Out of roughly 200 decades since Jesus launched the Christian faith, the decade from 2020-2030 is going to see by far the largest harvest of all. The following essay unpacks this reality with a snapshot of what is happening inside a new and fast growing branch of Christianity. Global Christianity is about to change forever, and the coming decade will be seen one day by historians as the tipping point when this change took centre stage.
After a three century burst of early church growth, for the next millennium Western Christianity was largely associated with the Catholic and Orthodox faiths. Then came the Reformation which brought us back to a Biblical theology. We are now at the beginning of the second Reformation that is bringing the global Church back to its original Biblical structure.
This “new” branch of Christianity often goes under the names of Disciple Making Movements or Church Planting Movements (DMM or CPM). These commonly used terms reflect the missional heart of this new Reformation. Most Western Christians will not have heard very much about DMM/CPM movements as they are largely outside the Western world, outside Western denomination systems, outside traditional theological training colleges, outside visible religious buildings and they lack high profile leaders. This is in part because most DMM/CPM movements have to deliberately keep a low profile. They are often found inside hostile host cultures.
DMM/CPM’s are not an entirely new phenomenon. In fact the very first DMM/CPM was initiated by Jesus himself and was copied by the early church in the Book of Acts. Sadly, Jesus’ model of kingdom growth through rapid multiplication of strong and obedient disciples and simple churches fell out of favour when Christianity settled down as another religion several hundred years after Christ’s resurrection.
If you carefully read chapter’s 3-10 of the book of Luke you can see Jesus’ own DMM/CPM being birthed, growing and then exploding over three years in the fertile hills of Galilee. Jesus first launched his ministry, evangelised and gathered followers (Luke 4). Then he called out from among those followers a small group of 12 men for intense leadership training (Luke 6). They watched and learned. Then Jesus sent them out to obediently duplicate what he had done (Luke 9). Later, they in turn trained another 70 or so others in the same skills. These second tier leaders were then asked to find even more disciples and potential leaders (persons of peace) in every village in Galilee, and to train them in the way they themselves had been trained (Luke 10). Thus a sizable movement was birthed with several hundred leaders trained up who would lay the foundation of the coming spiritual harvest after Jesus rose from the dead and gave them the Great Commission.
Only an understanding of this very first DMM/CPM explains why tens of thousands flocked to hear Jesus teach, and why there were 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Jesus had saturated Galilee with the Gospel and had trained enough leaders for the future harvest! These leaders knew exactly what the Great Commission meant, and what to do after the day the Holy Spirit was poured out. The book of Acts records DMM/CPM’s beginning to multiply around the Roman world, with Acts 13-14 being a good example of the birth of one of them. Outside the book of Acts, history also records many other DMM/CPM’s springing up all over the known world through the work of these very first church leaders.
Modern DMM/CPM’s are simply a return to the New Testament way of obeying the commands and the Great Commission of Jesus. They therefore work in any and every cultural setting. Over the last thirty years a rapidly increasing number of Christian leaders around the world have discovered Jesus’s original model in the scriptures and have begun to implement these practical methods of discipleship.
These DMM/CPM’s are not theological academic programs. They are a spiritual and social revolution based on real world obedience. The timing of the rise of this DMM/CPM revolution coincides with a radical shift in evangelical Christianity away from the Western world to the global south where we now find 4/5ths of all the world’s 600 million evangelical believers. Over the next decade the exponential increase in new and energetic DMM/CPM movements will begin to change the course of entire nations, which was the original intent of Matthew 28:19.
HOW MOVEMENTS ARE MEASURED
The International Missions Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States has taken on the responsibility for closely monitoring the growth of all existing and emerging DMM/CPM movements. Justin Long, who previously worked on the World Christian Encyclopaedia, is in charge of this task. In fact, the inspiration for this essay came from a recent IMB Missions Frontiers Magazine article titled 1% of the World: A Macro-analysis of 1,369 Movements to Christ that was written by Justin himself. The IMB coordinates with 1,600 Western and non-Western mission organisations to compile its statistics. This collaboration has spawned two training global networks called 24:14 Multiplying Movements Together and Finishing the Task or GAP4FTT. The latter is currently chaired by American mega-church leader Rick Warren.
