Multiplication in the West: Disciple Making Movement Insights from the Kansas City Underground

Although “movement” has undoubtedly become a buzzword in our culture, in the missions world it has some pretty specific implications. Chief among them is the core element of multiplication. 

Disciple Making Movements and multiplication go hand-in-hand. Although it’s easy to get confused regarding the varying definitions of phrases like Church Planting Movements” (CPM) and “Disciple Making Movements” (DMM), all of them, at their core, deal with the idea of exponential multiplication (for those who love to nerd out on things like this, Roy Moran has a helpful article that walks through the history of different definitions of movement).

In the end, probably the simplest definition of Disciple Making Movements comes from Jerry Trousdale in The Kingdom Unleashed: DMM is “a Process of disciples making disciples, and churches planting at least 100 churches, with four or more generations of replication.”

100 churches. 4 generations. Exponential multiplication. Praise God; give me more of that! I can honestly say that seeing that type of fruit in my city has been one of my greatest desires.

Among the vast hurdles that exist to see this type of movement happen in my context, perhaps the most significant exists in our own American minds. We have become so accustomed to the rapid speed of seemingly everything in our culture (from drive-thru to wifi, to Prime same day delivery), that it’s easy to examine a definition like the one above and programize and systematize our strategies to the point that we end up tragically missing the heart of it all: that the Spirit of God brings transformation in his timing. If we simply attempt to copy and paste forms or processes and put an American fast food twist on it, we’ll never see the type of fruit that is worth multiplying. 

The point of this article is to revisit what multiplication looks like in a Western, urban context. Although the content discussed here could be helpful for any mission-focused practitioner, it is primarily geared for those us of who have been influenced by global Disciple Making Movements and have attempted to utilize similar practices here in the West. I fear that many of us in that camp who possess authentic and Godly motivation to see real fruit, have drastically missed the mark regarding Kingdom-like multiplication. And I totally get why! We are bucking against an American Church that has become so heavy in her forms that multiplication is tedious, slow, and mostly impossible. But I worry that in our pursuit of seeing exponential growth, we’ve sacrificed a key biblical reality in disciple-making: slow and steady wins the race

Admittedly, we seem to be caught in one of those crazy Kingdom paradoxes that’s exasperated even more by our current cultural mindset. On one hand, we must release disciples who can multiply fast in order to keep up with population growth (and turn the tide of our rapidly shrinking church attendance numbers), while, on the other hand, remain faithful in cultivating the depth of character needed in an effective discipleship process.  

It became clear to a handful of us in Kansas City, we needed to try something else.


In early 2019, a handful of “professional Christians” (former pastors and church staff), alongside 72 “ordinary Christians” (aka, unpaid ones), launched the first hub of the KC Underground. Our heart: to see the entire city reached with the beauty, justice, and Good News of Jesus, which would result in thousands of microchurch expressions in every neighborhood and network in our city. Our focus was to equip and train believers to live as missionaries among their people and see new spiritual families emerge, that would multiply and fill the city. 

In all practicality, we were launching a missions organization that, not unlike other missions organizations, would recruit, coach, and support missionaries. The main difference: instead of sending missionaries overseas, we’d deploy them in our city, mostly to their already existing relational networks.

It was clunky and it was beautiful. As COVID hit, we were uniquely placed to see relatively significant fruit in a shortened timeframe. Instead of arguing politics and vaccine mandates, we learned how to ask questions, love our neighbors, and invite them to find their spiritual answers in the Bible together. Discovery Bible Study (DBS) settings started popping up all over: on driveways, over Zoom, in smaller groups, etc., and we were off and running.

A couple of years later we hit a milestone that to some may seem important (but I’m not sure it really is): 100 microchurches. My best guess is that about 75% of those are “from the harvest,” meaning, they have emerged mostly among unchurched/unbelieving pockets of people, and not from already Christians who formed themselves into a microchurch. We have networks in both suburban and urban neighborhoods. We have seen groups and microchurches emerge among refugees and ex-prisoners, in businesses, and day service programs for adults with special needs. One of our original networks emerged in the rodeo community. We have seen teams of High School students deployed all over the city starting DBS groups with their unchurched friends. We have microchurches among the elderly, and we have others that consist mostly of children. 

In terms of a traditional DMM understanding of multiplication, we have seen DBS groups multiply to 3 and 4 generations, with some eventually fading out of existence. We have seen a couple of microchurch communities launch a new group in a new neighborhood a few times, resulting in 3 generations. We have a network of 9 microchurches among the post-incarcerated community, in which leaders emerge from new disciple-making. 

