5 Big Reasons for a New, Deeper Look at The Forgotten Ways

Alan Hirsch reflects on the last decade of the missional movement and looks ahead to explore the way forward for the Church

Alan Hirsch

Few resources in today’s church leader space have been as life-changing and as church-changing to its readers as Alan Hirsch’s 2006 best-selling book, The Forgotten Ways. We continue to hear leaders talk about the impact of the watershed work and how it stirred a holy discontent in them:

“No book has influenced my thinking about leading a church and a church-planting movement more than The Forgotten Ways. Alan helps us rediscover what the church of Jesus Christ was always meant to be.”
–Dave Ferguson, lead pastor, Community Christian Church; lead visionary, NewThing

Looking back over the last 10 years of the missional movement, Alan now releases a fully revised edition of The Forgotten Ways. The major update offers his reflections and provides fresh examples of growing churches, as well as new charts, diagrams, appendices, an index, and an expanded glossary. He also enlisted the learned wisdom of Ed Stetzer for the new foreword and the practical insights of Soma Communities leader Jeff Vanderstelt for the afterword. Below, Alan shares why he believed it was time for a new look at this paradigm-shifting resource—exploring five good reasons for the The Forgotten Ways 2.0.

Reason #1: Because movements are the only viable way forward…

What has got us to this point is not going to take us forward. Lets face it. We have worked over the inherited models of church for the last 1,500 years or so.

The journey to learning starts with seeing the problem in its starkest terms. The civil concept to which most Western churches consciously or unconsciously adhere leads us back to where the concept originally came from: the missional bankruptcy of the historic Western church. If we’re to move forward, we have to get past the predominance of European modes of thinking (monuments) about the church to recover the more primordial New Testament sensibilities (movements).

Movements are the polar opposite of monuments—movements move while monuments go nowhere. Movements are living, responsive, highly adaptive, growing, social phenomena. In this new, reloaded edition of The Forgotten Ways, I share that I wholeheartedly believe that the future health and viability of the Christian Church depends on its retrieval of the more fluid, adaptive, and dynamic movement-based form of ecclesia. In some sense, our future relies on us changing our fundamental paradigms and missional postures, as well as thinking about the nature and purposes of the Church.

I have no doubt that movement thinking is an inevitable idea whose time has come. There is just no other viable way forward. Ironically, the way forward must first take us backward past our denominational histories to the original phenomenon we find expressed in the New Testament and evidenced in the life of the church’s Founder/founders—the original apostolic movement.

Reason #2: Because leadership imagination really matters…

This book is clearly not a how-to guide, although readers might well discern practical application within it. I’ve written it to appeal to our imaginations and to help us embrace the more dynamic, movement-based paradigm that we see in the New Testament and in the various transformational movements in history.

I took this approach because we need to constantly remind ourselves that if we fall in love with our system, whatever it is, we also lose the capacity to change it. This means that the guardians of the old paradigm have lost the necessary objectivity they need to assess the church and their own role in it. As 20th century author/journalist Upton Sinclair reminds us, “It remains an exceedingly difficult thing to get people to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

Vested interests narrow our capacity to see clearly.

Although we’ve gained significant ground in the last 15 years, the paradigm war is by no means over. In fact, it might have just begun. Our choice still remains: We choose either to live into the more dynamic missional movement paradigm, or we continue to operate from within the more static monument paradigm we’ve inherited. Tragically, antiquated imagination still largely dictates our ways of thinking about the church and its mission.

And this is where leadership imagination comes in because, as businessman and writer Max De Pree notes, “leaders effectively define reality for those they lead.” Leaders are the keys that either open the doors or lock them up tight. They are either bottlenecks or bottle openers.

I like what the father of modern management, Peter Drucker, once said: “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete—the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.” If his statement is true for all human organizations, it’s especially true for churches, which tend to consecrate their tradition and institutions, making those traditions very difficult to change.

