Worldwide Cell Churches
by Joel Comiskey
As I was working on my book Planting Churches that Reproduce: Starting a Network of Simple Churches, I’ve reflected once again at the simple nature of church planting experienced in the New Testament. God chose to plant His church in the home environment to testify to the new family, Christ’s church. Meeting in homes brought faith down to daily living.
My favorite book on church planting is Creating Communities of the Kingdom. David Shenk and Ervin Stutzman, experienced church planters, write about the early church experience:
“We read that the church grew and multiplied exceedingly as neighbor told neighbor the news of Jesus Christ. We may assume that as the little living rooms became packed with people, the groups divided and new cells were formed. Soon the original 100 or so congregations multiplied and became hundreds of small groups fellowships throughout the whole metropolitan area. They witnessed with power and persuasiveness to the saving acts of God.”
Imagine the electrifying atmosphere of the early church. Leaders and churches spontaneously multiplied and filled the city. Is anything like that happening today?
As I speak to people in ministry, I keep hearing about the effectiveness of Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. Jimmy Seibert, the founding pastor of ACC was radically transformed at the age of seventeen. He started small groups on the Baylor University Campus that eventually grew to 600 students on four campuses. He and some of the students wrote a book called Reaching College Students through Cells. In 1999 Jimmy started ACC.
ACC has sent out 212 people to plant cell-church planting movements all over the world (twenty-four nations). ACC has never been content to grow one church larger and larger. Yet as the mother church gives itself away, it keeps growing (130 LIFE groups and 2500 members). Like the NT church, God has called them to become a church planting movement. Jimmy once told me that churches need to offer their people a practical missionary vision to reach the world. As a college pastor, he noticed that parachurch organization were often more mission focused than the church. “God’s plan is for the church to offer a world vision. Young people long to give themselves to a world changing vision,” Jimmy said.
ACC breathes the principle of multiplication–groups, leaders, churches, and missionaries. Each year ACC offers either a missions conference or a church planting conference on a rotating basis.
Antioch believes and teaches the need for brokenness and the filling of the Holy Spirit that result in radical obedience. This church emphasizes very plain, clear Biblical concepts, I thought to myself. They practice what other churches only read about in the Bible. I pressed Jimmy about what model he was following and he kept on coming back to their desire to follow Biblical principles. “We don’t do the simple things well so we get caught up in the outward” he told me.
Sean Richmond left ACC ten years ago to plant a church in Boston, MA. Like other church planters, Sean started a LIFE group that multiplied and eventually turned into a once per month celebration service. As the LIFE groups grew and multiplied, they eventually grew into a weekly celebration service. The church in Boston now has some twenty LIFE groups and 300 people worshipping in a local high school gym. Yet their goal is to start a movement. They were excited to send out their first missionary church planting team to a restricted access country.
Robert Herber, recently planted an ACC church in San Diego, CA. Although brought up in a Christian home, he didn’t start walking with God until coming in contact with passionate people from ACC at Baylor University. He also caught fire, grew in the Lord, and eventually raised support to plant a church (all church planters raise their own support). Like all church planters from ACC, Robert gathered together a team. The church planting team from Antioch joined together to start the first LIFE group. Through the initial pilot group they prepared San Diegans to be the leaders of the future LIFE groups. Their goal is to win as many people as possible to Jesus and to start LIFE groups in the process. Robert wrote, “Today two more students were saved. Our next door neighbor and then the pitcher of the baseball team!”
The home LIFE group is the basis for church planting at Antioch. It was also the foundation for early church planting. You can now read about ACC through Jimmy Seibert’s new book The Church Can Change the World.