Cell Theology-Pt.2


Cell Theology-Pt.3

In fact, this idea of community might indeed be the central  contribution of Paul’s writings (Banks 1994:2). Those congregations that only stress the church service on Sunday morning do not truly experience the N.T. concept of the  body of Christ as a participating, interacting organism. John Mallison captures this point when he says,

    Small groups provide situations in which mutual ministry can take place. Only a small number can minister in a large gathering and then only in fairly superficial manner to each individual. The majority are denied an opportunity to exercise their ministry to the gathered church” (1989:10).

George Hunter believes that Christians who attend ‘church’ without attending a small group are only experiencing ‘half’ of the Christian life:

     “Many people are involved in the congregation, and are thus involved in its proclamational, sacramental, and liturgical life, but not in the cell; they therefore never experience half of what ‘church’ has to offer. Only in the church’s redemptive cells do we really know each other, and support each other, and pull for each other, and draw strength from each other, and weep with  each other, and rejoice with each other, and hold each other accountable, and identify each others gifts, and experience what it means to ‘members of one another’ (1996:48).

Even the so called ‘seeker sensitive’ churches of today are  discovering that the true body of Jesus Christ must provide opportunity for believers to come together and experience their membership in the body of Christ (Hunter 1996:45-65).  Rick Warren who is the founder of one of the largest churches in America (10,000 people attending each Sunday) says,

“One of the biggest fears  members have about growth is how to maintain that ‘small church’ feeling or fellowship as their church grows. The antidote to this fear is to develop small groups within your church. Affinity groups can provide the personal care and attention every member deserves, no matter how big the church becomes….One of the sayings I quote to our staff and lay leaders repeatedly is, ‘Our church must always be growing larger and smaller at the same time….Large groups celebrations give people the feeling that they are part of something significant. They are impressive to unbelievers and encouraging to your members. But you can’t share personal prayer requests in the crowd. Small affinity groups, on the other hand, are perfect for creating a sense of intimacy and close fellowship. It’s there that everybody knows your name. When you are absent, people notice” (1995:325,326).  

Temple Of The Holy Spirit

       The church as the temple of the Holy Spirit punctuates His  working in our midst. It is the Holy Spirit who refreshes and ministers Christ’s healing through the participation of each member. Addressing the church at Corinth, Paul declared, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (I Cor. 3:16).

Just like the  imagery of the body of Christ, this description of the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit is  tied closely with the gifts of the Spirit working through the living body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who sovereignly  chooses and distributes the gifts to each believer (I Cor. 12:11),  and He is also the One who  directs the exercise of the gifts (Acts 13:1-3). 

Much of the cell based literature underscores the leading of the Holy Spirit in the cell.  The ministering to one another through the gifts of the Holy Spirit is an oft-repeated emphasis.  Effective cell leaders are those who invite the Holy  Spirit to guide and lead each part of the cell experience (Neighbour 1992:124-127).

People Of God

  The People of God motif is especially relevant to the cell based church. The church is  primarily a an organism and not a building. Thomas Goslin rightly declares,   “When the early church founders spoke of churches, ecclesias, they were referring to gathered communities of believers, not buildings”(1984:2).            Elmer Towns affirms,  “In the early church it is clear that ‘church buildings’ as such did not exist until the second or third century” (Towns 1983: 257, 258).  According to Donald McGavran, archeologists find no hint of church buildings before the year A.D. 150 ((McGavran in Goslin 1984: ii).

 This is not to say that the early believers did not meet  to celebrate in the temple (Acts 2:46;5:20, 25, 42) and in the portico of the temple (Acts 5:12). Until persecution made such celebration events impossible, large gatherings were quite common in the life of the early church. However, it should be noted that  oftentimes today we become so caught up in maintaining our expensive buildings that we quickly forget that the church must be  primarily concerned with fulfilling  her role as a ‘called out assembly of God´s people.’ Because of the anxious concern ‘to utilize’ the expensive building, the need for more intimate, body oriented  gatherings  can sometimes be overlooked.

