Cell History-Pt.5



          Bands represented another level in Methodist organization.

Various Characteristics

1.  The bands were started in 1738--before the classes. They followed the Moravian pattern by forming the overall society into bands in order to aid the spiritual nourishment of each member (Latourette 1975: 1026).

2. At one time,  there were several types of bands,  but eventually they were dissolved and the classes took their place (Pallil 1991:105).

3.     The Penitent Bands were provided for people who had fallen away from serious discipleship and were now seeking restoration (Hunter 1996:85)

4.     About six people were in each band

5.     The bands were organized according to sex, age, and marital status  (Brown 1992:38).

6.     Only about 20% of Methodists ever joined a band (Dolyle 1989L112).

7.     Unlike the classes, attendance in the  bands was not required.  


            There were several requirement for the band:  

1.     Let nothing spoken in this Society be spoken again, no, not even to the members of it

2.     Every member agrees to submit to the minister in all indifferent things  

3.     The members should have all things in common (material goods)  

Activity In The Band  

            There were four questions that were asked in the bands:  

1.     What known sins have you committed since the last meeting?  

2.     What temptations have you met with?  

3.     How were you delivered?  

4.     What have you thought, said, or done which may or may not be sin?    


Doyle sums up the purpose of the bands quite well,  

…these were small groups of around six members, men and women in separate groups, who met weekly for confession of sin and pastoral care. Only people assured of salvation could join and only those who desired a deeper, more intimate fellowship (1989:112)  


The society was the  congregational level, as we know it. People who remained committed  in their pursuit of a new life, and attended the class meeting regularly were automatically made part of the society after three months (Hunter 1996: 85) Hunter makes an important comparison,  

A Methodist Society was composed of the sum total of classes attached to it.  As one’s membership in early Christianity was primarily to a house church and somewhat secondarily to the whole Church within the city, so in early Methodism one’s primary membership was in the class and somewhat secondarily in the society (1996:85)  

Wesley’s  Role  

Wesley acted very much like a Moses in the supervision of his system. He kept on stepping back and delegating to higher levels of leadership. Latourette says,

For a time Wesley himself visited each of the societies to supervise them and enforce discipline. As they increased this became impossible and he assembled his preachers in ‘annual conferences… As societies and preachers further grew in numbers, he established ‘circuits’ with traveling preachers and soon, as an assistant to himself, a superintendent’ was placed in charge of each circuit. He himself kept an autocratic control of the whole (1027).   

The Growth Of The Movement  

We are told that eventually, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the small group system (Brown 1992:39). Snyder reports, “By the time Methodism had reached 10,000 members at the end of the century, the movement must have had over 10,000 class and band leaders with perhaps an equal or larger total of other leaders (Snyder 1980:63). This system of bands and classes continued for over a century (Snyder 1980:62). Here are some exciting facts:

·        1738 movement began

·        1768  forty circuits with 27,341 members

·        1778 sixty circuits with 40,089 members

·        1788 99 circuits with 66,375 members

·        1798 149 circuits with 101, 712 members  

Critique Of Small Groups In Methodism  

            I only have the highest praise for Wesley and his small group system. In my opinion Wesley is the forerunner of the modern cell movement. Like no one before him, he combined discipleship with evangelism. One can ‘read’ Wesley from the stand point of his evangelistic emphasis (Hunter) or his discipleship  focus (Snyder). Actually, both are true.

            Wesley used the Jethro system before it was popularized. He was a master at delegation and organization,  and the fruit of his system still stands as  example for us today.


            I see five major streams or players on the small group scene today.  I have included these five in the following chart:   









Small Groups in General

Pietistic Emphasis

Parachurch/church emphasis


Cell/Celebration Emphasis

Adapted  Cell/Celebration

Support Groups Church Groups

Roberta Hestenes

Lyman Coleman

Paul Cho and Ralph Neighbour

Carl George


The Small Group Movement  

In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 75 million out of the estimated 200 million adults are in a small group (Wuthnow 1994:370).  One out of six of those 75  million people are new members of the small group movement, thus disclosing, that at least in the U.S., the small group movement is alive and growing (Wuthnow 1994:371). After listing twenty new innovations in the modern U.S. church scene Schaller says, “…perhaps most important of all, the decision by tens of millions of teenagers and adults to place a high personal priority on weekly participation in serious, in-depth, lay-led, and continuing Bible study and prayer groups” (1995:14).  William Beckham wrote the book The Second Reformation to express forcefully his conviction that the church is the midst of a new small group revolution (1995:66,67).  

