Curtis Sergeant – Zúme Origins

Episode Description

Hear from Curtis Sergeant about the origins, the vision, and the current progress of Zúme’s training of multiplying disciples. 

Curtis reflects on the origins of movement approaches in international missions, but generally not in the United States. He discusses how this gap of adoption of movement thinking in the United States and the failing strength of the U.S. church was an early motivator for Zúme. 

Within a small group of movement practitioners, known as the Jonathan Project, the idea began to form around the need for an online way to train effectively. This project was leading the ambitious effort to see 1 million new Christian groups and 1000 people groups engaged in 10 years. 

As this project concluded, the group realized that they needed some online options for training. The issue of accessibility regarding different languages was a top motivation. There were many languages that did not have good trainers available. 

Zúme was also conceived as a way to filter for active practitioners. The reality facing trainers is that even after the investment of months into individuals and good portion of those trained do not continue as faithful movement practitioners.

Curtis led the original subteam that began working on Zúme. It has become a community of volunteers building, coaching, and funding this training and global coaching effort.

Episode Transcription

Narrator: Curtis, can you just tell us a little bit about the history of Zúme? I know it’s a big question. So much has happened just in the last few years but where did this idea even start?

Curtis: First of all, maybe from a conceptual standpoint or motivational standpoint. This whole idea of movements, church planting movements or disciple making movements really started overseas in various countries in Asia back around the very early 90s.

Breakthrough started to happen and then it started to be used in other countries. It notably jumped over to Africa in addition to other places in Asia. A lot of new things were happening sort of in the missions world and it didn’t really impact the United States first of all.

The approaches were developed for very unreached areas and there also wasn’t as much in the US. As time went on, movements continued to make a big impact in more and more places all around the world.

It sort of became obvious that this could be helpful for work in the US because generally the churches are stagnated or declining. There was a need for that, so that was part of what led to the development of Zúme.

In terms of specifics, there was a group of about a half a dozen people who were church planting movement practitioners. These people were meeting together. It was called the Jonathan Project.

The goal of the Jonathan Project was to start church planting efforts using movement approaches among a thousand people groups within a 10 year period that planted at least a million new congregations.

That small group of us we would meet together usually once a year live and then in between virtually. A number of us were from the United States originally, so we started talking about how we were feeling a bit of a burden for our home country as we were pursuing this project.

Just as a point of interest, with that group we met our goals a couple of years early. So we officially disbanded.

I’m thinking and this is embarrassing, but I don’t remember the year we officially launched. Maybe it was 2017, but I do know the date was February 14th. We picked Valentine’s Day as the launch date because of the whole “love God, love others” emphasis within Zúme.

So February 14th, Valentine’s Day, is the birthday and I’m thinking it was 2017 but we officially launched when the idea came up. One of the factors that led to Zúme being online was the sense that we needed some online options and that was related to several factors…

One factor was accessibility because we knew that we wanted it in a number of different languages. In some of those languages there weren’t a lot of good trainers who could train live at least at the scale that would be needed within those languages.

So part of it was just accessibility. Part of it also was actually because it would provide a way to filter people who were trained. So all over the world people who train in these topics in live settings discover that not every person who goes through training will then follow through as a committed and dedicated practitioner of the things that they’ve been trained in.

So what typically happens is, I’ll just make up some numbers to give a sense of scale, but maybe you train 20 people and you invest significantly in those 20 people for several months. Post training, before it becomes apparent that 15 of them aren’t going to continue as faithful or committed practitioners of what you’ve trained them in. So in a sense you’ve wasted a lot of time and effort investing deeply into those other 15 people for over a period of several months. That just gets frustrating after a while. So Zúme a in a sense provides an opportunity for people to self filter. If they go through the entire training course and they’re faithful in doing that and applying that and so on then they’re wanting more coaching or mentoring or training, you can be confident that they know what they’re asking for and they’re much more likely to use it. So that was another big factor.

