fearlessly, as I should.” He wanted prayer, not for deliverance but boldness. When we pray in this way for those being persecuted, we too are strengthened for the time it may come our way.
In summary, how do we train disciples to both expect and prepare for persecution?
1) We adjust our evangelism and invitation model.
2) We share New Testament stories and Scriptures about persecution in our discipleship process.
3) We tell current stories of persecution.
4) We train disciples to pray for the persecuted Church around the world.
How many of these are you currently doing?
Discuss these four points with your team or leadership group. Take a step forward  to  begin this best practice as a normal part of training and multiplying disciples.
Persecution is not something we desire. It is something we are promised. When trouble comes, Jesus tells us not to be afraid. He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). May our love, loyalty and worship flow to the One who overcomes. Nothing we go through can ever be greater than what He has already accomplished for us. He is worthy. May we also be counted worthy when called upon to suffer for His name.

This is an article from the March-April 2022 issue: The Essential Elements for Catalyzing Movements

Catalyzing Reproducing Disciples And Churches

Catalyzing Reproducing Disciples And Churches


The principles in this article are gleaned from experience in planting rapidly reproducing churches in China. They were then tested through training, coaching and mentoring church-planters serving in over one hundred nations, mostly working among Unreached People Groups. In recent years, they have been used successfully in the USA.

Over the years I have concluded it is difficult to make generalizations about evangelism, but it  is more appropriate to make generalizations about discipleship and church-planting. Evangelism is quite context-specific because half of the process is determined by what an individual believes and understands truth to be. Once someone has given himself fully to the Lord, the discipleship and church-planting processes become almost entirely about what God is calling us to. That deals with the culture of the kingdom of God rather than the cultures from which we come.

All Disciples Are Involved

The main purpose of  life  is to glorify the Lord.  We can do this best when we know Him most intimately and serve Him most fervently. It is God’s intention is for every disciple to be engaged in ministry. Those who are gifted with the five leadership gifts in Ephesians 4:11–12 are to equip those with other gifts to do the work of the ministry, which results in the building up of the Body of Christ. Though each believer has a different gifting and a unique calling, everyone is to be engaged in living out the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37–40) and carrying out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20).

If we are living out the Great Commission, then we will be making reproducing disciples because part of the disciple-making process is “teaching them to obey everything I [Christ] have commanded” and the Commission itself is one of those commands. Hence, every believer should, by definition, be involved in making reproducing disciples. It is a short step from this toward starting reproducing spiritual communities (churches) because several of the other commands demand a spiritual community to carry them out. Reproducing disciples will result in reproducing churches as a matter of obedience.

God is concerned both with what He accompishes in us in conforming us to the image of Christ, and with what He accomplishes through us in bringing glory to His name by being a blessing to everyone. We are to bless unbelievers by being a testimony of his grace and mercy—and to bless fellow believers as an encourager, partner, and equipper.

Be Worth Reproducing

Our constant aspiration should be to grow in our character, faith, fruit of the Spirit and obedience. Such  growth  in  discipleship  transforms   us   into something that is desirable to  reproduce.  God is not interested in multiplying mediocrity. Hence, one of the first considerations for every disciple to consider as he/she begins such ministry is to spend time in introspection and if necessary, repentance. We must never become complacent or satisfied with the level of maturity and love and faith to which the Lord has already brought us. We must continually aspire to more fully and completely love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. One way we can pursue this is to structure our spiritual communities to provide what I like to call dual accountability. That is, accountability to obey the Lord, and accountability to pass on to others what we have received.

The spiritual economy differs from the earthly economy in that the spiritual economy is based   on giving away what one has. God reveals more  of Himself to us when we are faithful in sharing with  others  what  we  already  know  of  Him.  He gives more insight and revelation to those who are faithful in sharing with others what they already understand. He speaks to us more clearly when we obey what he has already spoken to us.

This means the most loving thing we can do for one another is to hold one another accountable for obeying what we learn from the Lord and for sharing it with others. This is not a matter of legalism but of love. This is what we must do if we truly want the best for one another, the greatest spiritual blessing and insight and the deepest intimacy with our Father.

From a practical standpoint, this can be carried out in many ways, but the simplest is my favorite. At the end of each time of Bible discussion and prayer, each disciple spends time in small groups expressing to others in the group what the Lord is specifically speaking to him/her about and with whom they plan to have a spiritual discussion about the topic. The person(s) with whom they share might be unbelievers, in which case the conversation might be more pre-evangelistic or evangelistic in nature, or they might be believers in which case the conversation might be more for encouragement or equipping. The next time the group gathers, each person shares how they did in obeying what the Lord had spoken to them and in sharing it with others. In such a setting, the entire group can remain on the same passage or topic until everyone in the  group  has  proven  faithful in incorporating specific applications into their own lives and faithful in passing on to others the insights they are gleaning. This keeps every disciple constantly involved in either evangelizing the lost or helping to disciple fellow believers or both.

Rethinking Leadership

Therefore, since ministry is not only for the “mature” but for all of us who follow Christ, all of us are “leaders” in some sense of the word. In the church we tend to think of leaders as those who serve in a role of one or more of the five-fold gifts in Ephesians 4:11–12: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers; or else in terms of the officers of the church, bishops/pastors, elders or deacons. We tend to have an attitude that leaders in the church must be mature believers. This view is fine as long as we remember that is one type of leadership. In another sense, God has given each  individual  a  sphere  of  influence. A poor, illiterate housewife in the developing world can be a “leader” for her children and neighbors. This type of “leadership” needs greater emphasis in the kingdom of God today.

I like to think of this type of leadership in terms of the metaphor of a mother duck leading her ducklings. As they  walk  or swim single file, only the first duckling is following the mother duck. Each of the other ducklings is following the one preceding them in line. In order to lead a duckling like this, one does not have to be a mature duck, just one step ahead of another duckling. In this metaphor, it is important to realize there is only one Leader of leaders—Jesus. All the rest of us are simply ducklings. None of us is totally mature (to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ). We are all “in process.” This does not excuse us from the responsibility to lead those whom we can, however. We still have the responsibility to steward whatever leadership opportunities God has given us.

Helping Shape New Converts

The process of establishing a pattern of dual accountability and involving each disciple in leadership begins with immediately guiding new converts to evangelize their own friends and family. As soon as someone decides to repent and follow Jesus, I like to tell them, “It is a great blessing to bring others into a relationship with Jesus. It is a greater blessing to start a new spiritual community. It is the greatest blessing to equip others to start new spiritual communities. Right now, I want to help you have blessing, greater blessing, and the greatest blessing.”

At that point I ask them to make a list of 100 people with whom they need to share the good news about Jesus. I ask them to select five to share with immediately. I then teach them some contextually appropriate ways to share the gospel and have them practice five times, each time envisioning they are sharing with one of the five people on their list. I do the same thing in helping them prepare to share their testimony and practicing it. This process takes at least two hours but is well worth the time invested. When I finish, I set a time to meet back with me and send them out to share their faith. I instruct them to follow the same process I followed with them should any of the five people they share with decide to follow the Lord. Frequently, one or more people come to the Lord as a result and sometimes a new spiritual community (church) is born very quickly.

When I meet back with them, I model the dual accountability model and if they have not shared with five people and followed up with any who responded positively, then we go over the same material again and make sure they have all the preparation they need. This sets up a pattern for their spiritual lives. More responsibility and leadership are given to those who have been faithful in the small elements of responsibility they have already practiced. Small increments are important in this respect.  This approach is most easily practiced in a small group setting so if you are part of a larger church then you should offer such accountability structures as a subset of the large group meetings.


Every new disciple must also be equipped to be spiritually self-feeding in at least four aspects: Scripture, prayer, church life and proper response to persecution and suffering. These are some of the primary ways God grows us to maturity.

In terms of being able to interpret and apply Scripture, this can most easily be done by teaching  a series of questions that can be applied in any Scripture study. Generally, this will include questions of observation, interpretation and application. There are a number of sets of questions that can be used in this way, depending on the age or education level and the level of spiritual sophistication of the believers.

The point is that after reading or hearing a passage of Scripture every believer should be able to tell what it says, what it means, and the implications it has for his/ her life. Clearly someone’s ability to do this and the depth at which they do it will increase over time, but the point is to establish a pattern for how they view and respond to Scripture. Additional hermeneutic skills are picked up via a regular plan of Bible reading or listening that insures regular immersion in a large volume of Scripture. This is usually done through personal accountability partners.

Prayer is another key tool God uses to grow us into the likeness of Christ. Through prayer we speak to the Lord, hear from His heart and mind, minister to both believers and unbelievers, and more. Prayer is a teaching tool. It is an evangelism tool. In fact, praying for unbelievers in their presence can be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools that exists. It is often under-utilized. The best way to teach prayer to a new convert is by example reinforced by studying what the Bible says about prayer. Listening prayer is an aspect that is essential to include as a regular and intentional practice. Every disciple must become accustomed to recognizing the Lord’s voice in order that they might continually live in a posture of attentive obedience.

The church is not only a spiritual community but also serves as the Body of Christ. In Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4 the Bible expresses how we as members of the Body of Christ have differing gifts and abilities that are to function together in a coordinated fashion in order to build up the Body and bring it to maturity. Thus, for both individual and corporate growth and maturity we must understand how this works and participate   in it. This idea is supplemented by numerous “one another” passages in the New Testament. More than 50 times we are told in Scripture to do something for one another in the Body. We need each other in order to grow.

Persecution and suffering are also venues for our spiritual growth and development. The Bible tells us that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). We know that we have an enemy who will also oppose us in many ways as we follow the Lord. New believers need to understand how God works to perfect our character, prove our faith, equip us for ministry, and provide a testimony for Him through persecution and suffering. Being aware of this before it happens can help fend off discouragement and help us to be intentional about taking advantage   of these opportunities rather than wasting them or responding to them inappropriately.
If a believer understands and can apply these basic opportunities for growth along with the pattern of dual  accountability  we  implement, then they can initiate an entire movement of new churches if for some reason they are separated from their spiritual community. They have the power of the Holy Spirit and access to Scripture along with these basic skills to move them toward maturity and equip them to bring others along. There is no way to stop such a movement.

Training Cycle

As believers increase in their competence in these areas it is important to help them understand the phases of the training cycle, so they know when and how to transition from modeling, to assisting, to watching, to leaving as they initiate work with new believers or new churches. This is a natural process by which they can help others grow into maturity as well—both individually and corporately.

I like to compare this process to teaching a child to ride a bicycle. Though we rarely think about it, the first step in a child learning to ride a bicycle is seeing someone else ride one. This only takes a moment. The purpose is to create awareness. In making disciples or planting churches this can be an extremely quick process as well. It does not matter how good the model is, simply modeling will never train someone else to ride a bicycle.  The learner must get on the seat and begin to pedal for themselves. This brings us to the second stage.

We need to begin to assist the beginner right away. This means the learner is on the seat and we are holding them up. They cannot do it without us, but from the first moments we are trying to reduce their dependence on us. As soon as we believe they have a chance of maintaining their own balance and momentum, we release them. We must be willing to let them fall because in learning it will happen repeatedly. We must not let our fear of them falling prevent us from letting go, however. That is part of the learning process. This stage of learning lasts a bit longer than the modeling stage, but it should still be kept as short as possible. I like to think in terms of getting through this stage in about three months in a church-planting setting. During that time, I “shadow mentor,” modeling with the natural leaders (alone) in the new church what they should do when the entire group meets together. During this period, I am covering the self-feeding skills mentioned earlier.

After assisting, it is time to enter the observation stage. This is a much longer phase, often taking many years. It is carried out at arm’s length, however, and is much more occasional in nature. One person can be observing multiple churches at the same time. When someone learns to ride a bicycle, they must be able to mount, dismount, steer, brake, understand the rules of the road and know when and where it is safe to ride. These skills take some time to learn. It is not safe to let a child ride on his/her own until these skills are mastered. In the New Testament we see the apostle Paul use this cycle. He would model and assist with new churches on his missionary journeys. This was a very brief process in all the churches except for Corinth (18 months) and Ephesus (three years). The observation stage, however, lasted for many years. He would come for repeat visits, send coworkers to check on things, write letters, etc. He needed to be sure the churches were practicing and passing on what they had received.

Once the basic skills are learned, it is time for the mentor to exit. It is not only embarrassing but also inconvenient and impractical  for  a  teacher to always be present in order for someone to ride  a bicycle. The same is true spiritually. As soon as possible, new believers and new churches should be at the point of being producers rather than merely consumers. Spiritual reproduction should be happening and, in fact, is one good indicator that it is time to consider moving to the next phase. Model for the first generation, assist while they model for the second generation, watch for the third generation and if the other indicators look good, then it is time to leave. We see Paul formally leave the Ephesian church in Acts 20:17–38. It is  a touching scene that demonstrates when leaving becomes appropriate and not irresponsible.

Entering New Communities

New disciples and new churches also need to grow in their ability to “see where the kingdom is not.” This is where they can begin to understand how to cross cultures and other boundaries in order to “make disciples of all nations (peoples).” I like to use maps with known churches indicated with pushpins. This can begin to sensitize people to geographic gaps. Very soon I also begin to introduce concepts of gaps in terms of language, socioeconomic levels, education levels, ethnicity, and so on. This helps new believers begin to look for opportunities to reach out to the people and places in the greatest spiritual darkness.

It  is important to model biblical approaches  in ministry as well as to teach them. For example, people need to understand how to look for and identify a “man of peace” as they enter new communities. This term comes from Matthew 10 and Luke 10 when Jesus is giving instructions to His disciples. Essentially, a man of peace is someone who is responsive and has a circle of influence and will open the door to that circle. Of course, a Person of Peace is often a woman! Going in a needy state can often uncover a Person of Peace as they offer assistance. One of my favorite ways of locating such a person is to begin a spiritual conversation. If someone indicates interest, rather than simply continuing to talk with them, I will inquire as to whether or not they know of others who might be interested in discussing such matters. If they do, I ask if they would be willing to gather them. If they are willing, the chances are quite strong I have found a Person of Peace.

There  are  practical   advantages to  finding a Person of Peace. First, it is more effective to group unbelievers and win them rather than win individual converts and then group them. The new spiritual communities which are formed tend to be more durable and resilient, tend to function more smoothly and have higher trust levels, and tend to mature more quickly. If we are not sure whether we have found a Person of Peace, we should still see if we can assist a new convert or seeker to establish  a new church from among their own network of relationships rather than automatically adding them to an existing church. This can be done naturally when we have them begin sharing their new faith with their list of one hundred people who need to know the Lord. The pattern which was used in Acts and still works well today is that new converts are gathered into new spiritual communities with new leaders raised up from among them. Our natural tendency is to add new converts to existing churches, which results in a hindrance with regards to multiplication of disciples and churches.


When basic elements such as those mentioned in this article are combined, God frequently moves  in remarkable ways and the resulting disciples and churches seem to be especially fruitful and more resistant to false teaching. Also, you will often see a supernatural impetus to take the gospel where    it has not gone, and therefore unengaged people groups around the new churches quickly gain access to the gospel. The pattern of involving every disciple to live out and share their faith and to be involved in leading others is key. We can do this with new converts through helping them learn to feed themselves spiritually in a developmental way through using the training cycle. This can be done in such a way that the disciples do this beyond their own community and relationships. These simple and biblical principles can go a long way towards helping you equip new believers to become catalysts in planting rapidly reproducing new churches.

For a free, video-based small group curriculum to train people in all these approaches, go to<./p>

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Unreached of the Day January-February 2022

Unreached of the Day January-February 2022

This is the new Global Prayer Digest which merged with Unreached of the Day in 2021.

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Toward a Biblical Missiology of Mobilization

Toward a Biblical Missiology of Mobilization
What is God doing in mission  mobilization  around  the world? I believe the global Church is on the cusp of an explosion of focused mission mobilization across denominations, organizations and individual local ministries. More mobilization-focused ministries, courses, tools and trainings  have  sprung  up globally in the last decade than ever before in history.1 We  are  in a changing world—where a globalized Church is positioned as never before to reach a globalized world through globalized mission mobilization.
The in-depth study of mission mobilization has generally been a neglected subject in missiology. In fact, informal searches turn up next to no literature on a theology or missiology of mobilization. This is primarily because we tend to define mission mobilization in a limited, individualistic manner rather than a holistic, corporate way intended through Scripture. Thus, it is vital to clarify a biblical missiology of mobilization. Much work has been done in the name of mobilization while often failing to adequately root that work in an overarching, big picture missiological viewpoint, informing the global Church of her mobilization responsibility beyond recruiting.

Mobilization’s Western Roots

Because much of global mission and mission mobilization efforts have historically derived from Western cultures, the individual recruitment emphasis has become normalized. Western cultures generally see the world through individualistic lenses while non-western, majority world cultures see the world through a communal, group-centered lens.2 Thus, a biblical missiology of mobilization informs local ministries as a whole, not merely recruiting a few individuals as message bearers3 (alternative term for missionary). We tend to overlook the theological truth that every believer is meant to engage, in some function, in Jesus’ Great Commission—whether they ever leave their hometown or not.

Reading the Bible Through A Mobilization Lens

It is possible to read the whole Bible from the viewpoint of the global mission of God, as Christopher J. H. Wright reveals.4 God’s global mission, realized through the delegated mission of His people, binds the Bible together from beginning to end. By rooting ourselves and local ministries in the purposes revealed in God’s word, we recognize the singular truth, suggested by David Bosch, that global mission is not merely an activity of the global Church, but an attribute of God Himself.5  God is a missionary God, Jesus is a missionary Messiah and the Spirit is a missionary Spirit. Therefore, mission mobilization starts with God Himself, who is on global mission, aligning His corporate body with the priority purpose on His heart. This is why mission mobilization matters. We do not mobilize the Church to merely good works, but to come into alignment with the heartbeat of God, where He is taking history in the culmination of His redemptive purpose (Genesis 12:3; Matthew 24:14; Revelation 7:9).
The nature of God is to consistently invite every believer and local ministry into agreement with His will—living for Jesus’ glory on earth. The late Dean Gilliland, professor of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary cites, “Global mission can be said to be founded on the self-revelation of God.”6  There is no God besides Him. He alone is Father, Creator of all things and for whom we live (1 Cor. 8:5-6). If there is one God, then He is God of all peoples. He desires every believer to recognize the universal nature of the gospel, not merely individualizing it for themselves, as is so common in the global Church. God’s redemptive purpose throughout history at its core could be considered a mission mobilization effort among His people.
Jesus’ calling of the twelve disciples can be seen as foundational mobilization. He trained them over a three-year process to lead the Church forward in the Great Commission upon Jesus’ ascension. Jesus was training the apostolic leaders who would “turn the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) His earthly ministry was primarily focused on teaching the gospel of the kingdom, paving the way for His followers to take His multi-dimensional message to all the ethnic peoples. This is a core principle of mobilization. Greg Parsons relates, “Jesus didn’t focus on planting churches, on evangelism, or theological training. Rather, His ministry concentrated more on the big picture than anyone.”7  The global Church is called to emulate Jesus in this way.
Paul also had the primary calling of a mission mobilizer, possessing the conviction that God was the God of all peoples, laying on the Church the inescapable obligation to mission.8 Paul adamantly stated, “God through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…God was in the world reconciling the world to Himself…so we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…” (2 Cor. 5:18-20). For Paul, God took the initiative to redeem humanity, causing those reconciled to in turn become His message bearers of grace.9 Paul was mobilizing the churches with the vision of God’s glory among all nations.
All Paul did was focused on planting communities of believers who would multiply themselves outward in concentric circles. His apostolic teaching had mission mobilization at its core. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of where the kingdom was already known, looking to the “unreached” of his day (2 Cor. 10:16). His followers and churches did so as well (Acts 19:10). Paul revealed the nature of the Church with multiplying and reproducing as its core identity, not something peripheral (Romans 1:5). Mission mobilization, then, includes calling the global Church to the totality of all God meant for local ministries. This requires a clear biblical view of the essence, nature, purpose and identity of the global Church as being God’s missionary community.

The Birth of the Church at Pentecost

Acts 2 is the root of the great tree of the Church that has sprung up in every nation over the last 20 centuries. The global Church was birthed through the coming of the Holy Spirit as a completely new, unique entity. A simple interpretation of the Spirit’s filling is for the purpose of revealing God. Wherever a believer goes, whatever they do, the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit’s filling is enabling us to reveal and manifest God to others. Using this simple definition, we conclude the primary reason for the Holy Spirit’s coming is empowering a corporate people who reveal God to the world.
The global Church, God’s ‘missionary,’ Spirit-filled people, exists to reveal God to all the ethnic peoples of the world, bringing glory to Jesus as He draws millions to Himself. It is the purpose that God has put within us. This spiritual expansion principle is in our DNA, the natural outworking of a healthy organism. To be a stagnant local ministry is an oxymoron, counter to divine and natural order. Local ministries becoming ablaze with mission vision, mobilizing and equipping their own through the implementation of mobilization principles within, culminating in influencing unreached people groups are God’s primary strategies in mission. Every local ministry, no matter its size, possesses a responsibility before God in the Great Commission.

Defining Mission Mobilization

In recent decades, “mission mobilization” has become synonymous with individualized missionary recruiting, a far cry from the big-picture viewpoint of Scripture. Because we believe the Lord is inspiring a surge in biblically rooted mission mobilization across His global Church, it is vital to pursue shared understanding of what we mean by these words.
Let’s consider a few definitions as building blocks toward a comprehensive whole. Fred Markert, YWAM Strategic Frontiers leader, says, “Mobilization is the process of envisioning and educating God’s people about His strategic plans for the world. And it is the means of keeping them involved and moving forward until they find their specific place and role in world evangelization.”10 Larry Reesor adds to this mobilization outlook by asserting, “Mobilization is teaching believers in a local church to understand God’s global plan, motivating them to a loving response to God’s Word, and providing opportunities for them to use their gifts, abilities and resources individually and corporately to accomplish His global plan.”11 In addition, Steve Shadrach helps draw attention to what he calls the “unsent” suggesting, “The ‘unsent’ are the hundreds of millions of Bible-believing Jesus followers around the world who have little or no mission vision.”12
Building on these helpful definitions, while rooting ourselves in a biblical viewpoint of the Church’s purpose, we can thus define mission mobilization from a global perspective in two separate ways - from a macro, body of Christ-wide perspective, as well as from a micro, individual local ministry level.
At a macro level, mission mobilization is the strategic process through which the global body of Christ is empowered by the Spirit of God to emphasize the message, vision and strategies of the Great Commission within local ministries in every nation, activating every member in their assigned roles, toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. 
At a micro level, mission mobilization is the strategic process of an individual community of believers moving along the journey of being educated, inspired and activated in the Great Commission, every disciple engaged and fulfilling their assigned roles in the Great Commission.

The Laborers Are in the Harvest

A favorite verse among mission mobilizers is Matthew 9:37-38, “Then He said to His disciples, “the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Who are these laborers? Where do they come from? Over the last 50 years, there has been an unprecedented move of the Holy Spirit globally, thrusting millions of people into the kingdom of God. According to Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, a majority of these are in non-western, majority-world countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America.13 So much so that Johnson affirms, “Christians can be found today in every nation of the world.”14
A friend once told me, “the laborers are already in the harvest.” What he meant was these significant “harvests” (coming to Christ within currently unreached peoples and nations) in time, produce the kingdom laborers who themselves become “scattered,” crossing cultural barriers, among the remaining unreached peoples within their own countries (near culture) and beyond (distant culture). The vast majority of newly scattered message bearer teams are part of previous “harvests” bringing them into the kingdom. This process relies on effective mission mobilization implemented within the local ministries planted through the present “harvests” across the nations coming to Jesus.
Mission mobilization, then, is meant to directly empower local indigenous ministries in every nation, full of these harvested laborers. This massive harvest force, from all nations, is made ready to be “thrust out” primarily among near culture peoples sharing language, traditions and customs, yet being from a different tribe or ethnic group, directly around them. They are mostly lay leaders and lay people—regular disciples growing in experiential knowledge of God, empowered and anointed by the Spirit, acting as conduits among every unreached community. 

The Natural Response— Three Levels of Scattering

Renowned mission practitioner and author, Roland Allen, suggested God has put within every believer a natural instinct to communicate and influence others with the gospel of the kingdom using their own initiative.15 This isn’t forced upon them or even something that necessarily needs to be encouraged. It is innate to a follower of Jesus because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within that person. Effective mission mobilization is dependent upon helping believers embrace this natural inclination, not squelching or resisting it. This inner drive is powerful, even moving the people of God to risk their lives to impart life-giving faith to others. The hope of the gospel and the experience of its power within a believer cannot be held in for long without grieving the Holy Spirit. So, what happens when a local ministry (no matter how big or small), made up of such believers, acts on this inner impulse and is mobilized into action as a community? They are scattered out as laborers (Matthew 9:37).
“Scattering” has multiple layers.16 It is safe to say that biblically speaking every disciple in a local ministry is meant to “scatter” in one way or another. This can be understood as Level One Scattering. This predominantly means within the natural environments near the local ministry that God has put them in - their workplace, neighborhood, school, relatives and more.
Level Two Scattering is when a team of believers (lay leaders and lay people) from a local ministry, previously faithful to Level One Scattering, respond to the Spirit leading them to a near culture unreached people within a 50-200 mile or so vicinity of the existing local ministry. In order to raise our vision, I suggest a goal of at least 15% of members of every local ministry being scattered in this near culture way.
Level Three Scattering takes us into the more traditional approach of mission sending and is when a team of believers (lay leaders and lay people) from the local ministry embraces God’s leading to a distant culture unreached people. These may be within the same geopolitical nation; in a neighboring country; or even further away, crossing continents. If around 15% of church members have been called to Level Two Scattering, it is consistent to suggest 5% of members from a sending local ministry are called to Level Three Scattering.

The Common Unnatural Response

Contrary to the above, what is common today is for believers to remain to themselves, hidden in their cluster of Christians, taking the position that the Church is to be isolated from society at large. Believers in Indonesia, for example, may rarely interact with their Muslim neighbors, coworkers or peers in the university. This is largely due to the societal divide among Christians and Muslims and the fear sown related to the other which has been enforced over generations. This could be repeated over and over among minority Christian communities and yet is never the intent of Scripture. God wants to be right in the midst of society, relating with the broken, the worldly, the religious, revealing Himself through wholehearted disciples.
Seeing mission mobilization in this missiological light requires taking off some blinders. Although it can seem a bit far-fetched and unrealistic, it is because the global Church has tended to minimize the biblical emphasis of the Great Commission, overlooking our core identity. The global Church’s view of mission has generally been lowered from the New Testament’s. Thus, it is necessary to regain a high view of God’s plan of redemption history, calling others to it and sparking the contagious fires of mission mobilization in our spheres of influence.
*Author’s Note—This article has been adapted from the author’s new book being released in March 2022 called Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity. The book seeks to lay foundations of a biblical missiology of mobilization while providing a practical framework to mobilize and equip the global Church in mobilization. The publisher, IGNITE Media, has given permission for portions of the book used in this article.  "For more information about Ryan's new book Rethinking Global Mobilization, please visit" 
  1. 1 Some of these include Let’s Mobilize His Church (Latin America), Mission Campaign Network (Kenya), Global Mobilization Network (International), Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention (USA), Global Cast Resources (International) and many more. While many more have been around longer then a decade and continue to gain clarity and focus in mobilization. Some of these include Center for Mission Mobilization, Simply Mobilizing, Perspectives, GMMI and more. In addition, almost all of the major global mission networks like the Lausanne Committee, COMIBAM, MANI, WEA Mission Commission and more now have mobilization tracks and departments which they did not have before.

  2. 2 Sherwood Lingenfelter, Ministering Cross-Culturally, Grand Rapids, MI:
    Baker Book House, 1986, p. 19

  3. 3 Ryan Shaw, Spiritual Equipping For Mission: Thriving As God’s Message
    Bearers, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014, p. 18-19

  4. 4 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology
    of the Church’s Mission, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, p. 38

  5. 5 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991,

  6. 6 Dean Gilliland, Pauline Theology and Mission Practice, (Eugene, OR:
    Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998), p. 50.

  7. 7 Greg Parsons, “Why Stay Here? Mobilizing the Home Front,”
    Mission Frontiers, January–February (1995),

  8. 8 Ibid, p. 51

  9. 9 Ibid, p. 56

  10. 10 Article in Mission Frontiers Magazine (January-February 2000) titled “A
    Fresh Perspective On Mobilizing the Church.” http://www.missionfrontiers
    . org/issue/article/a-freshperspective-on-mobilizing-the-church.

  11. 11 Steve Shadrach article in EMQ, Volume 54, Issue 3, “Mobilization:
    The Fourth (and Final?) Era of the Modern Mission Movement.”

  12. 12 Article in International Bulletin of Missionary Research titled
    “Status of Global Christianity 2015”

  13. 13 Todd Johnson and Sandra Lee, Article in Perspectives Reader Fourth
    Edition titled “From Western Christendom to Global Christianity”, p. 387

  14. 14 Shaw, R. Daniel. 1990. “Culture and Evangelism: A Model for
    Missiological Strategy.” Missiology 18:291-304.

  15. 15 Allen, Spontaneous Expansion, p. 9

  16. 16 Ralph Winter, in his breakthrough presentation at Lausanne 1974, labeled
    three types of evangelism to three different groups – E-1 is evangelism from
    one person of the same culture to another; E-2 evangelism is from one
    culture to a near culture to their own; E-3 evangelism goes from one culture
    to a distant culture. These three levels of scattering are based on this E-Scale.
    Perspectives Reader, Ralph Winter, William Carey Library, p. 347-360

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Toward the Edges

Toward the Edges
The theme of this edition of Mission Frontiers is a topic dear to my heart. It is at the very heart of our purpose here at Frontier Ventures, and it is dear to the heart of Jesus: “The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy.”
I want to begin with a special mention. I am grateful for Len Bartlotti's clear discussion related to Rethinking People Groups. I have  known  Len for a long time. He has been on the ground among the unreached, and on the ground here in Pasadena. He knows whereof he speaks.
I will talk first about the three hearts: mine, ours, and Jesus’. Then I will talk about the two halves of this edition’s theme: people groups and strategy.


Three Hearts

Since 1980, I have in various ways been personally  learning  about   people   groups and about strategies. I am still involved with movements at a ground level among unreached peoples, and among peoples now on their way to being “reached,” thanks be to God.
Susan and I have our own sweat equity in the whole effort, you might say. Therefore, this topic is dear to my heart.
It is dear because for us we know and love real people, so we don’t approach this as an abstract about “peoples.”
But this is more than personal. This is close to the heart of Frontier Ventures, right at the heart of who we are, why we began, why we still exist, and why we are moving forward into the future.
For more than 40 years, raising awareness about unreached peoples has been at the center of who we are. The vocabulary we use has shifted, certainly, from hidden peoples to unreached peoples to frontier peoples. But inside of all that is the same concern, to join in God’s invitation as God fulfills the abiding purpose of blessing all the families of the earth.
Which brings me to the heart of Jesus.
While my readers will certainly be familiar with Jesus’ heart for nations as expressed in say, Matthew 28 and the command to disciple all nations, I want to dig further back in Jesus’ words for a moment.
Just today I was re-reading Luke 4. After Jesus speaks of fulfilling Isaiah 61 when He is in the synagogue, there is an initial surge of enthusiasm, as all the people present express their joy at those words.
They were, as the context shows us, joyful because they thought this was for them, and apparently, only for them.
So Jesus continues. He does not say “thank you.” Instead, He draws out other portions of the Old Testament. He could have selected many, many passages. The two He selects tell us a lot about His heart.
First, He refers to a widow. A woman. A non-Jewish woman.
Then He refers to a man, a leper, a non-Jewish man. Two unclean people. Non-Jewish.
From the mass of Old Testament texts, He could have selected He picks these two at the launch of His work. This shows us His heart for the nations, and thus for the least reached.

People Groups and Strategy

What is there to rethink? We have lists of people groups, don’t we? And every edition of Mission Frontiers records progress on movements among the unreached, right? Doesn’t this suggest we know who the unreached are, and we know what to do to reach them?
Yes, and no to both questions! First: people groups.
In an age of globalization and migration, and in an era in which we continue to discover the nuances and complexity of how people, how peoples, see themselves, we are realizing that the more we learn, the less we know about people groups!
That does not mean that Joshua Project, for example, is wrong, or that the lists of unreached peoples there need to be reworked. But it does mean that as any pioneer cross-cultural team gets engaged and begins to love and learn about and with the people with whom God has put them into relationship, they will begin to see things that no list can show.
How does this peoples’ language, religion, culture, location and current history shape how they see themselves? And how does that need to shape how we work among them, or to use another term, how does that affect strategy?
There is much to say about strategy and strategies. I am grateful for everything we are  learning  today, from the fruitfulness of many workers and organizations and about things that are working among the least reached. Discipleship, church- planting, cultural sensitivity, orality, new insights into Scripture translation and much more.
However, in an age of globalization and migration, and in an era in which we continue to discover   the nuances and complexity of how people, how peoples, see themselves, we are realizing that the more we learn, the less we know, not only about people groups, but about the strategies for reaching those where we are yet to see movements emerge!
There is a lot to learn about why this or that strategy works in this or that people group, but seemingly not  in  another.  Is  it  the  people?  The  team?  The strategy itself?

Back to the Heart

This brings me back to why this is all at the heart of who we are and why we exist. From our beginnings, there has been a focus in Frontier Ventures on not only unreached peoples, but on understanding and seeing the barriers, the reasons why some are reached, and others not, why in some cases an approach bears fruit, and elsewhere it does not.
I pray and trust that in some small way, this edition of MF will help to stimulate new questions, and ultimately fresh answers, so that least reached peoples may experience more and more of the fullness of life in Christ!

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Mission Possible Book Review

Mission Possible Book Review

Sinclair, Daniel. 2021 Mission: Possible— Defining and Empowering Your Ministry Among the Unreached. MOF Publishing.

If you’ve never had a coach work with you in your church-planting ministry, this book would  work  toward solving that problem. In the sequel to his well-received Vision of the Possible: Pioneer Church Planting in Teams, Daniel Sinclair digs deeper into the subject of sharing the good news in some of the most difficult places with Mission: Possible—Defining and Empowering Your Ministry Among the Unreached. This easy to read yet full-bodied text is a mix of both theory and practice, highlighting foundational understandings from Scripture of authority people carry in church- planting along with extremely practical guidance on best practices in church-planting ministry.

To validate the book, it is important to begin with the author’s credentials—Sinclair is well-qualified to write on this subject. He and his family have spent decades overseas in parts of the world where  the  unreached live. His ministry has involved not only participating in church-planting in these locations, but also supervising scores of teams all over the Muslim world. His methods are tried, and not simply written from an armchair. When it comes to biblical study, I know personally that Sinclair prioritizes at least one hour of personal biblical study every single week of the year, creating a strong biblical foundation for the ministry in which he participates. He devours Scripture.

