Intro & Chapter 1 (Great Cell)



Silence. Jerry’s attempt to stimulate discussion failed. “Is there anyone else who’d like to comment on this verse?” Still no response.  Jerry decided it was best to break the silence by launching into a spontaneous homily of the Bible passages. “At least they’re receiving God’s Word,” he assured himself.  

I know how this leader felt. I’ve faced similar periods of strained silence as I lead the lessons in my own small group. I’ve thought to myself more than once, “Why are my own discussion times so dry?” What’s the missing link?” 

Many small group leaders, immersed in the battle, begin to doubt their talent and leadership skills. They blame their personality or lack of gifting for the barren lessons, the uneasiness in the group, and the fact that only a few participate.

The good news is that the vast majority of small group problems are solvable.  I’ve written this book to help you turn a dry gathering into a dynamic meeting.  

Small Group Interest 

 Seventy-five million adult Americans regularly attend a small group (not including all teenagers and children in groups). There are 300,000 churches in the U.S., but more than three million small groups.[i]

With the interest in small groups mounting, especially in the face of an impersonal Internet society, the need is great to understand the dynamics of small groups (both to participate as well as to lead). Lyle Schaller, after listing twenty innovations in the modern U.S. church scene, 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.”[ii]

The small group phenomenon is certainly not isolated to the U.S. The largest church in the history of Christianity, Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, is based on 25,000 small groups. The largest churches in the world, following the example of YFGC, are also based on small groups.[iii]

Most secular organizations also hold regular small-group meetings, from boards to task forces. Knowing how to lead such meetings not only sweetens the atmosphere, but often determines business success or failure.

In  fact, small-group dynamics is a science in its own right. One of my first college courses covered it as we worked through the book Effective Group Discussion. We learned how to actively listen, respond positively, summarize, and many other small group skills.[iv]

While secular organizations seek to increase productivity through small group dynamics, God’s purposes must guide the Christian small group. Effective small group leaders live under the power of the Holy Spirit and communicate God’s purposes for the group. The Christian leader will become more effective and more fully meet the needs of group members by learning the skills of small group dynamics. 

Definition of a Cell/Small Group 

    Some experts choose the broad path and  define a small group as anything small that meets as a group. This definition is so inclusive (and elusive) that it doesn’t clarify. The communists as well as liberation theologians promote their brand of cells.    Across the land, various types of groups are forming to heal physical disorders, chemical dependency, marital problems—and the list continues. With this broad definition, you could include a family, a classroom, church board meeting, a basketball team, and a Christian cell group. Defining a small group by its size doesn’t clarify the purpose of the group. 

I define a small group or cell as a  group of people (4-15), who meet regularly for the purpose of spiritual edification and evangelistic outreach (with the goal of multiplication) and who are committed to participate in the functions of the local church.

I realize that many small groups are not connected to the local church. If you’re leading such a group, this book will help fine-tune your skills. Yet our focus is on church-based small groups.

When defining a small group, it’s important to identify essential components, or characteristics that should be present. Life-changing  “cell groups” (I will take the liberty to interchange the word cell group and small group ) should have the following characteristics:

1.      Upward Focus: Knowing God

2.      Inward Focus: Knowing each other

3.      Outward Focus: Reaching out to those who don’t know Jesus (with the goal of multiplying the cell group).

4.      Forward Focus: Raising up new leaders

Small groups should be consistent, yet flexible. Some groups, for example, might be more “seeker-sensitive” than others. Excessive singing and prayer would not be appropriate in such meetings. Our church has many  groups that meet on university campuses. Our leaders purposely try to maintain a flavor that’s appropriate in that context, since the main thrust is evangelistic. Yet, even in these groups, the components of knowing God and relationship-building are present.

