Over 1% of the World: A Macroanalysis of 1,967 Movements to Christ

by Justin Long

For over 25 years, I have been involved in mission research, working mostly on global documentation of unreached places and peoples, and efforts to reach them. During that time, I have worked with a variety of projects, from the second edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia in the late 1990s to my current work documenting movements.

For over a decade, I have met various people in the missiological community who have talked about rapidly multiplying Church Planting Movements. Until 2015, most of those familiar with the global situation thought there were perhaps as many as 100 active movements. During the 2010s, out of curiosity, I began collecting case studies and quantitative data on movements. This effort gathered momentum in advance of meetings in 2017 to discuss the formation of what would become the 24:14 network. Several advocates encouraged others to share information beyond their own networks and movement(s) for the first time. I aggregated the data while adhering to the security and confidentiality requirements of each data submitter.

By the time of the meetings, we had documented nearly 1,300 engagements and 600 movements. These totals were significantly more than what most expected and raised the aspirations of the meeting participants. The evidence of the geographic and ethnographic spread of movements throughout the world’s clusters and affinity blocks encouraged many that the possibility of “a movement team for every people and place” might become possible in the near future. Since that time, I have continued to collect and share updated data on movements around the world in order to encourage practitioners and provide information on the remaining gaps.

Let me state the obvious fairly clearly: we only gather data to document the total global numbers and regional trends and identify gaps. I do not claim credit for these movements. Further, much of what movements share with me is provided in confidence and is very sensitive. I lead this research effort and hold this movement data in trust for the 24:14 network. Obviously, various movements and teams do much of the research. Globally, a research team and a leadership team help make decisions on how to use and protect this data. We do not share or publish information below the regional level (e.g., at the country or people group level). We point interested people toward the various regional networks, which internally determine processes for connecting people and sharing information, based on the security requirements of the region’s situation.

Families of Movements

Movement data comes to me from various networks. We don’t just accept any report published on the web or delivered to me. Our network examines new reporting organizations to confirm their reliability. The movements whose data we trust and use have webs of accountability and reporting.

In all, there are 40 different “families” or networks of movements. Some are quite large, numbering in the millions; others are quite small, numbering a few thousand. No network makes up more than half of the total. Some are centered on specific regions of the world, while others are multi-regional and even multi-continental in scope. Nearly all the movement families, no matter how widely spread, have “concentrations of focus” on specific peoples or specific religions. Outside these concentrations, the methods they have developed seem less effective. Movements focused on former Muslim radicals, for example, are less effective among agnostic or secularized non-religious people.

Global Totals

As part of the 24:14 effort, all the organizations or movements report on their work using a scale, the CPM Continuum, which measures the level of activity of an existing team. This scale ranges from “1” (a single team just getting started) to “5” (a full movement), to “6” (local leadership), and “7” (movements that send workers to start new movements).

Teams report their efforts by a specific place (country, province, city) and, typically, people group, people cluster or language. Some agencies, due to their security requirements, may only report activity in a specific country (e.g., Austria, Australia, or Armenia). Others might report activity among a specific language group or cluster (such as “Turks,” or “Kurds,” or “Chinese students”). Still, others might report activity coded with Joshua Project’s people group ID codes (PEO1-3).

All the reported data is aggregated and coded, then totaled to the regional level. This data is useful for telling us where gaps in effort likely exist. But to actually understand the scope, the “national movement” totals above may be more useful.

We count engagements as a team or group of teams focused on starting a movement among a specific people group, cluster, or language, at any level on the CPM Continuum (1 to 7). Counting this way, we know of 5,475 engagements.

An engagement is counted as a movement when it consistently sees four generations of disciples gathered in churches, in multiple streams. Although not every movement has a minimum measure of total disciples, many use the 1,000 disciple minimum. Even if they don’t use that measure, four generations in multiple streams means a movement would normally be close to or greater than 1,000 disciples. Counting this way, we know of 1,967 movements.

Once movements reach the four-generation threshold, they tend to grow consistently until they reach larger sizes (around 100,000 and into the millions). At this point, they may plateau or shift into starting new movements (if they have not already begun doing so). While many teams have engaged, failed to see anything start, and returned home (I do not track that data), once a movement reaches four generations, it rarely ends. I have found only 18 examples of such endings (which I have, in the past, referred to as “fizzles”). In each of these, the disciples in the movements have either transitioned into more traditional churches or gone on to start new movements. So even in the few cases where movements have ended, seemingly, the growth has not been lost.

