by Robin Smith
Our family spent 10 busy but unfruitful years on the mission field. Then in 2011, we attended disciple making trainings sponsored by our agency. The trainings changed our paradigms, our missional efforts, and our lives. We began taking steps to implement an approach now commonly known as DMM (Disciple Making Movements). Dave Coles and Stan Parks use the following definition for DMMs:
“…a process [which] focuses on disciples engaging the lost to find persons of peace who will gather their family or circle of influence, to begin a Discovery Group. This is an inductive group Bible study process from Creation to Christ, learning directly from God through his scripture. The journey toward Christ usually takes several months. During this process, seekers are encouraged to obey what they learn and share the Bible stories with others. When possible, they start new Discovery Groups with their family or friends. At the end of this initial study process, new believers are baptized. They then begin a several-month Discovery Bible Study (DBS) church-planting phase during which they are formed into a church. This process disciples the Discovery Group into a commitment to Christ, leading to new churches and new leaders who then reproduce the process.”[i]
Over the next decade, through prayer and partnership with two local coworkers, the Lord rapidly multiplied Discovery Groups which then became house churches, all among lost people within Unreached People Groups (UPGs). We currently know of 1.5 million disciples baptized, forming hundreds of thousands of churches within UPG contexts.
One of the consistent themes of this work has been prayer, especially prayer that includes listening to the Lord. So we invite all our brothers and sisters to join us in prayer, especially related to 12 common characteristics[ii] of Disciple Making Movements.
Lord, lead us as we pray!
1. Extraordinary Prayer
In every known movement around the world, prayer plays a vital role. Prayer must be the foundation for any plan for reaching a people group. Thus, the health of the messenger’s personal prayer life is crucial. The new church and its leaders will imitate the prayer life they see in the messenger. And, in a very practical sense, they will do what they see being done, not do what they don’t see being done. If we are not praying strategically, listening in prayer, obeying what we hear in prayer, and getting others to pray as well, then we are likely limiting the new church’s impact through prayer, too.
- Pray for God to enable laborers in the harvest fields to walk in intimate conversational relationship with him, so they bear much fruit that remains, for his glory (John 15:4–8).
- Pray that God’s people will not grow weary in doing good: in this case, the good work of prayer (Matthew 7:7–11).
- Pray that God’s people will have his heart for the lost for whom they pray. This is Jesus’ pattern (Matthew 9:36–38).
- Pray for God’s people to pray boldly, as commanded in Luke 18:1–8.
2. Authority of Scripture
In every known movement around the world, the Bible is the unquestioned authority and guiding force for the disciples – concerning everyday life, doctrine, and policy. This is true even in non-literate cultures, where the Bible is received and shared through oral storytelling. It’s also the source they turn to when people in their communities question their authority to baptize others, lead communion, or facilitate a Discovery Group.
- Pray that all who labor in the harvest will base their lives on Jesus and his Word, being obedient doers, not forgetful hearers or hearers only (James 1:19–25).
- Pray for God’s Word to reach every people group in their own heart language. Pray that the Word would spread rapidly and be honored among all, because God’s Word is the source to thoroughly equip disciples for every good work (2 Thessalonians 3:1; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
- Pray for laborers and disciples living and working among least-reached peoples to have their ears and hearts open to the Lord’s Word, so that when he shows them things to change, stop doing or start doing, they will obey (Hebrews 4:12).
3. Abundant Gospel Sowing
In every known movement around the world, messengers and first disciples generously tell others about Jesus. They share boldly about Jesus and his goodness with their families, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. They also demonstrate his goodness by praying for healing of sicknesses, restoration of families, deliverance from demons, thriving crops, or whatever else is needed in the situation, inviting the Lord to tangibly show his loving heart to people in need.
- Pray for God’s children living and working among the world’s least-reached peoples, to not grow weary in generously sowing gospel seed among the lost (Matthew 13:3–8; 2 Corinthians 9:6).
- Pray for God’s Spirit to enable all who labor in the harvest to boldly witness – in season and out of season (Acts 4:18–20, 29–30; 2 Timothy 4:2).
- Pray for priority to be given to proclaiming the good news (Luke 15:3–7).
