Cell Strategy-Pt.2


Cell Strategy-Pt.3

Similarity Among the Cell Groups 

            Perhaps the  phrase Quality Control best describes and defends this  aspect of the pure cell system.  It is quality control that enables a  McDonald’s hamburger to taste the same in each of its restaurants. Customers expect that a McDonald’s hamburger will taste just as good  in Georgia  as  in California (or Hong Kong).  A similar approach can be found  in the ministry of Evangelism Explosion. The reason they expect that each session is taught in a similar fashion is to assure that each trainee receives the same quality.

            It is the quest for quality control in the pure cell church  that requires that the  small group format  remains  the same. The goal of each cell group is to multiply. For this reason, there is a constant need for new leaders. If  these new leaders are going to be successful, they must know exactly what to do and how to do it.  

Partnership In Evangelism  

            It seems to me that evangelism has the highest priority in the cell church. Each cell is required to aggressively evangelize the lost. However, cell-based evangelism is different than most forms of evangelism because the team approach is used in contrast to the individual approach.  

Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing 

What I’m referring to can be best illustrated by the tools of the fisherman—the net and the fishing pole. Cell group evangelism in the church uses the net to catch fish. Larry Stockstill describes it this way,

The old paradigm of ‘hook fishing’ is being replaced by teams of believers who have entered into partnership (‘community’) for the purpose of reaching souls together…Jesus used the ‘partnership’ of net fishing to illustrate the greatest principle of evangelism: our productivity is far greater together than alone. [1]  

Likewise, Cho  credits the growth of his 700,000+ church to his system of cell groups. [2]  Cho highlights his methodology of cell group evangelism by saying,

Our cell group system is a net for our Christians to cast. Instead of a pastor fishing for one fish at a time, organized believers form nets to gather hundreds and thousands of fish. A pastor should never try to fish with a single rod but should organize believers into the ‘nets’ of a cell system (Hurston 1994:107).  

How specifically does Cho do it? In a 1993 interview with Carl George, Cho explained how his cells go net fishing,  

We have 50,000 cell groups and each group will love two people to Christ within the next year. They select someone who’s not a Christian, whom they can pray for, love , and serve. They bring meals, help sweep out the person’s store—whatever it takes to show they really care for them…After three or four months of such love, the hardest soul softens up and surrenders to Christ (George 1995:94).  

Commenting on Cho’s evangelistic method of net fishing, George says,  

Cho is not talking about two ‘decision cards’ per group. Rather, his people win a person to the group, to the Lord, and then to the specific tenets of the faith. New people, without objecting to what is happening, are caught within the pastoral-care network of these groups…In short, Cho and others have discovered how to blend evangelism, assimilation, pastoral care, and leadership development within their small groups…(1994:94).  

            Although one might not agree with everything that Paul Cho says and does, the fact that  he has  700,000 people in  his church should cause us who are interested in church growth to listen attentively. Effective evangelism and discipleship through cell groups is not only a possibility; it’s a reality.    

The Whole Group  Participates In Evangelism  

In every sense of the word, it is small group evangelism. Everyone participates in some small way—from the person who invites the guest, to the one who provides refreshments for the guest, to the one who leads the discussion. This participation can be seen in  prayer . For example, at Bethany World Prayer Center (Larry Stockstill is the pastor)  each group has a small white board. Names of unsaved friends and family are written  on the board and the whole group prays for each name  until the person receives Christ and joins the cell group.

Groups Must Multiply In A Certain Time Period

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.   

Theme: Born To Multiply  

In the pure cell church, the rallying cry is ‘born to multiply’. [3]   There seems to be a 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, most of these cell churches feel it’s best to  dissolve the group and let those cell members integrate into groups that are experiencing growth and multiplication.

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.  

Multiplication Maintains 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).  

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).  Neighbour states,

Long years of experience with groups has verified that they stagnate after a certain period. People draw from one another for the first six months; after that, they tend to ‘coast’ along together. For that reason, each Shepherd Group will be expected to multiply naturally after six months of be restructured (1992: 113).  

I recently even heard of a Baptist Church in Modesto, California which is multiplying their cell groups every  four months. [4]    However,   not all cells multiply in a matter of months. For some it’s a matter of years. Carl George 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)  

Bethany World Prayer Center, a true cell-based church,  has adopted the policy that their cell groups must multiply within one year or be integrated into the existing structure. From my study thus far and from my practical experience of starting and directing a cell-based ministry, it seems to me that this time period is the most realistic.  

Uniformity Of Lesson Material  

            In the pure cell church,  there is normally uniformity in lesson material. All of the cell leaders cover the same lesson plan. [5]   In fact, the defining point of the Cho Model for  Dr. Coleman is the fact that Cho uses his Sunday morning message as lesson material for the  cell leaders (1993:4:9). Similar lesson material helps maintain the quality control.  

Strong Administrative Control  

            In the pure cell church, there is strong administrative accountability. Everyone is monitored, pastored, and accountable—from the high level pastor of pastors to the cell intern. [6] The philosophy behind this model is Jethro’s advice to Moses, (Jethro model). Jethro’s advice to Moses is straightforward and demands little explanation:

When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?…,’ ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear themselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone….You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people…and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (Exodus 18:14-23).  

