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The Factors That Actually Start Movements

Greetings! Welcome to the latest issue of The Movement Catalysts Blog!

Our topic today is the factors that actually start movements.

Is it the right method or the right person? A few weeks ago I posted a blog answering that question. Since then, I have received quite a bit of feedback, mostly comments like: “I have always had a hunch that the catalyst is most essential.” Others admitted their dissatisfaction with an “obsession with methods.” Still others asked insightful questions. Building on that article (which you can find here), today I will address some of the questions asked and shed more light on the “right method” aspect of starting a movement.

Almost everywhere I go in the movement world, I find people wrestling with the question, “What actually starts a movement? And what method ought I use?” The answers given are manifold. They are diverse, and some even contradict others. We could easily list 100 factors being referred to as contributing to a movement. Even when we turn to thought leaders – those who have written about movements and teach and train on them – they describe several dozen different factors they view as essential for movement breakthrough.

Just one illustration. Last month I was in meetings with some of the world’s best-known catalysts, and one catalyst presented in a workshop the “irreducible minimum DNA” of movements. He described 20 items. In the same meetings, another leader shared on the same topic. He also described 20 characteristics of movements, however, with minimal overlap with the other list.

In this article I will present, from my global research into 147 movements, the six factors positively correlated with movement breakthrough. I will also offer a set of application questions that you can use to implement these factors in your own ministry.

I wanted to go beyond personal opinions and intuitive insights of individuals. Last year my team at Bethany Research Institute ( concluded the broadest ever research into movements. The team included an anthropologist and a statistician, both Ivy League research fellows, and myself: a movement practitioner, coach and researcher. We researched a total of 147 movements in 21 countries, in more than 100 different people groups in all six mega-cultures of the world. We wanted to find out what factors contribute to or impede movements. The data from this large and representative number of movements gives some clear answers to the question.

Before we dive in, allow me to offer a mini-excursus on correlation. Understanding the significance of correlation will help you see the weight of the six factors. It is super brief, I promise.

Mini-excursus on correlation: To translate to non-research language, a correlation is defined as a “connection or relationship between two or more facts” (Cambridge Dictionary). It means, where you see one phenomenon, you will find the other too, and one phenomenon influences, or even causes, the other. Statistical operations that are scientifically proven are able to determine correlations between two phenomena, in our case between a movement and a certain factor contributing to the movement. Simply put, 100 factors have been referred to as contributing to a movement, and movement thought leaders have written or taught about dozens of factors as essential for movement breakthrough, and we examined a number of them in our study. For each movement and its catalyst we gathered more than 110 data points. This totals more than 27,000 data points for the entire study. The thorough statistical analysis of this large representative sample of 147 movements worldwide reveals that ultimately just six factors most evidently correlate with movements. (If you are interested in better understanding the research methodology of this study, feel free to request a copy of the Catalyst Competence Research report by filling in our contact form here)

The six factors that correlate with movement breakthrough

Three of the six factors are specific qualities of the primary movement catalyst. To state it again, the person of the catalyst is the most significant factor in catalyzing a movement. An effective movement catalyst is characterized by a set of particular traits and competencies, which I call Catalytic Qualities. I have blogged recently about this (see here), and plan to post on one particular Catalytic Quality in alternating future blogs.

The other three factors that correlate with movement catalyzing are all internal factors: ministry approaches that movement catalysts influenced and put into place, together with their teams and partners. These three factors are:

  • Developing the right ministry strategy

  • Using a discovery group approach

  • Raising up leaders effectively.

Thorough statistical analysis of a large representative sample of movements worldwide reveals that ultimately only six factors actually correlate with movements.

We compared effective catalysts with other pioneers in the same context who had not catalyzed a movement. With this approach we are able to see what distinguishes effective catalysts from non-catalysts. We asked both the same question: On a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much), how much did this factor contribute to the catalyzing of your movement (for the non-catalysts: your ministry fruitfulness)? In the following table, you see how highly they rate our three factors. You also see the clear difference between effective catalysts and non-catalysts.

