What is an insider movement?

In some countries, changing religion to Christianity is tantamount to a death sentence. In many other countries, new disciples face huge social consequences; they may lose their jobs or their housing. In villages in India, for example, believers may not be allowed to use the village well or buy rice at the local store. There's an intimidating social cost to pay as they are rejected by their community .

A new phenomenon is occurring in some of these countries: the insider movement. Whereas in old style missions, the missionary insisted that people change to effectively appear Western, within insider movements, new believers are free to remain within their culture. 

There are movements to Jesus within major religions today. Insider movements occur when groups of people come to faith in Jesus while remaining within their own social context and to some extent within their religious contexts too. So, for example, we have Messianic synagogs and Messianic mosques where people worship Jesus. When the local religious leader comes to Christ, he may bring his whole assembly to Jesus.

These people follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with no syncretism (blending the beliefs of their old religion with their new walk with the Lord). As they allow the Bible to reform their behavior and beliefs,  they find various aspects of their old life that they must reject. Equally, other things can be re-interpreted in the light of the Scriptures. Cultural traditions with no religious significance, for example, the red dot that denotes the married status of a Hindu woman, are allowed to remain. 

Because these new believers remain within their own culture, not only is there little to no persecution, they have far more opportunity to spread the Gospel. Since they come to faith as a group, there is no disruption of their community.

What do you think? 

Are there aspects of Western society that could use insider movements too?




10 replies on “What is an insider movement?”

Phil Parshall talks about cultural distance which measures the barriers between a prospective new believer and a christian community in Muslim countries. The categories range from C1 (christian community is totally western and hence foreign) through to C6 (the community is indistinguishable from the indigenous culture, and believers are secret). Your insider movement would be about C5.
Alan Hirsch applies this to western society and suggests age, literacy, language, jargon, culture (e.g. public singing), etc, all constitute barriers, and that churches should try to be closer to C5 or C6 where the barriers are few.
In Australia, most churches would not be that close to Aussie culture (we don’t like authoritarian leaders, we don’t like passively sitting in rows listening to a monologue, we are generally more interested in practice than theory, public singing and shows of emotion are not much part of our culture, etc), and churches might be even further removed from some subcultures – the less literate, people whose first language is not English, artistic or sporting people, and people from minority subcultures like gays, those with mental illnesses, etc, etc.
The simple church approach seems more able to bridge these cultural barriers – especially the idea that established christians don’t start churches which they hope will minister to a subculture, but encourage and support new converts to start a church within their own subculture. This concept is still not generally recognised or accepted – not long ago we reluctantly withdrew from a church planting mission by a major denomination because they insisted on establishing a church first and hope to adapt as people from ethnic subcultures joined rather than wait and build the new church with, and to suit, the new converts.
So I think Aussie society has moved on from the culture of most established churches, so that virtually all Aussie society could use an insider movement.

This movement occurs in every place, people and culture where persecution has removed the foreigners after the gospel has been planted. It is the same action which happened in China after the Boxer rebellion in 1898. The missionaries really hadn’t required a cultural shift in believers, so the rebellion that was against what was perceived at governmental levels as imperialism removed foreign believers, but the church still grew.
And then in the 1930’s new believers in areas where Jesus had not been known, were reached by Chinese themselves. Under Mao’s cultural revolution persecution was severe against national Chinese even though their cultural identity was the same as everyone else. The persecution was against the gospel.
The movement that started in the 30’s, called “Back to Jerusalem”, where Chinese believers identify their mission as preaching the gospel in the nations between them and Israel, has again arisen in the hearts of the Chinese church. They will have increased impact on the middle east, even without being inside that culture where persecution is even more severe. They are ready for the job!

Great post. Thanks!
“Are there aspects of Western society that could use insider movements too?”
Yes. For me I continue to attend a traditional Sunday morning service with the hopes of having a greater impact for Christ this way. I feel I could leave, and become cut off from that culture, or I can stay connected to these brothers and sisters and hope to be all things to all people.

Thank you all for these fascinating insights.
UnkleE, I think what you say about the potential for insider movements in Australia is incredibly relevant within any Western context. What would a church where surfers would feel comfortable look like? It certainly wouldn’t look like our typical Western church. I’m guessing they would meet on the beach or in a bar, they would dress extremely casually, they would use and understand surfing metaphors (riding the wave as a symbol for the Christian life) and so on. There are some things that would be the same–they would pray for each other and the community, they would learn and apply the Word, they would share life and food together. Other surfers would feel completely culturally at home within that environment. (They may not feel comfortable if convicted about sin, but that’s not a cultural issue.)

Carolyn, you are right in this. Persecution makes a difference.
We have friends who have started simple “insider” churches in places like Orissa, India. When the persecution started there and churches were destroyed a few years back, people didn’t find the house churches that met quietly with no amplified music and sermons and so they were left alone. An “insider” church that doesn’t appear foreign is more likely to escape problems.

Jon, an interesting thought.
When the charismatic move hit the UK back in the 70s, we had many friends who stayed inside the traditional church. In many cases, they were able to see other lives revitalized, although, with notable exceptions, they usually they saw little difference in how the church functioned. I guess it depends on how the Lord leads you. I think there could well be insider movements within some denominations.

I was intrigued by the Wikipedia entry on Insider Movements ( ) which notes that “The gospel of Jesus Christ was a message about the Kingdom of God, not about a new religion. It was intended for all people in all places, not to be confined to particular cultural or linguistic forms. Jesus launched movements to faith within Jewish, Samaritan and gentile communities and his apostles and the early church did the same. Over time, however, this basic message of faith in Jesus took on cultural and linguistic expressions of the peoples and societies where the message was being embraced.”
Perhaps there is much we can learn about how faith in Jesus was spreading in the first century. Why, for example, did Paul continue his association and identity as a Pharisee long after he become a believer? Acts 23:6

David, it’s interesting that the only things that the elders in Jerusalem decided to charge the Gentiles who became followers of Jesus was that they were to abstain from immorality and weren’t to eat meat from animals that had been strangled or sacrificed to idols. Even that last one was moderated by Paul later. Nothing about keeping the Sabbath, tithing or any of the other OT cultural norms. So new expressions of church lifestyle were free to remain within their culture.

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