Everyone Is Pastored  

Taking Jethro’s advice seriously, the pure cell church is organized into groups of tens, fifties, five hundred, and several thousand. The fundamental unit is the cell leader over ten.  Then there are the section leaders which are over  five cell groups, for a total of fifty people.  Next are the  zone leaders who oversee five section leaders for a total of 250. [7] It is my understanding that the district pastor will oversee up to five zone pastors  which make him responsible for a total of 2500 people  (Neighbour 1990:195). [8]

            Each leader of leaders is expected to visit, counsel, teach, exhort, evangelize and help the leaders or members under their care. The difference between the zone and district pastors is that they also perform marriages, funerals, preach, offer communion, baptize, and generally  carry out the  professional work of the pastor. [9] In the pure cell church, the cells are categorized geographically into districts according to zip codes. These geographical districts will often act as congregations (Neighbour 1990:356). [10]    

Required Reporting  

Administrative control also  takes place through the required reporting from each cell group.  From my understanding, these weekly statistical, prayer reports are not optional. They provide the administrative strength to the cell church.  It is through these reports that the powerful Jethro  organization takes place. A normal cell group report includes the weekly attendance in the cell group, the location of the next meeting, those who were saved, etc. [11]  

For example, after Dr. McGavran had visited Cho’s church in 1976, he called it ‘the best organized church in the world’ (Hurston 1995:192). I heard Cho say in 1984 that even when he is in the United States., he can locate every  person in his  500,000  member church  (now much larger) through the cell system. [12] He was able to say this because of the weekly reports that each cell group completes.  

Ongoing Cell Leader Training  

High priority is given to the ongoing training of leadership in the cell church.  I personally do not know of a cell church that does not prioritize the continual  required training of cell leadership. However, I have noticed that the amount of training and the flexibility of training schedules does vary.. [13]

            It might be best to simply highlight the ongoing training model of the premier cell church in the world—Yoido Full Gospel Church. First, Pastor  Cho  offers pre-training for all potential leaders. These potential  cell leaders must attend an eight-week leadership training course that is taught on Sunday afternoon in one of  Yoido Full Gospel Churches’  small auditoriums (Hurston 1995:75). Topics covered in this eight-week course include: cell leader responsibilities, home cell-group growth, Bible lesson preparation, etc. (Hurston 1995:215).

From the beginning, Cho required that all  cell  leaders attend a weekly training session to prepare them for the next lesson and strengthen their ministry skills. However, due to the incredible growth of the cell groups, Cho discontinued that practice in 1988. Since that time,   printed supplemental materials are available before and after the Wednesday night services (Hurston 1995:214).

            At this time, the  ongoing training in Cho’s church consists of semiannual cell leader conferences in which pastor Cho personally addresses the cell leaders. However, even in these semiannual conferences, the numbers are so large that half of the cell leaders attend  the conference one day, while the other half attend the next day.  Practical tips and vision casting seem to be the main agenda for these conferences (Hurston 1995: 75).

In Cho’s church the main means of ongoing training takes place through the pastoral oversight of each leader through the Jethro system. Personal help and training is most effective as  (Hurston 1995:75):

1.     The district pastors minister to the needs of the zone pastors

2.     The zone pastors serve the section leaders

3.     The section leaders take care of the cell leaders

4.     The cell leaders meet the needs of the interns  

The Rapid Releasing Of Leadership  

The rapid multiplication of  small groups   in the pure cell church makes it imperative that new leaders be found, trained,  and released.  This rapid releasing of new leadership can only happen as the quality control of each cell group is maintained, as diligent administrative control is exercised (e.g., the Jethro system and the weekly reporting), and as these newly released leaders find help through a ongoing system of leadership training.

Again, Paul Cho is the best example. 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 (Hurston 1995:68).  For example, in 1988 alone, 10,000 new lay leaders were appointed for ministry (Hurston 1995:194).  In fact, when Paul  Cho was asked where he got his leadership for his sixty thousand cell groups, [14] 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. [15]  

Very Few Programs Apart From Cells  

            Since the Pure Cell Model promotes cells as the most important part of the church, all programs or activities must give way to the cells. There should be no competing programs. In other words, in the cell church, the program exists for the cells or better yet, the program is the cells (Neighbour 1990:68,69). Neighbour is the most radical here. He declares,

We must actively abandon the hope that stagnant churches can be renewed by painful restructuring and the tacking on of Cell Group Church principles….The church cannot effectively mix traditional patterns of church life with Cell Group Patterns. There must be a deliberate transition. After devoting nearly a quarter of a century to attempt to help ‘renew the churches,’ I am totally skeptical that it can be done (1990:36,37).   

He goes on to say,

I returned to the disturbing point that has been made before in this book and will be repeated again and again, The Cell Church lifestyle is too New Testament to be blended into a PBD [program based design] structure. It causes endless conflicts for those who attempt it (1990:55).


At the same time, I have discovered that even the pure cell churches usually have a few pet programs--although they might call them something different. [16] Realistically, perhaps it’s best to say that in the cell church very few programs exist.

Most churches that are seeking to transition from a programmed-based church to a cell-church will have to wrestle with the issue of cells and programs.  Should all programs be abolished?  Can some remain? Which ones? As we wrestled with programs and cells in our  cell-based church in Ecuador, we arrived at the  conviction that the cell groups had to be the very heart of the church, but that did not mean removing all of the programs. However, it did mean that:

1.     Everyone in the church  would participate in a cell group.  

2.     Each pastor would have a  significant role in the cell group ministry.  

3.     There would be  an intimate connection between the cell group ministry and the other

ministries of the church.  

