Cell/Church Growth-Pt.3


Cell/Church Growth-Pt.4

Aggressive Evangelism

I believe that  numerical growth in the cell group must also be intentionally planned and aggressively pursued.   The members must be encouraged to  aggressively evangelize. The reality of a lost world on the edge of a Christless eternity  should never be far from the minds of both the leaders and members of the cell group.  

The Urgency of the Task

 Some have labeled this type of concern  ‘urgent evangelization’ [1]  There are many places in the Bible where this type of urgency can be found. For example, in the parable of the wedding banquet the king told his servants to, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Mat. 22:9).  Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel of Christ (I Cor. 9:16) because of the love of Christ which controlled him (II Cor. 5:14). He tells us that the  knowledge that all men would stand before the judgment seat of Christ was another motivation for the persuasion of lost men (II Cor. 5:11).  It was this same urgency that stirred him to say, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Rom. 10:14).

I acknowledge that not all churches use cell groups for the purpose of evangelism. Some groups are closed groups while others are equipped to support those with a particular type of need. On the other hand, my Ph.D. focuses on cell group ministry which has the  dual purpose of both aggressive evangelism and  warm, pastoral care.  In this type of church, there is a planned strategy to evangelize non-Christians.  

Practical Suggestions for outreach

Effective cell groups are intentional about their evangelistic activities. They plan for evangelism , and they are not satisfied with their methodology until they get results. There are many ways for the cell group to reach out.  Since this is not a ‘how to’ paper, I will just name a few:

1.     Plan  a ‘friendship dinner’ instead of the normal cell meeting with the intent of inviting non-Christian friends

2.     Use an evangelistic  video instead of the regular Bible based lesson

3.     Place a empty chair in their midst and pray for the next person who will fill it 

4.     Prepare a special outreach to one segment of society (e.g., police officers, teachers,) [2]

5.     Every other week have a special seeker sensitive cell group. On the following week, have a believer’s oriented cell group. [3]

            The list of possible evangelistic activities in the cell groups is  endless. It extends as far as the creativity of our imagination. Beyond the specific evangelistic activities that the small group uses, it’s important to remember the general philosophy behind  aggressive evangelistic activity in the small group.



What is successful cell group evangelism? Winning many to Christ in the group? Discipling the new converts in the cell? Establishing the new converts in the church?  Surely, all of the above form  vital links in the successful  chain.  However, from my studies and personal experience,  a far more superior   goal of  cell group evangelism is the  multiplication of the cell group itself.  In my opinion, this is the final measure of whether or not a group has ultimately been successful. 

This issue of cell multiplication seems to be the common thread that links all of the  rapidly growing worldwide cell churches. In each one, there  is  rapid cell group multiplication.  Larry Kreider, who is the founding apostle of several cell churches worldwide, believes that multiplication and reproduction  most clearly demonstrate God’s heartbeat for a lost an dying world. If we are going to be in tune with God, we must be willing and committed to rapid multiplication. [4] I’m so convinced of this principle, that  I will be spending the  bulk of my field research trying to determine  the factors behind cell multiplication.

 Multiplication Maintains the Intimacy

From a very practical standpoint, cell groups must multiply if they are going to maintain a state of intimacy  while continuing to reach out to non-Christian people. There is common agreement  among the experts that a cell group must be small enough so that all the members can freely contribute and share personal needs. Hadaway writes,

…the principle of cell division and growth seems critical here to help avert the problem of exclusiveness. Cell division is not always experienced as a pleasant plan of action for members who have developed deep relationships in the home group meetings. However, the purpose of such action is designed to prevent the kind of exclusiveness and inwardness that can eventually undermine one of the most significant goals of cell groups---outreach and growth (1987:101).  

The scientific study of small group dynamics has helped us to understand that as small group size increases there is a direct decrease of equally distributed  participation. In other words, the difference in the percentage of remarks between the most active person and the least active person becomes greater and greater as the small group size increases (Brilhart 1982:59).   