All of those were sort of pieces in the thinking behind the establishment of Zúme. I sort of volunteered from within the group to be the point person for developing Zúme. I provided the leadership to pull together a team of people, including some of those that were in the Jonathan Project, to work together on developing Zúme.

We have continued to meet regularly since then and as we’ve developed it. It’s been interesting. We don’t have a 501c3, we don’t have an organization, we don’t have a bank account. It’s just purely a network of people who are committed to doing this who are working together to provide funds to provide the work and whatever needs to happen to develop it.

All of us are doing other things full-time but volunteer our efforts towards Zúme and so developing this project or this tool has become a community effort.

I’m not sure where to go from there, do you have any other specific questions that you want me to dig into further?

Narrator: Super helpful just what you’re sharing. It’s amazing looking at this timeline on and just to think as you talked about it being on Valentine’s Day 2017. That’s not even five years ago! But it’s great to see all that is happening through Zúme in the US and globally.

It has here on the timeline that around April 2015 “the project was envisioned”. What was happening then? Was there anything significant? Why is that moment marked on this timeline?

Curtis: That was one of our face-to-face meetings for that Jonathan project group. It just came up that we were seeing that we would probably meet our goals in terms of the global impact. But we were expressing concerns for the fate of the church in the United States.

So I had this idea for an online expression of a training and got up and sketched it out. I felt like i had a download from the Lord on what it would look like. And it’s very much what it is today. I just kind of sketched all that out on the board.

Of course, you can’t launch it just from having the concept. We had to meet together, form a team, start doing some of the initial website development, things like that, before we could launch. That’s what happened in the gap between the envisioning and the February 2017 launch.

Narrator: From a download to an upload!

Curtis: Yeah, exactly.

Narrator: As I look through this timeline, I see a couple of patterns. There are a few different launches like “relaunches” that happened… like the latest of a most recent version from October 2019. What’s that process been like? Just in having relaunches and improving, different tweaks, etc? What’s been helpful in those relaunches?

Curtis: Some of those relaunches revolved around figuring out how the website worked, what it looked like, and things like that. It was tied to figuring out better ways to present the content of the course.

On that timeline it also mentions the first efforts in using different approaches. For example, the Somali training effort was our first use of putting it on SD cards for distribution in highly persecuted, low-tech

Then you see that the Maryland saturation effort was just to get people trained in every county in the state. Also to see what trying to get geographic distribution looks like because a lot of the goals on Zúme are tied to geographic saturation at some level. For the US, for example, we break it down into census tracts which are 5000 people. So essentially for every 5000 people we’re wanting to have training groups and simple churches planted out of that. Maryland was just an example of what it looks like practically at least at initial saturation levels.

Narrator: Let’s talk about the name Zúme. How did that happen?

Curtis: I don’t even remember for sure who it was; it might have been Eric Derry. But I’m not sure somebody in that Jonathan Project group threw that out as we were just talking about names. And we liked it so we took it. Zúme is the Greek word for “leaven”. The idea is referencing the Kingdom parable where Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who took yeast and mixed it into a large amount of flour until it was all leavened. So this idea of simple people with simple tools but having a major saturating impact and was what we were going for.

Narrator: When we go through more episodes of this podcast we’ll get to see a glimpse of some of the incredible ways that God is using the Zúme Discipleship Training to see disciples and churches multiply across the globe.

What is the big vision for Zúme? If dreams could come true, what would be happening?

Curtis: The dream is saturating the globe with multiplying disciples and multiplying churches. That’s what it’s really about. We have specific goals related to different population groups. If you go to the site that you referenced where that history is overviewed, you can look at some maps on there. As you zoom in on the maps you’ll notice that you can currently get down to county levels globally or whether whatever those are called in each country. Very soon we’ll launch what you might determine as village level units globally. So it goes all the way down to communities in the cities and villages. So that’s in a sense the smallest unit. And you can configure those maps so that you can look at progress towards saturation. So that idea of saturating the globe just like that Zúme saturated the flour and leavened all of it, that’s the vision we’re after.

