Q&A–How Do You Start New “Spiritual Outposts”

Original Question: “In regards to your mention of ‘spiritual outposts’ did you have families physically move to new neighborhoods, or did you build the outposts around new Christians already living in those areas?”

Answer: Enough time has passed that I probably need to remind you of the context I am addressing in this protracted series of Q&A blog posts. During May 13-16 I was invited to speak during a four-day digital gathering, the Salt & Light International Leaders Conference. After each day’s presentation on Disciple Making Movements there was a Q&A session and leaders submitted questions in writing and the host selected some of those questions to ask us live. Many more questions came in than we could address in the time allotted. I offered to address those question via my blog. While I warned this process might be slow, I have obviously stretched this out far more than I anticipated. I begin again in my efforts to address these.

Roy Moran and I each took two days to present material which would hopefully prompt participants to seek out coaching in implementing the best of DMM strategies and prompt people to seek coaching to get to multi-generational replication. Sadly, enough time has passed that I do not recall the specific statement where the phrase “spiritual outposts” would have occurred, but I am confident I can address this question and hopefully be helpful.

When we encounter different strategies than what we are using, which appear to be potentially beneficial, we generally begin to explore how we can add those to what we are already doing. If taking a new approach means we have to ditch everything we are already doing, then we usually pass on the new thing. This is true whether you prefer Apple, Microsoft or Linux. It is true for much of the Evangelical world which bifurcates evangelism and discipleship (which primarily is equivalent to “spiritual formation”).

Evangelism in the Global North is primarily envisioned as being initiated by people who intentionally move to a new region and begin to form meaningful relationships with lost people in the new places where we “live, work, play and learn.” If we identify a people group, city, village or other place where no one knows Jesus, then we raise up a team to move there and begin to allow the light to shine through their lives and words into that area. Many years ago this strategy has been referred to as “swarming” where a new queen and worker bees leave an existing hive and “swarm” in a new area in hopes of starting a new hive with its own unique ecosystem.

The mention of “spiritual outpost” harkens to this mental imagery. Biblical commentators who advocate such a “swarming” strategy might point to Rome’s strategy of gifting retiring soldiers and government officials with land grants in the outer regions of the empire. Philippi, for example, was a Roman colony which was shaped by this approach. Maybe the advancement of the Kingdom of Heaven can be furthered by such an intentional strategy.

Disciple Making Movements are not in opposition to teams of disciple makers intentionally moving to pockets of darkness within their own people group in this way, but this is not how the first “spiritual outposts” arise. It is also not the strategy of Paul and his disciple making band in the book of Acts. His approach was to always look for a local group into which the gospel would be planted and they would become the “spiritual outpost.” Outsiders can and should be catalysts. Insiders become the best evangelists. We are not inherently opposed to “swarming,” but we are not envisioning this being the approach being used by a team of outsiders. From my reading of Acts, the longest Paul stayed in any of the places where churches were started was in Ephesus and he was there somewhere between two years and three months and three years. I believe he stayed there that length of time because his work was replicated in other cities within the province of Asia as he discipled workers to faith and then they went out as disciple makers throughout the region.

Some Assumptions on Gifting

We all enter discussions with assumptions, some examined and others that are more subliminal until they are brought into the light. Writing is one way to get them out into the light.

One of my assumptions is that a gift is an ability which greatly surpasses anything I could develop on my own. But I do not assume that with two different people the less gifted one could not surpass the other if he/she put more work into developing and practicing the gift. Let me share a couple of analogies which might make my thoughts more easily understood by someone else.

Michael Jordan vs. Larry Bird: an analogy from professional basketball. Two of the best NBA players of all time provide an interesting contrast. Both played on NBA teams which one multiple championships. Their careers overlapped. But I don’t want to focus on their playing careers, but their efforts toward coaching. I believe MJ was more gifted than Bird. His physical ability was through the roof. He could certainly out jump Bird. He was quicker, without a doubt. Larry was taller, but that was about the only advantage he had when it came to playing. But Bird had to use his mind and guile to overcome his deficiencies—and he did, over and over.

