Pandemic Sparks Renewal in a Well Established South Asian Movement
Some Disciple Making Movements begin strong, but grow traditional as the years pass by.
This was the case for one movement started by YWAM in South Asia. Though early growth was spectacular, in recent years the movement had plateaued. The rapid, multiplication growth they’d seen at first had almost completely stopped.
Changes and Bold Decisions
During 2020, in large part as a response to the pandemic, exciting changes took place.
Bold, prayerful decisions to shift how they functioned were made. This is the story of how a movement whose growth plateaued but was revitalized.
Migrant Workers Come to Christ
This movement began more than twenty years ago through the pioneer efforts of a few apostolically gifted leaders. It was one of the first Disciple Making Movements to take off through Youth With A Mission’s efforts.
God moved in supernatural power. Signs, wonders, and bold evangelism characterized the movement and its young leaders. It grew rapidly and spread to many parts of the region. Churches started churches, and apostolic teams were raised up and sent to unreached areas. A passion for the lost was at the very heart of the movement.
Maturity Brings Traditionalization
As the movement grew and matured, the leadership put systems in place to manage and nurture their growing numbers. Some of these were more denominational than movement-like. Though they didn’t install pastors and continued to appoint elders to lead the churches, they met in buildings.
They encouraged traditional Sunday gatherings that someone preached at. Baptisms were done by those who had more training and were appointed as elders. Most of them did YWAM Discipleship Training School or attended other training. Mid-week house fellowships were encouraged, but the “real church” service was on Sunday in a building with a larger group of members.
Over time, this shift to a traditional model and to a denominational structure caused the growth of the movement to slow dramatically. Many of the churches experienced little to no growth in recent years. Except for a few pockets that saw multiplicative growth of disciples and fellowships, everywhere else the growth was very slow.
Until Last Year…
In February, a group of church planters from this movement attended a training with others from South Asia. In the training, they studied and discussed New Testament scripture. They dug deep into how Jesus and the apostles multiplied the Kingdom of God. Revelation and conviction hit them hard. In those short days, they were convinced by Scripture that they must shift to a more New Testament approach to making and multiplying disciples. They said to the other trainees and trainers clearly, “When we go back, we will start making changes.”
The very next month, the pandemic hit hard across the globe. Their entire country went into an extended lock-down. Everything they had been doing to come together in traditional churches, completely stopped.
Experiencing Online Simple Church
Those who had attended the February training whole-heartedly participated in online simple churches initiated by YWAM Frontier Missions leaders during that season. They saw how life-giving this participatory style of church was and began to replicate that both on and off-line.
With the church’s inability to gather in large groups, they struggled about what to do. They were unable to meet in church buildings, rented or constructed, for many, many months. How were they to feed and care for their believers in this season?
Marathon Zoom Discussions
The YWAM Frontier Missions leaders and elders of the movement spent hours in marathon discussions and prayer over zoom. The leaders who had been to the February training and had met in simple churches online shared their experiences. They challenged the leadership to embrace a different approach.
As they prayed and discussed for many days, the Holy Spirit brought unity. As a leadership the movement decided to shift their overall approach away from traditional church buildings toward more DMM-friendly styles of doing church. As they made this change, the movement experienced exciting new growth.
As the end of year reports came in, DMM coaches wondered what the results would be during a COVID 19 year. Glory be to God…His Kingdom had grown! This movement reported the addition of 1,400 new disciples, far more than they’d seen the previous few years.
Not only were there hundreds of salvations, but the total number of churches in the movement grew by 400% as well! God was on the move. These churches no longer met in buildings though. They met online or in homes.
No pandemic can stop the growth of His body. As God’s people listen to His voice, pray, and go back to radical obedience to scripture, He brings renewal. New wine and new wineskins come.
The Temptation Toward Traditionalism
Movements can easily swing toward traditional (legacy church) approaches as they mature. There is a great temptation to create systems and structures that emphasize nurturing existing believers more than reaching the lost. Gaining government recognition and approval has a strong attraction but can be detrimental to ongoing multiplication.
Denominational thinking causes movement growth to slow or completely stall. The good news is movements can be revitalized and renewed if they return to a New Testament pattern.
Sometimes, it takes a catastrophic event like a pandemic to shift our way of thinking. It did for this movement. To their credit, they boldly sought the Lord for His new wine for this new season. They allowed the difficulty of the pandemic to become an opportunity to change and the movement experienced renewal.
Now, they actively empower every believer to be a disciple-maker. They are training each person to share their faith and start new groups. The fruit is evident and plentiful. May God be glorified as He continues to bring exponential growth in this unreached area.
What shift might you need to make in how you make disciples?