Cell Strategy-Pt.3


Cell Strategy-Pt.4


Saddleback Church is  Southern California version of the Willow Creek model. Instead of unchurched Harry (Willow Creek), this church is after ‘Saddleback Sam’ (Seminar 1995:18).  Rick Warren founded the church in 1980 with only his family, his trailer, and a big vision. [1]   Today the church has grown to over 10,000 people in attendance with 6300 members. After moving seventy-nine different times, the church is finally constructing their own building (Seminar 1995).  The church has also planted some twenty-six daughter churches. [2]  

Core Values  

1.     Commitment to Reaching the Lost

            This seems to be the key foundation upon which the church is built. Before starting public services, Pastor Rick did a neighborhood survey to discover why the Saddleback Community were not attending church. Based on their responses, he designed his methodology. One of the key principles at Saddleback is to ‘let the target audience  determine the approach’ (Seminar 1995: 25). Carefully designed seeker-sensitive services attract non-Christians who would never enter a traditional church.          

2.     Commitment to a well-defined purpose based on the Bible

            I,  along with  over 1000 pastors,  recently  crammed into a Baptist Church in Ohio to attend  one of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church seminars.  In a nutshell, the seminar emphasized the need to have a clear Biblical purpose for ministry, as opposed to being led by church tradition or   even new,  successful  methodology. In his most recent book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick delineates his clear cut philosophy of ministry. One of the pithy slogans that he uses to describe his philosophy is: A GREAT COMMITMENT TO THE GREAT COMMANDMENT AND THE GREAT COMMISSION WILL GROW A GREAT CHURCH.  The church’s mission statement reads, “To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christlike maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and their life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name (Seminar 1995:10).

3.     Commitment to lay involvement

             Pastor Rick is committed to allowing the laity to minister. He makes a strong point that ministry placement is a top priority at Saddleback (Seminar 1995:43). The four pillars of the church in this area are:

a.      Every believer is a minister

b.     Every ministry is important

c.      We are dependent on each other

d.     Ministry is an expression of my spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and expenses.            

The Small Group Ministry  

More than half (56%) of the 6300  members attend one of the 250 small groups at Saddleback Church. [3]   Pastor Rick’s commitment to small groups can be seen by the following statement,

One of the biggest fears  members have about growth is how to maintain that ‘small church’ feeling or fellowship as their church grows. The antidote to this fear is to develop small groups within your church…. Our church  must always be growing larger and smaller at the same time…. you can’t share personal prayer requests in the crowd. Small affinity groups, on the other hand, are perfect for creating a sense of intimacy and close fellowship. It’s there that everybody knows your name. When you are absent, people notice (1995:325,326). 

Meta  Model?  

            I have classified this church under the Meta Model due to the characteristics of Saddleback’s small group ministry. However,  the church does not officially line up with any particular model. [4]  

Pastoral Emphasis  

            The emphasis in the small groups at Saddleback church  is more pastoral than outreach oriented.  Rick Warren doubts that in today’s society, non-Christians can be effectively won to Christ in a  small group environment. Rather, he feels that non-Christians are more likely to be reached in a large gathering. [5]   Therefore, the small groups at Saddleback function to integrate the new believers and old time members into the life of the church. Rick says, “Small groups are the most effective way of closing the back door of your church. We never worry about losing people who are connected to a small group. We know that those people have been effectively assimilated” (1995:327). 

Variety Of Groups  

            Variety is a key buzz word at Saddleback. It seems that any type of group is acceptable. The leaders are free to pick the group of their choice. All they have to do is come to the office with a purpose statement which details their focus, their plans, and what they expect that their groups will look like. In other words, they can design the group as they please. Some of these designs are more general while others are very specific (empty nesters, teens, 21 years or more groups, single women over 35 who have never gotten married, etc.).

Most groups come under one of four categories:

1.     Maturity groups

These are discipleship groups that use a particular curriculum. They meet on a given night in the church to go over questions that are presented in the didactic materials.  These groups are closed and meet for the purpose of promoting Christian maturity. There are thirty five of these groups at Saddleback.

2.     Ministry  groups

These groups might include Sunday School teachers, traffic ministries, ushers, etc.  They might meet once every month. They are also closed groups. [6] There are about twenty five of these groups in the church.

3.     Mission Groups

These groups meet every Wednesday night. Actually, they are sub groups from the larger congregational gathering. They focus group is new believers. The new believer will attend the first part of the Wednesday night meeting and then will go into a  particular classroom to receive instruction. These groups meet for nine to ten weeks. There are twenty five such mission groups

4.     Home groups

 The home groups are for anyone in the church. The focus is fellowship and nurture. There are 150  such groups in the church at this time.  


            I was told that apart from promotion on Sunday morning, Rick Warren is not intimately involved in the small group leadership. [7]   Other staff people, under Rick,  handle these responsibilities. From what I understand, the administrative system is not very complex at Saddleback. They emphasize the role of distict lay pastor (20 of these  district lay pastors at this time)

These lay volunteer  people are assigned to oversee six to eight small groups per quarter. The ministry assignment of these volunteer lay pastors is diverse. For example, I was told that a lay pastor might be asked to serve communion to a small group. To be a lay pastor, one must take the training session taught by pastor Rick and pastor John, as well as pass through a personal interview conducted by the top leadership of the church.