The Covenant Model  

As mentioned earlier, this model is a descendent of he Pietist movement. The main spokeswomen today for this model is Roberta Hestenes (1983). [1]   Her definition for this model is the following:   >A Christian group is an intentional face-to-face gathering of 3 to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the possibilities of the abundant life in Christ @ (Coleman 1993:4:5).

From the definition it is obvious that this type of group is directed toward  committed believers. This model is being used today in the same way that it was used in the Pietistic movement—for the spiritual reformation of the church. One of the major goals of this model is to create long term community. There is a need for strong commitment and a high level of accountability (Coleman 1993:4:7).

Although strong on Christian responsibility and commitment, Coleman makes a wise observation, “Unchurched, non-Christians would not be interested in this type of group. There is no mechanism built into the system for the Covenant groups to multiply, or to close with honor. Frequently, Covenant groups will last until they die a horrible death” (Coleman 1993: 4: 7).  

The Serendipity Model 

            The founder of this approach is Lyman Coleman, who has been a small group leader for some four decades (Coleman 1993: 4:17).  Coleman was especially influenced by Sam Shoemaker, who the pastor of Calvary  Episcopal Church in New York City. Sam believed that all of the people around his church were his parish. His church grew in its vision to reach out to the entire parish.  This vision to reach out to all people has greatly influenced Lyman Coleman (Coleman 1993: 4:17). He says, “The heart of the Serendipity model is the broken people at the door…the intention is to create a small group system where people outside the church can find a place of entry and be transformed” (Coleman 1993:4:19).           

Distinguishing Characteristics           

Perhaps this model is best understood by the characteristics that distinguish it from other models:

1.     There is a definite beginning and end

            Although his earlier models consisted of shorter time period groups, now Lyman Coleman  suggest a one year time period. He says, “The end is marked by a period of releasing where everyone responds to his new calling” (Coleman 1993: 4:21)

2.     A democracy of options

            People can be in a group whether or not they are members of the church or even attend the worship services. Coleman believes that this is a distinct from Paul Cho’s model (1993 4:21).

3.     Integrated model

            There is a place for all kinds of groups in the church. “This model can also include traditional Sunday school, where people who are already involved can find a place for sharing and caring” (1993: 4:21)

4.     Collegiate system

            This approach is similar to the old Sunday School system where there was a definite departure from one class and entrance into another class (Coleman 1993: 4:21). “This model has a two-semester structure, with ‘kick offs’  twice a year and closure at the end of each semester. There is also a graduation/celebration at the end of the year” (Coleman 1993: 2:21).  


Dr. Coleman is truly an expert on small groups. In my opinion,  his knowledge of how small groups function is second to none. The many  books that his publishing house has produced have also had a powerful impact on the small group movement in America. Seminars about small groups are being conducted throughout the United States as a result of Serendipity and those influenced by this movement.. [2]

However, I feel  that this  model as a church based model was weak in several key areas.  First, although cell group multiplication is mentioned as a possibility (or one option) in this  model, it’s not given a high priority.

Second, it  seems that   the bulk of Coleman’s teaching relates to the  quality of  small group life,  wherever that small group might be   or whatever that small group  might do (the variety of small groups that he promotes are dizzying). In other words, my general impression is that his model is not sufficiently centered in the church.  

The Meta Model  

The Meta Model was pioneered by Carl George.  It is his attempt to adapt cell group principles and church growth  found in the third world to a North American context (Coleman 1993:4:12). One of the key features of this model is the Jethro system which is based upon Jethro’s council  to Moses to decentralize (Exodus 18), so that  everyone would receive  proper care (Coleman 1993:13).  

Original Version Of The Meta Model  

In George’s first book dedicated to cell  ministry,  Prepare Your Church for the Future, the Meta Model is introduced. The underlying  thrust of George’s thinking is that because small group ministry has worked so effectively in large, growing churches around the world, it should be adapted to work in any size church, whether in North America or overseas. His overriding emphasis throughout the book is that our current models of church ministry simply do not provide sufficient quality care to sustain a growing church (1991:57-84).

