Movement trainers everywhere have bemoaned the fact that only a very small fraction of trainees actually change their ministry approach to movement ministry. David Watson has often been quoted as saying that in his experience the percentage is as low as under 3%. Whether the change rate is 3% or maybe even slightly higher, educators and trainers will think: “We certainly can do better, can’t we!?” The question is: “How much is that abysmally low adoption rate due to trainees’ inertia to change? And how much is it due to reasons in the training itself that could be improved?” I am convinced a significant reason for low rates of change lies in the effectiveness of training methods and the selection of training topics. If we improve these two, I’m convinced we can increase the ratio of trainees becoming fruitful movement practitioners.
I undertook to find answers and evaluated movement training --- initially to improve my own training and help my training team grow. Knowing that other movement trainers have been wrestling with this, I want to share with you what we have learned. I hope this will be of value to the wider movement community, trainers in particular. With increasing implementation of the best practices discovered, our training efforts can become more transformational.
Introducing the “EXPONENTIAL™ Disciple-Making Training”
The “EXPONENTIAL™ Disciple-Making and Church Planting Training” (also called “EXPONENTIAL Training” or EXP for short) is a three-day, 15-session on-site training consisting of standard DMM topics combined with the Catalytic Qualities: traits and competencies that my research has shown to characterize effective movement catalysts.
The Catalytic Qualities include: Hunger for God (3 sessions), Expectant Faith, Fervent Intercession, Tangible Love, Boldness, Reproducible Disciple-Making, and Empowering.
The DMM practices include: Radiant Spirituality, Crafting Shema Statements, Finding Persons of Peace, Starting a Discovery Group, and Running an Oral Discovery Group.
The training event concludes with each participant developing a personal action plan to implement in their daily ministry lives the new insights gained. Follow-up by national ministry leaders is organized, typically in groups that include peer-to-peer interaction.
Since December 2019, a team has trained more than 10,000 church leaders and church planters in more than 30 different countries. The training materials have been translated into nine different languages. Some trainees benefited from the training so much that on their own initiative they launched it into their spheres of influence. This demonstrates that the training is reproducible. In the short span of only three years, those trained as movement “novices” have already seen 12 movements emerge! (For more information on the EXPONENTIAL Training, including a Practitioner Manual with the core content, see:
I have now formally assessed the “EXPONENTIAL™ Disciple-Making Training” and its impact. After the seminar we administered an assessment form that asked nine specific questions with the option to give any further feedback. To the best of my knowledge, this constitutes the first formal broad survey of a movement training.
The most memorable experience
In the assessment, we asked participants to name their most memorable experience. More than any other aspect of the seminar, trainees commented on the way the training was conducted. Forty-nine percent of responses focused on the educational approach as their most memorable part of the experience.
Each session of the EXPONENTIAL Training has a consistent pattern that includes the following elements: a Discovery Bible Study, a definition of the topic, a group learning activity, a list of best practices (drawn from those used by effective movement catalysts), a growth path of learning activities, and a personal summary reflection.
Trainees highlighted three particular aspects of the training approach:
First, trainees noted the interactive learning activities in small groups of five or six. These occurred at least once in every training session, and twice in some sessions. These serve to engage participants in an activity related to the main topic of the session, introduced via a short presentation. Through these activities, trainees process the theoretical concepts, relate these to their previous experience and apply them to their life and ministry.
Second, they commented on the experience of peer learning, which happens both in group activities and in Discovery Bible Studies (DBS). Group members learn from one another’s previous experiences and process the training topic together.
They also referred specifically to the DBS that introduces each session as a particularly memorable part of the seminar experience.
Trainees found the way the training was conducted the most memorable experience.
Transformational training practices
Trainers should note these additional memorable training practices highlighted by respondents:
Role plays. At the beginning of the seminar a team models how to do a DBS before participants divide into groups to do this themselves. Then in Session 10, an entire DBS meeting is role played to show how it can develop into the beginnings of a house church. Session 12 consists of an Oral DBS, showing how oral learners can study the Bible without actually reading the written text; instead they tell and re-tell the Bible story.