         The cell leaders do not turn in a report every week; rather, the lay pastors call the cell leader to ask about the average attendance in the small group during the month. In comparison with other small group models, the administrative structure at Saddleback is very  is very loose.

          It’s interesting how  Saddleback advertises the availability of the small groups. From what I understand, when a group reaches twelve to fourteen people, it will no longer be advertised by the church. Only those groups which are smaller  are made available for the general congregation.  


If there was one value that underlies the small group ministry at Saddleback, it’s flexibility.  The small group ministry at Saddleback is flexible with regard to:

1.     Multiplication  

Groups are encouraged to multiply but not required (some have been going for fifteen years)  

2.     Meetings  

Groups meet when they want, as much as they  want, and break when they want  

3. Assistants  

Small groups are encouraged to have an assistant,  but not required.  

4.     Leadership training  

        When I asked about ongoing leadership training, again, that word ‘flexibility’ was mentioned. They have tried different things such as quarterly meeting, Saturday training, etc. It seems that they are still trying to decide what pattern to follow.

5.     Curriculum  

        The small group leaders pick their own materials. When they talk with pastor John,  they discuss the type of material they will study.  


Saddleback church is doing something right. Any Evangelical, Bible preaching church that can attract more than 10,000 people Sunday after Sunday deserves to be applauded. The strengths of Saddleback include the innovative techniques for reaching secular people,  a clear, concise  philosophy of ministry, strong pastoral leadership, and definite, visionary goals. [8]

However, I was not impressed by their small group ministry. Here are some of the reasons for that statement:

1.     Low Participation: Only about one third of those who attend the church are in a small group. This  fact alone tells me that small groups at Saddleback are one program among many and are not at the very heart of the church.

2.     Lack of Direction: There seems to be a lack of  clear cut goals and  plans for the small group ministry at Saddleback. I almost sensed that the goal was ‘flexibility’ (not to have much of a system). I interpret a lot of  this flexibility as  actually being a hindrance to greater effectiveness  in their small group ministry. 

3.     Little  Quality Control: Since each leader decides on the materials, the target group, etc., it seems to me that a potential leader would need to be very creative and gifted to maintain a successful group. Their  system isn’t conducive to produce multiplying  cell groups.  

Cincinnati Vineyard  

Cincinnati Vineyard is certainly a unique church.  It has been widely reported that members from that church do unheard of things- like offering cold drinks to commuters who are stalled in the midst of traffic on a burning hot afternoon. Actually, the term ‘servant evangelism’ originated in the mind of Steve Sjogren, the senior pastor of this church.  

History Of The Church  

            This church is part of the larger Vineyard movement  which started in a small Bible study  in 1974. John Wimber soon became the recognized head or apostle of this movement. [9] Before coming to Cincinnati Vineyard, Steve Sjogren spent two years in West Los Angeles to receive training from John Wimber and to help pioneer works in Oslo, Norway and Annapolis. It was in November of 1983 that Steve and his wife Janie moved to Cincinnati to begin the new work.  

Growth Of The Church  

Between 2500 and 3000 attend the four services (one Saturday p.m. and three Sunday a.m.). There are an additional 1000-15000 which call the Cincinnati Vineyard their home church. When I visited the church in November, 1995 they were averaging 20 first time decisions for Jesus Christ every week. The sixteen full time pastors have their hands full. .

The future vision for the church is great. When I was there, they were just about  to purchase forty-eight  acres of land.  

Core Values  

            From reading their literature and having an in-depth interview with one of their staff pastors, I identified three core values of the church:  

Servant Evangelism  

This church has been made famous for commitment to serve people, anywhere and in anyway. I was told that  15% of the church’s finances are used for kindness ministries: Purchasing and changing light bulbs for people,  raking leaves, giving away free cokes, etc. They make it clear that there are no strings attached and the act of kindness is apart from any gospel presentation. However, they do distribute cards with information about the church. [10]

Four times a year the church sponsors an event called ‘Serve Cincinnati’. About 500 people from the church participate in these events. They also have what they call ‘Matthew’s Party’. They simply throw a big party and invite all the poor and needy that they can find.  

Seeker Sensitive Services  

Pastor David Stiles explained to me that there are two types of Vineyards: The renewal type and the seeker sensitive type. He made it clear to me that Cincinnati Vineyard is the seeker sensitive type. They value the new person. They do not want to make it scary for the new person.  Hunter describes the church’s vision a bit differently, “In contrast to the reputation (deserved or undeserved) of the national Vineyard movement, the Cincinnati church targets unchurched pre-Christians rather than churched Christians!” (1996:16).