Factors that contributed to movement breakthrough




Developed right ministry strategy




Used discovery approach/groups




Raised up leaders effectively




Ministry Strategy – Factor 1 correlating with movement breakthrough

In the section of the survey on contributing and impeding factors, pioneers were asked to rate “to what extent developing the right ministry strategy or method contributed to the catalyzing of their movement.” The average rating of the effective catalysts was remarkably high: 4.51 on a Likert scale of 1-5. Not surprisingly, the pioneer church planters who had not catalyzed a movement gave a lower rating to this factor: 3.71.

Both catalysts and non-catalysts commented in the interviews that frustration with existing traditional ministry methods had led them to experiment with new forms of outreach. Courage is required to break free from the shackles of church tradition or to challenge traditional methods, especially in the face of opposition from other Christians. Finding a viable alternative also requires qualities such as being innovative, creative, flexible, and willing to learn from one’s own mistakes. This quote from the catalyst of a huge ongoing movement in South Asia describes the early days of his ministry:

I said: “What is it we're doing wrong? Why are they rejecting the gospel?” I looked at the culture and looked at the language and our dependency on Western money: it was so power-controlled, and they were telling people what to do. I said, “How about doing it the other way round, and letting the people discover what to do by the help of the Holy Spirit?” I was also thinking about the gender issue. At that time only men could baptize people…. Did Jesus give the Great Commission only to men or to all? Is obedience only for men or for all? In those days I had more questions than answers. If I asked anyone, people in the ministry were very defensive and no one was willing to give me an answer.

In this catalyst’s case, willingness to try new approaches eventually led to a tremendous harvest of new disciples that continues to multiply to this day. Other effective catalysts also discovered that what others had thought were wrong ministry approaches proved to be right for their particular context. The catalyst of a very large movement in Southeast Asia commented, “What everybody else was saying ‘Don't do’ – that usually works in our case!”

An effective strategy has two essential ingredients. First, it is God-inspired. An effective strategy must take into account and be built on what God has spoken, the vision he has revealed. Second, an effective strategy must never be a cookie-cutter “copy and paste” from another context. It must be tailored for the unique ministry context, addressing the felt needs of the community envisioned to be reached. Here are a few implementation questions you can explore and pray about together with your team:

An effective strategy must be built on what God has spoken, the vision he has revealed.

Implementation questions to develop the right ministry strategy:

What has God spoken to us, and how will his promises feature in our strategy?

How can our strategy address the felt holistic (physical or psychological) needs of our community?

How does the gospel message need to be applied and shared to address the felt spiritual needs of our community, so our message comes across as truly Good News for them?

Discovery Approach – Factor 2 correlating with movement breakthrough

In our study, pioneers were asked to what extent using a “discovery approach and discovery groups” contributed to the catalyzing of their movement or their ministry fruitfulness. The catalysts’ average rating was 4.16, once again significantly higher than the non-catalysts’ (3.45).

A West African catalyst describes how a miracle opened the way for a Discovery Bible Study (DBS), which in turn led to multiplication of the church. A woman whose father was an imam had become paralyzed, unable to walk for several years. A team which began to reach out in that village came into contact with her. “Over time she experienced a dramatic miracle: she could stand up and be on her feet. This gave access to the people, with more openness in the family and community. We did DBS, engaging people with the Word of God. This lady is now leading two or three groups.”

One major difference between a Discovery Bible Study and traditional group Bible studies is that each group member is asked, “How will you obey?” Each time they meet, DBS participants decide on a specific way they will put into practice what they have discovered in God’s Word. This puts the emphasis on obedience from the very beginning. New disciples are expected to obey what they have learned, and they are held accountable for the steps of obedience they commit to take. Next time they meet, they report back to the group on the fruit of these commitments. All are mutually accountable, from the newest believer to the group facilitator.