No two small groups are exactly alike but each maintains the same components: seeking God (upward focus); developing relationships with one another (inward focus); reaching out to non-Christians (outward focus); and developing new leaders (forward focus).  These components allow cells the flexibility to be effective, while at the same time achieving their goal. [1]

Keep the Group Small 

Bigger is not better for small groups. Growth in size excludes growth in intimacy. [v]  Unless cells remain small, they lose their effectiveness and ability to care for the needs of each member. When two people are in conversation, there are two communication lines; that number increases to twelve when four are present. With ten people, the number grows to ninety, and when fifteen people gather, there are 210 lines of communication. After fifteen persons, there is no longer the opportunity for people to know each other intimately. It’s a congregation, rather than a cell group.[2]

But how big is too big?  One small group church discovered ten was the maximum size.[vi] Carl George agrees, emphatically declaring that ten is  “...the time-tested, scientifically validated size that allows for optimal communication.”[vii]

 John Mallison, however, finds room for a few more. He says,  “Twelve not only sets the upper limit for meaningful relationships, but provides a non-threatening situation for those who are new to small group experiences…It is significant that Jesus chose twelve men to be in his group.”[viii] Striking a balance, Dale Galloway says, "The ideal number for good group dynamics and for caring and dialogue is somewhere between eight and twelve. Participation is much greater when you stay within those numbers."[ix]

Galloway’s advice not only sounds reasonable, but it also rings true with my own experience. Certainly a group should not grow beyond fifteen people, nor have fewer than five (with the exception of newly planted cells).  

Visualizing the Cell Meeting 

The pictures on the opposite page will help you visualize the skills needed to lead a great cell group meeting. In order for your physical body to work properly, all the individual parts must work together. The same is true of the cell meeting. Some small group leaders have great eyes, but have no soul. Others are all mouth, with no ears. But when all the parts are working, the meeting will flow. Each chapter in this book corresponds to a different body part.
Chapter 1- A Pure Heart: Prepare Yourself

Chapter 2- Gathering Arms: How to Structure a Meeting

Chapter 3- Legs that Support: Facilitating Others

Chapter 4- An Open Soul: Practicing Transparency

Chapter 5- An Inquisitive Mind: Asking Stimulating Questions

Chapter 6- Listening Ears

Chapter 7- An Encouraging Mouth

Chapter 8- Warm Hands: Reaching Out to Non-Christians

Chapter 9- Walking Together: Moving through the Stages of Life

Chapter 10- Eyes That See the Details

There are different ways that this book can be used:
1. Start at the beginning and read the entire book to gain a complete picture of leading a great cell meeting. This is a great way to overview the basic skills or to sharpen the skills that you already have.
2. Skip to the chapter that addresses the areas where you need specific development. If you need help asking good questions, then feel free to turn to chapter five. Or if you are not sure how to include non-Christians in your group, then chapter eight will prove helpful.
3. Skim the book for helpful ideas and tips that you can use this week in your meeting. You will see many of these in the lists and in the sidebars.
4. Read through the book with other cell group leaders and discuss what you are learning. You might even do this as a part of your cell leader training with your pastor.

Unique Features of This Book

Throughout the book you will find tips and practical advice to help you understand the principles and show you how to implement them in your group. You will find these special tips in these sidebars:

Try This!

Find these for simple ideas and tidbits that you can implement this week. Some of them are so obvious that you will wonder why you did not think of them yourself.


These explanations will show you the inside track of being a great cell leader with testimonies, stories and quotes from the lives of experienced leaders.


Sometimes you need a new way of doing things to get out of the rut. These proven strategies provide practical ways to break out and do something new in your group.


Cell group leadership is not difficult, but sometimes we misunderstand what it really involves. Look for these sidebars to make sure that you are on the same page with what really makes a small group great.

A Companion Tool

How to Lead a Great Cell Group Meeting will help you to effectively guide your weekly meeting. But what do effective leaders do between the meetings? I have written a companion manual called Home Cell Group Explosion: How Your Group Can Grow and Multiply, which explains what effective cell group leaders do during the other six days. These two volumes work hand-in-hand to help you fully enter the ministry God has set before you.


Cell leadership begins with heart preparation. A heart that is pure before God is the only foundation for leading a cell meeting. Without a heart for God, the meeting consists of only dry routines and rituals.