 Cells Take Care of Basic Church Duties  

            The ideal cell church does not need another layer of structure (program) to take care of the basic, routine necessities of the church (i.e., counseling, follow-up, ushering, children’s needs, etc.). In fact,  little volunteer help is needed.  Rather, these needs are met through the cell groups. The various  districts (or in a smaller church, the sections) rotate from month to month. With this format, the burdens of a church program do not weigh down a few people in the church. [17]  

Commitment Of Head Pastor To Cell Ministry  

            The active leadership of the head pastor  in the direction of the cell ministry seems to be a clear, distinguishing mark in the pure cell church. Cho declares,

There is only one way that the home cell group system will be successful in a church, if that system is to be used as a tool of evangelism. The pastor must be the key person involved. Without the pastor, the system will not hold together. It is a system, and a system must have a control point. The controlling factor in home cell groups is the pastor(1981:107).  

 Cho intuitively and experientially understands that unless the head pastor is directly involved in the cell ministry, it will not succeed. Cho talks about one North American pastor who attended his cell seminar training in Korea.  This pastor was excited about the idea of cell groups, but decided to delegate the responsibility for it to an associate pastor. According to the Cho, the cells soon failed (1981:108). Why? Cho says,

The  congregation sees the cell groups  as only one of many varied programs in this big church. They don’t see them as the key to revival or to evangelism; after all, there are so many programs aimed at those goals. The pastor isn’t actively involved, so the members feel that cell groups can’t be all that important (1981: 108,109).  

In my research and experience in cell-based churches, I have also discovered that the role of the senior pastor is absolutely crucial to the long term success of the cell-based system.  I don’t believe that  the head pastor can delegate his visionary leadership to someone else and expect to have a successful  cell church. Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center demonstrated  his leadership commitment  to the cell model in three areas:

1.     He personally prepared the lessons for the leaders

2.     He understood the role of instilling vision in the cell leaders by speaking to them every Wednesday evening.

3.     He visited a different cell group every week

4.     He connected his vision for cell ministry with his Sunday morning sermon.  

Cells form Basis for Pastoral Team        

            I have already mentioned the pastoral roles in the cell church under the subheading of administrative control. However, suffice it to say that in the cell church each  pastor has a direct role in leading and pastoring the leaders of the cell ministry (Jethro system). It’s always better if the  staff pastors were one time cell leaders.  

Goal Of 100% Participation Of Members In Cell Groups  

            Because cells form the basic building block of life in the cell church, it is expected that everyone participates.  On the negative side, to refuse to participate in a cell group indicates that one is not truly in line with the vision of the church. My initial observations indicate that membership in the cell church signifies that one is a committed to the cell ministry of the church. However, in reality, there is no such thing as 100% participation, even in the purest of cell churches. Some talk about 90% participation, but 70% is closer to reality. [18]  

Comparison Of The Meta Model And The Pure Cell Model  

            In this section I will compare the Meta Model with the Pure Cell Model. I do understand that  these are only general categories. A  fair amount of gray area exists between these two models. In other words,  some churches using the Meta Model embrace many pure cell church principles, and other  churches who might see themselves in the pure cell church category embrace many of the meta principles. [19] Having said that, it does seem these two models have sufficiently distinguished themselves to deserve   careful  analysis.

Although earlier in this study I had mentioned two  other small group models (Covenant and Serendipity model),  they do not seem to be the choice of enough growing churches to warrant a comparative analysis. In my opinion, the Meta and Pure Cell Models are by far the most widely used in the church today.  

Comparison By Jim Egli Of North Star Strategies  

            I will start by synthesizing the main points of an excellent comparative article by Jim Egli (1993:1-8).  In this article, Jim is primarily comparing the Meta Model as described in George’s book, Prepare Your Church for the Future, with Ralph Neighbour’s Pure Cell Model, as described in his book, Where Do We Go From Here?. [20] The following table represents the major differences between the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model according to Jim Egli:  



 (Adapted from Egli, 1993)




1.     Tendency to view groups as another program.

1.     Everything revolves around the small group. Small groups are the base.

2.     The Sunday celebration is often  seeker-sensitive (for unbelievers)

2.     The Sunday celebration is believer oriented

3.     Promotes all types of small groups within the church

3.     Expects all members to be in a similar type of small group

4.     Focus on gathering people through events rather than relationships

4.     Focus on gathering people through relational evangelism through small groups

5.     Strong nurture focus in small groups with some evangelism

5.     Strong evangelism focus in small groups with nurture as well.

6.     Training offered for group leaders but separate program needed for new and established believers

6.     Training is developed for all believers primarily through the small group

7.     Leaders on pastoral team oversee specific ministries (i.e., evangelism, small groups, etc.)

7.     Leaders on pastoral team oversee small groups in some manner.

8.     Values, world views, or lifestyle changes are not given a  high priority

8.     High emphasis is placed on values, vision, worldview, and lifestyle

9.     Very flexible and easily adapted

9.     Flexibility emerges  from the core values and structure

Comparison By Karen Hurtson Of Hurtson Ministries       

Karen Hurtson is the daughter of John Hurtson, who as an  Assembly of God missionary worked hand and hand with Paul Cho in establishing the Yoido Full Gospel Church.  Karen’s latest book, Growing the World’s Largest Church, is a recent case study of Paul Cho’s church. In that book, Karen examines  what she calls the incorporated system with the integrated system. What she calls the incorporated system has many similarities with the Meta Model. The integrated system which she describes is the  Pure Cell Model (1994:199-205). [21]   



 (Taken from Hurston 1994:199-205)  



1.     Role of senior pastor: Delegator who promotes groups to congregation

1.     Role of senior pastor: Initiator, vision bearer, and ministry model

2.     Group coordinator: Single staff pastor who primarily administrates

2.     Group coordinator: Multiple staff involved in ongoing personal ministry and hands-on training

3.     Basis of staff evaluation: Based on the performance of the groups as a program, with focus on number of groups and number of those attending group meetings

3.     Basis of staff evaluation:

a.      Frequency and impact of personal ministry to leaders and others.

b.     Effectiveness of lay leaders they help choose and train

4.     Management style: Administrative and does some leadership training

a.      Single cell. Best with less than 12 groups

b.     Middle management. Best with continual flow of training and motivation

4.     Management style: Oriented to personal ministry and hands on training.

a.      Adapted model, allowing some traditional patterns of programs to coexist

b.     Refined model, with staff’s main focus on personal ministry and leadership development

5.     Leadership selection and training: Usually selects from volunteers or from pool of church’s existing lay-leaders; often initial 4-20 hours training is by lecture, with ongoing monthly meetings

5.     Leadership selection and training:

Encourages and chooses potential leaders from assistants; initial training often lecture, with frequent hands on and high amount of staff interaction.

6.     Curricula: Either all groups study same curriculum, or diversity allowed according to group type

6.     Curricula: All groups study the same curriculum developed by the church

7.     Most common kind of group: Fellowship group, along with variety

7.     Most common kind of group: Mixed purpose groups, often high value placed on worship

8.     Response of congregation: 20-50% involved; sees groups as optional, ‘incorporated’ with other church programs

8.     Response of congregations: 80-90% involved; sees group participation as ‘integrated’ into a member’s regular life-style

9.     Impact: Moderate to significant impact on congregation; good network of pastoral care and avenue for assimilation

9.     Impact: Highly significant impact on congregation; only system that results in widespread evangelism

10. Potential problems:

a.      Reduced promotion by the senior pastor

b.     Inadequate leadership training

c.      Over involved leaders

d.     Dull curriculum

e.      Overload coordinator

f.       Two year plateau

10. Potential problems: Some potential problems in this system can be similar to that in others; but the most frequent is discouragement, for this system takes years to develop, requiring staff to shift from a focus on programs to a focus on personal ministry and leadership development

General Observations  

            The observations both by Jim Egli and Karen Hurtson shed light on some of the key  differences between these two systems. In studying the Meta Model versus the Pure Cell Model, several key points stood out in my mind:








·         Any type of group  is acceptable in the Meta Model


·         The cell group is similar in vision, focus, format, and purpose


·         There is no conflict between the small groups and  church programs because oftentimes the small groups are simply another program

·         The cell groups are the program

·         Other programs are generally resisted in  order to prioritize the cell ministry


·         Could possibly delegate this ministry to an associate pastor and still maintain the  small group program

·         Must be at the very center of the cell ministry in order to guarantee success


·         Very loose and flexible with some light control

·         Strongly organized, directed, and controlled system to ensure quality control


·         A desired option for the small groups

·         A prerequisite for  group to continue

·         Strongly encouraged and promoted


·         Some kind of ongoing training, although flexible and loosely organized

·         Closely monitored, required  ongoing training


·         Leaders free to choose

·         Material chosen for leaders

  Summary Of The Two Models  

            Here I’d like to highlight some key distinctions and similarities between the two models. I will also partly critique some of the potential weaknesses. 


1.     Both place a high priority on small group ministry.

2.     Both  find support in the cell group success of Paul Cho.

3.     Both use the Jethro system to care for each leader.

4.     The elements of discipleship and evangelism are normally found in both models.  


1.     Centrality in the Church

Probably the major distinction between the Pure Cell Church and the Meta Model is the priority given to the small groups.  The Pure Cell Model  makes the cell ministry  the  central function in the church. Cells are seen as THE program instead of one of the programs.  The concentrated effort of both leader and member hinges around what takes place in the weekly cell gathering.

In contrast,  the Meta Model tends to elevate the small group to the status of a very important program in the church. Because the  seeker sensitive service is normally the major  program in the church,   the small groups seem to  used as a supporting tool to the  overall temple strategy of the church.

2.     Pastoral versus Evangelistic

In the Pure Cell Model evangelism is a major priority in the small group. Cells are the net that draws in the harvest. In the Pure Cell Model,  multiplication is  not even an option. It’s part of the strategy. The Pure Cell Church positions the cells to fulfill the primary outreach of the church through the multiplication of each group.

In contrast, the Meta Model utilizes the cells groups for more  of a pastoral, networking purpose. The primary evangelism comes from the seeker sensitive service. Four of the five  case study Meta churches in this tutorial depended on their seeker sensitive service to attract non-Christians. In these churches the cells are the way to close the back door, but not the primary means of evangelism. The one Meta church that depended on the cells to evangelize has recently been declining (New Hope Community).

3.     Similarity of Group Meeting Versus  Various Group Structures

In the Pure Cell Church,  the same lesson and general format is used in all of the groups. The  similarity of the small group gathering helps guarantee the  quality control. Leaders and members know what to expect in a cell meeting and new leaders can be trained more rapidly.  Cell leader training and multiplication of the cell group is more easily accomplished in the pure cell approach because all are trained in the same techniques, goals, and material.

Due to the variety of small groups and material in the Meta Model, multiplication and ongoing training are more difficult to maintain. The needs of each leader is so unique and different that effective training and control usually breaks down.

4.     Tight Administrative Control Versus Flexibility of Structure

The Pure Cell System tends to emphasize tight administrative control. Weekly reports are a must. Oftentimes  the cell leaders receive weekly or bimonthly training. The Jethro system is applied to a greater extend in the Pure Cell Model.