Even though all small group experts are in agreement that cells must remain small,  there is little agreement concerning the exact size. Many believe that the perfect size lies  between  eight and  twelve people. Mallison, who is a veteran  small group practitioner states,    “Twelve not only sets the upper limit for meaningful relationships, but provides a non—threatening situation for those who are new to small group experiences…It is significant that Jesus chose twelve men to be in his group” (1989:25). 

On the other hand, George sets  the number at ten. He  is more emphatic  by insisting that the perfect size for a cell group is ten  since it is “...the time-tested, scientifically validated size that allows for optimal communication” (1993:136). Although perhaps a bit  dogmatic, George’s  point is well worth hearing. He feels that  in order for a leader to give quality  pastoral care,  the group must be kept small (1990:125-127).

Although I personally (along with others)  believe that fifteen is a healthy limit, my point here is that  a cell group must remain small enough in order to maximize personal sharing. Therefore, when a group reaches that level, it’s essential that it gives birth to another group.  

Length of Time Before Multiplication

In many of the most rapidly growing cell churches around the world, the time that it takes for the individual cells to multiply is approximately six months  (Neighbour 1992: 32-35).  I recently even heard of a Baptist Church in Modesto, California which is multiplying their cell groups every  four months. [5]    However, it is true that not all cells multiply in a matter of months. For some it’s a matter of years.

However, there seems to be a consensus that the longer a cell group stays together, the harder it is to multiply. Carl George, who has studied multitudes of cell-based churches around the world gives this counsel,

         The gestation period for healthy groups to  grow and divide ranges from four to twenty-four months. The more frequently a group meets, the sooner it’s able to divide. If a group stays together for more than two years without becoming a parent, it stagnates. Bob Orr, of the Win Arn Church Growth, Inc., reports that groups that meet for a year without birthing a daughter cell only have a 50 percent chance of doing so. But every time a cell bears a child, the clock resets. Thus a small subgroup can remain together indefinitely and remain healthy and fresh by  giving birth every few months (1991:101)  

            Perhaps a healthy balance between the rapid multiplication period of six months and the dangerous two year figure  is a  one year goal (and time limit)  for cell multiplication. From what I understand about small group cycles, one year would give the group  sufficient time to solidify and yet not too much time to fossilize.  

The Theme: Born to Multiply

            Should a cell group be allowed to meet beyond a certain period? Should cell groups be allowed to continue indefinitely without multiplying?  As the director of a cell group ministry in two growing churches in Ecuador, it was my policy to keep the groups alive as long as possible—even if they  were weak and had not multiplied. I reasoned  from a pastoral care standpoint, that more  cells could naturally care for more church people. However, I’m beginning to understand  that this type of thinking might be dangerous to the overall thrust of the cell group ministry in the church. 

Many  in the science  of small groups believe that small groups have very definite cycles. They move from birth to death. One expert in small group ministry  said to me,   “Groups are born to die.” [6] He was referring to the life cycle of small groups (Gorman 1993: 219-237). This life cycle has a definite termination point. Concerning this termination of the group,  Julie Gormans says,  “In actuality, concluding is as vital as beginning and fulfills commitments made in contracting to end by a certain time or when goals have been reached” (1993:227). In the same way, Lyman Coleman encourages groups to have a beginning and an end (1993:4:21).

It seems to me that most cell-based ministries in the church do not take these small group life cycles very seriously, if they even know about them.  Small groups in  cell-based churches are programmed to continue indefinitely, with the general hope of multiplication. From my understanding, this certainly is the case with Paul Cho’s system  in Seoul, Korea. The groups do not have a planned termination point. Carl F. George echoes the thinking of most  of these cell-based churches when he states,

Meta-Church cells aren’t calendared to terminate. If someone wants to get away from a fellow member with whom there’s a personality conflict, and both parties can’t work it out on spiritual grounds, then one of these people can be part of a daughter cell commissioned off from the group. Tensions and discontent can be motivational devices for birthing (1992:101).  