Some would argue that the church today is still suffering from the days of Constantine. It was in those days  that   there was a definite  transition from the home church model   to the temple based paradigm  (Hadaway, Wright, & DuBose 1987:70-72). . When the church met in the home, the dynamic of God’s chosen people was kept clear and focused. However, when the church became powerful, political, and institutionalized,  it quickly forgot its moorings. It forgot that God was more interested in developing  His people, rather than a powerful institution.

Family Of God

        The church as God´s People is closely  tied to the understanding   that the church is the family of God (Eph. 2: 14,15). As  God´s chosen people we have been adopted into His family, the church. The home cell group  highlights this truth by the simple fact of meeting in houses.  J. Goezmann, confirms this reality when he says,

            “What could be conveyed by the idea of the family of God had, in fact, already come into being in the primitive Christian community through the house churches. The household as a community...formed the smallest unit and basis of the congregations. The house churches mentioned in the N.T. (Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31, 34; 18:8; I Cor. 1:16; Phlm. 2; I Tim. 1:16; 4:19) no doubt came into being through the use of the homes as meeting places. The gospel was preached in them (Acts 5:42; 20:20), and the Lord´s supper was celebrated in them (Acts 2:46) (1975:250) .  

Banks contends that Paul’s metaphor of the family, “…must be regarded as the most significant metaphorical usage of all” (1994:49). We should primarily see each other as members of a God’s family. We have been adopted into His heavenly family, and therefore can honestly call each other ‘brothers and sisters’.

And quite frankly, there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a  home to confirm the fact that we are indeed, God’s family. The atmosphere of the home has a way of confirming our familial relationship.  I suppose that this is true due to the fact that  the  home adds a distinct flavor of family living due to the decorations, furniture, kitchen, etc. It doesn’t take long to taste and feel the presence of family interaction.  As a result, it has been our experience that  members warm up to each other much more quickly in the atmosphere of a  home than they would during a similar meeting in the church.  

Cell Groups As Part Of The True Church

            I’ve  attempted to show how that cell groups can add a vital dimension to church  life. It’s been my contention that the Biblical imagery of  the church comes to its richest meaning when believers encounter one another in small groups. Previously, we grappled with several key definitions which have been used to describe the true church of Jesus Christ down through the ages. I  tried to answer the question, What is the true church of Jesus Christ?

Cell Groups As A Key Way To Experience The True Church

  Now  I’d like to grapple with how cell-based ministry relates to the definition of the true church.  I will  attempt to answer this question in a practical, experiential manner rather than a theological or philosophical way.  In other words, what must a believer experience in order to be in touch with the true church of Jesus Christ?

I’m referring to the local church in today’s contemporary world. In order to be part of the true church of Jesus Christ, is it enough to ‘check in’ on major holidays to one of the church services? Is weekly attendance at a Sunday a.m. service sufficient? How about two services per week? Maybe  two services and one ministry assignment? Obviously there are as many answers as there are questions. The reason for even raising these questions is  my concern that a person might connected with the true church of Jesus Christ without ever  experiencing the true church of Jesus Christ.

I presently attend a church which is well-known for its excellent youth and children’s ministry. The church has grown numerically as a result, and there are new people almost every  Sunday morning.  It seems that many of the adults  are willing to attend the church because of the excellent programs for their children. Yet, because of the lack of  adult ministry opportunities, the majority of the adults only attend the Sunday a.m. service. The youth pastor recently commented to me that the numerical growth of the church on Sunday morning was superficial. He felt that the adults of the church could not experience the true church without having more contact during the week.

Indeed proponents of the cell model  would  propose that the true church takes place in the  cell. The  cell is the basic building block of the church, and thus a pastor of a true cell church would not cringe the slightest at referring to the cell as the church (Beckham 1995:28). In my opinion, it’s not a matter of choosing between the celebration time in the church or the cell in the home. In my opinion, it’s a both/and proposition.

