By Jerry Trousdale and Glenn Sunshine, Crosswalk.com
It's not news that the Christian Church in North America and Europe is experiencing ever-increasing headwinds of hostility toward Christianity in the media, university, and even the workplace. Tragically the annual growth rates of Christianity in the Global North are unsustainably low in America and virtually zero in Europe. These realities beg for the answer to the question: “What can possibly change the trajectory of this downward spiral where we live?”
There Is Unprecedented Growth in the Global South Church
At the same time, there is wonderful news! The Global South Church is growing faster than at any time since the 1st century. Not only that, but there is more good news. Jesus’ final command for His disciples to engage every ethne (every language/people group) is building great momentum now as more unreached and unengaged people groups are being transformed by Jesus’ Kingdom values. In places where the gospel has never been shared or never thrived, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Animistic people groups are being transformed by Jesus’ Kingdom values and these newly liberated people groups are falling in love with Jesus as they become His newest disciples and missionaries.
Recently the Center for the Study of Global Christianity released its 2020 decadal data. It showed that in Africa the number of Christians is growing at 2.89% per year, and in Asia at 1.89%. In contrast, the growth rates are 0.56% in North America and 0.04% in Europe per year. What does this mean in momentum? In 1900 there were 9 million Christians in Africa, but by 2000 there were 335 million—a huge surge for sure. But the recent data is reporting that the church in Africa has become more than 618 million Christians with a trajectory for 728 million by 2025.
Historic 21st Century Outcomes through Disciple Making Movements
Throughout Christian history, the gospel has caught fire in countries or population groups in phenomena known as “people movements.” Since the 1960s mission researchers have sought ways to cooperate with God to see more than just the rare, isolated movement. Breakthroughs happened in the 1990s when Baptist missionaries implemented Jesus’ disciple-making instructions to the 12 apostles (Matthew 9:35-38, Matthew 10:1-42) and the 72 unnamed disciples (Luke 10:1-20). Jesus’ biblical disciple-making instructions are almost identical, but they are very different from our traditional evangelistic and missionary models.
The results have been staggering. In 2000 six movements were being reported in the world. As of this writing, that number now is 1,035, mostly in Africa and Asia. They are often called Disciple Making Movements, Kingdom Movements, and other names but they have a common DNA of Kingdom of God values. In our own experience in New Generations since 2005, we have seen the Lord of the Harvest engage 544 people groups in 48 countries and raise up 124 “movements” defined as “at least 100 churches with 4 or more generations of multiplication.” In total, we are now tracking 68,722 churches, mostly among previously unreached or never engaged people groups. We celebrate God drawing 1,656,000 new disciples into the Kingdom, with 459,958 from Muslim backgrounds!
So, let’s look briefly at four of Jesus’ Kingdom values that are empowering the waves of new movements today.
Four Ways Jesus’ Values Are Still Transforming the World
1. Dependence on Abundant Prayer for Harvesters and New Generations of Disciples (Mt. 9:38)
Jesus started and sustained His ministry with abundant prayer, and 15 years of observing movements would suggest that there are no movements without abundant prayer to begin and also to sustain the critical elements of momentum!
-Decisions to deploy disciple-making teams in new places are typically launched by dedicated intercessors who prayer walk regions sometimes for months before the first disciple-maker engages.
-Every element of new engagements requires praying for many things, including needed resources for the workers, Jesus promised peace to be found, grace for persecuted workers, and much more.
-Dedicated intercessory prayer teams and houses of prayer are commonplace to support the strategic initiatives of movements, and churches in a typical movement commit 60 to 100 days a year for fasting two meals before breaking the fast together with a meal and exuberant prayer and worship.
-Prayers for abundant miracles of healing and deliverance are normal in every movement that we are tracking. Our research team did a study in 2017 that reported that in most regions 60-70% of all new churches are planted in a context of miraculous healing or deliverance.
-Prayers in movements are aligned with Jesus' model prayer in Matthew, literally to bring King Jesus’ reign where they live.
-And the big news is that the Global South movements are praying passionately for the Church in the Global North to be restored to vitality through Jesus’ Kingdom values.
