Vision with a Deadline

 by Steve Cordle

Today I’d like to continue the conversation that started with Joel’s post yesterday concerning the importance of goals in the multiplication process. (There were some great comments on that yesterday!)

Joel’s research found that a group is more likely to birth when the members (and leader) easily remembered the date of their expected multiplication. I believe this finding points to the role of vision rooted in faith.

A goal certainly can be merely a manifestation of fleshly ambition. However, that human-generated goal is a distortion of true vision. God gives vision to his people. When He wants to do something through His people, He usually gives someone a vision of what He wants to do. God even gives visions to cell leaders about what He wants to do through their cells!

In an earlier post I mentioned my conversation with the pastor of a great cell church in Kazakhstan. I asked him what he would say to a leader or pastor who is not seeing growth in his cells. He said he would first explore the faith they have for thier groups to multiply. He is saying that if we don’t truly believe and expect that our group will multiply, it probably won’t. God asks us to add our faith to His vision.

Rick Warren has said a goal is simply a dream (vision) with a deadline. Without the accountability of a goal, we can too easily drift into unfocused ministry and be lulled into contentment with the status quo.

It’s not our goals that bring the Kingdom, but goals allow us to more fully co-operate with God’s purposes. As Iain said in the comment section yesterday, a goal “helps us focus our faith on what we are aiming for (together with God).”

There is mystery here, but “without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”




Planning for Multiplication

John, the person who criticized my definition of the cell group, felt that multiplication could easily become divisive among cell members. He thought that it was best not to tell the group of future multiplication. Rather, when people were transformed, he reasoned, there would be a natural desire to multiply. But is it so simple?

If you don’t tell the people in the group that multiplication is the plan, would they suddenly rejoice in multiplying because one or more people were transformed? And wouldn’t this be a “bait and switch” strategy to inform them after a transformation had occurred? I think it’s far better to tell the group from the beginning what the game plan is. If you tell them soon enough (perhaps a year before you actually multiply), you’ll give them plenty of time to prepare their hearts.

The idea of setting a multiplication goal was confirmed in my Ph.D. research of seven large cell churches in eight different countries. The 700 cell leaders surveyed were asked, “Do you know when your group is going to multiply?” Possible answers were “yes,” “no,” or “not sure.” When the survey results were analyzed, cell leaders who knew their goal—when their groups would give birth—consistently multiplied their groups more often than leaders who don’t know or just “hope it will happen.” In fact, if a cell leader fails to set goals that the cell members clearly remember, the group has about a 50-50 chance of multiplying. But if the leader sets a clear goal for multiplication, the chance of multiplying increases to three out of four.

It’s my observation that the focus of most small group ministry is exclusively community. I’ve also noticed, however, that  community and personal growth does not lead to multiplicaiton. There needs to be a clear focus and vision to reach beyond the group to others–to give away the community. And the group leader and coach need to promote multiplication to actually make it happen. The idea that it will simply happen “when” people are transformed is idealistic thinking, in my opinion.

What do you think?


Three Key Ingredients for Cell Multiplication

I believe Joel’s post yesterday on cell multiplication was excellent.  In essence, he suggested this definition of a cell:  “A cell is a group of 3-15 people who meet weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community– with the goal of making disciples that results in multiplication.”  It’s a slight tweak from Joel’s previous definition of the cell.  I like it.  Read yesterday’s post if you happened to miss it.

Indeed, multiplication is quite a challenge for the majority of cell churches.  I would like to offer three quick thoughts that can easily be overlooked as we seek to make disciples that results in multiplication. 

Here are three necessary ingredients for a healthy cell multiplication to occur.

First, pray for your cell members to grow in Christ and for the Holy Spirit to place in their hearts a desire to lead a cell.  My fellow JCG team members (Joel and Steve) tackled prayer in the cell last week in their posts and offered some outstanding thoughts, suggestions, strategies, and more.  To be specific, wouldn’t it be great to know that God was the catalyst behind your cell multiplying?  You, therefore, can relieve yourself of arm-twisting, spiritualizing, and/or manipulating others.  Let God be God and allow Him to birth your future cell multiplication.  Pray consistently with great anticipation of what God is going to do.

Next, love your cell members.  Think of how Jesus loved his disciples.  Have you ever considered that Jesus loved his disciples into the ministry?  In other words, it was through the love of Christ that his disciples were invited to carry the gospel message to the world.  Love was the motivation of Christ.  It can be our motivation as well.  Love you cell members in such a way that they trust God’s leading meshed with your desire for them to one day lead a cell. 

