What is a Disciple-Making Movement?

There is increasing awareness within the Body of Christ of “Disciple-Making Movements” (DMM) or “God movements”. This approach to frontier mission has resulted in an enormous number of disciples and church emerging in contexts that have traditionally been resistant to Christianity, particularly in rural communities. Increasingly “DMM” is not just taking place in frontier mission, but it is being attempted in the global west.

There is a significant amount of confusion as to what a disciple-making movement really is.

However, there is a significant amount of confusion as to what a DMM really is. The label has been used to describe some significantly different practices and underlying values.

The label is most accurately used to describe patterns of discipleship that are visible in Scripture, but which can be flexibly applied in any cultural setting.

The danger in a discussion like this is that we zoom into methods and lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s ultimate vision and purpose, so we need to start there.

The Context: God’s Vision & Purpose

It’s easy to evaluate things from where we stand – our experience, our culture, our preferences, our traditions. None of these things are bad, but they skew our perspective. We need to repeatedly step back and put our Father at the centre of our perspective.

We need to evaluate ourselves, our activity and our wineskins in light of His overarching purposes, and the role He has called each of us to play. One King, one Lord, one vision. Many children, many roles, many contexts.

The Bible shows us repeatedly that God’s intention is to bring every element of Creation back into peace with Himself and harmony with each other. 

For people, He invites them to embrace His loving authority in their personal kingdoms, and step back into a place of privileged service as His children and co-workers. As first-born among many brothers and sisters, Jesus provides the gold standard for living as sons and daughters – thus we become His disciples, or students.

In the west, many rich traditions and practices have emerged as centuries of disciples worked out how to walk with God in their contexts. We should thank God for the wineskins He has used and is using amongst Christians. 

The vast majority on our planet have rejected these wineskins.

At the same time, as we consider the vast majority on our planet who have rejected these wineskins, we must shift our focus back to God’s original vision for the restoration of His Kingdom – the wine – and wrestle with how to work more effectively towards His goals amongst other groups of people.


DMM is one wineskin that has emerged out of that wrestle. A ‘disciple-making movement’ and ‘God Movement’ refer to the same thing – a movement towards God, that spreads relationally and virally through a relational group or population.

What does that look like exactly? Let’s break down the different terms.


In the Gospels, Jesus offers us a powerful pattern of intentional disciple-making – inviting people to step into God’s Kingdom by drawing near to Him, trusting Him and obeying Him.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out so that every single disciple of Jesus could have immediate and intimate access to the Father. As the disciples continued to listen, trust and obey – now by the Holy Spirit – God built His Kingdom in and with them. 

Listening and obeying resulted in BOTH personal growth and transformation AND active partnering with the Father in His plans for the brokenness and lostness around them. In the pages of the New Testament we see them walking out and passing on the pattern that Jesus gave them.

This pattern of stepping into God’s Kingdom and a new life of listening, trusting, and obeying continues to hold true as the core of being a disciple.

When we talk about ‘disciple-making’, then, we are referring to the process of empowering people to listen to God through His Word and by His Spirit, respond in trusting obedience, and help others do the same.


In the context of disciple-making, one commonly held technical definition of a movement is where 100 committed groups of disciples (churches) have formed, replicating to at least four generations.

In some cases the definition includes a timeframe, ie 100 churches within the preceding three years. This appears to be realistic in many rural settings, but less so in cities and urban areas.

Bringing “Disciple-Making” and “Movement” Together

A disciple-making movement occurs when new communities begin listening to God together and choosing to trust His love and authority. This new relationship with God results in personal and social transformation. This transformation, in turn, blesses others and causes the greatness of the King and the goodness of His Kingdom to be ‘gossiped’ increasingly throughout connected relational networks. This results in more people drawing near to Him to discover Him for themselves, and so the process repeats, and so movement takes place.

Disciple-making movements cannot be engineered by clever marketing or sales techniques. Human strategy and effort are not enough to cause this to happen. Only the Lord of the Harvest can bring this about.

What part do we play in a disciple-making movement?

Our role is simply to be disciples – to surrender to the Father’s loving authority and to move with Him as He leads us towards the brokenness and lostness around us. 

As we bring healing and peace to the brokenness, we can serve the spiritual hunger God connects us with. We serve the spiritual hunger by helping members of these communities create opportunities to listen to God and discover Him for themselves, with the people they are close to.

