Are You Willing to Fail Forward?


I must be doing something wrong,” she thought. They had been working for almost ten years in a restricted access nation. They’d pressed through to learn the language, worked hard to build relationships and led a few people to the Lord. Talking with a key church planting movement mentor she asked, “What are we doing wrong? I thought by now we would have seen hundreds of groups/churches begin!

The mentor carefully listened to them describe their disciple making activity. Then he said, “You aren’t doing anything wrong. Movements take time. This mentor had coached well-known movement leaders. They had started thousands and thousands of churches, pioneering the largest movements in history to date. He knew what he was talking about.

Many hear about DMMs and get the wrong impression. They think it is easy to start one. They hear stories of thousands and thousands of people coming into the Kingdom, and buy into that vision wholeheartedly. Hearing the word “rapid multiplication” they assume that means that a DMM will rapidly start in their area. “Within a year or two, I should be seeing hundreds of new groups begin,” they think. Or at least ten or fifteen.

Hearing the word “rapid multiplication” they assume that means that a DMM will rapidly begin.

It is not that that can’t happen. Occasionally, it does. More often than not, it doesn’t.

Reality Hits

A few months into the process, reality hits. Practitioners still struggle to find a Person of Peace. Or after forming the first group, they can’t get it to multiply. Maybe they start a group and it goes well for a time then dissolves.

Disillusionment with DMMs can hit hard.

Discouraged people conclude:

  • this method doesn’t work, or,
  • something must be wrong with me since I can’t get a DMM started yet.

This is the fault of those of us who promote DMMs. We must be sure to tell not only the victory stories but also the stories of failure. We need to make clear the depth of struggle on the path to releasing a rapidly multiplying movement that is sustained.

Movement Size- Statistics Can Be Deceiving

A recent report by Justin Long of Beyond said that the average size of DMMs today is 71,000 disciples. This may be quite true. Some of the movements included might be so huge they skew the numbers. That statistic could easily be misinterpreted. It could lead to great disappointment or a sense of failure by many attempting to start DMMs.

The majority of movements I have worked with are less than 5,000 people. They have the potential to grow into the tens of thousands, and are pursuing that. And they should.

I firmly believe some of those movements will become 20,000 or 50,000 disciples in a few years. The reality, however, is that many movements start, then stall out and aren’t sustained. (See my blog on What Destroys Movements).

Movements are birthed through pain, tears, trials, persecution, and much, much prayer. A passion that burns strongly within you makes you refuse to quit. Not recognizing this from the beginning will only lead to much disappointment.

Back to the Drawing Board

A friend I’ve worked with for years tells his DMM failure stories every time he trains. “We tried five times to start a DMM. After each attempt, we had to go back to the drawing board and start over completely!”

What I love about his story is that after each failure, they learned new things. These helped them move one step closer to seeing the release of what they were praying for. Those valuable lessons became building blocks and helped them make important shifts in their thinking.

Don’t despise small beginnings. It sounds strange, but we can celebrate failures if we learn from them. The times we don’t see fruit, or blow it in evangelism efforts, or fail to multiply…we must turn these times into valuable treasures. This is only possible if you are deeply committed to both evaluation and fruitfulness.

If your first commitment is to your methodology, not to seeing fruit, you won’t evaluate objectively. You will get stuck. Instead of being committed to a particular method, your loyalty must be to the vision. God’s given you a dream for multiplying disciples and reaching the lost. Be loyal to that.

With this firmly in place, mistakes move us forward.

John Dewey, a famous American educational reformer and philosopher said it well.

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”

― John Dewey

Include God in Your Learning and Evaluation Process

This seems like it should be obvious. Yet many of us are very good at trying to figure out how to “fix” things on our own. A quick look at Abram and Sarai, and we can quickly see this is true.

God gives us a promise. Instead of trusting Him to fulfill it, we try to fulfill it on our own. We feel we have to “help” God do what He has said He would do. Instead, we need to trust and obey.

When you evaluate, include the Holy Spirit. Take time to listen to His voice as you ask the question, “Why isn’t this working the way we thought it would?” He longs to guide us. His wisdom is available for us. The things of God are so often counter-intuitive. We tend to easily default to our own tradition and worldview.

Evaluate and learn from your failures, but be sure to listen to His still small voice as you do this.

One of my favorite verses is James 1:5-6. I’ve claimed it as truth in my life again and again for I often lack wisdom in pursuing DMMs. No matter how much we study, read, and no matter how many incredible mentors we have, we still desperately need His guidance.

“But if any of you lack wisdom, you should pray to God, who will give it to you; because God gives generously and graciously to all.”

James 1:5-6 NIV.

God’s heart burns to release incredible movements of passionate, obedient Jesus followers. He has begun this and He is accelerating His work around the world! There is no place, sphere of society, or people group where His plan laid out in Scripture for multiplying disciples will not work. His purposes will be accomplished. Movements are on God’s heart.

If the going seems slow, however, don’t be discouraged. Press on! Don’t lower your expectations, hopes, and prayers, or settle for anything less than what God desires to do in your area. But if it takes a bit longer than you thought, don’t feel bad. Like my friend, you may not be doing anything “wrong.” You are digging the foundations for the great work God is about to begin!

When is the last time you hit the pause button and took time to carefully and prayerfully examine your work’s progress?

I’d love to know more about your team’s evaluation processes. Comment below or on the DMMs Facebook group.


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