I have talked with lots of effective movement catalysts. Some I have coached, some formally interviewed, and some surveyed systematically. More than 160 effective catalysts who have started a movement have participated in one or several of my studies.
The picture that emerges is quite clear: Wherever you see a movement, you will find a catalyst with a particular set of qualities. Effective catalysts all over the world have certain traits and competencies in common, which they exhibit consistently, which enable them to start movements.
So, is it the right person that is needed to start a movement?
Another picture also emerges: the overwhelming majority of movements (though not all) were catalyzed using one of the various movement approaches. Is it then the right method that is needed to start a movement?
In this article, I will let the data from movements in 15 different countries answer the question. And I will describe the qualities that make catalysts effective in catalyzing a movement.
I conducted empirical research among effective movement catalysts to discover the traits and competencies possessed by pioneers effective in catalyzing a movement, and which traits they considered to have contributed to their catalyzing of a movement. This resulted in a profile of an effective movement catalyst, including eleven traits and competencies self-reported as exhibited by all participating effective catalysts. These are presented in the following table. (Note: the definitions were shaped by some of the catalysts.)
Hunger for God
Catalysts hunger for depth with God and yearn to love him more deeply; they seek to hear God’s voice and be obedient.
Catalysts expect that God will grow a movement among their people group and save many soon, and they have great faith that God will show his power through their lives.
Catalysts feel confident in their spiritual gifts and skills, and exhibit a sense of confidence.
Drive for Responsibility
Catalysts feel responsible for the people they serve and for engaging them with the good news; they are motivated by a sense of responsibility.
Catalysts are reliable and trustworthy; others can depend on them.
Catalysts are tenacious in spite of challenges and amidst difficulties; they don’t give up.
Catalysts empower and enable local people to be the key players, by putting responsibility and authority in their hands from the beginning and by developing their gifts.
Confidence in the Holy Spirit
Catalysts are confident in the Holy Spirit and have faith in him to accomplish his intended work in the life of all God’s children, as they are enabled to obey his commands.
Confidence in the Bible
Catalysts have deep confidence in the Bible to be their CPM guidebook, and deep assurance in its power to accomplish what God desires.
Catalysts talk often about their most important values and beliefs, consider the moral consequences of decisions with people, and emphasize the importance of living toward the purpose for which one is created.
Inspiring of Vision
Catalysts articulate a compelling vision of the future, talk enthusiastically about what needs to be accomplished to see a growing movement, and express confidence that goals will be achieved.
These qualities enable catalysts to catalyze a movement. Therefore, I call these traits and competencies “catalytic qualities.” They characterize all effective movement catalysts: every single one of those who participated in the study. No exception.
Let me illustrate how all-inclusive the “all” is. As the final question of the study, after I had identified the above qualities, I went back to the effective catalysts, gave them the quality with its definition, and asked them to verify: Do you agree that this description fits you fairly often, or frequently if not always? All catalysts answered with a resounding: “Yes, fully.” To put it in negative terms: There is no movement catalyst (at least none studied) that does not exhibit all these catalytic qualities consistently.
My research identified further traits and competencies exhibited consistently by most effective catalysts. In this article, however, I concentrate on those exhibited by all effective catalysts.
So, is our question answered? The data makes it abundantly clear. Wherever you see a movement, you find a catalyst with a particular set of qualities – the catalytic qualities – who started it. The right person is needed to start a movement.
What then is the place of the right method?
We have established that all effective catalysts exhibit certain catalytic qualities. Before unveiling what I have found in the studies, let us first listen to a few voices in the movement world from whom we all have benefitted tremendously. Most literature on the subject of catalyzing a movement has focused on spiritual traits of the pioneer leader combined with the right methodology. David Garrison emphasizes characteristics of CPMs as well as methodology. Garrison occasionally makes his approach sound comprehensive and absolute when insisting, “If one of these components is missing, you won’t get the results you desire” (2004: 292). He ascribes a crucial role to the pioneer leader (ibid., 255), stating that “God has given Christians vital roles to play in the success or failure of these movements” (ibid., 26). However, it is beyond the scope of his work to explore their traits or competencies.