4. Intentional Gathering
In every known movement around the world, lost people are discipled in groups even before the movement begins, usually before they fully respond to the gospel. Why? It is more effective to gather-then-win than to win-then-gather. The fastest way we’ve seen the gospel spread is along preexisting relational lines, among groups that had formed organically long before the messenger came along: families, neighbors, classmates, and co-workers.
- Pray for disciples of Jesus to reach out to groups of people, no matter how small, instead of just individuals (Luke 10:5–7). Group decisions fit the common biblical pattern (Acts 10:24, 33, 44, 48; 16:14–15; 31–33) and provide strength (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
- Thank God that where two or three gather in his name, Jesus is there with them (Matthew 18:19–20).
- Pray that disciples of Jesus will boldly ask lost people if anyone in their household or community of friends would also like to hear good news (Acts 16:31–34).
- Ask God to show his children (including us) who in their lives might like to be discipled as a group, no matter how small.
5. Every Member a Minister
Movements around the world emphasize and encourage the priesthood of all believers. Every follower of Jesus has gifts that he or she is expected to use, to strengthen others and extend the impact of God’s kingdom here on earth. Each person in a house church is affirmed in their identity as a disciple: a person who makes disciples who make more disciples of Jesus.
- Pray that disciples of Jesus in unreached places will obey his command to make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). This task is not just for a select few.
- Pray that disciples of Jesus in unreached places would boldly exercise the gifts God has given them (1 Peter 4:10; Ephesians 4:11–12).
- Pray for the hundreds of thousands of “Paul-Timothy” relationships currently existing in unreached places, among both men and women. Pray that Timothys would quickly become Pauls, and Pauls would quickly become Barnabases (1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 9:27; 11:25–26).
6. Bi-vocational Lay Leaders
Movements around the world rely on lay leaders who work normal jobs in addition to the work of ministry. This helps to prevent leadership shortages caused by relying on seminary-trained or highly educated leaders. Spiritual leaders are developed through on-the-job training rather than institutional learning. Movements are also able to be more independent from outside funds when their leaders continue to do the work they’ve always done or choose to find work that will bring them into contact with a greater number of lost people.
- Pray for God to multiply Christ-following leaders in every time zone (1 Thessalonians 2:4–12).
- Pray for God to give energy and strength to his children (Psalm 29:11).
- Pray for God to give wisdom and diligence to his children as they do various kinds of work (Acts 18:3; Colossians 3:23).
7. House Churches
Most of the churches in disciple making movements are small, reproducible fellowships of 10–30 members. They meet in homes, stores, coffee shops, or under trees – the normal gathering places in their societies. Many small fellowships dispersed throughout a city or community have a greater impact than a large, centralized group. In this intimate setting, accountability happens naturally, and each person’s spiritual gifts can be discerned and exercised for the good of all.
- Pray for disciple makers to stop inviting lost friends and neighbors to Christian activities, and to instead plant God’s kingdom within households of lost people, as Peter did in Acts 10:22–48.
- Pray for God to multiply and strengthen house churches (simple churches) throughout UPGs, as we see in Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 2.
- Pray Romans 16:17–20 for house churches all over the world.
8. Disciples Making Disciples
Biologically, shepherds can’t produce sheep. Sheep produce sheep. Disciple making movements apply this biological truth spiritually. In the over 1,800 movements that exist today, local followers of Jesus (simple sheep) actively disciple their lost friends and family, planting new churches. How? When lost people become followers of Jesus, they quickly obey his command to produce more sheep. Thus, more laborers are found in the harvest.
- Pray for God’s people all over the world to follow the Good Shepherd’s example and step out of their comfort zone to pursue lost sheep (Luke 15:3–7).
- Ask God to forgive us, his Body, for relegating his disciple-making command and promise (Matthew 28:18–20) to trained and/or paid professionals. Pray for disciples of Jesus in both reached and unreached places, that we will all believe his promises and personally obey his command.
- Pray 1 Peter 2:24–25 for the UPGs of the world.
