Insider Movement vs C5: Is there a difference?

NOTE: This is an objective article, not intended to share the opinions of the author concerning use of such strategies discussed. This also is an update to a previously article titled: “Insider Movement vs C5 contextualization: is there a difference”

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 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)

Insider Movement can be simplified into: who is in the local ‘church’? The two major factors for insider movements are community and identity. Remaining in their own social network without leaving their pre-existing community is the primary factor. The secondary factor under community is identity. What does this community see themselves as? (Muslims, Muslims who follow Isa, Christians, etc.). Insider Movement proponents fundamentally argue against aggregate church planting (who have progressed from extraction church planting).

Many missionaries go to the field looking to start a movement. Say a missionary, Paul, meets on separate occasions Philemon and a Roman Centurion. Aggregate church planting methodology would have Paul, Philemon and the Roman Centurion meeting together. This may (or may not) take Philemon or the Roman centurion out of their natural communities. Insider Movement methodology would refrain from having Philemon and the Roman centurion meet. Instead Paul would equip both to share their faith with their family and “implant” the gospel into their natural community.

In contrast, the C-scale is about “Christ Centered Communities” and helps answer the question: what does the ‘church’ look like? The primary factor is the forms to which the community adapts their biblical faith. The secondary factor is identity: what will this community call itself? In the C-scale, most of the controversy is between C4/C5. When nailed down, a C4 community calls themselves Christian and opposes styles of worship/prayer that are strictly Muslim (accept neutral forms). A C5 community calls themselves Muslims and look to reinterpret styles of worship/prayer that are strictly Muslim, infusing them with gospel meaning.

John Travis, who coined the C-scale over a decade ago revisits it with new ‘insider’ terminology,

“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). Insider Movements and C5 are not mutually inclusive terms. However with the identity component as described in both earlier, there is overlap. It is true that most times when people stay in their communities, they will also stay within their religious group. I would say that most often insider movements are found within C5 communities.

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.”

There is a caveat here. Since the primary indicator of an insider movement is the community identity, a whole community can move across the C-scale as time goes on. Say a group of Muslims turn to faith along familiar lines. In the beginning everyone still calls themselves Muslims and look on the outside like Muslims. Once the movement has reached the tipping point and comprises the majority and leadership of a community, the community could decide as a whole to reject different forms and change the communal identity. Thus they would maintain their insider movement while crossing into another category along the C-scale.

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’ even though it is a C5 community.

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 no longer refer to 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 an C3 insider movement.

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.


In both Insider Movements and the C-scale identity matters, there is some overlap. However identity is a subset of either community or form/style. The primary factors that describe the two terms must be teased apart for there to be an intellectual conversation about the issues at hand. It also seems that the primary controversy surrounds this misunderstanding dealt with today. In my estimation most people meaning to critique the issue of contextualization and syncretism should be talking in terms of the C-scale. Insider Movements seem to be mistakenly tacked on to C5 within this controversy.

To close this I will refer to Rebecca Lewis’ comments,

“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 more information, an unbiased source that may be helpful is the Wikipedia article

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6 Responses to “Insider Movement vs C5: Is there a difference?”

  1. Vinod Says:

    Good reflection. I’m yet to read it in depth and will comment later. However, for now just wanted to point out that H.L. Richard is not a “prominent Hindu scholar.”

  2. joiepirkey Says:

    Christianity can develop culture, Islam can develop culture (even more so because it is a political ideology as well), however culture is not the primary issue. Being born again is. Who is God and who is Allah? When a false prophet claims attributes and characteristics about God and the person of Jesus Christ that are not biblical he is a heretic and this new made up god is not God. If his heresy forms a new culture the heresy itself is still the point of trouble. Who is Jesus is the question, not how He transforms a culture or how those being born again deal with cultural ramifications from their new perspective. With that being said, if you use the cultural issue to justify your contextualization of the gospel then you are nothing more than a crafty heretic. To pigeon hole Christianity with Islam is a sin and God Hates it.

    • Adam Hoffman Says:

      Thanks for your comments. I wanted some further discussion and clarification from you. I understand god is against idols, those who profane his name … Heretics. I want to make sure I am hearing your last statement as you intend. Does god hate Islam the culture? The political system? The religion? Something else? Is there a god given culture? Is there such thing as a “Christian” way to worship?

      I agree that knowing christ intimately & personally is the first step. In my mind though, once we have that we are to imitate Him by bringing shalom to a society through cultural change. Christ is primary but the out-workings of that manifest in engaging with ones’ context. Do you agree or disagree?

      Also are you advocating for a way to not contextualize the gospel?

      I look forward to your response and continued dialog.

  3. Jason Van Bemmel Says:

    I remember hearing Ravi Zacharias teach years ago: Religion is the essence of culture and culture is the dress of religion. Islamic culture is built on core beliefs that are at direct odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ- the Mohammed is the Final Prophet of God and that the Koran is God’s Word, His final and ultimate revelation to the world.

    We need to make sure we are clear about the truth of God- the Scriptures, the person and work of Christ, what it means to worship an idol or embrace a false prophet, etc.

  4. What I Read Online – 02/29/2012 (p.m.) | Emeth Aletheia Says:

    […] Insider Movement vs C5: Is there a difference? « Missiological Blogger […]

  5. site Says:

    Brilliant, thank you, I will bookmark you soon.

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