David and Paul Watson emphasize right methodology as well. The Watsons qualify the significance of the methodological elements of the DMM approach: “This book focuses on the strategic elements you need to get a movement started. If you remove any of these elements, you won’t have a movement, period. You may have some growth, but you won’t experience a movement” (Watson & Watson, 2014: 61).
David Watson regards the role of the external leader as critical, since he or she is the one who sparks the process of a movement (2011, 114). The main trait Watson highlights, good character, is not verified as such by research, but it intersects strongly with Inspiring Personality, a trait verified in my research (exhibited by more than 80% of all catalysts interviewed). Most of Watson’s competencies are either verified directly in my research (radical learning) or appear under competencies identified by this research, including the ability to develop potential beyond boundaries, the ability to delegate (empowering), and listening skills (personal consideration). The final competency identified by Watson – the ability to build teams – is very broad but encompasses a number of competencies identified by this research.
The late Steve Smith and Ying Kai likewise emphasized methodology; they presented us with T4T, a comprehensive, branded package. Smith and Kai made no explicit claim that this comprehensive methodology would guarantee a movement. The comprehensiveness of the approach, however, could easily leave the reader with that impression. For example, in a case study of an emerging movement, they described how they counseled the catalyst: “It wasn’t a CPM yet but was getting close. As we listened, it was apparent that some elements of the T4T process were missing. We counseled him to incorporate the lessons from the next chapter” (Smith, 2011: 199).
In a Mission Frontiers article, Steve Smith (2014: 38-41) also considered the person of the pioneer leader. Based on multiple case studies of dozens of practitioners, Smith’s summary of the traits and competencies of effective catalysts was that “each of them possesses a healthy combination of a set of characteristics” (ibid., 38). Most of those characteristics were verified by the empirical data of my research. Among the traits and competencies verified fully were: knowledge of reproduction principles, knowledge of movements, knowledge of what catalyzes movement (all under movement knowledge), lifelong learning, faith, expectant prayer (expectant faith and fervent intercession), and mentoring.
Several other traits and competencies suggested by Smith are included within traits verified by my research, such as knowledge of the Bible (under Bible teaching), tenacity and perseverance (persistence), integrity and spiritual authenticity (inspiring personality), loving God (hunger for God), being led by God, having vision from God, and exercising faith (expectant faith), bold discipling (discipling), ruthless self-evaluation (innovation and radical learning), training (Bible teaching, discipling, and coaching), developing leaders (confidence in nationals, and coaching), and vision casting (inspiring of vision).
Now we need to add a second insight: the data of the research suggest that effective catalyzing of movements is not tied to any particular methodology. Different effective catalysts employ different ministry approaches, both in their movement methodology and in their approach to contextualization. A quarter of the catalysts participating in my research preferred not to answer the question about their ministry approach, which points to likely hesitation on their side to put their approach “into a box.” In addition, more than half of those who answered the question, instead of describing their ministry approach straightforwardly with “DMM” or “T4T” or another standard movement ministry approach, preferred to describe their ministry approach in their own words. Often the description given was a hybrid of two or more approaches. This means that the approach of most effective catalysts is a hybrid of more than one ministry approach, which they have adapted to the uniqueness of their context. The research does not support any claims that one specific ministry approach must be followed precisely to lead to a movement.
In a study of 35 movements in the Muslim world, the overwhelming majority of movements were catalyzed with one of the various movement approaches. Thirteen percent of the catalysts reported that their approach was “church planting of a new MBB (Muslim-Background Believer) church,” which means not all movements were catalyzed with a movement approach. Among the 87% of the movements that werecatalyzed using a movement approach, the approaches used by effective catalysts differed in certain aspects. However, all the approaches were multiplicative movement approaches. These approaches have the following principles in common: cultural contextualization, obedience-oriented discipleship, house churches, reproduction, training of multipliers, and reproducible resources.
Therefore, we can summarize the second insight as follows: almost all effective catalysts use movement-conducive multiplicative ministry approaches.
