“Charting the Journey”
Appeared on the Small Group Network, April 2000
By Joel Comiskey
Word Count: 1275
mother is a college professor in the discipline called Child Development. When
our daughter Sarah was young, we would often call my mom with urgency in our
voice, “Is it natural for Sarah to act like this?” “Yes, dear,” my
mother responded. “In fact, you
can expect her to manifest these characteristics.” Almost mystically, she
would predict Sarah’s tendencies for her age period. My mother’s advice
was founded in the scientifically based patterns of children that age.
Certainly, there are exceptions, but the general rule is that children who are
Sarah’s age will consistently act a certain way.
As a cell
leader, you’ll benefit by knowing how small groups operate, the various
stages. The experts in small group dynamics have analyzed these stages (called
by a variety of names), and you can find reams of material on this subject.
This condensed article will provide a starting point.
this the type of group I want to get involved with?”
Tom asks himself during the first few weeks of Jim’s cell group. Most
of the members in Jim’s group are asking the same questions. Roberta
Hestenes writes, “When a group first meets, each member tends to experience
conflicting feelings of attraction and repulsion. While having chosen to be
there, they are still testing the group to see if it can be a satisfying and
worthwhile experience for them. Each wonders whether or not he will be
really want to know if this group is the right fit for them. A young couple
will be seeking like-minded fellowship. Take John and Mary. They are a yuppie
couple looking for fellowship with other such couples. Yet, they notice that
the cell group mainly consists of older couples and even a few older single
divorcees who talk a lot. Even though John and Mary feel lots of love, they
will have to weigh their options. Will they stay? Or is it better to look for
During this first stage, the group members are looking to the leader for all direction and vision. The leaders must be outgoing, open, transparent, and provide non-threatening group building/relational activities. Effective leaders clarify purpose, direction, and goals of the group. Above all, leaders must model ministry and transparency.
the first stage, the group should focus on ice-breakers, testimonies, and
close social times. The goal is
relationship building, not Bible study, mission, or worship.
If stage one was characterized by getting to know each other, stage two is characterized by shock, patience, and grace. Conflict among group members often occurs during this stage, Conflict is a natural and healthy part of the group building process (within limits), especially as members become more comfortable with each other and risk sharing their own views.
It’s during this stage that the group members take off the masks and their real personalities shine through. Doug Whallon writes, “They [group members] know they are accepted and therefore do not need to wear masks. . . Free to talk openly because they know they have been forgiven by God and come with the others as needy yet expectant people.” [ii] Members are more willing to test out their real opinions in front of the group to see how the group will react.
leader, therefore, must displays empathy, understanding, openness, and
flexibility. She must model ministry, while preparing
members for greater involvement.
end of this stage marks the beginning of group ownership. "The"
group becomes "our" group. In short, the group is now ready for more
serious commitment — to nurture, to community, to worship, and to mission.
Those who are more committed will be your core group.
the first two stages, members desire to explore each other’s personality,
and communion is a high priority. Yet, this emphasis can easily wear thin, if
the group doesn’t fully enter into the ministry stage. The danger is that
group members will engage in "navel-gazing," and fail to reach out
to include new people in the group. When a cell group has been together for
too long, it can become ingrown. Newcomers are viewed as intruders and seldom
A group that
doesn’t reach out tends to die
a painful death. Just as Jesus said, “. . unless a kernel of wheat falls to
the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it
produces many seeds” (12:24).
pastor friend recently took on a new small group assignment in a church. After
a few months he wrote, “I am here trying to solve the North American cell riddle. The
biggest challenge for groups here in the U.S. is getting evangelistic
momentum. If they don't get evangelism working they stagnate and then the
pastors give up on cells.”
blood makes a cell group exciting, and the leader should encourage pro-active
outreach during this stage. The leader must plan with the group the various
outreach events. The leader must direct the group to pray for non-Christians,
plan harvest events, and to invite new people to the group. In this stage,
outreach is the priority. The leader must release others to minister, recruits
leaders for training and deployment, and challenge others to risk for Jesus.
The leader is less directive during this stage, encouraging others to lead
parts of the group (e.g., icebreaker, worship, etc.).
Birthing---that is, multiplying---a new small group can be one of the most exciting events in the group. At the end of the Ministry phase, the successful group will multiply by sending out designated leaders to form a new group (or groups).
should be seen as a celebration, not a separation. Remember, the Lord
"added to their number daily" (Acts 2:47). The Lord has caused the
growth we must respond by keeping his work going and starting new groups. Like
cells in the human body, home cell groups must multiply or face
stagnation, or a slow death.
birth to new groups needs to be a core value. I believe that in the first
meeting, the leader should say, “We hope the Lord adds to our group, and our
goal is to celebrate the birth of a new group later on as well." Groups
that multiply must be rewarded and the leaders should be recognized.
some groups will never send out leaders and multiply. Many small group
researchers refer to a termination stage. The prevailing wisdom is that small
groups will close. I advise you to think in terms of multiplication. Small
groups are born to multiply rather than born to die.
group stages should never slow down the leadership training process. Preparing the next leader
should start at the very beginning of your cell group. It’s also wise to
multiply when you have a trained leader, rather than waiting for a certain
number of people in your cell group... When the new leader is ready, he or she
can begin thinking about taking 1-3 people from the mother cell to form the
several occasions, my wife and I have felt like “empty nesters” after we’ve
multiplied our Thursday night cell group. We longed for the former members,
but realized that we needed to begin again. The knowledge of small group
cycles helped guide us to the next step.
is my prayer for you as you work your way through each stage in your present
group. Knowing these stages and applying the leadership principles for each
one, will fine tune your cell leadership and give you more confidence to hang
tough for the long ride.
[i] Roberta Hestenes, Using the Bible in Groups (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), p. 32.
[ii] Doug Whallon, “Sharing Leadership,” in Good Things Come in Small Groups (Downers Grove, IL, 1985), p. 65.