A certain winsomeness characterizes dynamic cell leaders. They demonstrate loving concern, but they firmly lead. They allow discussion to flow naturally, but refuse to stray from the theme. They listen intently, but won’t allow one person to dominate the meeting. They build community, but not at the expense of reaching out to the unsaved. They take responsibility for the group, but refuse to do everything. They promote group identity, but never at the expense of the multiplication of new cell groups.

Does this balance sound difficult? Let’s just say impossible—apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. Logic and technique, while necessary, can’t teach the when and how of small group dynamics. Effective small group leadership begins with a transformed heart.  The Holy Spirit works inside the cell leader so he or she can minister from the overflow of the heart.

To successfully navigate the uncharted waters that lie ahead, you’ll need a guide, one who knows the way.  Jesus said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).

You don’t fully understand the  tears and fears of Joan or the ambitions and dreams of John. When Joan, John, and the rest of the group arrive in your living room, the chemistry is unpredictable. You can know all the practices and techniques of small group dynamics and fail to meet the deep needs of the group. You need a guide—The Holy Spirit.   

Stop Preparing for the Cell

Do yourself and your group a favor. Cease all cell preparation at least one-half hour before the cell begins (e.g., lesson, refreshment preparation, etc.). Take that time to prepare your heart before God, asking Him to fill you with the Spirit.[3] So many unexpected things happen in the course of a normal cell group: the ringing phone, the unexpected non-Christian visitor, the forgetfulness of Susan to prepare the icebreaker, the broken guitar string, and John’s job loss. When John shares about getting fired during the ice-breaker, should you pray for him immediately, give him more opportunity to share, or wait until after the lesson (perhaps you know John has the tendency to talk a lot)? You’ll need the Spirit’s wisdom. 

If you’re a veteran small group leader, you know plans and preparation can help—but they’re insufficient.  You’ll agree that Spirit-anointed common sense will hit the home runs. Following rigid, preconceived plans when someone is hurting results in a strikeout. To win the game, you need a good coach. The great news is that the Holy Spirit is willing to give to you the inside, play-by-play counsel on a moment-by-moment basis. To hear His voice loud and clear when you need it, you’ll need His filling before the meeting begins.

Remember also that some of the most powerful ministry occurs while chomping on chips or eating cookies after the cell meeting. Heart talk often transpires when our guard is down, and we’re not worried about every detail of the cell meeting. The Spirit might stir you to minister to the newcomer or talk with the wayward. You might feel impressed to speak to Johnny, who rarely talks during the meeting. Or maybe you need to just listen, while others lead the conversation.[4]

Stay in tune with Him, and He’ll make your way prosperous. He’ll guide your steps.  

Follow Christ’s Example 

    Charles Hummel, a godly Christian leader, once wrote a classic article called, “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” His basic thesis was that we live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. The important is our relationship with Jesus while the urgent is that which steals our time from God. Stephen Covey highlights this same tension in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Urgent matters . . . press on us; they insist on action. They’re often popular with others. They’re usually right in front of us. And often they are pleasant, easy, fun to do. But so often they are unimportant! Important matters [that] are not urgent require more initiative, more proactivity . . . If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, of the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.[x] 

Be assured that urgent needs will crowd your schedule and spoil your initiative to spend time with God, unless you plan—unless you make your meeting with Him a priority. My counsel is to plan at least one day in advance when you will meet with Him. You might say, “I will meet God at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow or even during my lunch break.”

All of us have the same twenty-four hour day, including the president of the U.S. If spending time with God is important, you’ll make time for it. If it’s not, you’ll constantly offer excuses for not doing it.