In the past few years, I’ve learned a great deal about what multiplication looks like in an urban, American context, but perhaps chief among them is this: multiplication in Western settings can be complex. 

We in The Kansas City Underground do not have all the answers and have far more failure stories than success stories. But over the last 5 years, I believe God has slowly revealed to us some key principles regarding the multiplication of disciples and churches in American cities. My sincere prayer is that through our successes and failures, this whole topic of multiplication becomes a little less mysterious.


1) We need to change the goal post from 4 generations to “Gospel Saturation”

The reason why so many successful people set goals is because they know their actions follow their intent. In the missions world, if our north star is four generations of multiplication (like almost any DMM definition describes), then our actions will flow toward that goal. But here’s the problem: it’s not biblical. I’m not saying it’s unbiblical, I’m just saying that 4 generations is not a magical or scriptural number that we make it out to be. It’s simply a helpful metric for missiologists to track Gospel movements, but I would argue that it’s mostly unhelpful and irrelevant for workers on the ground. This is especially true for Americans who tend to be enamored by fast food culture. When we attempt to hyperspeed the disciple-making journey to reach an arbitrary number of four generations, we’re setting ourselves up to fail in all our multiplication endeavors. 

I’ve learned that multiplication and success are not synonymous terms. As a friend and co-laborer recently told me, “I can reproduce garbage four times, it doesn’t mean it’s good.” We must focus on creating disciples that are worth multiplying. The same goes for leaders, groups, and churches. Multiplying bad fruit four times just means we have four times as much bad fruit. 

So what’s a better North Star? 

We in the KC Underground deeply resonate with our friend Chris Galanos, who references the idea of WIGTAKE in his blog (and his book, “From Megachurch to Multiplication”). He was so struck by missionaries who began with the question, “What’s It Going to Take to Reach Everyone in the People Group?” that it inspired him to walk away from one of the largest megachurches in the country to launch a decentralized network of disciples and simple churches, which he believed would be better equipped to reach his entire city.

For us in Kansas City, our north star has never been to see a Disciple Making Movement in KC. To be honest, that feels like a tiny vision, and God can do better than that. We’ve been far more enamored by what we read about in Ephesians 1:22, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”

Now that’s a vision for my city I can get on board with. Can you imagine an entire city filled with the beauty, justice, and Good News of Jesus like what is described in Ephesians 1:22? Of course this entails disciples who make disciples and churches that make churches, but it’s so much more than that. 

What would it look like if those running after Disciple Making Movement principles in the U.S. shifted our goalpost from seeing 4 generations of multiplication to seeing Gospel Saturation of entire cities? In order to do that, we would absolutely have to see mass multiplication, but we wouldn’t be so controlled by the way we think multiplication should look. When your WIGTAKE idea is “Gospel Saturation,” it forces you to pray in a way you didn’t know was possible. It forces you to be united with other believers in a city in a way that your differing programmatic structures would not logically allow. And it gives space to think outside the box, which is something that is so desperately needed in our disciple-making efforts in America.

2) We must understand multiplication as a CHAORDIC process, not a linear one

Chaordic is one of my new favorite terms. A simple definition is, “a blending of chaos and order.” Which I believe is the perfect description of what multiplication in American cities actually looks like.

Although we are seeing Disciple Making Movements break out in all sorts of settings around the world, the vast majority of them, particularly early on, came about in rural areas. These stories are amazing, and we in America can and should learn much from them, but we also have to realize that some principles of movement must be contextualized for our cities. The idea of multiplication is towards the top of that list.

As an outsider learning from rural settings like these, it’s easy to think about multiplication in a mere linear way. We start a DBS, which multiplies another one, and those multiply, and those multiply, and then BOOM, we have 200 new house churches!

Within relational environments where people have a level of communal influence, this sort of multiplication is relatively straightforward. Within a people group, one person can go and multiply a DBS setting within that same people group simply because of the relational capital that person may have with others.

Compare that to an urban, American culture, where we are hyper-individualized in our relationships, resulting in hard-to-define networks in which people have microscopic relational influence over one another. We also are not bound by traditional geographical guidelines (we may work on one side of the city, live in another, and hang out in another), which makes our relational networks that much more confusing. Our social structure is widely scattered and ridiculously complicated. It looks far more like chaos than order (see image below).

If we live in a socially chaotic culture like the one depicted on the right, yet attempt to multiply as if we’re in one on the left, we will continually be frustrated in our attempts to multiply. 

I’ll never forget a conversation I had years ago with David Broodryk (David and his teammates have pioneered so many of the urban multiplication concepts we in the KC Underground have utilized). He told me that the answer to complexity is not simplicity, but adaptability. If we are to understand multiplication and what generational growth looks like in the chaos that is a typical American city, we have to learn how to be nimble and intentional at the same time. 

