Let’s dive in. By way of context, I’ve been doing field evaluation of local ministries/movements in cross-cultural settings for the past 11 years. I’m not saying I’ve seen everything, but I will say that common trends emerge very consistently from trip to trip and from campus to campus.
Scenarios 1 (The Place to Be) and 3 (Generations) most likely represent ministries rather than movements. Neither example gives us sufficient contextual information to be completely sure, but both smell like ministries. Why can we say this? The first scenario describes a ministry that contains two elemental barriers to genuine movements. One barrier is the reliance upon one (or a few) key personalities to sustain successful ministry. The giveaway clues were found in the reasons given for people coming to the weekly meeting. The second barrier is the possibility of false success due to program-centered values. 600 people coming regularly to anything gives the appearance of energy, vitality and motion. It’s easy to fall into the “bigger is better” trap. We like numbers. Numbers represent people, right? But the question remains: Where are these people going? Genuine movements move toward a common purpose that everyone understands. In the absence of crystal clear purpose for gathering, all this meeting is is a big party. If the great teaching and excellent band suddenly disappeared one week, would there be sufficient DNA to replicate, multiply and continue? Continue what?
Scenario 3 (Generations) demonstrates what I refer to as stacking generations. Technically, I suppose, you could line the bible study participants up by grade status, snap a digital pic, and call it four generations of multiplication. This meets the letter of the law, but the spirit has clearly been violated. The core question is: Who actually multiplied their life into someone else? Some of the students probably did multiply, but the scenario described a team of people assigning others to lead groups. Though not completely arbitrary, this type of management inadvertently undermines the frustratingly slow process of student ownership, which is the key to genuine student-led movements. Much more will be said about this issue later this month.
Scenario 2 (The Faithful Few) smells much more like a movement. The core essentials are in place: prayerful dependence, outreach, a purpose bigger than merely sustaining the existing group, and demonstrated fruit of changed lives. Let’s not be fooled by the smaller numbers. The DNA is what counts. Healthy DNA will reproduce life if given a good environment of light and heat. Now, if we came back one year later and the numbers were still the same, we’d probably classify this as a ministry too, since no movement or growth had occured.
Lesson: Honest evaluation is not fooled by numbers. Numbers do matter, but wise leaders look for the story between the numbers.