Cell/Church Growth-Pt.2


Cell/Church Growth-Pt.3

Cho Model  

            The defining point of the Cho Model for  Dr. Coleman is the fact that Cho uses his Sunday morning message as lesson material for he cell leaders (1993:4:9). Another distinguishing feature is the focus on church members. Dr. Coleman says, “Like the covenant model, the Cho model focuses on church members who are already involved” (1993:4:9).  

            This definition seems very simplistic and even misleading. Yes, Cho does use his Sunday morning message as lesson material for the cell leaders, but that fact hardly seems to be a major point in his system. And yes, all church members are encouraged to be involved in a cell group, but evangelism to non-believers is a major emphasis in this model.

            From reading and studying  Cho’s book Successful Home Cell Groups both in English and Spanish, I have identified several key principles of his system [1] :

1.     The cell meets for only one hour.

2.     Leadership is trained on a weekly basis

3.     The members of the cell are encouraged to meet the needs of other cell members in a practical way (take an offering , etc.)

4.     Outreach to non-Christians is based on the idea of finding a need and meeting it. In other words, the evangelism is ‘need oriented’ and not ‘programmed oriented’

5.     Groups are strongly encouraged to evangelize or they will die  

6.  The leaders of the group must visit, follow-up, and generally pastor those who attend

7.     All leaders are encouraged to set specific goals for church growth  

8.     The small groups   are closely connected within the boundaries  of the local church..  

9.     The senior pastor is the key to a successful cell system  

10. Cell leaders are affirmed and complimented before the entire congregation  

            I have studied the Cho model more than any of the other models. [2] Throughout this tutorial, I’ll be focusing on various aspects of this model, so I won’t go into more detail right here. 

            CRITIQUE: This model seems to be the most widely copied model in the worldwide cell church today. Cho’s hierarchical system of pastoral care (Hurtson 1995: 62-80) has been copied by many  (e.g., George, Galloway, and Neighbour). His success at cell multiplication is esteemed by all. His cell system is also highly organized. After Dr. McGavran had visited the church, he called it ‘the best organized church in the world’ (Hurtson 1995:192). I heard Cho say in 1984 that even when he is in the U.S., he can locate every  person in his  500,000  member church  (now much larger) through of the cell system. [3]

From a church growth perspective,  this is the premier model. However, it has yet to be proven that Cho’s pure church model effectively works here in the states. Dale Galloway (1986) has been  one of the chief proponents of the Cho model from a North American perspective. His church is based on a wide assortment of small groups (some 500).  His most recent work (1995) summarizes his years of experience in  cell-based ministry. At this present time, it is not certain that Galloway’s church will continue to model cell-based ministry in the United States. The church seems to have stagnated, and pastor Galloway has recently resigned.

From a philosophical level , the one who has written the most extensively on Cho’s model  is Ralph Neighbour (1990).  He also  seems to have done the most research on cell-based churches, 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. However, Neighbour is very  dogmatic on the place of cell groups in the life of the church. Cells are the church. All other programs are looked upon with suspicion. He also seems to be quite dogmatic in his cell-based methodology and does not  seem to allow for  cultural variations.

 I do not believe that it is necessary to reject all other programs in order to have a true cell church. Furthermore, since I will be examining cell-based ministry from a cultural as well as a church growth perspective, I will need to be open to a wider variety of cell-based methodology.  

Church Growth Model

            This model has not yet been established. More than anything,  it mainly  exists in my head. It is a model that I am creating as I study cell-based ministry worldwide and seek to relate it to Christ’s church. The reason I have felt compelled to create my own model is because my philosophy of cell-based ministry does  not currently coincide with any of the existing models. Although I most closely agree with the Cho model, I do believe that Cho’s model must be adapted to meet the needs of each generation and each culture. Although I’m exceedingly grateful for the excellent material and insight that Ralph Neighbour has brought forth, I am not in agreement with his  dogmatism and lack of flexibility.

            Perhaps a few characteristics of my new model will suffice right now:

1.     It’s church growth oriented

Cells are the servant of the church. If the cells do not help the church grow both in quantity and quality, it’s better not to use them.

2.     It’s pragmatic

The question that is constantly asked is, What works? There need not be a slavish following of  one cell model or system. If something else is working better, use it.

3.     It’s flexible

      This is also related to my above  pragmatism. My own manual is simply a compendium of principles and practices from a number of small group ministries. I feel like I have truly ‘spoiled the Egyptians’.