You may have a specific community or group of people that God has placed on your heart but you’re unsure how to move forward.

You may have been wondering how to help people encounter Jesus when they aren’t interested in attending church services or Christian programs.

Disciple-making movements are a wineskin that can help you unlock greater fruitfulness in your corner of the harvest field – whether that’s a family, a community group or a city.

If you would like to find out more, there are some excellent resources out there. For reading material, my previous post will give you some excellent starting points.

If you want to interact with real people, you could consider connecting with Praxeis – an international network of DMM practitioners who can help connect you with resources and training opportunities close to where you are.

4 Common DBS Challenges and how to overcome them

The purpose of Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is to disciple a group of people through cultivating mutual support and dependence on God’s voice and the authority of His Word, so they can align their lives with His. DBS can be a powerful discipleship process for both Christians and non-Christians.

DBS can be a powerful discipleship process for both Christians and non-Christians.

As our team has coached and facilitated discovery groups, we have observed several common obstacles faced by Christian facilitators. These obstacles arise due to important differences between DBS and the type of Bible studies most of us are familiar with. If we can avoid these things when facilitating DBS we unlock some powerful dynamics as we help people grow in relationship with God and walk with Him in discipleship. 

Here are four common challenges faced by Christian facilitators and advice for navigating them:

1. Bringing “other voices” into the DBS 

The goal of DBS is to help people hear what God is saying in a particular passage and, over time, Scripture as a whole. Christian participants will often bring other voices into the conversation – commentaries, historical and archaeological information, their pastor’s recent sermon, etc. 

These other voices may not be ‘bad’ or wrong, but they do not carry the same authority and they can distract from what God is saying in the passage at hand. The goal of discipleship is to help people recognise and depend primarily on God’s voice, and in DBS our purpose is to help people hear Him.

Two things can help the facilitator here. Firstly, before starting the passage, it can help to remind the group that our purpose is to hear what God is saying to us through this passage, and to learn how to reliably hear Him through His Word. Secondly, if group members stray from the passage at hand ask the question, “Which verse are you looking at when you say that?” As time goes on, the group will automatically start asking each other this question, leading to a greater group accountability to the Word.

2. Answering questions

As we have said, the purpose of DBS is to cultivate a dependence on God’s voice and the authority of His Word. Often, groups will look to ‘the expert’ (ie the facilitator) to answer their questions, but God wants us to come first to Him. We love sharing our hard-earned knowledge, but when we do this we are pointing people to ourselves as the source of knowledge rather than the Bible.

When we answer peoples’ questions we are pointing them to ourselves instead of the Bible.

As we facilitate DBS, questions about the Bible text will arise. We can help the group develop confidence in the Bible’s sufficiency and authority by pointing them there first. When a question arises, the facilitator can respond with a question, “If all you had was this story how would you answer that question?” 

You can also put that question to the broader group – in many cases the answer will be there. Sometimes it’s not, and it’s ok to acknowledge that a particular passage does not provide a definitive answer to a question – God is not necessarily seeking to answer every question we have. If this is the case, put the question aside (temporarily) and focus on what God is wanting to say to us right now through this passage.

If the question still seems important to the group once the DBS has finished, here’s a great 2-step process which continues to cultivate dependence on the Word:

1) Brainstorm a list of Scripture passages that relate to the question. 

2) Ask the group to read through these passages and then plan to discuss their learnings together at a mutually convenient time. 

A DBS facilitator might be able to give a good answer (ie give someone a fish to eat) but walking through this process trains people for lifelong growth in relationship with God and building a reliable and Word-centred theology (ie teaches people how to fish for themselves).

3. Managing Time

In many contexts the facilitator has a limited time to run the DBS. Amongst Christians we have observed a tendency for the first part of the DBS (ie What are you thankful for? What’s been difficult? etc) to take a big chunk of the time, which then forces the facilitator to rush through the remaining two-thirds.

Each DBS question contributes an important Biblical element to the discipleship process and it’s critically important that the group is able to adequately engage each one together.