The book itself begins with a scriptural background to the concept of apostleship. Sinclair sincerely believes that specific individuals are called to ministry. However, he does not make hard and fast pronouncements about who those people might be, recognizing that you can sometimes get it wrong when trying to identify who exactly apostles are today. Yet it is clear for him that God has given ministry gifts to people for the purposes of evangelizing and planting churches in places where the gospel has not yet rooted. Sinclair intersperses his biblical basis for ministry with anecdotal illustrations  of those living out these principles, demonstrating the work in action. This is where Sinclair’s concentrated value lies, as, for years he has observed, interacted and supervised literally hundreds of individuals putting these principles into practice.

Sinclair goes on from his scriptural basis on apostleship with a brief argument for the value in “counting” in one’s ministry, followed by a specific thorny issue in ministry with Muslims—baptism. But the real meat of Sinclair’s work follows in his weightier fourth and fifth chapters. He spends considerable time presenting the concepts of Disciple Making Movements (DMM). In recent years, much methodology of ministry among Muslims has focused on movements. Sinclair clearly lays out what these principles are and what they mean practically for day- to-day ministry. To make sure readers are not ashamed of their ignorance of the basics of these concepts, he has entitled the chapter “DMM for Dummies.” He goes so far as to describe what a series of discovery Bible studies might look like in real life. As is clear, Sinclair wants his ideas to be practical and applicable to those involved in ministry to the unreached.

His final chapter might come as a surprise to many,    but I believe that Sinclair has concluded that many practitioners get bogged down in ministry for lack of organization and scheduling. He spends considerable time outlining the practicalities of creating a personal schedule, one that is  reasonable  considering  all  of  the demands that an expatriate individual might face when trying to juggle too many  commitments.  His  eye is clearly on the goal of sharing the gospel, and Sinclair wants his disciples not to lose the forest for the trees. Living the overseas life of ministry is filled with demands, especially for those who are goal oriented. Sinclair wants to help these individuals live out their calling without burning out, by making tough decisions about how to spend their time. His chapter gives very practical advice, even giving sample drafts of schedules of individuals wrestling with these issues.

There are several positive reasons to recommend Sinclair’s book—the use of clear language, compelling arguments, practical examples, supporting resources, respect for local cultures and a strong desire to get local believers involved in finding the best way forward for the gospel in their culture. Note, however, that Sinclair’s methodology will likely appeal to a particular type of movement-minded, church-planting individual: one whose personality tends toward analytical and systems thinking. It may be a challenging read for others, whose spiritual giftings focus on compassion combined with developing deep personal relationships. Those who live a more cerebral, task-oriented and scheduled lifestyle will appreciate Sinclair’s wisdom. Yet everyone involved in ministry among the unreached will likely find value in his ideas. He has also priced his work to be accessible to anyone. You’d pay more for one hour of coaching than purchasing his book, which has a wealth of experience and observation behind it. If you are involved in ministry among the unreached, Sinclair’s reflections are well worth your investment of time and money.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

It is Said That the Only Constant in Life is Change

It is Said That the Only Constant in Life is Change
Things are changing all around us every day with increasing speed. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. But in all cases, we are forced to adapt to the new realities that change brings. Some people adapt easily to change, and others do not. For 45 years now, Frontier Ventures has proclaimed the biblical mandate to reach all peoples with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but the realities on the mission field are changing. That is what this issue is all about. How does the promise of God to Abraham in Gen.12:3 to bless all the families of the earth through him match up with the tectonic shifts now taking place in the world today? Is that promise still valid in a rapidly changing world? Many of the forces impacting us today such as technology, globalization, migration, urbanization and  rapid  communication and travel are also impacting the unreached peoples, reshaping their relationships, communities and self-identity. The impact of these changes in terms of mission strategy is like sticking the peoples of the world, their cultures, languages and traditions in a blender and then trying to figure out where to start in reaching them. It is a significant challenge for the Church going forward, but a few simple principles can help us make sense of it all.

Change is Nothing New

The fact is, ever since the promise came to Abraham to bless all peoples, the tribes, clans, families, peoples and nations of the earth have experienced continual change. The problem in our day is that the rate of change is growing exponentially, making it difficult to cope with a rapidly changing people  group picture. Tracking these changes becomes a real data challenge for ministries like Joshua Project.

You Just Have to Be There

As good as Joshua Project is, and they are very good indeed at what they do, there is no way to perfectly understand the massive changes  happening  on  the ground within thousands of peoples without intensive study of the situation on site in each people by capable workers. The wonderful data that Joshua Project provides is a great place to start for any workers seeking to reach a particular people. But once onsite, the mission workers learn what is really going on and develop the creative strategies required for the situation. And that info needs to get back to Joshua Project more consistently so others can learn from the information gathered onsite.
The concept of people groups says that the gospel will spread naturally from person to person within a people group until it meets barriers of understanding and acceptance. Ralph Winter often said that you won’t know how many Church Planting Movements are required until you get to the mission field and figure out where the boundaries of each people group are. When you run up against those boundaries you need a new effort to get the gospel into a new people group. With the global forces now impacting each unreached people in a  myriad of ways, being onsite is even more necessary to understand where the barriers to understanding and acceptance are.

Let the People Be Your Guide

When you get to an unreached people your first step is to figure out what is going on. Initially, the intricacies of the various relationships will be a mystery, but finding the Persons of Peace will be the key to understanding and reaching any people group. If you work through a Person of  Peace, they will be your  guide  to  trusted  relationships in starting Discovery Groups. Yes, regardless of the complexities on the field the Disciple Making Movement approach is key to understanding and working with complex relational networks. As Discovery Groups are formed, you can train people to reach out to their own networks of relationships and the gospel will spread naturally along the lines of friends, family, clans, tribes, etc. Our job is to lead people to Jesus and equip them to reach their own. They can do a far better job of it than we can and they already know the complexities of their community relationships. When the gospel stops spreading, that is your clue that you have reached a boundary of a people and a new work is needed in a different people. The application of DMM principles will help us navigate the changing world of tribes, tongues, peoples and nations.

A New Address for Frontier Ventures

Please note on the contents page and back cover that the address for Frontier Ventures has changed. The old address of 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena CA 91104, will no longer be the headquarters for Frontier Ventures. This is a major change for us after 45 years. See the masthead at the bottom of the contents page for the latest contact information for address changes, new subscriptions etc.

Support the Work of Mission Frontiers

As is the case with most publications, Mission Frontiers cannot cover its costs from subscriptions alone. We need additional funds from those who believe in this ministry and are willing to sacrifice to help us move forward in casting vision for Kingdom Movements in all peoples. Like most of the people who work for Frontier Ventures, my salary is supplied by the donations of churches and friends who believe in what I am doing. And also like many staff members at Frontier Ventures, there are many months when not enough comes in to fully cov- er our allotted salary. To donate to my ministry with MF go to and click on the Donate button. Put MA 323 in the dialog box. If you would like to help MF cover its general expenses and expand its influence, go to the same web address, given above, click on the Donate button and put MA 030 in the dialog box. We greatly appreciate whatever you can do to help Mission Frontiers and Frontier Ventures continue its work to see Kingdom Movements emerge in all peoples.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

People Groups and the Bible

People Groups and the Bible

Sometimes we hear that people groups are a recent invention of social science. In the following article I answer this critique by showing that in fact, people groups are as old as Scripture itself.

Human Grouping in the Old Testament

The Old Testament portrays the people of the world with a diversity of terms that describe very large human groupings to relatively small sub-groups or segments of them. The largest human grouping would be humankind without distinction, as in Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man (םָדָא, adam) in Our image”1 and 6:5, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man (adam) was great on the earth.” In these cases, adam refers to “humankind, mankind, a class of being created by God without regard to sex, with a focus as a class of creature, distinct from animals, plants, or even spiritual beings.”2  Another example is in Genesis 11:1, “Now the whole earth (ץֶרֶא, eretz) used the same language and the same words.” This is an anthropomorphic use of eretz to refer to all humankind.

The next layer of human grouping found in the OT is the idea of nations or peoples. It is well known that יֹוּג (goy) and םַע (am) are the most common words for nations/peoples. In one dictionary they are defined similarly as “a people group sharing. a common ancestry and/or sociopolitical identity” with an addendum for am, “also used for groups of people smaller than a nation, such as the inhabitants of a city.” Note the phrase “people group” in the very definition and the variety of group size the word am covers. Goy indicates “a common sociopolitical identity that can be defined by ancestry, language, land, and government… as Israel’s national identity becomes more clear  in the OT the majority of the occurrences use some form of the plural to refer to the surrounding non-Israelite nations.”3 Thus goy can be applied to human groupings defined by a diversity of affinities/ boundaries (ancestry, language, land, government) and became synonymous with non-Israelite Gentiles. In the Septuagint, goy is usually translated as ἔθνος (ethnos), while am is generally used to denote God’s people Israel and is usually translated as λαός (laos).4

The fact that language was a major defining element of nations and peoples can be seen in Daniel. Seven times reference is made to “peoples (am), nations (הָּמֻא ummah) and men of every language (ןָּׁשִל lishan)” (3:4, 7, 29, 4:1, 5:19, 6:25, 7:14). It would seem fair, in a very general sense, to equate the modern term “ethnolinguistic” to this level of grouping, especially since the OT is full of specific examples of such, both small (Kenites, Kenizzites, Jebusites, etc. of Gen. 15:19-21) and large (Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians—Israel’s major enemies).

A third and smaller layer of human groupings can yet be found. In Genesis 12:3 we read, “And in you all the families (הָחָּפְׁשִמ mishpachah) of the earth will be blessed.” Although mishpachah has a wide range of meanings (people, kingdom, tribe, clan, family, group, genus, kind)5, the overwhelming majority of its occurrences in the OT are translated as “clans” (NIV, 253 of 296 occurrences) or “families” (NASB95, 289 of 303 occurrences).6 The word refers to “a family group larger than an individual household but smaller than an entire tribe.”7 Another example of such grouping is found in the account of Achan in Joshua 7:14-18, where God first chooses the tribes (טֶבֵׁש shebet), then the families (mishpachah), then the households (תיִַּב bayit), and finally Achan himself. The people of Israel in the Bible are thus presented in segmented groupings and the references to such (tribes, families, households) in the OT are numerous. A good example of these distinctions is found in the phrase “families (mishpachah) of the nations (goy)” in Psalm 22:27 and “families (mishpachah) of the peoples (am)” in Psalm 96:7.8 As early as Genesis 10:5, 20 and 31, the descendants of Noah’s sons are each described in terms of families (mishpachah), languages (lishan), lands (eretz) and nations (goy). In this case there is a mixture of terms representing smaller (mishpachah) and larger (lishan, eretz, goy) groups.9

Human Grouping in the New Testament

The NT contains a similar diversity of words to describe humanity. The top layer once again consists of humanity as a whole, such as John 1:26, ““Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (κόσμος kosmos)!”10 Also Luke 2:1, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth (οἰκουμένη oikoumene).” In both cases, the “world/ earth” is a reference to all the people in the world.

The next layer of human grouping can be seen in the use of ethnos, nation or people, which is the NT equivalent of goy. Importantly, “in the majority of NT occurrences . . . it appears in the plural and takes on a more technical sense that is usually translated ‘Gentile,’11 contrasting non-Jews with Jews.”12 These first two layers of human grouping can be seen in Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world (oikoumene) as a testimony to all the nations (ethnos), and then the end will come.” Another word of note is laos, in significant ways the NT equivalent of am. While the singular form normally refers to the Jewish people it is often used for non-Jews in the plural, as is the case in Rev. 5:9, 7:9, 11:9, 13:7 and 14:6, all of which refer, in differing order, to nations (ethnos), tribes (φυλή phyle), peoples (laos) and tongues/languages (γλῶσσα glossa).13 These phrases are used to describe the entire breadth of humanity in all its forms and varieties. The word phyle is used whenever the   NT   speaks   of    the    tribes    of    Israel.   In Revelation it takes on an eschatological sense and “means generally people (as an ethnic collective).”14 As for glossa, in addition to its basic meaning for the tongue, “it could denote a particular language (Acts 2:4) and could thus be used as a distinguishing mark of a people group (Rev 7:9).”15

The tribe, clan/families, household segments in the OT are not as clearly defined in the NT, not because they ceased to exist but because they simply were not as prominent in a nation subjugated under Roman rule. The tribe, clan or extended family was usually designated by πατριά (patria), as in Luke 2:4, “Joseph also went up from Galilee … because he was of the house and family (patria) of David.” Similarly, συγγενής (syngenes) is used to describe the idea of extended family relatives, “And behold, even your relative (syngenes) Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age” (Lk. 1:36). But the main social unit in the NT is the οἶκος (oikos), the house or household, an equivalent to the OT bayiṯ. In Acts 16:31, the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (oikos).” In Mark 6:4, these segments are put together, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives (syngenes) and in his own household (oikos).”

This table  (Table 1—not exhaustive) summarizes this overview of how human groups are described in the biblical record.

Biblical writers understood 1) the basic unity of all humankind, 2) human difference based on various and diverse affinities/boundaries that created separate nations/peoples (horizontal segmentation), and 3) segmentation within each nation/people based on kinship/lineage (vertical segmentation).  I believe the overview of Scripture above shows that people groups are an ancient phenomenon and were not introduced by people group proponents in the twentieth century.17 People are always seen as members of such a variety of groups that many terms are needed to fully explain the sub-sets and segments. The Bible highlights this “groupness” in its universal treatment of humanity. Biblical authors understood these human groupings in all their variety and complexity; a mosaic of nations/peoples, languages, tribes, clans and households. 

  1. 1 All verses of Scripture in NASB 1995 version.

  2. 2 JA Swanson (1997a) 132 I. םָדָא (ʾā·ḏām). A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Hebrew (Old Testament). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

  3. 3 M Minard (2014) Gentiles. The Lexham Theological Wordbook Mangum D, Brown DR, Klippenstein R, et al. (eds). Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press.

  4. 4 I note here other less common words used for non-Israelites, those outside the covenant YHWH made with Israel: יִרְכָנ (nokri) foreignness, רָז (zar) someone strange or foreign, לֵרָע (arel) uncircumcised, and רֵּג (ger) and בָׁשֹוּת (tosab) sojourner or alien (Minard, 2014).

  5. JA Swanson (1997b) 5476 הָחָּפְׁשִמ (miš·pā·ḥā(h)). A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Hebrew (Old Testament). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

  6. 6 Logos Bible Software 8.15 (n.d.) Bible Word Study: mishpachah. See especially the census of Israel in Numbers 26 (ex. v.7) and tribal land allotments in Joshua 13 (ex. v.15) and 15.

  7. 7 T Blair (2014) Family. The Lexham Theological Wordbook Mangum D, Brown DR, Klippenstein R, et al. (eds). Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press.

  8. 8 Psalm 96 possesses three levels of description for human groupings in the first seven verses: all the earth (eretz), nations (goy) and peoples (am), and families (mishpachah).

  9. 9 M Minard (2014) Gentiles.

  10. Also Rom 5:12–13; 1 Cor 1:27–28; 2 Cor 5:19.

  11. 11 Similar to the OT (see footnote 2), the  NT  employs  other less common words to describe the Gentile world: ἔθνικός (ethnikos) a pagan or heathen person; ἀκροβυστία (akrobystia) the uncircumcised; Ἓλλην (Hellen) of Greek descent or a non-Jew living in Graeco-Roman culture; σέβομαι (sebomai) devout non-Jew or God-fearer; προσήλυτος (proselytos) a proselyte or convert to Judaism; ξένος (xenos) a foreigner (Minard, 2014).

  12. 12 M Minard (2014) Gentiles.

  13. 13 Revelation is significantly dependent on Daniel, thus this grouping of words parallels that in Daniel referenced earlier.

  14. 14 H Paulsen (1990) φυλή, ῆς, ἡ phylē tribe, nation, people. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Balz H and Schneider G (eds). Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

  15. 15 J Lookadoo (2014) Body. The Lexham Theological Wordbook Mangum D, Brown DR, Klippenstein R, et al. (eds). Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press.

  16. 16 T Blair (2014) Family.

  17. 17 S Hawthorne (2020) A Biblical Understanding of People Groups. Evangelical Missions Quarterly 56(4).

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Use of Outside Funding In Multiplying Disciples and Churches

Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (48 months)

I was leading a meeting of about 30 local national church leaders from various different ethnic groups. I asked everyone, “What’s the biggest struggle you're facing?” One leader from the Hmong tribe stood up and said their biggest problem was that salaries had been cut and the ministry of the church was suffering. He explained that the national denomination office had been sending a salary subsidy each month (received from foreign donor sources) for the leaders of his local church.
“Thank you, teacher,” I replied. “Allow me to ask a few questions, to understand how the local church ministry is suffering. I know in your tribe you train up Theological Education by Extension (TEE) small group leaders each year. When the subsidies were coming, how many TEE small group leaders did you train up each year?”
He said, “Two or three new leaders each year.”
I continued, “In the year since the subsidy was  cut, how many TEE small group leaders have you trained.”
“We have trained two or three leaders.”
“Let me see if I understand correctly. You have trained the same number of leaders, with or without subsidy.”
“Yes,” he agreed.
My second question, “In the typical week when subsidies were given, how much was the weekly church offering?”
He answered an amount. Then I asked, “Since the subsidy was cut, what has been the typical weekly offering?” He said the offering had more than doubled!
“How can that be?” I asked.
He replied, “It’s very obvious why: because everyone realized that this church depended on the local members to make it work.” They showed their ownership of the church by giving.
“Teacher, please indulge me with one final question. How many people did you baptize each year while receiving the subsidies?”
He answered, “Typically one new baptism a year.”
“How many baptisms a year, since you cut the subsidy?” He explained that there were about 10 people baptized during that year. “Oh that’s wonderful! What accounts for this significant increase?”
“Oh,  that is very easy to explain. Before, when  we received the salary, the central denomination specified which villages we were to do outreach and then only in our local area. When the salaries weren’t being given, we could go wherever the Spirit of God led us. We could go visit our relatives and friend connections in other districts and they were much more open to us and the message of Christ.”
“So let me re-cap to see if I understand correctly. Since the salary was cut, you have been able to train the same number of small group leaders each year, double the offerings in your church and you are 10 times more effective in evangelism. Can you explain to me how the ministry of the church has suffered by not receiving salaries?”
This spontaneous interaction illustrates some ways the use of outside funding can undermine kingdom growth and hinder true generational disciple- making and church multiplication. Though it embarrassed the leader involved, it profoundly impacted many of those present.
Outside funding of local church leaders to carry out the normal operations of a local church undermined the connection between the local members and their local leadership. Outside funding reduced local giving as people did not see the need to give when easier-found money could be had.1  Local ownership of the church’s ministry life was reduced by the presence of outside donors. Not mentioned in that meeting was the additional fact that the pastoral support came with conditions and expectations on the denomination and the local church.
I have observed these and other negative dynamics caused by outside salaries at the local church level in dozens of churches around that country. No one pretends money has no role in ministry and the launching of many churches. However, the source of money and the way money is used will have a profound impact on what happens. Introducing outside funding to local churches for those churches to carry out their basic functions as a church will nearly always undermine movement.
Other movement catalysts around the world have reached similar conclusions, concerning some good ways and some bad ways to use outside money in catalyzing movements. David Hunt, based on his research and close connection to movements in Africa, points out that outside funding can easily introduce foreignness into a ministry. That, in turn, can undermine a movement and local ownership.
If the church receives support, either in the form of support for the local church planter   or pastor, … then the model of church carries  a foreign element. Foreign funding of church buildings has meant the community received something they could not produce all by themselves. For the church to replicate this in the next community, it must wait for additional support from outside.2
A second example comes from Wayne Allen’s doctoral research on the impact of subsidizing national church workers in Indonesia. He concluded that “the growth of the national church plateaued or halted when the mission  began  to  subsidize the national church workers.”3 This presents a  sober warning to all who are serious about the multiplication of churches.

Some uses of outside funds nearly always undermine the potential for a movement. These should be avoided:

  1. Salaries or salary subsidies for pastors or church leaders so they can carry out the basic functions of a local church (Acts 2:36-42). Such basic functions include but are not limited to evangelism, discipleship and regular worship services.
  2. Funding local church buildings, including constructing extensions to the homes of house church leaders to increase the meeting room size.
  3. Renting facilities for local churches to meet.
  4.  Sending church leaders for multiple years of residential Bible school or seminary in another region or another country. Most of those who do this have been trained out of their usefulness in the village pioneer work where they came from, and a large number never return to their unreached area to pioneer new works, but rather seek out paid church staff positions, for which their seminary training prepared them.
  5.  Activities which a local church has already funded themselves, but a donor wants to see done more quickly or more widely. We have found it much healthier to allow ministries to grow at a rate that local leaders can handle. Funding done to accelerate activities has resulted in short-term gains, but unfortunately, this establishes a pattern of thinking that things can only happen when an outside donor is driving things along.
  6.  These five funding activities have at times given a short-term boost, but in every case we know of, set down unreproducible patterns, undermined local churches’ ownership and responsibility, and created unsustainable patterns in the multiplication of disciples and churches. Put another way, the DNA of these funding efforts runs counter to real multiplication of disciples and churches.


Some uses of outside funds have consistently helped movements start or expand.

Based  on  interviews  with  movement  leaders and personal experience, here are some uses of outside funding that have proven to help catalyze movements:
1. Training  in the core paradigms and practices  of disciple and church multiplication. When funding multiplication training, always require a local contribution. For example, a local host church could provide housing and food, and participants could contribute food or funds. Movement leaders should be trained locally and on the job. Short term extension learning, which keeps movement practitioners in their context and actively engaged in ministry, has also proven helpful.
2. Travel money and some incidentals to  help area or regional community of practice groups meet on a regular basis for training input, problem solving and encouragement. The cross pollination at these sharpening times has consistently been a boost to seeing movements launch and expand.
3. Low-cost equipment such as small speakers used with SD cards, audio oral Bibles, and printed Scripture or Scripture portions.
4. Simple reproducible entry strategies to establish relationships in unreached areas or communities where there is no prior connection. Movements expand primarily along relational lines but will also need to discover access entry strategies into areas where there is no prior relationship. Connecting with communities in pioneer settings in order to share the gospel may require some funding. Care is needed not to create expensive or complex entry approaches which cannot be reproduced by others. Reproducible entry strategies are those that average local believers and simple churches can copy and utilize in many locations.
5. Disaster relief funds for specified activities and for a limited period of time. After a disaster such as famine, tsunami, earthquake, war, or epidemic, many needs and opportunities arise that can become very fruitful for finding Persons of Peace and establishing new groups and simple churches. Many movements report that the heroic efforts of their members, which were funded largely from local funds and  some outside funding, during the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to greater fruitfulness than in previous years.
6. Pioneer settings may present a need to place workers to catalyze movement. One fruitful approach has been one-time funding to send mature movement leaders and  their  families to establish business start-ups. These not only support the family but have generated profits to help establish other similar pioneer start-ups.
7. Projects that support catalyzing movement, but clearly lie beyond the skill level and/or finances of a local simple church or church network. Some examples would be Bible translation, producing media such as the Jesus film, or creating online media for  movements.  Effort  is  still  needed to foster initiative and ownership by any local churches that will benefit from such a project.
8. Financial subsidy and travel money for proven church multipliers, multiplication trainers and regional catalysts. These three roles are described in the “five levels of leadership” often seen in catalyzing movements. See Steve Addison4 and Nathan Shank’s5 writings which have developed these concepts. We have found outside funding helpful at these three levels. However, introducing funding for local people to do evangelism and gather a church in their local area (seed sowers and church-planters) has consistently been detrimental, as this article’s opening story illustrates.
9. From lessons learned in Bangladesh, Richard Reach6 shares that it is essential to establish a local committee for financial accountability when outside foreign funding is used. The outside liaison or donor needs to develop and maintain close personal relationships with those receiving funds, and to insist on accountability. Accountability needs to be adapted to the local cultural context rather than just exporting  strict Western standards of finance, lest the relationships involved derail.
Movements thrive when local disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit, spontaneously take the gospel to family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. In order for the kingdom to expand through spontaneous initiative, an outside catalyst needs to allow space for local insiders to pursue God’s mission. Spontaneous multiplication of disciples happens best through the abilities and financial resources of the local church and believers. For that reason, we need to seriously avoid uses of outside funding which undermine potential for a movement, and limit funding to uses which have shown potential to help a movement start or expand.

For further reading:

Corbett, Steve, and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012.
Reach, Richard. Movements that Move: Seven Root Principles Driving Movements. St Charles, IL: Church Smart Resources, 2016.
Lupton, Robert D. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2012.
Saint, Steve. The Great Omission: Fulfilling Christ’s Commission Completely. Edmonds, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2001. See chapter 7: “Money Matters More than You Know.”
Schwartz, Glenn. When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement. Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2007.
  1. Stout, Ken (2008). MA Thesis: Fostering Sustainability & Minimizing Dependency in Mission Finances. 1-2.

  2. 2 Hunt, David F. (2009). Doctoral dissertation: A Revolution in Church Multiplication in East Africa: Transformational Leaders Develop a Self-Sustainable Model of Rapid Church Multiplication. 114

  3. 3 Allen, Wayne. “When the Mission Pays the Pastor.” Mission Frontiers, January-February1999.

  4. 4 Addison, Steve. Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies Disciples and Churches. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2015

  5. 5 Shank, Nathan. “5 Levels of Movement Leadership” Mission Frontiers, March-April 2016. 25-27

  6. 6 Personal interview, January 2016

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Can You Make Disciples Without Accountability?

Can You Make Disciples Without Accountability?
""My job is to honestly preach the Word, not to hold people accountable," said the slightly defensive Christian leader to my friend. It is a common perception among us pastors. A hands-off approach lets us off the hook. We say things like; "I will do my part, God will do His." Or "Everyone has free will. Our job is to give them the gospel (information), they choose what they want to do with it."

There is truth to these statements. Where we go wrong is when we label the above as discipleship. Is the idea of “live and let live,” a biblical approach to discipleship? Is a “you do you” worldview taking precedence over living and ministering like Jesus?

It’s not easy to hold people accountable for obeying Jesus’ words. Rather than hearing, knowing, and being able to say the right Christian things, God calls us to be doers of His Word (James 1:22).

I sometimes struggle to be accountable, even to myself. I set goals that are quickly thrown out. New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by the second or third week of January. If we can’t hold ourselves accountable, how can we hold others accountable for obedience? There are no easy, pat answers.

Friendly Accountability

I choose to use the term “friendly accountability.” Our efforts to call to obedience must not be heavy- handed. Disciple-making should be friendly and based on relationships of love and safety. This friendly accountability, however, is critical to seeing a movement grow deep and fast. It is biblical. It was how Jesus made disciples. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Engaging Crowds vs. Making Disciples

When Jesus taught the crowds He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Our Lord didn’t preach many sermons. When He did, it was up to those who heard Him to decide if they wanted to put those things into practice. The same was true when He told short stories or parables. People chose to follow and learn more…or not.

When engaging a crowd, it's’ tough to provide accountability. If you are preaching to 3,000 it is humanly impossible to know how they are applying your messages. This has never been more true. Many Christians are listening and learning through podcasts, online services or sitting in a large auditorium listening to a professional preacher. This is becoming not only Western but a global trend. We need to be careful not to mistake what is happening in those contexts for discipleship.

Teaching and preaching are not the same as disciple- making. They can be a part of the big picture of a person’s spiritual growth, no doubt. They do not replace the vital task of making disciples. Without disciple- making, we cannot fulfill the Great Commission. And without accountability, disciples will not be made. Disciple-making requires deep, close-up relationships of trust, vulnerability, and safety.

Where Did Jesus Invest Most of His Time?

Pastoral ministry today focuses on preparing a weekly 30-40 minute highly professional, polished speech. If you get that right, you’ll draw crowds. Oh, and don’t forget: you also need to know how to manage social media, create a platform and hire a top-notch worship leader who can pull together a quality band. As lead pastor you manage all of this, much like the CEO of a company does.

This is not necessarily the way we aspire to do ministry. At times it feels as if we have little or no choice. If we don’t do this, how will we fill the pews and get people to pay their tithes and offerings? It seems to be what people want and expect. Is there a different way?
Even as we supposedly pursue Disciple Making Movements, these pressures and mindsets easily slip in. We must look to Jesus and how He worked. Where did He invest time? Was it in running programs, managing staff, creating His persona and platform, and fine-tuning the delivery of His speeches?

Jesus invested the majority of His time in two things: interacting with lost people and training His disciples. I wonder why we don't follow His example.

Train Them To Do What You

The topic of this article is friendly accountability in disciple-making, so we won’t look too much more here at how Jesus interacted with the lost. Suffice it to say that He did. He spent much time with them. Most of His miracles, parables and ministry were focused on reaching lost people. He went out among them, walked with them, visited them in homes, met them in the marketplace and called them to follow Him.

After they started following Him, what did He do? He trained them to do what He did. Jesus invested in deep relationships, long conversations, and  took His disciples with Him to watch, learn and participate in what He was doing.

How often do we bring someone along with us? Because much of our “ministry” is writing emails, creating sermons and doing administration, it’s not that easy to “bring someone along.” If we want to make disciples, we need to change what we put our focus on. We must find ways to develop and mentor, to let others watch, then assist us. Then we can send them to go and do on their own, reporting back.

Model For Training Disciple-Makers

In Luke chapters 9 and 10, Jesus sent out the disciples to the surrounding villages. They were to go ahead of Him to prepare the way. They were to look for Persons of Peace and to heal the sick and cast out demons. Afterward, they were to return to Him and give a report. In doing this, Jesus provided a model for us of how to train disciple-makers.

Jesus first showed them how to do these things. The twelve followed Him, watching Him heal the sick and cast out demons. They saw Him minister peace and hope to those He met.

The time came when they needed to stop watching and start doing it themselves. Jesus then sent them out.

At what point do we send people out? Let it be sooner, rather than later. We wait far too long to invite people to go and do. If obedience-based disciple-making is our practice, it involves much sending. We train a little and send a lot.

Disciple-Making Approaches Multiply Trainees

After the disciples returned and reported back, they were sent out again  in  greater  numbers.  One would assume that some of those who went  in Luke 10 (the 72) had come to follow Christ as a result of what had happened in Luke 9. Take note. The multiplication of committed disciples is taking place, not only of crowds.

Jesus calls them to deny themselves (Luke 9:23-26 and 57-62) to a higher level of accountability to proclaim the kingdom to others.

Five Problems With Our Current Discipleship Model

1. We are afraid to call people to become disciples.

Jesus wasn’t. He boldly confronted the casual follower who proclaimed allegiance. “I will follow you wherever you go,” they said. Jesus answered by making clear the cost involved in becoming His disciple.

Our Lord didn’t try to make it easy. He wanted potential disciples to count  the  cost.  Our  focus so often is on church attendance. It is the metric used to measure success. When we use that as our standard, what people do with what they hear is not our concern. This must change. Jesus’ kingdom is not made up of church adherents or Instagram followers. It is built on committed disciples of Christ who walk in obedience to His commands and are consistently growing in their allegiance to Him.

If we call people to be accountable, to actually “put into practice” what Jesus taught, some may leave. They might not like us or come to our church anymore. This is a risk we must be willing to take to obey Christ’s command to make disciples of all

2. The church-building-based model lends itself to walk-in, walk-out Christianity.

In pre-covid days, mega-churches provided the perfect place for a casual Christian to feel comfortable. You could go to church, park in the parking lot, slip in, sit in the back few rows of a darkened auditorium, slip out, and go for lunch. You barely needed to do more than greet the greeters at the door.

Post-covid (can we even say that yet?), it’s even worse. Online sermons suffice. You can even skip the worship if you want and go straight to the message (or vice-versa). I’m not accusing, just stating the facts about our current situation.

In our “new normal” where does  disciple-making happen? We walk in and do our weekly Christian duty,  and walk out emotionally stirred  or entertained, but with no accountability to apply what we have heard. Sadly, this model, so common in the West, has been exported across the globe. It is having devastating effects on discipleship. We must rethink our models if we want to see movements multiply. Resist the influence of the models around you and look to Christ’s example.

3. We don't make time to model ministry and train disciples.

Seminary and Bible college training has been focused on knowledge more than ministry skills— including disciple-making. If you know the right thing you will be able to do the right thing, we assume. It's not so. Again, this model of training ministers has influenced Christianity worldwide.

Jesus trained His disciples up close and personal. They walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, and joined Him in healing the sick, casting out demons and proclaiming God’s kingdom to the lost.

Christian clergy, myself at times included, are too busy with ministerial duties to train disciples this way. We settle for something less…the transfer of knowledge. How do we change?

Is there a young person you could invite to walk, talk, eat and do ministry by your side? A new believer you could show how to share their testimony with a person at the gas station? Then perhaps you could ask them to go share with the next person they meet while you watch, pray and encourage? Let’s get out of the classroom transfer of knowledge and train disciples to obey Christ.

Are there times when you would normally teach, that you could instead practice ministry skills with those you are training? Or perhaps open the door for others to teach part of the lesson/message rather than being the “sage on the stage” all the time?

Those who see Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) are those who learn to train, not only teach, their disciples.

4. The emphasis is not on the priesthood of all believers, nor our responsibility to train all to minister.

This cannot be overstated or too often repeated. We must train all to reach all. Every Jesus follower must grow in confidence and competence in disciple- making. Why? Because Jesus’ command is for all who follow His way. It's not only for us as ordained clergy.
We get stuck in an Old Testament pattern of operating. The clergy/laity divide is almost as strong today as the separation between  Levites and ordinary Jews was in the Old Testament. Jesus came to change that, to establish a New Covenant. Let’s embrace and operate  in  a  New Testament  understanding of the priesthood of all believers. That means we have a responsibility to pass on what we know to others, to develop and make room for the practice and exercise of their spiritual gifts.

In DMMs, every believer is given opportunity and responsibility. Because groups and churches meet in homes or shops these groups are small. Everyone gets a chance to talk, to pray, to interact with Scripture. They exercise their spiritual gifts and are constantly stretched to trust God to release those gifts to them.

5. Friendly accountability is essential, but how do we get there?

Turning the tide is difficult. Our Christian culture is strongly established. We have trained people to sit in pews, to be entertained rather than teaching them to obey. Because we don’t expect application from those we teach, we don't get it. Seriously, when you preach a sermon, what percentage do you expect to even remember it a week later? Let alone apply it and pass it on to others? It may be difficult, but we have to start somewhere. The ship has to turn.

Suggestions for Turning Our Discipleship Model Around

Following are a few ideas for how we could begin to turn what we have called discipleship into effective, multiplicative disciple-making.

A. Find two new believers or young people and commit to spending time with them regularly.

Look for ways to invite them into your life and home. Open doors for them to minister beside  you. Take them along when you visit a neighbor or relative’s house. Let them watch you start a spiritual conversation or initiate prayer for someone who is sick. Show them how to do the work of the ministry, rather than just teaching them more about it.

B. Teach, preach and train with accountability.

I am blessed to be from a wonderful church in Minnesota. Our pastor uses the phrase “Now what?” with each message. There is a built-in application. I love this! The only thing missing is the accountability loop.

