Don’t allow FAILURE to deter you

Myth: if you fail once in cell church ministry, don’t try again

Truth: you need to be willing to fail several times to get it right

Cho once said that you have to fail at least three times in attempting to do cell church ministry to get it right. Cho’s word strike an important chord with all of us who have attempted to transition to the cell model or plant a cell church–or even lead a cell group! Rather than allowing failure to dominate us and sap our strength, we must learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward.

Sadly, so many give up. I was in a church recently that tried to transition to cell church ministry by copying another model. They failed badly. Many were hurt. When I graciously pointed out why they failed, the pastor acknowledged my words, but simply did not want to try again.

The fact is that we will all fail as we move forward in cell ministry. You will have to fine-tune, perfect, and discover better ways to make cell ministry work in your context. There are no magical formulas. The key is diligently pressing on in the face of obstales. Fail forward, not backwards. Remember that failure is the back door to success. Abraham Lincoln is such a great example of pressing on in the face of defeat.

 In 1832, he lost the election to become senator.
 In 1833, his personal business failed.
 In 1835, his wife died.
 In 1836, he had a nervous break-down.
 In 1838, he was defeated in his race for the House of Representatives.
 In 1843, he lost the election to Congress.
 In 1848, he lost the congressional election for the second time.
 In 1849, his application to the registry office was denied.
 In 1854, he was defeated in the election to become a U.S. senator for the third time.
 In 1856, he lost the election for vice-president of the U.S.
 In 1858, he once again lost a key congressional election.
 In 1860─ after 28 years of failure─he won the U.S. presidency.

Abe Lincoln wasn’t deterred by his failures. He allowed his failures to create in him strength of character and the fortitude to press on. He remained diligent in the face of obstacles and difficulties. So can you.

Press on in cell ministry. Victory is in sight! Remember Paul’s words, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

When Cells Get Messy

There is nothing quite like being part of a healthy cell group community. When people are loving and being loved, known and being known, serving and being served; when Christ is changing lives in a visible way, and lost people are being found… that is literally awesome!

On the flip side, being part of a group in which members are sniping at each other, blowing off commitments, and generally stagnating… well, that’s just awful.

Cell group community rarely looks like the books says it should. (I say that as one who as written a book on cell ministry!).

Why does community get messy? Sometimes it happens because we’re immature (when you have baby Christians you need to change diapers!) Sometimes it’s because of sin; we hurt one another because we’re not perfected yet.

At other times it’s just because the members are getting real. When the masks come down and we see the real person behind the image, it can startle us. And that’s a good thing!

When a member shares a dark part of her soul and it provokes a stunned silence, that’s when God can start to work at new levels! What gets exposed can get healed.

It is important that as leaders we not only expect the messiness to happen, but we lead through it to help create a culture of authenticity and genuine growth. Don’t fear the mess!


The Myth of One Way to Transition

Myth: you must start with one prototype to successfully become a cell church
Truth: there are various ways to transition to the cell church strategy

Balance is such an important part of life. It’s so easy to become imbalanced–even in very good things. One of those great teachings in the cell movement that became imbalanced, in my opinion, was the issue of how to transition a traditional church to a cell church. Most people in the cell church movement would agree that it’s best to start a transition with a single pilot or prototype cell group. This prototype cell group, led by the senior pastor, would then multiply into a number of groups after six months or one year. The senior pastor would then coach those new leaders, start a new protopye, or lead an open cell group. I personally teach this, and most in the cell church movement would agree that this is the “normal way” to transition from a traditional church to the cell church model.

Yet, I’ve also noticed a certain rigidity in some cell church teaching concerning exactly what the prototype had to look like, how long it had to meet, etc., etc. One of my good pastor friends was excited about cell ministry and even started a number of healthy cells. But then he heard from a cell teacher that since he didn’t start with one “perfect” prototype he had to start over. He was told to “delete” his existing cells and go back into the womb of the prototype. My friend eventually determined that cell ministry was too legalistic and stopped his cell church experiment. 

The fact is that not everyone transitioning to cell ministry follows one pattern. Bethany World Prayer Center started 50+ cells at once. Phil Potter in his book The Challenge of the Cell Church shares his experience of starting 10 cell groups simultaneously. Scott Boren in his excellent book Making Cell Groups Work tells us that every church that has successfully transitioned and is moving forward in cell ministry has followed prototyping principles, even though they may not have prototyped with one cell group.

I think of one very successful cell church in Quito, Ecuador that started their transition with two or three pilot cells simultaneously. This illustration could be repeated. Differences in how to effectively transition to the cell church depends on how traditional the church is and how much authority the senior pastor and leadership team have in the church.

Prototyping principles, yes. Slavishly following one way to transition, no.



What is a Healthy Cell?

The Pastoral Team of Cypress Creek Church is in the process of an exercise I wanted to share with this blogging community.  Simply put, we are “re-defining” what characteristics make up a healthy cell?  We have done this exercise time and time again over the last 15 years and have found it helpful in refocusing us for the task at hand.