Visual demonstrations. These include a short video, a learning activity in which trainees practice boldness or tangible love, and graphics which illustrate key concepts.
Space for personal reflection. Each session ends with a time of reflection, and several sessions include additional time to consider and apply the content to the learner’s own life.
The simplicity. Presentations and the content are kept simple, in order to make them reproducible.
Eighteen percent of trainees noted as most memorable their social experience in the learning community, with eleven percent specifying the time they spent with fellow learners. This includes interaction in the meeting room as well as fellowship during meals and breaks, and after the formal training sessions. One commented, “During the training program the unity and love that we have is so unforgettable.” This creates what another participant described as a most “conducive environment for learning and reflecting.”
Most significant takeaways
Trainees’ most significant takeaways fell into four main categories, shown in the following chart:
The greatest impact
Three of the 15 sessions of the EXPONENTIAL seminar focus on “Cultivating Hunger for God.” Respondents describe this topic as the one with the greatest impact on their lives. They now view this as the foundation and main motivator for their ministry. One trainee spoke for others when he said: “Being fruitful is not the key, but BEING in the Father's presence makes me fruitful.”
In the first of these three sessions, trainees identify the spiritual disciplines that suit their unique spiritual temperament: disciplines that lead to cultivating more hunger for God and intimacy with Him. The second session focuses on seeking God for his own sake. Trainees reported that they now see their primary identity as God’s Beloved, rather than their ministry role. One trainee testified: “I learnt that I must desire God for myself and not for my ministry.” Others noted the section on best practices, in particular living out one’s identity as a beloved child of God rather seeing their identity as performance-based. They also commented on the importance of developing a ministry philosophy around Being rather than Doing. In the third session, trainees learn how to make their Hunger for God contagious.
For other trainees, the session “Bolstering Expectant Faith” was most impactful. This session includes trainers’ real-life testimonies and their encouragement to face up to potentially discouraging challenges on the field.
For another group it was the session on “Expressing Tangible Love.” In this session, several singled out for comment the best practice of learning others’ love languages. They found it helpful to identify the predominant love language(s) of the culture and people groups where they minister. Others noted the learning activity where they mingled and practiced expressing tangible love to one another.
Other trainees were most deeply impacted by the session “Growing in Boldness.” As with the session on Expectant Faith, trainees are especially impacted by the trainer’s testimony about the contribution of boldness to his own ministry. They also benefit from the learning activity in which they practice boldness in front of everyone in the seminar by doing something that requires a lot of courage from them, such as singing, dancing, praying for healing, or making some sort of confession.
Changes in ministry practice
Trainees reported the ways they expected EXPONENTIAL Training would change their ministry practice. I share the following descriptions in order of how frequently trainees reported them as changes.
The largest number of respondents highlighted boldness and overcoming fear as anticipated areas of breakthrough in their ministry practice. Some commented that this was the first time they had been exposed to specific teaching on this topic. As a result, they were encouraged to face their fears and overcome them. In some cases, facing fears has led to a greater readiness to reach out to unreached people groups.
The second most profound change was in cultivating a Hunger for God. This topic had a major impact, with several noting that it changed their convictions about ministry – both in their relationship with God himself and in their relationships with others. Several said that they had decided to give greater priority to cultivating their own walk with God. Others reported that the training liberated them from a sense of having to be busy with their work. In the words of one trainee, it “demystified that rat race for task-oriented ministry.” Trainees saw that their own spiritual disciplines could become models for others to imitate.
In terms of a particular ministry practice, a large group identified the session on Expressing Tangible Love as transformational for their ministry. Some specifically mentioned their new spiritual understanding of the centrality of Jesus’ teaching on love. They saw a new need to reach out in love to family, friends, neighbours and the community at large, both Christians and non-Christians. Those ministering in areas of poverty plan practical applications of tangible love through compassion ministry. Some trainees said that a new-found awareness of the love languages of others will better equip them for ministry. This session appears to have had particular relevance to those who minister among Muslim people groups hostile toward Christians. Several noted a change in their attitudes towards these Muslim people groups who had seemed “impossible to love.” Now they express a desire not only to pray for them but also to forgive their enemies, no matter how violent the persecution they have experienced.