On the other hand, in the Meta Model,  flexibility and variety  are important values. The administrative control is often loose and flexible. The  freedom that the  Meta Model offers is very  appealing in a  North American culture which is very individualistic and likes to have many choices. In other cultures, these traits are not so highly esteemed.  

Concern About   The Variety Of Small Groups In The Meta Model  

            In his Fuller doctoral dissertation on cell ministry David Tan states,

For the Meta-Church any type of groups within the church constitutes the cells. All these groups may have different agendas and purposes. The main principle is to involve as many members as possible in groups. Since it is impossible to enroll everyone and the agenda of every group cannot be identical, the goal of the Meta-Church is accommodation(Tan 1994:18).  

        As was mentioned earlier, in the Meta Model there are groups for everyone: children, ushers, parking lot attendants, greeters, staging, lighting, drama, vocal groups, orchestra, Vietnam Veterans, blended families, etc. (Galloway 1995:18).  The concern that I have in labeling all of these activities as cell groups  is that the emphasis subtly shifts from the components of   small group life  to a more generalized concept of anything small equals a small group.

This is a very subtle distinction, but I have noticed that  this concept seems to have an adverse effect on the  cell-based structure. It has the potential of cheapening  the small group vision by saying that a small group usher’s meeting in the church is the same as a home based small group. In fact, the two are worlds apart,  due to the setting and  the purpose. I have a suspicion that the lack of quality control in  this smorgasbord approach might eventually weaken the entire system.

For example, in Ecuador, our head pastor strongly insisted every week, that everyone attend a weekly cell group, so that they might receive personal care and might be able to reach their neighbors. What the people did not receive in the main worship service, we knew that they could receive through the pastoral care in the small groups.  We also knew that the cell  groups in the church would be open to receive the people that heard that announcement on Sunday morning.  

Yet,  how could our people in Ecuador   receive this type of care by joining  a ‘sports team’ which meets for a season,  or  by attending a ‘Sunday School class’ which meets for a semester and studies an academic subject, or by  being on a ‘committee’ which might meet for a month.  It’s not that such gatherings are not important, it’s simply that they do not fulfill the purposes of a  cell group. By joining such a group, the person would not truly be pastored and  in many cases  would not be comfortable in inviting his or her friend. As pastors, we could not be assured that God’s purposes were being fulfilled in the life of our members.

By calling all small gatherings  ‘cell groups’, I believe that   a certain confusion  is created. [22]  In summary, I  believe that the focus needs to be on the elements that make up a small group and not the fact that  it is a gathering and it is small. [23]

Chapter 4: u.s. case studIEs  of the Meta Model          

            Of the five  churches that I have chosen, four of them overtly declare that they are part of the Meta Model.  Saddleback Church is the only one which does not outwardly identify with that model. Nevertheless, what Saddleback actually does in their small group system is almost identical to the Meta Model, so I have taken the liberty to categorize it under that framework.

Many churches are experimenting with the Meta Model throughout the United States. 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).  Because I could not study all of those churches, I had to make a deliberate choice among the possibilities.  The ones that I did choose are:



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

  Probably the main criterion  for choosing  these particular churches was the question of prominence. In other words, these churches are  well-known throughout the United States, [24] both because of their numerical  growth as well of their effective small group ministry.

These case studies are not intended to be in-depth. [25]   My purpose is to give a brief summary of the church and their small group ministry. I conducted two of the case studies through personal visits (Cincinnati Vineyard and Fairhaven Alliance). For the other three I relied on books, pamphlets, seminars, and personal interviews by phone or during a seminar.  

New Hope Community Church  

Lyman Coleman refers to Dale Galloway’s church as the major advocate of the Cho model in the U.S (Coleman 1993: 5:19). [26]   However, I believe it is more accurate to describe the New Hope Community Church as the first prototype Meta Model of small group ministry.  It was this church that was Carl George’s primary U.S. case study before he wrote the book, Prepare Your Church for the Future. [27]   George Hunter calls  Dale Galloway,  ‘a significant pioneer in small groups ministries today’ (1996: 85).  His church is based on a wide assortment of small groups. [28]    His most recent work (1995) summarizes his years of experience in  cell-based ministry.  

Type Of Small Group Ministries  

The small groups at New Hope Community Church can be divided into three distinct types: 1. Nurture groups  2. Support groups  3. Task groups. The nurture groups provide most of the pastoral care in the church. The support groups are instruments of healing, while the task groups gather together people performing diverse types of service (ushering, etc.).  There is even an entire district of groups involved in the church’s music ministry (Hunter 1996:88).  Along with the nurture groups, the task groups meet together for sharing, prayer, and Bible application. According to George Hunter, “…every group has an empty chair, as a symbol of the group’s mission to reach at least one new person every six months (1996:87).  


The training of small group leaders is very important in this model.  Galloway says it well, “The most important job of the pastor and the pastoral staff is leadership development, training lay leaders who will build small groups. Leadership development is essential, and it must be top priority. It cannot be left to chance” (1995:118). Galloway offers a Superbowl event three times a year in which any cell member is welcome to attend. From the Superbowl future leaders emerge who face the challenge of raising up their own group  Once the group is formed, the leaders are required to attend a weekly training event where they are given the notes to the pastors and discussion questions for Bible application (Coleman 1993: 5:19).  