The following week, before starting into a new topic, we’d see more obedience if we started by sharing with our neighbor what we did with last week’s “Now what?” Then, if only a handful had applied it, maybe the message should be repeated rather than going on with more head knowledge that hasn’t been put into practice. That would be discipleship, not just preaching.

C. Develop places for safety and experimentation in ministry.

Cultivate small group life and community in your church or DMM. Train group leaders to share their struggles in vulnerability and humility. Model this yourself. Find a way to make it safe to be authentic, while also upholding a culture of accountability to obedience.

In disciple-making groups, be they DBS or T4T style groups, everyone is heard and everyone learns together. These groups only work well if there is safety. Accountability to applying and sharing the story or passage must be there, but it has to feel safe to say, "I didn’t share with anyone this week.” This can be tricky.

One of the best ways to do this is to be accountable as the leader. When  you  fail, be honest about  it, and ask for prayer to go do better next week. Demonstrate that you are obeying, sharing, and being transformed by God’s Word. As you do this, others will follow. We started this article with the question. Can you make disciples without accountability? I hope you found an answer. Answers are not what we need, however. We need to go and do things differently.

What is one key thing you can do this week to increase the level of friendly accountability in the way you make disciples?

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Understanding Our Time

Understanding Our Time

As I noted in the last issue of MF, we are each a product of a mixture of influences. The answer to the age-old question “was it nurture or environment” is: yes – both. And lots of other things come to mind when we consider what environment means for us. In this issue, I’d like to apply the idea to how we strategize for mission.

When we, as believers, seek to reach others who don’t know Him yet, our underlying values come through strongly. They have impacted who we are, how we think and they feed our vision and strategy.

We are all exposed to leaders as models – good and bad. Some are held up in each culture as those who can be admired as good examples – though not perfect of course. People like Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple), or those of a previous generation like George Patton (WW2 General), or Lee Iacocca (CEO of Ford and later Chrysler) are just a few examples. These were no nonsense visionaries, strategists and/or managers who pushed hard through barriers of different kinds to accomplish their goals. Phrases like “Damn the torpedoes,” or “So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there,” or “Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do.”

These kinds of leaders and the way they lead impact the cultures that lift them up as examples. So we should not be surprised that some in the western mission world cast vision like a western CEO. We are told that leaders must have a simple, clear, oft-repeated vision, not to mention a focused branding! When it gets down to a local or even national missions event, it can be expressed in phrases such as: “we can do this” … “get ‘er done” … “the task can be completed” … and there is truth in those ideas.

Almost 40 years ago, when I first joined the staff of the U.S. Center for World Mission (now Frontier Ventures), we began to shift how we talked about our vision. Before, we talked about a massive task, using an illustration of a huge iceberg – where the task was represented by the 2/3 of the ice that is under water – we can’t see it fully. In the 80s we popularized the phrase “Church for every people by the year 2,000.” While there is truth in the idea that we can’t see or understand the task clearly still, as we saw more of what God was doing around the world, we began to be more positive. There were books published such as On the Crest of the Wave or  Catch the Vision 2,000. Even as we reconsidered our approach in those early days, we did not know about the massive growth of the House Church movement in China, for example.

As we grow in our understanding of God, His Word and the work of the Spirit, we must:

  1. See our own blind spots.
  2. Reflect on how that impacts how we think, and act in relation to the world.

As I reflect, I realize there were events in my own nation which are not part of my “education.” Our treatment of the 1st Nation’s Peoples was a form of colonialism within our boarders. It was real right here, and, as with other aspects of our background, it has shaped our mentality. We are forced to consider how Jesus approached life, leadership and the powers of His day. He demonstrated love and humility, which flowed in and through His life as He served and appropriately challenged the systems of His day. I find it interesting, that it was the serious religious people for whom He reserved His greatest criticism.

But even if we approach people like Jesus, we must consider that those we are serving expect people from the West to be like everyone else in the West – whatever their stereotype is. Often, that includes a colonial past and a sense that while we are no longer trying to colonize the countries of world, we are still seen as those who come to bring a foreign religion. We know that biblical faith is not Western, but they may not.

As we strategize to reach least reached peoples, we must consider what the people sitting with us think. I’m glad to say that I see evidence of this in an increasing number of global workers today. We come with a mentality of coming alongside as witnesses of what has happened in our lives because of Jesus.

I hope we’ve learned lessons from the lessons we need to unlearn. 

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Lifting, Pushing, Squeezing and Blending The Dynamics of Ethnicity and Globalization

Lifting, Pushing, Squeezing and Blending The Dynamics of Ethnicity and Globalization

An emphasis on “people groups” has become a common way to map our mission to the world. It was not always so. When Donald McGavran emerged from caste-ridden India in the 1960s, evangelicals were confronted anew with the strategic role of social and cultural boundaries in world evangelization. The persistent individualism at the core of our Western gospel made many nervous at the idea that large, ethnically homogenous peoples could move so quickly and powerfully towards the gospel. The idea of group conversion remained suspect. Then, in 1974, when Ralph Winter used this controversial idea to map a new demography of “unreached” peoples, the idea of “people groups” began to find its place in mission vernacular.

But the concept of people groups has always met with “friendly fire” from missionaries and mission anthropologists who have served among these unreached peoples. Their profound critiques call us to reassess whether the social and cultural boundaries that define people groups will persist in today’s shrinking world. The recent publication of Paul Hiebert’s last two books provides one of the most comprehensive frameworks for this reassessment.1 His rich, eclectic and nuanced anthropology probes the way modern social processes impact the distinctive boundaries of peoples across the world. And “people group” thinking is maturing as it absorbs these modern trends.

This topic reminds me of a conversation I had on the edge of the Sahara Desert. I rode with the son of a 90-year-old camel driver who had led caravans 11 times across the Sahara to Timbouctou. This son was raised with the same set of skills, but he had learned English amidst the burgeoning tourist industry, and he had recently married a European tourist.  He was on his way to Europe, where she awaited. I happened to mention that I had made friends with some from his “Berougi” (people from the desert) years earlier when I worked in a city adjacent to his region. He immediately seemed uncomfortable and corrected my use of this ethnic term “Berougi.” His people were not just from the desert, but they were exclusively from a prestigious lineage in the desert. He and the “Berougi” were very reluctant to visit these cities where I had worked because of all the prejudice they had experienced there. Forced by the crisis of drought to leave their desert trade, it was easier for them (and for him) to access another part of the globe than to contend with a cultural firewall a few hundred miles away.

This young man represents the massive migrations and  dispersions  of  peoples  across  the  world.  In the “push and pull” of this young man’s story, I notice the interface of two social realities: ethnicity and globalization. The mixture of these two contested concepts is a new focus of many mission anthropologists, for together they seem to provide a new way to exegete the complex field of relations in and around people groups. Ethnicity refers to culture, a peoples’ corporate sense of tradition, of shared value, belief and habit. Globalization, on the other hand, addresses the context of global change, and one’s sense of place in  the  flow  of  it  all.  The convergence leads to the new “glocal” reality, and I could see it in this young camel driver’s story. He carried both an ethnic identity with his people and a new relational link to a globalized world.

Everybody’s trying to get their arms around this idea of globalization. Thomas Friedman calls it that “inexorable integration of markets, nation- states and technologies” that enables us “to reach around the world farther, faster, and cheaper than ever before.”2 It flattens our world. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek suggests it’s a “Post-American World,” where the processes historically identified with “the rise of the West” now include “the rise of the Rest.”3

The original Western carriers of education, media and technology have been decentralized into initiatives from other parts of the globe. Whatever the definition, globalization gives us a sense that modernity has shifted into overdrive.

So, do the ethnic boundaries of people groups persist, or does globalization rupture and flatten people groups into another social reality? I’d like to exegete four processes or effects of globalization on peoples of the world. They’re  tossed around  by social scientists, but we see them all the time. They can be highly theoretical, so let me begin with another snapshot.

I can recall my initial idea of the Muslim people group I entered years ago: tribal, noble, a corporate sense of destiny and a coherent sense of religious tradition. My mental map held for a few weeks before adjustments began. I was rummaging through the old marketplace one day  when I came across an ancient-looking gateway. Over the threshold it said, “Dior Shyukh” (the Houses of the Sheikhs). I discovered that 60 years earlier this had been the seat of government for the entire tribal confederation. Now it was run-down, forgotten and not even a tourist stop. My wife would tell me that all the women at the public bath knew where judgment was now handed down. They would gossip the latest intrigues from across that mountain town, and inevitably it all fastened on either the new courthouse or city hall. Modern institutions had grafted themselves onto  this “people group.” What initially seemed culturally solid, bounded and corporate was actually looser, fragmented and conflicted.


First, there is a hint here of what Anthony Giddens calls the “lifting out” of local relations.4 The global reach of modern systems is pervasive; these systems begin to subtly redirect the trust persons have traditionally placed in local face-to-face commitments. Making a call on a cell phone, getting water from the kitchen sink or going to the bank are all actions which imply a realignment of trust towards modern, global systems. Consequently, trust in traditional relations slowly surrenders its grip to faceless and anonymous global systems. One is gradually lifted out of what was once a more inclusive sense of people group.


Second, there’s the “push down” effect.5 Globalization doesn’t just pull you up and out, it presses down and creates new demand for ethnic autonomy. It makes the boundaries of people groups become more salient. This downward pressure has been a major catalyst in the astounding revival of local ethnic identities in recent decades (which really surprised mainline social science). When the lid comes off, as it did in Yugoslavia with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it exposes the reality of this “push down” effect. The nature of the ethnic explosion between Serbian, Croat and Bosnian Muslim is manifest in similar ways across a swath of nations in recent decades.
I could see this downward pressure in the Kurdish region I visited. Here’s an entire region of displaced Muslims who had to flee the genocidal onslaught of Saddam Hussein. A “no-fly zone” granted them security, and they had come out of the hills to reestablish their worlds. Amidst the displacement and fragmentations, there was a resurgence of ethnic identity. Boom-town cities were expanding, with new high-rise buildings everywhere. I noted that one tribal group of 20,000 had relocated and settled together in a suburban area, keeping intact their sense of tribal identity and traditional tribal leadership after 25 years of exile. Their ethnic autonomy isn’t melting down.


Third, globalization can “squeeze sideways.” Amidst the pressure of global systems, a single meaningful aspect of a peoples’ identity can move laterally and link itself with others who share the same aspect. Economists note this in new economic zones, but by far the most vital aspect of identity that squeezes sideways is religious. The religious core of ethnicity intensifies and moves sideways, galvanizing large religious association. We’ve seen how the recent radical “Islamic jihad” forges together Muslims from all over the globe. What fuels this? It could be that abstract and impersonal global systems fail to provide the psychological reward that comes with personal face-to-face ties. Religion becomes the means by which people “re-imbed” themselves in meaningful relations. We see the markers of this broad ethno-religious identity almost everywhere.
How else can one explain the teenage Muslim girl at our local high school whose head is fully covered, but who wears a halter-top and tight cut-off shorts and who hums to the cadence of a heavy metal Middle Eastern tune on her iPod?


All these effects contribute to a fourth, “blending” effect, what social scientists call “hybridity”, or “hybridities” since we see it in many forms and combinations.6  In mission circles this subject of hybridity began with the observation that large people movements for Christ happened in rural settings, not in urban settings. In the city the inclusive categories of family, clan, and tribe were more complicated as people joined, attended or aligned themselves with modern institutions and associations. The religion and culture of people groups is intersected by new educational and vocational affiliations. And it’s in the urban environment that people feel the hyper- effects of global “lifting out,” “pushing down” and “squeezing sideways.” Ethnicity doesn’t necessarily disappear, it just gets compartmentalized as people construct their identities.

So what are we to conclude? Do these effects add up to anything we can calculate or map out? I’m not the one to prognosticate, so I won’t. But on the field, I have found that understanding these processes and effects helps me to better understand the intentions and reactions of Muslim peoples among whom I’ve served. So allow me to venture just three modest observations.

First, I think we can expect that ethnicity will have a new intensity in light of globalization. It will hold, but among many peoples it will hold differently. Ethnicity will be held more deliberately, more defensively, even more defiantly. In the congestion and pressure of globalization, peoples will continue to construct their social boundaries, but  even  more so. The forces of globalization may continue to be successful in assimilating traditional worlds to modern life. But we should anticipate a kick- back effect, where people recreate a lost ethnicity in reaction to the psychological homelessness of modern life?

Second, I concur with Robert Priest that it’s not a time to relax our anthropological analyses. On the contrary, more sophisticated tools are needed to inform mission practice.7

Third, let’s remember that our motive for sifting and sorting mankind is to honor and obey the God who created every people, “who determined the times set for them, and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26,27).

  1. 1 Paul Hiebert, The Gospel in Human Contexts, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2009.

  2. 2 Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, N.Y., 2005.

  3. 3 Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World, W.W.Norton, N.Y., 2008.

  4. 4 Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Blackwell, U.K. 1990, p. 21.

  5. Anthony Giddens, Runaway World, Routledge, N.Y., 2009, p. 13.

  6. Ted C. Lewellen, The Anthropology of Globalization, Bergin & Garvey, 2002, p. 98.

  7. Brian Howell and Edwin Zehner, Power and Identity in the Global Church, William Carey Library, 2009, p.185.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Reimagining & Re-envisioning People Groups

Reimagining & Re-envisioning People Groups
In the sweeping narrative of Scripture, the focus of God’s self-disclosure is the peoples of the world. The biblical image of “the people of God” makes sense only against the background of a tempestuous mix of other “peoples,” from which God selects one “holy nation” (Israel)—“you above all peoples” (Deuteronomy 10:15).1  His ultimate purpose, however, is to dwell among a people from “all the families of the nations” (Psalm 22:27; 96:7; Revelation 7:9). “For once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10). From the standpoint of creation, redemption and eternity, a world full of “peoples” reflects God’s beauty, creativity, and love.

Rethinking people groups does not mean eliminating the concept but reimagining and re-envisioning it in light of twenty-first century realities. The essence of my discussion here is reflexive, consciously acknowledging our assumptions and preconceptions. It is also corrective, addressed not to critics but to those of us who embrace and advocate UPG missiology. In this article, I explore ways to reimagine people groups through an upgraded understanding  of  the  concept  itself  and  suggest steps to re-envision the UPG approach in order to maximize efforts to reach all peoples.2

Understanding “People Groups”

However, nuanced in the minds of mission scholars, popularly and in practice, “unreached people groups” are primarily “ethno-linguistic” in nature. Criteria related  to ethnicity and language dominate.3 This is reflected  in databases where a “people group” is defined as “an ethno-linguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members.”4

The shorthand definition has advantages. It is easily communicated and marketed. “Peoples” as “ethnic groups” can be named, profiled, objectified, enumerated, and portrayed in pictures, videos and media. Another advantage is the appearance  of  an  uncomplicated  “this equals that” correspondence with  Scripture:  every identifiable ethnic people and language today5 is represented in the eschatological multitude (Revelation 7:9; 5:9). This is highly motivational.

One obvious problem, recognized by Ralph Winter, is that from the beginning, the “people group” concept was intended to include “socio-peoples”—groups formed on the basis of other affinities like “shared interest, activity, or occupation.6 Can we really envision these “shared interest” groups in the heavenly throng? While this is evangelistically pragmatic, I suggest it is an interpretive leap, and thus an imaginative mandate.

While ethno-linguistic groups provide a helpful baseline, we need to look at the challenge of reimagining “ethnicity,” “ethnic groups” and “ethnic  identity”  in light of more recent thinking. Given the primary UPG orientation toward “ethno-linguistic,” that is the focus of this discussion.7 Historically within the social sciences, understandings of ethnicity can be summarized into three general categories: primordialist,instrumentalist and constructivist.


In this view, ethnicity is understood as having a real, tangible foundation, based either on kinship and sociobiological factors, or on shared cultural traits, practices, and history. We could say that, for the former, ethnicity is “in the heart” or “in the blood,” and for the second, ethnicity is “in the cultural stuff”—distinctive “traits” or “surface markers” of identity (language, dress, food, etc.). The “in the heart” or “in the blood” approach is commonly emic, i.e. how peoples see themselves. Ethnic groups are viewed as “quasi-kinship” or “extended kin” groups.8

Historically viewed as primordial and fixed, ethnic groups were objectified, documented, and categorized (e.g., “martial races”). Elements of their heritage and culture (including material culture) were institutionalized, sometimes immortalized, in books, journals, ethnographies, histories, memoirs, short stories, movies, and museums.9


Fredrik Barth’s seminal work Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (1969) marked a turning point and “shift from a static to interactional approaches to ethnicity.”10 Barth “abandons the notion that cultures are clearly bounded, separated and homogeneous units.”11 The focus is not on cultural traits, but on dynamic interactions, ways people embrace, constrain, act on and experience ethnicity, and “imagine the ethnic community.” Individuals choose and change their ethnic identity, particularly at the boundaries between groups.

In this view, ethnicity functions as a tool, an aspect of the way people organize themselves depending on social circumstances.12 Individuals and groups are actors, versus merely passive recipients of “culture” or heritage. They use cultural resources to pursue personal or communal advantage in particular settings and contexts. This focus reveals that “ethnic groups and their features are produced under particular interactional, historical, economic and political circumstances; they are highly situational, not primordial.”13


Barth’s work led to greater emphasis on the contextual and situational processes of ethnic identity. Ethnicity can be mobilized contextually and situationally, “in the contexts of different ‘levels’ and ‘contextual horizons.’ ”14 Identities are reconstituted, negotiated and contested in a dynamic process of self-other interaction.

Both the instrumentalist and constructivist approaches reflect a post-modern view of culture. Identities are socially constructed, not fixed but changeable (within certain constraints).15  Individuals maintain multiple identities and use ethnicity as a set of “diacritic” or “distinguishing markers” and tools for social engagement.

It is fairly obvious that Christian websites, mission agencies and literature tend to display an unquestioned reliance on the primordialist (“in the blood” and “in   the stuff ”) view of ethnicity, ethnic groups and identity. “People profiles” have become a kind of literary sub- genre!16   Unfortunately, among other problems this static approach too often rests on little or no contemporary ethnographic confirmation.

Mission thought leaders tried to account for complexity (e.g., sociopeoples, unimax, diaspora). But the above considerations are largely absent in the way the UPG movement today organizes data and conceives of peoples. By veiling reality, static categories fail to convey the dynamism and fluidity of UPGs. This sometimes leads to unrefined strategies, engagements  and  priorities.17 In an interconnected, urbanized, globalized, mobile and changing world, we need to re-envision our approach.

Re-envisioning Approaches

Brad Gill, President of the International Society for Frontier Missiology, notes the “new conditions  that  are pressing us to reimagine these frontiers.” Gill calls for a move beyond the “subtle ‘group think’” of our mission organizations, and the language and categories that may “unintentionally restrict our perception” and “blunt our imagination.”18

Toward that end, I suggest we need a new flexible, multi-level model of people groups that works for multiple contextual horizons. We need to reimagine our understandings of UPGs and re-envision strategies for reaching them. I propose four conceptual steps to help us develop a multi-level model and re-envisioned approach.

Triangular Field of Meaning

First, we need a reshaped model of people groups, one that enables us to understand them over a “triangular field of meaning” rather than a single lens.19 Based on our earlier discussion, we can think of ethno-linguistic people groups and identities from three intersecting perspectives, like three corners of a field. See Figure 11.1.

At one corner of the field, ethnicity is seen “in the heart” or “blood” and “in the traits” or “stuff ” of culture. Since, as Geertz reminds us, “cultures are systems of meaning,” we need to take these seriously. Communities find symbolic meaning in notions of\ heritage, land and extended kinship, and elements like language, religion, festivals, food,  dress,  and  music. At another corner, we see “in the head” and “in the relationship,” how individuals/groups use aspects of culture as tools for action, instruments to accomplish social ends. Knowing that ethnic identity is also variable “in the context”—constructed, negotiated, contested, self-assumed or ascribed by others—makes us alert to dynamics “in the situation.”

In order to have a clearer understanding of UPGs, and to devise more appropriate strategies, we must be able to move subtly and adeptly between these three viewpoints. They are not mutually exclusive. Note, too, that this apparent deconstruction does not eliminate “groupness,” but rather reconfigures it more dynamically. To be honest and accurate, ethnicity is also “in the observer’s head” (us): We are using “ethnicity” as an analytical tool to make sense of what we see.20 These etic understandings are appropriate if we are aware of potential biases.

Dynamic Models

Second, we need more dynamic models of people group interaction and social bonding, especially in multi- ethnic, urban and diaspora contexts.

For example, a Kazakh in Turkey preserves Kazakh ethnicity, but  constructs a  Turkish  Kazakh identity. This allows him/her to negotiate more advantageous social connections and a sense of belonging.21 Migration also fosters a more fluid ethnic identity.

Minority Senegalese (e.g., Seereer) in Dakar adopt vernacular “urban Wolof” as the lingua franca. The process of “Wolofization” affects not only language, but also ethnicity. A new “Wolof” identity is constructed, especially among the second generation. As one Pulaar- speaking elementary school teacher reported, “At home I’m Haalpulaar, when I’m in Dakar, I’m Wolof,” This suggests “a new urban identity rather than a switch in ethnicity.” Depending on the context and interaction, residents may reject an ethno-linguistic identifier and simply say, as did one professor, “I’m from Dakar…that’s the new ethnicity now in Senegal, to be from Dakar.”22

A similar dynamic was observed in Afghanistan. “Kabuli” (people from the capital of Kabul) describes a Persianized urban identity that, while not negating ethnic heritage, influences social relationships and values. Kabulis (Pashtun and Tajik) mix freely and have been more receptive to the gospel than their rural cousins.23

Case studies from South Africa, the Netherlands, Mexico, Sweden, the United States, Brazil, Israel, Germany, and Singapore, demonstrate strategies that transnational newcomers and students use to negotiate identity. Some adapt with “situational ethnicity” (hiding or asserting traits situationally). Alternatively, others adopt (or accept an imposed) “hyphenated identity.”24

In each case, adaptive identities both reflect and affect an ethnic community’s interaction with other peoples and the larger society. This has important implications for evangelism and church planting. These dynamics influence a group’s sense of belonging, possibilities for bonding with existing fellowships, and/or the need for new movements or compound models of church.

To illustrate this, imagine from high school chemistry how an element like Oxygen can combine with other elements to form molecules (atoms held together by chemical bonds) See Figure 11.2. (The analogy isn’t perfect, but similarly, we need to envision people groups in a more “combinable” way. With whom, how, when, and in what contexts members of a community affirm “bonds,” develop or reject affinities—these are questions relevant to the disciple making and church planting process.

Like molecules, members of a people group bond with others in different ways, depending on the context.

Note that this dynamism assumes the importance of “place,” sensitivity to context, and the relational and situational character of ethnicity. In some contexts, communal structures are tight. In urban and diaspora settings, people often negotiate relational worlds with feelings of multiple belonging or “hybridity.”  Ethnic and faith identities persist, but may or may not be foregrounded.25

There are no perfect analogies, but for higher levels of data, we need to deploy new conceptual images and sensibilities. We need to discern peoples, places and populations where the gospel has yet to exert its catalytic  force. Pioneer workers must be keen observers and “barefoot ethnographers.” As urban missiologist Alan McMahan puts it, we need to be better “glue sniffers” to figure out the types and strengths of “glue” that hold people together in different networks and contexts.26

Multiple Tiers of Data

Third, re-envisioning people groups requires “ethnographic imagination”27 and multiple tiers of data. The shift from a reductionist, segmented model to one that is multi-perspectival, dynamic, and field based should include:

processes, social chemistry and facts on the ground;
• how commonality (faith, city, ethnic, nationality) is imagined or sought;
• how difference is encountered and dealt with;
• intercultural relationships, bridges and barriers between peoples;
diaspora and transnational connections;
• styles and modes of communication;
• lessons learned from historical efforts and previous approaches;
• current conditions, socio-political change and crises;
receptivity of sub-groups (e.g., youth, immigrants) and associations;
proximate cross-cultural witnesses;
incorporability into existing fellowships and churches;
• associational bridges (believers with organic, relational connections);
media and evangelistic resources;
• ongoing assessments and research;
discernment of what the Holy Spirit is doing.

Obviously, this data is not needed for mobilization. What we know now is sufficient for prayer and obedience!

Greater detail and refinement, what we might call “Second Tier” and “Third Tier” data, take us to a deeper level of understanding and empathy. This is useful for national research, on-site strategy, outreach and church planting. To gather, track, share, and evaluate field-generated knowledge will necessitate data-sharing platforms, secure communications, and greater collaboration in knowledge stewardship. This re-envisioning of information requires a broader range of inputs.28 For security and practical reasons, we cannot “patch” this Second- and Third-Tier information onto our current segmented databases.

This points to another glaring  gap:  By  and  large,  field workers feel divorced from the missiological conversation! Many  workers  complain  that  “nobody is listening” to them. If we are to move forward, it is essential for field workers to map the context. “Often field-based personnel are in the best position to assess whether a people group is adequately engaged, and their relative access to the Gospel…. These contextual ethnographic realities… provide important indicators for new initiatives.”29  Another way to address the disparity is through “Case Studies” that illuminate the complexities of pioneer church planting and provide “thick descriptions” of a people, event, or issue for analysis, training and application.30

A multi-tiered, multi-perspectival database must be functional and flexible; view people groups from multiple contextual horizons; promote communities of learning and practice across organizational lines; and contribute to sandals-on-the-ground fruitfulness. Field accessibility is critical.31

Re-envisioning the People of God

Finally, we need to re-envision the church as the “people of God,” with a shared consciousness that celebrates yet transcends every local identity. We might revitalize this image in relation to incorporability, multi-ethnicity, and church movements.

A Place to Belong

Christian faith is  “embodied”  in  churches.  This is the telos, the end and purpose, of frontier missions: viable, indigenous, growing church movements among all peoples.

The gospel cannot be said to be accessible if church is not accessible. The invitation to believe in Christ is an invitation to receive not only “forgiveness of sins,” but also “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17–18). The church is a place for all peoples (Isaiah 56:6–8; Galatians 3:28;  Ephesians  2:13–16).  “A place to belong” is at the heart of the gospel!

Consequently, for mission purposes, the notion of “unreached peoples” is intrinsically linked to a concept Ralph Winter called “incorporability.”

Thus, for both spiritual and practical reasons, I would be much more pleased to talk about the presence of a church allowing people to be incorporated, or the absence of a  church  leaving  people unincorporable  instead of unreached. I feel it would be better to try to observe, not whether people are “saved” or not or somehow “reached” or not, but first whether an individual has been incorporated in a believing fellowship or not, and secondly, if a person is not incorporated, does he have the opportunity within his cultural tradition to be so incorporated.32

The “opportunity within his cultural tradition to be so incorporated” refers to the presence, or absence, of a truly viable, truly indigenous church. If people cannot be incorporated, if existing fellowships are not accessible—due to “barriers of understanding or acceptance”—to other peoples, then a new version of church is needed.

Ethnic Realities and Evangelistic Potential

We must re-envision “churches” in relation to the peoples around them. In his book Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from India, Donald McGavran, father of the Church Growth Movement, categorized Indian churches there into nine “types.” He described them based on their “varying degrees of ethnicity” as well as their “evangelistic potential,33  their “different relationships to and degrees of acceptance by the ‘yet to believe.’ ”34

The dual concepts of “degrees of ethnicity” and “evangelistic potential” may be useful to re-envision churches in multiethnic and UPG-proximate settings. In Indonesia, an over 150,000-person multiethnic urban conglomerate with contemporary worship in the lingua franca Bahasa Indonesia, includes at least 3,000 Muslim background believers from a UPG!35 But to maximize the “evangelistic potential” of these migrant urbanites requires equipping some to reach out to their ethnic neighbors, and training others to reach back to their ethnic homeland to catalyze vernacular movements.

Church Growth Where There is No Church

We need to re-envision the connection between the frontier missions and the church growth. Amidst the global flow of goods, ideas, and people, mega-, multiethnic, and urban/ regional house church networks are thriving from Argentina and Chile, to Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, as well as the West. Despite common roots and exceptions, the two streams are largely disconnected professionally and missionally.36 Reestablishing synergy and sharing resources would advance an “all peoples” vision.

UPG enthusiasts need to deconstruct categories and recognize that church movements need not be monoethnic to engage and penetrate UPGs. Gospel freedom allows and celebrates, but does not demand, homogeneous ethnic churches. Some church movements involve ethnic blends, with homogeneity in evangelism, and heterogeneity in discipleship. Others facilitate homogeneity in smaller relational circles, and heterogeneity in larger ones. Homogeneity may suit first generation immigrants, but heterogeneity, the children of immigrants (e.g., pan-Asian and pan-Latino churches).

Other churches have an ethnically dominant group plus mixed cultural groups (e.g., Persian, Arab). Mobilizing urban conglomerate churches, house church networks, and proximate believers, and purposefully connecting diaspora disciple making with other frontier initiatives, would help revitalize movement toward UPGs.37


The concept of people groups takes us to the heart of the biblical narrative. The frontier mission movement must reimagine itself in light of global realities, the persistent needs of the unevangelized, and God’s desire for a people from all peoples. We need to upgrade our understandings, envision new dynamic models, and leverage the evangelistic potential of the global church to impact the remaining UPGs.

The frontier mission movement often draws its inspiration from the panorama of radiant worship in Revelation 5:9–10. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee outlines it, the “new song” acclaims the means of his redeeming act (“with your blood”), the effect of that sacrifice (“you purchased for God”), the breadth of redemption (“members of every tribe and language and people and nation”), its goal (“made…to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God…they will reign on the earth”), and God-centered, God-ordained climax,  “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”38 We are invited to respond both with wonder and adoration, and with faithful cruciform witness (Revelation 6:9–11; 19:10) to “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:2; 20:4) before all nations. 


