Movement or Institution

Have you asked yourself and your leaders whether you are a movement or an institution? See which elements best describe your ministry.

Movements have a life cycle. Nearly five decades ago, Herbert Blumer (1969) outlined this life cycle in four stages. First, a movement commonly emerges out of concerns that initially grab the attention of a few, but then becomes widespread. In the beginning, they are not necessarily well organized and might not be clear on their ultimate objectives, but they are passionate about a cause. Second, as the movement grows and matures in its identity it becomes increasingly organized and solidifies around a strategy. Third, staff of the movement are trained and a formal organization begins to enact the strategy. Finally, the movement begins to decline most often seen in terms of its struggle to mobilize others to its cause. 

Decline does not necessarily mean that the movement fades from society, although that can certainly happen. Instead, several outcomes are possible (Miller 1999). One outcome could be that opponents of a movement attempt to divert pressure away from them by rewarding movement leaders thereby creating hypocrisy at worst and compromise at best as the movement becomes distracted. Repression and persecution can also dissuade movement leaders from continuing. Government pressure or violence against a movement can test the resolve of leaders. A movement might decline due to the successful accomplishment of its goal. Similarly, a movement could decline as a result of its ideals becoming mainstream in society (Macionis 2001). 

The key to the ongoing success of a movement is its maturation process.

At this critical juncture, leaders can decide to take the movement toward an exponential growth model that will see a percentage of population gain over time or to an addition model that cannot keep pace with population rates. An addition model will grow in numbers, but will not grow in influence. The bureaucratization stage will lead to an institution, but not necessarily to social transformation. An exponential growth model, on the other hand, will multiply more followers and will begin to see change in a culture. 

Cultural Transformation Resulting from Movements

In the New Testament, cultural transformation clearly resulted from the proclamation of the gospel, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, and the corresponding impact of their lives which were committed to pursuing God’s mission. That cultural transformation resulted in the following manifestations:

  1. Personal transformation – individual lives were transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom 12:1-2)
  2. Family transformation – entire households came to Christ as a result of the spread of the gospel among social networks (Acts 16)
  3. Economic (oikos) transformation – the impact of the gospel on the livelihood of  believers resulted in slaves being set free (Onesimus), better treatment of employees (Household codes in Ephesians, Colossians), and the upsetting of businesses focused on idols (Acts 19)
  4. Religious transformation – the practices of Jews and Gentiles were both transformed as their allegiances to their former ways were replaced by allegiance to the one true God (Acts 17)
  5. Political transformation – city and regional governments were transformed as Christian engaged leaders in every community with the gospel.
  6. Educational transformation – the gospel impact on philosophy transformed the intellectual in their pursuit of what they had known implicitly, yet was now being declared explicitly (Aratus in Acts 17, Heraclitus in Acts 19)
  7. Social transformation – gospel declaration resulted in Christian advocacy for the marginalized (women in Ephesus [1 Tim 2; Rev 2], care for the poor [Gal 2:10], care for the widows and orphans [1 Tim 5])
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