I like to talk about the original version of the Meta Model because it seems that his first book  comes very close to describing the pure cell approach used in most cell churches around the world. Throughout the book, the clear, overriding focus is on the home cell group which emphasize  both pastoral care and evangelism. [3]   The book had a powerful impact on the North American church scene because George  gives fresh, new  North American terminology  to the cell-based concepts  that have  worked so well overseas. In Prepare Your Church for the Future,  there is no doubt that   George is  setting forth a new model of  ministry  for the church in North America and around the world.  

Latest  Version Of The Meta Model  

In his most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution , George  seems to redefine  his so-called  Meta Model. Instead of  promoting a model, he now talks about a way of analyzing your church,  

Meta-Church thinking examines the degree to which a church has been ‘celularized,’ and its leadership linked… It tries to discern the degree to which group leaders are in fact convening their people, and the degree to which coaches are in fact working with group leaders. The Meta-Church, then,…is an X ray to help you look at what you have in order to figure out what’s mission (George 1994: 279,280).  

In other words, instead of promoting a model, George is saying that he is providing the church with a way of discerning their small group involvement and how (or if) they are moving toward a purer cell group approach. George insists throughout his new  book that the Meta approach is simply a way of seeing  (X-ray machine) what you already have.

            In this  latest book,  George spends most of the time describing his mapping strategy called  the Meta Globe. [4] In the end, George’s new thinking (or perhaps the real model that didn’t appear in his first book)  appears much like the  Serendipity model. For example, he says,  “Cells include Sunday-School classes, ministry teams, outreach teams, worship-production teams, sports teams, recovery groups, and more… any time sixteen or fewer people meet together, you have a small-group meeting" (1994:69,70)..

 He goes on to redefine the Sunday School,  "The phrase 'cell groups' refers to an encompassing care system that includes Sunday School. A Sunday school is simply a centralized, on premises cell system. Churches should have as many Sunday schools as they can afford."(1994: 284).

Meta Model In The U.S.  

Many churches are experimenting with the Meta Model throughout the United States with some exciting results. In Carl George’s  most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution, he provides vignettes about forty churches that are currently using the Meta Model (1994: 9,10). I did case studies on five growing churches in the U.S. that are all using the Meta Model:  



Willow Creek Community Church

attendance: approx.- 16,000

Saddleback Church

attendance: approx.- 11,000

New Hope Community Church

attendance: approx.- 4,000

Cincinnati Vineyard

attendance: approx.- 3,500

Fairhaven Alliance Church           

attendance: approx.- 1,500


The Pure Cell Model  

            It seems to me the most radical, exciting small group model today is the pure cell model. The growth in the cell churches around the world has been so incredible that it has caused the Christian church to rethink it’s strategies and priorities.  

Key Spokesperson—Ralph Neighbour  

The one who has written the most extensively on the Pure Cell Model is  Ralph Neighbour (1990).  He also  seems to have done the most research on cell-based churches worldwide, thus increasing the reliability of his studies. His writings are  not only based on the careful study of cell  ministry,  but also on many years of personal experience.

This concept of the cell being the church and the church being the cell permeates all of Ralph Neighbour’s teaching and writing. He views the cell church as ushering  in the  second reformation (1990:6,7).  When reading Neighbour, you get the impression that you should be either totally committed to the  Pure Cell Model  or you are against it by  remaining in the traditional church structure. There is no middle ground.  

Large Cell-Based Churches Today  

This so called ‘cell-based’ movement is primarily a third world phenomena  which is now taken very seriously by the West.  Hadaway, Wright and DuBose confirm this fact when they write,

   The catalyst which transformed the many unconnected attempts at  Christian house groups into a movement was the emergence of new forms of church in the Third World. For centuries the Third World has been the recipient of missions and has often seen forms of church organization created in the West imposed upon itself with little attempt at adaptation….This situation is changing, however. The growth of the evangelical churches has been so great in Korea, all over Africa, and in certain parts of Latin America that the direction of the flow may be reversing  (1987:15).  

Perhaps it is because of this amazing growth that so many are turning to the cell church concept.  One should take heed when a  veteran church watcher like Elmer Towns says,  “...the wave of the future is in body life through cell groups” (Elmer Towns in George 1993: 136).