Bird’s challenges made him more equipped to become successful as a coach, as it turned out. Sometimes (but not always), the most gifted at doing something to a high level are not able to assist less capable people to succeed. Their reliance upon their gifting gave them great success. But every team is comprised of members with varying degrees of ability. A good coach helps each member maximize her abilities and also gets the group to learn to experience a synergy where “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Gifts can certainly give someone a “leg up,” but what one does with spiritual abilities is crucial, too. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which we call 1 Corinthians certainly points us in this direction. The believers in that local church had incredible giftings, but it appears they were not often exercised with love (1 Corinthians chapters 12-14).

Since early this year (2021) I have spent a lot of time learning the fine art of wood turning. One of my friends invested greatly in my success. Jim Livingstone has made recommendations regarding the lathe I might buy and he also gave me several wood turning tools. To purchase those tools would cost me several hundred dollars. I am very appreciative! His counsel and this generous gift has sped up my learning curve. But I still have had to put lots of practice into wood turning. The gift has not replaced training, long hours of practice, and diligent efforts to overcome errors made along the way. But I have never attended any wood turning schools or classes.

I have never really felt gifted. No, I am not discounting the incredible deposits God has made in my life! But none of it comes easily. None. I am not a gifted speaker. I do it fairly well, some of the time, but it is usually fitful for me.

Wood working has been different than just about anything else I have ever tried. I can get totally “lost” in it. I can learn techniques and abilities more quickly than other turners, evidently. But I have 45+ years of relevant experience to draw from in the learning. I took three years in high school, even though they only offered two years. No, I did not fail. I bartered my way into a third year by doing some of the mill work that my teacher had previously done for the first year students. No one had ever done that before, so I wasn’t following someone else’s example. I was following my heart.

Creating path for Woodworking III opened the door for me working at an acoustic guitar factory during the summers before and during Bible College. Those experiences gave me an incredible learning opportunity. Unfortunately I never really had an apprenticeship, though. Yes, I memorized safety rules for six weeks and spent six more in basic drafting (while the woodworking shop was built), but I learned most of what I know on my own.

I’ve watched hundreds of hours of wood turning videos. I’ve spent hundreds more trying to imitate what I saw and then correcting the obvious errors I made. I have no formal training in wood turning.

DMM is not opposed to formal training. It is not opposed to Grad School or even getting a doctorate. I actually know several who hold doctorates and others who are pursuing them. As a general rule, though, Movement folks think the requirement that young people getting an “Engineer level” education prior to getting involved in cross cultural missions is wrong-headed. We probably don’t state this clearly enough, at times. But then there are times when I am equally sure people are “hearing” things we are not saying.

One professor friend made an interesting statement to me a few years ago. I shared that I struggle some with “imposter syndrome,” especially in the missions arena. My misgivings come from two fronts: my lack of formal training and my lack of living cross culturally for any significant time. He said, “John, be thankful there are many things you have not had to unlearn!”

Q&A: How do you encourage Christians who are very happy to sit and receive teaching from the ‘qualified’ to engage with this discovery model? What has worked for you?

Working through strategic preaching/teaching plans which expose these people to Kingdom texts which produce a Kingdom expansion call motivates some. How will passive people be called to “get on the pitch” rather than being only consumers?

Do not focus too much attention on the resistant. Invest time, energy and passion into the willing. Build a team out of these. “Start small to end big; focus on the few to win the many.” are two related the counter-intuitive statements that were learned by on the ground teams in Africa. You will not succeed in getting large numbers of people to take up new approaches at the same time. Their rhythms keep them doing what they are doing. Who are the people who are willing to learn new rhythms?