Their two main services on Sunday morning (not the earliest one) are very user friendly. No one comes forward to receive Jesus Christ; the new converts simply look up. Afterwards, they are invited to receive material. The new converts are directed to a cell group as well as the verse by verse study on Wednesday night (about 400 attend that gathering).

Due to the great name that their servant evangelism ministry has given them and their seeker sensitive services, many new people find their way to this church. Right now, my analysis is that the church is part of the Willow Creek mentality. The main philosophy is attracting people through the large temple approach. Servant Evangelism is a new and creative way to do that.  

Small Group Involvement  

Like other  Vineyards, the small group emphasis is important in this church. Displayed on every wall of their foyer is every conceivable type of small group.  Their creatively made  bulletin boards enable a newcomer to take a brochure (with photo of leader, purpose of group, and specific information) of any of the small groups. I had the distinct impression (from word of mouth as well as being there) that this particular Vineyard was very committed to small group ministry.  

Small Group Ministry  

There are 250 groups all together. [11] This number of small groups is significant for a congregation of  3500 people. If ten people attended each group, [12] it would mean that  2500 people attended the small group ministry which is a very  high percentage.  

Meta Model  

            The Cincinnati Vineyard openly espouses the Meta Model. Carl George has spoken several times at the church,  and they are listed in George’s book, The Coming Church Revolution (p.183).  

Variety Of Groups  

According to George small groups at Cincinnati Vineyard range from “…pool playing and motorcycle riding to Bible studies and prayer groups” (1994:183). I picked up information describing groups called: ‘Buster’s Reading Group’, ‘Vineyard Web Page Group’, ‘Never Let Them See the Back of Your Head Group’, ‘Database Design Group’, ‘Writer’s Fellowship’, ‘Horse Rider’s Fellowship’, ‘Step Aerobics Group’, ‘Shooter’s Club Group’, ‘Homebuilders Group’, ‘Thanks Serving Bus Run Group’, ‘PreSeason Softball Practice Group, etc.

The general categories of small groups include:

Þ    Kindness Outreaches

Þ    Mercy Ministries

Þ    Computer Groups

Þ    Interest Groups

Þ    Sports Groups

Þ    Prayer Groups

Þ    Recovery Groups

Þ    Bible Study Groups

Þ    Kinship Groups

Þ    Marriage Enrichment Groups

Þ    Men’s Growth Groups

Þ    Singles Groups

Þ    Teen Groups

Þ    Twenty Something Groups

Þ    Women’s Groups

The brochure for each group is a different color in order to identify the purpose of that particular group. Some groups are open  while others are closed. Some groups are small while others are larger than fifteen.  The visitor’s packet says, “Most groups range from 8 to 12 people and meet twice a month” (p.17).  

Purpose Of  The Groups  

            The titles  ‘primary care’ and ‘secondary care’ help classify such a dizzying variety of small groups. The primary care groups (147 under this category) include such groups as women’s groups, singles, kinship groups, etc. Members receive more pastoral care in these group. The secondary care groups are less vulnerable and more impersonal (computer group, horse riding group, etc.). 

The word ‘care’ in both categories help explain the primary purpose of small group at Cincinnati Vineyard. Like most churches using the  Meta Model, small group ministry is a means to close the back door and ‘hook’ the people into the church. The visitor’s packet explains this focus, “Though people come to a church for many reasons, they generally stay for only one…relationship” (p.17).  Small groups provide an opportunity for that type of relationship.

  Pastor David  mentioned to me that he didn’t feel that the small groups were very effective in evangelizing  new people. This function took place through the seeker sensitive services. [13]   However, to their credit, Cincinnati Vineyard encourages that,  “Each group engages in periodic outreach, every four to six weeks, to pre-Christian people” (Hunter 1996:116). [14]  

Administrative Structure  

Pastor Steve and five other main pastors take on the district pastor function with teams under them. They do have coaches over five to ten group. Since the leaders are not required to turn in any reports, I wasn’t sure how the coaches and district pastors really know what is happening in each group.

Each month they hold the leadership community meeting (patterned after George’s VHS). According to Pastor Stiles, 65% of the leaders attend (150-200 leaders) this session.  Although they have wholeheartedly espoused George’s Meta Church philosophy, Pastor Stiles admitted to me that some of George’s stuff simply doesn’t work for them. For example, George recommends that at each VHS, the top leadership offers some kind of skill training  for the cell leaders. They have found  that this just doesn’t work with such a wide variety of groups. For example, the skill training  for a sport’s team leader is 100% different that the training needed for a recovery group leader.

Since each leader is free to choose his or her own material and since the training for each leader is so vastly different, I got the sense that the leadership training meeting was more visionary in nature. In fact, Pastor Stiles told me that they were reviewing their leadership requirements in order to bring them more in line with reality.  


This church has the reputation of being a pioneer and pace setter for many. Servant Evangelism has now become popular in many circles. The caring, healing ministry that this church has demonstrated is well-known and respected .