Finally, “Passion will find a way.”  JCG team member Steve Cordle said that to me two years ago as we were discussing cell multiplication.  Here’s what that phrase means to me.  When an individual is passionate about God and the vision of the church, then cell multiplication will happen.  Steve has learned over the years that a passionate cell leader will find a way for cell multiplication to take place.  He/she is able to prioritize his/her life call, being ever mindful of potential distractions and detours.

Needless to say, when people ask me:  “How do you multiply the cells in your church?”  I respond, “Through prayer, love, and passion.”  By the way, I’ve tried to multiply cells in many other ways and made some silly mistakes and serious miscalculations.

One final thought:  Don’t minimize the importance of multiplication.  It’s vital. 



The Goal of Cell Multiplication?

Recently someone criticized my cell definition: A cell is a group of 3-15 people who meet weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community, and discipleship with the goal of multiplication.

Most people that criticize this definition focus on the part about weekly cell meetings or the phrase “outside the church building.” John (not real name), however, criticized the part that says, “with the goal of multiplication.” He argued that the goal should not be multiplication but transformation. He expanded on this by saying that the real goal is Christ’s presence in the cell.

Yes, I agree that the real goal of God’s glory and Christ’s presence is beyond any definition. In reality, the over-arching goal of the Christian life is God’s glory and Christ’s presence, and this is certainly implied in my above definition.

I also have to admit that multiplication can be misinterpreted as multiply at all costs. I visited one cell church in which each cell leader led two to three cell groups. This church was so hung up on reaching “the goal” that they failed to develop leaders.

When I talk about multiplication, I’m referring to leadership development–the essence of the cell church. Multiplication is simply the context in which disciples are made. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:18-20 that we are called to make disciples who make disciples. Multiplication simply provides the venue for making disciples who make disciples.

Thus, if you wanted to be technical, you could finish my definition this way, “with the goal of making disciples that results in multiplication.”

I believe it’s important to include multiplication in the definition because it gives practical direction and necessary movement to the cell. It reminds the leader and members why the cell exists–to penetrate a lost world through raising up disciples who make other disciples.



Prayer: Interceding for others

In the last two blogs, I focused on church-wide prayer and individual prayer. Yet, don’t forget the need to intercede for others. Paul the apostle was constantly asking for others to pray for him:

In Colossians 4:3-4, he says, “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” This is not the only time Paul asks for prayer. In I Thessalonians 5:25, Paul says, “Brothers, pray for us.” In Romans 15:30, Pauls says, Now I be you, brothers, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive with me in your prayers to God for me.” Again in 2 Corinthians 1:11 Paul says, You also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.” Then again in Philippians 1:19, Pauls says, For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Finally in Philemon 22 he says, “I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.”

Praying for others is essential. Of the many factors studied in my survey of 700 cell leaders in eight countries, the one with the greatest effect on whether a cell multiplies is how much time the cell leader spends praying for the cell members. This case study proves that daily prayer by the cell leader for the members is essential for a healthy, growing group. The survey asked cell leaders how much time they spend praying for the members of their group. The responses: Sixty-four percent pray daily for their cell, 16 percent every other day, 11 percent once a week, and 9 percent “sometimes.” Comparing these answers with the data on cell multiplication confirms that cell leaders who pray daily for their members are far more likely to multiply cells than those who pray for them only once in a while.

Praying daily for cell members transforms your relationship with them. God uses prayer to change your heart toward the people for whom you are interceding. A oneness develops through the bonding power that prayer creates. Paul writes: “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Colossians 2:5). This verse seems to indicate that it’s possible to be present “in spirit” with someone through prayer. Prayer opens our hearts to others and enables us to touch people at a deeper level.

Regularly praying for someone can mend your broken relationship with that person. Through prayer, the healing balm of the Holy Spirit often breaks the strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness. Prayer changes cells. Those cell leaders who pray daily for each member of the group are more effective in cell ministry.

When you speak with your cell members, tell them, “I’m praying daily for you.” It develops an immediate bond with that person. In Prayer Shield, C. Peter Wagner details the necessity of intercessory prayer for Christian leaders, as well as how to recruit it. Frankly, this book should be mandatory reading for everyone in cell leadership. Every level of church leadership needs to develop a prayer shield and also form part of someone else’s prayer shield. Practically, this means that cell leaders pray daily for each person in their cell group. Section leaders pray daily for each cell leader in their section. Zone pastors pray daily for their section leaders; district pastors pray daily for their zone pastors. Finally, the senior pastor prays daily for the district pastors.


