Insider Movements vs. C5 contextualization: is there a difference?

This post has been updated an expanded upon after a year of thinking upon this issue.  Please read the new post by clicking here.

NOTE: This is an objective article, not intended to share the opinions of the author concerning use of such strategies discussed.

There is a major issue I want to flush out and get to the bottom of.  It seems that amongst missiological circles and even published in major mission scholar journals that the terms Insider Movements and C5 contextualization are interchangeable.  I submit this humble treatise to argue that there is a crucial difference of the two, and request possible new terminology to represent such differences.

A few examples to note that combine the terms C5 and insider movements:

  • Bill Nikides’ article Evaluating “Insider Movements”: C5 (Messianic Muslims) where he reinterprets the original C1-C6 in light of insider movement terminology. (Nikides 2006)
  • John Stringer has a section titled C5: “Insider Movements” in his critique of contextualization. (Stringer 2007: 7)

Here are a few examples of those who are on target with these issues:

  • Timothy Tennent, who critics insider movements properly separates the two, “The growing emphasis on ‘insider movements’ often linked with ‘C-5’ strategy calls for continued discussion and reflection among mission leaders today.” (Tennent 2006:101)
  • H.L. Richard, a prominent Hindu scholar does a good job of separating the two. (Richard 2009: 175-176)
  • I will repost much of Rebecca Lewis’ Promoting Movements to Christ within Natural Communities (Lewis 2007: 74-75) who does a good job of teasing apart the two definitions.{Rebecca Lewis also separates the difference between ‘insider movement’ people movement’ and church planting movement’ in IJFM 26.1 (Lewis 2009: 16-19)}

According to a brilliant scholar and experienced worker, Rebecca Lewis,

“an ‘insider movement’ is any movement to faith in Christ where a) the gospel flows through pre-existing communities and social networks and where b) believing families, as valid expressions of the Body of Christ, remain inside their socio-religious communities, retaining their identity as members of that community while living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.” (Lewis 2007: 75-76)

John Travis, who coined the C-scale describes points of the scale,

“By definition, C3 and C4 Christ-centered communities are attempts to stay and witness within one’s community of birth: in other words, to remain an ‘insider.’ Therefore, perhaps we need to find a better term like ‘cultural insider’ (for C3 and C4) and ‘religious’ or ‘socio-religious’ insider to describe C5.” (originally in Mission Frontiers 28:5 p.7, quoted from IJFM 24.1 [Corwin 2007: 15])

Travis agrees there is a difference in culture and religion as well as how these play into the C-scale.  He admits himself that “insider” is getting used too often (or as Heath & Heath say “semantic stretch” p.173).  C5 contextualization and Insider Movements are not mutually inclusive terms.

Biblical scholar and missiologist Rick Brown says, “so insider believers can be found across the C-spectrum of Christ-centered communities, although insider movements occur only in C4 and C5.” (Richard 2009:177).  I would change one word here: “only” and substitute it for “usually.”

One key difference I see is that the C-scale is is reporting how far along the scale believers are seeking God according to their indigenous culture forms, although it also looks at identity.  Insider Movements look at the identity of the believer, but more along the lines of familial and community networks.  Members of Insider Movements would answer yes to the following: do they hold the same social status as they did before encountering Christ or not?  Are the communities  allowed to remain in their previous network (as opposed to a conglomeration of individuals from various aspects of society)?

Two situations that may help picture this:

A gathering of Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) who come from different parts of the city, but are coming together for study and prayer.  They were strangers who met at this meeting.  They only see each other once a week although enjoy each other’s company.  The style may even look Islamic but when the individuals are pulled out of their network it ceases to become an ‘insider movement’.

Albeit unusual, I propose the following as a extreme point for contrast.  There is a C3 community where a village or sector in society have all become MBBs.  These groups of families are frustrated with Islam so leave their religious ways behind.  They still worship in their language, but it does not resemble Islam.  They may not even still call themselves Muslim.  The whole community/familiar network has decided to follow Jesus and have abandoned the ways of Islam.  Perhaps they even look Western (or Asian, African, or Latin American).  However since the entire network made a group decision, they are still Insiders.