Narrator: Amen! There are so many stories that are coming out from using Zúme so I won’t ask you for your favorite one. But, what are some of the first stories that come to mind? Or what are some quick glimpses of how God has been using Zúme over the last few years?

Curtis: It’s the simple things that bring me joy a lot of the time. For instance, you’ll hear stories about some kid or some housewife or whatever in some random place that goes through the discipleship course and they get confidence. They’ve never shared their faith before but now they’re sharing their faith with people, people are coming to the Lord through that and then they’re knowing how to equip those people to grow in their faith and to reach others. That activation of ordinary believers all over the world with these simple discipleship tools is fulfilling because that’s the idea: every disciple of Christ being actively engaged in advancing the Kingdom.

Secondarily, the places that are particularly difficult to reach with the Gospel or that haven’t had much access to disciple and church multiplication training are getting reached. For example, it’s exciting to have lots of churches planted in Somalia as a result of that training in the somali language. Those churches would not have been planted otherwise.

Somalia has been a particularly difficult place to reach with the Gospel because of all the security issues. To see significant evangelism advance in a place like that is exciting.

I haven’t looked recently but perhaps 6 months ago the number of registrations from different languages and different countries was kind of surprising. They were countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and so on. About 7 of the top 10 were in very unreached countries.

The United States ranked 9th in terms of the number of registrations by country. So just to see that hunger for this type of biblical training and equipping in those places where it’s much more challenging to do live trainings because of the security situations. Those countries are getting access at a significant level to that kind of training.

Narrator: A pattern that many listeners could probably relate to. I would think that to create something that is seeing such significant impact is not without its hardships. In the journey, this wasn’t a total smooth carpool-lane-on-the-highway type of creation. Could you speak about some of the challenges that you all had to to face and overcome in these last few years to see Zúme where it is today?

Curtis: One of the things I think has actually been helpful but it was a little difficult was, as I mentioned, that we don’t have an organization, we don’t, have a staff we don’t have a bank account, etc. We haven’t put money into advertising other than free advertising on Facebook because we got a loan of the free AdWords provided to nonprofits from two organizations. So we’ve got $20,000 dollars a month now that we can access for that but we haven’t done any paid advertising. And so, growing it and especially developing a significant platform like that does take money. We started with just what those of us who were involved would donate personally and then as people began to be aware of it they would ask us how they could donate, so we’d figure out ways to use that. But we’ve done this very inexpensively, like “bubble gum and baling wire” level of development.

This, in a sense, has forced us to be more efficient more focused in our use of these funds. Mostly because they’re so limited it forces us to work in a way that we’re seeing organic growth since we can’t do paid ads like so many christian online ministries that dump huge amounts of money into online and advertising.

Since we’re not in a position to do this, it makes it more challenging but in a sense more sustainable. This is due to the ways that we’re working with that bring about organic growth, which is more stable in a sense.

Narrator: Is there anything that you have been surprised by in this journey? Or anythin that happened unexpectedly? And that could be in a good way also.

Curtis: Yeah, in fact I will take a good way. I need to go back and look at the real numbers but around the beginning of the COVID pandemic, if memory serves me correctly, we were seeing maybe a thousand users per month on the platform. Then very shortly after COVID started we started seeing 50,000 unique users per month. That continued up until about 3 or 4 months ago when we took a little drop in that. But we’re still well over 30,000 unique users a month, even now.

It was as if we got the basics ready and functioning okay just in time for the pandemic to hit. When this interest increased so dramatically and that is obviously not something we planned or prepared for per se. We were just as just as surprised as everybody else. But it was as if God had helped us get ready just in time to in a sense take advantage of the opportunity of the increased online activity.

Narrator: That’s amazing how God is using that time of crisis and Zúme just to see it take off. What do you wish more people knew or understood about Zúme?