4.     Based on my manual

      Overall, I come closer to the pure cell approach. However, unlike Neighbour I believe that there is a place for programs in the church today. [4] Before George’s most recent book, I thought I was best classified by the book Prepare Your Church for the Future [5]   However, I now recognize that I now must define my own system.



            I have several reasons for writing this chapter. First, I personally hold to a church growth philosophy. [6] Second, my Ph.D. dissertation focuses on how cell-based churches contribute to church growth. Third, this tutorial actually includes church growth in the title description, and it will be the only tutorial in which I will  cover this topic.

            Therefore, in this tutorial I will only give a brief, cursory summary of what I believe are the main church growth tenants. My goal is to ultimately link cell group ministry to the philosophy of church growth.  

The Movement’s Founder, Donald McGavran

            After meticulously defining church growth, The North American Society for Church Growth added a noteworthy phrase, “...employing as the initial frame of reference, the foundational work done by Donald McGavran” ( Wagner, 1989: 50).  Since the year  1955,  McGavran has been the undisputed founder of the church growth movement. That was the year that  Donald McGavran wrote his landmark book, The Bridges of God, thus giving birth to the movement. McGavran’s  convictions were solidified by two pivotal events. First, the founding of an institution which ended up at Fuller (1960-65) and secondly, the writing of understanding Church Growth in 1970, the Magna Carta of the church growth movement (Rainer  1993:33-39).  

 The Concept Defined

            Although church growth is complex and multi-faceted, there are certain basic foundational principles.  

The Priority Of Evangelism

            Church growth firmly places itself under the narrow definition of missions. McGavran boldly declares, “Among other characteristics of mission, therefore, the chief and irreplaceable one must be this: that mission is a divine finding, vast and continuous. The chief and irreplaceable purpose of mission is church growth” (McGavran 1990: 22).

However, some would argue that kingdom growth instead of church growth should be our major concern. Some have challenged the movement for being too church centered and not sufficiently kingdom centered. Ralph Elliot writes, “...the entire case for the church growth movement appears to be built upon a call to the church rather than upon a call to the kingdom of God...The emphasis is not on how easy but on how costly it is to enter the kingdom” (1982: 69). Eddie Gibbs, a church growth advocate, is quick to admit that Donald McGavran does not make clear the relationship between the church and the kingdom (Gibbs as quoted in Wagner 1982).

Wagner defends the movement by seeking  to relate evangelism with  the kingdom. As the church grows through evangelism, one will find kingdom growth. Wagner asserts,

“The major burden of the Church Growth Movement has been to assist new conversion growth, the kind of church growth that most nearly parallels true kingdom growth....If true kingdom preaching, by the power of the Holy Spirit, makes disciples who become responsible church members, then the growth of the church is very intimately connected with the growth of the kingdom of God”(1982: 10,11).

            Although the gospel of the kingdom is primarily evangelistic it does not shun its social responsibility.  Wagner would also agree (1989:16).  

The Central Role Of The Church In The Plan Of God

            The church growth school insists that the church is the means by which God disciples a lost world. Unless the new convert become a responsible member of a local church, evangelism is not complete. Peter Wagner writes,

How, then, is a disciple to be recognized? Obviously, it is a person who has turned from an old way of life and acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior. But just a verbal affirmation of faith is not enough....There are many fruits that are borne in the life of a true Christian through the Holy Spirit. However, the fruit that the Church Growth Movement has selected as the validating criterion for discipleship is responsible church membership (1984: 20-21).           

            The church growth movement teaches that , ‘seed sowing’,  isn´t enough. Nor is mass crusade evangelism that registers many decisions. What pleases God most is when there is a harvest. How does one know if and when there´s a harvest? When the ‘seed sowing’  and the ‘decisions’ result in increased church attendance and membership.  As Waldo Werning put it, “Our heavenly Father, who is not willing that one person should perish (2 Pet 3:9), is interested in results” (1977: 14).  

It Is The Will Of God That The  Church Grows

            There are several passages in the Bible which manifest God´s will for an unsaved world. I Tim. 2:3-5 proclaims,  “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man Christ Jesus,....”  Peter´s  declaration is similar, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

These verses and others have persuaded the church growth movement to conclude that it is God´s will that the church grows. McGavran´s words are clear and direct as he recounted all the church growth writing of the previous fifteen years, “From beginning to end it assumed that quantitative growth of the church was God´s will and ought to be measured, depicted, discussed, and made the basis for evangelistic and missionary labors” (1990:271). If one believes that church growth is the will of God, he or she will do everything possible to see that it happens. Paul tells us that we are God´s fellow workers; we are God´s building (I Cor. 3:9).