Below, you will see plenty of ideas from at least ten pastors at CCC.  Once again– the question– “What is a healthy cell?”  Here we go:

Service (Others Centered), Fellowship, Accountability, Leadership Development, Word-centered, Christ’s Presence in the cell, Individual prayer voiced for each other in the cell gathering, Living life with each other outside of cell gathering, Inviting others consistently, Cell leader praying each day for cell members, Weekly contact by cell leader to each cell member, Multiplication, Seeing new people in the cell on a consistent basis, Changed lives, Shared leadership, Consistency (in meetings and vision casting), Spiritual growth of cell members, Experience the `awe’ of God together, Welcoming of change, Relationship development, Actively seek those not connected to Jesus or a cell, Missional (service to others), Bless (relationships that bless), Belong (people feel they belong), Belief (beliefs are visible in the lives of people), Birth (new people becoming Christ followers), Gifts of the Spirit are apparent in cell gathering/cell life, AND….Passionate Worship.

Our team’s task is to winnow these many ideas concerning a healthy cell to five characteristics.  Further, we would desire for these characteristics to be measurable in some form or fashion.  A daunting task?  Probably so.  Do we need help?  You bet!  That’s where your contribution would be appreciated. 

I would be delighted if 10-20 people in this community would take a few minutes and give us your opinion.  What would you say are five characteristics of a healthy cell?  May I encourage you to be creative… think outside the box… and craft something that would really “wow” cell church leaders throughout the world??  You may be used of God to enrich many cell leaders/churches around the globe.

Comments, PLEASE!!



Turn Intention into Reality

Myth: tell the church how wrong it is and how ideal cell church is
Truth: just do it. People need to see cell ministry worked out practically so they can experience it

Now I believe strongly in the cell church concept and try to promote it continually. Yet, cell vision and promotion must ultimately be turned into reality. Pastors that make cell groups work in their church are able to turn their intentions into reality.

Some pastors fall into the trap of “over-preaching” and “over-selling.” They are constantly talking about how wrong the present day church is and how cell church is the only true New Testament structure. Yet, some of these pastors are never able to put their heavenly vision into practical reality. They over-sell and under-deliver. The congregation gets tired of hearing how bad the church is today when they’re not seeing the cell church alternative working in their own church.

I promote the radical middle in cell ministry. The term Radical Middle highlights the radical nature of cell ministry yet also proclaims the need for practicality—it must work. The word radical means that cell ministry will often go against the grain of conventional thinking that says Sunday morning is church.

The middle is important because the sensitive cell church leader must make sure that the congregation is following and not left behind in a trail of idealism. Some pastors are very radical about cell ministry but just can’t seem to lead their congregations to follow along. The Radical Middle declares that great cell ministry will eventually work to make disciples, grow congregations, and plant new churches. Solutions, rather than idealism, will ultimately win the day.



Don’t Change for the Sake of Change

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 15:31, says, “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.”You’ll remember that I said on my blog last Wedneday:

Myth: Once you have a coaching model, stick by it

Truth: Change rapidly lest you’re left behind; always be innovating

Rick D. responded to last Wednesday’s blog in the comment section with a keen insight (you can read his entire comment on the site). Part of what he said was, “I totally disagree with you about ‘the need’ to be ever changing! . . . No, we shouldn’t try to ‘copy’ a model that God didn’t personally reveal to us. BUT, if God has personally revealed a cell-based model to you then you shouldn’t be about the business of ABORTING His vision . . .”  

As I look back on what I said, I realize that my wording seemed to indicate that I was advocating “change for the sake of change,” and thus, I appreciated Rick’s critique. Actually, I don’t believe that we should change what we’re doing just for the sake of change. If our coaching system is working for the glory of God, stick with it!

What I should have said is:Truth: Always be innovating and “perfecting” your coaching system–and if you find a better way to structure your coaching, go for it! I personally promote a coaching model I call G12.3. I even wrote an entire book on that coaching structure! Yet, I arrived at the G12.3 structure because I had the liberty to “perfect” what we were previously doing.

I believe God wants us to continually be improving and fine-tuning our coaching. Some have locked themselves into someone else’s model and don’t feel the creative liberty to improve and perfect what they’re doing. That was the main point behind my blog.



Coaching over training

by Steve Cordle

 I had the privelege of traveling with Joel Comiskey to visit Elim Church in San Salvador, El Salvador. Often regarded as the world’s second largest church, Elim had a weekly cell attendance of 120,000 adults and 30,000 children.

Since cells are the heartbeat of the church, I was surprised to discover that their cell leader training consisted of only 4 simple lessons. Then I learned about their coaching practice. When someone completes the 4 lessons and begins to lead a group, a coach attends every meeting with the leader. The coach is present every step to give the leader confidence, feedback, and to avoid pitfalls. The coach may not always be present for the entire meeting, but for the indefinite future, the coach is present at every meeting.