[1] In the social, cultural and historical context of the Old Testament, each “nation” was distinguished by name, ethnicity, language, territory, kingship, history, and a religious system marked by lessor “gods” (idolatry) and depravity. See A. J. Köstenberger, “Nations,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T. D. Alexander and B. S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, electronic ed.), 676. For example, texts from Anatolia (Asia Minor) c. 1700-1200 BC point to a region inhabited by a number of distinct peoples, including the Hittites, Luwians, Palaians, Hurrians, and Hattians. In the Hittite Empire, from the 14th C BCE, “the ethnic and cultural pluralism still increased as the political expansionism added further foreign elements to ‘Hittite’ culture” (Manfred Hutter, “Religion in Hittite Anatolia: Some Comments on ‘Volkert Haas: Geschichte der Hethitischen Religion,’” Numen 44, no. 1 (Jan., 1997): 74–90. Each of these nations “had its own pantheon, and individual cult centres had their own names for deities.” (“Religions of the Hittites, Hattians, and Hurrians,”
[2] Portions of this article are based on my paper “Rethinking Ethnicity: Implications for the People Group Approach,” presented to the Rethinking People Groups Forum, Dallas, TX, September 11, 2019. I wish to express my appreciation to the participants for their helpful comments and feedback.
[3] The first lists were based in part on SIL’s Ethnologue, a catalog of the world’s languages.
[4] Cf. h.ttps:// also based on language and ethnicity, and the geographic distribution of such groups.
[5] The question of the historical genesis, assimilation and disappearance of other people groups is left unanswered.
[6] Ralph Winter tried but failed to prevent the reduction of “people groups” to ethnolinguistic criteria alone. Dave Datema, “Defining ‘Unreached’: A Short History,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 33, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 55. Discussions of UPGs usually include sociopeoples; due to considerations of space, I concentrate on the category of ethnicity. Winter and Koch see strategic value in working with sociopeoples “for preliminary evangelism” as an “intermediate bridge to long-range church planting goals… giving a focus for ministry among a specific sub-set of the larger society as a first step to full-blown church planting.” They consider ethnolinguistic groups primary because of their endurance as endogamous, multi-generational quasi-kinship groups. Ralph D. Winter and Bruce A. Koch, “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge”, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 4th Ed., eds. Ralph D. Winter & Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 535.
[7] For a helpful overview of the significant literature and issues, see Marcus Banks, Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions (London: Routledge, 1996); cf. Richard Jenkins, Rethinking Ethnicity: Arguments and Explorations (London: Sage Publications, 1997; 2nd edition 2008), “Identity” is one of the most widely researched subjects in every field of the social sciences. I use “identity” here as a social category (referring to a set of distinguishable persons), as well as a personal category (individual actors with self-consciousness). Cf. James D. Fearon, “What is Identity (As We Now Use the Word)?”, 1999,
. [8] “Ethnicity,” The assumption that one’s identity is “in the blood” is a driver behind commercials for Discovering they have DNA from multiple sites in Eastern Europe or Africa, a person says, “I was grateful. I just felt more connected to who I am.” The DNA approach actually reinforces the opposite: It’s not really “Who I am” even though one may “feel more connected.” Based on test results, individuals make conscious choices, creating a symbolic ethnic representation of their reconstructed identity using identity “markers” (dress, food, etc.).
[9] Anthropologists and some missiologists today acknowledge the power imbalances that shaped colonial anthropology, the colonialist paradigm of “tribe,” and missionary approaches. Power dynamics continue to influence ethnicities e.g., through the nation state (which “names” and objectifies constituent “minorities”), international bodies, and social institutions (e.g., schools, universities).
[10] Hans Vermeulen and Cora Govers, eds., “Introduction,” The Anthropology of Ethnicity: Beyond “Ethnic Groups and Boundaries” (Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1994), 2 (emph. added).
[11] Vermeulen and Govers, The Anthropology of Ethnicity, 5.
[12] Vermeulen and Cora Govers, The Anthropology of Ethnicity, 2 (emph. added), 1–9; cf. Richard E. Blanton’s discussion of Barth’s in-group and between-group “visual signaling,” i.e. ethnic-specific behaviors constitute “a system of signals” to establish a boundary difference between groups, and to confirm belonging and commitment to the value-orientations of the community, in “Theories of ethnicity and the dynamics of ethnic change in multiethnic societies,” PNAS 112, no. 30 (July 28, 2015): 9177. Cf. h.ttp://
[13] Vermeulen and Govers, The Anthropology of Ethnicity, 12, emph. added. See Ronald Cohen, “Ethnicity: Problem and Focus in Anthropology,” Annual Review of Anthropology 7 (October 1978): 379–403,
. [14] “Ethnicity,”
[15] Since ethnic identity involves ascription, what others acknowledge or recognize, constraints related to heritage and cultural “givens” may apply, e.g., a Punjabi is unlikely to be accepted as Afghan.
[16] Buttressed by stereotypic descriptions of shared “traits,” some attractive (e.g., “generous hospitality,” “colorful dress,” “love music and dance”), and others from the “dark side” (e.g., “fierce warriors”, deceit, blood feuds, seclusion of women), these caricatures are presumed to be relevant to mobilization, prayer and compassion. In one case, researchers cited Wikipedia as the major source of their information on a people group. A quick check revealed that over 90% of the Wikipedia citations were from newspapers and magazines. Other (readily available) scholarly sources (e.g., peer reviewed articles, books, ethnographies, dissertations and theses, etc.) were neglected.
[17] This is not to disparage well-intentioned efforts to describe UPGs that have fostered awareness and global prayer. Some have argued that, however inaccurate or static, “Something is better than nothing! We do not have to pray ‘with our understanding’ in order to be heard!” The problem is what happens next: bad information—inaccurate, insufficient, un- or misinformed, distorted, stereotypical or promotion-driven—can lead to mis-guided agency decisions, wasted efforts and funding, unwise field initiatives, and unintended consequences among the peoples we aspire to reach.
[18] Brad Gill, “Reimagining Frontier Mission,” IJFM 36, no. 3 (Fall 2019): 111–118; cf. “ISFM 2019 and the “Reimagining of Frontier Mission,” IJFM 36, no. 4 (Winter 2019): 161–2.
[19] This phrase is borrowed from M.A. Seifrid’s explanation of the Pauline phrase “In Christ” as moving within a “triangular field of meaning” between three ideas of locality, instrumentality and modality, in Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid and Gerald F. Hawthorne, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity Press, 1993, e-edition), loc. cit.
[20] Banks, Ethnicity, 185. We should also note here the gradual “in our head” shifts in nomenclature from “race” and “tribe” to “culture” and “ethnic group,” and (within missiology) “homogeneous unit” to “people group.”
[21] Kazakh ethnic identity is preserved through ethnic celebrations, meetings that maintain cultural practices, and speaking Kazakh at home, while constructing a new hybrid identity based on shared religion (Islam) and Turkic roots, and the adoption of new practices, preferences and self-identity. See e.g., Yeniceri, Aslihan, “Hybridization and Kazakh ethnic identity formation” (Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Iowa State University, 2015),
. [22] Fiona McLaughlin, “The Ascent of Wolof as an Urban Vernacular and National Lingua Franca in Senegal,” in eds. Cécile B. Vigouroux and Salikoko S. Mufwene, Globalization and Language Vitality: Perspectives from Africa (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008, e-book), 142–170,
. [23] Internally displaced people and returnees from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere and have swelled Kabul to over 5 million people; according to reports, ethnicity is a more salient identity among them, and the term Kabuli does not apply.
[24] Edmund T Hamann and William England, “Conclusion – Hyphenated Identities as a Challenge to Nation-State School Practice?” (Faculty Publications: Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, 109, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 2011), Note .the political and power dynamics when a “hyphenated identity” is ascribed by a government or school.
[25] “A person can simultaneously hold allegiances to a neighborhood, a city, a region, a country, or a continent, or be a transmigrant in a world city or, yet, a global nomad, an employee of a transnational corporation.” See Cf. J.enkins, who notes that globalization does not always dilute ethnic identification: local and ethnic identity “each may (re)assert itself either as a defensive reaction to, or a result of, the increasingly global context of social life” (Rethinking Ethnicity, 2nd ed.), 45. For the way pan-Islamist sentiments can “coexist” with local forms of Muslim identity, see Darryl Li, “Taking the Place of Martyrs: Afghans and Arabs Under the Banner of Islam,” Arab Studies Journal 20, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 12–39,
. [26] Rethinking People Groups Forum, Dallas, TX (September 13, 2019).
[27] I borrow this term from Paul Willis, The Ethnographic Imagination (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000).
[28] See Scribner, this issue. As Scribner admits, “Global people group lists, as currently conceived and structured, cannot support dynamic groupings.”
[29]  Leonard N. Bartlotti, “Refining Our Strategies for Engaging All Peoples,” IJFM 27, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 21–26,
. [30] Case studies are commonly used in the social sciences, and famously, by the Harvard Business School. They can can be explanatory, exploratory, descriptive, comparative, or instrumental. See e.g., Baxter, Pamela and Susan Jack, “Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for Novice Researchers,” The Qualitative Report 13, no. 4 (Dec 2008): 544–559, For a. simple introduction to the research concept of “thick description” (promoted by anthropologists Gilbert Ryle and Clifford Geertz) and helpful sources, see Chris Drew, “5 Key Principles of ‘Thick Description’ in Research” (2020),
. [31] After a few years on the field, many workers pursue an M.A. or Ph.D. While this contributes to new knowledge, unfortunately, the knowledge tends to be individualized, constrained within publishing channels, or siloed in academia or individual ministries. There appear to be few mechanism for translating insights into community learning and upgrading of field praxis.
[32] For insightful reflections on Winter’s notion of incorporability, see Brad Gill, “The Unfortunate Unmarketability of ‘Unincorporable,’” from which this quote is taken,
. [33] (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1979), 25, 64–65, emph. added,
. [34] Ibid., 2–3.
[35] I am indebted to Alan McMahan for this example. It should be noted that this urban conglomerate church did not intentionally evangelize along ethnic lines or leverage ethnicity.
[36] Note e.g., that the two representative professional networks (International Society for Frontier Missiology, and the Great Commission Research Network) have separate journals, conferences, and non-overlapping attendees and speakers, despite many shared concepts, principles and practices related to evangelistic growth, movements, accessibility, receptivity, diversity, innovative models, ethnicity and incorporating people into the church.
[37] See e.g., GlobalGates focused on UPGs in North America’s megacities “Advocacy Networks” focused around specific UPGs in Central Asia, West Africa and elsewhere, have also shown great promise in facilitating joint ventures in strategy, media, training, and recruiting, and placing workers in diaspora, transnational and homeland engagement points.
[38] G. D. Fee, Revelation: A New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 88.

Used by permission from Missio Nexus, PO Box 398, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Email: [email protected]. Website:


This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Making Data Count in Reaching the Unreached

Making Data Count in Reaching the Unreached

Gathering people group data is important, but how we use it is just as important. There is more than one way to use the data to help shape strategy or inspire mobilization.

Recently, I used a data technique to help a group make a specific decision. But when I showed it to my colleagues, they pointed out that it could be used more widely. So, I share it with you now as an example of what can be done with prayer, with Joshua Project data and with a bit of Excel skill.

We in the Global Data Initiative (GDI) are turning our attention toward Africa. We want to improve the quality of people group data and there are many reasons to focus on this area of the world. But of course, Africa, while not as big as the world, is still a vast continent with vast differences between countries. Where should we start? We went through a process of prayer and consideration, which included drawing a chart of African countries.

There are ways of presenting data to emphasize something that has already been decided, or to motivate people towards a goal that is not in dispute. Maps can be particularly useful in this role. But maps are not always so useful to help us make the decisions themselves. To help make decisions, I often use a “scatter chart” because you can express two different factors quite clearly in one view.  Which two factors you choose depends on your concerns.  

Jesus himself expresses two related concerns when asking us to pray for more workers. He says that the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few (Matt. 9:27 and Luke 10:2). He links these two different factors to the deployment of workers— asking the Lord of the  Harvest  to  “send”  them or “throw them out” into the harvest field. Both the harvest, and the workers can be understood  in different ways. For GDI purposes, I chose to take the harvest as being the population of people in Joshua Project’s “Scale 1” peoples—the least reached or “unreached.” For “workers” I chose to take the population of evangelical Christians. I added up all that data by country.


The way that the Joshua Project maintains their data makes it relatively easy to use it to support strategic decision making and I have made use of this before for several global networks1. Note that Joshua Project’s definition of evangelical Christians is people who believe in the authority of the Bible, the uniqueness of Jesus, the importance of personal conversion and the need to pass on our faith. Most of those are Protestants, Anglicans, Pentecostals  or belong to independent churches, and some are Orthodox or Catholic.

When Jesus says that the workers are few, I assume that He is meaning “few,  relative to the harvest.”  If we have 100 acres waiting to be harvested and 100 workers who could do the job, that is “fewer” workers in my book than if we have 10 workers ready to harvest one acre. So, on the vertical axis I charted evangelical Christians (the “workers” who could be “sent out”) relative to the harvest among the least reached in the country where they live.

Now we had a view of Africa as a whole, and we were able to see some big differences between the countries.

On the left of the chart are countries with a small population among unreached peoples. On the right of the chart are countries with a large population among the unreached.  The harvest, waiting out in the fields for workers, is more plentiful in countries on the right. And the difference is very large! Every vertical grid line on the chart indicates a difference of ten times. And you multiply as you go, so there is a thousand times larger harvest waiting to be reaped in the countries In the right-hand grid squares than in the left-hand squares. For example, among unreached peoples in Ethiopia there are a thousand times more people waiting for the gospel than among unreached peoples in Equatorial Guinea.

Now where are the workers the fewest? Countries at the top of the chart have a million times fewer workers available to reap their harvest than those in the bottom grid squares (relative to the harvest available).

This begins to tell us a number of things of strategic importance. The first thing to consider is simply the amazing diversity of the situation. It is likely to be very different trying to reach the unreached in Rwanda (bottom left), Mayotte (top left), Somalia (top right) and Nigeria (middle right). Our tactics may be similar. Surely the tactics of prayer, faith, self- sacrifice, love, learning new cultures and translating the Bible will all be involved. But our strategy may need to be very different. Who are we going to mobilize and motivate to reach the unreached in Mayotte? Should we mobilize the church in Rwanda to reach the unreached in their own country, or abroad? We will come back to that question in a moment. Before we do, let’s just note the significance of a particular line across the middle of the chart.

The line is labelled “1”, meaning that there is just one evangelical for every unreached person in that country. Above this line the countries have more people among the un- reached than evangelical Christians. Below, there are more evangelicals. That is an interesting milestone.

In fact, we could characterize the chart in three fuzzy horizontal bands: “More Reason to Come,” “More Reason to Stay” and “More Reason to Go.”


The core of the central band is probably formed by these ten countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. Their ratio of workers to unreached is not far off the global average2. So, in terms of reaching the global unreached, there is not much to be gained by sending in lots of foreign workers to these countries, nor by asking them to send many abroad. The need and resource are well balanced. Of course, if one of these countries has a particularly vigorous church, let them develop international sending structures! If one of them has a church lacking vision or vigor, we may need to send people in. But in general, it is to countries below this band that we must look for international workers, and to countries above this line that we should expect to send them.

I have colored the dots by latitude. The northern third of countries are represented with an orange dot, the middle with blue and the southern by green. Notice that most of the northern countries are in the top of the chart, most of the blue in the center and most of the green near the bottom. This vindicates and supports the basic validity of a current prophetic message from the African Church to the African Church—“GO NORTH!”. There are some exceptions, most notably with Mayotte and the Comoros. But in general, in Africa, NORTH is where the harvest of the unreached lies.

I have referred to Jesus’ comment about the workers and the harvest. At a different time, Jesus said, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields because they are white for harvest” (John 4:35) and we might use information from this chart to help Christians in a particular country where to “lift up their eyes”. On this chart that means, wherever your nation is on this chart, you can “lift up your eyes” toward the top right. Those are the countries where the harvest is more plentiful and the workers are fewer than in yours.

My thinking is this. While the Holy Spirit may direct specific individuals “from anywhere to anywhere,” it doesn’t make sense for us to encourage large numbers of people to move at random around the world, even less to pray for that! Shouldn’t our prayer to the Lord of the Harvest be to throw out workers from countries where harvest in meager and the workers, many, into countries where the harvest is more plentiful and the workers are fewer? And shouldn’t our mobilization effort be in the same direction?

To return to the question at the beginning—if we want to encourage African countries about using data, and about their own research into their own unreached peoples—where should we start? We are still working on it, and a lot depends on personal relationships. Nevertheless, there IS an area of the chart that interests us most. We are looking for countries where there is a good harvest in the country and a good-sized church that can tackle the research, the data management and good reason to use that data to mobilize that church … to reach their own nationals. These are not countries where the workers are few, nor where they are very many, but somewhere in the middle!

Endnote: For simplicity this article uses a chart of the majority of countries in Africa. There are a few countries quite literally “off the chart”. We can “zoom out” to show one more country at the top and a few to the left of the chart. Western Sahara has 100 times fewer workers than Tunisia, although the harvest is smaller too. For this chart I have imagined that somewhere in each of the six countries on the extreme left there is at least one person from an Unreached People Group, although there are none in the Joshua Project data.

  1. This is one of the useful distinctives of Joshua Project data. For instance, they work hard to ensure that the data about each individual people group is consistent with overall country and global population numbers. This means that you can safely add up their numbers in many different  ways.  (Just  be aware that their data for South Asia has some slightly different characteristics, especially when it comes to recording evangelical numbers. Better to use “Christians” if you are including South Asia.) Some people are rightly concerned about the quality of data available to us. But for this sort of high-level, aggregated analysis, we don’t need great data precision. Even if the Joshua Project data on a particular country is wrong by a factor of two (e.g. instead of 1,000, it is 2,000 say, or 500) it would make little difference to its position on the chart. It would move less than one third of a grid square.

  2. I used data from Operation World 2010 for this. Page 3 gave me the total number of evangelicals and page 25 the total population of the unreached peoples. Dividing one by the other gives a rough factor of five. Five unreached to one evangelical. On our vertical scale that would be 0.2, just below the 0.1 line.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

One Unreached People Group at a Time

One Unreached People Group at a Time
“Help our people group. Help them to be safe. And help them to know you.” This is a typical breakfast prayer for 8-year-old William. He listens to the Unreached of the Day podcast or learns about the people group on the mobile app. After leading his family in prayer for them, he taps the “I am Praying” button and announces the count of people who have declared that they, too, are praying.
William is joining tens of thousands who use Unreached of the Day to intercede for the most gospel deprived peoples of the world. Each day, one group is featured through e-mails, mobile apps, podcasts and web widgets. Downloadable PDFs are available for printing bulletin inserts, booklets and prayer cards. Want to know which groups we are praying for currently? The last few pages of this magazine are dedicated to the Unreached of the Day each issue. The team of writers who formerly made Global Prayer Digest happen each month now writes the text for Unreached of the Day.
Some intercessors are lifting up the day’s group in prayer using languages other than English. Unreached of the Day is available in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese. Volunteer translators in several teams are making the content available in their heart language.
The Unreached of the Day several year ago was the Dahalo, a small group near the coast of Kenya. The number of people praying that day actually exceeded the total Dahalo population! Less than a year later, a pastor from Nairobi was walking in Dahalo villages, sharing the Good News and seeing several come to faith in Christ. Months earlier, someone had shown him the Unreached of the Day app. He decided his church would be the answer to many prayers for the Dahalo. He traveled by plane, then by bus, then by boat and finally by motorcycle to encounter the group. At one point of the journey he had to dress as a policeman to avoid problems with a local extremist group. The effort was worth it. Today, the Dahalo have a body of believers and are reading Bibles in Swahili brought to them by the congregation in Nairobi.

One couple prints out the photos of the people groups each month to hang in their living room so they won’t forget to pray. A 15-year-old began using the app and her Christmas wish was that her parents would give a donation to help make it available for others. A believer from India and his American wife pray for the groups. Imagine their surprise one day when the featured group was the specific Brahmin community he is from! Several churches decorate a Christmas tree with people group “ornaments,” which they send home with members of the congregation. A church in Oregon highlights one group a month in their children’s ministry. A handout is sent home to more than 100 families so they can continue praying with the kids. A couple leaving to work among an Unreached People Group in China was excited to know that their group was featured for prayer. They were glad for the spiritual covering.

For William, tapping the button on the app was initially a fun exercise that rewarded him with a number count he had helped boost. Now he prays without needing that prompt. It has become an automatic part of his mealtime. If we get kids like William, as well as adults, in the habit of making prayer for the unreached a daily occurrence, we have cause to celebrate. What if a generation of kingdom kids grew up with the practice of thinking beyond themselves and their family? What if a family tradition became a powerful vision and determination to make a difference for peoples cut off from the gospel?

Are you ready to join William and this band of intercessors? Ready to blend your pleas for transformational change by the gospel where it hasn’t taken root yet? You can jump in right now by visiting or by downloading the app in the app stores. Simply search for “Joshua Project” or “unreached.”

What about diving in deeper? Here is a list of ways you can maximize your interaction with Unreached of the Day resources and get them into the hands of many more intercessors:

  1. Help us reach record counts. Knowing that others are standing with you is a great encouragement, so tap the button every time you pray.
  2. Tell your friends! Help others set up the app on their devices or sign up for the e-mails. And make sure you tell them to invite their friends.
  3. Do you teach Sunday school, lead a small group or preach in church? Spread the word of the resource among the family of God.
  4.  Add Unreached of the Day to your family prayer time. You can begin cultivating Christ’s love for the nations in young lives.
  5.  Promote the resources on social media. Share with your wider network of online friends.
  6.  Follow Joshua Project on social media. We're on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, we have a Facebook group where you can join in a conversation about the unreached.
  7. Volunteer as profile writer, editor or proofreader.
  8. Volunteer as a translator. Join an existing language team or assemble a translation team for a new language offering.
  9. Promote the use of Unreached of the Day. We especially need promotion of the translated resources.
  10.  Make suggestions. We can’t implement all the additions people have mentioned, but we have put several of them in place. Help us improve the presentation.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Thoughtlessness: Far More Dangerous Than We Realize

Thoughtlessness: Far More Dangerous Than We Realize
One of my friends calls them “pastorisms”: catchy statements that leave everyone saying, “Ooh, that’s profound.” Soon such pronouncements become memes that are widely shared and treated as self-evidently true.
I contend that fascination with clichés makes us thoughtless, and thoughtlessness is dangerous—as illustrated by a disturbing example from history.

A Thoughtless Monster

Adolf Eichmann was the architect of the Holocaust. His planning skills made easy work of transporting millions of people to concentration camps. After World War II, Eichmann fled to Argentina and remained in hiding for a decade and a half until he was discovered and brought to trial in Jerusalem.
The New Yorker sent political theorist Hannah Arendt to cover the proceedings. When she saw Eichmann in person, Arendt found herself eerily disturbed. Eichmann didn’t seem like a monster. He was, Arendt realized, “terrifyingly normal.”

Speaking in his own defense, Eichmann came across as a boring, trivial person who communicated in clichés and didn’t seem to have any thoughts of his own. For example, Eichmann described transporting Jews to the gas chambers as offering them “special treatment” that resulted in a “change of residence.”

Eichmann spouted clichés to the very end. At the gallows, he emphasized that he did not believe in life after death, but then announced, “After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men.” Not even
the reality of impending death could jolt Eichmann out of mindlessness.

As Arendt described it, Adolph Eichmann became one of history’s most evil men not because he was brilliant, but because he found himself incapable of thinking meaningfully about his wicked actions.

Thoughtlessness is dangerous. Evil wins when otherwise good people fail to think clearly enough to stand up for what is right. Since World War II, the world has wondered how a handful of evil Nazis and Communists could have slaughtered a hundred million people and held billions more in misery. Arendt’s explanation offered half a century ago is chillingly prophetic:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world themasses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.

To Arendt, everyday people don’t so much endorse evil as they allow themselves to be run over by it because of their own moral confusion.

Thoughtlessness in the Church

Christians are just as vulnerable to thoughtlessness as anyone else. As I wrote my book Unquestioned Answers, I realized that our core problem is not unanswered questions, but unquestioned answers—clichés we believe that keep our faith at a shallow level.

In other words, we use short-cuts so we don’t have to think deeply about our faith. Thoughtlessness is the enemy of the Church, the gospel and Christ.

The Bible calls us to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). This doesn’t mean we need to be brilliant to love Jesus. But it does call us to embrace four thoughtful disciplines:

Know Scripture.

To know truth and be thoughtful with truth, we must know our Bibles. This requires time and study. Don’t merely look for individual Bible verses that touch your heart. Become deeply familiar with the whole flow ofScripture and learn how to interpret it well.

Think about the connection between Scripture and culture.

Don’t think about the Bible as an Aesop’s Fables for Christians. Focus on how the Scripture reveals the very nature and character of God and orient yourself to see everything in today’s world from His perspective.

Don’t believe something just because it’s phrased in a witty or powerful way.

Stating something cleverly does not make it true. Don’t accept punchy slogans at face value. Ask, “How do we know that is really true?” Thinking deeply about truth helps us think more deeply about everything else.

Be people of curiosity as well as conviction.

Be willing to dialogue with people you disagree with. Instead of defaulting to clichés like, “Let’s agree to disagree” or “You have your truth and I have mine,” mull over what the other person is saying and be an advocate for truth and meaningful reflection.

Evil wins when our thinking is confused. Don’t settle for unquestioned answers. Dig for the truth about God, and as a result, about everything else.

  1. 1 For more about Arendt’s view of Eichmann and the trial, see her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 1977).

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

The Five False Worldviews That Ensnare Your Church

The Five False Worldviews That Ensnare Your Church

In professional tennis matches, the ball moves so quickly that players have to swing at it before their conscious minds have time to process what’s happening. I asked a friend who played against many world champions how winning tennis players mastered this skill. He explained that through thousands of hours of practice they learn to recognize subtle signs given off by their opponents and then fine-tune their reflexes to respond.

The same is true in today’s battle of ideas. Culture rapidly fires fake worldviews at us that are contrary to God’s Word. If we don’t know how to recognize these worldviews or respond quickly enough, we risk being taken captive by
hollow and deceptive philosophies (Col. 2:8).

According to new research commissioned by Summit Ministries and conducted by the Barna Group, Christians today are losing this battle of ideas. But they don’t have to. Through a four-step process, we can alert believers to five fake worldviews that target them, and help themregain spiritual vitality.

How to Spot Bad Ideas Before They Catch Us Unaware

A worldview is our view of God, humanity and the world. A biblical worldview shows us what God is really like and where to turn for true answers to our big life questions. But fake worldviews trick us into looking for answers in all the wrong places. They’re everywhere—on television, in books and magazines, at the movies and in conversations with friends and family. We absorb them like we catch colds. We don’t even know we’re sick until it’s too late.

Through surveys done over the last 20 years, researchers at the Barna Group have studied the worldview of churchgoing Christians. They’ve discovered that fewer than one in five of them has a worldview based on the Bible.

At Summit, we wondered, “Where do Christians get their worldview, if not from the Bible?” Here are a few of the most common fake worldviews that creep into the minds of Christians today.

Five Fake Worldviews That Entice Christians

Fake worldviews ruin people’s lives, leading them to wrong values and harmful practices. In the research Summit commissioned with Barna, we asked questions about the influence of the five fake worldviews I wrote about in my Understanding the Times Worldview Library:

Secularism—the belief that the material world is all thereis, and that God is irrelevant to what is important

Marxism—the belief that the current system must be overthrown because it exploits the poor to benefit the rich

Postmodernism—the belief that we should be suspicious of anyone who claims to know the truth, because none of us have access to it

New Spirituality—the belief that reality is spiritual, not material, and that what you do in this life will come back to you, whether good or evil

Islam—the belief that humans are in rebellion against Allah and must be made to submit through the practices revealed to the Prophet Muhammad

At Summit, we picked these five worldviews because of their enduring influence and because they summarize the basic religious commitments of probably 95 percent of the population in the West.

We surveyed people from different Christian traditions and ethnicities who live in every region of America, in both rural and urban communities. Fake worldviews are influential everywhere. What lessons can we learn from this?

Two Lessons for the Future of the Church

Lesson One: Today’s Christians suffer from a “Multiple Worldview Disorder.” Just as some people have multiple personalities living inside their brains, believers tend to mix and match their ideas. Often they hold contradictory beliefs.

For example, one-fifth of church-going Christians said there is no one “true religion, that many religions can lead to eternal life.” Of those who strongly agreed with this statement, two-thirds also strongly agreed with the statement that “faith in Jesus is the only way to God.” Both ideas can’t be true. It’s a Multiple Worldview Disorder.

Lesson Two: Post-Christian America is a reality. Using age 45 as a dividing line, we found a stark difference in worldview between Millennials and Gen-Xers on the one hand, and Baby Boomers and Elders on the other. On some questions, younger Christians were up to eight times more likely to accept fake worldviews.

For years Christian thought-leaders have warned us that we’re on the brink of a post-Christian era. This study seems to show that we’re toppling over the edge right now.

How to Stop Unbiblical Ideas and Fake Worldviews

In my book The Secret Battle of Ideas about God, I show how to combat fake worldviews by thinking of them as viruses that trick us into living lives that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

The virus analogy helps because when faced with potentially catastrophic outbreaks, doctors have learned how to take four decisive steps to curb a virus’ growing impact. I call these steps the four I’s—Identify, Isolate,
Inform and Invest.

The four I’s work with idea viruses, too. We can teach believers how to:

  1. Identify bad ideas generated by fake worldviews
  2. Isolate the features of bad ideas that are most likely to take us captive
  3. Inform others of how to find love, healing, purpose, peace and hope through Jesus
  4. Invest in those who’ve been sickened by bad ideas so they can emerge stronger than ever

The goal of the Barna-Summit survey is not to condemn people or put them in boxes. Rather, it is to understand the patterns of the world so we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). We are all at risk, but we can know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

The Five Major False Worldviews by Jeff Myers

As we noted earlier, a worldview is “a pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world.” If you know a worldview’s assumptions, you can more accurately guess what its adherents believe and why.There may be hundreds of worldviews operating today.

Even some that are well-known, such as Judaism, have relatively few (around 13 million) followers worldwide. But many bizarre and even humorous worldviews have attracted followers. As the London Telegraph reported, 176,632 people in a 2012 national census of England and Wales considered their religious affiliation to be the “Jedi Knights.”1  Another 6,242 said they worshipped heavy metal music.2  Obviously we can’t cover every worldview that has attracted followers, so we’re going to look at the five major false worldviews that make up the vast majority of the world’s population outside the Christian realm and are evangelistic (inviting everyone else to join them).


Islam began September 24 in AD 622, when 70 muhajirun pledged loyalty to an Arabian trader from Mecca who had fled to Medina and began receiving special revelations from Allah. The trader’s name: Muhammad. His submission to God gave his religion its name; Islam means “submission.” Those who submit to Allah and hisprophet Muhammad are called Muslims. Islam is based on a creed prayed aloud five times a day: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

Muslims believe that their holy book, the Quran, is God’s full and final revelation. The Quran specifies five things a person must do to become a Muslim:

  1. repeat “Thereis no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”
  2. pray the salat (ritual prayer)3 five times a day
  3. fast during the month of Ramadan
  4. give one-fortieth of one’s income to the needy; and
  5. if able, make a pilgrimage to Mecca.According to Serge Trifkovic, “Islam is not a ‘mere’ religion; it is a complete way of life, an all-embracing social, political and legal system that breeds a worldview peculiar to itself."5  Islam has grown rapidly in the last few decades; 1.6 billion people in the world now claim to be adherents.



What we term New Spirituality is perhaps the most difficult worldview to precisely define. You don’t have to sign, recite or proclaim anything in particular to join, nor must you attend a church. While unofficial in its dogma, the New Age culture contains an extensive set of beliefs that, once understood, predict what people with those beliefs will value and how they will act.

New Spirituality is a free-flowing combination of Eastern religions, paganism, and pseudoscience that pops up in odd places. Some of the bestselling books of all time— by authors such as Deepak Chopra, Rhonda Byrne, Marilyn Ferguson, and Shakti Gawain—describe a world spiritual in nature but not governed by a personal, all-powerful God. Rather, the spirituality in the world is “consciousness,” an energy in which we all participate and can even learn to control. Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey has admitted to holding many of these beliefs. We will study New Spirituality not because it is deeply philosophical or consistent but because some of its associated beliefs—karma, Gaia, being “one” with the environment, reincarnation, meditation, holistic health and so forth—are a daily part of life for millions of Americans and have influenced such academic areas as psychology and medicine.


Secularism comes from the Latin word saecularis, roughly meaning “of men,” “of this world,” or “of this time.” Secularists believe humans are the center of reality. They disdain the influence of those who believe in ideas of gods, an afterlife, or anything beyond what we can sense. The primary identifying characteristic of Secularism is its nonbelief in other worldviews. Ironically, though, Secularists do generally have an agreed-upon set of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. So even though they view their beliefs as the opposite of religion, they are actually quite religious.

Interestingly, in the 20th century, several fairly well-known philosophers such as John Dewey and Julian Huxley, and later Paul Kurtz and Corliss Lamont, combined the term secular (“we are for the world”) and the term humanism
(“we are for humans”) and developed a philosophy of Secular Humanism. Their manifesto, published in 1933 and updated in 1973 and 2000, led thousands of likeminded individuals to form a club called the American Humanist ssociation (AHA), whose motto is “Good without a god.” With no apparent sense of irony, the AHA operates as a tax-exempt organization based on the IRS section 501(c)(3) religious nonprofit exemption. Though its founders have passed away, the AHA still recruits members. Their dues support a publishing company and a monthly publication.

Secularism is an umbrella term for a set of beliefs that the vast majority of academics today accept unquestioningly. We use the term Secularism as a prediction, not a label: if someone accepts a Secularist viewpoint on such disciplines as theology, philosophy and ethics, we can predict fairly accurately what they believe about biology, psychology and so forth.


Some religious worldviews develop over hundreds or thousands of years, but others are made up whole cloth in a very short period of time. Such is the case with Marxism and its offshoots Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism, Fabian
socialism, and the various socialist organizations that operate in the United States and around the world. Marxism was invented by Karl Marx, a scholar determined to demonstrate that ownership of private property, the basis for capitalism, was the root of the world’s evils.

To Marx, history could be defined as a struggle between the haves (the owners) and the have-nots (the workers). If only the workers would rise up to overthrow the owners, they could form a workers’ paradise in which all wrongs are righted, all possessions are shared and all injustices are brought to an end. The utopian state at the end of this long and bloody struggle is called communism. People who strive to bring about this state are called communists, and their bible is The Communist Manifesto, Marx’s most famous and enduring work. Other such manifestos are still in print today, including the teachings of Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung and a book published by Harvard University Press called Empire.

Some say it’s pointless to include Marxism as a dominant worldview in this article, but we disagree. Despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which dominated what is now called Russia, around 20 percent of the world’s population still lives under the rule of communists. The largest communist country in the world today is China. In spite of its growing industry, China’s communist rulers are still very much in control. And when we also consider countries operating on the principles Marx taught but not using the label communist, we are talking about a majority of the world’s population living every day with the consequences of Marx’s philosophies. Despite its clearly atheistic philosophy, Marxism has also made many inroads into the church. Some evangelicals involved in the so-called Christian Left have embraced key tenets of Marxism.


People talk about postmodern art, postmodern architecture and even postmodern ways of doing church, and yet they don’t realize that Postmodernism is a wellthought- out and deep philosophical worldview. The father of Postmodernism, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, had many disciples including Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Martin Heidegger, Jean-François Lyotard and Richard Rorty. All are now dead, but their teachings strongly influence higher education to this day.

In short, we can say Postmodernism began as a reaction against modernism, the idea that science and human reason can solve humankind’s most pressing problems. While science can be used for great good, Postmodernists
understand it to be hopelessly corrupted by the quest for power. It was scientific “progress,” for example, that enabled the creation of weapons of mass destruction.

According to Postmodernists, the modern story of science and technology is one of many attempts to formulate what’s called a metanarrative, or grand story of reality that claims universally valid, “God’s-eye”- view, pristine knowledge of the world. Postmodernists say metanarratives become so compelling that people stop questioning them, and it’s precisely then that they become destructive and oppressive. Postmodernists are generally suspicious of all modern metanarratives because they are so often used as tools of oppression. Many Postmodernists engage in a process of examining exactly what causes people to fall under the spell of various metanarratives. This is called econstruction. The way deconstruction works on metanarratives is similar to someone revealing how a magic trick is done: in the revealing, people stop being deceived. Postmodernists believe “deconstructing” dominant metanarratives causes them to lose their stranglehold on people’s minds.

Postmodernists have been carried away by their own ideas, calling everything into question—even the idea that we can know reality itself!

So there you have it. Islam, New Spirituality, Secularism, Marxism, and Postmodernism. By understanding these five worldviews, we’ll see how people come to grips with the rules of the world and form patterns they hope will answer life’s ultimate questions.

  1. 1 Cited in Henry Taylor, “‘Jedi’ Religion Most Popular Alternative Faith,” Telegraph, December 11, 2012, religion/9737886/Jedi-religion-most-popular-alternative-faith.html.

  2. 2 Taylor, “Alternative Faith.”

  3. 3 The call to prayer, the shahada, is an integral part of the salat: “Allahu Akbar; Ashadu anna la ilaha illa Allah; Ashadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah; Haiya ‘ala al-salat; Haiya ‘ala al-falah; Al-salat khayrun min al-nawm; Allahu Akbar; La ilaha illa Allah.” The English translation is “God is most great; I bear witness there is no God but God; I bear witness Muhammad is the prophet of God; Come to prayer; Come to well-being; Prayer is better than sleep; God is most great; There is no God but God.” See more at “Salat: Muslim Prayer,”, November 10, 2015, accessed March 26, 2016,

  4. 4 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 368–69.

  5. 5 Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet (Boston: Regina Orthodox, 2002), 55.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for Mission

Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for Mission

David J. Bosch noted the “Christian mission—at least as it has traditionally been interpreted and performed—is under attack not only from without but also from within its own ranks.” The present “crisis” was just one of many throughout Church history that created a need for a new paradigm of mission.1 Three decades following the publication of Bosch’s magnum opus, evangelicals remain in a state of transition and confusion when it comes to the Church’s global task. A new paradigm has not fully arrived. Recent books reveal questions that remind us of the continuation of this liminal state. David Hesselgrave’s, Paradigms in Conflict: 15 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today, noted the existence o fcontemporary tensions.2  Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church addressed some of the significant questions asked at Cape Town 2010 affecting global practice.3  Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell’s The Changing Face of World Missions noted many contemporary issues global workers experience in their labors during this transition period.4 Paul Borthwick’s Western Christians in Global Mission attempted to answer the question about the role of the West in kingdom advancement.5  Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison’s brief but provocative work, When Everything is Missions, argued that much of what evangelicals are calling missions is not missions.6  Bosch’s crisis remains.

Apostolic Imagination: A Starting Point for Rethinking Contemporary Mission

What is a possible way to navigate this liminal state and position the Church for future evangelical mission? If missions is rooted in the apostolic nature and actions of God and His Church, then we must consider the apostolic mindset behind such actions. How does God view the world in light of His mission? What is His expectation for the Church before the Parousia? How might the firstcentury apostles have contextualized their efforts in the 21st century? The apostolic imagination is concerned with questions such as these and should serve as a guide to conceptualizing global disciple-making efforts.

My forthcoming book, Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for the Church’s Mission Today, addresses several areas of evangelical work that need examination and revision.7 Language, purpose, missionary identity and function, strategy, locations of operations, resources, sending structures, partnerships and the role of the West are some of the important issues addressed. In this article, I attempt to share some thoughts in view of an apostolic imagination.

Rethinking Language

Whenever the Church lacks robust exegetical support for her theology and terms, then extrabiblical nomenclature can result in concepts with a variety of meanings.8 The Church uses the modern language of mission, but is often inconsistent with her definitions. The breakdown in the language of mission has resulted in a breakdown in communication.

