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STRATEGIES FOR CELL-BASED MINISTRY TODAY   

 

By

 

Joel Comiskey

 

 

 

A Ph.D. Tutorial

Presented to Dr. C. Peter Wagner

In Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree

Doctor of Philosophy In Intercultural Studies

The School of World Mission

FULLER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

 

 

July  1996


TABLE OF CONTENTS

TABLE OF CONTENTS......................................................................................................  

LIST OF TABLES..............................................................................................................

CHAPTER 1...................................................................................................................

INTRODUCTION..............................................................................................................

How the Tutorial Fits into the Dissertation..........................................................................

Purpose.....................................................................................................................

Goals........................................................................................................................

Problem Statement........................................................................................................

Research Questions........................................................................................................

Delimitations...............................................................................................................

Definitions..................................................................................................................

Cell-Based Churches.....................................................................................................

Meta Model.................................................................................................................

Assumptions................................................................................................................

Overview Of This Tutorial...............................................................................................

CHAPTER ....................................................................................................................

THE CELL MOVEMENT IN THE WORLD TODAY.........................................................  

Korea........................................................................................................................

Singapore...................................................................................................................

Latin America..............................................................................................................

CHAPTER....................................................................................................................

VARIOUS CELL  STRATEGIES IN THE UNITED STATES...........................................  

The Small Group Movement............................................................................................  

The Covenant Model......................................................................................................

The Serendipity Model..................................................................................................

Growth Goals.............................................................................................................

Distinguishing Characteristics........................................................................................

Personal Observations.................................................................................................

The Meta Model..........................................................................................................

Influences On George..................................................................................................

Original Version Of The Meta Model...........................................................................  

Latest  Version Of The Meta Model............................................................................

Characteristics Of The Meta Model Adopted by  Other Churches................................  

Variety Of Groups........................................................................................

Flexibility.................................................................................................

Jethro Model.............................................................................................

Small Groups Support The Church Program..........................................................

The Pure Cell Model.....................................................................................

Cells Form  Part Of The Local Church Structure.....................................................

Emphasis Is On The Components Or Characteristics Of The Cell.................................

Similarity Among the Cell Groups......................................................................

Partnership In Evangelism...............................................................................

Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing.........................................................................

The Whole Group  Participates In Evangelism.........................................................

Groups Must Multiply In A Certain Time Period........................................................

Theme: Born To Multiply.................................................................................

Multiplication Maintains Intimacy........................................................................

Length Of Time Before Multiplication..................................................................

Uniformity Of Lesson Material...........................................................................

Strong Administrative Control...........................................................................

Everyone Is Pastored.......................................................................................

Required Reporting.........................................................................................

Ongoing Cell Leader Training..............................................................................

The Rapid Releasing Of Leadership.......................................................................

Very Few Programs Apart From Cells......................................................................

Cells Take Care of Basic Church Duties....................................................................

Commitment Of Head Pastor To Cell Ministry............................................................

Cells form Basis for Pastoral Team.........................................................................

Goal Of 100% Participation Of Members In Cell Groups.............................................

Comparison Of The Meta Model And The Pure Cell Model............................................

Comparison By Jim Egli Of North Star Strategies......................................................

Comparison By Karen Hurtson Of Hurtson Ministries..................................................

General Observations......................................................................................

Summary Of The Two Models.............................................................................

Similarities..................................................................................................

Distinctions..................................................................................................

Concern About   The Variety Of Small Groups In The Meta Model..............................

chapter 4...............................................................................................

u.s. case studIEs  of the Meta Model..............................................................

New Hope Community Church.......................................................................

Type Of Small Group Ministries.......................................................................

Training....................................................................................................

Present Effectiveness....................................................................................

Evaluation..................................................................................................

Willow Creek Community Church.......................................................................

History Of The Church....................................................................................

Growth Of The Church...................................................................................

Core Values................................................................................................

The Small Group Ministry.................................................................................

Meta  Model................................................................................................

Variety Of Groups..........................................................................................

Curriculum...................................................................................................

Meeting Places..............................................................................................

Administration..............................................................................................

Ongoing Training...........................................................................................

Multiplication...............................................................................................

Evaluation....................................................................................................

Saddleback...................................................................................................

Core Values...................................................................................................

The Small Group Ministry....................................................................................

Meta  Model?...................................................................................................

Pastoral Emphasis..............................................................................................

Variety Of Groups..............................................................................................

Administration..................................................................................................

Flexibility.......................................................................................................

Evaluation.......................................................................................................

Cincinnati Vineyard.............................................................................................