To make my point, let’s play a game called, “How many generations is this?”

A few years ago I partnered with a jail ministry who launched teams into jails to find persons of peace and to catalyze DBS groups in the jail. As we identified inside leaders and the DBS groups started permeating the jails, disciples who were made on the inside started gathering together on the outside upon their release (these new microchurches are called “Share the Hope”). Over time, one member of that microchurch who had spent time in homelessness connected with a friend to start a weekend ministry to feed soup to a homeless community. Another member of a different Share the Hope partnered with them, and felt a calling to reach a different homeless community. Over time, he and his wife recruited others, prayer walked a park in downtown KC and started DBS environments with all homeless people in the area. This has emerged into a network called “Street Church” where we’ve seen many baptisms and new disciples.

Cue the gameshow music… How Many Generations Is That

{To summarize: we have a team that started DBS groups, that flowed into an ongoing microchurch, that eventually started 8 other microchurches in that network, that started another team, which launched another team, that started another DBS, which launched other microchurches and teams…}

If I was as a participant in that gameshow, I think I know what my answer would be: “WHO CARES?” 

The chaos of our city’s social structure requires an understanding of multiplication that goes far beyond a simple linear concept. Much like what I learned from David Broodryk years ago, multiplication in urban contexts looks far more like the image below:

As you can see, although it is not simple or linear, there still is a level of intentionality and order in the multiplication process. For us, our adaptability answer to the complexity problem is to have multiple forms that are all multiplying at the same time. The simplest way to think about it is in terms of 3 primary forms: 1) Teams of new missionaries, 2) Discovery Bible Study settings, and 3) Microchurch families. If we’re launching all of those all the time, we’re able to see more and more networks engaged all throughout the city. For more on this, check out our tool called The What and How of Multiplication

3) We need to create “Movement Ecosystems” that can support on-the-ground disciple-making 

“Ecosystem” has become my favorite term to describe what we’ve seen emerge in Kansas City. I’m no scientist, but an ecosystem is essentially the combination of environment and community. It’s a particular setting in which living things exist and interact with each other and with their non-living environments.

If we’re going to see real movement and sustainable multiplication in the West, we need to figure out how to create organic systems that can legitimately support it. I believe we need to figure out how to create local ecosystems that 100% exist to support multiplicative disciple-making and church planting. 

I’m not even close to being the first person to say this. As a student of missions, both locally and globally, it’s been fascinating to watch the American church grapple with our own systems over the last 20 years. People like Alan Hirsch have been nudging Western leaders towards a posture of rethinking our systems and structures that would foster multiplication. 

I think the difference between those conversations and what we’ve been doing in Kansas City, is that we have simultaneously been 100% focused on Disciple Making Movement strategies. When DMM principles of on-the-ground disciple-making meet the highly strategic formation of organic systems, we start to see an ecosystem emerge that is able to house healthy multiplication. For us, this was extremely intentional. 

Ironically, it’s easy to err too much on either side of this conversation. On one hand, we can completely focus on creating organic systems and entirely forget that we need to make disciples in the harvest first (an ‘if-you-build-it’ sort of error made by a lot of churches and ministries seeking ‘movement’). On the other hand, we can ignore creating any systems, thinking that if we simply focus on making multiplicative disciples, movement will just happen naturally (which is how most American DMM people fail). We have found that we have to go all-in on both simultaneously: we need to train everyday people to make disciples and see microchurches emerge out of their missional spaces, while at the same time intentionally create systems to support those on the back end.

I believe in the U.S., we simply cannot stumble upon an ecosystem like this. We have to be very intentional in creating it. Rob Wegner, one of the key catalytic leaders who helped launch The KC Underground, alongside Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch, wrote an entire book on this subject called “The Starfish and the Spirit.” The whole idea is to help church organizations function as decentralized expressions oriented around multiplication on every level. 

Over time we have formalized our own organic systems with specific language and vision. Key to all of it is something we call “HUBS.”

Without going into too much detail, a hub is essentially a missional support team that exists to fuel and equip a network of everyday missionaries and microchurches in a city. I like to think of it as a condensed missions organization with a specific missional target (a place or a network of relationships). Although members on the hub team must also be practitioners, they primarily exist to raise up and walk alongside normal, non-professional Christians as they go and reach their own people. Each hub can contain specific smaller teams that offer more nuanced support, depending on the needs of the missional context. As new disciples are made and new microchurches emerge, the hub is there to support the leaders and help provide a sense of communal belonging, while also staying in the background, allowing all microchurches to be 100% autonomous. In a relatively large city like Kansas City (with 2.4 million people within the greater metro), we believe we may need dozens of hubs in order to reach Gospel Saturation.

Although this is not the only way to create an ecosystem that can support decentralized multiplication, I believe something like this has to be present in America that is able to fan the flame of multiplication, and provide ongoing stability. For more information on this, Check out this document that depicts our ecosystem.

4) Think Function Over Form in Discipleship Environments. It’s OK To Contextualize DBS Questions

Pretty much all movements utilize some form of discovery and obedience-based methods of disciple-making. Different streams of movement have landed on different forms, with varying ways of asking very similar questions (3/3 groups, Discovery Bible Study, etc). Since one of the huge benefits of this format is its reproducibility (every participant in a DBS-type group is simultaneously being discipled and trained in how to make disciples themselves), I was always told by global practitioners to essentially never adjust the questions. If you want to see multiplication, keep the format the exact same (as I’ve been told). 

Here’s the thing: that’s one of the least American things I’ve ever heard of in my life. If we’re going to reach Americans, we have to understand how they/we operate. 

We as Americans pride ourselves on our individuality and creativity. We love our freedom, and so many of us have an allergy to “the box.” Often a canned set of questions, no matter how effective that specific set of questions is in a different setting, will not be readily adopted by the masses. 

I truly believe we must reframe how we talk about Discovery Bible Study. DBS IS NOT A PROGRAM, IT’S A ‘WAY-OF’ DISCIPLE-MAKING. The important thing is to keep the heart of the process the same, while also allowing practitioners to play with how it’s asked.

For example, there’s a network we’re connected to that also works with those in the addiction community. The last question they ask in their DBS settings is, “How are you going to be a Hope Dealer this week?” Which encompasses their I Will Statement and their sharing with others question.

Another example: we have groups with mostly kids that use two opening questions: “What can you say thank you to Jesus for?” And, “What’s been hard that you need Jesus’ help with?” We have groups working for adults with special needs who always have the participants draw out the stories while listening.

Many of our ongoing microchurches has replaced the last question of a DBS that generally says something like, “With whom are you going to share?” with the question, “Who are you going to bless this week?” And we found people follow through on sharing pieces of the Good News with others far more than before.

Other groups and microchurches in our network simplify the entire process, and after reading a text, just ask two questions: “What’s God telling you, and what are you going to do about it?”

We truly believe that keeping the foundational pillars of DBS present is far more important than making sure the same questions are asked the same way every time. The key pillars, in our assessment, are Discovery/Facilitation, Obedience/Response, and Blessing others/Sharing with others. If you create an ecosystem where the pillars remain, even though the wording of the questions change, you will see consistent multiplication. 

5) Be counter-intuitive: WAIT ON JESUS

Last year I had the honor of joining a handful of other Western movement practitioners in a training led by Nadim Costa, a missionary with Novo. Nadim is Lebanese and has been one of the most influential movement catalysts in the Middle East. What God has done through the teams and networks on the ground there is nothing short of astounding. According to Novo, these Middle East teams are currently seeing movements in 22 countries in the Middle East and Europe, resulting in over 50,000 DBS groups/microchurches, 700,000 new believers, and 19+ generations of growth. To learn from these men and women has been one of the great honors of my ministry life.

As Nadim and I wrestled through some of the main questions and hurdles we’ve experienced in our Kansas City experiment, I heard him say something I’ve never heard a movement catalyst say before, “… Don’t worry about multiplication yet.”

I was so taken aback that I had to ask him to repeat it. Isn’t multiplication what DMM is all about? Aren’t I supposed to insert multiplication in the process as early as possible? What do you mean that I shouldn’t worry about multiplication?

As I have sat in the meaning of those words for the past year, I think I know what Nadim was getting at: don’t take control; don’t force the issue; let God build a foundation that will fan the flame of multiplication in his timing. Pray a ton. Foster a culture of utter surrender to Jesus within a healthy ecosystem of mission and rest. Raise up and release as many disciple-makers as possible. And… WAIT ON JESUS. He will bring multiplication in his timing. 

As we walk out that strange balance of urgency and patience, it’s good to remember that multiplication and speed are not necessarily the same thing. As I conclude, I’m reminded of one more thing David Broodryk told me regarding multiplication: “Nothing in movement is fast. It’s a lot of slow things happening in an exponential way.” 

My hope and prayer is that those words take deep root in the hearts and lives of Disciple Making Movement practitioners in the West as we grapple with a healthy understanding of what multiplication looks like in our particular context.