Celebrate the stories of breakthrough which come from the efforts of your team. As success begins with your team, their stories have the potential to provide the “social proof” which is required by the 84% who are middle or laggard adopters. Focusing too much attention on the slower adopters increases their resistance, but often sidetracks you and your team. Read through Acts and pay special attention to how much attention Saul/Paul gives to the Jewish people in the synagogues who rejected his proclamation.

Focusing on the willing is not about giving up on the resistant, though. It is understanding that they need proof. Give it to them. Get to breakthrough and more will join you. Yes, I know you wish they would help you get to breakthrough, but do not allow that to distract you.

Q&A: What degree of “fruits in keeping with repentance” must be demonstrated before giving converts responsibility in the church?

A discovery group in a household of peace is not the church, yet. It is an existing community that desperately needs the gospel to become a Kingdom outpost. When discovery happens there, these people experience God through the Holy Spirit at work in the Word and their exploration of it together. As a household of peace comes to faith, each will be discipled toward repentance, full loyalty and maturity.

The question reveals that we have made participating in church gatherings the only avenue for coming to know God and surrendering to him. Facilitating a Discovery Group in your own home, among your family and friends can become a pathway for introduction to the church.

When you read the four books called Gospels, ask yourself the following question: “When do the disciples qualify as being full-fledged believers?” When are they “the church”? We see moments when they appear to “get it.” There are times when they confess Jesus as Lord, but then almost immediately tell him he is wrong (Matthew 16). When would your church leadership give them “responsibility in the church?” Obviously, Jesus sent them out earlier (Matthew 10:1ff). Jesus’ actions in the four Gospels needs to become our model, if we are going to see multiplication begin.

An acorn has all the DNA for an oak tree. It cannot be used to manufacture wood flooring or turning a wood bowl, but its DNA is present. Discovery Groups have the spiritual DNA to form churches. There is much that has to happen before they reach that stage of development and maturity, but trees only come from seeds. Biblical churches come from the Word of God being sown in the hearts of men and women. The questioner needs to differentiate between seed sowing and harvesting.

Q&A: Are Addition Growth and Multiplication Complimentary?

Here is the full question from the Salt & Light Conference attendee: “Shouldn’t we say that growth and multiplication are complimentary, where we see growth in Acts with Peter’s preaching during the day of Pentecost first and the process of discipleship done throughout the church thereafter by Paul with the Corinthians or with his spiritual son Timothy telling the church to imitate him as he imitates Christ or Peter with the Jews in 2 Peter 1:12?”

My studied conviction is that something fascinating happens when you overlay Jesus’ three promises regarding fruitfulness in John 15 with the A.P.E.S/T. section from Paul (Ephesians 4:12).

Jesus affirms that those who abide in him will be pruned by the Father so they will

  1. bear fruit (John 15:4)
  2. bear much fruit (John 15:5)
  3. bear fruit that lasts (John 15:16)

His analogy is powerful and significant in Israel’s history. In the vine and the branches analogy we know fresh grapes and wine are the fruit being referenced. Papa God tends the branches to ensure they have optimum opportunities to produce grapes. Their fruitfulness is fundamentally about abiding in Jesus. Later, the way grapes become “fruit that lasts” is via wine making. In Israel’s history there were crops that were incredibly significant for sustaining life and as economic resources: wheat, barley, olives (for oil) and wine were life sustaining. They were bartered and sold by people in this nation right at the point of convergence of two major trade routes: shipping vessels on the Mediterranean Sea and cross land caravans coming from far eastern regions of Asia and the southern regions of Africa. 

The Hebrew word “shalom” is most often translated “peace” but it probably would be better translated by something like “flourishing.” It is a wholly positive word about well-being. Fruitfulness is about wholeness. God created the world and man and called for all of creation to be fruitful and multiply. He works so we will flourish—becoming and producing everything we can and were designed to bear.


The critical piece for us to do in response to God’s purpose and ongoing work is to abide in the vine, to stay connected to Jesus and his life giving nourishment (sap as it were). Every new grape has seeds for replication. 

Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers are the functions Jesus has graced the church with “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:12). The body of Christ flourishes when every part is being equipped. Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers all have essential functions to see each part equipped, empowered and bearing fruit.

Wine making takes more resources than starting new vines. But without the new vines, there is a limit to how much wine can be produced. Apostles and prophets are especially significant to getting new groups started among new people groups and in new places. Paul and his missionary band were the tabernacle-like portable church. They reveal the incredible value and need for the church on the go, seeking out where God desires to be working next. Evangelists and pastor/teachers follow and are critical empowering every new believer to begin “bearing much fruit” and arriving at the place where “fruit that lasts” can be produced, too.

In DMMs the evangelists who bear much fruit are insiders to the culture who are quickly involved in reaching their friends and neighbors. They are like the many plant cuttings which are taken off a growing vine and re-planted to result in many fruitful vines (all taking their DNA from Jesus). Wine making is about preservation. It is about long-term access to the life-giving resources given from the vine. You don’t start by building your wine press, you start by planting a vineyard. It is my conviction that Church Growth models lead with what should follow. Far too often, they also export lots of foreign culture. They have taken far too much DNA from the business world, I fear.

Yes, addition (“much fruit”) is complimentary to multiplication (“bear fruit), but there is an orderliness we need to recognize and honor. And we must recognize that preservation comes even later in the cycle.

Q&A: How is the DMM Wheel to be Used?

The DMM Wheel serves multiple functions. It was designed as a graphic presentation of multiple stages of intentionally moving toward Multiplication.

David Watson trained early explorers in 22 Critical Elements of Movements (called CPM first and then DMM). No one can remember a list of 22 and not all of the Critical Elements are necessary to the early phases of getting a Movement started.

After much prayer and experience, these five Critical Elements were identified as how to launch the transition needed to begin implementing enough of DMM strategies to begin transitioning toward Multiplication. Many early explorers never became even novice practitioners because 22 Critical Elements is overwhelming. How much of that do you need to start making some of the paradigm shifts to start developing essential spiritual disciplines?

Traditional strategies are too focused on knowledge acquisition, so we focused on these five elements because they are the places where early breakthroughs came. Finding Persons of Peace and using culturally appropriate inductive study methods, which work with a whole family, were essential to beginning in ways that would multiply. Praying and fasting coupled with good access ministries that created places for overt spiritual conversations increased the odds of finding Persons of Peace. All of these early practices open us to many paradigm shifts which are essential to Embracing Multiplication strategies.

The graphic was fine-tuned as a training resource. Once a team grasps a deep understanding of these five Critical Elements and begins to try to implement them, then the Wheel can be used as a way of assessing “What is missing?” when they are not yet seeing new groups being started out of the first groups they can begin. Often, their earliest groups are only believers. Clearly there is no Person of Peace. These are more “practice” groups than true Discovery Groups.

We may have wonderful Compassion Ministries, but do not have the frontline personnel trained to initiate overt spiritual conversations. They will need to be trained to value the role of a Person of Peace enough to be willing to make the needed changes to Embrace Multiplication.

Often, teams eventually come to the foundational understanding that they do not pray and fast in order to hear from God. We have launched these ministries from our own human strength, rather than in response to God calling us to reach a particular people group or region and that is why we are not seeing Multiplication. All five of these must be happening simultaneously to truly start toward replication. While we may look at them one by one, we need all five to start getting new generations where groups are planting groups and brand new disciples are making new disciples who are doing likewise.

Q&A: If a Discovery process is facilitated entirely by not-yet-Christians, and Christians aren’t even present, how can harmful errors be avoided or even noticed?

Persistent and consistent coaching of the Person of Peace or another inside leader of a Discovery Group is the way DBSs avoid heresy. It is instructive to realize that 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians were letters Paul wrote to a group of believers in Corinth. Clearly that church had its struggles with false teaching and false practices. The founder, Paul an Apostle, did not stay with that young church indefinitely. But he had ongoing relationships with some of the people there and those insiders kept him informed.