History Of The Church.........................................................................................

Growth Of The Church.........................................................................................

Core Values......................................................................................................

Servant Evangelism..............................................................................................

Seeker Sensitive Services.......................................................................................

Small Group Involvement........................................................................................

Small Group Ministry..............................................................................................

Meta Model..........................................................................................................

Variety Of Groups..................................................................................................

Purpose Of  The Groups..........................................................................................

Administrative Structure..........................................................................................

Evaluation...........................................................................................................

Fairhaven Alliance Church.........................................................................................

Small Group History.................................................................................................

Small Group System.................................................................................................

Statistics..............................................................................................................

Variety Of Groups...................................................................................................

Ongoing Leadership Training....................................................................................

Administration......................................................................................................

Evaluation...........................................................................................................

Chapter 5...........................................................................................................

U.S. case studies of the Pure Cell Model......................................................  

First Baptist Church Of Modesto.................................................................................

Present Situation...................................................................................................

Cell Administration.................................................................................................

Cell Multiplication..................................................................................................

Dove Christian Fellowship........................................................................................

Bethany World Prayer Center....................................................................................

The Context........................................................................................................

Baton Rouge, Louisiana...........................................................................................

The Christian Context.............................................................................................

History of Bethany World Prayer Center......................................................................

Roy Stockstill And Early Mission Vision...................................................................  

Missionary Training................................................................................................

Heterogeneous Congregation...................................................................................

The Land............................................................................................................

The Baton Passed To Larry Stockstill......................................................................  

Church Statistics...............................................................................................

Celebration Statistics.............................................................................................

Cell Statistics......................................................................................................

Giving Statistics...................................................................................................

Church Government..............................................................................................

Church Doctrine...................................................................................................

Holy Spirit..........................................................................................................

Doctrinal Training..................................................................................................

Generosity of Church..............................................................................................

Church Culture......................................................................................................

Cell History..........................................................................................................

Early Influences On Larry......................................................................................

Training Of  Early  Cell Leaders.............................................................................

Trips To Cell Churches.........................................................................................

Major Obstacle..................................................................................................

Initiation Of Cells...............................................................................................

Fine Tuning......................................................................................................

Goals Established...............................................................................................

Initial Cell Conference At Bethany..........................................................................

Prayer............................................................................................................

Cell Groups Perform Church Tasks........................................................................

Principles Derived From Bethany’s Cell History.........................................................

Cell Philosophy................................................................................................

Three Major Components Or Purposes.................................................................

Emphasis On The Components Of Cell Life...........................................................

Means  To Accomplish The Purpose Of The Cell Group........................................

Importance Of Terminology.........................................................................

Every Person a Potential Cell Leader...................................................................

The Cells Must Be The Key Program In The Church..............................................

Predictability And Similarity............................................................................

Sharing, Encouraging, Producing And Protection....................................................

Lack of Pressure..........................................................................................

Cell System................................................................................................

Senior Pastor Involvement...............................................................................

Accountability To Leadership And Authority..........................................................

Writing The Lesson........................................................................................

Homogeneous Groups.....................................................................................

Children....................................................................................................

Format Of The Cell.......................................................................................

On-Site Training...........................................................................................

Music........................................................................................................

Follow Up Of New Converts And Visitors.............................................................

Becoming Fishers Of Men/Prayer Triplets..............................................................

Cell Administration........................................................................................

Pastors Secretaries, Leaders, And Members Doing the Same Thing........................  

Jethro Model...............................................................................................

Equal  Opportunity To Be On Staff......................................................................

Evangelistic Emphasis.....................................................................................

Seeker Sensitive Night In The Cell Group..............................................................

Missions Through The Cells................................................................................

Cell Evangelism And Multiplication.......................................................................

Reasons Behind Cell Multiplication.......................................................................

Possible Reasons For Stagnation..........................................................................

Homogeneity Of The Group Contributes To Success..............................................

Five Stages Of Cell Development And Multiplication..............................................

Dissolving A Cell That Has Not Multiplied.............................................................

Various Ways To Multiply................................................................................

Pastoral Care Through The Cell Groups................................................................

Cell Makeup................................................................................................

Cell Leadership............................................................................................

Evaluation Of Bethany....................................................................................

chapter 6...................................................................................................

conclusion..................................................................................................

appendix...................................................................................................

references cited...........................................................................................  

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION  

            As the population continues to explode in the twenty-first century, new and more effective models of  church growth need to be found. One such model that is bearing exciting fruit is the cell-based model of church ministry. In this tutorial I will be exploring various expressions of the cell-based model of ministry from around the world.  

How the Tutorial Fits into the Dissertation  

            This tutorial give me an overview of the various small group strategies being used around the world and more specifically in North America. It helps me to discern patterns and similarities of small group ministry. This discernment will be exceedingly helpful in my actual field research.

At this point,  I do not have an actual chapter in my dissertation dedicated to strategies of cell-based ministry. The primary reason is because I will be concentrating on cell-based strategy in Latin America. However, the material in this tutorial will be sprinkled throughout my dissertation because I will need to compare what is happening in my case study churches with other cell-based examples around the world. 

Purpose  

            The purpose for writing this tutorial is to discover what is happening in small group ministry right here and now.  It’s to take the theory behind small group ministry and to find out how that theory is being worked out practically  today.          

Goals  

1.     To discover patterns and similarities of church based small group ministry

2.     To set forth theory concerning the effectiveness of small group ministry as it relates to the growth of the church

3.     To make my discoveries  to other Christian workers who will be able to utilize this information to the furtherance of Christ’s Kingdom.  

Problem Statement  

The central research issue of this dissertation is an analysis of the contribution of cell-based ministry as a positive factor  for church growth in selected growing churches in Latin America.

Research Questions  

1.     What have been  the patterns of church growth that these churches have experienced before and after the implementation of a cell-based ministry?

2.     How have  these churches utilized  their  cell-based methodology  as a tool for church growth?

3.     What have been  the patterns that characterize effective cell leadership in these churches?

4.     How have the cultural distinctives of these churches affected their cell-based ministry?

Delimitations  

1.     The reader will discover that I will be mainly focusing my attention on the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model as they are found in the U.S. I will paint the two models in separate categories as I see them. However, oftentimes the dividing lines between the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model are gray rather than black and white. There is a considerable amount of subjectivity  in definition that is not reflected in this paper due to the lack of breadth.

2.     My limited number of case study churches means that I can’t statistically generalize to all other churches that might be considering implementing a small group ministry.

3.     Because all of my case study churches are large, growing churches, I have not covered other dynamics that relate to smaller congregations.

4.     Most of my case studies are not in-depth. I recognize that I can only to give an accurate overview rather than an in-depth analysis.

Definitions 

            Although there are other concepts that would be helpful to define, I will limit myself to two key terms that are used throughout this paper.  

 Cell-Based Churches  

 Those churches will be considered cell-based if at least 60%  of the regular adult attendees  are also involved in a church related small group which regularly meets  for the purpose of edification and evangelism.  The cell group ministry is  not considered to be just another program in the church but are viewed  to be the very heart of the church.

Although not all of the following characteristics will be present in a cell-based church, yet the vast majority will be present:

1.     Cells Form  Part Of The Local Church Structure (commitment to cell and celebration)

2.     Emphasis Is On The Components Of The Cell (as opposed to labeling all small groups cells)

3.     Similarity Among the Cell Groups (with regard to teaching material, format, etc.)

4.     Partnership In Evangelism (the group sees themselves as an evangelizing unit)

5.     Groups Must Multiply In A Certain Time Period (or be dissolved)

6.     Uniformity Of Lesson Material (as opposed to each leader deciding what they will do)

7.     Strong Administrative Control (required reports, strict Jethro model)

8.     Ongoing Cell Leader Training (not optional)

9.     Rapid Releasing Of Leadership (due to rapid multiplication, many new leaders must be raised up)

10.  Very Few Programs Apart From Cells (other programs are discouraged or cut out)

11.  Cells Take Care of Basic Church Duties (cells replace volunteer help)

12.  Commitment Of Head Pastor To Cell Ministry (or the cell ministry will not succeed)

13.  Cells form Basis for Pastoral Team (each pastor has a major role in the cell system)

14.  Goal Of 100% Participation Of Members In Cell Groups (normally between 70-90%)  

Meta Model  

            A contextualized model of  cell ministry for the North American church which was popularized by Carl George and originally patterned after the small group ministry at the New Hope Community Church in Portland Oregon.

            Those following the Meta Model of small group ministry normally demonstrate a commitment to these small group values:

1.     Variety Of Groups (little similarity among groups—task group, special interest groups, closed groups, open groups, recovery groups, etc.)

2.     Flexibility (with regard to material, group multiplication, length of group life, etc.)

3.     Jethro Model (administrative system is structured around Exodus 18)

4.     Small Groups Support The Church Program (often the small groups support other more important programs in the church)    

Assumptions  

1.     My foundational philosophical conviction is that it is God’s will that His church grows. Since it brings glory to Him when His church grows, I’m committed to rejoice in the growth of His church wherever and whenever it is found (e.g., Meta Model, Pure Cell Model, or any type of model)

2.     The principles of God’s Word do not change, but methodology does change. Cell group ministry is one of the exciting methods that God is using today.

