Exciting New Cell Church Study


Cell Churches are the Healthiest Churches

 by Joel Comiskey

Fall 2002


Does cell church really work in the U.S. ? I’ve heard this comment on numerous occasions. When I hear it, I normally ask another question, “What does work in the U.S. ?” With attendance figures plummeting year by year, and some experts saying that only about 1% of all church growth in the U.S. is truly conversion growth, perhaps a better question is:   What kind of church is more pleasing to Jesus? Or What does a healthy church look like?[i]

If you’re asking these questions, you need to take a hard look at a recent Natural Church Development study that compared cell churches with non-cell churches. The study discovered that the healthiest churches are cell churches. Here’s what the study uncovered:    

A study comparing the NCD scores of cell churches and non-cell churches showed that cell churches overall scored significantly higher in all areas than non-cell churches. Combined cell churches' scores averaged 59 while combined non-cell churches' scores averaged 45. Not surprisingly, Inspiring Worship showed the smallest difference (8 points higher for cell churches) and Holistic Small Groups showed the most difference (25 points higher for cell churches). Significantly, even churches that say they would focus on small groups over large group worship still had better scores for large group worship. This finding indicates that cells don't detract from corporate worship-- they add to it. Additionally, the rate of church planting-- in spite of the fact that the cell church movement has seemed to focus on getting larger rather than on planting more churches-- would seem to indicate that multiplication is in fact in the genetic code. Cell churches averaged 2.5 churches planted compared to 1.9 churches planted for non-cell churches. Finally, the study showed that cell churches demonstrated an average growth rate almost double that of non-cell churches.[ii]  

I’m assuming you’re somewhat familiar with the excellent church growth study by   Christian Schwarz and Christoph Schalk, compiled in the book Natural Church Development. Their research uncovered eight quality characteristics of all growing churches (after crunching 4.2 million pieces of data).  In previous writings, I’ve quoted their research about cell multiplication, one of those characteristics, as being the most important factor in growing churches. Never before, however, could I statistically connect the entire cell church philosophy to a healthier church experience--until now.  

Granted, most of us already knew this, with or without the statistical backing. You probably figured that any church declaring that the small group experience is just as important as the large group one is a healthier church. 

Most likely you’ve also noted that the cell church message rubs busy westerners the wrong way, and that the common reaction is simply to ignore the cell church or treat it as a passing fad.  

But we in the cell church movement persist because we have a hard time promoting church growth  that caters to North American busyness by offering painless Christianity—in and out quickly and complete anonymity guarded. We in the cell church movement wrestle with whether we should even call this church growth.

We believe that Jesus has more for HIS church. We like the idea, in fact, that a church should be driven or administered through its small group system, and that the members of the small groups simply come together each week to celebrate and hear God’s Word.  We’re enthralled with a church that promotes small group involvement just as zealously as large group participation.   

The good news is that now we have the statistics to prove our convictions. Cell church is the healthiest type of church.

The NCD study should be a warning to those churches that judge their success by how many people attend the Sunday celebration. Such churches should begin to view church growth from the stand point of both cell and celebration.

My prayer is that these statistics will stir churches to stop and listen, to ask whether it’s healthy to organize around task driven programs (normally taking place within the church building) and to begin focusing more on developing holistic small groups that evangelize and multiply, thus needing a fresh infusion of lay leadership. Such a vision might require the reorganization of staff from managing church tasks and programs to pastoring networks of small group leaders.

God is revealing a new definition of church to His body. It’s a definition that views success in terms of both cell and celebration. One without the other just doesn’t suffice. Yes, the cell church is costly. But it’s God-honoring and healthy. This new study gives empirical evidence for this claim.

[i] The sad reality of the U.S. church scene, according to George Sweet, author of several best-selling books on Postmodernism, is that:  

- 75% of churches today are dying or declining
- 24% are growing by playing musical saints
- 1% of churches today are growing by reaching lost people!

George Barna adds, ”The United States has so many unchurched people that the nation has become one of the primary missions targets of Christians who live in other countries around the world." (George Barna  in September 25, 2000 at http://www.barna.org/cgiin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=71&Reference=B   Accessed on Saturday, December 01, 2001 ).

[ii] Cell Churches and the NCD survey,” CoachNet: The Cell Church Chronicles, October 2002, email newsletter. I received this newsletter in my mail box on 10/21/2002 . For further information, write  CoachNet@CoachNet.org. I talked with Jeannette Buller, Bob Logan ’s key person, and she said that this study originated in Germany from the Natural Church Development data base and was conducted by Christoph Schalk, the director of NCD statistics in Germany .