To avoid this problem, consider framing the “Look Back” section clearly at the beginning and specify that the personal sharing be concise, perhaps 1-2 minutes per person (assuming 90 minute DBS session). You could also consider involving the group in ‘enforcing’ the time limit, especially if relationships are good in the group. Other solutions include the group sharing answers to those questions prior to meeting together (eg through messaging platforms) so they can focus on the “Look Up” and “Look Ahead” when they meet together.

4. Fuzzy Answers to Application Questions

Listening to God is good, but not enough – we must take action in response! As we respond to what God is saying to us, intimacy with Him deepens, we grow spiritually and transformation takes place in and through our lives. “How will we apply this to our lives?” and “Who needs to hear this story/what I’m learning?” are crucial questions in this process.

Fuzzy answers to these questions make it harder for us to be obedient to what God is saying, and harder for the group to support each other in their spiritual growth. Failing to identify people to share the story makes it harder and less likely for others to be exposed to God’s Word and the things He is teaching us. 

Fuzzy answers hold back spiritual growth

As facilitators there are two easy ways to help the group get more concrete:

1) If someone identifies a fuzzy application step (eg “I will be more loving”), ask them if there is a specific context or relationship where they find that particularly challenging. What practical action can they take to be more loving in that specific situation or relationship?

2) If someone has trouble thinking of a person to share with, it may help to spend time praying as a group for ‘harvest people’ around us. The “people map” prayer tool can be helpful here.

Best learning practice – Debrief!

I hope this post has been helpful in exploring some of the common challenges in facilitating Discovery Bible Study. DBS itself is deceptively simple – facilitating well is an ongoing journey. Many people have found that learning process enhanced and accelerated through coaching and debriefing with somebody else who is familiar with the discovery process and underlying values.

If that sounds helpful then please feel free to make contact and I can connect you with someone who can support you in doing what God has called you to do.

All the best!

A Discovery Continuum versus DBS

We all want effective tools, and Discovery Bible Study (DBS) is a fantastic tool for helping groups of people discover and listen to God, and grow deeper in their relationship with Him and each other.

Sometimes the tool can become the focus to the point where it distracts from the purpose it is intended to serve. As we coach people who are wanting to engage the harvest in ways that can lead to Kingdom movements, we sometimes see this dynamic in relation to DBS.

It is important to remember that the goal of discovery is to help people discover and listen to God.

We can facilitate discovery in a number of different ways. DBS is one of those ways, but it can be helpful to think in terms of a “discovery continuum”. We choose an approach depending on what is appropriate to the situation and the people we are interacting with.

Here are some examples:

Our Personal ‘Shema’ statements – as disciples ourselves, the ongoing process of discovering and listening to God and responding to what He says should be central to our lives. As we listen and obey, we build a growing list of Bible stories/passages that have impacted us, and changes that God has brought about in our lives. It is natural to be transparent with our spirituality and share these things in our relationships with other people – not with an agenda, but as part of who we are in our relationships with them.

Verbal Discovery – as we interact with others, it may be natural to share a story from the Bible. This could either be a story that has personally impacted us, or which we are currently thinking about. Alternatively it could be a story that we know intersects with the concerns, convictions or felt needs of the person/people we are talking to. After sharing the story we can ask, “What do you think about that story?” This gives them a chance to interact with what God without formality. It also gives us a chance to see how God might be at work in their lives by the way they respond and whether they subsequently talk about the story with others in their lives (e.g. by asking, “What would your friends/family think about it?”).

‘Taster’ DBS Set – if a harvest group or individual has a specific area of concern or interest and they are open to the Bible, we could offer to help them explore what the Bible says about the topic. A short DBS series of 4-6 stories can give them a taste in an area they are interested in. A short commitment may also make it easier for them to pull an initial group together. Depending how things unfold, this group may then naturally transition to a longer look at the broader story of God.

Comprehensive DBS Set – when a harvest group or individual are keen to explore the story of God and/or the message of the Bible and/or discover who God is for themselves, a longer set which walks them through the full story of God can serve them. The exact stories in this set can be tailored according to their worldview and culture. The “Creation to Christ” set pioneered by David Watson can be helpful for a number of cultural contexts.

Discovery is a powerful process that should serve us as we seek to cooperate with God and serve the person who is exploring or seeking Him.

Ultimately, we hope to see groups of people drawing together intentionally from God’s Word, but it quite likely won’t start there. It’s important that the context and the people we are serving determine our approach, rather than a pre-commitment to a specific method.