Their small group ministry is exceedingly creative and has encompassed a large percentage of those who attend the church. For this reason, there is much room for commendation. If I were comparing this church from among the other Meta Model churches, I would say it  is second to none. Yet, my concerns include:

1.     A one sided focus of the small groups

That is, the groups are primarily  care groups, but they are not engaging in active evangelism. Multiplication is not a priority.

2.     Lack of pastoral  care in  many of the groups

Not only is evangelism not the priority in the majority of the groups, but many of the groups lack pastoral care. For example, it’s hard to picture the Web Page Group, the Writer’s Fellowship,  or the Horse Back Riding Group offering much pastoral care.

3.     Lack of administrative control and training

With such a wide variety of groups, the administrative and training function begin to break down. This was the case at Cincinnati Vineyard.

4.     Lack of Clarity With Regard to the Length of the Group  

From what I understand of the Meta Model, the  small groups do not have a planned termination point. Carl George says, 

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).  

        In the Cincinnati Vineyard, I got the impression that there weren’t many guidelines in this area. Because the groups are primarily providing pastoral care for the church,  there is a natural tendency for the church leaders to want them to continue. Yet, small groups that go on indefinitely without multiplying have a tendency to stagnate and actually weigh down the church.  

Fairhaven Alliance Church  

            Although this church does not have the same  national recognition  that the first four churches enjoy, among Christian and Missionary Alliance people, Fairhaven Alliance Church is a flagship church. [15] With 1250 people  attending  the two morning worship services each Sunday,  this is one of the largest churches  U.S. Alliance. [16]  

Small Group History  

Since the 1980’s this church was involved in home Bible study groups. There were about twenty five of these so called Covenant Groups meeting at Fairhaven throughout the 1980’s.

In 1990 there was a radical switch to the Meta Model. The attempt was made to convert all of the old small groups into the new paradigm, but it didn’t work out so smoothly. Actually, I learned from Pastor Jim Futrell, the small group pastor, that the first two years of transition were very painful and discouraging. They envisioned doubling the church membership and that one out of ten members would be cell leaders. It didn’t work out the way that way.  The so called spontaneous combustion just didn’t happen.

In fact, Pastor Jim  Futrell was quite critical of Carl George. He told me that he longed to say to Carl George, ‘Show me one church that is doing it your way and  that is working?’  The pastors at Fairhaven had followed George’s advice, but they felt that the program didn’t fly as  it was suppose to.  

Small Group System  

            The small group system is almost identical to that of Cincinnati Vineyard. In fact, they copied Cincinnati Vineyard’s bulletin board  with colored coded brochures for each type of small group.        The church still officially follows the Meta Model, although they have had to adapt George’s counsel and teaching. Along side of the Meta Model is a heavy dose of Serendipity. The previous small group pastor at Fairhaven, Jim Cortrell, was a teacher -trainer with Serendipity. [17] 


When I had an in-depth interview with Pastor Jim in October, 1995, he told me that there were:

1.     Twenty five cell groups with  300 in attendance

2.     A number of  covenant groups with an attendance of sixty-eighty people.  

3.     A variety of task groups with about 150 people attending  

4.     A total of seventy-five small group leaders  

            From my count of the above figures,  there were 530 people attending the small groups which means that less than one half of the congregations was presently involved in a small group. 

Variety Of Groups  

            Following the lead of Cincinnati Vineyard, there are a variety of task groups (e.g., Social Care Committee, Asia Regional Team). special interest groups (e.g., Weigh Down Workshop), Bible Study groups, and cell groups which focus both on evangelism and discipleship. There are some stipulations concerning what constitutes a small group at Fairhaven Alliance Church. One of those stipulations is that you meet at least once per month. Another one is that if you want your group to be on the bulletin board in the foyer, it must be an open group.  

Ongoing Leadership Training  

Following the Meta Model, there is a  VHS (vision, huddle, skill training) leadership meeting on a regular basis. Previously, they had held the VHS meeting twice per month, but they found that the small group leadership grew weary under such a heavy commitment load. Now they have the VHS once each month. The cell group leaders must come to the VHS, but it is optional to those who lead a Task Group, Special Interest Group, or Covenant Group.  


            During the first several years of using the Meta Model, Fairhaven followed the Jethro principle according to the book. Now they have relaxed some of those old standards and rely on a more personal, casual accountability structure. For example, they no longer require that the leaders turn in a report form. Pastor Jim Futrell told me that such accountability simply doesn’t work anymore in the United States.  


            I sensed that Fairhaven Alliance Church was committed to the overall vision and purpose of small groups. They seemed to grasp the potential and power of small groups in the church, and for that reason, were  continuing their small group experiment.

Yet, I got the impression that Fairhaven was wrestling with unfulfilled expectations in their small group ministry. I sensed a disappointment that many of the promised dreams and goals of the Meta Model had not been realized. Because of this, at the time of my visit, there was a lack of clear focus with regard to their small group vision. The great variety of small groups was making it hard to provide similar ongoing leadership training and across the board requirements for leadership.  There was discouragement that nearly half of the adults in the church were not involved in the small group ministry.