All field data and the various reports coming into the IMB database are vetted and double checked. The data is then deliberately kept vague so it does not identify individual movements within a specific country as many governments are openly hostile to what is happening in their jurisdictions. The IMB therefore presents data regionally instead of nationally. For more detail on how DMM/CPM movements are measured please click here.
All DMM/CPM Movements are tracked according to a seven level scale. Level one represents an individual or small group just starting out on the DMM journey with one generation of new disciples or simple churches. Level two has daughter churches of the original church. At level three there shouldn’t be just a single line of three generations of daughter churches but multiple streams of third generation daughter churches. None of these first three levels are yet classified as a fully-fledged DMM/CPM movement.
Only level four is classified as a fully-fledged DMM/CPM movement as that is the point at which the movement is basically unstoppable. Think of level four as started by a fictitious church planter who trains 6 disciples who each then train 6 more disciples, who each then train 6 more disciples, who then each train 6 more disciples (6 x 6 x 6 x 6). At this point there would be four generations, roughly 1,300 disciples of Christ and approximately 100 simple churches or relational networks of disciples. Level four may take years to get to, but is often the ignition point for future rapid growth. Going deep into obedience before going wide in numbers was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and is also the heart of all successful DMM/CPM’s.
Movements at levels five, six and seven represent DMM/CPM’s that are having regional and national influence. An example of a movement at level seven would be the Bhojpuri movement in North India, now numbering 15 million disciples, hundreds of thousands of simple churches and fostering new movements across India and other countries. Despite its enormous size, the Bhojpuri movement is still growing rapidly because all DMM/CPM movements are like trees; they grow from the tips of the branches, not the trunk. If a movement faithfully copies the methods Jesus taught us, then the spiritual DNA will be strong and there is theoretically no limit to growth.
THE DATA AS AT SEPTEMBER 2020
|Total disciples in all movements||76,900,000|
|% of the world now in all movements||1%|
|Global proto-movements levels 1-3||4,589|
|Global mature movements levels 4-7||1,369|
|Known movements that have shut down||18|
|Average people per movement||56,000|
|Number of simple churches||4,800,000|
|Average believers per simple church||16|
|Countries without active movements||74|
|Asian Movements (52m people)|
|African Movements (11m people)|
|Europe (2.6m people)|
|North America (0.5 million people)||31|
|South America (1 million people)|
|Oceania (0.07 million people)||6|
|Disciples From Religious Backgrounds|
Justin Long points out that all the figures in the table above are deliberately conservative so as to avoid exaggeration. Below are some interesting points that elaborate on the raw data above:
- Praise point: One percent of the world’s population is now involved in a rapidly growing DMM/CPM movement!
- Prayer point: Out of 229 countries, 113 still have no level four movements and 74 don’t even have anyone known to be trying to start a movement. There is still a long way to go.
- The large number of movements in Asia and Africa is a product of time. This is where the first movements started and have therefore multiplied the most. What has happened there is coming to all other regions of the world given enough time!
- The total number of simple churches in DMM/CPM movements now exceeds the number of traditional church congregations in all other global Christian traditions.
- These new simple churches are growing exponentially, roughly tripling every decade.
- Most DMM movements are currently in the size range of 1,000 to 10,000 people. The very large movements in India pull the average up to the number 56,000 you saw in the table above.
- Only a handful of movements are larger than one million. However, that will change this decade as others grow through level four toward level seven.
- Most movements outside the Middle East are in rural areas. More and more of these rural movements are now intentionally engaging people in cities and seeing fruit.
- Most movements in the Middle Eastern Islamic countries are in the cities.
- Some movements are now starting to deliberately plant new movements in unreached regions and unreached people groups, and this is expected to lead to even more growth.
- Most fast-growing movements are in countries where there are very few Christians and therefore no Western cultural baggage.
- The future of Christianity inside the Hindu world is very exciting.
- Likewise for Islam. Almost 500 of the 1,369 movements are inside the Muslim world or on the borderlands of the Muslim world.
Asia: DMM/CPM movements are at their most advanced in India, where the oldest and largest movements are concentrated. We are beginning to witness a watershed movement of Hindus into Christianity. Respected Indian DMM/CPM leaders have been very busy training new movement leaders all over the world and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. A single movement in Bangladesh stopped counting Muslim Background Believer baptisms after 1,000,000. However Pakistan still needs to see a breakthrough. Indonesia is another hotspot for growth. There are also a surprisingly large number of movements (224) inside Muslim West Asia. And then there is China, where evangelical Christianity has grown from 2.7 million in 1975 to over 100 million in 2020, with an unknown number in DMM/CPM movements.