9. Sense of Urgency (Rapid Reproduction)
In movements, maintaining focus on the task is essential. Jesus said the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:35–38). He then instructed his disciples to pray for more laborers to bring in the harvest. Jesus told his disciples, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work” (John 9:4, NLT). His disciples today still work with that same urgency to fulfill the work he has given us: to make disciples of all peoples.
- Ask God to forgive us, his Body, for getting distracted from the harvest. We spend most of our time, energy and money where the harvest is already being harvested. Meanwhile, Matthew 9:37 remains true for 42.5% of the people groups of the world (joshuaproject.net).
- Ask God to give his children (both those living in reached places and those living among the unreached) boldness and courage to sow seed broadly, not sparingly (Matthew 13:3–8; 2 Corinthians 9:6).
- Ask God to raise up many disciples in unreached places who will follow the example set in Mark 5:19.
- Ask God for Matthew 24:14 to finally be fulfilled in our lifetime.
10. Simple Church
In the New Testament, being a church didn’t involve special buildings, seminary-trained leaders, or institutions. The church was (and is intended to still be) a group of Jesus’ followers who base their lives on Jesus and his Word. This involves encouraging each other to live lives of worship to him, witnessing to the world, baptizing new followers, teaching and encouraging each other to obey all of Jesus’ commands, and sharing to meet needs. This simplicity gives younger family members the freedom to facilitate discussion of the Word of God, and gives brand new followers of Christ the freedom to equally share thoughts and discoveries as they study the Word together.
- Pray for the Spirit to work in every gathering of followers of Jesus around the globe, that Jesus’ light might shine brightly throughout the earth (Luke 11:13).
- Pray that the house churches in movements would follow the example of the first followers in Acts 2:42.
- Pray for God’s protection over the churches that have started through movements, that they will continue to find unity in humility (Philippians 2:1–4).
11. Enduring through Suffering
Disciple making movements often emerge in places where following Christ is costly and may lead to suffering or even death. Followers of Christ understand that in the world we will have tribulation, but Jesus has overcome the world. Those who bear fruit are pruned, so they can become more fruitful for God’s glory. Often, even before they are baptized, they have been trained in Jesus’ great and hard promises about what it means to be a disciple. That way, when they do take that step of obedience, they have already counted the cost. They know what they’re getting into, which is part of what allows them to keep pushing ahead and making disciples when hard times inevitably come.
- Pray that Jesus’ promise in Luke 22:28–30 would ring loudly in the hearts of all disciples suffering persecution today.
- Pray for God’s children to endure and have courage to persevere through trials (Hebrews 12:1–3).
- Pray James 1:2–18 for all who are currently suffering for the sake of the Name.
12. Signs and Wonders often Accompany Proclamation of God’s Word
All disciples of Jesus are commanded to proclaim the kingdom of God in the authority of Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20). In current movements, as followers of Jesus boldly proclaim the gospel, the Lord very often confirms the message with signs and wonders. This is one way God convicts lost people to believe in him (Deuteronomy 4:34–35). They also get to experience, for the first time, the Father’s great heart, as he relieves them of their suffering or delivers them from the oppression of demons. He’s not just a God who demands obedience. He truly is love.
- Ask for followers of Jesus in unreached places to boldly pray for manifestation of God’s kingdom, including signs and wonders accompanying gospel proclamation (Mark 16:20).
- Pray for God’s children to be bold enough to ask for the “impossible,” so that many will believe (Matthew 17:20; John 14:12).
We praise God that through prayer, every believer can play an important role in the advance of God’s kingdom among the unreached. Whether or not you are directly involved in Disciple Making Movements, by praying regularly through these 12 common characteristics of DMMs you can participate in this gospel proclamation strategy among the unreached. Working together, we can be part of seeing the great multitude worshiping the Lamb (Revelation 7:9)!
About the Author: Robin Smith and her family first moved to India one week before 9/11. After several years of seeing very little fruit birthed from among the lost, the Smiths changed to a Disciple Making Movement (DMM) ministry strategy. The resulting numbers of new followers of Christ from Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh backgrounds surprised experts, both within and outside of the mission world. The Smiths serve with Beyond (beyond.org).
This article was originally published in the January 2023 edition of Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Used here with permission.