Pastor Futrell was very honest in telling me that the growth of the Fairhaven Alliance Church was coming from their temple ministry and not primarily from the small groups. Like so many churches experimenting with the Meta Model, the small groups primarily acted as a hook for those who were attracted to the Sunday morning worship service.

Chapter 5: U.S. case studies of the Pure Cell Model 

            Before doing an in-depth case study of Bethany World Prayer Center, I will briefly describe two more pure cell churches here in the U.S.  

First Baptist Church Of Modesto  

            This church,  located in the heart of California’s agricultural community,  was officially organized in 1880. The church now owns property in a four block area,  which includes a sanctuary that can seat 1600 people. Due to the excellent ministry of Pastor William Yaeger (1967ff), the church grew to four thousand members. However, since 1985 the church has been plateaued.  In 1991, in a planned, professional manner, the baton was officially handed to  Reverend Wade Estes, who became the new pastor.  Rev. Wade, along with his brand new staff, has made the decision to become a pure cell church. Since 1993, the church has been transitioning into the pure cell model. The goal is to reach full transition into the pure cell model by the year 2000.  

Present Situation  

The experiment is working quite well. At the present time, 80% to 90% of the adults in the church are in cell groups.  David Tan, the high school district pastor  writes, “The strategy for transition into the Cell Church has only just begun, but we are already reaping some fruits. In the last few months, people who are joining the church for the first time are coming from the Home Groups: (1994:155).  

Cell Administration  

            The church is organized in the classical pure cell pattern, although they use titles which are more appropriate for the North American culture.  At the very heart of the structure is the home group shepherd. Then there is the coach who oversees five cell leaders. The head coach oversees five coaches and finally the district pastor  oversees five head coaches. At this present time, this church has five full-time district pastors.  

Cell Multiplication  

During the first phase of transition, they were able to multiply their cell groups in three to six months. However, most of the growth came by assimilating existing members into the cell structure. During the present phase the cell growth is coming through community outreach. During this phase, the groups have one year to multiply—or be integrated into the existing cell groups.

            The church is committed to cell multiplication. Pastor  Tan emphatically said to me in a recent conversation over the telephone,  “Everything that has life has a cycle. As you study the cell, it must give life. If you keep a cell that is not multiplying, it will die. The choice is life and death. You must choose life or death. There is a similar 9-12 month period for the cell to multiply.” [18]  

        First Baptist Church of Modesto plans to  model  the vital life of cell  multiplication and through this strategy reach Modesto for Jesus Christ in the years to come.  

Dove Christian Fellowship  

            Pastor Larry Kreider never intended to start a church. He tried as long as possible to integrate the van loads of young people who he had won to Christ into the existing church structures. Yet, for some reason unbeknown to him at the time,  the new wine kept bursting the old,  existing wineskins. Finally, Larry yielded to God’s call on his life and in 1980  started Dove Christian Fellowship.

From small, humble beginnings the church grew to over 2000 people in a ten year time period.  Larry’s congregation was  spread out across a seven county area of Pennsylvania. Larry describes his experiment this way,

These believers met in more than 100 cell groups during the week and on Sunday mornings met in clusters of cells (congregations) in five different locations….Our goal was to multiply the cells and celebrations beginning new Sunday morning celebrations and new cell groups in other areas as God gave the increase….During these years, churches were planted in Scotland, Brazil, and Kenya. These overseas churches were built on Jesus Christ and on these same underground house-to-house principles (1995:7).  

        Larry believes that multiplication and reproduction  most clearly demonstrate God’s heartbeat for a lost and dying world. If we are going to be in tune with God, we must be willing and committed to rapid multiplication. [19] Today, Dove Christian Fellowship totals 5000 believers who worship in  five distinct congregation. [20] The cell groups are the heart and base of the church. Larry describes his commitment to the pure cell paradigm of ministry in his 1995  book entitled, House To House.  

Bethany World Prayer Center  

            In my opinion, Bethany World Prayer Center is the most successful  example of the  pure cell model in the United States at this time. Many other pastors believe the same. There were 1800 pastors who attended their biannual cell seminar this past June, 1996. [21] Bethany is  following the pure  cell  model  for ministry that is bearing fruit all over the world. Yet, many have concluded that this model does not work in the United States. Those who think such things should take look at what is happening at Bethany World Prayer Center.            

The Context  

            To understand the growth of any church, it’s important to analyze the context. Bethany World Prayer Center is no exception.  

Baton Rouge, Louisiana  

            Located right on the banks of the  Mississippi River, Baton Rouge  continues to draw its very sustenance from that great river. Baton Rouge was explored and developed by the French, but by the middle of the eighteenth century a number of  exiled Acadians from Novia  Scotia had begun to  settle in the region. The culture and influence of these Acadians are still felt today (Visitor's Guide 1996:5).

            There are some 450,000 in greater Baton Rouge today. Baker, a beautiful town just about 15 minutes away from Baton Rouge is consider part of greater Baton Rouge. [22] Baton Rouge is a civil war city. War Monuments are  common.  The city is particularly proud to note that the longest battle of the Civil War was fought in  downtown,  Baton Rouge.

