Although “movement” has undoubtedly become a buzzword in our culture, it has some pretty specific implications in the missions world. Chief among them is the core element of multiplication.
Disciple Making Movements (DMM) are taking off all around the world, resulting in the exponential multiplication of new disciples and simple churches. A simple definition of DMM comes from Jerry Trousdale in The Kingdom Unleashed: DMM is “a process of disciples making disciples, and churches planting at least 100 churches, with four or more generations of replication.”
Western practitioners (like us in the Kansas City Underground) who are learning from catalytic church leaders within these movements often find ourselves scratching our heads when it comes to the idea of multiplication. Among the vast hurdles that exist to see this type of movement happen in our context, perhaps the most significant exists in our own American minds.
Many church and disciplemaking leaders tend to fall in one of two camps: Either we’re crippled by the heavy forms of our own church tradition, making multiplication far-fetched and mysterious, or we’re so programmed by the rapid speed of seemingly everything in our culture, that we tend to microwave the disciplemaking process and force multiplication too early.
We seem to be caught in one of those crazy Kingdom paradoxes. On one hand, we must release disciples who can multiply fast in order to keep up with population growth, while, on the other hand, remain faithful in cultivating the depth of character needed in an effective discipleship process.
The point of this article is to re-engage the topic of what viral church multiplication could look like in America. Below are five learnings we’ve stumbled upon over the past five years that could be beneficial to that conversation. But first, perhaps it’s helpful to give some context of our story in Kansas City.
THE KC UNDERGROUND EXPERIMENT
In early 2019, a handful of “professional Christians” (former pastors and church staff), alongside 72 “ordinary Christians” (aka, unpaid ones), launched the first hub of the KC Underground. Our heart was to see the entire city reached with the beauty, justice, and Good News of Jesus, which would result in thousands of microchurch expressions in every neighborhood and network in our city. Our focus was to equip and train believers to live as missionaries among their people and see new spiritual families emerge, that would multiply and fill the city.
It was clunky and it was beautiful. As COVID hit, we were uniquely placed to see relatively significant fruit in a shortened timeframe. Instead of arguing politics and vaccine mandates, we learned how to ask questions, love our neighbors, and invite them to find their spiritual answers in the Bible together. Discovery Bible Study (DBS) settings started popping up all over – on driveways, over Zoom, in smaller groups, etc., and we were off and running.
A couple of years later, we hit a milestone that to some may seem important (but I’m not sure it really is): 100 microchurches. My best guess is that about 75 percent of those are “from the harvest,” meaning, they have emerged mostly among unchurched/unbelieving pockets of people, and not from already Christians who formed themselves into a microchurch.
We have networks in both suburban and urban neighborhoods. We have seen microchurches emerge among refugees and ex-prisoners, in businesses, day service programs for adults with special needs, and the rodeo community. We have seen teams of high school students deployed all over the city starting DBS groups with their unchurched friends. We have microchurches among the elderly, and we have others that consist mostly of children.
In terms of a traditional DMM understanding of multiplication, we have seen DBS groups multiply to third and fourth generations, with some eventually fading out of existence. We have seen a couple of microchurch communities launch a new group in a new neighborhood a few times, resulting in three generations. We have a network of nine microchurches among the post-incarcerated community, in which leaders emerge from new disciplemaking.
In the past few years, I’ve learned a great deal about what multiplication looks like in an urban, American context, but perhaps chief among them is this: Multiplication in western settings can be complex.
We in The Kansas City Underground do not have all the answers and have far more failure stories than success stories. But I believe God has slowly revealed to us some key principles regarding the multiplication of disciples and churches in American cities. My sincere prayer is that through our successes and failures, this whole topic of multiplication becomes a little less mysterious.
5 LEARNINGS REGARDING MULTIPLICATION
1) Begin with a “Gospel Saturation Vision” and work backwards.
We in the KC Underground deeply resonate with our friend Chris Galanos, who references the idea of WIGTAKE in his blog (and his book, From Megachurch to Multiplication). He was so struck by missionaries who began with the question, “What’s it going to take to reach everyone in the people group?” that it inspired him to walk away from one of the largest megachurches in the country to launch a decentralized network of disciples and simple churches, which he believed would be better equipped to reach his entire city.
For us in Kansas City, our north star has never been to see a Disciple Making Movement in KC. To be honest, that feels like a tiny vision, and God can do better than that. We’ve been far more enamored by what we read about in Ephesians 1:22, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
Now that’s a vision for my city I can get on board with. Can you imagine an entire city filled with the beauty, justice, and Good News of Jesus like what is described in Ephesians 1:22? Of course this entails disciples who make disciples and churches that make churches, but it’s so much more than that.