            In a very brief fashion, I have covered what I believe are the  foundational principles of the church growth movement. There are many other principles which I could  have mentioned.  Perhaps, it will help understand the church growth movement better to underline one of its most controversial principles. This will also  help critique the  cell movement more effectively.  

 The Homogeneous Unit Principle

            What is a homogenous unit? The Lausanne Committee defined it like this, A people is a sufficiently large sociological grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another” (Wagner 1989:IV-1).One only has to look out on the cultural landscape to see the vast grouping of like cultures in our world today. It is a fact of life that similar cultures group together. However, when McGavran made his famous statement, “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers,” (1990: 223), a flood of criticism issued. This concept  has been the most criticized tenant of the church growth school of thought.  Rainer writes,

When Donald McGavran began to advocate that principle as a tenet of church growth, an avalanche of criticism and debate ensued. Cries of ‘racism,’ ‘narrow-mindedness,’ ‘exclusiveness,’ and ‘psychological manipulation’ were voiced as a reaction to the much-debated principle (1993:254).  

            Why has there been so much conflict in this area? Partly because many believe that church growth advocates are promoting a subtle type of racism or that they’re  ‘watering  down’ the gospel.  However, the very heart of this principle is summed by Rainer,

First, rapid evangelization takes place best when people of a culture share their faith in Jesus Christ with others within their own culture. Second, Christians must not insist that a person abandon his or her culture in order to become a Christian. Such is the essence of the homogeneous unit principle (1993:260,261).  

Therefore, the  homogeneous unit principle can be a helpful evangelistic tool, but never the goal of the Christian life.  

Church  Growth and  Cell-Based Ministry

            John Mallison who dedicated over  20 years of his life to small group ministry declares, “Where churches (in many countries) are growing in quality of Christian life and witness and in numbers, in almost every instance small groups are the heartbeat of that new life” (1989:xiii).  

Examples Of This Growth In The Cell Church Today

            One does not have look hard to notice this  amazing growth. For example, with more than 625,000 members 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 (Neighbor 1990:24).  Cho attributes the churches rapid growth to the cell group ministry.

            When we think of aggressive evangelism and church growth in Korea, we usually think of Pastor Cho´s church. However, we 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.  Is Korea the only place where aggressive cell group evangelism is resulting in church growth? No. In 1975, pastor Dion Robert started a  Baptist church in the  Ivory Coast. By 1983 it had grown to 683 members. It was then that  Pastor Dion  decided to restructure his church around cell groups. In eight years the church grew to 23, 000 members (Neighbour 1990: 31).

I will be specifically studying cell-based churches in Latin America. One of those churches is located in Guayaquil, Ecuador and is called  El Centro Cristiano. When I visited that church in May, 1995, there were about 5,000 people in some 400 cell groups. Today, the church has some 10, 000 people in 1,000  cell groups. La iglesia Elim in El Salvador is another example of a cell-based church which now has a membership of 120,000. [7]  Example after example could be given of exciting growth through the cell church in China, Australia, England, America, Latin America and around the world (Neighbour 1990: 23-37).

            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).”After years of analyzing and offering advice  to the church, it´s significant also that a highly respected church growth counselor  such as Carl George would write an entire  book on  reasons why the ‘cell based church model’ is a superior church growth model (1990). [8]  

The Cost of Growth

First a word of warning is needed. The growth that many churches are experiencing is not automatic.  In other words,  having a  cell group ministry in the local church  will not magically transform the church. There is a price to pay.  Werning hits the nail on the head when he states, “It is held that growth will result whenever a church believes growth is God´s will and they pray for it, plan for it, work toward it, and evaluate the results of carefully followed strategies” (Werning 1977:15). Although it is my conviction that cell ministry will aid in the churches’ growth, I also realize that the cell ministry is not a magical formula. There is no substitute for careful and well-laid plans.  

Cell Groups and the Homogenous Unit Principle

            The observations of many  seem to indicate that cell groups do best when they are allowed to function as homogenous units. These natural cultural ties might be built upon friendship, sex, class, neighborhood, age, etc. For example, a very influential church in Lima, Perú was transformed into a  cell based  church by dividing her  age based departments into cell groups (Navarro 1991). The young married, professionals,  university students, older adult, etc. formed cells among themselves with marvelous results. Both the el Batán Church and the República Church  in  Quito, Ecuador have followed the same pattern with much success.

