Welcome to The Movement Catalyst Blog!
My new blog offers actionable insights from groundbreaking research to movement practitioners like you.
Based on previous interaction between you and me I believe that you will benefit from the actionable insights of this blog; I have therefore decided to send it to you.
I hope this first issue will bolster your faith that God can start a movement ANYwhere and ANYtime. And God does so, irrespective of the receptivity of the people you are reaching, or their lack thereof. And irrespective of how long (or short) you and others have been reaching out to the people where you are ministering.
Two notions have been held widely that suggest that movements are impossible in many parts of the world. The first notion is: “Movements happen only among people who are very receptive to the gospel.” The other is: “Movements happen only among people where a lot of gospel sowing has happened previously over long periods of time.”
The data of my research reveals both notions as false. Movements happen equally among people who are not receptive to the gospel. And movements happen among people where barely any gospel sowing has taken place, sometimes just a few months after the catalyst and their team begin their movement ministry in the community.
Research spanning movements in 15 countries all across the Muslim world (for details, see endnotes) paints a positively surprising picture. Consider the insights of movement leaders concerning our first question:
Must a Movement Build on Extensive Previous Gospel Proclamation?
Many have thought that movements can only be catalyzed among people groups who have had many years of previous Christian work sharing the gospel. Some would express this assumption more moderately: movements seem highly unlikely to occur in pioneer situations. The biblical principle referenced is: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). Oft-cited prime examples are the movement among the Kabyle-Berber in Algeria and the mid-to-late 1960’s mass movement to Christ in Indonesia. The movement among the Kabyle-Berber occurred in the 1970s, after several generations of Christian witness with hardly any response at all, starting with the pioneer Charles Marsh nearly 50 years earlier in 1925 (Marsh, 1970; Marsh & Verwer, 1997). In Indonesia between 1965 and 1971, two million Muslims turned to Christ (Willis, 1977), but only after more than three centuries of Christian missionary work in the country.
The data of my research indicates that this notion should be reconsidered. Movement breakthrough does not necessarily require a long period of sowing. At the time of their participation in this study, the movement catalysts and their teams had been ministering between two and 24 years since taking up residence among the people group. (One participant had an itinerant non-residential ministry approach, in which he does not live among his people group.) Of those participants living among their focus people group, the average length of ministry was 8.4 years.
The length of ministry among the people group before the first fellowship of Jesus followers started a daughter fellowship ranges from three months to 15 years. The birthing of the first second-generation fellowship is considered the tipping point, where reproduction begins happening and a movement is catalyzed. Six movements took between only three and six months of ministry for that to occur. Sixteen movements took between one and three years to be catalyzed. Four movements took between four and eight years. In only two movements that process happened between 11 and 15 years. (Three survey participants were not able to answer this question precisely.) The average was 2.6 years. Thus, the average time between the movement catalyst arriving on the ground and the birthing of the first second-generation fellowship, was only two years and seven months.
the average time between the movement catalyst arriving on the ground and the birthing of the first second-generation fellowship, was only two years and seven months.
In case you don’t find a lot of figures very appealing, the following chart depicts the situation for you.
Figure 1: Time of Catalyst’s Ministry Prior to Movement Breakthrough
I can testify from personal experience. The movement which my team was used by God to start in Sudan, kicked off only a year and a half after we arrived in the rural communities. We had been in the country altogether more than four years: for language and culture learning, and ministry in a different region. However, we moved into the region where the movement started only 18 months before the breakthrough. This personal experience is not included in the research data, to avoid any prejudice.
The second factor to be considered is the number of years of any known gospel proclamation, prior to the ministry of the movement catalyst and his or her team. This ranged from zero to 100 years. Five participants answered zero: no gospel proclamation at all prior to their arrival among the people group. For one movement it had been one year. For two movements it was four to eight years. The largest portion of participants, representing 10 movements, answered between 10 and “20+” years. Four movements had been preceded by 40 to 50 years of gospel proclamation, and in one movement, 100 years. Eight participants could not answer the question precisely; one described it simply as “many” years. The median among those who answered the question is 15 years. Here again a chart depicts this data.