Curtis: That’s a great question. I think my first response would be that I wish more people understood that Zúme can be used as a reinforcement of things that I hope they’re already equipping people in. One of the lessons that I don’t know how I delayed in learning, but I’m significantly delayed in learning it, is the lesson that reinforcement is good and necessary in terms of equipping people and training people in areas of ministry. And I think that something that a lot of people under-appreciate is how important that is. And I wish people understood that Zúme could be a great reinforcing tool because it’s available anytime in lots of languages. People can use it to reinforce some really important lessons in terms of online ministries.

I think there are a lot of online ministries that would benefit greatly from tying into Zúme because it’s a sort of “niche product”, if you will. There are lots of online evangelism things, there are a pretty fair number of online discipleship tools, but very few of them do a very great job of having accountability structures built into them. Also, very few of them lead to online church. So in a sense, Zúme is close to unique in some of those aspects of getting all the way to church and the way that accountability structures are built in. It’s a great supplement for other online tools.

For instance, if there’s an online discipleship program, this would be a great additional step for the people who participate in it. For sure if there’s an online evangelism site, tying people into Zúme could greatly benefit those people that visiting and coming to faith through those sites. It’s a little bit of a niche product and one that i think would greatly supplement or complement other ministries.

Narrator: Soon in an episode we’re going to talk about all these different tools and software and how they integrate together like Disciple Tools and many others, but something I would love for us to highlight is Zúme’s real-time map. It shows the progression of the blessing, the vision cast, people real’ ‘time around the world that are using Zúme, that are sharing it with others, etc. I remember you saying at one point that Google can’t even track the amount that it’s being used. Can you talk about that real-time map?

Curtis: Yeah. On that map in the right hand column it lists all of the places and what they’re studying or doing right now. Then on the map itself it only indicates about the last 10 hours. The list reflects 100 hours of activity but the map only is capable of showing about the last 10 hours of activity. So if you can if you look at you can visualize it with 10 times that much going on. It’s pretty fun to watch some of the places that pop up on the map.

Narrator: It’s incredible to see in real-time literally every continent maybe except for Antarctica, I’m not sure. But everywhere that people are engaging Zúme and pursuing not only making disciples and passing along but even growing in our own holiness. And i think that’s something that really stood out for me the first time i hopped on here talking about the vision of holiness, obedience, and love.

Before we hop to that real quick I do want to share those who are listening that you can find this real-time map at under “goals” you’ll see a spot you can click for maps. It’s just one way that you can find this map that we talked about.

So Curtis, as we wrap up this episode talking about history and even just some things to know and understand about Zúme, could you speak about why it’s so significant this way that you’ve highlighted holiness, obedience, and love as one of the first community goals of Zúme?

Curtis: When we talk about wanting to multiply or we’re talking about saturation, it’s possible to multiply bad things. It’s possible to saturate with bad things. So one of the first things we talk about in training is being a disciple worth multiplying. It starts with the being not the doing. This is critical in the Kingdom of God. We first need to be disciples that God would delight to multiply and then we can worry about multiplying. That, in a nutshell, is how I would explain it.

Narrator: So when people hop on or and they see the button “join our community”, what does that mean?

Curtis: Essentially, you’re registering for the site. It’s also possible to use the site without registering but there are advantages to registering. For example, you can get a coach for free indefinitely. You can also have your own dashboard that will quickly let you see your progress not only going through the discipleship course but also in applying the lessons from the course and equipping others. You can also see how many of those people you’re equipping are passing on what they’re receiving. The dashboard helps you track that and it’s a little bit easier to access the different pieces of training separately or individually if you register.

Narrator: Awesome! So, people, just hop on, use it, go for it, and share it with others. This tool can really help serve in the Lord’s work. Thank you Curtis for taking time to share about Zúme and a little bit about its history. Is there anything else that you would like to add before we close out this episode and look forward to future ones together?

Curtis: Just that the the history is not over. We have lots of plans for future development and improvements, some of which are pretty significant. So stay tuned for the future history.

Narrator: Amen!

Episode Notes

Hill111 Project

Zume Saturation Maps

November 8, 2021