Present Effectiveness  

How effective is New Community Church today?  Does this church continue to be a leading model of cell- based ministry?  At this point, the answer appears to be no. Dale Galloway has recently resigned from the church and entered the world of  seminary education. [29]   From my understanding, even before he left,  the church was experiencing problems.  I  first became aware of those problems  during a brief conversation with Rick Warren during one of his Purpose Driven Seminars. [30]  I asked Rick about the state of  small group ministries in the church today. He responded by  pointing out the apparent failure of the Meta Model in  Dale Galloway’s church.  At that time Rick  mentioned that Galloway’s church had dropped from 6000 in attendance to 1000 in attendance. [31]

        Actually, the situation is not that bad. I recently talked with one of the pastors who has been at New Hope Community Church for some 16 years. [32]   Pastor Bev told me that the church has dropped from 6000 in attendance to the present 3000. The number of small groups has also dropped. From the 625 small groups reported by George Hunter (1996: 85), there are now 350. According to Bev, out of the 3000 people attending the church, there might be about  1000  people in the weekly small groups. [33]   She made it quite clear that even before Dale Galloway resigned, the church had begun to lose steam. People stopped attending the Tender Loving Care Groups.  The cell leadership began to show signs of weakness.

During my conversation with Pastor Bev, I readily detected that she tended to interpret the present difficulties at New Community in a spiritual light. She was quick to point out the positive aspects of what God was presently doing in their midst (it’s natural that a person on staff is not going to spill all of the ‘inner workings’ of the church with a stranger over the telephone). [34]   She did mention that the new pastor, Rev. Cotton, was giving the church a new focus and direction. Interestingly, she said that this new direction involved evangelism as a chief focus—but  not necessarily  small group ministry.  


What has really gone wrong at New Hope Community Church? Is it that the Meta Model  doesn’t work in the U.S.? No, I don’t think so. However, I would like to offer two observations concerning the Meta Model at New Hope Community Church. First, it appears that pastor Galloway  might have become overly  occupied with his seminar ministry and outside speaking.

This observation originated from one who understands cell ministry and the situation at Galloway’s church. His name is  David Tan. [35] David told me that pastor Galloway’s outside speaking schedule became so hectic that he would arrive on the weekend to preach at New Hope Community and leave Monday morning to begin  an intense seminar schedule.  Such outside activity  might have contributed to the difficulties at New Hope.

            My second observation that might have contributed to the cracks in the wall at New Hope has to do with  the categorization of small groups at New Hope. The fact that there was such a plethora of small groups might have contributed to the break down of training, vision, administration, and overall effectiveness. [36]  

Willow Creek Community Church  

            Probably the most well-known church in the United States at this time is Willow Creek Community Church. It is being promoted as the church of the future—the new way to reach a secularized culture for Jesus Christ. George Hunter calls it,  ‘the most visible apostolic experiment in the U.S. today’ (1996:14).  

History Of The Church  

            In 1975, Bill Hybels started this  church with a vision to plant a church for the unchurched.  However, Bill was not alone. A group of young adults  who were all graduates of an innovative youth ministry accompanied Bill in the founding of Willow Creek Community Church. The goal was to plant a church for those who couldn’t handle traditional religion (Hunter 1996:14).           

Growth Of The Church  

Like a sprinter racing from the blocks, this church has not looked back. Starting from scratch in  1975, the church now has a huge facility that can seat 4,500 people and as of June, 1996 was  averaging 15,000 to 16,000 people in their  three seeker-sensitive services. [37]   The church also has 1400 small groups to care for the needs of their growing congregation. [38]    

Core Values  

From my research on Willow Creek Community Church, three core values stood out:

1.     Commitment to reach the unchurched

            The philosophy of the church is built around how to reached ‘unchurched Harry’, This fictitious person who represents the secular man or woman today who could care less about traditional religion. Everything that is done in their weekly  seeker-sensitive services  has the unchurched person in mind. [39]

2.     Commitment to Small Groups

            Although from the beginning small groups were important, it wasn’t until 1990 that small groups became a priority (Hunter 1996: 93).  The church found that the only way to disciple those who had come to Christ  was through a small group ministry. Bill Hybels  says,

…virtually every significant decision and step of growth I’ve made in the last decade of ministry have come in the context of community,…That’s why we want Willow Creek not to be a church that offers small groups but to become a church of small groups(1995:178).  

Jim Dethmer, the leading small group pastor at Willow Creek  says it this way, “Our goal is to make average, ordinary lay person extra-ordinarily successful in shepherding the six to ten people entrusted to their care” (George 1994:59). 

3.     Commitment to Excellence

            Those who have made their pilgrimage to one of  the many seminars at Willow Creek come back with this thought on their lips---Willow Creek is committed to excellence. [40] Everything they do is first class. The phrases  ‘high powered’ and ‘perfectly orchestrated’ aptly describe this ministry. Jim Egli of Touch Ministries reminded me that Willow Creek is located in a very wealthy area and thus has the resources to do a first class job. [41]           

The Small Group Ministry  

            I could say much more about the Willow Creek Model. Loads of material has been written about  their innovative seeker sensitive services. However, when studying Willow Creek, my main concern was how they conduct their small group ministry.

Meta  Model  

            Willow Creek openly  declares that they have espoused the Meta Model of small group ministry. The characteristics of the Meta Model are clearly seen:

1.     Flexibility

2.     Variety

3.     Jethro Model [42]

4.     Small groups supporting the program.  

Variety Of Groups  

There are four basic types of groups at Willow Creek Community Church:  

1.     Discipleship Groups

These are curriculum oriented small groups (six unit course)  which runs on a two year life cycle. For the most part, they are considered closed groups (except in special circumstances). This type of  small group can meet anywhere.