Prior to the 16th century, mission, from Latin, was a reference to the work of the Trinity.9 The language of mission and missions, applied to Christians, first finds itself in the 16th century with Ignatius of Loyola and the notion of the Jesuits being sent into the world, and eventually embraced elements of colonial and military conquests.10 However, the language of sending existed long before the Renaissance. The use of apostolos and pempo fills the New Testament to address matters related to God’s mission in the world. When terms are extrabiblical, it is difficult to assign an agreed upon meaning.11 The result is that the definitions for mission, missions and missionaries will not remain constant but change based on contemporary realities and readers’ perspectives. What was missions yesterday is not missions today, and may be radically different tomorrow.

Rethinking Purpose

Missions is about practicing medicine, digging wells, publishing literature, planting churches, putting a roof on a building, educating missionary children, advocating for social justice, and taking two-week summer trips. The Church engages in missions even when the gospel is never shared. Culturally preferred definitions have hijacked the biblical purpose behind global activity.

Apostolic purpose is now optional when it comes to the Great Commission. While apostolic purpose is rooted in the local church (Acts 13:1-3), it extends into a realm where the Church does not exist (Rom. 15:20). Missions is multifaceted, but apostolic purpose is singular. Throughout history, ministry rightly became multifaceted after churches were established. However, the Church repurposed her apostolic task as the language of mission segued into the language of established ministry and pastoral hegemony.

Rethinking Identity

Though it is popular to teach every Christian is a missionary, such causes confusion when one attempts to look for such servants in the Bible that correspond to desired contemporary expressions. I once read a social media post on a Sunday morning whereby the author told church members to look around their worship areas for people sitting alone. After finding such people, the followers were told to go meet those individuals because “we are all missionaries today!” Alan R. Johnson writes of the problematic nature of an identity crisis: “If there is indeed no difference between what I should be doing in my own local church in my own sociocultural setting and somewhere else, there is no compelling reason to cross geographic and cultural boundaries at all.”12

Rethinking Function

As theologians in the 20th century were forced to respond to the volume and success of the Church’s global activity, they turned toward the Scriptures with the modern language of mission in hand and argued that the missio Dei was much broader than the redemption of the elect.13 By implication, the Church’s missions needed to become more diverse and multifaceted. Traditional mission terminology was expanded to reflect the multiple actions of God throughout the Scriptures. While this development was beneficial to understanding missio Dei, it became problematic in that every missional function became equivalent. Apostolic priority was discarded. Now, the Church has created an equal opportunity world of global activity that did not exist in the first century (Acts 6:1-7).

Rethinking Strategy

Jesus made the promise that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Regardless, of one’s eschatology and definition of nations, the fact is the end has not arrived and much work remains. Strategic thinking is a matter of wise stewardship and the apostolic imagination. If research is correct, that approximately 7,000 people groups remain unreached including 3,200 unengaged unreached people groups, then the wise kingdom steward is to be strategic with all resources in view of this global crisis.14 There is no room to be haphazard with global actions.

Jesus preached to towns because people residing in those locations were in need of redemption (Luke 4:43). Paul’s ambition was “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20). Once a healthy
ecclesiastic foundation was established “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum” (Rom. 15:19), he desired to transition to Spain (Rom. 15:24) where unbelievers were found. The apostolic imagination is concerned with lostness and sanctification. It is concerned about the gospel speeding ahead and being honored (2 Thess. 3:1) and new churches receiving the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Rethinking Resources

At the turn of the century, David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson noted an abysmal 0.1% of all financial resources were directed toward disciple-making efforts in the most unevangelized countries.15 R. W. Lewis wrote for every 30 missionaries who go to the reached people groups of the world, approximately one missionary goes to the unreached16. According to her research, this means an estimated 95 percent of all missionaries are serving among active  Christians who are reaching out to nominal or near-culture unbelievers of their own people group.17 This allocation of resources is unacceptable. The present reality is far from the apostolic imagination that recognizes the urgency of leveraging resources to extend the gospel to all nations.

Rethinking North America

Churches and agencies view North America through pastoral lenses. This reality has resulted in many viewing he North American context as reached and not in need of apostolic labors. While some groups use the words “mission field” to rally Christians for locations in the United States and Canada, what is generally meant is additional established churches and pastors are needed, not apostolic teams sent to plant churches among unreached people groups.18 Though the greatest needs are outside of North America, the sending of apostolic teams, which presently is the exception, should become the expectation for church-planting on this continent.

Rethinking Partnerships

The matter of partnerships is both biblical and critical for global work (Phil. 1:5; Rom. 15:24). Kingdom citizens are being sent from Western and Majority World contexts to other Western and Majority World contexts. The apostolic imagination recognizes the need for kingdom collaboration and seeks to develop healthy partnerships.

The Western Church should not think that just because a dark history exists that he should simply pass the baton to Majority World churches and check out of Great Commission activity. The commands of Christ apply to His Church wherever she is found—regardless of her past! The Lord has provided a great deal of experience, resources, and wisdom to older churches that are to be humbly shared through relationships.

There is much the West can learn from Majority World churches. Strengthening such relationships offers great potential for taking the gospel farther and deeper into Majority World settings. In the West where many unreached peoples have migrated, as well as many Christians, opportunities abound for churches to collaborate, as equals, with brothers and sisters in apostolic labors for reaching the nations across the street.


The global work of the Church needs to be evaluated with an apostolic imagination. This process of rethinking is a matter of wise kingdom stewardship. Developing and applying an apostolic imagination will enable the Church to understand her present realities and make necessary adjustments. This conceptualization is not a novelty. The apostolic imagination is an ancient gift that remains to be opened in many evangelical circles. 

  1. 1 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 2, 4.

  2. 2 David J. Hesselgrave Paradigms in Conflict: 15 key Questions in Christian Missions Today, 2nd edition, Keith E. Eitel, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2018). 

  3. 3 J. D. Payne, Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013). 

  4. 4 Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell, The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).

  5. 5 Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012). 

  6. 6 Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison, When Everything is Missions (n.p.: Bottomline Media, 2017).

  7. 7 Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for the Church’s Mission Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022).

  8. 8 Michael W. Stroope, Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), xiii. 

  9. 9 Bosch, 1. 

  10. 10 André Seumois, Théologie Missionnaire: Délimitation de la Fonction Missionnaire de L’Eglise (Rome: Bureau de Presse O.M.I., 1973), 9. 

  11. 11 Even with biblical words, scholars frequently disagree over definitions.

  12. 12 Alan R. Johnson, Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013), 52.

  13. 13 For a survey of the theological developments between 1910 and 1952 see Wilhelm Andersen, Towards a Theology of Mission, International Missionary Council Research Pamphlet No. 2 (London: SCM Press, 1955). 

  14. 14; accessed November 20, 2019.

  15. 15 David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson,World Christian Trends AD 30-AD 2200: Interpreting the Annual ChristianMegacensus (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2001), 661. 1

  16. 6 R. W. Lewis, “Clarifying the Remaining Frontier Mission Task,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 35 #4 (October-December, 2018): 159. 

  17. 17 Ibid., 160.

  18. 18 At present, the U.S. and Canada are home to the third and sixth largest numbers of UPGs of all countries, respectively. See J. D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Unreached of the Day November-December 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Unreached of the Day November-December 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Launching Movements among Muslims: Case Studies of Best Practices—Antioch Family of Churches

24:14 Goal: Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (50 months)

Launching Movements among Muslims: Case Studies of Best Practices—Antioch Family of Churches

Edited from a presentation for Global Assembly of Pastors for Finishing the Task.

I’m the co-leader of the Antioch Family of Churches, a global alliance of indigenous Church Planting Movements. For the last 30 years, we have focused on building the leadership capacity of first-generation Christians who live in closed countries and helping them learn to multiply house churches. In this article I will focus on launching movements among Muslim peoples.

For the first 20 years of our work, many of our efforts were filled with missteps, mistakes and failures. However, it was through a personal crisis in my own life that we learned to make adjustments that would lead to breakthroughs. In 2004, I was helping underground house church leaders from Iran learn and understand 2 Timothy. After this training was completed, I was poisoned by an Al-Qaeda operative and nearly died. A lot of people were praying for me, and after two and a half months of doctors and hospital visits trying to determine what had happened, I was miraculously healed. I’m very grateful for that!

But the power of the story came later—years later, as a matter of fact. I was co-hosting a Church Planting Movement training for leaders from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and at the beginning of our time together we were introducing ourselves. I found out that one of our church-planters there was the man who had commissioned my poisoning!

At that moment I began to understand that multiplying movements requires much more than cross-cultural language and culture ability. The power of incarnation begins with learning about the soul of people, and in this case, developing a deep understanding of those who were radicalized for evil. The Lord put me on a journey to begin to understand the heart of what it would take to start movements among Muslims.

Today that same Antioch Family of Churches has 1,225 movement engagements in 748 languages in 157 countries. There are 2.3 million house churches with 42 million adults. What God has started, in and among us, began with our brokenness, our missteps and our misunderstandings. But after the Lord graciously allowed us to learn some powerful tools and effective principles, exponential breakthrough has taken place.
We focus on three priorities. The first one is rescuing people from slavery into sonship. That slavery may be human trafficking, but it’s always the slavery of sin. And it’s a life filled with discrimination, pain and heartache. But when these people enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, they become sons and daughters of the living God, and co-heirs. So our relationship, even with new believers, is not hierarchical. It’s like a family because we’re asking them to be baptized into Jesus, and then into the Church, and then into the world. We never ask anyone to join our culture before they find our Savior. We make sure they meet our Savior first. Then together we discover what church would look like in their own culture. So, the first priority is to rescue from slavery into sonship.

The second one is to empower people to bring others to Christ. You may have heard the term “seeking out a man of peace.” In our model, we seek out a man or woman of influence. We call it the Cornelius Model, from Acts 10. We ask the Lord to show us people who have incredible influence in their village or their community or their country. By bringing the gospel to them, they in turn have the ability to spread that good news to all the people in their social network. Then, just like the Apostle Paul asked Titus to establish elders in every church, we ask these Corneliuses to help raise up leaders and establish elders in every house church. Our ministry then, is from church to church: not organization to church, but a local church partnering with another indigenous house church to ask God what needs to be done and then work on it together.

Then comes our third priority, which is multiply. 2 Timothy 2:2 says that the things we have heard from reliable people, we are to pass on to those who can share it with others. It’s three-generation multiplication. We’ve found that if we focus on growing generations of leaders, we can multiply movements. Our leadership training is based on obedience, not knowledge. I’ll give you an  example. Several years ago, we opened up a new ministry in a major city, and we found someone interested in spiritual things. One of our workers began having a conversation with this person, and soon there were questions about Jesus. But before explaining the depth of the kingdom, we asked that person to go find five friends.

The goal was not to bring these five friends together into a house church meeting, but rather, have each one of them be mentored by this “Cornelius.” These five would begin immediately sharing with five of their friends, and those five friends would find five of their own friends. So from the very beginning, multiplication was embedded into the whole ministry.

With these three things—rescue, empower and multiply—we discovered that we can learn so much from people who are just coming to Christ. So instead of us teaching them with declarative statements, we begin by asking powerful questions. Here are the three questions that we ask. We ask, “Who is spiritually hungry? When are they spiritually seeking? And where are they spiritually attentive?” We try to find the cultural and spiritual rhythms of those to which we are ministering.

For instance, Easter weekend isn’t going to be a high holy day for a Muslim because they don’t know Jesus yet. We found, actually, that Ramadan is the most important calendar moment when we can share the good news with Muslims. Why? Because that’s the month when they’re seeking God. Granted, it’s not the same God. They’re not seeking after Jesus the Son of God; they’re just trying to find a way to earn enough credit that God might accept them. So instead of introducing them to our holidays first, we’ve decided to come alongside them, understand their spiritual rhythms, and pray for those who are spiritually hungry. We find where they’re hungry and what they’re attentive to. Then through spiritual conversations, we can find a Cornelius. We ask him to find his friends and the multiplication process begins.

We have equipped our leaders with a translation of Scriptures or key verses. We often provide them Wi-Fi boxes, so that with the push of a button they can spread the JESUS Film or portions of the New Testament, at least in trade languages. If the people group is unengaged, we provide our teams mobile backpacks, so that if they’re in villages they can show the JESUS Film to as many as 300 people. And we give them a lot of training in how to start spiritual conversations with people—so that people want to know the God who can rescue them, empower them and multiply their influence. They can meet God, Jesus, who can forgive them of their sins.

In the midst of all of this, we found that if we come together and pray, if we build teams to intercede, there’s tremendous opportunity in these moments. There’s one special day, toward the end of Ramadan (the 27th day), called the Night of Power. On that single night, many Muslims all over the world believe that their prayers carry a thousand times the weight of other days. And on that night, they ask God for a revelation of who he is. They ask God for forgiveness of their sins, and they ask for dreams and visions. So we send our people in to mingle with those seeking a God they don’t know, so we can share about the God that we do know.

On May 19th, 2020, more than one billion Muslims gathered together in homes to fast and pray. For the first time since 622AD, the mosques were closed because of the coronavirus. They prayed on this “Night of Power” for a special revelation from “Allah” and for forgiveness of their sins. At the same time, more than 38 million Jesus followers from 157 nations—all former Muslims—lifted their voices in prayer asking the one true and living God to reveal Himself through signs, wonders, dreams and visions to the Muslims around the world. They prayed that for the first time, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Muslims would understand the mercy, love and forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ. And on this “One Miracle Night” God heard those prayers.

When we agree together in prayer and go to the throne room of heaven, we ask Jesus to intercede on our behalf—so we’re going to have spiritual conversations at the right time in the right place. We can expect miraculous things to happen. This year, during the month of Ramadan, we sent teams from village to village, asking the Lord to give us open doors and open hearts. One team went to a country and visited a village where no one received them. No one showed hospitality; no one even opened their door.

By the end of the day, the team was very discouraged. They went outside the village and all sat under a tree and built a campfire so they would be warm for the night. They began to pray and ask the Lord what to do, asking for a way to have a breakthrough in this village. As the night went on they fell asleep. Soon they were awakened and one of the leaders saw a blazing fire coming their way. It turned out to be 274 people with fire torches in their hands, walking toward them. The team was initially filled with fear until one of them said, “Hey, we prayed that we’d have an opportunity to go to this village and share Jesus. Now the village is coming to us!”

Just before they met these people, one of the 274 men stepped forward and said, “We don’t know who you are, we don’t know where you’re from, and we didn’t open our homes to you when you were in our village today. But tonight, every single one of us has had the exact same dream. And in that dream an angel appeared to us and said, “These people who came to your village are the ones who have the truth. You should go and ask them, and follow what they say.”

That was the moment: spiritual conversations with the right people, at the right time, in the right place occurred. And before the night was over, 274 leaders of homes all made professions of faith and left their religion to walk in relationship with Jesus. That’s the power of prayer and having spiritual conversations in the right place.

I want to leave you with a story about launching movements among Muslim peoples. It comes not from the idea that the worker or the missionary is the one who’s supposed to do this. It’s about equipping and building a leader, a Cornelius, who will multiply the work. Several months ago, leaders came to me and said, “You know, we haven’t been able to reach certain villages and there’s no way to get to them using regular means. So we prayed, and we feel the Holy Spirit has asked us to set aside teams of people who will go across the desert and make sure that all of the unengaged people, all of those who are unreached and untouched, would hear the Good News.”

You and I have an opportunity to launch movements among Muslim peoples. It begins when we train local people who are living nearby and are near-culture. We find a Cornelius, we invest in that person, and he helps us understand how to mobilize his friends to tell their friends. It can be as far away as the deserts of the Middle East on camels. If we empower local churches to take on the responsibilities God has given them instead of us being at the front, we become the Barnabas who supports these apostles and people who are sending. I would say that our responsibility is to equip people with training and tools and to build trust. They appoint leaders and they send church-planters to multiply other people who will then share the Good News.

In summary, I think we can look at launching movements among Muslim peoples in this way. First, a book of Acts culture can produce a book of Acts breakthrough. Second, we launch movements among Muslim peoples by adjusting our conversations, so the conversations are spiritually led with the right people, at the right time, in the right place.

We ask people to be baptized into Jesus, then help them discover what their church looks like, rather than asking people to find their way in the culture of our church. We need to also ask God for a Cornelius, a man or a woman of influence, who will use their influence to multiply the kingdom among the relationships they already have. I want to encourage you as you consider launching movements among Muslim peoples, to look for tools, to find quality training and to build trust. Come together as one church, connecting with the nearby and near-culture church, so that together you can go to unengaged, unreached peoples,and see a Cornelius multiply the kingdom in partnership with you.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Pondering the Question

Pondering the Question
“Do you have a biblical worldview?” That is the question posed and discussed in this edition of Mission Frontiers. My purpose here is to reflect a bit about the question itself, and then to suggest its connection to the frontiers of mission.


I did some digging around and among the many definitions of worldview one might find I will use one I found on the website of Summit Ministries. I select that one because Summit’s mission is to help Christians shape their worldview. The site includes this definition, “According to Dr. Jeff Myers, a worldview is ‘a pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world.” So keeping that in mind, let me turn to the question this edition poses.

The Question

I appreciate a subtle point about how the question is framed. Notice the use of an indefinite article! The question is not “do you have the biblical world view,” but rather, “do you have a biblical worldview?” I imagine many of us would approach this topic with the assumption that there is a single “biblical worldview,” and if asked my opinion about that my response would have to be, “yes and no.”

No, not a single biblical worldview

The Bible was of course inspired and written and collected over many generations and God’s communication was always taking place within the frameworks of the contexts and cultural worldviews of the recipients. This means that in a very real sense, many worldviews could be assembled from the biblical sources.
One example: as the helpful definition from Summit points out, a worldview will include elements that help us make sense of God, and of God’s relationship to us (and vice versa). Christians have read the Bible for generations and come to differing conclusions on many topics, including something as potentially ground-shifting as the topic of God’s sovereignty and the extent of human free will.
That is a worldview issue, and the fact that Christians differ sincerely and deeply suggests that there may be differences of nuance and detail in the Scriptures themselves.

Yes, a single biblical worldview

When we ask if there is a single biblical world view, we are asking: is there a single, right way to see the world, and people, etc? And my reply is, yes. The single right worldview, or way of seeing the world is God’s worldview, or God’s way of seeing the world. God has given revelation about this. We have inspired Scripture, we have human beings made in the image of God, we have the “book” of nature and wisdom, and we ultimately have Jesus, the lens by which we see all the rest, including all of what is in the Bible, wisdom, nature, etc. You might say, we have the answer key.
So, there is a worldview, a right one: God’s. It is a worldview we seek to understand, find, embrace, and use to see everything else with. But it is God’s and all of our attempts to see it and embrace it are going to be in need of  constant adjustment because we will all read the Bible based on our lenses of time and place and culture. That includes the ways we will each apply the answer key, Jesus.

This is where the frontiers come in…

I am guessing that some will assume this is where I talk about how important it is for workers in the frontiers to have a biblical worldview so they can pass it along to others. True enough, but that will not be my point here—I want to flip the coin around.
I suggest, based on my own experience as a worker in the frontiers, that part of the process of adjusting my biblical worldview, making it more aligned to God’s, has been the way brothers and sisters in UPGs discover aspects of Jesus and the Scriptures that I would miss had I not been in relationship with these saints.
Thus, at the frontiers of mission, biblical worldviews will meet, be changed, and together be adjusted to something closer to God’s view of the world and how we all relate.
Do I have a biblical worldview? Yes. And God willing, tomorrow it will be closer to God’s!

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

What Shapes our Views

What Shapes our Views
As we seek to extend God’s fame among the nations, we must seriously consider (1) what has shaped us, (2) how that informs how we interpret the Scriptures and (3) how we share truth with others.
I was raised in a family defined as “traditional” in the sense that my mother and father were both in the home, along with two brothers and one sister. We all shaped each other. We grew up going to church—I don’t remember a time that I didn’t. That shaped my views of everything (almost). Growing up in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, there were many of my friends who almost never darkened the doors of a church, and probably thought I was strange.
When I was entering high school, my family switched to a new church that was just starting. It emphasized Bible teaching, fellowship and accountability. I was mentored and drawn into ministry—from service to discipling and teaching, learning, applying and, hopefully, growing more. I was also being increasingly drawn into full-time ministry. I began to consider seminary as a way to learn more about studying and understanding the Word in depth. For me, it led me on a path of continual learning.
I am sure I’m missing many things still. As I learn, I increasingly see how much there is to learn. More often now, I seek the Spirit to help me to see myself and the Word more clearly. And there are things to “unlearn!"
All that to say that when we come to the Bible, we have been (and are) influenced by many people—from family to friends to mentors as well as many experiences. Those who’ve experienced other languages and cultures have broader experiences.
Naturally, that worldview shapes our paradigm for how we understan d the Scriptures and what we expect and believe the Bible to teach. Much of the time, we on’t even think about either our worldview or the
paradigm with which we come to the Bible. Perhaps an illustration or two will help.
Ralph Winter used to teach how a central underlying theme of the Scriptures is that we are here to take God’s message to all peoples. He would say that missions was not based on the Bible, but that the missions was the basis of the Bible. He would illustrate how an average Western evangelical might come to the Bible like a refrigerator. When we read it, we are looking to be fed (a good thing) perhaps a snack. On Sunday, the pastor takes something from a different shelf of the fridge (Bible), a Sunday School teacher another, and so on.
That approach, if overstated, can keep us from seeing the whole story and purpose of the Bible. And, means we come with a self-centered perspective, always looking for something for us because we see the Bible as mainly meeting our needs. At other times, we come to the Bible as a sort of theological dictionary or a reference book of moral principles.1 It’s an answer book.
The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is full of all kinds of things and you can get moral direction from it. It is full of theology (a word which means the “study of God”). But it is not mainly a reference or answer book. When we come to it for our needs, we also tend to use it as a way to prove we are right and other views are wrong. We use it to confirm our bias. That can happen both inside and outside the Church (with people from other religious traditions).
Chris Tomlin’s popular song “Our God” has biblical truth in it: that there is none like Him … none is greater, stronger, higher than any other…. which is all true. But the danger is that as believers, we can sound like a child saying, “my daddy is bigger or stronger than your daddy.” Or my “religion” is better or right, and yours is all wrong.
Certainly God is supreme and powerful beyond our imaginations and there are passages in the Scripture that describe that. But notice that when God tells us clearly what He is like—what His name means—He doesn’t mention power or position. He does not need to do so. Instead, in Exodus 34:6-7 (the most quoted passage within the whole Bible) He uses words andphrases like:
“…merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love  and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (ESV)
And right after God proclaims His love and mercy and grace and forgiveness to an audience of one—Moses bows in worship!
As we worship Him let’s present ourselves as learners, seeking to spread the name of a loving and gracious God.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Reconstructing a “House of Knowledge”

Reconstructing a “House of Knowledge”
It was after midnight when she finally heard the gate open. Flora Mwikali dragged herself wearily from the comfort of her cot and started toward the light from the lounge. The matron, Mummy, was already there. Suddenly the guard called, “They are too afraid. You must come, Ma’am.” As Flora peered into the van, she could see the eyes of two children gleaming like small white crescents. The woman officer was trying to coax them, but they cringed and trembled, straining away. They were so small, Flora thought. Maybe age five or six? Or maybe they were just malnourished, like so many others before them. She already had welcomed over 60 such small faces as the two she could suddenly smell on the night breeze. She motioned for the guard to make his rounds. With no men looking at them, like wounded animals the children clambered down and into the lighted room.
“This one we found sleeping buried up to her neck in the roadside repair sand,” the officer summarized as she handed Flora the paperwork. “It kept her from being troubled all night. This other one in the market dustbin, eating garbage after everyone went home.” The girls looked down as Flora read the unfeeling report “…checked at the hospital.” The officer went on. “No infections, but they have been…damaged.” She shook her head sadly as she accepted the signed paper. After she was gone, Flora knelt down, examining their small faces, not letting herself pull away from their stench. “Do you want to tell about yourselves?” The girls remained silent. “Here you will be safe. You will have sisters to play with, and can go to school. Would you like that?” She thought she detected a slight nod, and they had stopped trembling and were listening now. “This is a towel. Mummy here will help you bathe. All the girls here at New Scent are clean. She will help you dress in new clothes of your very own. I will make you food and prepare your bed. Tomorrow you can rest for as long as you want. Then, other girls would like to meet you.”
She knew that they did not understand some of her words. Most girls had never touched a towel or had a bath in their short lives. As she watched them walk to the shower house with Mummy, she wondered again, why did they just keep coming? In Kenya, where nearly 80% claimed Christ, how could men violate childish bodies with impunity? Why were the girls then treated like the garbage they often hid in?
These girls would soon find new dignity in Christ. They would learn to pray with the others and experience God providing food (without exacting pain). Someone would deliver a sack of meal or a bag of rice to the gate. But like manna, there was rarely surplus. Flora thought of the last church elder to whom she had shared her difficulty feeding 60 children. “If you would just take in ordinary orphans, then our church could help,” he had said, “but these are 
so dirtified…” his lip curled with the word. His digust matched countless rejections over the seven years since God brought the first molested child to her doorstep.
“I have experienced equal measures of love and hate from Your people, Lord. What’s wrong?” Flora prayed as she heated the mush. “The leaders know Your Word. Why do they not love and value children you say are made in Your image?”
Experiences like Flora’s are not rare. Christian workers in every culture bruise themselves on implacable boulders hidden like deadly reefs in leaders’ worldviews. They wonder, why is the perspective of the Church and its leaders so contrary to a clear teaching of Scripture? Why isn’t the Scripture affecting these hidden stones?
The answer lies in assumptions founded in each individual’s “House of Knowledge,” a helpful visualization of the human mind and heart (which I am constantly renovating) to illustrate learning and teaching.

What is the House of Knowledge?

In Proverbs 9:1, The writer describes Lady Wisdom building a house. In a similar way, each person builds an inner house of everything believed to be true. This House of Knowledge (HOK) is a helpful (but admittedly imperfect) way of picturing the structure of your mind, everything you believe, understand, or judge about everything you have encountered—your own “wisdom.” The blocks that make up your HOK are organized by topics of all sorts, from geography, the names and appearance of your family and friends, ways of appropriate behavior in your culture, to beliefs about yourself and your worth. They are not discrete, but clusters of information, with cross- referenced connections threaded to each other.The heart reigns at the center of the HOK. In biblical thought, the heart is not seen primarily as the location of emotions, as in Western thought. It is much more than that. The heart is the center of will, choice, personality, subconscious. It refers to who you are deep inside and regulates how you choose, respond, or initiate. Proverbs 4:23 says to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

How does the House of Knowledge Start? With Caregivers

A baby is born knowing nothing, right? No, at birth, the baby has already learned comfort, hunger, pain, fear and the sound of the family’s voices from inside the womb. These impressions are the first stones supporting his/ her tiny house of limited knowledge. But when the baby is jettisoned into the world at birth, it is like arriving on an alien planet. Life is going on, and she is urgently trying to make sense of this new world and how she fits into it. For this, the Lord has instilled in babies several essential skills and senses. She immediately goes to work recording impressions, and seeking to connect them with other impressions, then to extract meaning from the data. She notes who attends to her needs and what her caregiver’s reactions tell her about her own value. Within a few short weeks, social smiles bounce back and forth between the baby and the parents, or neglect produces insecurity. As the impressions grow, the house structure expands and the world comes into focus.
The parents aren’t the only ones giving the child input about the nature of life. Brothers and sisters, aunts and cousins and other caregivers are just a few of the people who give the baby data for the quest. Because we live in a world where sin, Satan and the world system are distorted and seeking to distort, some of the blocks the child builds into the house are also distorted. Sisters and brothers may say “I wish you’d never been born.” The child cannot reject these early impressions, any more than she can reject the name his parents call her. It is a one-way absorption. For many years of development, the foundation stones will embed so deeply under the soil of the maturing individual’s “house,” that they will rarely, if ever, be considered again. Language, culture, experimentation and impressions about her own body all form new blocks.

How does the House Grow? The Elevator, Greater Complexity, and Judgments

Each person’s House of Knowledge is a totally private place, humanly speaking. As a Christian discipler, you do not know what is really inside someone else’s house. It may even have been a long time since you explored the lower reaches of your own HOK. Your only access to your learner’s house is the “elevator shaft” that we can imagine extending from outside down through the core of the house. This elevator ferries information bundles down into the house. As data arrives, the mind instantly works to decode the new bundle, combing existing storerooms of blocks for something with similar features—somewhat like a domino player examines a new tile for a matching dot pattern. There are only a few seconds available for this process. If there is no match, the data disappears back up the shaft. For example, if I see a Japanese Kanji character, it takes only a split second for me to realize I do not know enough to decode it.
If new data finds some commonality with an existing block, the mind goes to work interpreting the new knowledge based on the previously stored data. If congruent, the new information attaches to the old. The upgraded block goes back into long-term memory, which grows that much bigger and more complex. So, the child’s blocks develop greater complexity. For instance, the “bird” block now includes species, “crow, sparrow, seagull” as well as bird noises, bird physiology and bird habits. This complexity gives that much more oppor- tunities to find matches whenever new information arrives in the elevator. Greater expertise in any topic and wider experience types means faster and easier absorption of new “bundles.”
Conversely, failures to learn rudimentary principles or make key observations cause new bundles to be misunderstood. Like the tongues-speakers Paul mentions in 1 Cor 14:11, if concepts arrive in unknown vocabulary, or are too advanced for the child’s current development, the new data is discarded as not only unintelligible, but are actually unable to be remembered any more than I can recall my unintelligible Kanji. Jesus actually describes a similar principle in Matt. 11:13 when speaking about the contrast between His disciples’ understanding and the confused crowds. “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”
The school-age child experiences disciplined ways of expanding the HOK through listening, writing, reading, testing, rehearsing and creating. But mental paths to locate specific facts from textbooks, tests, and sermons, as well as memories about specific experiences, will weed over without rehearsal. But signposted judgments such as “good” or “keep out” on many subjects or events will remain to inform future bundles. Emotional experiences, especially with significant people exhibiting strong emotions (positive or negative) will inscribe the most deep, influential judgments. However, a traumatic event burns an access path so vividly that the event data itself cannot be forgotten (even though in PTSD or dissociative disorders, it may be sequestered). These signposts assign meaning to the data and will continue to exert influence throughout life.

Good Processes Can Produce Bad Results

A child comes equipped with a disposition to trust adults and older siblings. A child is not naturally skeptical, not good at discerning or rejecting input, as easily as they might spit out bitter food. Because God designed the parents to represent God to the child, the parents’ verdict about the child’s value and the way the world works is absorbed without question. But in a fallen world, this makes them vulnerable to deceit and lasting emotional damage. A baby can’t say “You should not treat me as worthless! I am God’s design and deeply loved!” If a mother says “Your brother is the smart one, you’re the cute and pretty one,” or father hisses, “Your birth brought bad luck,” these “facts” will be  deeply believed.
The compulsion to imitate, while being a key equipment for early learning, is another dangerous skill in a fallen world. It’s cute when a baby wears Daddy’s big shoes, but not cute when he imitates his curse words. Whenever a parent’s actions differ from his instructions, the child, in the long run, will typically imitate. “Do what I say, not what I do” is useless. This makes sense because humans were created as God’s image-bearers, designed to replicate His image to their children. Offspring become natural image-bearers of parents, both physically from genetics and caught from behavior. The problem of course, is that once again, children have only poor replicas of God to imitate! Yet Paul invited the infantile Corinthians to imitate him as He modeled Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16). This exhortation should keep us as teachers and parents humbly walking in the fruit of the Spirit, so that God can image Christ through us. Then those we seek to disciple can safely imitate our walk.

The Right to Reign

Through the process of maturing, a child begins to exercise an ability God instilled in all humans—the right to reign (Gen. 1:26). This includes a right to reject as well as accept. The child might say “I don’t like red curry but I do like bananas.” The cluster about bananas gets signposted with others as “foods I like” and the curry information gets judged “foods I don’t like.” The child learns to exercise an ability to say “No!” as well as to comply, to complain as well as feel satisfied. Rather than accepting everything, the child learns to compare old and new information, remodeling or replacing deficient blocks. The heart instinctively knows it has this right. While this function can be just as flawed as the others in a fallen world, this ability to discern and choose is crucial to protecting the learner’s HOK from false and dangerous bundles.
One of my students, a pastor’s daughter, shared about an encounter in her church while she was still preschoolaged. As she blithely walked down a corridor, an elder suddenly blocked her way. “Why are you wearing black clothing?” he hissed. “Are you the devil’s child? God does not approve of your black dress!” Surprising for her age, Jennifer did not collapse in fear or tears. Instead, she squared her shoulders and responded indignantly, “No, I belong to Jesus. My God cares about what is in my heart, not what I am wearing!”
We can see from, not only her truthful words, but her ability to contradict a powerful adult at a young age, that her parents had laid a formidable block of biblical truth in her young heart that protected her from a deep wound (Ps. 57:4; Eph. 6:16). She was shaken by the encounter (and still remembers it vividly today, decades later) but she successfully jettisoned the lie arriving on her elevator and reigned over the attack. When a new bundle’s comparison to existing blocks produces not a “no match” (like my Kanji) but instead “understandable, but different conclusions,” this challenges the brain to work harder. In a young brain, the challenge of sorting out truth from error and chiseling new pieces and old until they fit into a congruent block is an exciting part of discovering the reign. An adolescent from a Christian home may therefore unpack a bundle from a secular worldview, compare it to his HOK blocks based on Scripture, and, instead of rejecting the new information, may swap it all out. Youth from unbelieving homes will hear the gospel and do the same. Both adolescents may horrify their parents who thought they had carefully built their child’s HOK.

The Adult Brain: Efficient and Automated

But that kind of wholesale swap is unlikely in later adulthood. Now the HOK is a mansion, a museum of vast experiences, information and approved wisdom. But the house that was once eagerly amassing, exploring and testing new information is now settled, even cemented. Values signposts, and the experiences which imprinted them, are now solidified. The mature learner’s approach to any new information arriving on the elevator has often turned from eagerness to complacency or negativity. The HOK considers itself basically finished. So, its new goal is to treasure and protect its hoard. New congruent information may be welcomed but the mind may not go to the trouble of storing it. When a new arriving bundle conflicts with existing blocks, instead of experiencing the thrill of adventure, the adult brain can experience anxiety, discomfort, even pain! The greater the uncertainty or disruption, the worse the discomfort. Being forced to wrestle between biblical truths and cultural understandings can cause a crisis not unlike an uncomfortable earthquake. How can I alter or discard this deep block, one which gives me my identity? What blocks are attached or supported by that cultural block? On the other hand, how can I reject this compelling Scripture bundle? An adult brain experiences this quaking as a threat. In fact, brain researchers found that any challenge to a held belief, even a political opinion, causes the same part of the brain to react as it does from physical threat. The brain wants to eliminate the conflict quickly. By adulthood it has several well-honed tools handy to defend the HOK. 