Christ made decisions after communing with the Father. As we read in Luke 5:16, He made it a priority to spend time alone with His Father: “… Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:15 explains that when Christ’s fame was spreading, the success of his ministry compelled Him to spend more time with God. In the midst of an increasingly busy ministry, He separated from the multitude for quiet time. If Jesus Christ, our model, prioritized His time with the Father, shouldn’t we?[5]

As a small group leader, spending time with God must be your chief and most important priority. When your group senses you’re hearing from God, they’ll be more apt to follow you. When you can point to times in which you sensed His urging, and He spoke to your heart, you’ll gain the respect of those in your group.[6] 

The Father’s Reward

            Jesus asks us to spend time in the Father’s presence, but He also promises the Father’s reward. Jesus says, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). And the beauty of this reward is that you don’t have to publicize it. You don’t have to tell others how much time you spend in personal devotions. The Heavenly Father, who takes note of the time spent, will graciously reward you openly. After Abraham refused the outward reward and adulation from the king of Sodom, God responded, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1).

Our heavenly Father is prepared to abundantly bless those who seek Him. Remember what the Scripture says: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 2:20).  He’ll do exceedingly and abundantly above all you can ask or think, if you make Him first in your life. 

More than Techniques  

This book emphasizes the importance of small group techniques. Yet, in this chapter, I’ve warned you not to follow techniques too closely. I’ve said, “Let the Spirit guide you.” [7] “Be open to analyze each situation with Spirit-anointed common sense.”[8] Sound like a contradiction?  Not really. Plans, techniques and diligent preparation for the small group meeting are exceedingly important. Just don’t allow them to control you. That’s the Spirit’s job.  As you spend time in His presence, you’ll make better plans, know how to handle each situation, and meet the needs of those present.

Points to Remember 

Great cell leadership begins with a heart immersed in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. If you heart isn’t right, then no list of techniques can lead your group into the things God has ahead. Remember:


Stop preparing cell details at least one-half hour before the meeting starts in order to spend time with God         


Prioritize your daily devotional life in order to hear from God


Depend on God more than techniques













[1]                                                           TRY THIS: What a Small Group is Not

The general headings in this section were taken from Michael Mack’s, “What a Small Group is Not,” Small Group Dynamics (Internet newsletter of the Small Group Network, November, 1999).

Sometimes we understand something better when we realize what it is not. The following constitute erroneous thinking about the cell group:

1. Club Status

 Although you might focus on a homogeneous group, remember that your cell must continue to grow and eventually multiply. Don’t allow homogeneity to become an end in itself.

2. A Clique

 Cell groups are wonderful because they move people into deep community. Cells help people to move beyond the surface level. At the same time, we must always include others in our community since Christ has given us a commission to make disciples.

3. An Organization

 This is a deadly trap. A Cell group is a living organism rather than simply a nice way to organize the body of Christ.  A cell needs to function as a living part of Christ’s body.

4. Static

Cells in the human body that don’t multiply will die. One small group guru told me that “small groups are born to die.” I disagree. I believe that Cell groups are born to multiply. Yes, if a cell does not multiply, it will die, and for this reason, a small group must continually reproduce itself.

5. One Day a Week

 The cell group is far more than another weekly meeting. Rather, it’s a family. During the week, the members should pastor one another, care for another, befriend each other. I’ve discovered that cell members often look for each other during the Sunday celebration time and even sit together. In one cell church that I visited, each cell was encouraged to meet together after the Sunday morning service for fellowship, accountability, and to plan for the next week.

6. A Classroom

I visited one cell group in which the leader assumed the role as the Bible answer man (some of you might remember Walter Martin’s radio program called “The Bible Answer Man”). The meeting centered around the Bible guru (cell leader) who taught the unlearned (rest of cell members). The cell group leader, rather, is a facilitator/shepherd, who guides the lesson while stimulating others to share. 

7. Just a Bible Study

Many equate cell groups with neighborhood Bible studies. While the lesson time in cell groups is based on God’s inerrant Word, the focus is on the application of God’s Word in a participatory atmosphere, rather than on someone teaching Bible knowledge. Remember the exhortation of James 1:22,  “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.”

8. A Therapy Group

The cell group is not a psychoanalysis session. Healing occurs in the cell group through listening, empathy, and prayer. I believe in counseling sessions—but not in the cell group.