Figure 2: Years of Prior Witness
This data is surprising, in light of commonly held assumptions. It has been widely believed that movements can only be catalyzed among people groups where there has been many years of previous Christian work sharing the gospel. The above figures from this study indicate that such a notion needs to be reconsidered. Some movements had been preceded by up to 100 years of gospel sowing, but others by only a few years. Yet other movements had had no previous sowing at all! This means only a small proportion of the movements among Muslims have built on a significant history of Christian work. Many of the movements have occurred without building on any foundation of previous work. They have been catalyzed by the very first pioneer among the people group.
Other movements had had no previous sowing at all!
Again, my own experience fits with this picture. The Muslim people group in Sudan where a movement was started had previously been completely unengaged, there had been no known witness at all prior to our arrival on the ground.
This finding is new in the sense of verification by specific data for the first time. However, it was already formulated tentatively in 2008 by an expert panel of church-planting movement (CPM) trainers from multiple regions globally. They concluded: “there seemed to be no difference in the […] CPMs in terms of how long there had been gospel exposure in the area previously. For example, in both large and small CPMs, there were examples of longer and shorter histories of Christian work” (Stevens, 2008: 3).
The data of this study substantiates the earlier observations of those movement trainers. Prior gospel witness seems to play little or no role in the likelihood of a movement being launched. Pioneers, be encouraged!
Now let us consider our second question.
Do Movements Occur Only among Receptive People Groups?
The data of my research suggest no association between gospel receptivity of a people group and effective catalyzing of a movement among them. Movements are apparently unrelated to the overall receptivity of the people group.
The receptivity of the people groups toward the good news, as assessed by the initial catalysts, varied significantly at the time when the movement catalysts first took residence among them. Participants used the Dayton Scale (Dayton & Fraser, 2003), which ranges from -5 (strongly opposed) to +5 (strongly favorable) to measure the receptivity of societies and people groups toward the gospel. Among the people groups surveyed, seven were assessed to have been strongly opposed (-5 and -4) to the gospel at the time when the movement catalyst first took up residence among the group. In 11 people groups, receptivity was assessed as somewhat opposed (-3 and -2). Two people groups were described as indifferent to the gospel (rated -1 to +1), while five were assessed as somewhat favorable to the gospel (+2 and +3). Only five out of 35 people groups were considered strongly favorable to the gospel when the movement catalysts began their work among them. The following chart shows the nearly even distribution.
Figure 3: Receptivity of People Groups Toward the Gospel
The data shows no correlation between gospel receptivity of a people group and the effective catalyzing of a movement among them. Movements seem unrelated to the overall receptivity of the people group. How can we explain this counterintuitive reality?
The data shows no correlation between gospel receptivity of a people group and the effective catalyzing of a movement among them.
How Are We to Understand this Phenomenon?
One possible explanation is that receptive pockets exist within most or all societies, including those having a low level of overall receptivity. The late Steve Smith’s research into movements affirms this conclusion: “There may be hardened people groups, but in every one there are harvestable individuals” (Smith, 2011: 83). Jerry Trousdale’s New Generations research comes to a similar conclusion, pressing further to note that often “the hardest people yield the greatest results” (Trousdale, 2012: 155). This observation in many movements does not refer to gospel receptivity among entire people groups, but to individuals and subgroups in society. The key open individuals are “persons of peace,” based on Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Trousdale also observes the principle that “sometimes the most difficult person to reach with the gospel will become the most dedicated follower of Christ” (Trousdale, 2012: 161).
Any movement results from three contributing factors: the catalyst who is responsible to share the gospel wisely, the receptivity of those who hear the gospel, and the sovereignty of God (which eludes human analysis and understanding). As the Apostle Paul experienced in the city of Corinth, some situations may manifest significant opposition to the gospel (Acts 18:6), yet the perspective of God’s eternal election reveals “many in this city who are my [God’s] people” (Acts 18:10).
The data of the research demonstrate that movements may happen irrespective of the receptivity of the overall population. This underscores the role of the catalyst, adding weight to the part he or she plays in catalyzing a movement. This data suggest a tentative hypothesis that certain catalysts can become effective in catalyzing a movement, irrespective of the receptivity of the overall population in that community.
Since the divine element eludes human investigation, our understanding of the factors that contribute to movements leans even more heavily on the person of the catalyst. This confirms veteran Greg Livingstone’s premise: “The human factor will be the variable between effective and ineffective church planting efforts” (Livingstone, 1993: 26). The data verify this conviction, showing a strong association between a catalyst who exhibits certain traits and competencies and the effective catalyzing of movements.