Africa: The Muslim strongholds of North and West Africa are now a hotbed of new DMM/CPM movements with at least 250 being active. The far south of Africa, where traditional Christianity is strong, is yet to embrace the new paradigm to any significant degree. The Sahel borderlands between the Muslim north and the Christian south are where we are seeing many new movements being birthed. East Africa is another interface between Christianity and Islam so it is encouraging to see at least 155 movements active in this area with many more starting out.
Europe: Given its history of fossilised Christian tradition, the DMM/CPM numbers for Europe are very encouraging. However, most of Europe’s movements are among the newer immigrant people groups and the Roma peoples. Very few of these movements are large; most are a few thousand disciples. All operate very much under the radar. They total about 1/3 of one percent of Europe’s population of 742 million.
Most of the North American movements are also very small groups among diaspora peoples. However, there are growing movements among Anglo-Saxon Americans with one mega-church in Lubbock, Texas, already having disbanded so it can focus on DMM/CPM. As a consequence, the DMM/CPM vision is now catching on with traditional church leaders. There are only six known movements in Central and South America as most of the exciting growth on that continent is currently inside established Pentecostal church structures. The Communist country of Cuba is the exception, as it has seen strong growth in both types of church structures.
LOOKING TOWARD 2030
So what can we expect to see in the next ten years? Using current trends as a guide this is what will probably happen:
- According to Operation World, approximately 8% of the world’s people are now born again evangelical Christian believers, with 1/8 of that figure inside rapidly growing DMM/CPM movements. In the decade ahead expect to see over 10-12% of the world inside the Kingdom of God by 2030 with the bulk of that growth coming from that the DMM/CPM movements. Thus a ratio of 1/8 will shrink to at least 1/3. This growth will represent somewhere between 200-300 million new disciples.
- We currently see churches multiplying, but whole movements are not yet multiplying. We will see the first signs of exponential growth of whole movements in the next five years as more and more existing and experienced movements start new movements in unreached areas, and many of the emerging proto-movements reach level four.
- South Asia has 52 million people in a myriad of DMM/CPM’s. This number could easily grow to 100-150 million by 2030. Most will be in India, which should be 10-15% Christian by 2030. This would represent the largest spiritual harvest in the history of Christianity and a monumental shift in the religious landscape of this rising 21st Century superpower.
- The number of movements inside or on the edge of Islam is a phenomenal 500 or so. This number should be 1,000-1,500 by 2030. This would represent another 50-100 million new MBB disciples of Christ and the replanting of our faith to its original heartland. The great harvest inside Islam has begun after 1,400 years of waiting.
- Currently there is little visible activity in the Western world; the Americas, Europe and Oceania. These regions are 1-2 decades behind the rest of the world in DMM/CPM growth. The next decade should see the adoption of DMM/CPM as a viable and valuable tool in the re-evangelism of these post-Christian and now spiritually hostile regions. There is a growing hunger for change within the Western church. Those that have bravely started movements are seeing some success, however, it is still early days and there is much cultural baggage to overcome.
- Until the turn of the century North and West Africa were seen as a graveyard for traditional missions. However, this is a deeply spiritual region where Islam sits on top of a myriad of occult practices. DMM/CPM is the perfect vehicle for penetrating this darkness and this explains the surprisingly large number of new movements popping up across the region. Expect to hear great things in the decade ahead from this region with tens of millions more coming to Christ.
- There are some 3,200 proto-movements in the process of getting started. None of the believers in these movements are included in the numbers above! Most will progress to fully-fledged level four movements this decade and perhaps 10,000 more proto-movements will take their place in the formation stage by the end of the decade. This is the power of exponential growth.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that his gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Again he said in Matthew 28:19 that we were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He expects us to get the job done. Only by using the blueprint he gave us can this task have any chance of being fulfilled in a world of nearly 8 billion people that grows by just over 80 million each year.
What we have seen so far in the growth of global DMM/CPM movements is just the beginning of the fulfilment of our master’s command. The last two decades have been stunning. The next decade will be breath-taking. We can only imagine what could happen in the six decades beyond that to the end of the century!
Lord, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea