Jesus, Discipleship, and Movement: The Four Places of Human Flourishing

by JR Woodward

disciple making, JR Woodward, church-planting movementsMost who study social and spiritual movements with the hope of seeing the gospel go to the ends of the earth agree that the key to cultivating a church-planting movement is discipleship. It makes sense, since this is the clear mandate found in the Great Co-mission that Jesus gave His disciples and that has been passed down to us:

God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go and make disciples, far and near, in this way of life, submerging them in Trinitarian presence. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20, The Message)[1]

Yet too often we have failed to understand the genius of how Jesus approached discipleship, and how His approach cultivated a movement in the first century that turned the world upside down.

Research shows that there are four social groups – places to belong – that humans need to flourish: intimate space, personal space, social space, and public space.[2]

  • Intimate space involves 2-4 close friends with whom we are most vulnerable.
  • Personal space is the 5-12 people with whom we grow.
  • Social space, what the New Testament calls oikos, are those 20-50 folks we do life with.
  • Public pace involves 70 ore more people in the neighborhood.

These four spaces are the ways we belong to each other.

Jesus lived into these spaces long before sociologists discovered them. He confided with the 3, trained the 12, mobilized the 70, and spoke parables to the crowds.[3]

At the heart of a movement is being and making disciples. Jesus shows us that this takes place in personal space, that 6-12 people who we are helping to live into God and build communities on mission. Within this group, you can find 2-3 people to be more vulnerable with.

Most churches have a weekly gathering (public space) and small groups (personal space). But two vital spaces are missing. The small group (personal space) was never meant to bear the weight of the intimate and social space. In fact, it can’t.

Typically, our small groups are kept open for new people, and if we are hospitable, we cater the group toward the new person. As a result, there is no depth.

For Jesus, personal space was by invitation only. It was a closed group designed for deeper discipleship and accountability. But the disciples didn’t live isolated lives. They lived in the midst of social space, which was open for others.

Social space is the prime space to grow and multiply, because it is best for community formation and mission. While instruction takes place in personal space, people learn by imitation as we build social space together.  If discipleship only involves instruction, it short-circuits’ discipleship. Most people learn by doing what we do, not what we say. So discipleship needs to take place in a small enough space that we can lead by example.

If the Church is going to live into movement in the West, we must recapture Jesus’ understanding of the groundwork of movement. Public space is great for inspiration, but it’s not the place we bear our soul or engage in incarnational discipleship and live on everyday mission.

If we want to help the Church grow in movement intelligence, we need to use public space to encourage people to get involved in the grassroots work of movement: tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally-rooted presence, and boundary-crossing mission. This takes place in intimate, personal, and social space.

As we live into life with the Father, Son, and Spirit, and join God on mission,  and as we recover how to live into the four spaces of belonging, we will see movement in the West once more.


[1] Part of this translation is from Dallas Willard, found in The Great Omission.

[2] Joseph Myers in his book The Search to Belong uses Edward Hall’s sociological research to describe the four spaces of belonging we each need in order to flourish as human beings.

[3] This is is Michael Hyatt’s terminology in his blog post “The Leadership Strategy of Jesus,” Your Virtual Mentor (blog), March 28, 2016, http://mi


JR-Woodward-2JR Woodward (@Dreamawakener) is a church planter, activist, missiologist, and author of Creating a Missional Culture. He co-founded Kairos Los Angeles, theEcclesia Network, the Solis Foundation, and Missio Alliance. He currently serves national director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He serves locally at the District Church in Washington DC and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (U.K.). He loves to surf, travel, read, skateboard and meet new people. He enjoys photography and film and tries to attend the Sundance Festival whenever he can. He is co-author of The Church as Movement.