Five Stages of Growth of an Apostolic Movement
By Floyd McClung
One has to look no further than the Book of Acts to find a pattern of how apostolic movements evolve and develop. The five stages of growth described below are based on the assumption that just as there are natural stages of growth for us as human beings, so God has designed movements to evolve and growth through natural growth stages. Each stage of growth is intended by God to teach us certain life skills and character traits that prepare us for the next stage of life.
Each new stage is preceded by a crisis, and if that crisis is seen as an opportunity and not a threat, the movement can successfully navigate the crisis and move into the next stage with fresh understanding and wisdom.
It is possible for movements to grow unequally, that is, they can move from one stage to another without learning all the lessons that should be learned in the previous stages. This “uneven” development is quite normal in human development as well. An adolescent can have the physical maturity of an adult, but the emotional maturity of a child.
However, if an apostolic movement is to survive, it will have to assess it’s strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis, and adjust accordingly. Wise movement leaders draw on the wisdom of others from outside their movement.
Stage One - Creativity – Acts 1-5 – Jerusalem
This stage is characterized by creativity, fresh life, new initiatives of advancing the gospel, and a strong sense of God’s presence and blessing. There is happy chaos in this stage of new beginnings, but the new life and blessings are so great that they overshadow the weaknesses of the movement.
Leadership presence and style in the first stage in Acts was strong, active, directive, but non-hierarchical. This allowed the apostles to serve the fresh move of God’s Spirit, but not to the extent that they created dependence on them as leaders. The spontaneous growth of the churches meeting in homes was encouraged. These house churches were holistic in that they integrated all three major components of church: worship, mission and community. Disciple making was not confined to a structure but a spontaneous way of life in the church.
Challenge to move into next the next season: The Challenge of Re-structuring
To move into the next season of life in the church there was a great need to release new leaders, create more systems & re-structure to respond to the challenges of a growing church movement. That included delegating leadership, helping existing members/leaders find the right role and place for their gifts, and continuing efforts to preach the good news of Jesus far and wide. In one sense, the creative stage of growth and the building stage, described below, are complimentary and essential for the church to move into the third stage of reproduction. Failure to encourage creativity, and failure to build systems and structures to serve the movement, will inevitably lead to slowing down the growth and to eventual death of the movement.
Stage Two - Building – Acts 6-12 – Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria
This stage of growth requires re-structuring to accommodate growth, and in most instances, suffering and sacrifice to advance the gospel. While restructuring, to meet the needs of a growing church movement, the apostles in the book of Acts continued to preach the gospel. Don’t relent in apostolic thrust during seasons of alignment and restructuring or the momentum of apostolic mission will be lost. Acts 6:5-7 are key verses. Some of the men chosen to carry out the practical work of the church were also apostles. The goal of building/restructuring must always be reproduction. Those in management roles should carry the DNA of the movement with just as much fervor as those in senior apostolic leadership.
Challenge to move into the next season: Challenge of Releasing
To release your best people, trust God to multiply more leaders. Releasing leaders involves first of all prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, then choosing to trust God for more leaders to take their place. If you hold on to them, you will lose them.
Stage Three - Reproduction – Acts 13 – 28 – Antioch, Asia, Europe, Africa
In the third stage, a movement hits it’s stride as a rapid multi-generational growth takes place. The mother church is no longer the sole center of mission in this stage. There are multiple mother churches and centers of mission that are growing and reproducing. Senior leaders cannot control this life, but they can and should serve it through discipling leaders, teaching, visiting, writing, and speaking into the life of leaders of new “movements within the movement”.
Senior leaders must continue to model the values and vision for the movement to reproduce the same DNA. This may call for key leaders to move out in new pioneering initiatives, leaving behind the comfort of established roles of leadership. It will definitely require all the leaders to be hands on in making disciples among the lost. Paul and Barnabas, pastoral leaders in the church in Antioch, led new church planting initiatives and mission trips to regions beyond, and thus reenergized the church in Antioch, but also impacted the movement in Jerusalem.
Challenge to move into the next season: Challenge of Maturity
New life means new problems. The vision and values must be strengthened and deepened in multiple cultures and locations as a movement grows. Traveling teams of visiting pastors, teachers, prophets, evangelist and apostles are needed. Some of the challenges to be overcome include nationalism, parochialism, false teaching, leadership compromise, loss of vision, and conflict.
Stage Four - Coordination – Acts 15 – Jerusalem
When movements are growing rapidly in multiple locations, one of the challenges is maintaining doctrinal purity and leadership purity/integrity. Such challenges must be responded to promptly, but without over-reaction. The apostles and elders did not over-react to doctrinal crisis in the early church, nor did they create unnecessary rules and requirements to choke the movement’s growth. They met, listened, debated, and then communicated their decisions promptly, wisely, clearly, and personally. The crisis of doctrinal conflict brought the leaders of the early churches together, it did not separate them. Every apostolic movement will face similar crisis if it is growing rapidly. Senior leaders in the movement would be wise to do what the apostles did in Acts 15: listen, debate, understand, and submit to wise senior leadership, like that of James when he summarized the essence of the issue they faced, and then gave clear direction for moving forward in unity. If necessary, call in such leaders from outside the movement to help it overcome the crisis, but make sure such leaders carry the similar apostolic DNA.
Challenge to move into next season: Challenge of Kingdom Collaboration
Leaders in movements and apostolic networks must reach out to one another and build across network and movement lines to share resources and lessons learned from strategic breakthroughs. This will require a willingness to not take credit for breakthroughs, not brand the movements they serve, and see themselves as under leaders, not over leaders.
Stage Five - Kingdom Collaboration–Acts 20-28 Romans 15-16 Rome, Spain, Africa
Every movement must be reborn in every generation. Church must continually be re-imagined and re-invented. The way this happened in the book of Acts was to continually start new church planting movements, and to provide training and fresh beginnings within each movement as it plateaued. New movements are born out of the same values but in with different emphasis and different expression, and often, in different locations. There is a temptation in existing movement for the new apostolic leaders to turn their apostolic fervor and creativity inward, and not outward toward the lost. If the apostolic gifts of the church are not directed toward church planting, the creativity of those gifts are often dissipated on creating more programs that do not lead to disciple making outside the church walls. Apostles will pioneer! The challenge is to pioneer new churches in places where the gospel has not yet gone.
Challenge to move into next season: Release and Encourage Emerging Apostolic Leaders to Start New Church Planting Movements