Why have cell-based churches resisted programming their cells to stop and start according to definite time periods? In my opinion, there are at least two reasons for this resistance. First, the pastoral/caring priority is given a high priority in  these small groups. Since the need for pastoral care among the congregation never stops, why should the cell groups?  This emphasis on pastoral care can be seen in the names given to these small groups. Rarely, are they called ‘Bible Study Groups’ or  ‘Discipleship Groups’. Rather, it’s not uncommon to hear names such as,  ‘Kinship Groups’, ‘Tender  Loving Care Groups’, ‘Shepherd Groups’, or  ‘Care Groups’ (Logan 1989:125). Second, there is a move away from programs in these cell-based  churches. The idea of starting and stopping a cell group in order to join another one, appears to be closely associated with a programmatic approach that has been quite common in the traditional Sunday School system.

There could very well be other reasons why there is a resistance to this  cyclical pattern.  However, by ignoring these the definite small group cycle, perhaps the cell-based movement has  unknowingly fallen into other, more subtle  kinds of  difficulties.  These problems include:

1.     The ‘once a leader always a leader’  syndrome

Sometimes it appears that there is no honorable way out for cell leaders

2.     Maintaining  weak, non-producing groups

      Because there is no cut off point,  some groups tend to limp along year after year.

3.     Non-multiplication becomes the norm

            As I look back at my own experience, I can’t help but wonder if  weak, non-multiplying groups actually begin to stagnate the entire cell system. In other words, their experience becomes the norm. New  groups look at the weak, non-multiplying groups, and reason that there is little hope to multiple since such and such a group has not done so.  The members within these groups never experience exciting cell group multiplication and thus, even sub-consciously, they contribute to the stagnation of the entire process.

            All that I have said thus far in this section  is leading me to the revolutionary conclusion that in the cell church, the rallying cry should be : BORN TO MULTIPLY. This should be the genetic code established in every new group in the church—born to multiply. If the group does not multiply within a set number of months, perhaps it is best just to dissolve the group and let those cell members integrate into groups that are experiencing growth and multiplication.

This truth has been a growing conviction on my heart lately. For that reason, I was encouraged when  I talked with Dr. Ralph Neighbour recently. He told me that in his system, if a cell group has not multiplied within about seven months (he immediately added that the seven month figure depended on the situation), he  counsels that the cell  should dissolve and be integrated into the existing groups. [7]

I recently heard about a cell church in  Medan, Indonesia that follows similar principles. This church   was established in the mid 80's, and it now has almost 10,000 members and a  700 member "in house" Bible School to train church planters and missionaries.  The cell groups in that church comprise the core of all church activities. The effectiveness of their evangelism can be seen in this statement by one of the former members of the church, “The cells never go over 15 in number.  The goal of each group is to divide every year. In fact if a cell does not divide, it is "absorbed" by other cells.  The goal is evangelism, then discipleship”. [8]

Likewise, Tony Rosenthal, a Southern Baptist church planter, has developed an effective way to plant churches using cell groups. In his system, a cell group must give birth within six months or the group disbands. He has discovered that groups tend to become stagnant and inward looking if they are not constantly looking for new converts (Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose 1987:262).

This concept of ‘born to multiply’ combines the  truth of definite, specific   small group cycles with the evangelistic  goal of cell group multiplication. Instead of denying the one to emphasize the other, there seems to be an instant harmony between the two concepts.  Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of this approach:


1.     Each cell group begins with a very definite goal in mind

2.     The group does not have a chance to stagnate

3.     There is a definite cut off date for the group

    Leaders are less likely to get burned out and members do not feel the pressure of a life long commitment. In other words, there is a way out.

4.     Those groups that do not multiply are integrated into a system of small groups that are multiplying. In other words, the cell members will eventually experience the vision  of healthy cell multiplication. 

5.     Church growth takes place as a result.

    I have no hard facts for this statement, but it seems logical to me that if there is success in the rapid multiplication of cells, there will generally be rapid church growth—unless more groups are dissolving than multiplying.