3.     My preferred model of small group ministry is the  pure cell model

4.     Not all small groups are cell groups. In other words, I believe that  the components or characteristics  of small groups should be emphasized instead of calling all ‘small gathering’ cell groups or small groups.

5.     That two primary weaknesses  in the Meta Model is the lack of  quality control among the groups and the lack of vision for evangelism and multiplication

6.     That culture plays an important role in the success of cell-based  structures and that the role of culture needs to be studied and analyzed in a more in-depth manner. [1]  

Overview Of This Tutorial  

            Here are the main thrusts of this tutorial:  

1.     A brief look at the cell movement around the world—specifically in Korea, Singapore, and Latin America.

2.     An analysis of various small group models that are used within the church today

3.     A more in-depth analysis of two of those small group models: The Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model

4.     An overview  of five North American churches which are using the Meta Model

5.     An overview of three North American churches which are using the Pure Cell Model  

CHAPTER 2:THE CELL MOVEMENT IN THE WORLD TODAY

            On April 14, 1996 John Vaughn sent me a fax that listed the  50 largest churches in the world.  I noticed that a large proportion of those  churches  were cell-based churches---mainly from Korea.  It was only a few months later that Jim Egli  of Touch Ministries confirmed to me that twenty-four of the world’s fifty largest churches are cell-based.

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

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

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

            Although I could talk about the cell church in Japan, Thailand, Mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, Africa, England, and Australia, I will limit my general overview to Korea, Singapore, and Latin America. [2]

Korea

The Korean  model seems to be the most widely watched and copied  model in the worldwide cell church today. Paul Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church is credited with being the foundational model of the  modern cell group movement  (Hadaway, Wright, Dubose 1987:19-21). Cho’s  system of pastoral care (Hurston 1995: 62-80) has been replicated  by many  pastors and churches,  and his  success at cell multiplication is esteemed by all. [3]   It is very hard to dispute the incredible church growth that has taken place at  Cho’s church. With more than 625,000 members [4] and 22,000 cell groups,  pastor Cho´s church grows at a rate of 140 new members per day.  Due to this incredible  growth, Cho has found it necessary to plant  churches of 5,000 members (Neighbour 1990:24).  Cho attributes his  churches’ rapid growth to the cell group ministry. [5]Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose make this comment,

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

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

Singapore

            In the early 1970s,  only two percent of Singapore’s population were considered Christian. Today that number is around fourteen percent (Johnstone 1993:487). [6]   Some of the most radical, exciting growth has come from the cell churches (Neighbour 1990:27,28). One such example is Faith Community Baptist Church which started in 1986 with 600 people. On May 1, 1988, with the help of Ralph Neighbour, the church totally restructured itself to become a full fledged cell church (Tan 1994:8).  Today,  between the 7000 to  8000 people which attend this  church are personally pastored by the 500 active cell groups. Founding pastor Lawrence Khong says this about their cell strategy,

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

Khong’s church has  so successfully modeled the cell-based philosophy of ministry that  some 6000 people now attend their  yearly  cell seminar. It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of those who attend are from the two-third’s world. [7]

Latin America

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

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

TABLE 1 

CASE STUDY CHURCHES IN LATIN AMERICA  

Misión Cristiana Elim

El SALVADOR

Pastor Jorge Galindo

100,000 attending in 1996

5000  cells

 

La Misión Carismática Internacional

COLOMBIA

Pastor César Castellaños

35,000  members  en 1996

4000 cells

 

El Centro Cristiano

ECUADOR

 Pastor : Jerry Smith

 

10,000  attending in 1996

1000 cells

 

El Amor Viviente

HONDURAS

Pastor Rene Peñalva

7,000 attending  in 1996

600 cells

 

El Agua Viva

PERU

Pastor Juan Capuro

5,000+ attending in 1996

450 cells

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

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

            Many cell churches are springing up across Latin America. Perhaps the cell church that is the most well-known is the Elim Church (Misión Elim) in El Salvador.  This cell church has grown so rapidly that it now has  a membership of 120,000. [8]   Bethany World Prayer Center, the 7000 member cell church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana regularly  sends their staff to the Elim Church to receive training in cell ministry. Other cell churches in Latin America have also received their initial vision from this church. [9]

CHAPTER 3: VARIOUS CELL  STRATEGIES IN THE UNITED STATES

North America has experimented with models of cell-based ministry with limited success.  There seems to be a general skepticism that what has worked so successfully  in Korea would  also bear fruit  here in the U.S. However, more recently various U.S. cell-based churches have seen significant growth.