            The people of Baton Rouge are very friendly. I personally experienced their  southern warmth and hospitality. Because politeness and hospitality is still a very important virtue, neighborhood interaction and friendliness is  common. One cell leader told me that while he lived in California for fifteen  years he didn't even know his neighbors. Now he knows many of  them.  

The Christian Context  

            In 1989, Jimmy Swaggart used to bring more business to this town than any other business in all of Baton Rouge. [23]   In fact, in the minds of  millions, Baton Rouge is associated with  Jimmy Swaggart.  Surely the affects of his fall has been devastating  on the psyche of many in Baton Rouge.

            Yet, it seemed to me that Jimmy’s brand of Pentecostalism still seems to be very much alive. I could sense some of Jimmy in the Bethany World Prayer Center. The songs had sort of a country twinge. The people rocked, shouted, and jumped in a pleasant southern fashion.  

History of Bethany World Prayer Center  

            The background study of Bethany ‘s history helped me to understand  that there was a strong foundational structure before initiating the present cell ministry. Ministries Today Magazines notes, “For many years Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana, has been know as a church strong on prayer, evangelism and missions” (1996:37). God in His sovereignty had long ago been preparing Bethany for their present , powerful ministry.  

Roy Stockstill And Early Mission Vision  

            Roy Stockstill founded Bethany in 1963. Only two years earlier Roy, a Baptist pastor,  was baptized in the Holy Spirit after hearing Dennis Bennett.  He soon met John Osteen, a fellow  Spirit-filled Baptist, and John  instilled in Roy a love for missions (Stockstill 1992:17). Missions has been at the heartbeat of Bethany from the beginning.  Every year they hold an inspiring missions conference. During the conference, the missionaries supported by Bethany are encouraged to attend and be refreshed by the Holy Spirit.

            The commitment to missions at Bethany  is not just surface level. It  reaches down deep into the purse strings of the church. In 1963, the first money contribution from the church went to missions.  Roy son, Larry, writes, "This check was to become a philosophical statement that missions giving would be the first in priority, with the belief that God would provide for the needs of the local congregation" (1992:18). Pastor Larry said, "Show me the checkbook of a church and I will show you its convictions. Just as the checkbook of a family reflects its priorities and patterns, the checkbook of a church shows where it is really willing to invest not just agree" (1992:57). Bethany World Prayer Center has been increasing its mission's giving every hear. Ministries Today states, “The church’s missions budget was $600,000 in 1985 and has increased $100,000 every year since then. This year the church will give $1.8 million to missions” (July, 1996:37).  They currently give more than one-third of their budget to world-wide mission (Church Visitor’s Guide: 1996:16).

            The mission priority is not only seen by the church giving but also by the structure of leadership salary. Every pastor is paid exactly the same amount—from the zone pastors to the senior pastor. [24] Pastor Larry made it clear that the missionary philosophy of Bethany had influenced their staff salary structure.   

Missionary Training  

             Bethany believes in raising up home grown missionaries. Any person considering this calling must  first attend the MTI school,  which was  formerly a three year Bible School in Louisiana that eventually moved on to Bethany's property (Stockstill 1992:29). At the present time, there is an additional requirement: Any potential missionary must first have been successful in multiplying a cell group and serving in an upper level cell leadership position (i.e., section leader, zone leader, district pastor). [25] Bethany currently supports more than 90 of their own missionaries who serve on more than 24 countries around the world (Church Visitor’s Guide 1996:16).  

Heterogeneous Congregation  

            An interesting  spin off  from the intense mission vision at Bethany is their openness to other cultures and peoples. Bethany is located in  the deep south where prejudice still resides in many people. Yet,  this is not the case at Bethany.

            The congregation has a  mixture of about  70% white and 30%  black. [26] This might not seem revolutionary, even in the south. However, when I analyzed the social makeup of the cell leadership,  I was truly amazed. Counting  the cell leaders, section leaders, zone leaders, and district pastors, I discovered that 41% of these leaders were black. It’s one thing to have members of a different race sitting in the congregation, it’s quite another thing  when they are in top positions of leadership in the church! 

            When I questioned District Pastor  Bill Satterwhite about this racial mix, he made it clear to me  that Roy Stockstill had always wanted to be a missionary in Africa. When he realized that he was not called to go personally,  he made it one of Bethany’s early goals to reach  the African American community of Baton Rouge. 

The Land  

            Bethany World Prayer Center is located on a huge piece of property that comprises  140 acres. This land was not bought all at once. Rather, as the church caught the vision of what God wanted to do through them on a worldwide scale, more land was purchased. Located in Baker, a lovely  suburb of Baton Rouge, this piece of property is laced with beautiful trees and open fields. 