Based on what movements have reported, there are currently at least 114 million disciples in 8.6 million churches. I must emphasize our awareness that what we have documented so far is limited. Some movements report yearly, while others report less frequently. Some movements intentionally report smaller numbers than they have measured or only report on streams that have reached a particular size. The reports of some movements have been delayed by turmoil in their region, so the number we are using is a year or two old. Our numbers, therefore, constitute a conservative “floor,” not an estimate of the “ceiling.” We are aware of some movements that we have not included in our numbers because we haven’t been able to fully document them. We hear tantalizing rumors of growth that still await adequate documentation. More is happening than anyone knows; only God sees the full scope.

Nevertheless, the numbers we have are inspiring:

  • More than 1 out of 100 people in our world today are part of a rapidly-multiplying movement to Christ.
  • The number of house churches in movements exceeds the number of organized churches in all other denominations in the world’s Christian traditions (obviously, the average size of these churches is different).
  • The numbers of house churches and disciples are growing exponentially.
  • Some movements are starting to plant new movements, which we expect will lead to even more exponential growth.

Some Movements are Big, but Most are Fairly Small

The average size of most individual movements (bounded by people cluster and country) is 56,000 people. Due to small disparities in the way movements report disciples, comparing some movements to other movements isn’t always “apples to apples.” However, generally speaking, most movements are in the size range of 1,000 to 10,000 people; only a handful of movements have more than a million disciples in them.

A better approach is to look more broadly: within the 40 “families” of movements, eight families account for over one million people each. Another eight account for over 100,000 each. The remaining 22 each account for fewer than 100,000 people.

With 114 million people in 8.6 million churches, the average size of a house church is about 16. This seems to be a fairly common average in countries. Some of the larger movements, in slightly more open countries, do see house groups grow into larger churches with as many as 200. In some smaller movements in very dangerous places, constrained by security issues and even by local ordinances on how many can gather at one time, the average size is smaller. Both larger and smaller-sized churches are seemingly less common; an average size of 12 to 16 is the typical anecdotal report from most movement practitioners. Much like we see in the New Testament, various groupings of these churches are bound together by relational and leadership lines.

Movements Can be Found in All UN Regions

Unsurprisingly, most of the world’s movements are found in Asia: 55 in Central Asia, 62 in East Asia, 267 in South Asia, 167 in Southeast Asia, and 232 in West Asia. Together, these represent the vast majority of the disciples in movements: over 86 million. While this is an enormous number, it represents just slightly more than 2% of Asia’s total population of 4.8 billion (and it is also unevenly distributed, which leaves some massive gaps). While I am pleased to see these enormous movements, I also recognize they are a drop in the bucket compared to the need.

The second largest grouping of movements is found in Africa: 213 in East Africa, 121 in Middle Africa, 127 in North Africa, 22 in South Africa, and 216 in West Africa. Together, these represent over 18 million disciples. These numbers make up slightly more than 1% of Africa’s total population of 1.26 billion.

Europe has the third largest grouping of movements: 60 in Eastern Europe, 54 in Northern Europe, 56 in Southern Europe, and 42 in Western Europe. Together, they have just over 4 million disciples. Many of these movements are among diaspora peoples. Very few of these movements are large; most are a few thousand disciples, with a few numbering over 10,000. All operate very much under the radar. They total about half of one percent of Europe’s total population of 742 million.

South and Central America combined have a handful of movements: 10 in the Caribbean, 23 in Central America, and 30 in South America. Together they comprise just over a million disciples. This makes them far less than one percent of South and Central America’s total population of 693 million.

North America has 35 movements, numbering a bit over half a million people. Most of the movements are very small groups among diaspora peoples. This constitutes less than one percent of North America’s 382 million.

Finally, there are a half-dozen movements in the Pacific, comprising about 70,000 people. This also makes up about one-tenth of one percent of the Pacific region’s 45 million people.

Over ¾ of Countries Have Movement Engagements

While we don’t reveal specifics of engagements, we do note that out of 240 countries, 50 are unengaged. Out of 43 countries that are less than 8% Christian, just three are unengaged. Broadly speaking, movements have been shown to happen in every kind of place, but movement practitioners are inclined to work in largely non-Christian places.

Movements Have Mostly Engaged Muslims and Hindus

It is somewhat challenging to estimate the number of disciples with a background in other religions. Many movements end up affecting more than one religious group, and it’s nearly impossible to know the distribution of focus. Nevertheless, I have estimated which movements are “majority focused” on a specific religion (e.g., Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism). Of the 114 million disciples, at least 55 million come from a Muslim background, and at least 40 million come from a Hindu background. There is some growing fruit amongst those from Buddhist backgrounds, as well as from non-religious and culturally Christian backgrounds, but this is far smaller by comparison.