In this chapter, I will begin by reviewing various models of small group ministry. I do not consider the  first three models (I’m including in these three the small group movement)  to be cell-based, and therefore I will not review them in great detail. The second two (Meta Model and Pure Cell Model) are closer to my definition of cell-based ministry. Therefore, I will analyze these two models in greater detail.  

The Small Group Movement  

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

The small group movement can be seen in the proliferation of books on the subject. Many  Christian authors, seeing the positive potential of small groups for Christian growth and discipleship, have produced a multitude of literature which extols the virtues of small groups in general.   Two  Christian  organizations,  Serendipity and Navigators, are known for their numerous books and study guides on small group ministry.  Several examples that I have come across include:    Kunz  (1974),  Johnson (1985),  McBride (1990),  and Price and Springle (1991). The list could go on and on.  Most of this type of  literature applies equally to small groups in the church and outside the church.  

The Covenant Model  

The main spokeswomen today for this model is Roberta Hestenes (1983). [10]   Her definition for this model is the following:   "A Christian group is an intentional face-to-face gathering of 3 to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the possibilities of the abundant life in Christ" (Coleman 1993:4:5).

From the definition it is obvious that this type of group is directed toward  committed believers. One of the major goals of this model is to create long term community. There is a need for strong commitment and a high level of accountability (Coleman 1993:4:7). The word Covenant in this model refers to the commitments or promises that were established in the Old Testament between God and His people. One major focal point of this model is that the group makes a commitment (covenant) to fulfill  particular  goals, purposes, study topics, ground rules, and logistical details (Coleman 1993: 4:5)

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

            Covenant groups have a high commitment level, and therefore they are very beneficial for spiritual growth. However, due to the lack of cell multiplication and their closed system, his model is probably the least effective  from a church growth standpoint.  

The Serendipity Model  

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

Growth Goals  

He illustrates his approach by using a baseball diamond. To experience true koinonia, the group must reach all four bases. Lyman explains the base levels in this manner, “First base is telling the story of your spiritual past. Second base is sharing your current situation, and affirming the other members of the group. Third base is goal—setting. After a group has completed this process together, real community can be experienced” (Coleman 1993 4:19). Each base represents a higher level of group maturity.  The time frame to complete all four bases is one year (Coleman 1993: 4:19).  

Distinguishing Characteristics           

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

1.     There is a definite beginning and end

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

2.     A democracy of options

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

3.     Integrated model

            This differs from a model which places small groups as only an appendage to the other programs in the church. There is a place for all kinds of groups in the church. “This model can also include traditional Sunday school, where people who are already involved can find a place for sharing and caring” (1993: 4:21)

4.     Collegiate system

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

Dr. Coleman is truly an expert on small groups. In my opinion,  his knowledge of how small groups function is second to none. The many  books that his publishing house has produced have also had a powerful impact on the small group movement in America.  

Personal Observations  

However, I feel  that this  model as a church based model was weak in several key areas.  First, although cell group multiplication is mentioned as a possibility (or one option) in this  model, it’s not given a high priority. In fact, when critiquing the Meta Model, Coleman  points out  its over commitment  to cell multiplication. He mentions that such rapid multiplication  interrupts  the group building process by ‘splitting cells to create new cells’ (1993: 4:13).

Second, it  seems that   the bulk of Coleman’s teaching relates to the  quality of  small group life,  wherever that small group might be   or whatever that small group  might do (the variety of small groups that he promotes are dizzying). In other words, my general impression is that his model is not sufficiently centered in the church.  The emphasis is on the  'small groupand not on how the small group will contribute to the growth of the church. After reading through two of  Lyman Coleman’s most recent manuals on small group ministry in the church , [11]   I sought in vain for any reference to church growth, or more specifically, how his model will more effectively  win souls to Christ and integrate them into the church.

Third, I have my doubts about Coleman’s use of the collegiate system. From my knowledge of the large cell-based churches today,  I’m not aware of any  who use Coleman’s  collegiate system of graduation. [12]   This approach seems very programmatic and Sunday School oriented.

Fourth, I  question his approach to small group diversity. He seems to infer that anything that is small and a group is a functioning small group. [13]   It has been my observation that a cell group must have certain  marks (elements, characteristics) in order to be called one. 

