The Five Characteristics of Movements

By Ryan Shaw

It is common to hear about “movements” today. We may refer to our campus ministry, local church network or denomination as a movement.

We want to see “movements to Christ” among unreached people groups and rapid reproducing “church planting movements” where today there are few disciples. Our hearts long for a “movement” across the body of Christ prioritizing the great commission as it was intended.

God is building true movements around the world but we need to understand what they are. As we are partnering with God in the “mission movement” it is essential to grasp what it means to see “the great commission” as a movement.

A professor of mine from Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Bobby Clinton, has studied movements for many years. He not only studies Christian movements, but secular movements, religious movements of all kinds, historical movements, social movements, etc.

His conclusion is that movements have similar characteristics no matter their type. There are commonalities that exist whether the movements surround an ideology or a ministry.

There are five common commitments made on the part of those involved in a movement. These apply the same to a movement like communism or a movement seeking to outlaw abortion.

We want to understand and embrace these five commitments as we work to see the “mission movement” developed, matured and spread across the body of Christ globally.

Clinton defines a movement as a “groundswell of people committed to a person or ideals and characterized by the following important commitments.”

1) Commitment to Personal Involvement
2) Commitment to Persuade Others to Join
3) Commitment to the Beliefs and Ideals of the Movement
4) Commitment to Participate In a Non-Bureaucratic, Cell-Group Organization
5) Commitment to Endure Opposition and Misunderstanding

The movement toward seeing the fulfillment of the great commission in this generation requires each of these five commitments being internalized by those pursuing it. This means prioritizing the great commission to its rightful place and being committed as an active voice on its behalf.

We don’t participate in movements by standing on the sideline. We are either in or not in as there is very little middle ground.

The Christian movement started in the book of Acts had each of these five in full effect. Those exalting Jesus as Lord are part of an incredible movement with committed roots. It is difficult to claim to be committed believers yet withhold ourselves from the Christian movement as a whole.

Like these five characteristics, Jesus calls us to a life of personal commitment and potentially embracing difficulty in order to follow Him in His movement.

In order to work alongside Him as He works out His purposes in the earth, we need to be wholehearted in commitment to these characteristics.

The most effective movements have been through those who not only bought into these five characteristics, but who did so with great zeal and sacrifice.

2 thoughts on “The Five Characteristics of Movements”

  1. A good start. Be nice to flesh out the difference between a movement and a ministry/church/church mission statement. e.g. The missional movement, the house church movement, the church planting movement, are not the same as a single church ministry that might view itself as a movement just because it has the spread of the Gospel in it’s mission statement. Or, is that not the case?


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