By Joel Comiskey
Written for C&MA CELL NET, Summer 2002
I’ve been working for one year as a C&MA missionary in
- 75% of churches today are dying
George Barna adds, ”The United States has so many unchurched people that the nation has become one of the primary missions targets of Christians who live in other countries around the world."
in fact, that the cell church will
simply NOT work in the
God is blessing the
ministry of Red Cedar Community Church. In the
month of July our cells participated in a month of servant evangelism.
Our efforts have led over 20 people to make decisions for
Christ. The most exciting aspect of our church is that we grew
from an average of 341 to 617 this past year. Our church year
runs from May-April. But in the the past church year we connected
over 200 new people in our cells. We now have 0ver 400 adults
and teens in healthy, reproducing cells. Our cell ministry is
really startng to take off. You are right when you say that strong
cell systems produce strong cells. I'm in a very fortunate situation
because we have very few ministries competing with cells.
Cells are the backbone of our church.
some shining examples, but as you can imagine, not all
there are some bedrock principles that, if followed, will help the North
American cell church movement to succeed. The following are a few of them:
The largest cell churches in the world (and for that matter the largest churches in the world) prioritize prayer.
thing that greatly concerns me about various North American models of church
growth success is that prayer is not a large priority. You don’t hear about
diligent, earnest prayer. Rather, you hear about the technique and the marketing
strategy. I’m gravely concerned about this, especially the repercussion
that it will have on the
Certain magnetic personalities can and will attract crowds but such a strategy is not reproducible, nor does it stand the test of time (when the great leader leaves, the church often declines).
must come back to the simple truth that we can do nothing apart from Him. He
must give us fruit. Let us only ask for fruit and blessing that come directly
from Him. I believe in church growth, but only the type that is birthed by God.
What is the
church? Traditionally, we in
Listen to one pastor, convinced of the cell-celebration strategy:
A conviction I have is that the small "cell"
-- people meeting together for fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, and outreach
-- is the essential structure of the church.
Everything necessary for the growth, maturity, and outlet in ministry of
the individual believer exists within the small group.
It's tough to be a phony in the small group, and it's nearly impossible
to remain anonymous in the small group. I
think we understand that it's very possible to be a phony in a large group, and
to remain anonymous. The net affect
of "the-large-meeting-is-church" perspective is that about 90% of the
gathering sit passively, staring at the back of someone's head for an hour,
while "worship" and instruction are given by no more than 10% of the
gathering. The church was meant to
be a place where everyone has a gift, everyone ministers, everyone participates,
everyone has something to give for the good of the rest of the body.
This kind of thing doesn't happen in the large group meeting on Sundays.
It hardly happens in Sunday school either, as many Sunday school formats
are "mini-churches" where a teacher lectures or controls the
discussion. The place where ministry
really takes place, where gifts are exercised, where leadership is developed,
where needs are met, where encouragement
is given, where people come into contact with the intimate Jesus Christ, is in
the small group. The large assembly on Sunday (or Saturday, or whenever) has its
rightful place, but it is the place where people come, collectively, to worship
and to experience the transcendence of God.
The intimacy of God, expressed in a group, is not experienced on Sunday
morning. By design, it can only be
experienced in the small group -- the cell-group, if you will -- the core of the
many in the
churches all around the world follow a very similar definition of a cell group: "A
group of 4-15 people that meets weekly outside the church building for the
purpose of evangelism and discipleship with the goal of multiplication."
this too dogmatic? You’ll notice incredible flexibility in the above
definition. It does not say:
That you have to meet in a home (many cells meet at work, the university
campus, a coffee shop, etc.).
That you have to follow the Sunday sermon (most do, but some don’t).
That you have to have family cells (many cell groups are homogeneous
men’s cells, women’s cells, or children’s cells).
That you have to follow one particular cell order (e.g., the
4Ws–Welcome, Worship, Word, Works).
That you have to have a certain level of participation (ICM’s cells,
for example, aren’t as
participatory as I’d like, but they’re still cell groups).
most foundational conviction of the cell-celebration church is that it flies on
two wings, both cell and celebration, and thus anyone involved in other
ministries must participate in both cell and celebration.
that cell ministry, more than any other type of pastoral ministry, has the
potential of liberating the pastor to truly do the work of the ministry. Sadly,
many pastors are taught that church boils down to the ABCs: ATTENDANE,
BUILDINGS, CASH. Randy Frazee, in his excellent book The
Connecting Church, says,
a matter of fact, job security for most pastors comes more from numerical growth
than from spiritual growth. The reality of this whole matter disgusted me as I
pondered the purity of my motives for going into pastoral ministry in the first
place. . . I saw among those who wanted to break away from the
numerical-monitoring grind of head count, square footage, and cash was this: the
attempt to pawn off an assimilation strategy as spiritual formation. What
happens is that instead of taking attendance at the worship services
only, we now take it at other church-sponsored events, . . .