I have written about the reasons why a discovery approach is so effective in forming multiplying disciples in the journal Seedbed (registration is required to read the article).

So far, I have described the ideal DBS. In reality, I often find one significant challenge: leaders who grew up in a traditional church background frequently revert to traditional ministry methods, with an over-emphasis on preaching and directive teaching.

To make your ministry more discovery-oriented, consider these…

Implementation questions for a discovery approach:

How significantly does discovery-based discipleship and training feature in your current ministry approach?

In what areas can you give a discovery approach a more prominent place in your ministry?

Where do you need to check if some of your leaders are reverting to traditional approaches with an overemphasis on preaching and presenting?

How well do you model the discovery approach in your own teaching and training?

Effectively Raising up Leaders – Factor 3 correlating with movement breakthrough

John Maxwell writes: “Everything rises and falls with leadership” (The power of leadership, p. 31). Applied to movements, a movement rises with local leaders being raised up effectively. We can picture a movement built on leaders, similar to ancient Greek or Roman buildings that rested on pillars. The greater the number of pillars, the bigger the building can become. The more solid leaders you have, the bigger the movement can grow.

Sustained movements are always indigenous. This means that raising up local leaders is vital, the third factor which catalysts rated highly in contributing to movement breakthrough (4.55). This distinguishes catalysts from non-catalysts, who rated this factor much lower (averaging 3.75) in contributing to ministry fruitfulness.

A catalyst in South Asia reported, “We prayed for God to give us an evangelist who could communicate well in the local culture. God brought to us [a local man], who… developed an ability to lead people to Jesus from the Qur’an alone…. We encouraged him to reach out to people of influence.” This is the common practice of this movement, leading to tremendous multiplication.

A West African movement developed the same way, as described by this expatriate catalyst: “It's not us. It's the two nationals we've trained who are doing the work at this point. These two local people have catalyzed a movement that now has over 3,300 groups.”

The interviews we conducted clearly revealed that catalysts place great importance on the role of local leaders, and the need to train, equip, and empower them.

Implementation questions to more effectively raise up leaders:

How effective are your current leader development efforts?

How can you make your efforts more effective? What insights are you taking away from this article that you can apply toward greater effectiveness?

Who are you currently developing, and what equipping do these leaders need to reach their maximum level of fruitfulness?

Who else, that you haven’t yet developed, do you want to raise up more intentionally?

Three factors, one laser-sharp focus

To sum up, the data is clear; in addition to the Catalytic Qualities of the catalyst, three factors correlate with movement breakthrough: (1) developing the right strategy, (2) using the discovery approach, and (3) effectively raising up leaders. To aim for movement breakthrough, you’ll need a laser-sharp focus of your efforts on these three factors.

Learn more about the Best Practices of effective catalysts in my new book Movement Catalysts. Order your copy here!

If you found this helpful, please share this blog with your network!

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.

Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist


The essence of this article has been published previously in the following academic article: Prinz, Emanuel, and Goldhor, Alison. 2022. “The Effective Catalyst: An Analysis of the Traits and Competencies of Pioneers who have Catalyzed/started a Movement.” Global Missiology 19(1):37-52.

Maxwell, John C. 2001. The Power of Leadership. Tulsa: RiverOak Publishers.

Prinz, Emanuel. 2022. “DBS and Preaching: A Comparison of two Discipleship Tools.”. Seedbed 23(1):1-6. (registration required)

Prinz, Emanuel, Lewis, David, and Goldhor, Alison. (2021). Catalyst Competence Research: An Empirical Investigation into the Traits and Competencies of Effective Movement Catalysts and Other Factors Contributing to and Impeding Movements. Bloomington, MS: Bethany Research Institute. (Unpublished, available on request).

Prinz, Emanuel, and Goldhor, Alison. 2022. “Does the DMM Approach Lead to Movement Breakthrough?” Global Missiology 19(1):12-21.


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