(Today's guest post comes from Robert Reach, a long time missionary, movement catalyst, and author of Impacting Eternity)
I think of movement fruit in terms of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. He said that the gospel is the smallest of all seeds, but it bears the largest of fruit. This is what is occurring around the world in movements, and this fact has driven me to ask why this is the case.
I want to know how the gospel produces such fruit through movements. This question drove my research and writing of Impacting Eternity.
Around the year 2000, I met Ying Kai in Hong Kong and heard about an extraordinary work that was producing tens of thousands of new converts every month in his movement in China. Subsequently, I interviewed extensively and read seminal thinkers in this space, including David Garrison, David Watson, and Curtis Sergeant, along with national leaders that I am not free to name here.
I then studied and personally researched movements in Northern India, China, Southeast Asia, and Cuba, using the same analytical tools that I used in studying cell churches. I surveyed over five thousand house-church leaders, followed by qualitative interviews of movement leaders. From this academic-level research and with the help of professionals in this space, we determined that seven root principles drive movement growth.
After identifying these root principles, I felt led by the Lord in 2006 to initiate a pilot project to determine if what I learned through my research could produce a mass movement of disciples who make disciples. I worked with leaders in Southeast Asia, where the church’s impact had been minimal (less than 1 percent of the population identified as Christian).
This initial group of leaders had about 250 house churches under their care, which has served as the seedbed for what has now surpassed even my grandest expectations. We are approaching 1.5 million baptized disciple-makers and well over 150,000 house churches. We were clearly discovering what really works to grow a movement, but this led to another question.
What advances movements long term?
During one of my interviews, a missionary in East Asia told me about one of the first experimental movements that took off in a remote area of Southeast Asia.
The results met all the common criteria of a movement: Over one hundred people came to Christ and organized in churches led by local village people. It multiplied to more than four generations. However, this missionary explained that there is not a single sign that this movement ever existed. They knew how to start a movement, but they didn’t know what it meant to sustain it.
For the most part, conversations in the movement space focus on casting a vision and starting the movement. These are crucial components. However, we also need to explore how and why movements advance in a sustainable way over time.
It seems to me that we should think about the systemic dynamics that promote movement life and growth over a period of forty years and beyond. How do we go from four generations to forty and continue to expand and mature for decades tocome, perhaps reaching four hundred generations or more? In one of our movements, we have a leader who has started and completed forty networks himself, a total of over six thousand new believers, never receiving a dollar from outside the country.
Seven Key Practices
Our research and experience have led us to identify specific tactics or strategies that yield lasting fruit. We must look atthe underlying, hidden system or infrastructure produces and supports the fruit. A tree produces fruit because there are roots and branches.
In Impacted Eternity, I identify both the roots and the branches; yet the primary focus lies on the branches, what I call the Best Practices for Movement Leaders.
These seven practices are:
- Depend upon the Presence and Power of the Spirit
- Catalyze a Decentralized Movement
- Develop Leaders in Learning Communities
- Foster Obedience-Based Discipleship
- Empower God’s Saints for Works of Service
- Foster a Self-Supporting System
- Develop Patterns That Are Reproducible
I dedicate a chapter to each of these practices in the book. When we embrace these leadership practices, we not only discover what it takes to launch a movement, but also what is required to sustain one.
God’s kingdom life is contained in the smallest seed, the mustard seed. When we understand the nature of that life andembrace it, we can join in what God is doing in the world and see movement life expand, as “it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:32).
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined seeing 1.5 million baptized believers worshipping and serving across tens of thousands of house churches. The fruit is incredible, but it did not just happen. It was a result of putting these practices into motion.
 Smith and Kai, T4T.