Yet, if a person only attends the Sunday morning worship service on a weekly basis,  has that person experienced the true church of Jesus Christ?  Is it possible to sit passively, shake a few hands, sing a few songs, and participate in the true church of Jesus Christ? Isn’t the true church of Jesus a living organism? Doesn’t it demand interaction and participation? If a person does not experience fellowship and community in the church of Jesus Christ, has he experienced the heartbeat of Christianity?

Yes,  it would  probably be correct to say that those who attend an evangelical church  on Sunday morning are normally treated to a Biblically, relevant message. This is good and right and hopefully the person will have been touched by God before he leaves the building. Yet, if one only possesses theological correctness without the very life of God  pulsating within his/her heart, there is a serious imbalance. Hadaway touches this raw nerve by saying,

     “…churches have grown larger and larger in the wake of rapid Christian advancement in recent times, churches like society itself, have become more and more impersonal. They have come to reflect, understandably, the bureaucratic model which increasingly has influenced all organizational forms in society, religious as well as secular. What has been needed is the recovery of caring in a way which would touch people lives significantly. It is not enough to hear it from the pulpit, read it in the Bible, or see it in individuals. It has to be experienced in community. The house group movement has accomplished this” (1987:211)  

Most pastors determine those who are  ‘in their church’  by  Sunday morning worship attendance. There are exceptions, but for the most part, this is the standard measurement for determining whether or not a church is growing numerically. I personally believe that God wants  His church to grow, and therefore I, too, desire to see as many new faces as possible on Sunday morning (primarily the unchurched). Most pastors, like myself,  will diligently labor to fill their Sunday worship services as a sign that their church is growing and that they are doing God’s will.

Yet, if a church is content with the Sunday morning worship attendance as the key sign of success, I wonder if that church is truly fulfilling the call of Jesus Christ. Could a church that is a model of ‘church growth success’ be rebuked by the Lord, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). Could it be that many do not know how to provide a true sense of community to their members? Perhaps, there is a lack of knowledge concerning how to lead the congregation to a deeper sense of Christian fellowship. Hadaway  insightfully notes the difference between the two structures,

   “The home cell group provides a place where Christians can come to know and understand one another, not hurriedly during opening assembly prior to church school or semiformally during a postworship coffee fellowship. Instead, the development of close, caring, face to face relationships occurs naturally and intentionally in the comfortable setting of a member’s home (1987:244).  

 In the past,   I have  primarily viewed the role of cell groups as a way to grow the church (numerically). In Ecuador, I started and directed  a cell group ministry in both a mother and daughter church.  The ministry was very successful and the church grew rapidly as a result. However,  my vision is expanding and deepening.  Cells are not only  a church growth technique;  they are also a key  vehicle for the church of Jesus Christ to experience  the true church in a living, dynamic way.

Cell Groups As An Arm Of The True Church  

Can the cell group by itself be considered ‘the true church of Jesus Christ’? Could a person participate in a cell group without attending the celebration service and be part of the true church? I’m sure there are various ways to answer  both of the above questions.  I suppose that in some cell groups the Word of God is proclaimed  and the sacraments are administered by highly competent leaders.  Therefore a person might argue that there is no need for any other gathering. Indeed, the house church movement is based on such premises. They find  Biblical evidence for an independent house church structure.  I will talk more fully in chapter five about  cell groups and house churches in the primitive  church. Suffice it to say that there are strong arguments  on both sides.        Some can find evidence for a  cell/celebration pattern throughout church history, while others argue in favor of independent house churches in those early times.

However, even if it can be successfully argued that the N.T.  pattern favors independent house churches, I think that it’s important to remember that the early church was a persecuted church. In times of persecution,  flexible forms are needed to sustain church life (the present Chinese house church movement is an example).  Yet, before the early church was forced to go underground, the pattern of cell/celebration seems to have been normative (Acts 2:46). I would argue that when and  where the church can freely operate, it seems that  cell groups should  function within the local church. In this way,  members can experience both the large gathered, celebrating  church as well as the intimate, nurturing cell church.