When your WIGTAKE idea is “Gospel Saturation,” it forces you to pray in a way you didn’t know was possible. It forces you to think about lightweight and reproducible structures generations out. It forces you to be united with other believers in a city in a way that your differing programmatic structures would not logically allow. And it gives space to think outside the box, which is something that is so desperately needed in our disciple-making efforts in America.
2) We must understand multiplication as a CHAORDIC process, not a linear one.
Chaordic is one of my new favorite terms. A simple definition is, “a blending of chaos and order,” which I believe is the perfect description of what multiplication in American cities actually looks like.
For those of us who have learned multiplication from rural Disciple Making Movements, it can be easy to think of it in a mere linear way. We start a DBS, which multiplies another one, and those multiply, and those multiply, and then BOOM, we have 200 new house churches!
Within relational environments where people have a level of communal influence, this sort of multiplication is relatively straightforward. Within a people group, one person can go and multiply a DBS setting within that same people group simply because of the relational capital that person may have with others.
Compare that to an urban, American culture, where we are hyper-individualized in our relationships, resulting in hard-to-define networks in which people have microscopic relational influence over one another. We also are not bound by traditional geographical guidelines (we may work on one side of the city, live in another, and hang out in another), which makes our relational networks that much more confusing. Our social structure is widely scattered and ridiculously complicated. It looks far more like chaos than order (see image below).
If we live in a socially chaotic culture like the one depicted on the right, yet attempt to multiply as if we’re in one on the left, we will continually be frustrated in our attempts to multiply.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had years ago with David Broodryk (David and his teammates have pioneered so many of the urban multiplication concepts we in the KC Underground have utilized). He told me that the answer to complexity is not simplicity, but adaptability. If we are to understand multiplication and what generational growth looks like in the chaos that is a typical American city, we have to learn how to be nimble and intentional at the same time.
For example, a few years ago I partnered with a jail ministry who launched teams into jails to find persons of peace and to catalyze DBS groups in the jail. As we identified inside leaders and the DBS groups started permeating the jails, disciples who were made on the inside started gathering together on the outside upon their release (these new microchurches are called “Share the Hope”). Over time, one member of that microchurch who had spent time in homelessness connected with a friend to start a weekend ministry to feed soup to a homeless community. Another member of a different Share the Hope partnered with them, and felt a calling to reach a different homeless community. Over time, he and his wife recruited others, prayer walked a park in downtown KC and started DBS environments with all homeless people in the area. This has emerged into a network called “Street Church” where we’ve seen many baptisms and new disciples.
To be honest, I do not know how to count the generations of multiplication in that scenario. The chaos of our city’s social structure requires an understanding of multiplication that goes far beyond a simple linear concept. Much like what I learned from David Broodryk years ago, multiplication in urban contexts looks far more like the image below:
As you can see, although it is not simple or linear, there still is a level of intentionality and order in the multiplication process. For us, our adaptability answer to the complexity problem is to have multiple forms that are all starting (and/or multiplying) at the same time. The simplest way to think about it is in terms of three primary forms:
1) Teams of new missionaries
2) Discovery Bible Study settings
3) Microchurch families
If we’re launching all of those all the time, we’re able to see more and more networks engaged all throughout the city. For more on this, check out our tool called The What and How of Multiplication.
3) We need to create “Movement Ecosystems” that can support on-the-ground disciplemaking.
“Ecosystem” has become my favorite term to describe what we’ve seen emerge in Kansas City. I’m no scientist, but an ecosystem is essentially the combination of environment and community. It’s a particular setting in which living things exist and interact with each other and with their non-living environments.
If we’re going to see real movement and sustainable multiplication in the west, we need to figure out how to create systems that can legitimately support it. I believe we need to figure out how to create local ecosystems that 100 percent exist to support multiplicative disciplemaking and church planting.
I’m not even close to being the first person to say this. As a student of missions, both locally and globally, it’s been fascinating to watch the American church grapple with our own systems over the last 20 years. People like Alan Hirsch have been nudging western leaders toward a posture of rethinking our systems and structures that would foster multiplication.
I think the difference between those conversations and what we’ve been doing in Kansas City is that we have simultaneously been 100 percent focused on Disciple Making Movement strategies. When DMM principles of on-the-ground disciplemaking meet the highly strategic formation of organic systems, we start to see an ecosystem emerge that is able to house healthy multiplication. For us, this was extremely intentional.