            Why are the results better? Mainly because the homogeneous unit principle is a reality. People are more willing  to invite their friends to a homogeneous  group, and those same friends are more resolved  to attend a group in which  there are people of their own kind. Cell groups of this type  naturally grow faster, and are soon ready to give birth to daughter groups.

            The Bible based cell study also has more impact when the needs of the members are similar. For example, the young married all have similar concerns,  as do the university students, professionals, older folk, etc.




            Evangelism is a primary function of the church as it relates to her call to disciple the nations.  When the first disciples received Christ’s last command, there were only a handful of believers. Therefore it is necessary to interpret the command of Christ to disciple the nations as a  call to evangelism. Christ’s call to evangelism will not change, but the methods by which we evangelize must be based on relevance and effectiveness.

            One new methodology that is being used in recent times is cell group evangelism. Yet, I use the word new in a relative sense. In reality, this method is as old as the Christian church. In fact, it appears that most of the evangelism in the primitive church took place through the home churches. Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose write,

Another significant matter about evangelism in the New Testament is that much of it---if not most of the more enduring type—took place in the house churches. This was true not simply because the larger homes were able to accommodate the function. It was also true because proclamation took place as a result of the total witness of the interrelated functions of church life in the homes (1987:66). 

I believe that we can  learn much from those early saints concerning how to effectively evangelize.  

In this chapter, I would like to examine three major aspects of cell group evangelism. First, I will examine  a new paradigm for   understanding cell group evangelism that distinguishes it from the traditional one on one methodology.  I’m referring to the  difference between  fishing with a hook and fishing with a net.

Second,  I want to explore the concept of lifestyle evangelism in the cell group.  Referring to this type of evangelism,  Jesus declares in John 17:23,  “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  It is this love in action that is often the most effective means of outreach (Hadaway, Wright, DuBose 1987:91).

Finally,  I will try to uncover the meaning of aggressive evangelism in cell group ministry. We know that every  person on this earth is only granted a limited time to decide for Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “…man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (9:27). This fact should jar us with a certain urgency. With this in mind, cell groups in the church must take on  an active, aggressive  role in reaching the unchurched around them.  

Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing

What I’m referring to can be best illustrated by the tools of the fisherman—the net and the fishing pole. Cell group evangelism in the church uses the net to catch fish. In every sense of the word, it is small group evangelism. Everyone participates in some small way—from the person who invites the guest, to the one who provides refreshments for the guest, to the one who leads the discussion. Larry Stockstill describes it this way,

The old paradigm of ‘hook fishing’ is being replaced by teams of believers who have entered into partnership (‘community’) for the purpose of reaching souls together…Jesus used the ‘partnership’ of net fishing to illustrate the greatest principle of evangelism: our productivity is far greater together than alone.” [9]  

Likewise, Cho  credits the growth of his 700,000+ church to his system of cell groups. [10]  Cho highlights his methodology of cell group evangelism by saying,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Style Evangelism

            Lifestyle evangelism in the small group is more relational  than task oriented. It is not to say that this type of evangelism is not planned.  Rather, life style evangelism is accomplished more through the  development  personal relationships that attract the non-Christians rather than pushing them. 

Evangelism Through Christian Edification

            According to Jesus, the church will win the world by demonstrating our unity and love for one another. According to Christ, there is a  relationship between Christian edification and effective outreach.  Christ summed up this truth in John 17:21, “…that allof  them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 

We have found that  open sharing among  believers is often the most effective evangelistic tool. It is cell group ministry, in contrast to the large congregational gathering,  that provide these  opportunities  for the church to truly be the Body of Christ and the People of God. In the cell group, the church meets in a face to face encounter with each other. During this encounter   there are many occasions when Christ’s  love can be demonstrated both on a spiritual level (Heb. 10:25) as well as on a very practical level (I Jn. 3:17). When the world see the body of Christ in action,  they are attracted and drawn to Jesus Christ.

The main  objective, then, of the cell group is that each cell group member experience true koinonia fellowship (Neighbour 1992: 60-65) which results in the evangelization of those who don’t know Jesus Christ. Several veterans of the small group ministry team up to write,

And that is the purpose of all this---of caring for one another,...so that the world will know that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s why the church exists in the first place. The ultimate goal of the small group is to expose people who don’t know Jesus Christ to His love. We have small groups so the world can see Christ fleshed out. It´s our way of taking Christ to the world (Meir, Meir, Getz, Doran 1992:180).  

