4 Stages of Movement: Unlock Your Next Steps

Mission practitioners Don Dent and Nik Ripken, as well as CPM trainer Mark Stevens and trainer Neill Mims, have described these four phases of a movement. 

The paradigm tool they developed has been widely used in Church Planting Movement (CPM) training to avoid misunderstandings. Here, we provide a simplified overview of the phases, acknowledging that the historical progression from the Unreached Phase to Institutional Phase can span years, decades, or even centuries.

Summary of Church Planting Movement Stages

Stage Characteristics
Stage One - 0 to 1 Phase
  • Simple forms and methods
  • Small number of believers
  • Informal church gatherings
  • Outsiders initiate evangelism and church planting
  • Development of the priesthood of every believer
  • Informal leadership development
Stage Two - Movement Phase
  • Passionate indigenous believers
  • Significant increase in believers
  • Continued simplicity in methods
  • Multiplication is the norm
  • Leadership development within the context of churches
  • Active involvement of believers in ministry
Stage Three - Formalizing Phase
  • Standardization and formalization
  • Some churches in purpose-built structures
  • Structured leadership development
  • Emergence of gifted leaders
  • Division between professional leaders and lay believers
Stage Four - Institutional Phase
  • Institutionalization
  • Majority of churches in purpose-built structures
  • Credential-based leadership development
  • Emergence of highly gifted leaders
  • Clear clergy/laity divide

This 4 Stages paradigm tool has been widely used in Church Planting Movement (CPM) training to avoid misunderstandings.

Stage 1: 0 to 1

In this initial stage, the people group is unreached, with only a few believers and churches.

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Outsiders introduce the faith, leading people to Christ. Those who accept Christ become “persons of peace,” enabling networks of relationships that facilitate gospel acceptance. 

The forms and methods used at this stage are relatively simple; otherwise, the mission work won’t develop into a movement. The number of Christians is limited, and most evangelism and church planting are led by external evangelists. 

Churches typically meet in informal settings like homes, under trees, or in existing spaces like storefronts.

A crucial step in this stage is developing the concept of the priesthood of every believer. 

Though outsiders initiate evangelism and church planting, empowering believers with this concept fosters the potential for a movement. They are encouraged to go directly to God and engage in evangelizing and ministering to others. 

Leadership development for local believers is informal, often taking place within the local context through mentoring.

Stage 2: Movement

At this stage, multiplication of disciples and churches is driven by indigenous believers who are passionate about reaching their own people and beyond. 

The number of believers increases dramatically as the concept of the priesthood of every believer gains traction. The movement thrives on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and simple methods that reach new communities with the gospel. 

Churches continue to meet in informal spaces, and multiplication becomes the norm.

Stage 3: Formalizing

As the movement progresses, the number of believers continues to rise rapidly. 

There is a growing desire to standardize and formalize certain aspects of the movement, such as church formation and leadership development. Some churches start meeting in purpose-built structures.

Brick-and-mortar buildings emerge.

Leadership development becomes more structured, with dedicated institutions and credentials emerging. 

Gifted leaders stand out and hold positions of prominence. However, the concept of the priesthood of the believer begins to wane, as a divide between professional leaders and lay believers becomes more pronounced.

Stage 4: Institutionalization

In this stage, the movement becomes more institutionalized. The number of churches and believers grows, but it may plateau over time. 

Churches become common and widely accepted in society.

Most churches meet in purpose-built structures, and formal requirements for what constitutes a church become more rigid. 

Extremely gifted leaders emerge, and leadership development primarily occurs within institutions, with credentials becoming the norm. 

A significant “clergy/laity” divide emerges, and lay leadership becomes less visible.

Key Takeaways

Throughout history, various regions have progressed through these stages, sometimes experiencing renewal movements when returning to the principles of earlier stages. 

However, a challenge arises when individuals from Stage 4 churches attempt to evangelize and plant churches in Stage 1 situations. Without understanding the historical perspective, they may unintentionally impose Stage 4 expectations, hindering the progress of the movement.

Likewise, believers from Stage 1 or 2 visiting Stage 4 institutions may lead to a premature shift to formalizing and institutionalizing the movement, stifling the movement phase.

Want to learn more? Read this article on The 4 Stages of Movement from Missions Frontiers.

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Click to watch practitioner Ray Vaughn describe the 4 Stages


To avoid such pitfalls, it’s essential to grasp the nature of each stage and adapt our approach accordingly. By doing so, we can support the growth of vibrant Church Planting Movements and unleash the potential of the Kingdom in any context. 

Let us embrace our historical heritage and seek renewal movements in our time. 

Why not today? 

Why not in your context?

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To avoid such pitfalls, it's essential to grasp the nature of each stage and adapt our approach accordingly. By doing so, we can support the growth of vibrant Church Planting Movements and unleash the potential of the Kingdom in any context.

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