            Seven pastors and their families live on the property, including pastor Larry and his family.  Along with their parsonages, there are various building located on the property. These  include:

1.     A huge 6000 seat sanctuary

2.     A missionary prayer center

3.     The Missionary Training Institution (MTI)

4.     A large Christian school (grades K-12)

5.     A smaller sanctuary  

The Baton Passed To Larry Stockstill  

            Larry  was saved at age sixteen. From what I understand, he was ‘messing around’ on  the bleachers during one of Bethany’s evangelistic campaigns,  but ended up being so convicted by the powerful preaching that night that he came running forward to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

            During his studies at Oral Robert’s University he became an associate chaplain  and key mission leader. He played a strategic part in  sending short term missionaries around the world. In 1976, one year after graduating from ORU, Larry and his family went to Ghana, West Africa as missionaries.

            However, God had his hand on Larry for even a more strategic role in  missions. God wanted Larry to take over the pastorate from his father Roy Stockstill at Bethany World Prayer Center. In his new role  Larry  would have a direct  impact on missions  by raising up, training, and sending out multitudes of missionaries. Larry is now forty three years old (as of 1996) as has been at the helm of Bethany for thirteen years.  

Church Statistics  

            Bethany does not keep a record of how many people attend the Sunday morning worship. In fact, I  caught a  subtle undercurrent that such record keeping  might be a bit carnal. For example, during his panel presentation at the Post-Denominational Conference, Pastor Larry   made the comment that his church  wasn't in the book of Numbers (counting heads), but rather  was now living in the book of Acts. [27]  

Celebration Statistics           

            From my initial observations, in just 3 ½   years since initiating their cell ministry, the church has grown from 3000 [28] people in attendance to some 7000 people. [29] One of the  secretaries at Bethany told me about  a man who was doing a dissertation about  Bethany in the year 1991. This man concluded that in 1991 there were 2400 people attending the morning worship services.  

Cell Statistics  

            The cell ministry officially began on April, 1993 with 52 groups  (made up of the warriors from the prayer ministry). By  June, 1996, there were  312 cell groups, in which 70% of the adults at Bethany were attending. The official percentage  concerning  how the initiation of cell groups has caused the church to grow was 43%. In other words, Bethany has grown by 43% as a result of the cell group ministry. It is estimated that 1500 families have been added in the last three years and  that between 25 to 30 people receive Christ every week in the cell groups.. [30]

            Concerning multiplication, it took the  initial 52 groups  only three months to multiply. The next multiplication time frame was six months. Now the cells  multiply in approximately  one year. [31] 



From July, 1993 to July, 1994: 85 cells to 256, 1995

(An  addition of 171 groups in thirteen months)








MAY, 94 CELL TOTAL:  233





From August, 1994 to June, 1996: 258 to 312

(An addition of 54 groups in 22 months)



















            From the above tables, it is apparent that the cell multiplication has slowed down. Pastor Larry justifies the slow down as a needed quality check. They were simply not reproducing trained, top quality leadership. However, they are making corrections. In the last twenty-two months, the church has also closed many groups that had not multiplied.  

Giving Statistics  

            Bethany does keep very good records when it comes to financial contributions. In the  Appendix there are several graphs that illustrate the   increase in financial giving since the implementation of cell group ministry.  It seems that there has been significant financial increase since the cells started.

Church Government

            Since Bethany World Prayer Center is an independent work, Pastor Larry has placed himself directly accountable to three presbyters who are godly pastors outside of the church. These men serve in distinct church roles, are over fifty years old, and have been in the ministry for many years.  In the case of moral failure or ethical problems, these men would have complete authority to take over the work of Bethany World Prayer Center until another  suitable leader was  chosen. [32]

            Although there is not an  elected church board in  the church, there is a committee which functions much like a decision making board. This committee consists of three staff people and three deacons. [33]  

Church Doctrine  

            Most of Bethany’s doctrine is quite evangelical. All of the basic Christian  are there (Church Visitor’s Guide 1996:6). There is nothing out of the ordinary. However, with regard to the Holy Spirit,  Bethany clearly takes its stand in the Pentecostal tradition. 

Holy Spirit  

            The doctrinal statement reads, “Every believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence (Church Visitor’s Guide 1996:6). Although I heard this doctrine only mentioned once in my five days at Bethany, I discovered that speaking in tongues is a requirement for every cell leader, from intern to district pastor. Although Pentecostal, they do not embrace the health and wealth gospel teaching. [34]  

Generosity of Church  

            Bethany is a church that prioritizes the living out of the Scriptures in  daily life. No where could this be seen more clearly than in their generous spirit.  This church was the most generous church that I have ever witnessed. First, the conference was totally free. There was  free food, free tapes, free handouts, and just a general generous spirit in each church member and minister. [37] They would literally bend over backward to meet our needs.

            Bethany has long had a policy of no offerings on Sunday mornings. The people simply place their tithes and offerings in boxes on the way out of the sanctuary.  There is no pressure whatsoever. No one could accuse this church of begging for money.  

Cell History  

            Bethany has taken meticulous notes about their cell history (some  35 pages).  I have included here only the a few excerpts that I felt were important.  