Before answering the question “right person or right method?”, I offer a brief clarification. Some readers may hasten to object: “It is neither. It is God who sovereignly starts movements.” I intend to discuss this perspective in more detail in a later blog. For now, suffice it to say that all effective catalysts point to God’s work in birthing and sustaining movements. Some catalysts confess: “It has been a lot of hard work but without God at work here, we would have no movement.” Other catalysts place greater stress on the human factor: “God has moved among us, but really without our persevering hard work, a movement would not have been started.” Both are right. This is a both/and situation.
Where does this leave us? The overall emphasis in pioneer and apostolic leadership and movement literature has been on right methodology, with some attention to leader traits and competencies of the pioneer leader, particularly traits of a spiritual nature. However, the findings of my research go beyond the commonly established insights. The data clearly suggest that a particular methodology is far less significant in catalyzing movements than may have been assumed or publicized. The data of this study clearly establish that certain traits and competencies of the catalyst are strongly associated with effective catalyzing of movements.
This perspective has been voiced by only a few, most notably Neill Mims and Bill Smith, who formulated what are considered to be among their most significant insights, from almost 20 years of research into movements: “At the end of the day, it is the man and woman of God and not the method that God blesses” (Mims & Smith, 2011). Another who has expressed this perspective is movement thinker Dave Ferguson, who concluded: “the greater the missional impact, the more obvious the pioneering apostolic leadership becomes” (quoted in Addison, 2015: 12).
A catalyst who lacks the qualities identified here will be unable to effectively implement the right methodology.
The person of the catalyst, not the method he or she employs, plays the greatest role in determining whether or not a movement will result. Bill Smith is again among the few who formulated this accurate conclusion: “If someone says to me, give me the method or give me the curriculum, I know that they have not understood that this [the catalyzing of a movement] is accomplished through persons rather than methods” (ibid., 19). The right leader will employ the right methodology. A catalyst with traits such as radical learning, innovation, and initiative, who then possesses the necessary socio-influential and transformational competencies, can find and implement the most effective methodology for the context in which he or she is operating. However, a person who is trained to directly apply a certain methodology, but lacks the traits and competencies identified here, will be unable to effectively implement the methodology.
This stands in stark contrast to the conclusions of many publications on movements that center on methods and principles rather than on the person of the catalyst. I hope the clear data of this research will jolt a paradigm shift in the field of catalyzing movements.
This description of an effective movement catalyst provides us with a personality profile and a competency model for aspiring movement catalysts. I suggest it should be considered by every Christian ministry committed to catalyzing movements. The profile is useful for:
mobilizing and screening new candidates
oversight and mentoring of movement practitioners
development of movement training: based on the profile, the most relevant traits and competencies can be selected for training programs and learning objectives can be formulated more precisely. Clearer learning objectives will lead to better training measures and higher quality training curricula.
aspiring movement catalysts: one can focus on traits and competencies in which one wants (or needs) to grow and identify specific learning objectives and steps. This will serve as a roadmap toward becoming an effective movement catalyst.
Movement breakthrough is not in our hands to achieve, but our personal growth is. The findings presented here show us what kind of person we will want to become, to maximize the possibility of God using us to catalyze a movement.
This article was published in a more academic version: Prinz, Emanuel and Coles, Dave 2021. “The Person, Not The Method.” Mission Frontiers 43(4):42-47.
Addison, Steve 2015. Pioneering movements: Leadership that multiplies disciples and churches. Downers Grove: IVP Books.
Garrison, David 2004. Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World. Midlothian: WIGTake Resources.
Mims, Neill & Smith, Bill 2011. “Church Planting Movements: What have we Learned?” Mission Frontiers 33:8.
Smith, Steve 2014. “A profile of a movement catalyst.” Mission Frontiers 36:38-41.
Smith, Steve & Kai, Ying 2011. T4T: A discipleship re-revolution. Monument: WIGTake Resources.
Watson, David L. 2011. Gemeindegründungsbewegungen: Eine Momentaufnahme. 2nd edition. Schwelm: Deutsche Inland-Mission e. V. (only available in German)
Watson, David & Watson, Paul 2014. Contagious Disciple-Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Editors Note: This article was originally published on catalyticleadership.info