It’s also important to remember  that most cell group leaders are not called nor equipped to be full-time pastors and teachers. They are not expected to take ultimate responsibility for those under their charge. Rather, they function more as ‘under shepherds’. This role has Old Testament roots.  Jethro advised  Moses to,  "..select capable men from all the people….and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21).  This structure was recommended to help care for the people more effectively. Moses was still appointed by God to lead that wandering congregation. Because most cell leaders are not called to ‘ultimately’  oversee a group of people, it’s important that they are accountable  to a structure that is larger than themselves.

It’s also true that  God has given gifted leaders to his church (e.g., Eph. 4; Rom. 12; I Cor. 12-14), demands order (I Cor. 14:33),  and accountability (I Pet. 5; I Tim. 2,3). The cell group structure that I am covering in this paper is accountable to gifted leaders and is under their accountability. In this system, the  cell must be fully submitted to the plan and purpose of  the local church leaders.  Paul Yonggi Cho, who oversees some 55,000 cell leaders,  correctly insists  that the cell groups must be under the authority of the church, and that they should never act independently (1981:108-139).

It is my  opinion that  unless the cell groups are contributing to the life of the local church,  both in her  spiritual development and her outreach to the world, it is better to immediately close them down.  This is not to say that there isn’t a legitimate role for small group ministries  in a ‘parachurch’ setting  (Kunz 1974:4-15). Yet, I believe that the  primarily goal of even these evangelistic communities,  should be the indirect strengthening of the local church.


        I am  fully aware that much more could  be said about the nature  of the true church. For example we have yet to fully answer the question, What makes the church the church? The answer to this question would involve an in-depth discussion concerning the marks of the true church. We might further explore important  issues such as  Form/Essence, Phenomenon/Creed, Institution/Community, Visible/Invisible, and Imperfect/Perfect as they relate to the church (Van Engen 1981:48-62). Suffice it say, the focus of this paper  demands a limited coverage of all that is involved with the theological considerations of the church. However, as we have attempted  to define the nature of the  church from a Biblical perspective, it also behooves us to determine what the church is called to do.  


  In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus sets forth clear marching orders for His young church. An analysis of these verses demonstrate that of the four principle  verbs listed in Matthew 28:19,20,  only the one ‘to make disciples’ is used in a  direct command form  (Bosch 1983:228-233) . The direct command given to the church is to make disciples. Naturally, then, we must start with ‘discipleship’ as the principal function of the church. Logan correctly asserts, Disciple making is the foundational scriptural vision for churches. Yet it’s interesting how few churches truly have disciple making at the core of their vision---if they have a vision at all! (1989:30). Nevertheless, since the Lord left His church with this one command, a correct understanding of it is essential for the church to function properly.

What does it mean to make disciples? Certain ones have tended to emphasize the spiritual perfection of  existing Christians (Hull 1988:135-140) ,   while still others interpret Christ´s command in terms of evangelism. Although McGavran has been heavily criticized for erring on the side of evangelism, the way he later clarified the verb ’to disciple’ seems to touch the root idea of the verb (McGavran 1980:123).

He clarifies  three aspects of the verb ‘to disciple’. D-1 & D-2 point out the evangelistic thrust of the Great Commission,  whereas D-3 accents the perfecting of existing believers. The important  aspect of McGavran’s analogy is that Christ’s command to disciple is both an evangelistic command and a perfecting  command. The church is called to do both simultaneously. One should not be highlighted at  the expense of the other.  

The Evangelistic Emphasis

         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. Yet, today, many churches have ceased to  actively engage  in reaching the non-Christian.  Goals, finances,  and resources are directed to those already inside the church. Non-Christians are welcomed, if they show up.   Certainly, this is the case in most North  American churches today. George Hunter  insightfully  summarizes the present situation,

“…the vast majority of churches have not, within memory, reached and discipled any really secular persons! Many churches would be astonished if it ever happened, because many churches do not even intend to reach lost people outside their church’s circle of influence. Their main business is caring for their members” (1996:25).  