I believe true success comes by raising up an army of leaders to reap the harvest. This was the prayer of Jesus, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew -38). The goal of raising up an army of committed cell leaders is so crucial to what Christ meant about discipleship that it’s worthwhile to measure it and base our success on it.
This means that we will have a commitment beyond the small group. The goal is to develop each person emotionally, spiritually, and Biblically to the point that they can gather their own friends in a small group setting. To do this, the training track must be clear, succinct and feasible.
of the key differences between a normal
small group and a cell group is that the cell group sees a future role for each
member. A small group often becomes an end in itself.
The successful cell churches know nothing of fuzziness and fog in leadership training. The track is clear, and many have boarded the train. The best equipping tracks include:
þ Clear place to start
þ Clear knowledge about where to go
þ Clear idea of victory (leading a cell group).
Successful cell churches train leaders well, and they aim for clarity and practicality. The new Christian know where to go and how to get there, from the initial discipleship stage to leading a small group. Because the top leadership realizes that training new leadership is the chief task, the entire church functions as a leadership production system.
How different from the traditional church in which everyone is
funneled through a general educational system, without any clear idea of where
they’re going. The general
education system fails to equip the entire church and often those needing
equipping seldom come. Again,
because there isn’t clarity in what to do with the lay people after the
training, the goal simply becomes more training with little practical
Excellent Celebration Service that Welcomes
In March 2002,
I met Mark, the pastor of a growing Southern Baptist Church in
“I train our
cell leaders to be ready to pounce on every visitor in the church. Our cell
leaders immediately try to assimilate the newcomers by inviting them to their
cell groups. We’ve discovered here
“What about cell evangelism?” I countered. “Shouldn’t we be training and encouraging cell members to evangelize their friends and neighbors?”
Pastor Mark agreed wholeheartedly with me. “It’s not an either-or situation. We should ask our people to do both,” he said. “Most of our small group growth, however, comes through assimilating people from the large group gathering.”
We’ve heard over and over the need for small group evangelism. And yes, we need to constantly exercise our small group evangelism muscles. But let’s not forget the large group context. The ideal is that everyone in the church attends both cell and celebration. In reality, there will always be a pool of those who attend only the celebration. Some of these people are visitors; others have attended the church for quite a while. Some will participate in a cell group after one invitation; others require a shove.
I tell churches to aggressively invite all people at the celebration service to the cell: “I’d like to invite you to my cell group on Friday night at I think you’d really like it. Do you need a ride?” Cell leaders don’t need to worry about competition among themselves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if five different cell leaders or interns invited the same visitor?
churches around the world have implemented systems so newcomers don’t “fall
through the cracks.” Visitor cards are collected in the church and distributed
to the various cell groups, who in turn contact the newcomers. Because of this
organized approach to reaching out, many visitors attend a cell. These churches
track newcomers to ensure that they receive proper follow-up and care.
Hierarchy is important in overseas cultures, and thus a care system that is more
hierarchical is common. In
In my new
book, From Twelve to Three, I promote
what I call the G12.3 care structure. The gist of this care structure is that
a full-time pastor oversees twelve cell leaders, while a lay leader envisions
caring for three daughter cell leaders and continues to lead an open cell group.
The number three is a more realistic and
manageable number that gives lay volunteers a feasible goal: multiply the
original cell three times and care for each one of those leaders while
continuing to lead the original cell.
The G12.3 care structure works well among homogeneous groups and allows for a smaller care ratio between lay supervisor and cell leader (one to three instead of one to twelve).
I believe adapting the G12 model that originated at ICM in
The American culture is very democratic. Because we’re individualistic, we believe that each person’s contribution is very important. Edward Stewart, in American Cultural Patterns says, “Even when bypassing formal procedures, the American is persuaded by the appeal to give everybody a chance to speak and an equal voice in the decision.”
C.G. Jung once
observed that modern psychotherapy arose partly in response to the void in
Christian community left by the Protestant insistence on "private
confession." We no longer struggle together with our deepest concerns and
our most internal battles. Religion, we often hear, is a personal matter between
us and God, where we keep our distance from others and relate openly with God.
One difficulty with that philosophy is that when we are less open and honest
with people, we also end up being less than honest with God as well.
Without watering down the cell or cell system, we need to adapt the cell-celebration strategy to North American culture.
I listed are not exhaustive. I didn’t cover, for example, relational
evangelism, punctuality of the meetings, etc. The list does provide some
foundational building blocks to help the cell church movement thrive in
hungering for relationships, and in general, they’re turned off to the
institutional church. The time is ripe to bring the church to them. As we
mobilize our congregation to be an army of missionaries
starting cell groups, we’ll fulfill the passion of Jesus Christ to raise
up laborers to reap the harvest in an ever-increasing North American mission
George Barna in
Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church (Zondervan Publishing House:
 Edward Stewart, American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (Chicago, ILL: Intercultural Press, Inc., 1972), 32.
Dan Lentz, “Shepherding Broken People,” Small