Ongoing relationships with key leaders of a family or friendship group are critical to coaching a Discovery Group toward faith, becoming a church and guiding them to plant additional generations of churches. Early DMM trainers used the acronym M.A.W.L. as Model, Assist Watch and Leave. More recently some have changed the L to Launch. Leaving never referred to Leaving Alone.

The good catalyst recognizes the longer he/she is a personal participant in a Discovery Group, the greater the risk that the Group will develop a stunting dependency upon her/him. The goal is to model good Discovery. Assist an inside leader (someone the family or friendship group already looks upon as a leader) to be a good facilitator and then Launch that person into the role.

Weekly meetings with this Inside Leader provide opportunities to identify problems which are arising, recognize theological errors which may be surfacing and coach this leader to healthy corrective studies and practices. Personal presence is not the only way to bring correction, otherwise Paul would have dropped everything to return to Corinth. It is very possible for an Outside leader to stay too long and cause far greater problems than arise when he/she leaves too soon.

Also, we must recognize that the Discovery process has been developed to ensure that the actual teacher is the Holy Spirit at work through the Word of God which is being explored in each gathering. How much do we really trust the Holy Spirit? Are we more confident in our abilities or the power of the revelation of God contained in Scriptures?

How Much Trellis is Needed?

In John 15 Jesus has three promises related to fruit bearing. It is his promise that if branches will abide in him as the vine, they will be carefully tended so that they “bear fruit” (John 15:4), “bear much fruit” (John 15:5, 8) and “bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). In Disciple Making Movements in West Africa we have observed all of these stages of fruit bearing–initial breakthroughs, increasingly rapid multiplication of new groups and then the stabilizing, formational work required for long-term preservation of fruit.

I am convinced these three phases actually correspond to the functions of the apostolic, evangelistic and pastoral/educational (which correlate to planting vines, tending vines so their fruitfulness multiplies and then preserving the grapes through wine making which requires the greatest labor and construction of the winepress and places for storing the wineskins while fermentation happens).

In keeping with those three phases, New Harvest Global Ministries in Sierra Leone (West Africa) has three different training tracks, with increasing training and education required for each subsequent phase:

1. Sending experienced disciple makers into a previously closed region is that initial breakthrough phase. Often, these workers have grown up under very similar circumstances to the people groups among which they are working. These apostolic workers are dilegently looking for Persons of Peace. They are experienced in spiritual warfare and the power encounters demanded to see breakthroughs come. Increasingly these workers are sent out of DMMs among least reached near-neighbor people groups. The very first apostolic workers are often highly trained and experienced and they find households of Peace where people come to faith in Jesus via Discovery Bible Studies.

2. But once the first believers come to faith in a village or community, they are sent out with very little additional training, because they will imitate the process which just resulted in them coming to faith. As they become successful in starting new groups in new places nearby, they will begin to receive additional training. Some of these who are early fruit will eventually be trained to become apostolic workers sent to other hard places nearby.

3. Others who show an aptitude toward pastoral ministry toward existing groups will receive training to be equipped to nurture the group with which they came to faith. In some emerging churches there are not yet existing leaders within the group. In those groups another type of leader will be sent in. Much like Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch and he eventually brought in Saul, leaders are sometimes sent to stabilize new churches and raise up teams who can be sent to other nearby villages.

Some Americans who have travelled to Sierra Leone have been surprised to find such training mechanisms in place, but they have more than 20 generations of multiplication which has been happening for more than 15 years. More trellis and preservation capacities are needed after multiplication begins to happen, but those are not what we lead with if we want to see Movements! This is a significant difference between Disciple Making Movement strategies and traditional cross-cultural missions.

Q&A: What is the role of the local church?

There are multiple roles a local church can provide to assist in catalyzing Multiplying Movements. What is happening globally reveals that Movements are the work of God, so our best efforts involve us in finding out where God is already working and seeking the ways we can join him.