Evangelism Through Friendship  

This ‘life style’ evangelism in the small group often takes place through friendship. Frequently a non-Christian is hesitant to immediately enter  the doors of a church. It’s much easier to first participate in a cell group  in the warmth of a home. Dale Galloway writes,  “Many people who will not attend a church because it is too threatening, will come to a home meeting”  (1986:144).  Later, these same non-Christians will enter the church by the side of a friend that they’ve met in the cell group.  

Evangelism Through Honest Transparency

In a small group environment, it seems to be easier to treat the non-Christian as a person with real emotions and feelings. The gospel can be presented in a way that meets the needs of the new person (Mallison 1989:9).  In fact, Dr. Peace wrote the book Small Group Evangelism  because he believes that the small group is the ideal place to evangelize. He believes that it is in the small group a  non-Christian can manifest  deep, personal  needs and find the healing touch of Christ. Dr. Peace  writes,

…in a successful small group, love, acceptance and fellowship flow in unusual measure. This is the ideal situation in which to hear about the kingdom of God. In this context the ‘facts of the gospel’ come through not as cold proposition but as living truths visible in the lives of others. In such an atmosphere a person is irresistibly drawn to Christ by his gracious presence (1996:36).  

It is in the small group atmosphere where  the Christian witness oftentimes can more easily be presented in a transparent, natural way. Sadly,  too many of our rigid methodologies  of ‘doing evangelism’  only strengthens this  impersonal wall between the Christian and the non-Christian.  Instead of being honest, open, and transparent, we are more concerned about repeating our prepared text.  Dr. Peace says,  “…our failure to be honest is probably the greatest hindrance to easy and natural conversational witness (1996:27).  It can be argued (as does Dr. Peace) that the small group provides the best atmosphere for honest, open communication and witness.         

Evangelism that Creates Natural Links to the Church

In the cell group, not only are friendship made that lead to effective evangelism, those friendships are also kept after one receives Jesus Christ. It is those friendships that provide natural links to the church where the new person can either grow in the faith or find Jesus for the first time.  George calls this type of evangelism, ‘side door evangelism’ verses ‘front door evangelism’ (1991:73-75).  Logan explains this concept,

In the ideal church of the coming decades, what Ralph Neighbour calls the cell-group church and Carl George terms the metachurch, assimilation of the un-churched will occur through the side door—that is, through the unchurched person’s involvement in a church’s cell groups (invited by a neighbor, friend, or relative who is a member of both the church and the cell group)…(1989:66).  

It can  be argued that the very heart of evangelism is relational (Hadaway, Wright, DuBose 1987:81). This relational concept is the under girding principle behind the amazing success in Pastor Cho’s church. Hurtson writes, “After a leader has established a caring relationship with an unbeliever, he or she may invite the person to a cell meeting or church service” (1995:105).  When one thinks that the effective evangelization and rapid growth of the early church mainly took place in the home, the wave of friendship evangelism through the cell group offers exciting potential.


[1] I realize that these principles are not properly footnoted. I wrote these principles down from the Spanish version of Cho’s book, while I was in Ecuador. 

[2] I have read all of Cho’s major books, read his articles, listened and re-listened to his Church Growth Lectures on tape, read must of the cell literature  that uses Cho as a model (Neighbour, Galloway, etc.). Hurtson’s latest book, Growing the World’s Largest Church is an excellent case study on Cho’s church.

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

[4] I do not advocate getting rid of all programs. In Ecuador, we maintained a healthy Sunday School, DVBS, and Youth Program.

[5] Apart from chapters six, twelve, and thirteen,

[6] I toyed with the church growth idea throughout Bible School and seminary, but it was never really a part of my life. While I planted a church in downtown Long Beach, I  maintained a love/hate relationship with church growth.  It wasn’t until 1989 while taking Peter Wagner’s foundational course here at Fuller that I became a church growth convert. 

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

[8] The thesis of the  book, Prepare Your Church for the Future,  is that the cell based model is the best approach for the future church

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

[10] This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 claims that there are 320,000 people attending Cho’s church each week with an additional 280,000 meeting in satellite locations. However, Karen Hurtson’s recent case study analysis  Cho’s church,  points to 720,000 members (17).






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