It is more about the network and communal ties than the “religion”.  The most misleading situation is a house of religion (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, etc.) that begins to follow Jesus as a whole, but is still made of people who randomly come together for worship (like we see in the West).  Insider Movements occur when the gospel takes over a web of dyadic living, regardless of what it looks like.

Confusing stuff?!?

Once again I will refer to Rebecca Lewis’ comments on this subject to end,

“In my view, ‘insider movements’ are distinct from the C-scale in that, regardless of how Western or non-Western their forms, all that matters is that no new communities (no ‘aggregate churches’) are formed to extract believers from their pre-existing families and networks, so that they naturally retain their former identity. As such, ‘insider movements’ can take place within any socioreligious context, Western or not (such as Russian Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Chinese Communist, etc.), as long as believers remain inside their families, networks and communities, retaining the socioreligious identity of that group. So, while their new spiritual identity is in following Jesus Christ, and they gladly identify themselves with Him, they remain in their birth family and community and retain the temporal identity of their familial socio-religious context. A C5 church might or might not have developed along the lines of natural social networks, and it might or might not be part of a movement and is therefore distinct from ‘insider movements.’ ‘Messianic synagogues,’ for example, though highly contextualized in forms to religious Judaism, are not an ‘insider movement’ because they are neither flowing through Jewish family networks nor have they succeeded in retaining an acceptably Jewish identity among Jews. Messianic mosques and messianic ashrams often suffer the same fate, following an aggregate model of fellowship formation instead of letting the gospel flow through pre-existing natural communities.” (Lewis 2007: 75-76)


For an unbiased approach, check out the wikipedia article.


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11 Responses to “Insider Movements vs. C5 contextualization: is there a difference?”

  1. A. Houssney Says:

    I think you are confused about the C-Scale (although I find the C-Scale to be a severely limiting and stilted paradigm).

    You write: “Contrast with a C3 community where a village… may or may not still call themselves Muslim”

    If they are C3 they by definition do NOT call themselves Muslims. (“C1-C3 believers all identify themselves as “Christians.” – Joshua Massy “His Ways are not Our Ways”)

    Perhaps you are eager to make this distinction because of the “bad press” that C5 contextualization has gotten recently. However the real question should not be “Are Insider Movements™ C5?” The real question should be “are Insider Movements™ Biblical?

    (Another question is “Why are they called Insider Movements: they are so obviously not movements but agendas. They are promoted not by “Insiders” but by Western academic institutions and those who have bought into their thinking.)

    Following Christ is not simply an internal “personal decision,” as popular as that idea has become in the ever-individualistic West. Following Christ is a total rejection of the past life and identity (dying to self) and a rebirth into a totally different and new reality, including a new community/family – the Church. Why do Westerners so easily advocate a divorce from the universal Church? Why amputate the individual follower of Christ or the local community of believers from the history and community of Christ’s people?

    This is a grave error and it will ultimately fail because it is short sighted, culturally biased, and unbiblical.


    • Adam Hoffman Says:

      Thanks for the comments. I agree that the lines became blurred when I referred to C3 as Muslim believers, thanks for helping me clarify this.

      I also agree that the primary question must always be “how does this view align with the Bible?” I do believe that the Bible allows freedom for cultural (not religious) reinterpretation of how to apply Biblical principles.

      I disagree with your assertion that the Missiology of Insider Movements arose based on outside influence. Insider Movements were discovered not forced. While I am ignorant on the etymology and why “Insider Movement” was chosen as a title, I am certain that the movements were found before they were ever strategized.

      I also agree that all believers in Christ MUST be involved in a community of believers. Two points of divergence: Why do people have to join the Western (often seen as Universal) church in order to become Christian? Isn’t the better way to get communities rather than individuals involved into Christ following fellowships to infuse the gospel into already existing networks, rather than the extraction of new followers into an aggregate community?

      The intention of the post was merely to tease apart the definition of C5 and Insider Movement as they are often blurred. My personal view often ignores the C-scale. I am in favor of peoples being able to form a church out of existing relations and the community and allow them the freedom to interpret the Bible believing the Holy Spirit is guiding them.

      Thanks for your coming reply.

  2. Andrew Parsons Says:

    A. Houssney:

    The idea that insider movements are agendas is a straw-man fallacy, propagated by anti-insider movement thinking individuals.

