I confess the title is something of a joke. I wrote it, however, to make a point. There are over 7 billion people in the world. More than 4 billion are non-believers, of whom, over 2 billion have no access to the Gospel. Getting to ‘closure’ or ‘finishing the task’ can appear to be an almost impossible job. Breaking the task into chunks can make the task more manageable.

The numbers are huge, but the individual people are found in individual population segments: provinces, districts, languages, etc. Many of these are around 100,000 in size. If we use a fairly simple multiplying strategy, eight generations of church planting would be enough to ‘reach’ a population segment by any current definition, and ten generations would thoroughly disciple it.

Let’s do some math:

  • Assume the world is broken down into 100,000 population segments. Obviously, you can divide any million-person population into ten such chunks. In real life, they aren’t divided that cleanly. There are, for instance, more people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (city) where I live than in many states in America. However, once you get down to the ‘district’ level (one below provinces/states), populations are often measured in terms of hundreds of thousands. My ‘city’ within the DFW area is 250,000 or so.
  • Assume each discipling leader mentors a group of 6 people. This is fairly conservative; of the 900+ movements we track around the world, the average group size is 15. I use six here because in many highly-restricted places, groups will average 5 to 6 due to security issues. These figures should work almost anywhere.
  • Assume, of the six, the discipler is mentoring, three go on to gather groups of 6 themselves. Again, in our experience, this is relatively common. In restricted-access areas with smaller groups, more people become disciplers with their own groups (because they have a higher commitment due to the security issues). In less-restricted areas, 3 out of a group of 15 isn’t uncommon.
Generation New Leaders Total Leaders New Adherents Total Adherents
1 1 1 6 7
2 3 4 18 25
3 9 13 54 79
4 27 40 162 241
5 81 121 486 727
6 243 364 1458 2185
7 729 1,093 4,374 6,559
8 2,187 3,280 13,122 19,681
9 6,561 9,841 39,366 59,047
10 19,683 29,524 118,098 177,145
11 59,049 88,573 354,294 531,439
12 177,147 265,720 106,2882 159,4321
13 531,441 797,161 3,188,646 4,782,967

Most ‘movements’ are considered ‘movements’ when they reach four generations in multiple streams, and sustainably add more generations within a relatively short period of time. This is going from spiritual grandparent to spiritual grandchild.

Doing this three times in succession would bring you to twelve generations and would saturate nearly any population segment. While not formalized as a strategy, this process is already being functionally used in some movements. How do we get from here to finishing the task more broadly?

The simple answer is sending same and near-culture workers from a fully developed movement to neighboring district(s). Once there, they start another multi-generational cycle. So, how quickly can a movement like this one ‘send out’?

If they have to wait until Generation 10 and it takes 20 years to get there, we are a long way indeed from finishing the task. On the other hand, if a movement begins sending out workers at, say, generation 4 or 5, and it takes months (not years) to establish the next generation, then the rapid engagement of whole provinces, countries, and regions can be had within one twenty-year cycle.

To summarize, here are three challenges that need to be addressed:

  1. We need to think less about ‘how many generations down’ and think more about ‘is each generation going as wide as possible?’ If a movement has one stream that goes deep and three streams that are ‘sterile’ or who have only a few ‘children’ who never reproduce, it will not become a significant percentage of the population. At the same time, it doesn’t mean each leader has to mentor tens or hundreds. If each leader mentors, say, six, three of whom mentor six, a movement can multiply rapidly.
  2. We need to think about how we speed up the next generation at each turn (i.e., months not years for leaders to begin mentoring their own ‘3’). By keeping all leaders in coaching relationships with each other, spiritual maturity can be further grown over time. I didn’t wait until I knew everything I know now (at 50) to have children. Walking the path together from an early stage is better than waiting to walk at all.
  3. We need to intentionally speed up the sending of leaders to nearby unengaged areas (the next district over). Again, if believers in District A wait until they have reached 100% of the people in District A before sending to District B, the whole world will end up waiting forever.

This article was originally published by Justin Long on his website justinlong.org