            Although I could talk about the cell church in Japan, Thailand, Mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, Africa, England, and Australia, I will limit my general overview to Korea, Singapore, and Latin America. [5]  


The Korean  model seems to be the most widely watched and copied  model in the worldwide cell church today. Paul Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church is credited with being the foundational model of the  modern cell group movement  (Hadaway, Wright, Dubose 1987:19-21). Cho’s  system of pastoral care (Hurston 1995: 62-80) has been replicated  by many  pastors and churches,  and his  success at cell multiplication is esteemed by all. [6]   It is very hard to dispute the incredible church growth that has taken place at  Cho’s church. With more than 625,000 members [7] and 22,000 cell groups,  pastor Cho´s church grows at a rate of 140 new members per day.  Due to this incredible  growth, Cho has found it necessary to plant  churches of 5,000 members (Neighbour 1990:24).  Cho attributes his  churches’ rapid growth to the cell group ministry. [8]Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose make this comment,

  The word spread that Paul Cho’s church and several other huge churches in Seoul reached their massive size through home cell groups and that the technique will work anywhere. A movement began, and pastors have flocked to Korea to learn….Churches all over the world are beginning to adopt the home cell group as an organizational tool….In a real sense, the growth of the Yoido Full Gospel Church and the Young Nak Presbyterian Church has galvanized attention around a new idea, created a focus, and birthed a movement which is just beginning to impact mainline denominations in the United States (1997:17).


            When one thinks  of aggressive evangelism and church growth in Korea, Pastor Cho’s church usually comes to mind.  However, it  must remember that there are nine other churches in Korea which have more than 30,000 members. All of them, without exception, have experienced rapid growth by structuring  their church around the cell group ministry (George 1991:50).  


            In the early 1970s,  only two percent of Singapore’s population were considered Christian. Today that number is around fourteen percent (Johnstone 1993:487). [9]   Some of the most radical, exciting growth has come from the cell churches (Neighbour 1990:27,28). One such example is Faith Community Baptist Church which started in 1986 with 600 people. On May 1, 1988, with the help of Ralph Neighbour, the church totally restructured itself to become a full fledged cell church (Tan 1994:8).  Today,  between the 7000 to  8000 people which attend this  church are personally pastored by the 500 active cell groups. Founding pastor Lawrence Khong says this about their cell strategy,

   There is a vast difference between a church with cells and a cell church….We don’t do anything else except the cell. All the things the church must do—training, equipping, discipleship, evangelism, prayer, worship—are done through the cell. Our Sunday service is just the corporate celebration (Farrell 1996:55).  

Khong’s church has  so successfully modeled the cell-based philosophy of ministry that  some 6000 people now attend their  yearly  cell seminar. It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of those who attend are from the two-third’s world. [10]

Latin America  

Patrick Johnstone describes Latin America as “one of the great evangelical successes of the 20th century (1993:65). Evangelicals have grown from between 200-300,000 in 1900 to 46 million in 1990,  which means that  now more than eleven percent of Latin America is evangelical (Johnstone 1993:65).  The lead article in the June edition of the magazine Charisma captures this incredible growth. It’s entitled, “Latin America’s Sweeping Revival”. The subheading of this  same article declares, “Researchers say 400 people are converted to Christianity in Latin America every hour (Miller 1996:32). I am currently doing research for Dr. Wagner to discover those churches in Latin America which have an average attendance of more than 5000. We have currently located over sixty such churches, but we expect to find at least one hundred before our research is completed.  Yes, Latin America is in the midst of a great harvest.

As was mentioned in my problem statement, my research  focus for the Ph.D. here at Fuller is to analyze prominent cell-based churches in Latin America. The five churches that were chosen include:




Misión Cristiana Elim


Pastor Jorge Galindo

100,000 attending in 1996

5000  cells


La Misión Carismática Internacional


Pastor César Castellaños

35,000  members  en 1996

4000 cells


El Centro Cristiano


 Pastor : Jerry Smith


10,000  attending in 1996

1000 cells


El Amor Viviente


Pastor Rene Peñalva

7,000 attending  in 1996

600 cells


El Agua Viva


Pastor Juan Capuro

5,000+ attending in 1996

450 cells


One of the churches that I will study is called the International Charismatic Mission (La Iglesia Carismática Internacional). Pastor César Castellanos has led this church from eight members thirteen years ago  to the present  35,000 (Guell 1996:42).Reporting on this church, Guell writes,

 “…the Castellanos attribute the church’s growth to their emphasis on home cell-groups---a focus they believe the Lord gave them after they visited David Yonggi Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea….Today, Charismatic Mission has 2,600 home cell-groups for adults and 1,300 for youths. Each group meets weekly and has 10 to 15 members (1996:44).           