Movements Tend to be Found in Rural Areas but are Expanding into Urban Ones

We’ve only just begun to fine-tune the amount of information we have on where movements are engaging within specific countries, provinces, and districts. Most of what we know is very broad. It’s difficult to discern what percentage of movements are in urban areas, and what percentage are in rural areas.

By examining the historical data we have in the database and in the collected case studies, it appears the majority of movements began in rural areas and continue to operate mostly in those situations. Even when they are present in towns and cities, many of these areas have a rural flavor.

Nevertheless, movements are more and more reporting intentionally engaging peoples in cities and seeing fruit there. The idea that movement methodologies can’t work in cities is being challenged in many places. Movements like those among the Bhojpuri in India as well as other Indian movements, a variety of movements in Africa, and various movements in Eurasia are engaging many people groups and geographical areas within the major cities of those nations. Some of those cities have a more rural feel to them, but many are megacities. In addition, much of the work among Muslims is taking place in cities. At the same time, while the data is not comprehensive, it seems not many efforts focus on cities as a whole (versus focusing on specific peoples or segments within certain cities). This is an area for development in the future.

Movements Currently Engage Over 1,000 People Groups and 2,000 Languages

As with geographic locations, we are just beginning to gather good information on all the peoples and languages being engaged. From our limited data, we know of 1,140 people groups that are engaged, and 2,600 languages in different countries. This means that if Kazakhs in Germany, Kazakhstan, and China were all engaged, it would count as “3” toward the total number of engagements. We also know of at least 469 provinces that have movement-focused teams. We have just recently started gathering this dataset, so we expect this reported number to grow significantly as more data becomes available. Again, this data should be understood as the “floor,” not the “ceiling.”

Virtually All of the Joshua Project Affinity Blocs are Engaged

We have a better view of people group engagement when we look more broadly. Joshua Project has categorized the world’s 16,000 people groups into 272 clusters, which in turn are grouped into 16 affinity blocs. Fifteen of the 16 have movements. The sixteenth is the Deaf, and while there are certainly deaf disciples in movements, as of this writing, we don’t know of movements specifically engaging this group.

The three affinity blocs with the greatest number of engagements are the Arab World, South Asian peoples, and Sub-Saharan peoples. The reason is fairly simple: people trying to start movements have worked the longest in these three blocs. Many movement efforts in other blocs have sprung out of the initial fruit in these blocs.

82% of Joshua Project’s People Clusters are Engaged

Of Joshua Project’s 272 clusters, 223 are presently engaged with movement efforts. This doesn’t necessarily represent a fully adequate engagement yet, since many of these clusters number in the millions of people. Efforts in these locations should be undertaken in collaboration with existing fieldwork, which in many places is being done by near-culture workers.

Conclusion: Movements as a Focus for the Future of Missions

We have been gathering information about each movement’s beginning date and its growth in five-year increments. About three-quarters of all known movements have reported this data. This analysis has led us to the conclusion that the number of movements is currently growing incrementally, not exponentially. However, unsurprisingly given the methodology, the number of churches in these movements has been growing exponentially. Generally, over the past 35 years, the number of churches has doubled about every three years; between 1990 and 2025, there have been four points by which the number of churches has grown by over ten times.

Rapidly multiplying movements to Christ have been sowing seed and steadily growing, out of the limelight, in the spiritually darkest places of the world, for nearly three decades. While they remain a small percentage of the world, they are not insignificant. Disciples in movements make up over 1% of our world’s population, and many movements have emerged in some of the most spiritually hungry regions. We know of 1,967 movements today, but another 3,500 teams are steadily and passionately working to catalyze movements in their own spheres. Out of those, over 1,600 have seen multi-generational fruit, and are growing rapidly toward the four-generation threshold. Within the next five to 10 years, we could easily see the current 1% become 2% of the world, and almost certainly significantly more within specific areas of focus.

Movements are not a passing fad but a significant topic for the future of our missiological discourse. There is much to be excited about, but still much to be learned. As the Body of Christ, we must continue to collaborate and refine our research in order to steward this knowledge responsibly.

About the author: Justin has spent the last 30+ years developing and contributing to various missions efforts including: the World Christian Encyclopedia, the strategicnetwork.org, the Ethné network, and the Movements Database. His research findings and missions articles have been published in several places, and currently publishes a weekly newsletter at justinlong.org

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