2.  Service groups

These groups are made up of volunteer people. They are task oriented groups. The groups are built around the particular  program. For example, when the  drama group meets together for practice, they would  pray, have a lesson, etc. Wayne, the staff person responsible for information in the church, told me that the bread and butter groups at Willow Creek are now these service groups. He said that previously, the discipleship groups were the most important groups.

3.     Seeker small groups

These small groups are made up of  six to eight  people. The goals of these groups is to reach non-Christians. 

4.     Community groups  

These  are larger groups of up to fifteen people. They meet in a community near the church. According to Wayne, these groups are a ‘holding place’ or a ‘beginning place’ for those who haven’t yet found a service group. In other words, it’s sort of a fishing pool for the service groups. These groups normally meet once per month.  


All groups can choose whatever curriculum that they want. The only criteria is that it’s sold in the Willow Creek bookstore. 

Meeting Places  

Many of the groups meet in the church. I was told that the group might arrive 1 ˝ hours before their regular scheduled activity takes place. There are many rooms in the church’s huge building where these small gatherings can meet.  


The church follows the Jethro Model. They have coaches who are over five small group leaders. They have a division leaders over five coaches. Right now, there are  twenty five division leaders  on staff in the church.  Under each division leader is ten to fifteen coaches. The information flows down from the division leader to the coach to the leader. The coaches and the division leaders are supposed to visit, council and generally pastor those under their care.

Ongoing Training  

        There are leadership training sessions for small group leaders every year. [43] There are training sessions for coaches (over 5 cell  leaders) every month or every other month. Due to the fact that there are no regular  cell leader training session, a lot depends on the visitation and care of the coaches and division leaders.   


        According to Wayne, there is no time set for multiplication. The multiplication takes place naturally as the group members invite friends and family. Although Wayne gave me the impression that there was no pressure to multiply, the Willow Creek Small Group Leadership Handbook talks about reproduction as an important goal. It says,

Success in leadership of a small group is ultimately seen in the viability of daughter groups….The new group can only be considered viable if it eventually births a new group itself. In this model, a ‘Senior Leader’ is someone who’s birthed at least three groups, which in turn have birthed new groups---in other words, a leader with at least three small group’ grandchildren (p. 3 in Hunter  1996:96). 


            Willow Creek is truly a work of the Almighty God.  It embodies the motivation of Paul, the apostle, who sought to become all things to all men (I Cor. 9: 19-23). This general principle of using  ‘bait’ that will attract men and women for Jesus Christ is a needed emphasis in the church today.

However, as in any model that God has greatly blessed, there is the danger of copying it verbatim, without analyzing the contextual factors.  It seems to me that this danger is especially present in the Willow Creek Church because of the high financial and cultural level  of the church.  In other words,  the type of  high tech program at Willow Creek demands large resources and talent that many churches simply do not have.Concerning the small group system used at Willow Creek, several questions arise in my mind:

1.     I wonder how many of the task or service groups can reach non-Christians for Jesus Christ. If in fact the service groups are centered around a ministry task, It seems unlikely that a non-Christian is going to  join that particular ministry function (most of these groups meet before or after their particular task).

2.     Because the task groups are central at Willow Creek, I wonder about the dynamics and the components of small group life at Willow Creek. Are the  groups simply  scaled down programs that support the larger machinery of the church? How much of the life of the true church is manifest in many of these  gatherings? Can a group meeting 1 ˝ hours before their church task, experience the vital life of a home cell group? Without a further, more in-depth study, these questions cannot be fully answered, but my initial observations cause me to raise these questions. 



[1] A quotation  from Larry Stockstill’s  two page handout during the Post-Denominational Seminar (May 22, 1996)

[2] This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 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  Cho’s church,  points to 720,000 members (17).

[3] In the small group movement in general, one of the major  themes is born to die. Richard Peace made this clear both in private conversations that I had with him and  in his small group evangelism class. Great emphasis is placed on the major stages of the small group with the last stage being termination. The group might decide to multiply, but it is completely optional.

[4] 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.

[5] The lesson might be a summary of the Sunday message (Cho’s church) or the lesson might be four carefully designed application questions that follow the Sunday morning message (Stockstill’s church).

[6] I believe that there are obvious cultural implications here.  The cell movement began in Korea, where strict lines of authority are followed. It might be argued that these cultural norms have greatly helped the cell model to flourish in Korea. It’s also true that in other Asian, Latin American, African, and Chinese cultures, there is a stronger authoritarian emphasis. The cell church has done very well in these countries as well. Will the cell church philosophy work in America where individualism is promoted? One of my tutorials will examine the cultural implications of  the cell model—specifically in the Latin American context. 

[7] In Larry Stockstill’s church the zone leaders are on staff.

[8] In practically all pure cell churches, the district pastor is on staff. In Cho’s church there are pastors of district pastors and the Jethro model continues to reach up to the very top.

[9] Although in some cell churches, the cell leader baptizes and serves communion to those under his or her care.

[10] At Bethany World Prayer Center, the district pastors would  hold congregational Sunday p.m. services once per month. One of the district pastors would preach.

[11] Some cell reports go into great detail. The reports at Bethany World Prayer Center include the activities of the cell leader during the week—number of visits, time spent in preparation, etc.

[12] Cho said this during the Church Growth Lectures at Fuller Semiary in 1984

[13] David Tam reported to me that at First Baptist of Modesto (a pure cell church)  they have changed their training schedule (less requirements) to meet the demands of the cell leaders.  Another example is Ralph Neighbour. He promotes that most of the training should take place within the cell groups.

[14] 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.