However, in many churches today, God seems to be sounding a wake up call.Churches are waking up to the fact that for too long they have structured themselves for the sake and comfort of the believers instead of the unchurched  (Logan  1989:63). One of those movements today that is endeavoring to correct that problem is  the  ‘seeker sensitive’ movement. It  is an effort to give an ‘outward focus’ to an otherwise ‘inward focused’  church. These churches attempt to make their churches relevant to the world. “Unchurched Harry” and  “Saddleback Sam” are given primary attention (Hunter 1996:12).

This is a good sign because the church has often  tried to divorce the missionary enterprise of the church from the edification aspect.  “Missions’ becomes something that the church does instead of being the very  heart of the church itself.  However, as was mentioned earlier, pastors and theologians are understanding the church of Jesus Christ as being a missionary church. It is becoming increasingly clear that the church will only enter into her fullness as a missionary church (Van Engen 1991:17).

I would like to look at two  types   of evangelism that Jesus calls His church to do. The first relates to evangelism as a lifestyle. Referring to this aspect, 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).

The second type refers to the church’s  active evangelism among the world. Perhaps, this type of evangelism can best be seen in Christ’s initial call to His disciples, “ ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men’ “ (Mark 1:17). Jesus calls us to be His fisherman. Each 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 role in reaching the unchurched around them.

My goal in this tutorial is to relate both of these two aspects of evangelism to  cell groups. There seems to be a new wave of interest in evangelism through home cell groups. Yet, it’s not really a new methodology. It’s 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.  Yet, that same form of evangelism continues in the cell church. Cho  credits the growth of his 700,000+ church to his system of cell groups. [1]   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).  

 Life Style Evangelism

         According to Jesus, the church will win the world by demonstrating our unity and love for one another. As was earlier stated, the cell group ministry in the local church provides  opportunities  for the church to truly be the Body of Christ and the People of God. As the church meets in a face to face encounter with each other there are many occasions when this love can be demonstrated both on a spiritual level (Heb. 10:25) as well as on a very practical level (I Jn. 3:17).

            As the world beholds this type of practical  love and unity in action, Christ tells us that they will be won to  Himself.   They will not only hear the gospel, but  they will see the gospel  lived out.  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).  

            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.

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. 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). 

God uses a variety of methods to win non-Christians to Himself. Yet, it might be argued that the very heart of evangelism is relational (Hadaway, Wright, DuBose 1987:81). We are inviting men and women to enter into a relationship with the King of Kings. Yet, sadly, so much of the evangelism today is impersonal.

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).  

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.

Aggressive Evangelism  

However, numerical growth in the group must be intentionally planned.  The members must be encouraged to  aggressively evangelize. The reality of a lost world on the edge of a Christless eternity  should never be far from the minds of both the leaders and members of the cell group.  Some have labeled this type of concern  ‘urgent evangelization’ [2]  There are many places in the Bible where this type of urgency can be found.

For example, in the parable of the wedding banquet the king told his servants to, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Mat. 22:9).  Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel of Christ (I Cor. 9:16) because of the love of Christ which controlled him (II Cor. 5:14). He tells us that the  knowledge that all men would stand before the judgment seat of Christ was another motivation for the persuasion of lost men (II Cor. 5:11).  It was this same urgency that stirred him to say, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Rom. 10:14).

I acknowledge that not all churches use cell groups for the purpose of evangelism. Some groups are closed groups while others are equipped to support those with a particular type of need. On the other hand, my Ph.D. focuses on cell group ministry which has the  dual purpose of both aggressive evangelism and  warm, pastoral care.  In this type of church, there is a planned strategy to evangelize non-Christians.