    All of the insider movements I have heard of are run by the people, not some academic institution or Westerner from the outside. Furthermore, the people themselves through the power of the Holy Spirit decide whether to remain in their socio-religious/cultural context, (as with Acts 15) or to leave and become a “Christian” (whatever that means. I guess to this is the real question: Is Christianity biblical.)

    The “universal Church” is entirely differenty from the “universal church” which is what I think you are talking about. All of the churches on the earth do not make up the “Church”. I haven’t seen anyone in these Insider discussions advocate a divorce from “Church”. Though I am sure many advocate (and rightly so) a divorce from “church”.

    The “individual follower of Christ” should have the choice of being amputated from the “history”, as it’s a bloody and horrible history with a lot of baggage that many times prevents people from following Christ.

  3. Josiah Says:

    I’ve spoken with Becky Lewis about this topic in the past, and she gave me a useful example: Any “people group” movement whereby an entire community comes to faith in Christ can also be termed as an insider movement, though religious and cultural faith practices may change (thus veering towards the C-3, even C-2 range).

    You can also have an IM in a western “churched” area: Someone who, through a friend, meets Jesus could choose to not go to a church full of strangers (this is becoming increasingly more common). Yet, they still very well could be an actively worshiping, Christ-centered individual who establishes Christian community with friends that they ALREADY HAVE. Other friends of theirs who come to Christ, and are already connected through a secular connection, don’t need to join a new community.

    I think Houssney two misunderstandings. The first is the focus of the post. I don’t think that Adam is meaning to defend either C-5 or Insider Movements in here, but just to distinguish them. Also, I think Houssney has a misunderstanding of how Christ and culture interact. Christians don’t form their own culture, associating only internally and reaching outside only to pull in converts. Christians are a sub-culture of people who love Jesus, follow Him, and do so within the surrounding culture. I would respond with the following question: why amputate the individual follower of Christ or the local community of believers from the perfect position to witness the glory of God and transforming power of Christ to their family, friends, and loved ones?

  4. Josiah Says:

    It also seems that Houssney terms Insider differently from Lewis/Adam/myself, judging from his own blog. I would just like to specifically add that insiders as we reference them are not highly contextualized missionaries or converts. They only as the word implies: insiders (of a community) that were previously in there and from that inside a movement is spread. I honestly don’t think I’d call any missionary an insider in that sense, as they are fundamentally from the outside. They may promote new followers to live from the inside, but they themselves are not insiders. What you do with that and with high level contextualization is important, but another discussion to be had.

  5. Divorce Says:

    for sure an interesting post of yours =)

  6. Warrick Farah Says:

    Thanks Adam. I reposted with some comments here:

    To summarize, I would say then that the difference between Insider and C5 is that, while there may be significant overlap between the two depending on the context, C5 stresses one being a “religious insider” (remaining in the prevailing religious system of their context) while Insider stresses one being a “cultural insider” (remaining in the same sociological network of people that they were in when they came to Christ). It is the potential for overlap between “religion” and “culture” that makes distinguishing the terms complex. In many places within the Muslim world, Insider and C5 would be synonymous paradigms.

    In my opinion, new believers should remain as much as possible inside their networks, where “as much as possible” means anything that does not morally or theologically compromise their witness, integrity, and unique identity in the body of Christ. Syncretism is a serious issue and should be addressed in every context, Islamic or not. It is naive to assume or impose that a new believer should remain a “Muslim” or inside his previous spiritual/religious system because the possibility of fellowshipping with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14) is as real for him (and you and I!) as it was for the church in Corinth. Jesus is jealous for us.

    But isn’t the crucial issue behind all of this is one’s definition of a local “church?”

  7. Says:

    I actually Feel posting, “Insider Movements vs. C5 contextualization:
    is there a difference? Missiological Blogger” was indeed good!
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  8. duanemiller Says:

    Hi Missiological Blogger, I have recently published an article on the origins of the concept of IM which I think you may find interesting:

    The source goes back to the 1930’s.

  9. Abu Daoud Says:

    I often wonder if there are any ‘genuine insider movements out there to begin with. I recently reviewed an article by Jeff Morton on Insider Movements and you can check it out here:

  10. Vaughn Says:

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