The Meta Model  

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

Influences On George 

            I can see at least three major influences on  George that helped him to establish the  Meta Model:

1.     The growth of the cell church worldwide

            George was impressed by the incredible growth of the cell church world wide. [14] Not only has the cell church grown rapidly in number, there is also a built in capability to care for new converts.

2.     Church growth pragmatism

            As a pragmatic church growth practitioner, it seems to me that George was drawn to study how to make the world wide cell church paradigm relevant to a North American audience.

3.     New Hope Community Church

            Dale Galloway founded the New Hope Community in Portland, Oregon based on small groups. [15]   Originally, Dale’s model was a strict cell-based model, much like Cho’s church in Korea. However, it appears that the small group ministry at New Hope Community Church began to diversify and change. When I spoke with Dale Galloway at one of his seminars in October, 1995, [16] he told me that Carl George had done an in-depth case study of the New Hope Community Church before writing  the  book, Prepare Your Church for the Future.  Dale told me that George’s book was simply a description of the small group ministry at New Hope Community Church. As I reflect on the Meta Model and New Hope Community Church, I have to agree with Dale Galloway’s comments.  

Original Version Of The Meta Model  

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

I like to talk about the original version of the Meta Model because it seems that his first book  comes very close to describing the pure cell approach used in most cell churches around the world. Throughout the book, the clear, overriding focus is on the home cell group which emphasize  both pastoral care and evangelism. [17]   The book had a powerful impact on the North American church scene because George  gives fresh, new  North American terminology  to the cell-based concepts  that have  worked so well overseas. In Prepare Your Church for the Future,  there is no doubt that   George is  setting forth a new model of  ministry  for the church in North America and around the world.  

Latest  Version Of The Meta Model  

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

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

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

            In this  latest book,  George spends most of the time describing his mapping strategy called  the Meta Globe. [18]   This is George’s  attempts to categorize all groups in the church  within certain boundaries. This categorization is supposed to help a church examine their real structure. However,  I have found the  concept more confusing than helpful. [19]   In fact, I have found that trying to fit everything  into the Meta Globe tends to force programs and ministries into  categories that don’t naturally  fit. 

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

George includes the word ‘revolution’ in the  title of his latest book.  Yet, he makes it clear that the small group ministry should not upset anyone in the church. Rather,  he recommends that the cell ministry be introduced quietly into the church. It’s not even wise to tell the board when you introduce the cell ministry (1994:259).  In my experience, this backdoor approach which avoids the serious, painstaking church planning needed to begin a cell ministry, usually has disastrous consequences.  This approach is anything but revolutionary! It’s interesting to me that even small group authors which are considered more programmatic in their approach to small group ministry recommend church wide planning before starting a small group ministry. [20]

In George’s latest book he also tones down his  strict emphasis on continual ongoing leadership training (VHS). In his earlier  work he recommended a bimonthly leadership gathering (1992:135-145), but now George says that it’s possible not to even have a regular VHS, if the basic structures and principles exists somewhere else in your church (1994:203).

            It’s very hard to critique the Meta Model because I’m not sure what it is anymore. Carl George has not clearly defined himself. It seems like he ‘switched gears’ from his first book on cell ministry to his second.  Perhaps, the  lack of clarity in George’s writing has something to do with the fact that George does not write his own books. [21] I have found that the very writing process helps one to think more logically and adds clarity to one’s thinking.  

Characteristics Of The Meta Model Adopted by  Other Churches  

            Whether or not George has clearly defined his Meta Model  remains to be seen. However, it is clear that many large churches have adopted various characteristics of the Meta Model and even identify themselves as Meta Churches. [22] In the next chapter, I will analyze six of these churches, but here I will list some common characteristics.  

Variety Of Groups  

            Clearly this is one of the most common characteristics. Following the lead of Dale Galloway, these Meta churches feature a plethora of small groups. In fact, just about any type of small group is acceptable. I have heard of groups for married couples over fifty, drama groups, lawn mowing groups, parking lot attendant groups, cancer groups, staging groups, sports groups, Vietnam Veteran groups, etc.

            Normally the various  groups can be categorized into specific types or purposes, although  certain Meta Models are so varied that they are hard to classify. [23] Three common types of groups that most frequently surface  in the  Meta Churches are: 

TABLE  2  

COMMON SMALL GROUPS IN THE META MODEL  

TASK GROUPS

Focus: A Particular Ministry

FELLOWSHIP GROUPS

Focus: Care For One Another

DISCIPLESHIP GROUPS

Focus: Spiritual Growth

              The emphasis on variety also extends to the length of the groups. Some groups go on indefinitely while other groups  may only last a few weeks. Again, it depends on the  purpose of the group or the vision of the leader.  