The principle? Coaching is more important than training. This is not to minimize an equipping track (our church has more than 4 sessions of leader training!) But it is to say that strong leaders are formed more by guided experience and personal tranference than by instruction and theory. How personal is your coaching?

The Myth of the Number Twelve

Myth: the number twelve brings life
Truth: there are many great numbers in the Bible

The Groups of Twelve strategy for coaching leaders has many great strengths. God used it mightily. One of the most negative aspects of the strategy was over-emphasizing the NUMBER twelve and teaching that a special anointing was upon that number. The number twelve is not the only number that carries great weight in the Bible. There were three disciples who had special intimacy with Jesus, Jesus was raised up on the third day, and there were three crosses at Calvary. God created the heavens and earth in seven days, the sabbatical year occurred every seven years. The day of Atonement occurred in the seventh month. Seven signified fulfillment and perfection. The number ten signifies completeness, as illustrated in the Ten Commandments. Forty is associated with God’s mighty acts in the history of Israel and the church.

On top of this, the New Testament provides no evidence that the apostles or other church leaders attached any significance to a specific number of disciples chosen in a church. In Acts, the New Testament history book, you won’t find the apostles diligently looking for twelve disciples in order to follow Jesus’ pattern of twelve disciples. In order to apply theological significance to a particular number of disciples in the church today, it is necessary for the entire bible to give witness to this practice. I find no substantiation for the idealization of the number twelve or any other number in Acts or the Epistles. In addition, it is absent in the rest of church history and 2000 years of theological development.

Follow principles and flee the “annointed number” mentality.



The Fellowship of the Mat

Four faithful friends…a paralyzed man…God’s healing power upon Jesus… and a house (with some roof damage).

The house was packed — people everywhere.  Jesus was in the house.  Four faithful friends had carried their friend– a paralyzed man– to Jesus.  I wonder how long they journeyed through the town?  A few blocks– or maybe a mile or two?  They must have experienced a little bit of frustration not being able to get into the house.  Ingenuity prevailed.

They ascended the house’s outer staircase and landed on the roof.  Quickly, they removed the tiles eventually breaking through the roof.  “Sorry for the dust and debris my friends, but we’re on a mission.”  It was now elevator time.  In this day, homes in Capernaum were– let’s just say– elevator free.  The faithful four attached ropes to each corner of the mat and meticulously lowered their friend right in front of Jesus.  What an suberb entry, eh?

Luke 5:20:  “Seeing THEIR (emphasis mine) faith, Jesus said to the man, `Son, your sins are forgiven.'”  You do see that word `THEIR,’ right?  The paralyzed friend did nothing except cooperate with the ride through town on a mat and the elevator stunt.  Yet, his sins were forgiven.  But, there’s more.

Luke 5:24:  “Stand up, take your mat, and go on home, because you are healed.”  You can finish the story.  Indeed, as everyone watched, the man jumped to his feet, picked up his mat, and went home praising God.

Consider this scenario as a cell gathering.  What do you think the members present would be talking about on the way home?  Were they murmuring because the child care was haphazard… the coffee was too weak… the “talker” was back and wouldn’t be silent for more than two minutes at any given time… the worship seemed flat?  Not exactly.  “Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe.  And they praised God, saying over and over again, `We have seen amazing things today.'”  What a cell gathering!

Some questions to ponder:

When you were on the mat, who held a corner for you?

Are you holding a corner for another right now?

Is the Lord’s healing power heavy in your midst?

Are your cell members gripped with wonder and awe?

What remodeling needs to take place in order to get the hurting and needy in the room?

What mat do you need to leave behind?

As a conduit of God’s care coupled with faith in Christ, grab a corner of the mat and let’s see Him change lives.

Please comment,


The Myth of Copying a Coaching Model

Myth: Once you have a coaching model, stick by it
Truth: Change rapidly lest you’re left behind; always be innovating

It’s our natural instinct to see the success of another cell church and want something similar. God does want to reach new people and disciple them through His church. The problem is that cell models don’t bring life–they are just the outward skin of the fruit beneath. When a pastor tries to copy a model cell church, the pastor loses his own creativity.

I was in a church recently that made the mistake of trying to follow the G12 model in its entirety. People in the church were forced into a rigid structure. It felt uncomfortable. The church finally abandoned it. I tried to share with them that principles, not models, bring life, yet this church was hesitant to try again because of the failed model approach to ministry.

The founder of any model normally has the freedom to change and adapt at will, but those who copy models lose that freedom.  I believe, in fact, that we must keep innovating in order to stay relevant. If we copy someone else’s model in its entirety, there is the danger of always being several steps behind, which will force us to play “catch-up.”   For example, if you try to copy Cho’s model or Elim’s model 100%, what will you do when they change?

Discover the cross-cultural principles of the church and implement those Biblical principles, rather than the model itself.