1.     A feeling of failure if the group does not multiply.

 There is the potential that members would feel like  second class citizens if he group did not multiply.

2.     Failure to establish intimate relationships

With such an intense emphasis on evangelism and cell growth, it might be more difficult for deep levels of intimate sharing to take place. [9]

3.     Inadequate preparation of new leaders.

      With an intense program of multiplication, it would be necessary to constantly train and raise up new leaders.


The Process of Cell Multiplication

If cell multiplication is the goal of small group evangelism, it’s extremely important to understand the problems,  pitfalls, and principles that make this process successful. As a Ph.D. student at Fuller, I plan on learning a lot more about this topic when I do my actual field research. My plan is to use the same questionnaire in groups that have multiplied rapidly and those  that have not multiplied. My hope is that I will discover  characteristics that are unique to the multiplication process. The following are just a few principles that I have learned thus far.  

Problems and Pain

Jesus says in John 16:21,22, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”  Childbirth is a painful experience, as my wife can thrice testify. Yet, after the agonizing experience of the first two, she was more than ready to give birth to  another. For my wife, the joy of having and holding her child by far exceeded the pain of childbirth. 

            Yet, too many cells never give birth for at least three  reasons. First, the members of the group are afraid of the pain of  birthing and do everything possible to avoid it. In other words, The members become comfortable with each other. People tend to cling tightly to their newly formed relationships, and do not want to let go, even if it means new people being won into the Kingdom. There is no easy answer to this dilemma. Indeed, cell members are encouraged to develop intimate relationships. I have found that it’s helpful to remind the cell members that even if they participate in the planting of another group, this does not mean that they cannot contact their former  cell group friends. In fact, both the mother  and the daughter cell might want to reunite  on occasion to celebrate their common links. Probably the most effective way to avoid koinonitus [10] in the small group is to promote the greater goal of evangelism and church growth (I will cover the importance of vision casting later on).

            The second  reason for resisting the birth process is that  members are not aware of the great  joy that accompanies the planting of a  daughter cell.  I’m referring to the joy that that comes from having significantly contributed to the growth of the church and to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.  It’s the joy of having participated in the accomplishment of something eternal. However, I do not believe that mere promotion and explanation can sufficiently solve this dilemma. It’s not enough to talk about the fulfillment that comes from giving birth to a daughter cell. This joy must be experienced.

            In fact, I’m becoming convinced that if the majority of cell members have never experienced this birthing process, it seems to me that the disease of stagnation has already infected  the cell system. I’m beginning to conclude that the only way to inject believers with the joy of cell multiplication is to place   them  in   vital, growing  cells that eventually  multiply.  As I mentioned earlier, there is more of a possibility that this will happen if a time table for  cell  multiplication is instituted in the church.

            The last reason is somewhat like the first. After experiencing the beauty of God’s Spirit moving in one’s  small group, there is a tendency to think that the next cell group will fall short.  I’m talking here about the unwritten feeling that the  new group could not possibly be as anointed as the present one. It’s the age old problem of  believing that the bygone days are somehow superior to the present or  future. To overcome this tendency, education is needed. Cell leaders and cell members must continually be reminded that the Spirit of God will make the next cell group just as special as the present one. The words of Ralph Neighbour should especially be heeded,  "The beauty of the cell church continues even when the group gives birth because the power of the Spirit continues to work in the life of the new group" (Neighbour 1990:70).

My comments are by no means exhaustive. More reasons could be listed. However, these are the ones that have most commonly surfaced in my cell experience and study.  

The Rapid  Releasing of  Leadership   

            The general theme in this chapter is cell multiplication. If cells are going to multiply rapidly,  new leaders must be constantly sought and released. It seems to me that this is the key. Paul Cho agrees. He was recently asked by Larry Kreider why the cell church concept had not experienced the same, exciting fruit in America as it has  in Korea.  Without hesitating Cho said that the problem here in America is that pastors are not willing to release their lay people for ministry. [11]   It is my understanding that Pastor Cho is referring to the hesitancy of pastoral leadership here in North America to delegate pastoral authority  to  their cell leaders and  interns.  Perhaps this fear constitutes  the main  reason why cells do not multiply more rapidly.

In one sense, this hesitancy is understandable. No pastor wants  to be accused of shallowness or emphasizing quantity over quality. It is also true that  the majority of pastors in the U.S. have passed through  a system that is characterized by extensive , formal training. Therefore, it is natural, although perhaps subconscious,  that pastoral leadership  expect that potential lay leadership pass through a similar process.  And yes, there are merits to this type of pre-service training.  It certainly weeds out the non-committed and assures that  potential leaders become thoroughly acquainted with sound Christian doctrine. 

However, I’m convinced that this approach makes two fatal errors. First, it fails to grapple with the fact that oftentimes the best learning is caught rather than taught. In other words, it fails to allow potential leaders to make mistakes and receive corrections.   Leadership learning is a process. Cell leaders (both the leader and the intern) learn best through experience and reflection. George rightly says, …the best possible context anyone has ever discovered for developing leadership occurs because of a small group” (1994:48).  If the small group is the best context for a leader to  gain  experience, the bimonthly leadership training session is the best place for leaders to reflect on their experiences.  It is during  these leadership training meetings that the top leadership of the church can help in the training process (George 1992: 119-152).                                                                                      

The second flaw has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. A philosophy that relies on formal training for cell leadership oftentimes  minimizes the work of the Holy Spirit.  Take the example of Paul, the apostle. During the first century, when  Paul established churches throughout the Mediterranean world,   he would leave his churches in the hands of relatively new Christians (Allen 1962:84-94). He trusted in the Holy Spirit to work through them these young leaders.  Speaking of Paul’s  method, Allen writes,

…the moment converts were made in any place ministers were appointed from among themselves, presbyter Bishops, or Bishops, who in turn could organize and bring into the unity of the visible Church and new group of Christian in their neighborhood (1956:9).   

Unlike the apostle Paul, we often  hang educational nooses around the necks of  our  potential leaders. No wonder, we can’t find enough to lead our cell groups!

            I’m personally convinced that we should be risky when it comes to raising up cell leadership.  We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to work through those who show enthusiasm,  clear testimony, and desire to serve Jesus (Kreider 1995:41-53). If we are going to release leadership rapidly to serve the needs of  growing church, we need to use every potential leader. Again, Paul Cho is an example of someone who has done that. Even in a church of 750,000, Cho has been able to maintain an average of one lay leader to every ten to sixteen church members (Hurtson 1995:68). For example, in 1988 alone, 10,000 new lay leaders were appointed for ministry (Hurton 1995:194).

In fact, when Paul  Cho was asked where he got his leadership for his sixty thousand cell groups, [12] without even hesitating he said, “We get them from our new Christians” (Galloway 1995:105).  I don’t believe that Cho immediately places these new Christians into leadership, but it does mean that his major pool of leadership comes from this camp.

One person who does immediately use new Christian in cell leadership is Pete Scazzero, the pastor of a growing C&MA cell church in New York. Pastor Scazzero  has been so successful that  Carl George dedicates six pages to Pete’s church in his revolutionary book  Prepare Your Church for the Future. Here is what Pete says about leadership in cell ministry,

Our future is limited by our leadership…Give me ten solid cell-group leaders, and our attendance will grow by another 100, because we’ll have provided an environment where the Holy Spirit’s gifts can be released to do the work of the ministry…Several of the cell-group leaders (X’s) and apprentices (Xa’s) are new Christians. ‘Young Christians who lead cell groups grow like crazy…especially  as they learn to base their identity in Christ instead of in their ministries or on their egos (1992:203,204).  