Flexibility 

            As I have talked to the leadership in these Meta churches, one essential value that continues to surface is the flexibility of their system. Freedom of choice is highly esteemed and emphasized.  The top leadership is careful not to assert too much pressure.  This flexibility can be seen in at least three major areas:  

Study Material

            The leaders are free to choose their own material. Saddleback Church gives the leaders complete freedom, while Willow Creek Community Church only asks that the leaders  obtain  their material from the Willow Creek bookstore.   

Group Meetings

            Meetings can be held any day of the week at any location. I noted that at Willow Creek, many of the small groups arrive at church  1 ½ hours before their church activity  in order to meet in  their  groups.  

Multiplication of the Groups

            Multiplication seems to be a desired  ideal in the Meta system, but it is not enforced. Again, the  strong emphasis on freedom of choice precludes any type of pressure for the groups to multiply. One staff person at Saddleback Church told me that several groups have been meeting  as long as the church has been in existence. [24]  

Leadership Training

            In all of the Meta Models there is some type of ongoing leadership training, but the system seems to be very flexible and changing. Willow Creek tried to gather the coaches (leaders of five small group leaders) every month. The Cincinnati Vineyard and Fairhaven struggled with monthly leadership meetings (VHS) but found it very difficult to train such a wide variety of cell leadership.  

Jethro Model  

            The five   major Meta Models that I examined exercised administrative control over their small groups through a loose knit Jethro structure. I’m using the term Jethro Model to refer to the counsel  of Jethro to Moses  in Exodus 18. Each cell leader has someone to whom he or she is accountable. That person (called by various names) is assigned to oversee no more than five cell leaders. Over  the leader of five is another leader to whom the leader of five is accountable, and the process continues. How many times must the upper leadership visit those under them? Again, the buzz word, ‘flexibility’ was often used. At Saddleback Church the district lay pastors are encouraged to visit the cell leaders every quarter. 

Small Groups Support The Church Program  

            Without exception, the Meta Churches  have high powered programs.  There doesn’t seem to be any conflict between the church programs and the small groups. In fact, oftentimes in the Meta Model there is simply a redefinition of the word program in order to include the small groups. For example,  instead of  calling it  Children’s Sunday School, it is  now labeled Small Groups For Children. Instead of the music program, there are  now musical small groups.

            In this reshuffling of programs for small groups, oftentimes key small group components are lost. Because of the incredible flexibility, variety, and lack of control that characterize these groups,   there is little assurance that key characteristics and core values are being fulfilled and passed on.

This danger  becomes particularly acute because of the very nature of most of these Meta churches. They tend to be more  temple (church)  focused than small group focused. The primary event centers around the weekend services. Not surprisingly, oftentimes the  small groups in the Meta system exist to support the temple program. The very atmosphere of programmed, busy ministry can easily swallow up the life in these groups. An example is Willow Creek Community Church, the largest church in the U.S.  I was told that the ‘bread and butter’ small groups at Willow Creek   are  now the task groups. [25] These task groups meet to accomplish some ministry program in the church (e.g., ushering, money counting, etc.),  but at the same time, they’re supposed to include  more spiritual elements such as  Bible study and prayer.  

The Pure Cell Model  

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

One of the greatest struggles of those wishing to make the transition from P.B.D. [Program Based Design] church life involves this shift in thinking: the cell is the church, and the church is the cell. It is the basic building block of the larger community called ‘local church’. There must be no competition with it—none at all. Everything in the city-wide structure must exist for the cells, be operated by the cells, and must strengthen the life of the cells. As in the human body, the life of the church is in the cells. Are people to be reached for Christ? It is done through cells. Are people to be built up in Him? It is to be done through cells. Are children to be nurtured? They are to be exposed from the start to the cell as normal church life. There are no Specialists and there are no programs in the cell group church (1990:68,69).  

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

Although it seems to me that Dr. Neighbour tends to be  overly dogmatic,  there is no doubt that he is the premier expert on the cell church worldwide. [26] Yet, what is this Pure Cell Model? What are the distinguishing features?  Here I will list some of the key principles  in a simplified format. Later in my  case study of  Bethany World Prayer Center (a pure cell church), I will be describing many of these facets in much greater detail.  

Cells Form  Part Of The Local Church Structure  

In the pure cell church, cells are not isolated units. They are not individual, unconnected mini-churches. Rather, they are intimately linked to the life of local church body.  Those who attend the cell groups are expected to attend the church. Those who attend the church are expected to attend the cell groups. This is precisely the model that is used in Korea. In referring to Cho’s model, Hadaway states,

Members of Cho’s home cell groups are also expected to attend the meetings on a regular basis. Attendance is not taken lightly, and when a member is unexpectantly absent from a cell group meeting, the house church leader contacts the absentee person the following day to learn why (1987:99).  