Early Influences On Larry  

            It was in 1992  that  the original idea for Cells was introduced to Bro. Larry by Victor and Ruth Ann Martinez, who direct the Faith, Hope and Love Center in El Carmen, Mexico.  They had begun a Cell Ministry in their church based on the concept used in El Salvador by Pastor Sergio Solarzano. 

            Bill Clinton was elected President in November, 1992.  On election night the Lord spoke to Bro. Larry that He was about to move Bethany into something new.  At the end of November , Larry  read Dr. Ralph W. Neighbour's book, Where Do We Go From Here?. It was this book that  solidified his direction.  He was convinced that God had spoken to him regarding a Cell Group Church.  His next step, in December 1992, was to discuss his convictions with Bethany Staff Pastors.  Most saw the benefits and this conviction found strong approval among them.  


[1] I’ve heard Rick give his testimony many different times (Fuller classes and various seminars). Before starting the church, he read about 100 books on church growth. He committed himself from the beginning to stay in one spot for the rest of his life and to plant many, many churches.

[2] Figure given at the Purpose Driven Seminar that I attended in October, 1995.

[3] This information was given to me by Linda (714-581-5683),  part of the Saddleback staff who works with small gorups. Linda gave me most of my information on small groups.

[4] Pastor Rick made this comment to me personally at his seminar, but it was also confirmed by a staff person named Linda.

[5] Pastor Rick made some critical comments to me about the Meta Model. He felt that it had not worked anywhere, and that it was not effective in reaching non-Christians. He even told me that he was the first to try the Meta Model,  and that it was a failure. He told met that his small groups were more geared toward pastoral care.

[6] I appreciated their honesty about the closeness of these groups. The Meta Model generally declares that practically all groups are ‘open’, but it seems to be ‘wishful thinking’ to expect non-Christians to attend many of these task groups (how could non-Christians sing in the choir, usher, count money, lead worship)

[7] Again, Linda on staff in small group ministries, was my key resource here.

[8] Every since the inception of the church, Pastor Rick had a vision to reach 20,000 people.

[9] I’m not sure if John defines his position as that of apostle. However, in my opinion, he certainly  fulfills the role of apostle to the other Vineyard churches. 

[10] Most of my information comes from a direct information with Pastor David stiles, one of sixteen pastors on staff at the church. We spent about 1 ½ hours over coffee.

[11] This is a large number of groups when one thinks that Saddleback also has 250 groups,  although  three times as many people attend the Sunday a.m. services at Saddleback than at  Cincinnati Vineyard.

[12] Although I don’t have this information

[13] At the same time, he also mentioned that they expect their groups not to turn inward. He mentioned that each group is expected to do some kind of outreach. 

[14] I believe that he’s referring to the servant evangelism emphasis.

[15] This church has special significance to me since I’m a missionary with the C&MA to Ecuador

[16] Located in Dayton Ohio, I’ve heard that this is the largest C&MA church east  of the Mississippi River.

[17] Their manual reflects the Serendipity paradigm. The leaders are encouraged to use the Serendipity study Bible when preparing questions for the study.

[18] I talked with Pastor David Tan by telephone during the week of June24, 1996.

[19]   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.

[20] Larry made this comment during his presentation on May 22,  at the Post Denominational seminar .

[21] I also attended this cell seminar conference. It was held from June 12-14, 1996.

[22] Bethany World Prayer Center is located in Baker.

[23] This information came from a taxi driver/tour guide in Baton Rouge who knew first hand the crowds that packed the hotels to attend Swaggart’s famous camp meetings.

[24] Pastor Larry commented that, although he didn’t know for sure, the salary plus housing benefits probably equals  in the neighborhood of $50,000 for each pastor.

[25] Pastor Larry made these comments during his senior pastor’s luncheon at the June, 1996 cell conference. However, as far as I know, these requirements have not been ‘fleshed out’ practically  at this time. I get the feeling that It might be more of an ideal than a strict reality at the present time since the pure cell system is still only four years old.

[26] This was not only my personal observation but also confirmed by two of the district pastors.

[27] He made this statement at the Post Denominational Conference in mid-June, 1996.

[28] I arrived at  3000 on my own. It should be verified by others.

[29] Bethany World Prayer Center does not count church attendance. I arrived at these figures by own calculations of seating capacity, number of people in service, and talking with about five ushers.

[30] Larry’s quote in Ministries Today (July, 1996, 39). Those ‘saved’ is one category in the  required weekly cell report forms.

[31] If the cells groups do not multiply within one year, they are integrated into existing cell groups.

[32] Taken from Pastor Larry’s comments to the senior pastors during the lunch time meal.

[33] Very little detail was given concerning how this committee is chosen, what type of rotation is present, and the exact authority given to it.

[34] District Pastor Bill Satterwhite made this clear to me.

[35] At various times there were comments concerning how we  must ‘hang up’ (do away  with)  our minds, if we are really going go deeper with the Spirit.

[36] This is not to say that the diligent study of Scripture is not encouraged, nor that certain pastors on staff do not pursue deeper studies. I’m speaking in general terms.

[37] They did charge me for my syllabus on the first day of the conference, but that was the only charge.








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