Churches certainly can partner with God by rallying intercessors. Members who will pray and fast to intentionally seek God’s heart are crucial to Movements. Training and sending out disciple makers among pockets of lostness are another way a local church can partner in catalyzing DMMs.

Sending out and assisting disciple making teams financially can be a wonderful way to sow into Movements. Great care needs to be exhibited in these partnerships, though. Local church leaders can unknowingly operate with a “franchise” paradigm, where our assumption is that every kingdom outpost will look like our home church does. In global DMMs we see incredible diversity ranging from very simple churches to much larger and more highly organized churches.

Sometimes we use the Powerpoint titled “Elephant Churches/Rabbit Churches” to help leaders envision some of the incredible value in this diversity. If, for example, you want to move large heavy items, rabbits cannot get the job done, but if you want to feed a massive army, raising rabbits will actually be the better way to go. When that presentation was originally presented it contrasted the large church model with small simple communities of faith as though the choice has to be made. But a friend in Africa saw a different way forward.

Shodankeh envisioned “Elephant Churches” intentionally and strategically planting networks of “Rabbit Churches” across his nation, West Africa and throughout the globe. Where there is little organized persecution some of those small simple churches will grow larger, build buildings and become regional training centers which allow the gospel to flow out to the villages which have not heard.

Having a Kingdom mindset, rather than a parochial approach, is critical. Just think about the church in Antioch (Acts 13) if you need a both/and text for this vision.

Movements???

“What is the definition of ‘Movements’ in DMM?” is a question I was recently asked.

While most of the topics I have discussed in this blog are very biblical, this one is much more anthropological or sociological. Hopefully I am not scaring you off with those “ology” words this early in an article. But I want to be perfectly transparent here. There is no biblical definition of Movements and the word does not appear there.

Yes, I do believe Paul and his missionary band launched a series of Movements which spread throughout the coastal region of what is now modern-day Turkey. The spread was so expansive that even those who counted themselves as enemies said, “And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.” Acts‬ ‭19:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This testimony came as a result of his two years of “discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” Acts‬ ‭19:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The threshold of calling something a Movement needs to be numerically large enough, generationally deep enough and transpiring quickly enough that it is obviously greater than any group can produce or control.

That was my answer when asked to define Movements in DMM. Let me break it down and unpack it a little.

Numerically large enough–in some movements in Africa that ceiling has been set at 100 churches. While no group is going to be unhappy or critical with 65, 85 or 95 churches within a formerly Unreached People Group (UPG), this threshold has been intentionally set high enough to require God’s purpose and power. Another significant missionary force sets their threshold at 1,000 new baptized believers among a people group. Either way, the total number of new followers of Jesus is significant.

Generationally deep enough–is pretty uniformly a minimum of 3-4 generations. The difference in this standard usually depends upon what constitutes the first generation. Some strategists count the groups they personally begin as generation 0 and they require three more generations beyond ground zero. Others count the groups they start as generation 1 and they require 4 (if this seems odd, just consider why some elevators count the first floor as level 0). Either way, you are talking about the same thing. But why 4? Because it gets far enough away from the catalysts that it becomes an excellent test of whether or not the spiritual DNA will not only survive, but thrive without outside control or resources. We all celebrate every generation! But we know there is something powerful in seeing your spiritual great grandchildren!

Transpiring quick enough–might be measured in 2-3 years, if it is measured. Realize this is not from the first entry of the first catalyst making contact with this people group. Once you start having second generation Discovery Groups is a reasonable time to start the clock running. If you do not have multiple generations with increasing numbers of new churches being planted, then something needs to change. What is it? It is possible something was started incorrectly and it keeps tripping people up. It is possible something has undermined the momentum that the early multiplication promised. Either way, what mid-course corrections need to be made?

These somewhat arbitrary benchmarks were created so that Disciple Making teams could evaluate the fruit they were seeing. The benchmarks you set for your efforts can become excellent parameters for determining what, if any, changes need to be made to see the greatest fruitfulness possible.