Monday, May 18, 2009

Mission Trends: People Group Movements

A friend recently asked if I would be interested in teaching cross-cultural studies for their organization. He told me that they were going through a strategic shift in their outreach…moving away from “church planting” to “establishing people group movements.”

A few weeks later I heard of a missionary in Russia who has been very successful in doing Business As Mission (BAM) but now was being forced out by his sending agency as they wanted all of their people to focus on establishing people group movements (let’s call it PGM strategy). What is interesting is a few years earlier this organization was at the forefront of BAM strategy.

My reaction to PGM is twofold. First, is the inconsistency of mission strategy. Like the proverbial BB in a barrel, it seems that the mission community is forever bouncing around a new trend and declaring it THE strategy in reaching the world with the Gospel. For years the strategy of Storying (chronologically telling the “story” from Creation to the Cross) was presented as the best way to reach the world with message of Christ. Recently BAM made it’s way to the forefront of mission strategy as a way to enter into closed access countries. In between all these strategies there has been an emphasis on the 10/40 window, power-encounter methods, saturation church planting philosophy and adopting people groups. The latest trend is now Short-Cycle Church planting and PGM, but given the track record of trends one wonders how long these will last until something new and more promising comes to the forefront. Each of these trends has been helpful, in broad terms, within missiological thinking, but the question for me is are we chasing trends to meet a need or merely changing tactics in search of an effective strategy? I suggest, for many, we are merely chasing the wind.

Secondly, I have an adverse reaction to the notion that man can create a PGM. Some things are clearly a work of the Holy Spirit. To assume that through a strategy people will come to Christ in mass is a bit arrogant. (And now I revert to my same old anthropological song and dance). The way most people come to accept salvation through Christ is through building a relationship; the best way to build a relationship is knowing the culture of people and building a level of trust.

From an anthropological perspective, PGM usually happen in societies and cultures that are already group focused and generally, though not exclusively, through the network of family (caste or clan). Societies that are highly individualistic may get caught up in a movement but only as it meets the needs of that individual, not because of conformity to a group. Either way, PGM is a God thing and cannot be a strategy of mission, though understanding the dynamics of culture can at least help one understand how best to approach individuals as well as groups.