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
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
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
[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).