As much as we want to see a multiplication movement today, most of us are unable to envision what that might look like. We are familiar with the status quo, the existing models of church that are largely focused on group gatherings for worship and teaching. To begin to clarify our vision, we can benefit from a closer look at church history. There is no better example of a successful church multiplication movement in the West than the Methodist movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I believe it serves as an indispensable paradigm for how we can multiply today’s church.
Some of you reading this may enjoy lists. Personally, I am not a fan of lists because they may wrongly imply a specific sequence or order of events. Others will assume they are comprehensive, definitively covering all that needs to be said on a subject. For the sake of this simplicity, however, I have developed a list of the six essential marks of the Wesleyan revival, marks that have some correlation to the marks of other renewal movements.
These six marks provide a genetic structure—much like the DNA in a living organism—mutually working together to create the movement dynamics that led to the Wesleyan revival. As you read through them, think of them as an interconnected ecosystem rather than focusing on the individual parts. And I want to emphasize that this list is neither authoritative or comprehensive. Rather, it is designed to offer you a simple and accessible snapshot of the key elements that made the Wesleyan revival such a success. As you read them, consider how they might be applied today.
Movements begin as people’s lives are changed by a fresh encounter with the living God. Movements often begin with a catalytic leader like John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, or William Seymour whose life has been touched by God. Sometimes the change is a conversion experience. At other times it is a personal renewal that results in a radical commitment to follow Christ. Movements are not primarily about numbers or slogans, but about changed lives that lead to broader cultural transformation. In renewal movements, there is usually a tipping point where the transformation occurring in the lives of individuals as they embrace a vision for renewal begins to spread like wildfire, leading to broader social and cultural change.
Movements become contagious when ordinary people share their faith with others. One of the reasons a movement grows and spreads is because it has a simple, life-changing message that ordinary people can easily understand and share with others. Revival can spread as people rediscover the simplicity of the gospel or an essential aspect of the Christian faith that inspires and mobilizes them to action. A common feature of these revival movements is an invitation to commit or join a cause, which is effective in helping recruit others to join the movement. In Christian movements, this growth often results from a renewed passion to share the gospel with others, and this passion spreads from one person to another like a contagion. During the Wesleyan revival, while Wesley and other leaders were effective in preaching to large crowds, it was ordinary men and women who were most effective in spreading the Christian message across England and into North America, resulting in the faith of millions of new believers.
The Holy Spirit
Movements emphasize the person and work of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Fresh encounters with the Holy Spirit create a renewed sense of spiritual vitality among the followers of Christ which leads to personal and corporate renewal. More specifically, the reciprocity of the Word and the Spirit interacting together offers a potent mix that renews peoples’ faith and compels them outward to engage the world in mission. The Word of God becomes the foundational authority and guide for life, while the Holy Spirit fills and empowers people to live holy lives and to share their faith with others.
Movements develop systems for discipleship and spiritual growth. This frequently looks like some form of small group structure to facilitate ongoing spiritual growth and commitment. As he preached to large crowds, Wesley quickly discovered that preaching alone was not enough; people needed ongoing support, community, and structure to help them continue on the spiritual journey. To remedy this, he developed a holistic ecosystem designed to help people grow at every stage of their journey. This involved an interlocking discipleship group structure. Each of these structures gathered people into groups of different sizes focused on different aspects of the discipleship process in order to help individuals grow in their faith. There were also spiritual practices that undergirded and reinforced the entire discipleship system.
Movements have an apostolic impulse—drawn from the models and methods of the early church—that empowers and mobilizes all of God’s people for mission. John Wesley and the early Methodists were not trying to be innovative or original. They drew their inspiration from the faith and spirituality of the early church, especially the church of the first two centuries (the pre-Constantine era). Methodism has been referred to as a lay apostolic movement within the Church of England, which alludes to the recovery of ministry for every Christian believer, not just the ordained leadership (see George Hunter, The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement [Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2011] 10). The apostolic impulse of the early church to spread the gospel and plant new churches moved the early Methodists to develop ways to empower and release every member of the body of Christ to use their gifts and talents for God. Wesley personally worked to empower thousands of laity, many who later became leaders of the movement. These ordinary, non-ordained Christian men and women became the foundation of the next generation as the movement spread across the Western world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Movements have an outward missional focus that naturally leads to the multiplication of disciples and new communities of faith. Movements don’t become movements by naval gazing, but by looking outward, by inviting people in, and by growing and multiplying its mission and influence. There is a natural dynamism and excitement among the people that makes them contagious, helping the movement spread widely and organically from one person to another. We can describe the growth of movements as organic because it tends to happen naturally, rather than being forced by the leadership at the top level. Movements look outward and grow and multiply as people’s lives are changed, they begin making disciples, and then start new ministries and communities of faith to facilitate the ongoing growth of more individuals.
This is an excerpt from Marks of a Movement: What the Church Today Can Learn from the Wesleyan Revival by Winfield Bevins. Pre-order the book from our store today!
Marks of a Movement calls us back to the disciple-making mandate of the church through the timeless wisdom of John Wesley and the Methodist movement. With a love for history and a passion for today’s church, Winfield helps us reimagine church multiplication in a way that focuses on making and multiplying disciples for the twenty-first century.