One toolset to eliminate threats includes biases, rules and principles. These guide decisions categorically without thinking deeply about relative merits. Children start creating these rules immediately. Researchers found babies prefer people who look similar and distrust those who look different. By the time we are adults, we easily make snap judgments (“don’t trust people who have beards”), anticipate outcomes (“if I fall, it will hurt”), and follow routines (“I always undress before bed”) without really evaluating relative merits.
These tools serve us well in many cases, but fail us in others. They can cause us to sin or act foolishly. “This messenger came from that group I don’t trust, so I won’t believe it.” We need to realize when we are operating using automated patterns and consider when it might be important. Biases also make us vulnerable to deceit. Research has shown, for instance, that when someone trusts us, we automatically reciprocate trust. We can be deceived by an unscrupulous scam artist who asks for our help. Similarly, once we decide to trust and respect someone, our positive bias causes us to stop evaluating their words and actions. This is how Barnabas followed Peter into hypocrisy in Gal. 2:13 before Paul startled them both into evaluating their response to the Judaizers.
A second toolset that adults use to avoid earthquakes is by avoiding detail. So, instead of paying close attention to a sermon, for instance, adults absorb only the gist of the message, or the entertaining illustration. They don’t even dig into their existing storerooms. They might say they “enjoyed the sermon,” nodding at the familiar, and perhaps tweaking a congruent block with an insignificant upgrade. But, when tested, they remember little of what the pastor actually taught from Scripture. In a few days, the “gist memory” has disappeared.
A third way adults deal with conflicting bundles is by placing new information in the attic. The attic of the HOK is high up, isolated from cultural values in the foundation. All Christian information can be conveniently delivered here, safe from cultural, family or business values that may conflict. New bundles here are interpreted and connected only to other attic blocks. This handy space allows one to simultaneously hold opposing blocks that cannot both be true. Because they are at opposite ends of the house, they do not provoke an earthquake.
For instance, a person might receive a sermon on the topic of the dignity of each person with a big smile and a hearty “Amen!” on Sunday. He knows John 3:16 by heart, and when pressed, he would declare that of course God loves little children. But if he has only loaded Scripture into his “attic,” down deep the cultural truth titled “your value proceeds from the honorableness of your family” reigns nopposed. Not every child has equal value. Certainly a child who has to bury herself each night, and unbury her dirty part in order to obtain food, can only bring shame to the church’s association with her. “If you touch filth, you become filthy” is what his grandfather said. Flora can be directed to save orphans, still redeemable, not permanently “dirtified” as these girls surely are.
The problem of sequestered worldviews is not limited to non-Western ones. In Western society today, objective commandments have been replaced with a higher dictum to “look within.” Follow your heart is the only source of truth. Despite the fact that Scripture insists that “The one who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26), or “The heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jer. 17:9), Western parents rarely even notice this mantra programmed like gospel into young brains from the mouths of every Disney hero and heroine, Olympic athlete, and pop song. Now when people hear preaching or reading that conflicts with their (fallen) heart-impression of rightness or wrongness, they jettison Scripture, not their own judgment.

So what does this mean for Christians involved in discipleship?

As those who believe that God’s Word holds the only antidote to a faulty HOK, how do we as Christian disciplers help people to make the deep changes and replacements needed? One impact of understanding the HOK function is that learning shifts from primarily a teacher giving information, to the HOK Homeowner doing something with bundles. The best data lectured or preached in the most compelling way will not alter anything alone. Onlya learner can do the hard interior HOK work. The teacher must ask the Holy Spirit how to create earthquakes, even when blocks are cemented in place.
The teacher’s study or information is therefore only a fraction of lesson preparation. One primary role of a teacher is to design for the learner a minimum of four steps:
  1. Identify pertinent existing blocks in their House of Knowledge (often through remembering a story).
  2.  Comprehend the new information correctly.
  3.  Evaluate, analyze, apply to something, judge, and/ or create using the new information. For instance, learners might contrast the data with common assumptions or other areas of Scripture; then apply to various situations; then create a new role play to illustrate the concept to others.
  4.  Make a choice. Identify the changes this new understanding will make when the learner returns to “normal life.”
While facilitated small groups typically accommodate these potentially earthquake-producing steps, one Indian pastor who attended a workshop reported he was using this four-step design during worship, bracketing his sermons with interactive challenges. He shared with delight that his congregation was learning, not just listening. He has decided to assign even more challenging learning tasks to the elders so that Scripture can change them deeply. I pray for this congregation to do more than just grow bigger.
This four-step teaching/learning process is not unique to me or to iTEE Global, but came originally from the life experience and teaching of Dr. Jane Vella, an adult educator working in Africa. In my own experience teaching cross-culturally as well as graduate studies in the field of adult education, I believe they best apply the House of Knowledge principles to actual lesson preparation. The four steps work equally well for learners who have high or low educational backgrounds and in all sorts of cultures. For our teacher training workshops, we use easily translatable labels as “Look Back”, “Look Here”, “Look Deeper”, and “Look Forward” and help disciplers learn to create learning tasks in each category.

Organizations mentioned:

New Scent Centre: or contact Flora Mwikali [email protected].
iTEE Global:

Further reading on learning principles/theories:

Cognitive Load
Zone of Proximal Development
Teaching Adults (Sometimes called Andragogy):
Vella, Jane. On Teaching and Learning: Putting the Principles and Practices of Dialogue Education into Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass 2008 (ISBN: 978- 0-7879-8699-5). (Vella biography at:

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine?

John Lennon’s song, Imagine, is one of the enduring classics from the 1970s. Lennon was a member of the Beatles and an avid political activist. Imagine is an anthem of secularism and remains extremely popular to this day. In fact, it practically sums up the secular worldview in three minutes.

Living for Today

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

According to Jacques Berlinerblau, professor and director of the program for Jewish civilization at Georgetown University, “The secularists are here-and-now people. They live for this world, not the next.”1 Secularism is all about this world. In fact, this world is all there is—no heaven, no hell. Lennon asks us to imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t have ideas like heaven and hell. According to Secularists, there would be a lot fewer wars and less hatred and if we all just lived for today, there could finally be peace.

While Christians disagree with this view, we can admit that some Christians have been “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” As Christians, we cannot deny the doctrines of heaven and hell, but we often get confused in how we think about those concepts.We imagine heaven as the final destination where we will escape from the evil world. But Genesis 1-2 tells us that God created a good world of order and beauty. He created humans to live in relationship with Him and set them about the task of bringing more of His goodness and beauty into the world. God’s world is not an evil place, it is a broken place that God is going to restore.

Revelation 21-22 is a vision of heaven and earth finally uniting. God isn’t going to discard the world; He’s going to redeem and remake it. Our final hope is not in the clouds, but here in God’s restored world, when heaven and earth are unified as the kingdom of God.

Living Life in Peace

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

Secularism ultimately envisions a kind of utopia where humans, working together without the interference of God or religion, can create a world of peace and harmony. Lennon’s vision sounds wonderful, but it is a denial of the sin nature in human beings. Since the fall in Genesis 3, all people have inherited a sin nature (Rom. 5:12), which means that left to our own devices we will look to our own interests.

According to Francis Schaeffer, when Adam and Eve sinned, four separations occurred. Man was separated from God, from himself, from his neighbor, and from creation.3 The Bible and the history of the world affirm that we cannot repair these rifts on our own. The doctrine of sin isn’t just about humans being imperfect beings who make mistakes; rather, it is about rebels going against their Creator, incapable of doing what is good on their own.

Part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to initiate the kingdom of God, bringing peace and healing those separations caused by the fall. Though the kingdom of God will not be fully initiated until Christ returns, we can anticipate His arrival by working through the power of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) to a lost and dying world.

Sharing All the World

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

For Lennon and secularists, utopia will be people doing what feels good in a world with no religious rules or regulations, everyone living in peace and sharing everything. And we will get there only when we shed religion, personal possessions and outdated morality. If we are going to get to utopia, we all have to do it together. According to secularist Sam Harris, part of the problem with religion is that religious people identify “with a subset of humanity rather than with humanityas a whole.”4

In reality however, Lennon, Harris, and other secularists have identified themselves with their own subset. Secularism is as much a religion as Christianity is. But Christianity (contra Harris and Lennon) is for the world. The heaven we imagine (and the one that Scripture speaks of ) will be one in which God’s kingdom is finally established and all the world is living together in harmony under His just rule. However, we won’t get there on our own merits. To be part of that kingdom we must be reconciled to God through His son, Jesus. When that relationship is restored, we are loosed upon the world to anticipate God’s kingdom by bringing His justice and peace into our homes, communities, and indeed, the whole world.

  1. 1 Jacques Berlinerblau, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious reedom (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2012), 180 as quoted in Jeff Myers and David Noebel, Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews, 5th ed.
    (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries,
    2015), 77.

  2. Since Lennon’s song is about a utopian vision, which is a kind of heaven, we will focus only on our ideas about heaven in this article. For an interesting discussion of Hell, see Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and Jeff

    Myer’s Understanding the Faith.

  3. 3 Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time (1972) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer A Christian Worldview: Volume 2 - A Christian View of the Bible as Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 69-70.

  4. 4 secular-philosophies/why-religionmust-end-interview-with-samharris.aspx.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

God’s Mission Is a Battle for Hearts and Minds

God’s Mission Is a Battle for Hearts and Minds

They are all around us, as pervasive as the air we breathe. They bombard us relentlessly day and night from every direction seeking to take us captive. The unaware are helpless to avoid their grasp. They are the lies, evil philosophies and poisonous worldviews that seek to tear our hearts and minds away from the God who loves us and sent His Son to die for us. These lies of Satan seek to corrupt a true and biblical understanding of God and how we are to relate to Him.

As seen in the article by Jeff Myers starting on page 19, these false worldviews have invaded our churches and corrupted the hearts and minds of millions of supposedly faithful followers of Jesus. The statistics on page 20 paint a bleak and grim picture of compromise and apostacy. Another survey by George Barna completed several years ago, which I have often quoted, discovered that only 19% of self-proclaimed born-again believers in Jesus actually held to very basic sound doctrine such as the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. That means that 81% do not hold to the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith. It is no wonder we are having so much trouble making progress in reaching the unreached peoples. We haven’t even reached the people in our churches yet. And what happens if we send these people out as mission workers to make disciples? Horrors! We are not talking about trying to attain some perfect goal of 100% adherence to sound doctrine, as we will always have some wayward souls in the Church. But better than 50% is not too much to ask.

The mission of God is a battle for the hearts and minds of billions of people, both inside and outside the Church. All truth is God’s truth and we must conform our beliefs, values and thinking to His truth. How we think about God and ourselves affects everything else in the world since our thinking affects our actions. The battles we face in the physical world such as poverty, disease, war, human trafficking, and on and on, are at their roots a battle for the mind. This is why God calls us to renew our minds and take every thought captive to Christ. Bad thinking leads to bad outcomes both personally and globally. All the crises we face in the world are, in reality, a spiritual/ worldview crisis. Thus, our job as Jesus followers is to identify the unbiblical beliefs, lies and false worldviews in our own lives and the lives of others and to confront them with the truth of God’s word. To say the least, this is a monumental task. On just a personal level, it is a life-long journey to identify the lies we have believed and to replace these lies with the truth of God’s Word.

In order to confront and defeat the lies and false worldviews in ourselves and others, we must understand: 1. How our worldview developed, 2. What are the major worldviews vying for our allegiance, and, 3. How do we go about replacing the lies of the false worldviews with God’s truth through effective discipleship? Unless we understand how to disciple people toward lasting biblical change in their lives, then we are in grave danger of

simply plastering Christian knowledge on top of a false worldview that is largely unchanged. The effects of this can be disastrous. We can see this in many parts of the world where large majorities of people claim to be Christians but their behavior does not reflect a truly transformed life. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 is but one example of a largely “Christian” country not reflecting Christ-like character.

Reconstructing a “House of Knowledge”

The wonderful article by Debbie Wood starting on page 8, gets to the heart of this problem. Based on the latest brain science, she describes how our worldview develops and how our “House of Knowledge” gets built, block by block. Unfortunately, many of these blocks that make up our worldview are faulty and based on lies. So, as we come to Christ, each of us must do the hard work of renovating our House of Knowledge to replace those

faulty blocks with blocks of truth. Situations like the Rwandan genocide take place when the faulty blocks are not replaced and the truth of the gospel is just stored in the attic and ignored. This article gets to the heart of how we change our worldview and disciple others so they are equipped to change their worldview as well.

The implications of this article are massive for the ministry of the Church. The foundational fact of human nature is that truth cannot just be heard as in a sermon. It must be wrestled with and internalized in order to make any difference. Passive listening is not enough. Whenever truth encounters deeply embedded lies in our minds, it creates a type of cognitive dissonance that can produce real physical distress. As the Church, we must provide educational opportunities in small discipleship groups that encourage this “wrestling match” to take place on a regular basis. We all have a bunch of embedded lies that need to be ripped out and replaced with God’s truth.
Simply sitting in church and listening to a sermon once a week will not suffice. We are up against a culture with a high-powered media blasting lies at us like a machine gun, 24/7. A once-a-week sermon with passive listeners cannot compete with this. The Church has to adapt or we will get more of the compromise and apostasy that we see in the Church today.

All of this limits what we can do in reaching the unreached peoples. How can we effectively mobilize the Church to action on behalf of the unreached peoples if 81% of the people in the Church do not even believe the foundational truths of the Bible? A radical change in the way we do church is required if the mission of the Church is to survive the onslaught of false worldviews from the surrounding culture.

Disciple Making Movements Are the Answer

At the heart of every Disciple Making Movement (DMM) is a philosophy of education and transformation that is perfectly suited for how people were created to learn and to replace bad information with the truth. The discipleship process in DMMs is centered upon active involvement, not passive listening as in most churches. Disciples are taught how to study the Scriptures for themselves and to feed themselves spiritually. The focus in DMMs is not on gaining head knowledge, storing more stuff in the attic of their House of Knowledge, but rather on application and obedience to what they are learning from Scripture. The process encourages the resolution of internal conflicts between deeply embedded blocks of lies and the truth of God’s Word. These conflicts are not glossed over, as in most Christian education, but brought out into the open to be confronted and resolved with the help of the Holy Spirit. In DMMs the disciple is taught to listen to the Holy Spirit and to obey what God’s word and the Spirit says. If the disciple has a faulty, unbiblical worldview, then that will come to the surface when confronted with the truths of God’s Word. The kind of statistics we see in Jeff Myers’ article on page 20 are the result of the lack of an effective discipleship process that encourages people to confront and alter the defective blocks in their worldview. As said before, passive listening is not enough for this essential confrontation process to take place. Each of us must confront the lies in our worldview and replace those lies with the truth. Then we must help others to do the same. The future of God’s mission on Earth will hinge on whether we have the courage to choose a more effective path of discipleship.

Support the Work of Mission Frontiers

As is the case with most publications, Mission Frontiers cannot cover its costs from subscriptions alone. We need additional funds from those who believe in this ministry and are willing to sacrifice to help us move forward in casting vision for Kingdom Movements in all peoples. Like most of the people who work for Frontier Ventures, my salary is supplied by the donations of churches and friends who believe in what I am doing. And also like many staff members at Frontier Ventures, there are many months when not enough comes in to fully cover our allotted salary. To donate to my ministry with MF go to and click on the Donate button. Put MA 323 in the dialog box. If you would like to help MF cover its general expenses and expand its influence, go to the same web address, given above, click on the Donate button and put MA 030 in the dialog box. We greatly appreciate whatever you can do to help Mission Frontiers and Frontier Ventures continue its work to see Kingdom Movements emerge in all peoples.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

How to Stop the Bad Ideas That Plague Us

How to Stop the Bad Ideas That Plague Us
We live in a time of war. There are no soldiers in this battle. There are no landing craft, no bombers flying in formation, no artillery emplacements. Yet attacks occur every minute of every day.
The battle we’re in is a battle of ideas. To be spiritually and mentally strong, we need a healthy worldview that inoculates us against the bad ideas we pick up from the culture around us. In my new book, The Secret Battle of Ideas About God, I show how we can win against bad ideas by thinking of them as viruses and by paying attention to the steps doctors take to stop deadly diseases.

Bad Ideas are Like Viruses

The battles we face are more like germ warfare thanlike military warfare, because bad ideas are like viruses. A virus is an organism with genetic material coated by a protein. Genetic material is common and ordinarily not harmful. Proteins are necessary for the body to do its work. Separately, they’re harmless. When combined, however, they can be deadly. Secret Battle reveals the four steps doctors take to battle against viral outbreaks and shows how these same four steps can immunize us against bad ideas and replace them with good ideas about love, healing, purpose, peace and hope.

Four Steps to Stopping Bad Ideas: What We Can Learn from the Battle against Disease

A recent Time article frightfully revealed how scientists are scrambling to prevent the next viral outbreak that could kill millions. In the article, Bill Gates says that highly infectious disease is humanity’s greatest threat. Gates is right. Sort of. Deadly diseases have killed millions in the past. But bad ideas can be deadlier. The ideas of Nazism and Marxism resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions in the 20th century. Both ideas started in books—in Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. When faced with potentially catastrophic viral outbreaks, doctors have learned not to sit back and hope for the best. Rather, they take decisive action, using four specific steps to curb a virus’s growing impact. I call this the 4 I’s—Identify, Isolate, Inform, and Invest.

First, doctors identify the virus’ characteristics.

Doctors can identify viruses by the symptoms they cause: aches and pains, fever and so forth. We can identify the symptoms of bad ideas, too. Among Christians, for example, a terrible “virus” is striking the young. One measure of the virus’ reach is how many drop out of church. Up to 75 percent of students who were significantly involved in church in high school no longer attend church as 20-somethings, and only 35 percent return and attend regularly (defined as at least twice a month).
Many think higher education is the problem. It’s not. Those who don’t attend college after high school are even more likely than college-goers to stop attending church.
As I’ve worked with tens of thousands of young people, I’ve seen how easily their minds are taken captive by worldviews such as secularism, which says that God is irrelevant; by postmodernism, which says that the search for truth is fruitless; and by New Spirituality, which teaches that everything is one and that we are all gods. A recent study by the Barna Group, commissioned by
my organization, shows that such worldviews don’t just infect the young. We found that among church-going Christians,
• 61% agree with ideas rooted in New Spirituality.
• 54% resonate with postmodernist views.
• 38% are sympathetic to some Muslim teachings.
• 36% accept ideas associated with Marxism.
• 29% believe ideas based on secularism.
The battle of ideas affects us all. We need to identify ideasthat stand against Christ so we can take every thought captive in obedience to Him (2 Cor. 10:5).

Second, doctors isolate the virus’ impact by tracing where it has been and who is at risk.

Idea viruses hitch rides on someone or something that otherwise seems completely harmless. Just as viruses trick the body because they’re coated with proteins, something the body finds beneficial, bad ideas are lies coated in bits
of truth. For example:
• “The physical world is all we can see” (Therefore, anything spiritual is merely a creation of the human imagination.)
• “Some rich people are greedy” (Therefore, we are justified in confiscating wealth.)
• “Often, religious people lie” (Therefore, no religious message should be believed.)
• “Forces are at work beyond what we can see” (Therefore, God must be a force, not a person.)
Bad ideas masquerade as something good—or at least harmless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t spread. Bad ideas can seem good at first because they give us a feeling of power. We need to be able to isolate what makes them deadly so we’re not caught off guard.

Third, scientists inform people of how to stop the virus.

William McGuire, a psychology professor in the 1950s, specialized in showing people how to resist bad ideas. He suggested that you don’t just tell people the truth; you also inform them of the lies that stand against the truth. You give them a little of the disease so they can build an immunity to it. It’s called inoculation. Inoculation worked against deadly viruses such as polio and smallpox.
To test his theory, McGuire prepared arguments in favor of widely rejected claims, such as “Brushing your teeth is bad for you.” He then organized test groups with varying degrees of preparation to resist those messages.
As you might expect, better-prepared participants were less likely to be caught off guard. But one disturbing finding emerged: just reinforcing what people already knew seemed to make them more susceptible to bad ideas.
The point is that we can’t just pretend bad ideas don’t exist and hope no one will believe them. It seems counterintuitive, but with so many bad ideas threatening to infect us, we need to know what makes bad ideas bad so we are not as vulnerable to them.

Fourth, scientists invest in those who are sick by helping them survive and recover.

The final thing you can do to stop bad ideas is help people survive once they’ve been attacked. With deadly viruses, doctors treat patients with medication to combat infection and with massive doses of fluids and electrolytes to keep their bodies from going into shock. Prompt intervention buys time for the body to fight for itself, increasing the chance of survival.

In the battle of ideas, we should have compassion on those who’ve been misled, loving them into the truth more than arguing them into it. People who have been taken captive by idea viruses won’t be stuck in them forever if we’re willing to ask questions to get them thinking and to help them develop a hunger for the truth.

Jesus is the Cure

Jesus is the way, truth, and life (John 14:6). In Secret Battle, I show that Jesus offers the way to truly think like He thinks, feel what He feels, and live like He did as we go about finding love, healing hurt, discovering meaning, pursuing peace and living with hope.

Because of Jesus, fake worldviews cannot destroy us. His love is unconditional. He has triumphed over evil for our sake. He calls us and gives us a reason to live. He points the way to forgiveness and peace with our enemies. He enables us to live every day knowing that his unmatched power brings hope, both in this life and in the life to come. Because of Jesus, fake worldviews cannot destroy us. His love is unconditional. He has triumphed over evil for our sake. Yes, we are in a secret battle of ideas, but the outcome is assured. Jesus has won.. McGuire thought it might also help people resist bad ideas.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

How Do Our Worldviews Develop and Why Should We Care What People Believe?

How Do Our Worldviews Develop and Why Should We Care What People Believe?
What we understand about God and the world affects what we believe about everything else, including what kinds of arguments we find persuasive and how we justify our intended actions. That’s why the apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” To understand what God wants from us, we must identify the world’s patterns, refuse to conform to them, and be transformed to embrace a God-pleasing pattern of living.
We call a pattern of ideas a worldview. A worldview answers such fundamental questions as, “Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Is there a difference between right and wrong? Is there a God?” We all develop ideas in our attempt to answer these questions, and our ideas naturally give rise to a system of belief that becomes the basis for our decisions and actions. Our worldview is like a map. It helps us know where we are, where we need to go and the best route to get there.
Our worldview does not merely reflect what we think the world is like; it directs what we think the world should be like. In other words, our worldview not only describes reality; it prescribes how we should act and respond to every aspect of life. Because our ideas do determine how we behave, the bottom line is that our ideas do have consequences.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of his or her deeply held ideas. If we were to ask a person on the street about her philosophy of life, we would probably et a blank stare. But if we asked how life began, she would probably
offer some sort of answer, even if the answer was not completely coherent. Still, her belief would impact the way she lives her life. It’s also often the case that people are unaware of where their deeply held beliefs come from. If we were to continue our street conversation by asking why this woman believes what she claims to believe, she might shrug and reply, “I don’t know; I just believe it.” Often people pick up their beliefs like they catch colds—by being around other people! And since ideas are everywhere—on television, in books and magazines, at the movies, and in conversation with friends and family—it’s easy to pick them up without considering whether they’re worth believing.
Regardless of where they come from, the ideas we embrace about the nature of reality lead to a set of core beliefs, which in turn form convictions about how we should live meaningfully. This beefs up our definition of worldview. A worldview is a “pattern of ideas,” but it’s also “a pattern of beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world.”
Of course, some Christians don’t act Christian. There are also Muslims and Secularists whose lifestyles are inconsistent with what they believe. The Christian idea f the sinful nature predicts this. Human actions fall short of human aspirations. For example, if a person embraces the idea of sexuality as an expression of love between a married man and woman, he or she will probably believe in abstaining from sexual activity outside of marriage, which reflects a value of sexual purity and a conviction to safeguard it. This does not mean, however, that the person will never indulge in pornography in a moment of weakness. Such indulgence does not invalidate the person’s ideas, beliefs, convictions and habits, but it will produce guilt because the person knows pornography is harmful. On the other hand, a person with no existing beliefs about love and marriage will still feel guilty but may not understand why. People who continue to indulge in pornography may end up in a habitual pattern shaped by the culture’s permissive stance rather than what God wants.

Ideas have consequences. They form our beliefs, shape our convictions, and solidify into habits.

There are hundreds of different worldviews. Is it possible to know which of them, if any, is actually true? If you look in the religion section of a bookstore, you’ll see books not only on Christianity and Islam, of course, but also on Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Vedantism, Jainism, Shintoism and many other religions. Each religion attempts to explain what the world is like and how we should live. You’ll also notice books on Secularism and atheism in the religion section. This might seem odd, but when you think about it, even atheists have a set of beliefs aboutthe cause, nature and purpose of the universe. They’re religious.1 Even people who don’t care about any of this are religious; their religion says the ultimate questions don’t matter. All worldviews are religious.
If everyone is religious we would expect their beliefs to lead to certain actions. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We are now getting to the point at which different beliefs about the universe lead to different behavior.…Religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet[;] if they are false, quite another set.”2
Here’s where we are so far. All people try to make sense of the rules of the world by developing ideas. These ideas flow in patterns, which we call worldviews. People’s worldviews lead them to value certain things, which leads to  particular convictions governing their behavior. These convictions solidify into habits that affect the way people live.

Why Should We Care What People Believe?

As people try to figure out the rules and patterns of the world, they diagnose what is wrong with the world and suggest prescriptions. As in medicine, a wrong diagnosis could lead to mistreating a disease or leave a serious illness untreated. If everyone lived in isolated caves, the consequences of our actions wouldn’t affect others. But we aren’t isolated. We live in families, communities, cities and countries. The consequences of bad beliefs can cause serious pain. Some ideas in history have led to death for millions. Nazism systematically exterminated approximately 21 million people, not counting the tens of millions who died in battles initiated by the Nazi regime.3  Communist regimes slaughtered well over 100 million people in the 20th century. As we will see in the article on Marxism in this issue, the slaughter continues to this day.

Every one of these deaths was in the service of an idea. Ideas have consequences, sometimes unspeakably tragic ones. Like a wildfire, these ideas began with a single flame and rapidly spread before a stunned and unprepared
populace, engulfing millions. People thought Adolf Hitler was a pompous fool early in his career. Who could have predicted he would actually amass enough power to slaughter millions? Similarly, who could have imagined that a radical writer named Karl Marx, a man deeply unpopular even with his friends, would be capable of unleashing an idea—communism—that would destroy more people than any other idea in history?

Is it possible to understand ideas and their consequences? More important, is it possible to identify bad ideas in time to stop them before they can lay waste to the lives, hopes, and dreams of countless people? Fortunately, the answer is yes. To grasp the world of ideas, we don’t need to know everything about everything. In the following pages, we’ll take an in-depth look at the pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that makes up a Christian worldview. We’ll suggest that understanding Christianity as a worldview will help us make sense of the world. Understanding other worldviews—other patterns—will confirm the essential truths of Christianity.

Here’s a sports analogy: Let’s say you play against a team that has 60 completely different plays. It would be hard to prepare for such a complex strategy. But if you know the team actually has six basic plays, each with 10 variations, then by figuring out the six plays, you can make better guesses about each variation and know how to counteract it.

In this issue of Mission Frontiers, we’ll discover the six plays and the 10 variations that worldview “teams” are running these days. Based on this information, we’ll form a mental model from which we can make more accurate guesses about how people all over the world see things. We will examine six dominant worldviews: Christianity, Islam, Secularism, Marxism, New Spirituality, and Postmodernism. Each of these six worldviews claims to present the truth. Then we’ll examine each worldview as expressed in 10 key academic disciplines to see whether they are, in fact, true.

  1. John Dewey, the father of modern education, helped organize a group of philosophies into what he hoped would be a new worldview that replaced Christianity. He called it Secular Humanism. The word secular means “that which pertains to worldly things rather than religious things.” And yet Dewey was forthright about the fact that his new philosophy was, in fact, religious: “Here are all of the elements for a religious faith.… Such a faith has always been implicitly the common faith of mankind.” John Dewey, A Common Faith (1934; repr., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962), 87.

  2. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 58.

  3. R. J. Rummel, “Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder” (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992), chap. 1.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

How People Group Information Impacted a Mission Agency

How People Group Information Impacted a Mission Agency

The world is choking on data, most of which has no eternal impact.

Today, we take data for granted. Forty years ago, it was a different story. One Bethany leader said, as he made his way to the mission field in 1981:

"As a young missionary with Bethany International, I was starving for data. Who are the unreached, where are they, are they open to the gospel, how can we gain access to them? I had just graduated from what is now Bethany Global University and was a “wet-behind-the- ears” young leader of a new church-planting team. We read newsletters, read books, wrote letters and made phone calls, seeking information to help guide our direction. Our best data came from missionaries passing through on furlough. We eventually found our place in Asia among an under-reached people group. We may have been one of Bethany’s first data-driven teams."

This article is a testimony of how God used data to challenge an organization to engage more than 500 Unreached People Groups with the transforming power of the gospel.

Bethany International was founded more than 75 years ago with the goal of “evangelizing the nations.” Missionaries were trained, sent out and supported. Passion for world evangelization was great. These workers arrived on the field but still needed to figure out what impact they could accomplish once arriving in a country. There was little information about the presence of specific Unreached People Groups.

The power of data regarding the unreached came to life when a new board member showed a map generated from people group data, with South Asia lit up like a Christmas tree. His challenge to us was to focus on the darkest places, what he called “the edges of the kingdom.” These discussions led Bethany to adopt a new mission statement: “take the Church to where it is not and help others do the same.”

The Engage500 Initiative

In 2015 Bethany, as a member of a global consortium of missionary training and sending ministries called GlobeServe, began tracking church-planting engagements among the unreached. We were encouraged to see we were serving in 269 UPGs. People group information from Joshua Project helped create the initial list.

The goal of Engage500 was to place church-planting teams among 500 Unreached People Groups by 2020— in five years.

At the time this seemed impossible. How could we virtually double the number of UPG engagements in five years, when it had taken at least three decades to get to 269? We had spent much time in prayer and studying the pressing need of the unreached. We knew that God was challenging us to start this amazing journey.

Doubling the number of UPGs engagements required a dedicated team. We appointed Kerry, a missions mobilizer in Mexico, as Bethany’s researcher. He combed through people group data sets for each of the 70 countries where GlobeServe schools and missionaries served. We crisscrossed the globe sharing the Engage500 vision. Each time we met with a Hub, we
presented UPG data for their country and challenged them to adopt and then engage the unreached. They responded by committing to this Unreached People Group task.

The first two years of the Engage500 program were slow going. However, ministry members became more and more excited about the prospect of engaging the unreached. These unreached peoples were often in close proximity to them (though previously invisible to them). The first year we only added eight new engagements; the second year, 12 more; the third year we saw an amazing jump—83 new UPG engagements were added in just one year across the GlobeServe partner world!

As GlobeServe members began to field teams to the unreached, they fed new understanding from the front lines about Unreached People Groups. Sam, one of our researchers in India, embarked on a three-month journey to catalogue the Unreached People Groups where the graduates of their Hub schools were working. Working closely with a global people group list, we discerned the distinctions between castes, locations and people groups. Our Indian leaders used the resulting data for decision- making. Today a significant percentage of the GlobeServe
engaged people groups are from India.

On May 7, 2020, we confirmed the 503rd engagement among Unreached People Groups, a Muslim UPG in northern India. The number keeps growing—today we are engaging 529 UPGs with almost 100 more in the adoption stage.

The Scale for Effective Engagement

In 2017, we introduced an engagement scale to track and better understand progress towards transformational outcomes and Church Planting Movements. We track adoption, engagement, first disciples, first churches and replication, towards the Church Planting Movement stage in each of these Unreached People Groups. Bethany’s work among GlobeServe partners—pursuing and tracking Engage500 and now Disciple Making and Church Planting Movements—is strengthening our own Bethany Global University and Bethany Gateways missionary training and sending. Now our goal is to see 100 movements by the year 2026: again, a God-sized goal where our understanding is consistently refined by good data.

Data, used well, is transformative. Data is “just data” until it is used to spur God’s people to prayer and action. Without data it would have been almost impossible to fulfill Engage500. God used verifiable and timely information to burden our Bethany/GlobeServe members to pray. Prayer then moved them to action.

The lines between people groups are being blurred. The Engage500 lists at times include people groups found in different parts of the same country, or people groups across national boundaries. These can become hidden peoples, surrounded by believers who are unaware that no one is reaching them. In such a world we need data more than ever. Data about unreached peoples helped crystalize Bethany’s mission statement to “take the Church to where it is not”. God used data and people group profiles to burden the hearts of our missionaries to take the difficult step of doing incarnational ministry among the unreached. Data led to burden, burden to prayer, prayer to faith and faith to steps of obedience. God brings the fruit—fruit that remains.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Groups 50 Years Later?

People Groups 50 Years Later?

Dear Reader,

In 1974, when Ralph Winter introduced the concept of what would become known as “unreached peoples” (he used “hidden people”), it would have been impossible to gauge the impact this concept would have on mission thinking and strategy.

Almost 50 years later we can look back and see how profoundly a few simple insights can shape a whole movement.

Today most Christian mission organizations and most missiologists wrestle with Winter’s insight: that there are “peoples” in which there are churches planted and growing and multiplying in sufficient capacity to continue to reach more of “their own”, and there are peoples for which that is not the case.

That insight catalyzed shifts in where organizations sought to place personnel, whole movements to pray for unreached peoples, and also shifts in strategies for planting and multiplying churches.

The thinking began to dig into all sorts of themes and topics related to how to define what is meant by a “people group”. Most (not all) will accept readily that in the phrase “all the nations,” (e.g., in Matthew 28), Jesus was not referring to countries. Many would then add that Jesus meant the ethnicities and languages which constitute the peoples of the earth. Later, questions about other types of “identity” which shape how people determine “who are we” and “who are they” have added to the complexity of the understanding of reached and unreached in the way I phrased it above. Religion in all its varieties (whether religion is even the right word), social identities, the impact of location and thus migration and immigration, and so on, all raise questions about the boundaries of what we mean when we say “this is a people group”.

One of the eventual definitions posited by Ralph Winter was what he termed the “unimax” definition, namely, the largest group within which the Good News can flow as a Church Planting Movement before encountering significant barriers of acceptance or understanding. Thus, a Uni (“unified”) Max (“largest”) People Group is what he suggested be the strategic focus of frontier mission.

Simply stated: identify the barriers, innovate ways to overcome the barriers, and thus reach all unimax peoples.

Of course, the unimax definition is entirely based on the reality that those barriers will only be reliably discovered by a movement itself as it grows to the point where it reaches a “wall” that cannot be explained only by willful rejection of the good news, but which appears on close inspection to be due to barriers that are not intrinsic to the message itself.

This edition of Mission Frontiers is a product of, and a contribution to, a conversation about all these issues that stretch back to multiple writings and multiple intentional conferences and working groups.

May you benefit from these pages.