There are many ways to do this. Since this is not a ‘how to’ paper, I will just name a few:

1.     Plan  a ‘friendship dinner’ instead of the normal cell meeting with the intent of inviting non-Christian friends

2.     Use an evangelistic  video instead of the regular Bible based lesson

3.     Place a empty chair in their midst and pray for the next person who will fill it (George 1991:99).

            For most of the cell churches, this aggressive or ‘urgent’ evangelism is graphically seen in  the rapid multiplication of their  cell groups. The pastoral leadership encourages the cell leaders to  add new people (emphasis on non-Christians) with the goal of multiplying the group when the number reaches fifteen. In many of the most rapidly growing cell churches around the world, the time that it takes for the individual cells to multiply is six months  (Neighbour 1992: 32-35).

I recently heard about a cell church in  Medan, Indonesia that  was established in the mid 80's. It now has almost 10,000 members and a  700 member "in house" Bible School to train church planters and missionaries.  The cell groups in that church comprise the core of all church activities. The effectiveness of their evangelism can be seen in this statement by one of the former members of the church, “The cells never go over 15 in number.  The goal of each group is to divide every year. In fact if a cell does not divide, it is "absorbed" by other cells.  The goal is evangelism, then discipleship”. [3]

Tony Rosenthal, a Southern Baptist church planter, has developed an effective way to plant churches using cell groups. In his system, a cell group must give birth within six months or the group disbands. He has discovered that groups tend to become stagnant and inward looking if they are not constantly looking for new converts (Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose 1987:262).

If the group is going to multiply, plans must be intentionally formulated. Karen Hurtson talks about one cell leader named Pablo, who shares with the group his vision for multiplication  before every meeting. The people in Pablo’s group have a very positive idea about cell group multiplication. They see the multiplication of their group as a sign of success (Hurtson 1994:12).

            Not all cells multiply in a matter of months. Some might take  two years. However, it is unwise to allow a group to continue indefinitely. Stagnation is often the result.  Carl George, who has studied multitudes of cell-based churches around the world gives this counsel,

                "The gestation period for healthy groups to  grow and divide ranges from four to twenty-four months. The more frequently a group meets, the sooner it’s able to divide. If a group stays together for more than two years without becoming a parent, it stagnates. Bob Orr, of the Win Arn Church Growth, Inc., reports that groups that meet for a year without birthing a daughter cell only have a 50 percent chance of doing so. But every time a cell bears a child, the clock resets. Thus a small subgroup can remain together indefinitely and remain healthy and fresh by  giving birth every few months (1991:101)  

Perhaps, the period of time that it takes for a cell to give birth should not be the primary emphasis.  Rather, it is the  way that the top leadership intentionally motivates the cells leaders to make cell multiplication the chief priority. It is the vision and encouragement  that is communicated to the cell leadership  that makes the difference.  In commenting on the miracle of Paul Cho’s church and how it grew from twenty small groups to fifty thousand small groups, Hadaway says, “…the numbers continued to grow because a growth strategy was built into each cell group” (1987:19).

This ‘growth strategy’ is not easy to maintain. From my experience I have discovered that it is a constant struggle. The members become comfortable with each other. People tend to cling tightly to their newly formed relationships, and do not want to let go, even if it means new people being won into the Kingdom. Hadaway writes,

“…the principle of cell division and growth seems critical here to help avert the problem of exclusiveness. Cell division is not always experienced as a pleasant plan of action for members who have developed deep relationships in the home group meetings. However, the purpose of such action is designed to prevent the kind of exclusiveness and inwardness that can eventually undermine one of the most significant goals of cell groups---outreach and growth “(1987:101).  

Aggressive evangelism, then,  must  be a vital part of cell group ministry if we are going to fulfill the great commission today. Many churches are finding this true as they reach out to their non-Christian neighbors through a cell group ministry.


[1] 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 once again of Cho’s church, once again points to 720,000. 

[2] I first became aware of this terminology  from Ian Presley’s, international director of OMF and a Fuller D.Miss. student. He used this phrase  in his D.Miss proposal to describe the  urgent task of the church to evangelized the unreached people. He said that this terminology is quite common in OMF circles.

[3] Taken from an e-mail from Don Davis, who is a Cross Cultural/Educational Consultant

for Greater Asia Training Enterprises. He wrote this to Dan Gibson on Abril 12, 1996.









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