2. Ordinary and Unlikely People Are Achieving the Impossible (Mat. 10:1-4, Luke 10:1)
One of the most exhilarating phenomena of Disciple Making Movements is how God is releasing the whole Body of Christ to become disciple-makers and church planters. Everyone can have a role to play. Jesus invested His ministry in 12 apostles who were by any measure were unlikely candidates to shepherd Jesus’ purposes on earth: John and James were hotheads; Matthew was a Roman tax collector who would have been shunned by most Jews; Simon the Zealot likely would have sworn an oath to kill people like Matthew. But these people walked with Jesus and changed their world.
It is the same today in movements. Movement catalysts’ hardest job is to facilitate a process of every leader receiving training, coaching and mentoring, and eventually repeating the process with excellence. Some will eventually go to seminary and learn Greek, but the farmer, along with the grandmother shop owner, and the former imam will also be equipped and mentored according to their unique giftings. The most expensive element of Disciple Making Movements is not buildings or pastoral salaries but never-ending Ephesians 4 type training and coaching to maximize every Christian’s giftings.
3. Disciple Making Movements Are Holistic
Global North churches tend to focus on either proclaiming the gospel, or compassionate service. Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom, and He also compassionately healed the sick and demonized. And He gave that same mandate to the 12 apostles, and 72 no-name disciples. Disciple Making Movements engage by finding a simple way to add value to a community. It may be as simple as providing a needed service in a community or praying for people. It is not usually an expensive program but a simple added value presence in a village or urban community that creates trust and goodwill with many people.
It is usually some useful service like as providing a traveling handyman, para-dentistry, or just being an especially kind lady in the market stall. It provides a way to add value in a community and to find the people of peace that Jesus’ has pre-positioned to naturally influence their network of friends and family. Relatively soon, discovering the biblical values of King Jesus and His Kingdom and making faithful disciples follow. And the churches planted will also have the same holistic values that represent Jesus’ nature and His Kingdom.
4. Self-Discovered Obedience-Based Disciple Making
Jesus’ last words after His Sermon on the Mount and His very last words on earth were about the need for His people to obey all that He commanded. The Kingdom of God is not a metaphor but a reality. Jesus is King and His disciples align their lives to His values and His will. Obedience is a word that the Global North Church needs to restore to its vocabulary. The problem comes of course when any form of legalism tries to systematize rules and regulations that define the Christian life. So, the Church must have ways of helping people obey God without being told what that the Bible means. Discovery Bible Studies (DBS) do exactly that with five simple questions for each person.
- Can we all restate what the Bible passage said?
- What did you learn about God in this passage?
- What did you learn about yourself in this passage?
- What will you do to obey this passage beginning this week?
- What is the name of the person whit whom you need to share what you learned in the Bible this week?
A DBS can happen with a few people in a lunch break or on a park bench. This Bible study model is so easy to replicate anywhere, so non-threatening, that it has a high potential of eventually becoming a simple church. In Africa, on average every 1.8 DBS groups result in one simple church being planted. This is how many millions of people and millions of churches are multiplying in the Global South.
It is not uncommon in some African movements for Muslim villages to send a delegation to Christians, formally asking for Discovery Bible Studies. It turns out that when some villages observe the transformed lives of former Muslim villagers, they get a righteous jealousy for the Kingdom of God. They want the same transformation.
In the same way, may God use the blessings of the Global South to make jealous the Global North Church for the Kingdom of God to restore all that has been lost! For more information on a range of training resources and coaching opportunities for movements in North America, you can start at https://www.newgenerations.org/ and https://www.kingdomunleased.org/ for lists of Kingdom Movement ministries.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images / Tinnakorn Jorruang
Jerry Trousdale and his wife Gayle were missionaries among a Muslim people group in Africa. He pastored two mission sending churches, co-founded Final Command Ministries, and since 2005, has been Director of International Ministries, and Movement Research for New Generations. He is also the author of the best-selling book Miraculous Movements.
Glenn Sunshine is professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, a senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the founder and president of Every Square Inch Ministries. He is an award-winning author, and has taught seminars on worldview, church history, and theology across the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.