Kevin Higgins General Director Frontier Ventures

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Response to Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

Response to Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

Justin has put his finger on what I believe is the number one problem related to current people group thinking. For decades numerous voices have cast doubt on whether the people group paradigm can adequately describe human grouping in urban contexts. As centers of amalgamation, assimilation and integration of ethnicities, languages, and cultures, cities create hybrid or hyphenated identities over time.

“Fusion cuisine” is one product of such blending, yet such fusion goes far beyond food. It takes place within people as distinct communities living side-by-side in densely populated areas interact with others daily. The traditional framework of people groups, in which peoples are seen as clearly distinct groups with clear lines of demarcation, does not work in cities in a similar way. So does urban reality doom the people group paradigm to irrelevance?

It depends on how you define people groups. Historically, there have been two primary ways of defining them, one narrow and simple, the other broad and complex. The simple definition is best known as the ethnolinguistic definition, meaning that the peoples of the world are categorized according to shared ethnicity and language. The advantage of the ethnolinguistic definition is that it is quantifiable. This is the standard way peoples have been categorized, not only by missionaries, but also by the United Nations, national governments, etc.1

By contrast, the “official” definitions for people groups, hammered out by American, evangelical mission leaders, have been much more complex. These definitions of people groups did not neglect ethnolinguistic realities, but also recognized other factors. As early as 1978 Ralph Winter was defining “hidden peoples” more broadly: “Any linguistic, cultural or sociological group defined in terms of its primary affinity (not secondary or trivial affinities), which cannot be won by E-1 methods and drawn into an existing fellowship.”Here the word “sociological” broadens the types of grouping possible far beyond ethnicity and language. The emphasis is on “primary affinity” and is not necessarily ethnolinguistic.

Then in 1982 leaders gathered to agree on a standard definition of a people group,

A people group is a significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combinations of these. For evangelistic purposes it is the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a Church Planting Movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.3

Notice that the first sentence includes much more than ethnicity and language as acceptable affinities. The second sentence, added at Winter’s impetus, puts the emphasis simply on “group” and emphasizes “barriers of understanding or acceptance.” In other words, a group is identified not only because it represents a new language (barrier of understanding) but also because it may represent other barriers created due to religion, class, caste, etc. (barrier of acceptance), perhaps even within one ethnolinguistic group. By this definition, people groups cannot be reduced to ethnicity and language.

Even after the establishment of the 1982 definition as an industry standard (which saw the demise of the phrase “hidden peoples”), and even though Winter helped create that newer definition, he felt that people groups were still being interpreted ethnolinguistically. So once again he attempted to change the focus with his description of “unimax peoples.” “A unimax people is the maximum sized group sufficiently unified to be the target of a single people movement to Christ, where ‘unified’ refers to the fact that there are no significant barriers of either understanding or acceptance to stop the spread of the gospel.” Again, there is no reference to the type of affinity. Winter was less concerned about how groups held together and more concerned with why the gospel wasn’t getting to them, less concerned about affinity and more concerned about access, less concerned about bonding and more concerned about barriers.

The differences in these views of what constitutes a people group are important. Winter and Koch rightly asked, “What if an ethnolinguistic people is actually a cluster of unimax peoples, and while one of them is experiencing a church-planting explosion, other groups in the cluster have little or nothing happening within them?”5 Not satisfied with identification of ethnolinguistic affinity, they have pushed us to discover where and why the spread of the gospel may be hindered within a given ethnolinguistic group.

With that history in view, let’s return to the question: does urban reality doom the people group paradigm to irrelevance?

If people groups are seen exclusively as ethnolinguistic groupings, then I believe they have indeed become somewhat irrelevant for urban contexts. I say “somewhat” because we need to remember that even with all the realities mentioned above, people in urban contexts can also remain very devoted to their home cultures. Not all people in urban environments mix in equal measure. Traditional norms often remain very strong, as illustrated by mother tongue transfer to younger generations and marriage within existing groups. It is not accurate to portray cities as bastions of indiscriminate and wholesale mixture.

However, given that caveat, it remains obvious that if we equate people groups with ethnolinguistic peoples, cities create problems too difficult to overcome. Rather than defending ethnolinguistic people groups in this way, I think we need to remind ourselves that the actual definitions hammered out decades ago allow for a more elastic, non-ethnolinguistic definition.

I believe that these classic people group definitions remain valid in urban settings. Under this paradigm, we are looking for groups (whatever their affinity) that appear to exist outside gospel witness. In most cases, this will be due to barriers of acceptance. Regardless of the fusion of peoples in urban settings, they are still forming into groups. That is what matters, not the particular and varied affinities they are grouped around. We don’t have to abandon people group thinking to understand urban life. But we do have to return to the earlier definitions to be reminded of the breadth of possibility human grouping takes.

Finally, this line of thinking can be taken too far. One of the weaknesses of the 1982 definition is that it allows for literally millions of human groupings encapsulated in “a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combinations of these.” While a purely ethnolinguistic focus is too limiting, a focus on every conceivable human grouping in the world is far too broad. I believe the ethnolinguistic focus has served us well, but when an issue like urban contexts limit its effect, we need to delve deeper, but not too deep.

Our goal is not to describe every human grouping on this planet. It is to notice when the gospel is not getting somewhere, and then to prayerfully and humbly seek God for the wisdom needed to discern the barriers as well as the bridges to that group. The complex realities of human grouping will always frustrate simple definition and people group databases. They can only be discerned by workers embedded in urban centers over many years. Today’s urban missionary needs to become expert in new forms of research like social network analysis and become reacquainted with old forms of research like prayer. It is hard to imagine a more exciting vocation!

  1. 1

  2. 2 Winter, Penetrating the Last Frontiers, Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1978, 42.

  3. 3 Ralph D. Winter and Bruce Koch. "Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge." In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 4th Ed., edited by 3 3 Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 531-546. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009, 536.

  4. 4 Ibid., 534-535. 

  5. 5 Ibid., 539.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Unreached of the Day September-October 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Unreached of the Day September-October 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Fresh Vision for the Great Commission

Fresh Vision for the Great Commission

Never before has the Church had as much access to missions-related information. Yet, despite this unprecedented access to information, the Church doesn’t seem to be using its resources wisely and effectively.

Both the number of Unreached People Groups and the number of individuals in Unreached People Groups have increased since 2010. Population growth among the unreached and new discoveries in people group distinctions are outpacing the Church’s ability to reach people with the gospel. There are now over 3.2 billion people in Unreached People Groups. Yet, it is estimated that only about 3% of missionaries and 1% of mission finances are being directed to the unreached, that is, those with little or no access to the gospel1.


This vast discrepancy—between the number of people in Unreached People Groups and the allocation of the global Church’s missional resources towards overcoming the barriers that keep them unreached—is what Stratus calls the Great Imbalance. Put simply, the vast majority of missions resources go to places and people that already have access to the gospel as well as some sort of church infrastructure. It is simply easier, often more compelling, more ‘fruitful’ (from the standpoint of return on investment) and more instinctual, to work where the barriers to the gospel are lowest.

Fresh Vision

The Church doesn’t need more knowledge—it needs fresh vision. This fresh vision requires understanding both the global scope of God’s redeeming purposes and the barriers that are currently preventing the Church from carrying out its mission. It is essential that this missional vision affect missions strategy globally, as well as locally. Stratus ( was created to help provide fresh vision.

In a world where so much information is competing for our attention, Stratus seeks to bring clarity to the vast array of spiritual and physical needs around the world by synthesizing information from 38 disparate data sets (comprising over 200 different indicators) into one comprehensive index. In this way, Stratus promotes a unified vision of bringing the fullness of the gospel of the kingdom to bear on unmet physical and spiritual needs, especially when they go hand in hand.

While information on the spiritual needs (gospel access, people group and language data) and physical needs (systems of governance, developmental needs, social causes and natural barriers) exist separately, Stratus seeks to convey how these sets of needs are often closely related, better equipping the Church to make sense of them within the broader context.

By combining various information sets at the country level, Stratus allows the user to make meaningful comparisons in terms of relative need. Status seeks to help the Church to see themselves as God’s means in overcoming those barriers and meeting those needs. Stratus also provides the ability to easily sort and filter the information according to the abilities, interests, resources and assets that individuals or churches might possess, bridging the gap between the Church’s vast resources and the specific needs of individual countries and people groups.

Where are the areas of gospel access, and where are the voids? Where are developmental needs, like access to education, healthcare or economic opportunities and where is relative strength? Where are high natural barriers, like rugged terrain or a lack of infrastructure, or where are political instability, oppression and war most preventing physical and spiritual needs from being met? What countries are most affected by the intersection of all of these needs?

Stratus seeks to provide concise, up-to-date and visually compelling answers to shift the conversation away from “What can I do?” to “What is it going to take?”

Clarifying Presentation

We want the Church to be able to clearly see how countries rank according to each category and indicator, for example, to see how a country might be ranked seventh overall, 16th in spiritual needs, 66th in developmental needs and 105th in economic opportunity.

All of the data is taken from reputable, pre-existing and routinely updated sources, allowing the data to speak for itself. Even the prayer points listed for each country are derived directly from the country’s lowest-scoring data points.

Informed Strategy

We are hopeful that this tool will become a unifying platform for the Church to use in many capacities, from impacting the way individuals pray for the specific needs of certain countries, to the ways in which the global Church is able to more effectively leverage its assets and strengths to meet the most urgent needs and overcome the most insurmountable barriers. Our goal is to see the global Church better equipped, and ultimately, the Great Commission realized through the rectification of some of the systemic forces that perpetuate the Great Imbalance.

Stratus makes no claims that more data, in and of itself, will right the Great Imbalance or complete the Great Commission. But when data is well-synthesized and powerfully displayed, we fully believe the Church is better equipped to make more informed missional decisions. We echo the prophetic desire of Isaiah, that every valley will be raised up and every mountain made low, that the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people together will see it (Isaiah 40:4-5).

Explore more at

  1. 1 World Christian Encyclopedia, 2020. Travelling Team ( “World Christian Trends”, Johnson & Barrett, 2001, 2013.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Group Information in an African Context

People Group Information in an African Context

The African Church and the growing indigenous mission agencies are becoming more familiar with global people group lists published online. As we celebrate what God has been doing through data curators, there are still concerns about the accuracy of the lists and the accompanying information. It is worth exploring the various views because many churches and agencies depend on the information presented in people groups lists to inform strategies, prayer, and missionary training. Until the whole Church is mobilized to reach the whole world, our work as researchers is not done.

Why are People Group Lists Needed?

People group lists are needed for ministry tracking, measurement, assessment, and direction. Lists help us identify the people groups with the greatest need for the gospel. The lists bring clear categorization of people groups for focusing missionary work and provide perspective on the magnitude of the unfinished task. There is a need to draw people’s attention to people groups that share similar lineage, language, and culture. Until we know what’s unfinished, we will not be able to achieve the purposes of God for all “nations” (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 5:9 and 7:9).

People group lists provide very important information which the Church in Africa has not been able to produce on its own, though Africans are needed to finish the task. Until we see the relevance of tracking all people groups, the African Church cannot focus on nor prioritize well which people groups are unreached with the gospel.

Using People Group Information in Ghana

The Ghana Evangelism Committee (GEC) and Ghana Evangelical Mission Association (GEMA) have helped many churches and mission agencies to understand people group lists through workshops, consultations and recently, the mission researchers forum. The outcome is amazing: many churches have adopted and are effectively engaging many unreached people groups (UPGs). Some student groups have also emerged from these initiatives and are earnestly praying for specific UPGs and forming resolute movements. Notable among them is the Chakali Movement, committed to praying for the Chakali people and sending missionaries to serve among them. In addition, two young missionaries are dedicated to reaching the Fulani as they go throughout West Africa to engage them.

Accuracy of People Group Lists

It is worth noting that the effort and time involved in gathering people group information and the increasingly rapid movement of people, especially rural to urban migration, has a tendency to limit or reduce the accuracy of people group lists and information. Africans consider people group lists fairly accurate, even though there have been cases of differing on-the-ground realities. In some cases, information published is not as accurate as what on-site workers think. These differences are understandable, considering the large amount of data collected and the difficulty of frequent updates. If published figures are estimates or extrapolations, the information will tend to be less accurate. As much as possible, cross-checks and verification ought to be done before information is published.

Are Unreached People Group Lists a Western “Thing”?

People group lists may have started as a Western “thing,” but the Western Church is gradually stepping out of mainstream mission engagement.1 The West has had the expertise, tools and funds for collecting and cataloguing people group lists which serve the global Church. In the past, people group lists were generated mainly for Western missionaries who were sent to serve the rest of the world. With the surge of the Church in the Global South as a growing mission force, people group lists become more critical for the Global South to fulfill its new sending role.

The challenge for many Africans is the source of published people group information. If the source is still Western, then we need to quickly rethink how to overcome that. The users of data ought to be the ones determining what should be gathered.2 Therefore, the Global South needs to be well heard and directly involved in developing people group lists so the results are relevant to the Global South context. Based on my conversations with mission leaders in Africa, when the source of information comes from the indigenous people, it is considered more credible and accurate. Curators of global people group lists have sometimes accepted information from sources not on the ground, which has raised eyebrows in some African mission circles. People group information must be validated locally through in-country assessments. The assumption is that you cannot give an accurate update if you are not present on the ground.

Perhaps the question we should ask is: Is the people group list and the accompanying information representative enough of reality? This is where African ministries and missionaries can be of great help. Curators of people group lists from the West are doing the best they can, but they need to work closely with African missionaries and information workers who understand people groups in their context—their cultural dynamics and complexities.

People Group Barriers in Africa

Ethnicity is an innate thing, and it is still very strong in identifying a people group. People groups who travel in-country or across-country rarely deny their ethnic background. For example, new believers in unreached African people groups are requesting literacy materials in their own languages and songs and stories portraying their own cultures. They prefer not to merge with other people groups. The tribal instincts in Africa are still strong among most people groups.

This does not deny the fact that the traditional barriers of some people groups are changing due to globalization, immigration, and urbanization. This change is subtle among some people groups, but rapid in others. The change is in two forms:

1. Movement from their original location: They have become the scattered harvest field. It is still important to look at culture, language and worldviews of people groups. We all agree that the mission field has arrived at our doorstep, and it is not always necessary to travel to their places of origin. They usually live in clusters in their new locations, and that should be tracked.

2. Changes in their culture and language as a result of intermarriages, trade and educational policies. In some instances, people acquire multiple identities, and others have their culture entirely replaced by another. This is especially true for the younger generation, who have sometimes lost their cultures and languages because of living in urban centers, acquiring new cultures and languages.

These changes do not rule out traditional people groups. But we must adjust to the new changes, find ways of tracking them and develop strategies to reach them. As native languages begin to disappear, people group lists must take into consideration languages that the majority of the people of a particular group speak, and not only their native language. For instance, the Challa may still refer to themselves as Challa, but very few of them can speak their language.

In the next several decades there will be a major shift. We are witnessing new strands of people groups who are not defined by the classical ethno-linguistic groupings, especially in urban centers. They are usually seen as sub- groups such as “head porters”, “prostitutes”, “transnational truck workers”, “scrap workers”, “money changers”, and “auto mechanics”. There are languages and lifestyles prevalent in these sub-cultures. Some of these groups have redefined the barriers of their culture and formed new ways of life, and they are usually closed to outside influence. Perhaps it might be too much information to handle at the global level, but national or local researchers should be able to identify and track such sub-groups and devise the necessary strategies to engage them. They need insiders to meaningfully make an impact with the gospel since these groups are often neglected. Though they are not ethno-linguistic, these groups have a strong affinity.

People groups lists are important, but we need global collaboration to produce credible, Spirit-led information for mission activities.

  1. 1 Gina A. Zurlo, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing. World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South (International Bulletin of Mission Research, 2020), Vol. 44(1), 9.

  2. 2 Maurizio V. & Frances R. & Maria João V. R. The Users of Statistics and their role in the European Society (Brussels: ESAC, 2015), 2.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Translation Quality and Scripture Impact for ‘Last Mile’ Bible Translations

24:14 Goal Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (52 months)

Translation Quality and Scripture Impact for ‘Last Mile’ Bible Translations

Everyone deserves to have the Word of God in their heart language. Today, we are closer to seeing the Bible translated into every language than ever before, but significant barriers remain. Over 20% of the world’s people are still waiting for the Bible in their own language (6,600+ languages).

“Last mile” is used to describe the short final segment of delivery of services or items to customers. Last-mile logistics are usually the most complicated and expensive aspects of completing the service or delivery. This same dynamic occurs in completing the task of translating the Bible into every language.

There are reasons for the lack of the Bible in the remaining “last-mile” Bible-less languages. Many of these do not yet have the Bible in their own language because they live in areas hostile to the gospel. Unlike traditional translations of the past and present where translation teams locate in a place and work together for years, outside translators seeking to do translation in politically restricted and/or hostile regions often cannot gain access to these areas. Translators who do have access are often faced with working in secret, moving from one location to another and keeping their work secret from friends, family and the community. Often due to death threats and persecution, translators wait until the work is completed, secretly taking the finished product to partners to print and share with others. In recent years, there have been numerous incidents of translators in these types of areas being kidnapped and/or killed.

One challenge faced in these circumstances is to ensure the translators receive the appropriate mentoring, assistance and funding they need. However, traditional patterns of translation assistance and measurement are not possible. Those of us assisting from the outside must adjust to the new realities and recognize that these men and women risking their lives deserve our best efforts and servant-hearted support instead of asking them to fit into our previous patterns and paradigms of translation.

However, no one involved wants a haphazard and poor- quality translation of the Word of God. How then can we assure quality and accountability for the outside supporters while not risking the lives of those who are at the last mile translating in these restricted areas?

The Antioch Family of Churches alliance of Church Planting Movements (CPMs) has pioneered a seven-step process that has produced quality translations while also giving the measurements and outcomes that meet the needs of the outside supporters. Leaders of 24:14 have endorsed this process and are exploring how to help other CPMs follow this model. A CPM has four plus generations of churches planting churches (parent churches planting children, grand-children and great-grandchildren churches with multiple branches of the family-tree)— this usually means a minimum of 100+ churches and 1500+ baptized disciples. The broader 24:14 Coalition of Church Planting Movements represents 1053 CPMs with over 74 million disciples, primarily in hostile areas formerly unreached with the gospel.

The Translation Quality and Scripture Impact Assurance Seven-Step Process for hostile areas is:

Translation Quality

) Language Selection: The leadership of a Bible‐less CPM discerns through prayer and counsel with other 24:14 members that a translation of the Bible in a certain language(s) is warranted. After extensive prayer and discussion, the language(s) is selected based on the following criteria:

• commitment of the leaders to complete the translation process and make the best possible use of distributing and using the translated Scriptures;
• the current capacity of the CPM and outside partners able to assist the process;
• security for the translators is also a consideration, which is more feasible with a larger group of believers such as we see in CPMs;
• other language‐related movements in different countries;
• available trainings, translation tools and resource texts;
• the need and possibility of translation into two or more closely related languages or major dialects ofn a mega-language.

2) Translation Team Qualification and Recruitment: In each language, an initial group of 25‐30 full‐time mother-tongue bilingual literate speakers are pre‐ qualified by their local church leaders.

3) Translation Team Training/Preparation: A 24:14 Translation Mentor(s) begins training the translation team. Self‐learning tools and other helpful resources are also provided to help teams address gaps and find opportunities for further learning.

4) Initial Translation Drafting Begins: Once qualified by their local church leaders and the 24:14 Translation Mentors, these teams work full‐time collaboratively to define key words and produce quality drafts of Scripture. Each initial draft is reviewed by the Translation Mentor according to the 24:14 Translation Guidelines.

5) Checking/Editing of Texts: Scripture portions are peer‐checked, local church checked and then sent to the Translation Mentors for review. Once approved as an initial draft, the text is community tested through a approved set of questions to help determine clarity, naturalness, accuracy and acceptability. Adjustments are made and tested again. In total in each language, an average of 500 people are expected to be involved in this process.

6) Ongoing Coaching from Translation Quality Advisor: A series of web‐based and offline tools are used to help insure the accuracy, clarity, naturalness and acceptability of Scripture. Throughout the checking process each language coordinator that leads a translation team has frequent access to full‐time Translation Mentors who, in turn, have remote access to translation quality advisors.

7) Movement Church Leadership Evaluation: Once the texts have been assessed, evaluated, edited and checked by the local church network, the community and approved by the Translation Mentors, the drafts are forwarded for final evaluation by the larger church leadership in the CPM.

Scripture Impact

  • A) Commitment to completion, distribution and use ofthe Scriptures is critical.
  • B) Capacity: Priority is given to CPMs because they have greater maturity and capacity to complete the translation and effectively use it.
  • C) Bridging: Obviously, producing a translation that can be a bridge to help translation in other related languages or major dialects will increase potential Scripture Impact.
  • D) Translation Team Discipleship: The initial Scripture impact begins to happen with those on the translation team as they learn and apply God’s Word more deeply in their lives.
  • E) Discipleship: A second avenue of Scripture impact is in the lives of the believers helping at this stage who are deepened in their understanding and application of Scripture by testing and using biblical passages in discipleship processes.
  • F) Evangelism: A third avenue of Scripture impact comes by asking local nonbelievers to help in checking whether these translated passages are understandable. This is an effective way of sharing the gospel with family and friends. Often it is during this time of asking nonbelievers to participate (with caution) that the heart of the nonbeliever is softened and turned toward the gospel. Some come to faith just reading the Word of God.
  • G) Distribution: The next phase is to distribute the Word of God for ongoing discipleship and evangelism. Dependent on the circumstance of the local churches, distribution may be through print- on-demand and/or digitally through microSD cards, audio devices, Bluetooth, off-internet local Wifi devices such as Lightstream, etc.
  • H) Fruit Measurement: We know the Word of God will not return void, so measuring the impact in lives is a critical and often overlooked aspect of Scripture translation and use. Measurement of the increase in both quantity (number of new churches and disciples) and quality (discipleship metrics of transformed lives and communities) are the necessary final piece in measuring Scripture Impact.
  • I) Ownership: By involving at least several hundred people in translating and checking the translation, the community has a strong sense of ownership which will only increase their respect for and use of the Bible.


In conclusion, many of the languages included in the “Last Mile” in Bible translation involve some difficulties and dangers that we cannot overcome with the traditional translation processes that God has used so effectively in the past and continues to use today. The inability of outside translators to gain access and the persecution and dangers faced from opponents of the gospel mean that the Bible will not be translated into these languages unless we find new pathways.

It is exactly these high-persecution areas that most desperately need the Bible in their own language. Church history tells us that the Bible in a heart language is not necessary for initial evangelism and discipleship. However, the Bible in a heart language is one crucial factor for surviving and enduring persecution. One example is the longstanding survival of the church in Egypt and Ethiopia compared to the rapid demise of the Church in North Africa after the assault of Islam. A primary reason for this is that Egypt and Ethiopia had the Bible in local languages, while the church of North Africa had the Bible in Latin spoken only by the elites.

God is not surprised by these challenges. God in His wisdom has used existing trade language Bible translations to begin multiplying disciples and churches in many of these “last mile” Bible-less languages. These disciples are positioned inside these language communities and are willing to face life-threatening risks in translation because they deeply yearn to provide the Bible to both the believers and the lost in their own heart language. Additionally, God has allowed us to live in a day where we can strengthen and support those who risk so much by training and using the latest technological breakthrough for translation.

As has been seen, this seven-step translation process not only assures a quality translation but also assures Scriptural impact during and after the translation process. As we observe how the Holy Spirit has already used this process, we can trust and work and pray to see many more translations done until in our generation there are no more Bible-less languages. God is giving us the opportunity to see the world full of God’s glory, but it is a day that challenges us to trust and rely on Him as never before!

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Are Current People Group Presentations Engaging the Next Generation?

Are Current People Group Presentations Engaging the Next Generation?

Why is engaging NextGen with people group information important?

Barna estimates that three out of four US churchgoers have either never heard of the Great Commission or do not know what it means. Yet, we are depending on the NextGen to be our missions sending force of the future. Something must change. It is critical to engage a younger generation of Christians with unreached peoples.

In your experience, what is a younger generation's view of people groups in general? Is it part of their grid?

Most of the younger generation is completely unaware of people groups being a strategic focus for missions. The concept of people groups with little to no access to the gospel is not part of their thinking. I don’t believe NextGen is feeling challenged, and few have a burden to serve or engage with unreached peoples. More frequently, they feel God calling them to stay and be senders rather than goers.

Are other paradigms more important to a younger generation than traditional ethnolinguistic groupings?

With the advance of technology, interacting with people worldwide only depends on one’s internet speed. For example, a quick search on Reddit will reveal how globalized everyone is, and the idea of a Third Culture individual is becoming more common. Traditional barriers to the gospel are being reduced, and young people tend to feel more connected based on social relationships than ethnicity.

Do traditional people group presentations motivate a younger generation?

From the people group presentations I have seen from sites like Joshua Project and Go31, I can say that traditional methods have not motivated the younger generation. I don’t think NextGen relates to lists and statistics as much as previous generations. Stories and narrative seem more impactful today. As a younger person myself, the most motivation and engagement I have seen has been through personal sharing. I have found others are willing to listen and learn about people groups when I am in relationship with them.

How can people group information be better presented to impact a younger generation?

I strongly believe the presentation of people group information needs a younger voice and brand identity that understands the trends and desires of the younger generation. Fresh presentations need to be made by NextGen themselves. Instead of asking people to read an encyclopedia or look at a statistical website, we need to engage them on the platforms they are using such as Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok and Quora. Video and discussion forums are key.

What is the greatest need you see in the people group information space?

Unfortunately, whenever I sit in mission consultations, I often notice that I am one of the few that does not fit the description of an older, Western, white male. A key need is creating space for younger Asian, African, and Latin American unreached peoples data managers, thinkers and leaders.

How can NextGen’s skills be best used in unreached people efforts?

Companies such as Airbnb, Uber, and Fiverr have leveraged the younger generations skills with the gig economy model. Similarly, an idea is to offer missional micro-projects that are centered around community and creating impact among unreached peoples. How might we help people redeem their skills beyond the four church walls? Imagine a world where we can innovate ways to bring first-world skills to the ends of the earth.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

How Possible Is It to Multiply Rapidly and Still Make Healthy Disciples?

How Possible Is It to Multiply Rapidly and Still Make Healthy Disciples?

Is it possible to be both deeply committed to healthy, deeply transformational discipleship, and also to the rapid multiplication of disciples? Opponents of the trend in missions toward DMMs (Disciple Making Movements) and CPMs (Church Planting Movements) often express concern about the rapid growth. Are they truly being grounded in God’s Word? Is allegiance shifting to Jesus over Mohammed or other religious philosophies?

It doesn’t hurt to listen to our well-intentioned critics (Ps. 15:31). Some who criticize do so out of ignorance of what DMMs/CPMs are trying to do. Others have had personal negative experiences that cause them to raise eyebrows. There are those, however, who truly want to see God’s kingdom grow on this earth. Some of our critics raise valid points.

The issue of deep-level life transformation as it relates to disciple-making is something we must be concerned about. It’s something movements should regularly evaluate as they grow. We do not want shallow, superficial movements easily hijacked by false doctrine. Unless movements go both broad and deep, they will not be sustainable. Nor will they bring about the transformational kingdom impact we hope for.

Let’s explore the issue of transformational discipleship further. The question this article will address is whether or not it is possible to see both the rapid multiplication of disciples and churches, while also seeing the deep- level transformation of lives. We will attempt to answer the questions: Can disciples multiply quickly, but also be solidly grounded in the Word of God, its core doctrinesand deeply shaped by the life and ways of Jesus? Can we rapidly multiply emotionally and spiritually healthy disciples through movement strategies?

In this kind of magazine, I assume I am writing to those who are already on board with the idea of DMMs/CPMs. I won’t take time to explain here why DMMs and CPMs are necessary to fulfill the Great Commission. Let’s begin from that starting point. If you aren’t there in your thinking, please take a look at the Why DMMs? article on the website.

If rapid multiplication rather than addition growth is necessary to address the issue of lostness, particularly among the unreached, how can we be sure we do it in such a way that we see genuine transformation of lives as people encounter Christ?

It is possible to be committed to both transformation and rapid growth. How do I know this? Because Jesus was. His movement and ministry are our models for all we do. He showed us how to make and multiply disciples rapidly and in healthy, sustainable ways.

Four Failures in Disciple-Making

Peter Scazzero has had a significant impact on my life. If you’ve never read his books, I recommend them. Shortly after going through a season of marital conflict and depression, I came across Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Many of the lessons he referred to in the book mirrored my learning during that season.
Later, I read Emotionally Healthy Church, and Emotionally Healthy Leader. I am in the middle of reading Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, Scazzero’s newest book. He doesn’t directly attack DMMs or CPMs, I’m not even sure he is familiar with them. As I was reading, though, my mind was filtering his content through my disciple-making grid. I want to draw from some of what he said in the early chapters of this book.

In chapter one of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, Scazzero writes about four key failures in discipleship.

1. We tolerate emotional immaturity.

2. We emphasize doing for God over being with God.

3. We ignore the treasures of church history.

4. We define success wrongly.

These four failures are worth considering as we pursue rapid multiplication. Let’s consider them together.

Tolerating Emotional Immaturity

Do we tolerate emotional immaturity, or do we address it in our disciple-making and leadership training in movements? What does the word emotional immaturity mean?
Scazzero describes emotional maturity as loving others well. Those who are emotionally mature can have healthy conflicts, talk through misunderstandings and disagreements in godly ways and reflect Jesus in their behavior toward others. Those closest to them and those they lead (including their families), feel valued and cared for. Emotionally healthy disciples are not “triggered” easily. Past woundings have been healed and worked through.

Let’s admit that in DMMs and CPMs sometimes we are so desperate to find the extremely fruitful movement apostle, we tolerate things in their lives we wouldn’t in others. When we find someone who is a “super-sower,” starting many new groups, we at times overlook how they treat their wife or husband or their lack of relationship with their children.

This is a danger. What should we do about it? Keep reading. But first, let’s look at Scazzero’s other points.

Doing Over Being

Movement leaders and catalysts are do-ers. Again, let's just admit that. It’s a strength. It can also be a weakness. Unless we live a life of deep abiding with Jesus, we will not be able to reproduce an abiding lifestyle in those we train, lead and coach. Obedience-based discipleship asks the question: what will you do to obey? This is vitally important, and part of what drives movements forward. Jesus said if we love Him, we would obey His commands (John 14:15). He spoke of wise and foolish builders and said that the person who fails to put His word into practice is like the man who built on sand (Matt. 7:24- 27). This is well established. We recognize it as a major weakness in legacy, or traditional, church practice.

We must be careful not to swing too far in the other direction. Avoid multiplying “Martha” disciples who do a lot, but don’t sit at Jesus’ feet. Model and encourage disciples to love Jesus, worship Him and be changed by His love. How can we be more intentional about modeling being as well as doing in our disciple-making?

Ignoring History

Again, it is worth considering this potential discipleship failure. There is much to be learned from the history of Christianity. Some traditions were developed for valid reasons in particular contexts and may be worth retaining. Others have impeded the growth of disciple- making and evangelism through ordinary believers. We don’t need to “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” to use an American idiom. We need to be discerning, running things through the reproducibility test. If church traditions are hindering the multiplication of disciples, they should be carefully reconsidered.

Scazerro is referring not only to church history, however. He is also speaking of our personal histories. Healthy disciple- making helps people find healing from their past. As Scriptures about forgiveness are studied, wounds from parents, siblings, enemies and oppressors need to be worked through.

How We Define Success

Once more, let us examine ourselve with raw honesty. There are times when we (DMM/CPM practitioners and trainers) define success by something extra-biblical. The commonly held definition of what is a movement (see my blog article What is a DMM?) is not directly from Scripture, nor did Jesus ever tell us to make it a landmark of great accomplishment to hit fourth-generation, multi- stream growth.

Yet, when we finally get to that fourth generation, wow... we’ve accomplished something! Most movement trainers and coaches would not say they define success in strictly numeric ways. I wouldn’t. Of course not. But it is something we need to be careful about. What does it communicate when you are always measuring according to having hit the fourth generation or not?

Some years ago, we had a speaker come and talk to us about tracking in our organization’s annual gathering. He emphasized the gathering of stories, not only the reporting of numbers. The kinds of stories we report say a lot about what we value.

I hope you have been tracking with me and can see that DMM/CPM strategies could potentially lead to emotionally and spiritually immature discipleship. It doesn’t need to be that way, however. Not if we are aware of this, honest about it, and continually evaluating our fruit. Good farmers don’t just aim for fruit, they want healthy fruit. If the orchard’s apples are full of bugs, that’s a problem, even if there are thousands and thousands of apples falling to the ground.

5 Healthy Discipleship Keys

Here are some areas to keep in mind as we apply DMM/ CPM principles in our ministry. They are at the core of appropriately using the DMM/CPM practices. Without them, multiplicative efforts may not lead to healthy, sustained fruit.

Make disciples, not converts.

Many leading DMM/CPM trainers have emphasized this. It should be part of our mantra as disciple-makers. At the same time, our old tendencies can rise to the surface in the rush of a ripe harvest of souls. Simply getting people baptized is not enough. Train them to obey, Jesus said. This is much more than someone getting wet! It takes time, love and investment to make disciples. It can happen rapidly, but it’s a process, not an event.

Focus on people, not meetings.

We need to disciple people, not just multiply meetings. I say this continually when I train. “Disciple-making is not a meeting.” You may have 13 disciple-making groups or Discovery Bible studies happening each week. Without genuine loving relationships and community in those groups, life transformation will not happen.
Disciple Making Movement practitioners must learn to be multi-relational, while still going deep with a few. How did Jesus do this? He had an inner circle of people He invested heavily in. He ate with them, walked with them and took them with Him everywhere. It was far more than a weekly one-hour Bible study. It was those men through whom He multiplied Himself. Jesus both went broad and deep. So must we.

Track growth, but never prioritize it over abiding in Jesus.

Scazerro says in the section of his book on wrongly defining success, “I’m not saying that it’s inherently wrong that we measure our progress by the numbers. The problem comes when numbers are the only thing we measure, and so become our ultimate marker of success... All numerical markers—increased attendance, bigger and better programs, a larger budget—must take a backseat to listening to Jesus. Jesus calls us to abide and abound in Him (John 15:1–8).” A big amen to this!

I am an advocate for carefully tracking growth. Why? Because it’s part of good stewardship.

If, however, we begin to focus more on our numbers than on abiding in Jesus, we’re in trouble! If we start to define our success by whether or not we’ve reached fourth- generation growth, red flags should be waving.

Hold both the urgency of the lost and the transformation of the saved as values.

Steve Smith highlighted this when he wrote about following Jesus and fishing for men—the twin callings (T4T book). They go together. Both matter.