What Does This Mean for Your Ministry?
I hope this data will encourage expectant faith and boldness in you, as you read this account. Neither limited length of gospel proclamation nor apparent lack of receptivity among a people group should diminish anyone’s faith that a movement breakthrough is possible.
A movement may indeed be just around the corner. Whether or not one will happen is not determined by how closed to the gospel the people you are reaching are. When it will happen is not preconditioned by many years of gospel sowing having to happen first.
Be on the lookout of the next Person of Peace.
Be prepared to share Jesus, lovingly and boldly, anywhere, anytime.
Be praying today: Father, take us one step closer to movement breakthrough this day.
The great need is a catalyst equipped with a set of particular traits and competencies (for more on this, stay tuned for one of the upcoming blogs) who works in synergy with God as skilled master builder.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you! Your experience, your comments, your feedback, your thoughts. Please use the comment function below to post them publicly. If you prefer to private-message me, you can use the form under Contact.
--Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist--
Scope of Research
For those interested in the background of the research, the data of this article is from a study among 35 movements in 15 different countries. The movements examined represent the major regions of the Muslim world, including West Africa, East Africa, the Arab World, Turkestan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia (also referred to as Indo-Malaysia). Of the nine regions of the Muslim world that Garrison describes as the different Rooms in the House of Islam (2014), only North Africa and the Persian world are not represented in this data, since the initial pioneer leaders of the two movements in these regions are no longer living. The movement among the Kabyle-Berber of Algeria was catalyzed in the 1970s (Marsh 1997; Blanc 2006), and the one among the Persians of Iran, in the 1980s (Garrison 2014, 90-94, 130-141).
The movements examined represent the major regions of the Muslim world, including West Africa, East Africa, the Arab World, Turkestan, South Asia, and Southeast Asia (also referred to as Indo-Malaysia). Most took place in Indonesia (18). Other countries with several movements included in the study are India (3), Jordan (2), Ethiopia (2), and Bangladesh (2). One church planting movement is underway in each of the following: Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Sudan, Pakistan, China, and Myanmar. One movement has grown from Kenya across the borders into Somalia and Tanzania.
All participants in the study were effective movement catalysts who were the primary catalysts of a movement. They contributed to up to four rounds of iterative online surveys, until a consensus among the expert panel was reached. More on the research in my forthcoming book Movement Catalysts.
This article has been published previously in an extended version by Global Missiology, and I want to acknowledge Dave Coles’ contribution in the editing process of this article: Prinz, Emanuel. 2022. “Prerequisites for Movements? Questioning Two Widely-Held Assumptions.” With Dave Coles. Global Missiology 19(1):65-72.
Blanc, Jean L. 2006. Algérie, tu es à moi!, signé Dieu. Thoune: Editions Sénevé.
Dayton, Edward R. & Fraser, David A. 2003. Planning Strategies for World Evangelization. Eugene: Wipf & Stock.
Garrison, David 2014. A Wind in the House of Islam: How God is Drawing Muslims around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ. Midlothian: WIGTake Resource.
Livingstone, Greg 1993. Planting Churches in Muslim Cities: A Team Approach. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Marsh, Charles 1970. Too hard for God? Carlisle: Paternoster Publishing.
Marsh, Daisy M. and Verwer, George 1997. There’s a God in heaven: Life Experiences among North Africans. London: Gazelle Books.
Prinz, Emanuel 2022. Movement Catalysts: Profile of an Apostolic Leader. (Forthcoming).
Prinz, Emanuel. 2022. “Prerequisites for Movements? Questioning Two Widely-Held Assumptions.” With Dave Coles. Global Missiology 19(1):65-72. http://ojs.globalmissiology.org/index.php/english/article/view/2548
Smith, Steve and Kai, Ying 2011. T4T: A Discipleship Re-revolution. Monument: WIGTake Resources.
Stevens, M. 2008. Focus on next steps…: Lessons from the multi-region trainers forum, Singapore (Unpublished paper).
Trousdale, Jerry 2012. Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims are Falling in Love with Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Willis, Avery T. 1977. Indonesian Revival: Why Two Million Came to Christ. South Pasadena: William Carey Library.