Ironically, it’s easy to err too much on either side of this conversation. On one hand, we can completely focus on creating organic systems and entirely forget that we need to make disciples in the harvest first (an ‘if-you-build-it’ sort of error made by a lot of churches and ministries seeking ‘movement’). On the other hand, we can ignore creating any systems, thinking that if we simply focus on making multiplicative disciples, movement will just happen naturally (which is how most American DMM people fail). We have found that we have to go all-in on both simultaneously: We need to train everyday people to make disciples and see microchurches emerge out of their missional spaces, while at the same time intentionally create systems to support those on the back end.
I believe in the U.S., we simply cannot stumble upon an ecosystem like this.
Over time, we have formalized our own organic systems with specific language and vision. Key to all of it is something we call “HUBS.”
Without going into too much detail, a hub is essentially a missional support team that exists to fuel and equip a network of everyday missionaries and microchurches in a city. I like to think of it as a condensed missions organization with a specific missional target (a place or a network of relationships). Although members on the hub team must also be practitioners, they primarily exist to raise up and walk alongside normal, non-professional Christians as they go and reach their own people. Each hub can contain specific smaller teams that offer more nuanced support, depending on the needs of the missional context.
As new disciples are made and new microchurches emerge, the hub is there to support the leaders and help provide a sense of communal belonging, while also staying in the background, allowing all microchurches to be 100 percent autonomous. In a relatively large city like Kansas City (with 2.4 million people within the greater metro), we believe we may need dozens of hubs in order to reach Gospel Saturation.
Although this is not the only way to create an ecosystem that can support decentralized multiplication, I believe something like this has to be present in America cities to fan the flame of multiplication, and provide ongoing stability. For more information on this, check out this document that depicts our ecosystem.
4) Having a light-weight Disciplemaking process like Discovery Bible Study is an absolute must.
There’s a reason why pretty much all Disciple Making Movements utilize some form of discovery and obedience-based methods of disciplemaking, and it’s not because it’s the sexy new program. Quite the opposite, actually. Discovery Bible Study is as simple as it gets, making it truly reproducible. Anyone, anywhere, can ask simple and inductive questions within a group of people.
What makes DBS so effective is not just that it’s lightweight, but also because it’s deep-rooted. The entire process is predicated on practical obedience, making it an active and experiential process rather than a passive or information-based one. When we strip down our complicated methods and simply focus on getting spiritually hungry people to interact directly with the Word of God (and then to immediately apply what God is showing them), the results are transformative and long lasting. Again and again we find that this strategy fully depends on the Holy Spirit showing up and directly teaching people – and again and again we see that the Holy Spirit is simply better at teaching than we are.
When we utilize a disciplemaking method that can be released to anyone and everyone, particularly within an ecosystem of multiplication, the gospel is able to be unleashed into every network and crevice of the city.
5) Be counter-intuitive: WAIT ON JESUS.
Last year, I had the honor of joining a handful of other western movement practitioners in a training led by Nadim Costa, a missionary with Novo.
Nadim is Lebanese and has been one of the most influential movement catalysts in the Middle East. What God has done through the teams and networks on the ground there is nothing short of astounding. According to Novo, these Middle East teams are currently seeing movements in 22 countries in the Middle East and Europe, resulting in over 50,000 DBS groups/microchurches, 700,000 new believers, and 19+ generations of growth. To learn from these men and women has been one of the great honors of my ministry life.
As Nadim and I wrestled through some of the main questions and hurdles we’ve experienced in our Kansas City experiment, I heard him say something I’ve never heard a movement catalyst say before, “… Don’t worry about multiplication yet.”
I was so taken aback that I had to ask him to repeat it. Isn’t multiplication what DMM is all about? Aren’t I supposed to insert multiplication in the process as early as possible? What do you mean that I shouldn’t worry about multiplication?
As I have sat in the meaning of those words for the past year, I think I know what Nadim was getting at: Don’t take control; don’t force the issue; let God build a foundation that will fan the flame of multiplication in his timing. Pray a ton. Foster a culture of utter surrender to Jesus within a healthy ecosystem of mission and rest. Raise up and release as many disciplemakers as possible. And… WAIT ON JESUS. He will bring multiplication in his timing.
As we walk out that strange balance of urgency and patience, it’s good to remember that multiplication and speed are not necessarily the same thing. As I conclude, I’m reminded of one more thing David Broodryk told me regarding multiplication: “Nothing in movement is fast. It’s a lot of slow things happening in an exponential way.”
My hope and prayer is that those words take deep root in the hearts and lives of Disciple Making Movement practitioners in the west as we grapple with a healthy understanding of what multiplication looks like in our particular context.