Jesus loved the lost. He was deeply concerned about reaching them. It is not God’s will that any perish (2 Pet. 3:9). The gospel has not spread rapidly because we have not been as concerned about the lost as Jesus is. We’ve failed to adequately fulfill His command to go and make disciples who obey. If we don’t embrace changes, a more multiplicative model, millions and millions will continue to go into eternity having never had a chance to hear of the Savior’s love and desire to save. This is not acceptable.

Nor is it acceptable to be so focused on our inner life that we delay obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples. Abiding in Jesus, practicing solitude, silence, lives of prayer and sharing our testimony with neighbors, friends and relatives are equally part of obeying Him.

This graphic from Scazzero’s book caught my attention. It seems to say we must have deep change before we can have an impact. This was not the way Jesus discipled. Deep change and transformation happened simultaneously.

Instead, as we look at how Jesus made disciples, we learn that they immediately served and obeyed. He sent them out in Luke 9 and 10. Life transformation was an ongoing process.

I’ve consistently seen that those who pass on whatever I’ve been teaching them to others mature more rapidly. They immediately begin to have an impact on their oikos, even before they are mature or have been fully transformed. It would be a mistake to think we have to wait until we have all our issues worked through before we can begin to impact the world.

Keep Scripture central.

I have a lot of hope for DMMs and CPMs because the Word of God is foundational to every DMM/CPM practice. In multiplicative disciple-making, those discipled through
a participatory, obedience-based study of Scripture have a stronger foundational understanding of Scripture than the average church adherent. With Sunday Schools and Wednesday night gatherings becoming a thing of the past, grounding church attendees in the Word of God is rapidly slipping away. DMM/CPM praxis gets people into the word in community. It forces the issue of application to our own lives. Scripture is orally repeated and then immediately shared with others. This is a huge strength in the goal of reproducing healthy disciples who make healthy disciples.

New believers may not immediately be protected from false doctrine any more than a new believer in a traditional church would be. Over time though, within a few years, their understanding of God’s word will grow far stronger than the average Christian’s.

In conclusion, let me point us back to our Lord. He made disciples, who had some major issues. But they grew and were transformed into men and women who turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Within a short amount of time, they multiplied and spread His message across Asia. Thousands became His disciples through them and those they discipled in His ways. It is possible to rapidly multiply healthy disciples...more than possible. It’s happening in movements across the globe. And it will happen more!

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Groups and the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

People Groups and the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

The Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association (NEMA) is the umbrella body of the Nigeria missions movement. It was established in 1982 to foster the work of world evangelization by providing a common platform through networking, empowering and mobilizing. At inception NEMA was comprised of six missions organizations but has since grown to a national network with 150 member agencies and 15,000 missionaries serving in 197 countries.


NEMA has always been keen about people group information. Six years after her establishment, the association published The Final Harvest, the proceedings of the International Consultation on Missions hosted in Jos, Nigeria August 11–15th, 1985. Included in that compendium is a list of identified unreached peoples in Nigeria. That marked a significant attempt at projecting the remaining task in Nigeria at that time, and it turned out to provide remarkable direction for missions engagement as well as focus for existing missions structures. A review of this research list in the first quarter of 2021 shows that 65% of the 72 identified unreached peoples in 1985 were no longer on the Nigerian UPG list. Moreover, 85% of the delisted UPGs have contributed to the sending force of the Nigerian missions movement.

Journeying through AD 2020 and Beyond

Thereafter, NEMA gave even more prominence to mobilizing the Nigerian Church to frontier missions. Coinciding with the countdown to AD 2000, another attempt was made at updating the people group list through the NEMA Searchlight Project, giving special attention to unreached and unengaged peoples. However, in 2005, the association’s vision-casting took a new dimension in response to worldwide attention on the 10/40 Window. The leadership of NEMA took a bold step by taking responsibility for 34 mostly Islamic countries in the left side of the Window, with the dream of meeting the Chinese missions effort coming on the Silk Road from the right side of the window.

This initiative became known as Vision 5015 – mobilizing 50,000 partners from the Nigerian Church and training, sending and supporting 15,000 workers to these 34 countries. At the end of the target year review conducted in 2020, 4,000 Nigerian missionaries had been placed in 31 of the 34 countries.

Delisting Nigeria from Unengaged Peoples List

As the Association pursued Vision 5015, a significant twist came into the process. The leadership became very concerned that Nigeria, with her evangelical strength of about 55 million and Christian populace of over 100 million, still had unengaged people groups. This led to another intensive effort of people group information in 2017. At the end of the exercise, seven unengaged peoples were discovered among 73 unreached peoples, all located in the north of Nigeria. This discovery culminated in another very strategic consultation, named “Go North”, in the same year. It would only take 11 months for Nigeria to be delisted from countries with unengaged groups, and four years later the number of unreached peoples was reduced to 45.

Impact and Lessons Learned

Mobilizing the Nigerian Church has been successful using people group information, for Nigerians (and other Africans) are sensitive to people group realities. A random sampling of 50 church leaders indicates that 87% were effectively mobilized for missions based on people group information available to them. Moreover, our mobilization drives have relied heavily on people group information for desirable responses.

To date, there has been much dependence on Western efforts, and while these have been commendable, they have also revealed gaps and limitations. We have had to deal with issues of people group misrepresentation and insensitivity to cultural values and worldviews, leading to contention and occasional rejection of such data. The way forward will be a very healthy synergy among all research stakeholders, with deference given to the grassroots, national networks.

Moreover, in a polarized context such as ours, it may be helpful to present people group information from the perspective of the host peoples themselves. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to rely on secondary sources for information gathering; we need a strict policy to ensure that primary sources receive priority. Where possible, respected and confirmed leaders of such people groups should be contacted to secure endorsement of whatever information is being released to the public domain.

People group information is a means to an end; therefore, strategy delineation should be kept clearly in view as data are gathered. In the same vein, training in information-gathering and equipping the Church and missions organizations in utilizing data is vital. Just as cultural sensitivity and intelligence is emphasized in cross-cultural mobilization, training and engagement, the same is required for gathering and utilizing people group information.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

More Lists, More Data, More Possibilities

More Lists, More Data, More Possibilities

Refining of People Group Information

Latin America has been involved in the global movement of cross-cultural missions for decades. For quite some time we received missionaries from other nations and then by the grace of God, we became involved in sending. The Latin Church was impacted by the lists of people groups (UPGs and UUPGs) it was presented, and today we can identify numerous missionaries with years of cross- cultural field experience who were mobilized by these lists. Even now in 2021, mobilization efforts employ lists among their other varied resources. People group lists have been extremely useful in their roles of shaping understanding, motivating people to pray, challenging people to obey and causing people to go.

Many Latin American ministries are trying to use more data, working under the assumption that more lists and more data give us more possibilities. This assumption needs to be evaluated on the basis of three ideas: First, the design of any workflow is instructive only. Processes are not linear, and they are not circular; they are complex. Second, people groups present themselves differently depending upon who is asking, “Who are you?” There is one response for the government, another for the local church and yet another for other people groups. This should lead us to be creative as to how to represent them. Third, our big goal for “lists or macro data” must be to reveal “hidden people groups.”

People Group Data Workflow: Steps 1-3

Step 1: Lists as macro data

We understand that the international lists of people groups are more like “macro data.” On-site ministry is an environment of constant change. We know that urbanization and globalization are causing rapid change, and they directly impact the creation and implementation of post-arrival field strategies. They also require that new information be collected in the first months on the field. Perhaps ours is just a different planning model. However, while the international lists and the national lists have certainly been used in the preparation and individual decisions of each missionary project, I have no evidence that lists are being used widely in post-arrival strategies employed in Latin America.

Step 2: Lists and harmonization

We usually begin by comparing the internal people group lists of Brazil with international lists. On the one hand, there are discrepancies that, at first, distance the dialogue between the lists. However, after a careful appreciation of both, we manage to reach a good harmonious relationship. Harvest Information Standards (HIS)1 has been one of the tools employed to help harmonize the lists. When I say harmonize, it is not turning two lists into one. We understand that several lists can be helpful and useful, bringing different views and possessing features that allow dialogue between them.

Step 3: Lists and micro data

After achieving an initial harmonization, we then add different data. What we have learned is that the deeper the micro data, the greater the level of security concern. That has a direct relationship to partnerships; the deeper the data, the fewer organizations are willing to join or share. For this reason, we have invested more in macro data as partnerships, and more on micro data as a local organization.

People Group Data Workflow: Complete Process

Step 4: When lists turn into action

Now, with the lists (macro data) and the micro data from the local organization, we have a good place to begin. We look at our challenges and goals, and we choose which information best supports us.

Each challenge requires different extracts of the same information. Power Users are those who understand their ministry and define how to use the information. Power Users include not only the leaders, but also the people on the ground.

In our understanding, it is the Power Users who define to the mobilization ministries which information can be used in their work. For each type of mobilization— church-planting, Bible translation, compassion—we have parts of the data sets that can help. These ministries help refine existing data and provide new local data.

The international lists have followed people group definitions directed by ethnicity and language, and this has been useful. In fact, it is the main model that we, too, have used. However, we have recently been able to experiment with different views of the data (Dataviz2). This allows observing the data not only by ethnicity and language, but also with different variations that better serve the different audiences of organizations and their different ministries.

We are migrating from the use of polygons to points in geography. We are doing some tests between languages in use and different domains. At times we look at clusters of peoples, and we also examine the relationship of the clans within a people group.

Step 5: Local data and security

Everyone participates in how to understand the data, and everyone can be a user of the data. Each ministry can produce new data that is potentially useful in a variety of arenas. Yet it is important when we collect new data from people who have their feet on the ground that their data be treated carefully, observing security requirements.

Step 6: Updating the national and international lists

After the data is carefully cataloged, we can update the lists in collaboration with the global Church. In the case of national lists, the update dialogues are easier. By contrast, for the international lists the update dialogues are still not very clear. A good example of international lists that add value to the local researcher is the Ethnologue. The “data collaborators program”3 provides an instrument that allows the sending of data, the visualization of other collaborators' data and proof of the support of the national research missionary.

In summary, we are using different techniques, strategies and models to try to meet two great objectives. First, we wish to assist the Church to make the most of data for its activities. Second, we want to bring hidden peoples into wider view. We give thanks to God for the servants He has raised up here in Latin America. May He increasingly empower those who are at work today, and may He bring more data missionaries to work for and with them.

  1. 1 HIS

  2. 2 Datviz visualization

  3. 3 Ethnologue

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

For a very long time, many missiologists have tended to measure “progress in the Great Commission” (however that was defined) to some extent in the context of people groups, and how they are reached, evangelized and/or Christianized.

This thread has been pushed forward by the work of David Barrett, Patrick Johnstone and Ralph Winter, who each in his own way pushed thinking and activism related to unreached peoples.

“Reaching the unreached peoples,” in particular, has tended to replace the idea of “a church in every country” as the operative definition of closure or fulfillment of the Great Commission. Unreached People Groups better fit the Scriptural concepts of “every tribe, language, nation, tongue before the Throne” (Rev. 7:9).

The principal motivation behind the development of the unreached peoples concept was the idea of “gaps”—that there were languages and ethnic groups who had “no access” (defined as the reasonable access of individuals in the group to the gospel within their lifetime) principally being shared) or ethnicity (they couldn’t accept what was being shared by outsiders).

However, as we have refined our strategies for closure as “reach the unreached” strategies, two additional issues have emerged, and we’re struggling to address them.

The first is the danger of under-engagement. The principle is simple: we love lists, we want to check items off and so we did what is immediately required to put in a “good faith effort” to remove a people group from the list. We adopt a people group, mobilize a team, send them off to the group,and we remove this group from the “unreached” list.

This is exactly what would have to happen with a “sufficient” engagement, but it’s also what can happen with an “insufficient” engagement, and we don’t always take the time to ask whether an engagement is sufficient or not. A people group of 10 million, stretched over the geographic expanse of a country and spilling over into additional countries, will need more than a single team. To use an analogy, we can engage Moscow, while Vladivostok goes untouched within the lifetime of a single individual.

We may say “each missionary team can only do what it can,” and this is correct, but that represents only a tactical viewpoint. Strategy must think more broadly. If oneteam can only engage one major area within a people group, then multiple teams must be mobilized, and more rapidly.

The second issue, however, is my primary focus here: urbanization. At the turn of the 20th century, the world was just 14.4% urban—232 million out of 1.6 billion people on the planet. The majority of these urbanites (69%) were Christians because most of these cities were in Christianized countries. Just five megacities (population over one million) were majority non-Christian.

In a century, the situation has vastly changed. People moved into cities, driven by all sorts of motivations. Shortly past 2000, the world became majority urban. Today, about 56% of the global population lives in a city: 4.4 billion out of 7.8 billion.

Furthermore, as far back as the 1960s and 1970s, we began to see a shift in the religious composition of urbanites: there were more non-Christian city-dwellers than Christians, as cities developed in the non-Christian world. Today, just one-third of the world’s city dwellers are Christians. This doesn’t mean cities make people into non-Christians; it means that non-Christians urbanized into their own cities. Today the world includes more than 593 majority non-Christian megacities.

An example of this trend can be seen in China’s planned city clusters. They are planning to develop five regional cities, each with as many as 100 million people. In other words, there will be more people in these combined five cities than any other country in the world except India.

Cities present a specific challenge to the idea of “reaching Unreached People Groups”: they are huge mixing grounds. Some cities are more “rural” in character—various languages are segmented in mini-villages. Some cities are more “urban” in character—with lots of different people all mixed together, using broadly spoken trade languages to communicate on the job and in the markets. Whichever is the case, focusing on a city raises different strategic issues than focusing on a single people group or a language group largely spoken in a particular province or set of provinces. It brings the cross-cultural and cross-language dimensions of the task to bear in multiple ways earlier on. This means that including “cities” as segments to be listed, focused on, described, researched, documented, tracked, measured,and strategically engaged is probably just as important as “Unreached People Groups.”

We don’t want to lose the “unreached peoples” focus. But we must remember: the whole reason people have passionately advocated for the unreached is out of concern for gaps—collections of individuals who did not have gospel access. An exclusive focus on Unreached People Groups could, in fact, lead us to focus on, for example, Kazakhs, to the exclusion of very small groups (e.g., the thousand or so Avar in Kazakhstan) or diaspora groups int he same cities (e.g., Buryats).

Not every gap can be tracked at the global level. But global lists could continue to identify where gaps are potentially located. Different kinds of gaps can be found in cities than amongst unreached groups, and that means we need to give cities similar attention and effort.


This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Why South Asia People Group Data Looks So Different

Why South Asia People Group Data Looks So Different

South Asia people groups are not ethnolinguistic

People group lists historically have used two factors to identify each people group: language spoken and ethnicity, where “ethnicity” is defined broadly. Such lists may be referred to as ethno-linguistic because both factors were used to form the lists.

However, in practice, language spoken has been given more, if not exclusive, emphasis than ethnicity as people groups were identified. This emphasis on language spoken has worked reasonably well in most parts of the world, but it does not work well in South Asia.

The South Asia people group data is not ethno-linguistic if by that term we mean a list of language groups and subdivisions of language groups. A very different approach is used for South Asia.

Language groups vs. people groups / communities

The classic definition of a people group is “For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a Church Planting Movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance."

Outside South Asia the approach is to emphasize the understandability portion of the people group definition. This approach produces a list of people groups identified first and foremost by language spoken and may involve subdivisions of language groups.

However, in South Asia the approach is to define people groups consistent with the strongly held sense of “community” pervasive in that region. The term community does not refer to a physical location, but rather caste or social grouping within a structured hierarchy. The Indian term is jati. Barriers between communities/castes determine who one can associate with, share a meal with, marry, what homes one might enter, what occupation one might have, religious tradition and much more. This has profound impact on defining people groups and on church-planting. South Asian communities are the largest practical identity in which the gospel can take root and spread through relational pathways and means. The community perspective emphasizes acceptance barriers in the traditional definition of people group. Self-identification rather than language is the key determinate in defining South Asian people groups.

Relationship between South Asian people groups and languages spoken

In South Asia, individuals and people groups are typically multi-lingual. Quite often, languages spoken do not identify the community an individual or people group is part of. This many-to- many relationship between people groups and languages creates a highly complex situation. People group websites show only a very simplified presentation of this complexity. However, detailed South Asia district-level people group, language and religion data is available.

Importance of self-identification

A goal for South Asia researchers has been to consistently identify people groups by how individuals identify themselves. An illustration of this perspective can be seen in one definition for Aboriginal used in Australia: “An Aboriginal is one who identifies as an Aboriginal, and who is perceived as belonging to an Aboriginal community by the Aboriginal community”. In South Asia, individuals typically know the community they have been born into, and this is how they identify themselves to census and other government inquiries. This approach helps to identify the groupings through which the gospel message is most likely to flow without encountering significant barriers of acceptance. It is important to avoid identifications imposed from outside the communities themselves.

This self-identification produces a much more granular list with many more people group entries for South Asia. Outsiders may only see broad classifications such as Jat, Rajput, Brahmin or Pashtun and not see the distinctions and barriers between self-identified communities. It might take years of humble observation for an outsider to truly understand the difference between, for example, the Chetti Bania and Srimali Bania.

Toward a “unimax” list

Dave Datema and Kevin Higgins touch on the “unimax” view of people groups in their articles in this issue. A unimax people is “the maximum-sized group sufficiently unified to be the target of a single people movement to Christ”. South Asia people group data is based on self- identification and barriers beyond language which is a significant step toward a unimax view of South Asian peoples.

Long-term, on-site research is needed to fully identify unimax peoples. Current South Asia people group lists provide an excellent starting point for workers seeking to understand local realities. Certainly, there will be cases where two or more communities need to be merged on a list to better conform to what is discovered, or perhaps one community needs to be split to form several communities.

Current South Asia people group data is not perfect, but it has integrity and is faithful to the people who have collected, collated and published it over past decades. It is generally consistent with how individuals in South Asia identify their own communities. Caste cohesiveness may be diminishing, especially in urban areas, yet self-awareness of the community a person has been born into remains reasonably strong in most of South Asia.

The Joshua Project website is utilized by many more from India than any other country, including the United States. It is not unusual for an Indian to write saying such things as “my community is larger than that,” or “you should modify the name of my community.” However, very rarely have any users raised objections to the overall approach and presentation of the people groups of South Asia.

The non-ethnolinguistic, self-identification-based, granular, unimax nature of South Asian people group data makes it very different from the people group data in the rest of the world. Thankfully, the Lord has provided a remarkably rich dataset for the most complex people group situation in the world. May it be used to advance His kingdom in South Asia.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Seeing the Unreached World As It Really Is

Seeing the Unreached World As It Really Is

People group research is not a fixed science. Rather, it is a constantly changing dynamo of motion as people groups move, assimilate into other cultures, regain and lose their languages, come to Christ and fall away from the faith.

As a result, a continually updated people group list is essential for decision-making in the mission world. Lists help believers gain a clearer picture of the remaining task of world evangelization that is so dear to the heart of God.

I have been engaged in mission research in Asia since the 1980s. For much of that time I have wrestled with the ethno-linguistic realities of what we found on the mission field vs. what governments and the Body of Christ have acknowledged. This disparity presents challenges for the cause of the gospel.

In the late 1990s I wrote a book profiling all the tribes, peoples and languages of Laos. The Lao government amusingly insists there are just three groups of people in the country, based on elevation(!)—those who live on the plains, in the hills and in the high mountains. Our book was revolutionary in that it profiled and mapped 117 distinct people groups in Laos. Today, the number has grown to 127 groups according to the latest Joshua Project data.

A few years later we released Operation China, which profiled and mapped 490 distinct ethno-linguistic groups in China. Joshua Project now lists 545 distinct people groups in China, as new research over the years has brought the existence of new groups and languages into the light.

The Chinese government to this day, however, recognizes only 56 ethnic groups within its borders, and most Christians I have met—both in China and overseas— prefer to use those broad artificial classifications because they are more manageable.

This approach is clearly flawed, however, as countless groups have been lumped together in these official categories, yet have little in common. Two groups may hardly speak a word of each other's language, refuse to intermarry and proudly possess their own unique histories, customs and identities.

For example, the official "Miao" nationality in China actually contains more than 50 distinct tribes, of which five or six are strongly Christian, and the remainder unreached. Many believers have assumed that the Christian Miao can reach the other groups, but for more than a century this assumption has largely proven false.

A believer from the A-Hmao tribe will struggle greatly if they try to reach the two million Hmu people, who live just a few hours away in the same province. I have been present when gospel audio recordings and the Jesus film in one Miao language were played to Miao in another group, leaving them with completely bemused looks on their faces.

The language differences between such groups are sometimes as broad as those between European languages like English, French, German and Spanish. The "Yi" nationality in China is even more complex, with 85 distinct tribes speaking their own distinct languages. At least 30 tribes have been combined together to form the official “Yao” nationality.

There are clearly hundreds more ethnic groups and languages than what some ministries acknowledge in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The 1931 British census reported 37 distinct Kuki Chin tribes in Burma (now Myanmar) and another 13 in India.

Within those were strings of spoken languages, with some districts having as many as 20 distinct languages. These peoples and languages have not vanished, but some sources do not see any point in “slicing the pie” so thin, so they view the Kuki Chin as one cohesive group, which they are not.

A Troubling Development

Most alarmingly, in recent years there appears to have been a push by some in the mission world to ignore reality and to imagine the task is simpler than it really is. The aim seems to be to try to reduce the size and complexity of what remains to be done. I fear the motive for this may often be a misguided bid to please some donors who have grown weary of hearing about thousands of Unreached People Groups in the world; our data contradict the mantra that we will soon complete the Great Commission.

Manipulating statistics, altering definitions and reducing the number of Unreached People Groups by pushing a “delete” button will never help reach lost people for Christ, and millions of people may go without the Word of God in their language because mission agencies don't have the courage to acknowledge the true situation.

I encourage every believer and ministry leader to put aside mission politics and funding pressures, and to realize that the Lord Jesus is the Truth. If we can't accept the reality of the situation facing us, we risk falling into the trap of deception.

On the field, many church leaders have grown confused and disengaged because of the games Western ministries play with data. This has led to some ludicrous situations. Last year a good friend from Nepal—who is doing outstanding ministry in more than two dozen totally unreached tribes in the high Himalayas—attended a mission conference in the United States, where he was told that Nepal no longer has any unreached groups! In effect, he was told that the job has been completed in Nepal, and he should relax and live in the delusion that the tribes he has given his life to reach really aren’t unreached!

Decades ago, God used Dr. Ralph Winter to change the discourse of mission work, when he explained that the world is not like a flat pancake, where the syrup flows easily over the whole surface. Rather, he described the world as being like a waffle, with walls between distinct sections that must be broken down before the syrup can flow into those areas.

The number of unreached ethnic groups and languages in the world will be reduced as Christians share the gospel with them and as communities of redeemed believers emerge, and not by covering our eyes and ears and imagining that hundreds of groups and languages don't exist as we squeeze them together for administrative convenience.

The Gospel is Advancing

Regardless of what men may do, God is still on the move among the unreached!

Over the years, we have been cheered by seeing amazing progress among many groups. The 57,000 Mosuo of southwest China were a completely unknown people group until they were mentioned in a National Geographic article about 30 years ago. Believers visited and found them to be completely unevangelized and without a single known Christian in their midst. Today there are approximately 3,000 Mosuo believers, and at least one house church in every Mosuo village. Hallelujah!

One example of how people group research has helped reach the lost occurred in Laos. Beginning in the 1990s, thousands of Khmu people in northern Laos experienced a powerful turning to the Lord. Touched by the Spirit of God, many Khmu believers desired to take the gospel to other tribes that had never heard of Jesus, but they were only aware of the ethnicities in their immediate areas, and they knew little about the ethnic composition of the rest of their country.

Today, partly thanks to the influence of people group lists, dozens of Khmu missionaries are serving in southern Laos and even in surrounding countries. As a result, a number of previously unevangelized groups have gradually made progress from unreached to the list of those who have embraced the gospel and now have a growing church.

Part of our call at Asia Harvest is to help local believers get the gospel moving among unreached groups. Today, it’s humbling to look back and see how the Holy Spirit has enabled a small ministry to come alongside the Asian Church. Currently, we are privileged to support more than 1,500 Asian missionaries, who serve among 1,150 different ethnic groups. Hundreds more groups still need attention so that people will be transformed from the kingdom of darkness into God’s light.

A Reminder of Who Owns the Harvest

In recent decades, the world has been rapidly changing via technological advances and the increase of information. As we continue to progress toward the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the end of the Great Commission, let us remember that the salvation of people from every fragment of humanity is not our idea. Rather, it is the plan of the living God from before the foundations of the earth.

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people." —Revelation 14:6

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Group Lists and the Challenge of Growing Complexity

People Group Lists and the Challenge of Growing Complexity

A Brief History of Global People Group Lists

No comprehensive, global list of people groups existed when Dr. Ralph Winter gave his landmark presentation at Lausanne ’74. Partial lists began to be developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, three global people group lists have emerged:

  • Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s World Christian Database (WCD)
  • International Mission Board SBC’s Church Planting Progress Indicators (CPPI) database
  • Joshua Project (JP) database

These three lists have different definitions, sources, purposes and audiences as outlined in the table below.

Why Three Global Peoples Lists?

Looking at a picture from several angles often yields greater perspective. Using different definitions and criteria can help clarify a task and highlight areas needing further research. Global people group data compilers are confronted by questions such as: Is language always the primary definer of a people group? Should caste be considered when defining a people group? Should Christian adherents be considered when setting criteria for unreached? Should unreached be defined by exposure or response to the gospel? What are acceptable sources for input and edits?

A Growing Challenge

There is an increasing interest and call, particularly from on-site workers, to add further levels of refinement to people group data. This greater granularity can take two forms. One refinement would be increasingly finer slices of traditional people groups. This would involve tracking traditional people groups by province or district, subgroup, religious tradition and/or dialect.

A second, very different refinement being suggested is complete reconfiguring and mixing of traditional people groups into dynamic or hybrid identities. Distinctives of these hybrid groups might be by occupation, shared interests, skills, education, networks and/or social status. This represents a quantum leap in complexity.

Granularity and Complexity

Graph 1 illustrates the relationship between people group list granularity and complexity. The chart is divided into three sections. Very general uses are suggested for each section. The numbers in parentheses are counts from the Joshua Project list as of June 2021. Current numbers may be slightly different. Groups to the left of the dotted line would be considered traditional people groups and groups to the right would be considered dynamic, hybrid groupings or “unimax” peoples.

Consider the Fulani of Central Africa. Moving from left to right across Graph 1 on the previous page, the Fulani can be viewed as a single People Cluster4. This level does not distinguish specific Fulani people groups and combines 40 million individuals into one category. Typically, this is the level of granularity used by the secular media and general missions education material. To protect believers, movements to Jesus among the Fulani are reported at this broader level. However, a church adopting a people group for prayer and engagement needs greater detail and a smaller size group to focus on. The church would likely adopt a specific Fulani people group such as the Pulaar Fulani, in Senegal5. As workers begin on-site ministry, they might focus on the Toucouleur dialect- speaking, millennial age, healthcare professional Pulaar Fulani living in Matam, Senegal. This would be a hybrid grouping. The “glue” that holds such a hybrid group together goes well beyond ethnicity and language.

Changing Barriers and Shifting Boundaries

From a church-planting perspective, people group boundaries are defined by barriers to the spread of the gospel. The highest barriers define the extent of a people group. In some parts of the world, changing barriers are rapidly causing a shift from traditional people groups to dynamic or hybrid groupings. Table 2 compares these perspectives.

Existing people group identities are being mixed and recombined, and new hybrid identities are being created. For example, language consolidation is reducing the language barrier that traditionally has defined many people groups. Speakers of smaller languages are rapidly learning one or more global languages, usually for education and job opportunities. These are often languages widely used on the internet. New mobile devices are allowing on-the-fly, real-time translation. A rise in linguistic nationalism results in merger of people groups together through governmental pressure. At the same time, some people groups are dividing over a desire to preserve language and its cultural contexts. Few boundaries are truly rigid; the edges have fluidity.

Urbanization and migration are reducing ethnicity barriers. Groupings of individuals in cities are increasingly being driven by occupation, shared interests, skills, education, networks, social status and activities rather than by ethnic background or language. Globalization is reducing the ethnic as well as religious barriers. An inter- connected world allows exposure to and opportunity for exploring different worldviews, values and religions. Globalization allows connections and relationships with other likeminded individuals around the world, rather than only those in one’s immediate physical area.

New Groupings Are Emerging

These forces are changing the barriers to the spread of the gospel and impacting how the ethne of the world are defined from a church-planting perspective. Growing reports of movements to Jesus crossing traditional people group boundaries demonstrate a shift in how the gospel flows. For example, some have suggested that Gen-Z youth of Riyadh have more in common with their peers in Chicago than with their own parents. That might be an exaggeration but it makes a useful point. Youth in many cases are not identifying as strongly with their traditional people group, based on ethnicity and language, as they are with others in their age group and social experience almost anywhere in the world.

For on-site workers, other ways of grouping are becoming more useful and needed than groupings by ethnicity and language. For example, classifying Saudi Arabian Gen-Z youth in a database using traditional people group definitions could potentially obscure their preferred identity and limit reaching them with the gospel. Identifying Saudi Gen-Z youth as a unique dynamic grouping might accelerate the flow of the gospel along pathways of relationships and common interests.

Complementary Perspectives

Traditional people group lists are still important and useful but need periodic revisiting and evaluation in changing times. Lists help to outline the unfinished task of the Great Commission and provide church leaders and mobilizers with motivating benchmarks. At the same time, new perspectives and dynamics are bringing other groupings into focus. The “glue” that binds these new groupings together may not be language or ethnicity, but rather occupation, education, shared interests, social networks, generational issues and worldviews. These dynamic groupings will be increasingly strategic and effective pathways for the spread of the gospel. Both the traditional and dynamic perspectives of people groups are useful and should not be viewed as old vs. new, but rather as complementary.

  1. 1 An exciting revision of the CPPI framework called Gospel to All Peoples and Places (GAPP) is underway. See:

  2. 2 Includes sources such as national government census, UN, CIA database, other state/government generated data.

  3. 3 Ibid.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

What if?

What if?

Thinking about the theme of this MF, I wondered: What if Lausanne ’74 hadn’t happened?

Without Lausanne ’74, what might or might not have happened on the global level? With no Lausanne Covenant, would there be even less unity in the Church? Even less progress on social and justice issues for the poor? Less cooperation and understanding across cultures?

On a personal level, if Ralph Winter had not presented the vision for reaching the unreached at Lausanne, my life would have been very different.

I first heard Winter share that same vision at a weekend event for students, two years after he and Roberta returned from Lausanne. The Winters were days away from founding the U.S. Center for World Mission1—in part, because of Lausanne. A good friend (Doug) and I mobilized 25 college students to this event. We had a growing conviction that the task of reaching people with the gospel was something every Christian must be engaged in. We wrote a mission-focused newsletter for the church’s quarterly mailing. We read books and attended anything that might help us learn more about what was happening around the world. We were thrilled when we got our hands on the first U.S. edition of Operation World that same year—which detailed every country of the world and gave praises and prayer requests. We prayed.

But we had not heard or understood the concept of distinct cultural groups who were beyond the scope of the existing church mission efforts. Most alert Christians at the time knew there were Christians in every country of the world. But that did not solve the problem Winter spoke about. Doug and I learned, that even if every church in the world were to reach out as far as it could in every direction, more than one half of the world would remain untouched. Winter talked about Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist peoples and showed —on overhead transparencies—how few people were trying to reach them. He talked about “people groups” where there were no churches.

Doug and I just sat there stunned. Why hadn’t we heard this? Leaving that weekend event, we were even more motivated to get involved because the “task” Winter portrayed seemed doable. Doug became one of the earliest Perspectives coordinators. I joined Winter at the USCWM and have been there since.

So...What if Lausanne hadn’t happened? Humanly speaking, I would suggest we would have less hope.

When Doug and I first heard Ralph Winter, we knew enough about the world to see massive needs, but we didn’t understand the complexity. It was just a HUGE task. Lausanne helped us to see and gave the evangelical church mission world hope. “Bite-sized groups” of people seem more reachable, even if many of them are still radically different from us, and the task will require sacrifice.

  1. 1 Now Frontier Ventures, see

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

A Small Shift with Potential Significant Impact: Viewing Peoples Globally

A Small Shift with Potential Significant Impact: Viewing Peoples Globally

Traditional People Group Data Structure

It was in the 1960s and 1970s that Christian researchers began in earnest to identify the people groups of the world. When the original lists were made, there was limited communication and very little movement of peoples. At that time, an international flight may have cost 10 times what it does currently and taken much longer. An international telephone call typically cost several dollars per minute. The common way to stay in touch with people in other countries was often by hand- written postal letter.

Geographic distance was a significant barrier to the spread of the gospel. Diaspora groups had minimal contact with homeland populations; the homeland and diaspora peoples of the same ethnicity were considered distinct entities. People group populations were structured accordingly, and people groups were defined by including country boundaries as shown in Figure 1 below. That data structure has served the mission community well for the last 50 years. Figure 2 illustrates the traditional people group data structure and counts as presented on the Joshua Project website.


A Different World

However, the world is a very different place than when people group lists began. Travel is relatively inexpensive and rapid... we have virtually free and instant video connection... money can be sent with a few taps on a phone... family or associates can Facetime or Zoom anytime... business or ministry can be conducted remotely from another continent.

Globalization means anyone can essentially contact anyone, anywhere, anytime. The geographic barriers and “distance” between the homeland and the diaspora have significantly blurred. Migration means people are on the move with unimagined mobility. New people-groups- in-countries (PGICs) are formed whenever a homeland group moves to a new country. All this raises challenges and concerns related to the current people group terminology, data structures and presentation.

Challenges and Concerns

1. Multiple meanings of “people group”—Both entities in the dotted box in Figure 1. are currently called “people groups”. Sometimes the term “people group” means geopolitical boundaries are not considered, e.g., the Kurmanji Kurd everywhere in the world. Other times “people group” means country borders are considered, e.g., the Kurmanji Kurds in Turkey, the Kurmanji Kurds in Iraq, etc. Without context, it is unclear whether the reference is to a people-group-across-countries (PGAC) or a people-group-in-country (PGIC). This has caused substantial confusion.

2. Ever expanding list of “people groups”—The widely recognized count of “people groups” is the number of people-groups-in-country (PGICs) in Figure 1. However, the number of PGICs is essentially unlimited. Therefore, the traditional PGIC way of counting “people groups” is a continually increasing number. In turn, this causes the number of Unreached People Groups to appear to be growing. Again, confusion has resulted.

3. PGICs are weighted the same—The largest homeland groups and the smallest diaspora groups are considered at the same level when viewed at a PGIC level. They have equal weight as database entries. Each is considered a unique “people group.” For example, the nine million homeland Kurmanji Kurds in Turkey are counted the same as a few thousand diaspora Kurmanji Kurds in Norway.

4. Mixes geography into the hierarchy—Traditional geographic barriers to the spread of the gospel are diminishing. Fifty years ago, geography was considered in the hierarchy of people groups, but this ma