[15] At Bethany World Prayer Center,  every new Christian is a potential leader. These new Christians are immediately discipled by a group member. After this  six week personal discipleship, the new converts are asked to attend a training class in the church. This training continues until the new convert is ready to lead a cell group. 

[16] At Bethany World Prayer Center they still had a children’s Sunday School, Worship team practice, Saturday morning prayer meeting, youth night and college and career night. Even if a church is pure cell, there will probably always be certain essential programs that are necessary in order to keep the church functioning properly. 

[17] This aspect of pure cell church ministry was most vividly demonstrated at Bethany World Prayer Center. Every month, a different district provides all of the volunteer work in the church. Ralph Neighbour promotes similar principles.

[18] Of course, I’m referring to adults here. Larry Stockstill has mobilized 70% of the adults to attend a regular weekly cell group. In Ecuador, we reached 75% adult participation before I left. I’ve heard David Tan talk about 90%, but I have yet to see such participation.

[19] In another tutorial I developed a third model called the pragmatic or church growth approach. This approach embraces much of the pure cell approach but rejects the exclusivity of Neighbour and even allows various programs to exist.

[20] It’s important to note that Jim Egli  is committed to the Pure Cell Model. He  works for Dr. Ralph Neighbour. However, he was previously involved in a Meta Model that eventually transitioned into the Pure Cell Model structure (Vineyard Champaign).

[21] She also compares the appendage system (where I would categorize the covenant model and the serendipity model).

[22] I knew of one C&MA church in Guayaquil, Ecuador  that promoted  many types of small groups. They gloried in their diversity, but the congregation never caught on to a cell group vision because, in my opinion, it wasn’t  distinct enough. The idea was foggy because many of the so called small groups  had  very few of the key small group elements present.

[23] I’m thinking specifically of the chief characteristics of  spiritual fellowship and effective outreach. For example, I hesitate calling the worship team practice a cell group because it meets for a particular purpose and outsiders are not welcome. The same is true for the board. Concerning a sports team,  I wonder where the face to face spiritual communion is going to take place.

[24] with the exception of Fairhaven Alliance Church, which is well-known among C&MA circles.

[25] The only in-depth  case study in this tutorial is from Bethany World Prayer Center which is a model of the Pure Cell Approach.

[26] For a more in-depth understanding of Galloway’s system of training,  read  pages .93-110 in Galloway’s most recent book entitled, The Small Group Book (1995).

[27] This statement is based on three main factors: 1. A conversation with Dale Galloway in which he confirmed this reality 2. George’s Meta Model follows the structure of New Hope Community Church very closely, so as to confirm the truth in Galloway’s statement 3. Dale Galloway has been promoting Meta  principles through his small group seminars for the past fifteen years (on page 9 of the seminar manual, Galloway identifies his system with the Meta Model).

[28] It’s hard to say just how many small groups there are. In his 1996 book, Hunter says that there are 625 small groups (1996:85). During one of Dale Galloway’s  seminars  in November, 1995, Dale said that he had some 550 small groups. However, since, Dale  left the church in 1995,   it appears that the number of small groups has significantly  dwindled.

[29] Dale  is now  very involved in the  Beeson Pastor Program  which is connected to Asbury Seminary.

[30] This seminar took place in Dayton, Ohio in late October, 1995. I talked with Rick during a break.

[31] I remember that he even mentioned that he had preached at Galloway’s church since Dale  had resigned.

[32] Her name is Pastor Bev. I spoke with her by phone (503-659-5683) on Wednesday, June 26, 1996. Pastor Bev is  the Compassionate Care pastor. She is over  the district called Grief, Recovery and Loss.

[33] This is in contrast to the claim in Galloway’s  small group seminar manual that there are 5000+ in small groups every week (1995:10).  That  number is also confirmed in Hunter’s book, Church for the Unchurched (1996: 14). Although Pastor Bev’s figures might not be 100% accurate, it is clear that the church has greatly declined in the past few years.

[34] My conversation with Pastor Bev should be taken with some  caution.  She didn’t seem to want to reveal the hard facts surrounding the current situation. However, one thing was clear. There have been problems with the small groups at New Hope, loss of attendance in general, and the pastoral staff is reassessing their vision and priorities.

[35] David Tan received his doctor of ministry degree from Fuller Seminary. His dissertation was written about cell-based ministry. He is currently a district pastor of a cell church in Modesto, California 

[36] I covered this more under my summary of the comparison between the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model. Jim Elgi’s excellent article (1993) is very helpful in describing this potential problem in the Meta Model.

[37] The staff person who gave me this information is  Wayne (847-765-0070 ext. 358) His title is: . Membership Service Manager. From what I understand, it’s his job to provide information about Willow Creek for those interested. Wayne is the one who answered most of my questions about small groups.

[38] True to the Meta Model philosophy, the 1400 groups include Sunday School and every conceivable type of small group gathering in the church.

[39]   Peter Jenning  recently did an excellent documentary entitled ‘In the Name of God’. Willow Creek Community Church was one of the featured churches. The documentary clearly described the commitment at Willow Creek to make the Bible message relevant to the unchurched mind.

[40] Don Moi, a C&MA pastor in Anaheim, makes a yearly trip to Willow Creek with certain staff members. The first thing that Don told me about Willow Creek is that they do everything with excellence.

[41] Jim mentioned this during a phone conversation in June, 1996.

[42] The Jethro Model used at Willow Creek conforms very closely to the pattern set forth in George’s book, Prepare Your Church for the Future.

[43] It is my understanding that the number of these training sessions vary according to the needs present.










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