Principles of Cell Churches


Principles from the Largest Cell Churches

  World Pulse magazine (1999)

As part of his Ph.D. research at Fuller School of World Mission, Joel Comiskey spent an average of eight days in eight prominent "cell churches," which place evangelistic small groups or "cells" at the cores of their ministries.  Cell church advocates such as Comiskey say that in these cell churches, small group ministry is not just another program, but is the very heart of the church.  Below, Comiskey, who is a missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Quito, Ecuador, presents his findings.  

"One of the constant variables that I noticed among the case study churches was the positive influence of David Yonggi Cho and the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea.  In fact, the International Charismatic Mission and The Elim Church initiated their cell ministry after visiting Cho’s church in the mid-1980s.  Yet far from simply imitating or copying other cell-based models, these churches have effectively contextualized the cell mode.  I discovered new, creative patterns emerging from these cell-based churches.  

Although I observed more than 17 similarities between these churches, four clearly stood out.  First, cell ministry is primarily an evangelistic tool.  These churches were convinced that the best way to reach the lost for Christ was through cell outreach. The cells were expected to multiply over and over utilizing ever-expanding webs of relationships.  From my questionnaire survey of 700-plus cell leaders, I discovered that over 60 percent had multiplied their group at least once. The cells in these churches function like nets that spread out over the entire city. Buses haul the 'catch' to the celebration service for worship and preparation.   These churches did not hesitate to set quantifiable goals for their cell ministry.  In fact, some of them even promoted 'healthy competition' among  leadership. Again, passion for the lost was the motivation that kept everything in perspective.   

Second, they were not just adding cell ministry as another program. Rather, cells were the very life of the church. These churches organized pastoral staff, specific programs, membership, baptisms, offerings, and celebration services around cell ministry.  Cell attendance was expected from everyone in the church.  For example, the Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, said that 90 percent of the 7,500 weekend worshipers also participated in a weekly cell group.  

Third, these cell churches carefully linked cell ministry to the celebration service.  In other words, precaution was taken to guarantee that individual cells shared the same vision and philosophy as the mother church.  To assure this continuity, the cell lessons were based on the senior pastorŐs weekly message. For example, at the Living Water Church in Lima, Peru, a talented leader took diligent notes of the pastorŐs message in order to weave his thought into the weekly cell lesson. At the Christian Center in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the senior pastor himself prepares the weekly cell lesson. Although each church used a different method, the senior pastorŐs message was always the launching point for the cell group topic.  

Fourth, cell leadership training was given top priority.  Although the length and type of training varied from church to church,  all were compelled to find, train, and release new leadership as quickly and efficiently as possible. For example, the declared goal of the International Charismatic Mission is to transform every new convert into a dynamic cell leader. In this church, leadership training involves a two-day spiritual retreat and a core three-month cell leader training course. When I was present in October, 1996, 3,000 potential cell leaders were attending the three-month courses."  


Name of Church


Senior Pastor

No. of Cells

No. of worshippers


Bethany World Prayer Center

Baker, Louisiana

Larry Stockstill




The Christian Center of Guayaquil

Guayaquil, Ecuador

Jerry Smith




Elim Church

San Salvador, El Salvador

Jorge Galindo




Faith Community Baptist Church


Lawrence Khong




The International Charismatic Mission

Bogota, Colombia

César Castellanos


35,000 [i]


Love Alive Church

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

René Peńalba




Living Water Church

Lima, Perú

Juan Capuro




Yoido Full Gospel Church

Seoul, Korea

David Cho


155,000 [ii]



[i] The figure 35,000+ worshippers and 20,000 cells groups only apply to the mother church. There are an additional 10,000 worshippers and 7,000 cell groups in the twelve satellite churches around Bogota, thus totaling 45,000 worshippers and 27,000 cell groups.

[ii] The figure “155,000” is an accurate attendance figure for those who attend the mother church on Sunday. There are, however, an additional 100,000 people attending the fourteen YFGC satellite churches in different parts of Seoul, Korea. These satellite churches are considered extensions of the mother church and could be included in the mother church attendance, thus totaling 255,000 people in the Sunday morning worship services at YFGC. The 155,000 figure is included in the chart because the 25,000 cell groups only operate in the mother church. It’s unknown how many cells function in the fourteen extension churches (official statistics at YFGC only mention the 25,000 cell groups of the mother church).