Cho own words are helpful here,

The local church is the strength of Christianity. Home cell groups contribute to that strength. Anything that dilutes the strength of the local church is to be avoided. That includes some of the parachurch ministries that sometimes take money and commitment away from the local church (1981:93).  

 This point needs to be carefully emphasized because of the growing  house church movement around the world. In this movement,  each house church is completely independent or only loosely connected to other house churches.  Here,  Dr. Ralph Neighbour’s makes a helpful distinction,

There is a distinct difference between the house church and the cell group movements. House Churches tend to collect a community of 15-25 people who meet together on a weekly basis. Usually, each House Church stands alone. While they may be in touch with nearby House Churches, they usually do not recognize any further structure beyond themselves (Neighbour 1990:193).  

Emphasis Is On The Components Or Characteristics Of The Cell  

In the pure cell church,  the cell is defined by its characteristics  and not by the fact that it’s small and a group (George’s loose definition). The three major components of all cell groups include:  

TABLE 3   

MAJOR COMPONENTS IN CELL GROUPS  

Get To Know  God

Get To Know Each Other

 Multiply The Group

  In the Pure Cell Model, each of these purposes need to  be present, if the small group  is going to be called a  cell.  For this reason, Larry Stockstill discontinued calling his worship team meeting a cell group because they were not able to effectively evangelize non-Christians. [27]   Referring to these components, Dr. David Tan commented that the cells  should have the same characteristics that are present in the church. He felt that during a time of persecution the cells should be able to  continue  ministering as if nothing had changed. [28]  

 CONTINUE TO PART 2 OF CELL STRATEGY

 


[1] One of my tutorials will be dedicated strictly to how culture affects cell-based ministry. Specifically from a Latin American perspective, but also looking at how North American and Korean culture has influenced small group ministry. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] I’m referring to the 1993 Serendipity manual that is geared for the upper leadership in  small groups. In this manual Coleman distinguishes between the various types of small group ministry. In his  earlier  manual, Coleman simply goes through the six sessions of pre-training for small  group leaders. 

[12] I’m referring here to Coleman’s emphasis on a  programmed beginning and end to the cell group; graduation to the next group.

[13] Every conceivable type of small group is mentioned by Dr. Coleman: Board meetings, choir groups, usher groups, care groups, sports groups, etc.

[14]   As mentioned earlier, according to John Vaughn’s  most recent list of the world’s 50 largest churches, 24  are cell-based.

[15] I will be describing this church more fully later on in the tutorial.

[16] I talked to Dale at his seminar in the Brethren Church in Columbus, Ohio in October, 1995.

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

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

[19] Dale Galloway mentioned the same thing to me at his cell conference in Columbus, Ohio (Oct., 1995) He felt that the Meta Globe idea was the worst  part of George’s book.  I have found that the more George talks about this concept, the more confusing it becomes. It seems that he takes a simple idea (categorizing your ministries) and makes a complex process out of it (trying to place all of your ministries on a globe with different  colors, etc.).

[20] Neal F. McBride in his book  How to Build a Small Group Ministry. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1995), 11-30 & Paul Meier,   Gene A.  Getz, Richard A. Meier, and Allen R. Doran in  Filling the Holes in Our Souls: Caring Groups that Build Lasting Relationships. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) ,  pp. 75ff.  

[21] Warren Bird wrote both Prepare Your Church for the Future and The Coming Church Revolution.

[22] Willow Creek, Cincinnati Vineyard, and Fairhaven Alliance  openly acknowledges that they are following the Meta Model. New Hope Community  Church often  uses the term ‘meta’ in describing their ministry.

[23] Cincinnati Vineyard is one of those. They list any and every conceivable small group on their bulletin boards.

[24] Linda has been on working at Saddleback  in small group ministries for the past four years. 

[25] 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

[26] Up until a few years ago, he was the  church planting professor at Columbia International University and under Dr. Neighbour one could obtain a doctorate degree by studying the worldwide cell model of ministry. 

[27] Practically, it’s very difficult to specifically target musical people  in evangelism.  Larry Stockstill made this comment during the cell seminar at Bethany World Prayer Center in June, 1996.

[28] On June 27 I had a telephone conversation with Dr. Tan. He is now a district pastor in a pure cell church in Modesto (First Baptist).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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