Some reported that their expectant faith has been bolstered. They expect that this quality will change their future ministry, as a vital building block. Several linked it to boldness, particularly in relation to evangelism. Others connected expectant faith with hearing from God and sensing his agenda for their ministry. While most focused on trust in God, some also mentioned practical steps such as reviewing goals and practices to create more expectancy that God will manifest his power.
Others were challenged to make their spirituality more visible, displaying their love for God and for their fellow human beings. They see a new value in expressing their spirituality outwardly in the way they speak and dress and conduct themselves in public. They now recognize that lifestyle is a form of testimony to others and realize that their visible shortcomings can be hindrances to the gospel.
The trainers as models
Again and again, trainees noted how powerful it was for them to experience the trainers as models. Fourteen percent of respondents saw the example of their trainers as their most memorable experience of the seminar. For example, they commented on “the willingness of the facilitator to appreciate others’ experiences and express deep concern in individual challenges and ministry concerns,” and “teachers who love to teach carefully and to ensure that we have understood enough to teach others in the field.” “The trainers took time as family with us.” “You lifted us up with love.” “The way you treat us is the most memorable moment of my lifetime.”
The messenger is the message. The trainer’s example is a powerful message in itself.
The trainers’ role as a model had a powerful impact on trainees. “You modeled in all things and at all occasions the principles you teach.” “Every teacher taught from their own life example and testimonies. This drove in the message.” “You made everything so reproducible, you all shared so freely how you hear from God and stir up your own hunger for God.”
Participants commented on the character of the trainers, noting the trainers’ obvious spirituality, approachability, humility, unity, courage, and love.
Trainees especially appreciated the opportunity to interact with the trainers over meals, when they could raise issues at a one-to-one level. This may not always happen in cultural contexts where teachers have a more exalted status. “During the class movement and outside the class, in tea break, lunch time you have showed what you have taught us. You eat what we eat, you sat in the same chair with us this is as I can see the Christ life centered.” “I observed that even outside the seminar you were eager to engage and share experiences patiently with every individual and that was an inspiration to me.”
However, not all trainees came away with exclusively positive impressions. A few noted that some trainers were unwilling to queue for food or chose not to engage with trainees sitting at the same table or hide behind their laptop. Although only a very small number of trainees had negative observations, they still provided a sobering reminder to trainers to strive to serve as a positive role model in every way.
Several insights stand out from the assessment of the EXPONENTIAL training:
The messenger is the message. Trainers have the potential to be transformational. The example and role model of trainers is a powerful message in itself. This includes the way they train, the way they relate to others outside their own sessions, and the testimonies they share from their own life and ministry.
The training methods are a message. The methods employed have the potential to be transformational. Examples include role plays, visual demonstrations, group learning activities, Discovery Bible Studies, space for personal reflection, and the simplicity of presentations and content.
The experience of the learning community is a message. Experience has the potential to be transformational. Processing content together, reflecting jointly on the application of the materials to ministry praxis, and gaining new insights with others – all in an atmosphere permeated by tangible love – bring about transformation right in the seminar room.
The selection of training topics in itself sends a message. Combining practical “how to” ministry methods with sessions developing trainees’ catalytic qualities has proved to be an integral mix.
Evaluation questions for your own training assessment
To what extent do we include the qualities that characterize an effective catalyst?
Do we want to include them more? If so, how?
Which of them to we want to include initially?
How effective are our training methods?
How well have we integrated the methods that have proved to be most impactful?
Very short input from front
Group learning activities
Group processing on the practical application of materials
Space for personal reflection
Modeling of trainers
How can we integrate them more?
Which of our training topics is best trained by which of these methods?
How effective is our follow-up?
How committed to consistent follow-up are our national ministry leaders, and how well-equipped for it are they?
How well do we facilitate peer-to-peer learning?
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. What are YOUR thoughts? What is your experience? Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form.
If you found this helpful, who in your network would benefit from it? I would love for you to share it with them.
Learn more about the Best Practices of effective catalysts in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here.
Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist