Over 1,035 Church Planting Movements (rapidly multiplying groups that surpass four generations of church planting in multiple streams) have been documented. Together, they comprise over 74 million believers in more than 4.3 million churches. When people hear this, they often ask: “How are they counted? Are those numbers credible?”
To start with, why do movements count at all? First, movements emphasize growth, and they want to see if they are growing. Second, counting can highlight problems (identified by a lack of growth) that need to be addressed. Third, they want to know if they are making progress in reaching the lost. Fourth, some movements use this counting for reports to partners for prayer, projects, and funding. In general, three methods are used for surveying movement numbers. Let’s briefly look at them and their counterparts in surveying American churches.
Method 1: Some movements or pre-movements are small enough that all groups, leaders, and even members can be known and documented by a handful of people on a spreadsheet. This is similar in practice to the “membership rolls” of smaller US denominations.
Method 2: Some movements are too large to list everyone. Individual streams, however, can be small enough to do so. The streams add together their numbers to derive totals for the whole movement. This process is similar to the way large US denominations (with churches divided into districts) count their numbers.
Method 3: Some movements, organized in the millions, are equivalent to any national denomination. Because of their size, they have the resources to take a regular census. A research team physically visits most leaders and completes a survey, gathering quantitative and qualitative data. This results in numbers that are accurate, precise, and frequently updated.
Are the counts reliable? To answer that, we need to consider the various reasons why someone might look at a number and respond, “That’s got to be wrong!”
Mistakes of definition: Misunderstandings can happen when a number or definition is not explained. As with all research involving numbers, it is critical to know the definitions.
Accuracy, precision, and rounding: A number can be truthful and accurate yet imprecise. 15 million and 15,203,368 are both accurate and truthful; one is simply rounded. Constant changes make a number that is both accurate and precise nearly impossible.
Exaggeration: Actually, movements often intentionally undercount — by not reporting less adequately researched streams, or by reducing the total number by a certain percentage.
Deception: To avoid this danger, reports from less visible movements are checked for confirmation by varied outsiders, multiple reports over the years, and reports from other nearby movements.
In conclusion, movements count their numbers in the same way that most American denominations do, and the numbers are equally credible. All glory to God for the way he is growing his Church around the world!