Personally, I’ve never placed brand new Christians into cell leadership positions.  Perhaps it’s best to encourage them to begin as interns, under an experienced cell leader. However, my point is that we must be willing to use all potential leaders for cell group ministry (that is, if we are going to multiply cell groups constantly).

Perhaps, we will be more willing to release leaders if we can remember that cell leaders and interns  are not Bible teachers. Rather, they are facilitators. [13] A facilitator’s job description focuses more on guiding the communication process, praying for  cell members,  calls, visitation, and  reaching the lost for Christ.  George wisely adds, “…in the church of the future a leader won’t be known for his or her ability to handle a quarterly or written study guide so much as for a skill in relating to people in such  a way that they allow access into their lives (1994:68). Therefore, I don’t believe that it’s essential that a potential leader be required to know large amounts of Bible doctrine, be a recognized leader in the church, etc. etc.

In fact, it’s not the end of the world if the cell group is dissolved. [14] Important principles have been learned.  The cell leader and members should be encouraged to attend another group that is better prepared  for the task. However, with the proper control and administration over the cell groups, we have found that the vast majority of groups succeed.

            Before leaving this discussion on releasing new leaders, it’s worthwhile to remember that most of the most rapidly growing cell churches make extensive use of women in ministry. It is well known that Cho’s cell ministry was launched by women and that now he vast majority of cell leaders are women (1982:21-32).  From my cell leadership experience, I have discovered that oftentimes  women can communicate better than men, and thus are able to  direct the cell discussion to a deeper level of intimacy and koinonia.



[1] I first became aware of this terminology  from Ian Presley’s, international director of OMF and a Fuller D.Miss. student. He used this phrase  in his D.Miss proposal to describe the  urgent task of the church to evangelized the unreached people. He said that this terminology is quite common in OMF circles.

[2] Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Fellowship has used this technique with great success. At the Post-denominational seminar, he described how that the pastoral staff provides the evangelism penetration points every other week. They might emphasize special outreach to international students,  etc.

[3] This is practiced in the Elim Church in El Salvador and is now implemented by Larry Stockstill’s church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

[4]   Larry  is talking about both rapid cell multiplication and church multiplication (i.e., church planting). He made this statement on May 22 during the panel discussion at the Post-Denominational seminar.

[5] This information comes from a personal conversation that I had with Dr. Ralph Neighbour in May, 1996. I do know that Dr. Neighbour works closely with this church.

[6] This was the term that Dr. Dick Peace used during  a personal conversation with him in April, 1996.

[7] He told me this during an interview that I had with him in May, 1996 at Lake Ave. Congregational Church in Pasadena, California.

[8] Taken from an e-mail from Don Davis, who is a Cross Cultural/Educational Consultant for Greater Asia Training Enterprises. He wrote this to Dan Gibson on Abril 12, 1996.  

[9] I would say that in practice this is often the case.  However, cell experts like Dr. Ralph Neighbour would remind us  that it is the New Testament  body life and intimate  sharing that will attract and convert the non-Christians.

[10] I  believe that Peter Wagner created  this term , although it now appears in most church growth texts.

[11] Larry Kreider is the author of House to House (Touch, 1995). He referred to this conversation with Cho during his panel discussion at the Post Denominational seminar on May 22, 1996. Cho reportedly made this comment several year earlier.  

[12] This figure 60,000 is used by Galloway in his 1995 book called The Small Group Book. It’s interesting to note that the difference in time between the publishing of  this book and Cho’s  1993 interview  with Carl George in which Cho said that he had 50,000 cell groups.

[13] In our system, Bible teachers are best used in the Sunday School and the preaching/ teaching ministries of the church.

[14] In the C&MA it seems that we are willing to take great risks in planting new churches. Many of these churches  die  because the initial foundations were so  weak. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that we should only start churches when we have a good chance of succeeding.  In contrast, I believe that we should not hesitate to launch new cell groups. From my experience, I have discovered that  it is far less devastating to both leader and followers  when a cell group dissolves than when an entire  church  has to close the doors.






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