We simply must find a way to push past the pat historical answers for people that have a skewed, less than biblical imagination of what it means to be God’s people. This road will require unlearning—or as Scripture says it, repentance. Consider the insights of the futurist Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Reason #3: Because we have not yet arrived at ecclesial maturity and perfection…

The Protestant Reformation was right to insist on the phrase: semper reformanda (“always reforming”) to describe its movement. The cogent slogan ensures an inbuilt commitment to biblical integrity while at the same time insisting on ongoing cultural progress through the innovation of new forms inspired by Scripture. We were never meant to get stuck in a singular cultural moment. Progress is not only culturally desired; it’s theologically required.

Our greatest truths are remembered; they are retrievals (not inventions). They are reclamations of a lost imagination whose newness is so old that it has been forgotten. This is particularly true of all the ancient truths of the faith, including, of course, the nature and purpose of the church. I believe that the answer to the crisis of our time is found in our most primary and defining story of the New Testament church. As the Body of Christ, we are called to ever-increasing Christlikeness and maturity (Eph.4:12-16). By all accounts, we still have a long way to go.

Progress is not only culturally desired; it’s theologically required.

Reason #4: Because Jesus has high hopes for the movement He started…

I’m convinced (and have seen it) that in our time we’re seeing a shift toward movement thinking. I continue to talk to and hear from numerous openhearted leaders who understand that we face a huge challenge in crossing the ever-widening chasm of culture and establishing a viable beachhead for Jesus-centered Christianity in the 21st century. Our best and brightest almost universally share a deep awareness that we are at the end of one road and at the beginning of another. What we tend to lack is the right Holy Spirit–inspired imagination needed to dream up new futures for the church. I believe the Jesus movement paradigm provides us with the hope-filled key to the door of transformation.

Now, more than ever, I remain committed to the belief that movements are the way forward. Movements represent who we are and what we are called to be. In fact, Jesus actually dreamed about a movement. His explicit example—His teaching on the in-breaking Kingdom of God, His work in establishing the gospel, and His subsequent entrusting of these to the movement He initiated—commits His people everywhere to being much more a permanent revolution than a civil religion that blindly defends tradition or conserves a prevailing status quo.

Jesus’ people have always had the possibilities of the earth’s immense future—the Kingdom of God. Through the constant increase of our knowledge and love, we can realize more and more of this potential. But discovering those great truths brings a certain responsibility to live according to what we find. This book has been about bringing to light lost potential hidden at the very heart of God’s people for much too long.

Yes, it will mean change, and it will take us on an adventure where we must risk being overwhelmed. But herein dwells our hope. The ever-potent gospel has the power to both save and transform our world. It remains our deepest heritage, and it is incumbent on us who follow the way of the gospel to act in ways that unlock its marvelous power. As it was for Paul, the early church, and all throughout the ages, so it will be for us—it will require a hopeful, trusting faith in the One who saves. We have some more moving to do to continue the movement He started.

Reason #5: Because it’s the way to become an authentic Level 5 church…

In Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church, an Exponential eBook that I contributed to, authors Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson agree that if you want to become a Level 5 multiplying church, then you’ll need the right operating system. The wrong system will never produce Level 5 results. Only a system that has engaged the following elements will help our churches make fourth-generation disciples. Briefly, these six elements include (what I call mDNA in The Forgotten Ways):

  1. Identifying ourselves in relation to the defining reality of Jesus as Lord;
  2. Prioritizing discipleship based on Jesus and ensuring clear pathways for disciple making in the organization;
  3. Practicing incarnational (innovative and adaptive) forms of mission;
  4. Cultivating the kind of communities that thrive in risk and adventure;
  5. Developing scalable organizations that can spread across a wide distance;
  6. Generating more comprehensive missional leadership capacities and culture based on the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4.

A comprehensive list indeed. But it can totally be done. By resolving to “recode” your church’s OS around movement, you’ll work toward what God originally designed and intended—and you’ll have the support of the Holy Spirit. Jesus will build the movement, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.


Alan Hirsch is the founding director of Forge Mission Training Network, founder of 100 Movements (100Movements.com) and movement mentor at NewThing Network. Known for his innovative approach to mission, Alan is considered to be a thought-leader and key mission strategist for churches across the Western world. A prolific writer, Alan is the author of multiple books, including this recent update of The Forgotten Ways  and numerous other works.