Pastors and missionary leaders often ask me some form of the following question: How do I move the people I lead into a movement strategy? Recently, a pastor of a relatively successful church of 350 people in North America asked me this question. My response was not exactly what he expected. He wanted a 5-step strategy that would take him from his current reality into movement fruit. Instead, I explained to him that we are talking about the difference between two cultures. There is a traditional church culture and a movement culture. The fruit we are seeing in our movements, which is now about two million baptisms, is a result of a movement culture, not merely a movement strategy. There are strategic elements, but if you take our strategy and lay that over a traditional church culture, you won’t get movement fruit.

Understanding what culture is and how it works is not easy because culture is the way things are done without anyone ever talking about them. I often tell the story of two fish, one old and one young. The old fish asked the young fish what he thought of the water. The young fish responded, “What is water?” Culture is the water that we swim in without any actual knowledge that it’s water. It’s just part of who we are and how we do things.

Culture is a shared way of life by a group that forms the way they behave, what they believe, and what they value. This way of life is not overtly taught or discussed, but instead it is performed as a part of their day-to-day life together and therefore, the unspoken behaviors, beliefs, and values are passed down from the mature to the newly initiated through modeling and repetition.

Therefore, to talk about moving from a traditional way of being church to a movement way of being the church is to say that we are shifting the culture. We are changing the unspoken rules of how things are done from one to another.

Sociologists and anthropologists have identified culture elements that influence the way that culture works. Four of the most basic are:

• Language
• Stories
• Rituals
• Institutions

Let’s talk about each and illustrate the way that movement culture in our experience differs from a traditional church culture. Please note, I have spent most of my life worshipping in a traditional church context. I’m thankful for the ways that God works in this setting. What I’m saying is not meant to judge how God uses his people there. I’m only trying to bring clarity to the differences.

Language. In a movement culture, we speak differently than we do in a traditional church context. We don’t talk about growing the church or even planting new churches. Our common language is all about making disciple makers. Notice, we don’t even talk about making disciples. This means that we don’t ever want people talking about “coming” to church, as if that is the goal. Nor do we talk about Pastor Bob’s church, as if the church belongs to him. We are empowering people to be disciples who are making disciples who are becoming disciple makers.

Stories. The stories of the Bible and the life of Christ are common to both the traditional culture and to movement culture. But there is a difference. I go into this extensively in Impacting Eternity. The difference is what we do with those stories. In a traditional church culture, often the emphasis lies on attaining knowledge. In a movement culture, we are focused on obedience-based discipleship. It’s about living out those stories in day-to-day life. Concretely, this means that new Christians do not attend classes to achieve a predetermined level of information before they start ministering. We challenge every new believer to share their testimonies—the story of what Christ has done in their lives— and lead five people that they have known all their life to Christ. Then we show those five people how to do the same with five more. This generates new stories of God’s work daily and those stories are contagious.

Rituals. Like a traditional church culture, we have rituals like baptism and the sharing of communion. In our movement culture, we empower any believer that has led another person to Christ to actually baptize that person. I have this picture of a widow, who has been a Christian less than three months, standing in a river with about 15 other widows as she baptizes them. Years ago, I was working with a movement in Cuba where 80,000 new Christians were waiting to be baptized. The denominational executives wanted to empower lay people to perform this ritual, but the pastors voted against it. They had been shaped by a kind of church culture that trained them to think in a way that hindered movement expansion.

Institutions. Institutions are about strategies, structures, and architecture. Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” We don’t have church buildings. Most of our people have never seen one and wouldn’t know what to do if they entered one. Nor do we have all the programs, staffing, and budgets that define the way the traditional church cultures works in those buildings. We have strategies, as I’ve outlines elsewhere, but they are nimble and flexible so that they can be adapted by the people who are using them.

Culture is a multi-faceted mystery in some ways, but these four elements help us begin to think in terms of the kind of culture that shaped a fruitful movement.

Peter Drucker is generally thought of as having said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” No matter how well thought out your movement strategic plan, its effectiveness will be nullified if the underlying church culture isn’t changed. For example, the general culture of the USA knows what it means to be a Christian. It means that at least I go to a building on Sundays with other people. What does your movement strategy require?

With this understanding of culture, there are some things you can to do move toward movement development. If you are interested in leading a group of people from their current church culture into a movement culture, here are some ideas to get you going in the right direction:

1. Start learning about movements with a few other leaders from the church. Don’t do this in isolation.
2. Identify the cultural differences that you see between your current reality and what you see in movements.
3. Pray. And pray a lot. Listen to what God tells you to do and obey. Be a learner. Trial and error, action and evaluation are key principles. Find what God is doing and join Him.
4. If you do start down the movement path, start small. Don’t make grandiose proclamations about a new movement agenda that will transform the church. Let God raise up something organic, what I call a mustard seed movement. It might look insignificant at first, but, by the Spirit, it can become surprisingly fruitful.