Many cell churches are springing up across Latin America. Perhaps the cell church that is the most well-known is the Elim Church (Misión Elim) in El Salvador.  This cell church has grown so rapidly that it now has  a membership of 120,000. [11]   Bethany World Prayer Center, the 7000 member cell church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana regularly  sends their staff to the Elim Church to receive training in cell ministry. Other cell churches in Latin America have also received their initial vision from this church. [12]


            This tutorial has been both  stretching and rewarding. It has given me loads of insight,  and at the same time,  stirs me to want to do more research. In the upcoming months,  I will be digesting the facts that I uncovered in this study.

However, I have learned some distinct  lessons,  as a result of this tutorial: 

1.     The history of the small group movement must be seen within the cultural realities of each particular time period. In other words, it’s extremely hard to criticize past small group movements, due to the varied social, political, and religious situation.  

2.     One must be cautious about the potential for small group divisiveness. This study has pointed out the potential for division in small groups. I believe that small groups encouraged the separation tendencies among the Anabaptists.

3.     One must grant liberty to the laity  to minister through small groups. This is the other side of point three. Luther, for example, exercised too much caution concerning small groups, and therefore he  did not  take his reform far enough.

4.     The cell-celebration paradigm  is the best model to follow.   It seems to me that the most successful models maintained a healthy balance between cell and celebration (e.g., Early Church, Bucer, Pietism, Wesley, and the Modern Pure Cell System)

5.     Evangelism and discipleship are both needed. There seemed to be a tendency throughout church history to emphasize one or the other. In my opinion both are essential.  

6.   My favorites models due to their effectiveness and balance were:

a.      Early Church Model- This will continue to be the primary example for small group ministry.

b.     Martin Bucer-I admired his courage and the fact that he was ‘principle driven’

c.      Wesley-In my opinion, his system was light years ahead of the others. I felt that his model was the first one to truly strike a balance between discipleship and evangelism. 

d.     Modern pure cell movement-This model is the wave of the future. The amazing growth and organization of this small group model  makes it the model of the future.  




Comiskey Home Page

Cell Research 




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[1] She has become very well known for her expertise in small group ministry  in  general and in particular for being the spokesperson for this model. She received her doctorate from Fuller Seminary and was also a professor there. Now  she is the president of Eastern Seminary.

[2] Dr. Richard Peace has long been connected with Dr. Coleman and now has started his own seminar ministry called Pilgrimage Ministries. These small group seminars are having a powerful impact throughout the U.S.

[3] Chapter six  called, “Identify Your Mice”  promotes the identification of any type of small group in the church. This is unique from most cell-based churches. However, very little is mentioned about this philosophy in Prepare Your Church for the Future.  

[4] According to George its a way of analyzing your church by placing all of the ministries into various categories.

[5] In these  three countries, there are well-known cell seminars conducted from the major cell churches. 

[6] Writer’s such as Carl George, Dale Galloway, and Ralph Neighbour  use  Paul Cho’s church as their primary example of success.

[7] This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 largest churches  claims that there are 320,000 people attending Cho’s church each week with an additional 280,000 meeting in satellite locations. However, Karen Hurtson’s recent case study analysis (Growing the World’s Largest Church, 1995)  declares that there are  720,000 members at the Yoido Full Gospel Church (17).

[8] During his 1984 church growth lectures at Fuller Seminary, Cho oftentimes mentioned that the cell group ministry has been the key to the  amazing growth  that they have experienced.

[9] This number includes Catholics. The Protestant church stands at eight percent.

[10] This information comes from Jim Egli of Touch Ministry, Ralph Neighbour’s organization. He told me by telephone (week of June 24, 1996) that about 50 of the 6000 people who attend the cell seminar at the Faith Community Baptist Church are from North America.

[11] Dr. Ralph Neighbour mentioned this statistic in his presentation at the Post-Denominational Seminar on May 22, 1996.

[12] The 10,000 member Faith, Love, and Peace Church in Mexico sends their staff to the Elim Church for training.






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