9. A Band of Renegades

 Cell groups in the cell church participate in the local church. Those who attend the cell must also attend the celebration (or at least are constantly encouraged to attend the celebration) and those who attend the celebration attend the cell. I strongly discourage cell leaders from inviting people from other churches to attend the cell. I tell them it’s unethical to pastor the sheep from another congregation. Our cells focus on non-Christians and people from our own congregation.

10. Prayer Group

While prayer plays an essential role in the cell group, it’s not the only focus. 

11. Task Group or Ministry Group

Nor is a cell group simply a task or ministry group (e.g., church board, ushers meeting one hour before the service, etc). In such small groups, it’s very hard, if not impossible for evangelism to take place—unless of course your church allows non-Christians to join the church board!


[2]                                                            INSIGHT: Communication Lines

N X N – N = Communication Lines

2 x 2 – 2 = 2

4 x 4 – 4 = 12

12 x 12 –12 = 210



[3]                                                               INSIGHT: Steps to the Spirit’s Filling 

·         Ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).

·         Confess all known sin.  David says, “ If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).

·         Be filled with the Spirit on a daily basis. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, “. . . be filled with the Spirit.” The phrase “be filled” in the Greek points to a continual, constant filling. It’s a daily thing.  

[4]                                                               INSIGHT: Anointing of the Holy Spirit

The best advice is from John the apostle:  “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27).            


[5]                                                               STRATEGIES: Rut Repair

David Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Fellowship, sends his cell leaders to  Prayer Mountain to fast and pray for a few days when the leader’s cell is not growing. Have you ever made a trip to your own “prayer mountain?”  

[6]                                                                         INSIGHT: Result of Poll

My survey of 700 cell group leaders revealed that the leader’s success depended upon how much time he or she spent in daily devotions.

[7]                                                    STRATEGIES:  Sensitivity to the Spirit

What’s the best way to minister to the hurting in times of grief? There’s no right way. You just do your best to empathize with the hurts and weakness of others. You must trust the Holy Spirit. 

[8]                                                               TIPS: 7-Day Prayer Experiment

If you’re struggling with your feelings about another person, begin with a seven-day prayer experiment. Pray five minutes each day for that person. Let God resolve the conflict

[i] Robert Wuthnow, I Come Away Stronger” How Small Groups Are Shaping American Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), p. 45. Robert Wuthnow’s ground-breaking survey of small groups in the U.S. not only discovered that 40% of the U.S. adult population is involved in a small group, but that 7% who were not currently in a small group planned on joining one within the following year.

[ii] Lyle E. Schaller, The New Reformation: Tomorrow Arrived Yesterday Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 14.

[iii] The Elim Church in San Salvador has 110,000 people attending the 11,000 cell groups. The International Charismatic Mission has an equal number in their 20,000 cell groups and now rent the local indoor stadium each weekend (47,000 people attending the four services).  Similar statistics exist in Dion Robert’s cell church in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore and  Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana are also prime examples of the growth of the cell church worldwide.

[iv] John K. Brilhart, Effective Group Discussion, 4th Edition (Dubuque, Iowa: Wm.C. Brown Company Publishers, 1982).

[v] As small group size increases there is a direct decrease of equally distributed participation. In other words, the difference in the percentage of remarks between the most active person and the least active person becomes greater and greater as the small group size increases [John K. Brilhart, Effective Group Discussion 4th ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers, 1982), p. 59].

[vi] I’m referring to the Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  For a long time, this church waited until the group had fifteen people before multiplication. Experience has taught them, however, that it is difficult for a group to maintain an average of fifteen people over a long period of time. A few years ago, therefore, the leadership changed the number to ten. Now when a group has an average of ten people attending on a regular basis, it is a prime candidate for multiplication. Dixie Rosales, the cell director, told me that the change from fifteen to ten members helped revolutionize small group multiplication in the church. Now, many more groups qualify for multiplication and the proliferation of cells is spreading more rapidly throughout the whole church.

[vii] How To Break Growth Barriers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), p. 136.

[viii] Growing Christians in Small Groups (London: Scripture Union, 1989), p. 25.

[ix] The Small Group Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1995), p. 145.

[x] Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), p. 151.