Prayer Ideas


By Steve Cordle

Joel has been reminding and challenging us to make prayer the foundation for our cell ministry.

Here are a few more ways to build prayer into your cell ministry:

– distribute specific prayer focus points to your leaders for them to pray in concert in cells

– highlight answered prayer in weekend messages (nothing motivates prayer like answered prayer!)

– As part of the weekly cell meeting agenda, ask for accounts of answered prayer before praying for requests of the members

– If you are a pastor, hang the pictures of your cell leaders on the wall near your desk with a reminder to pray for them daily.

– Give each cell coach a frame with pictures of their leaders (for prayer reminder), and also allow the frame to contain a couple of blank spots as a way to envision future leaders

– set your cell phone alarm to ring daily at 10:02 to remind you to pray each daily in accordance with Luke 10:2 – that the Lord of the harvest would raise up more leaders in your ministry. Encourage each cell leader to do the same to pray for an apprentice.

– Encourage cells to do “prayer outreachs”; for example: a cell can set up a booth at a community fair where the members offer free popcorn and free prayer to all who come by. They can give a card with a group member’s cell phone number so the person can contact the group in the future.

– buy a gift subscription to “Pray!” magazine for each cell leader. 

Those are a few ways to stimulate prayer on your cell ministry – What other ideas do you have?



Prayer: Take Time to be Holy

Paul the apostle said in Colosians 4:2-4, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”

Paul was not only speaking to the entire Colossian church, he directed his exhortation to each indivdiual Colossian believer. Spending personal time with Jesus in daily devotions is absolutely essential. I believe it’s the most important discipline of the Christian life.

I discovered in my survey of 700 cell leaders in eight different countries that the cell leader’s devotional life consistently appeared among the top three most important variables. The correlation between cell multiplication and the leader spending time with God is clear. The cell leaders surveyed were asked: “How much time do you spend in daily devotions? (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, etc.).” They chose one of five options, ranging from 0 to 15 minutes daily to over 90 minutes. The following table summarizes the devotional patterns of those cell leaders who filled out a questionnaire:

  • 0 to 15 minutes– 11.7%
  • 15 to 30 minutes– 33.2%
  • 30 to 60 minutes– 33.8%
  • 60 to 90 minutes– 7.6%
  • 90+ minutes– 13.7%

In the same questionnaire, cell leaders were asked whether their group had multiplied and, if so, how many times. Those who spent 90 minutes or more in daily devotions multiplied their groups twice as much as those who spent less than half an hour.

The correlation is a logical one. During quiet times alone with the living God, the cell leader hears God’s voice and receives His guidance. In those still moments, the leader understands how to deal with the constant talker, how to wait for a reply to a question, or how to minister to a hurting member of the group. Cell leaders moving under God’s guidance have an untouchable sense of direction and leadership. Group members respond to a leader who hears from God and knows the way. God brings success. This statistical study is simply further proof of that.

Daily devotional time is the single most important discipline in the Christian life. During that daily time, Jesus transforms us, feeds us, and gives us new revelation. On the other hand, not spending sufficient time with God can bring the agony of defeat. How often have we raced out of the house, hoping to accomplish a little bit more, only to return bruised, depressed, and hurt? When we start the day without time with our Lord, we lack power and joy to face the demands of life.

For more information on this important topic, check out my my book, An Appointment with the King




The Antithesis to a Miserable Life

What you call your cell groups says a lot about what you are trying to accomplish through cell life.  My church family’s cell groups are called HEART groups (H- Home, E-  Encouragement, A-  Accountability, R-  Relationship, T-  Teaching).  In this post, I want to concentrate on the Big “E”– Encouragement.

My pastoral team recently attended an interactive, experiential leadership conference.  You deliberate with a small group of individuals for a few days which leads a participant to a deeper level of how he/she is wired in the leadership realm.  As my team shared about their experience, it was evident that they “lit up” when they discussed how they had been ENCOURAGED by their fellow group members.

Years ago, the overseers of my church utlilized Leadership Catalyst’s affirmation exercise.  It’s a simple exercise in which you focus on one individual and spend a concentrated amount of time affirming him.  I’ll never forget one of the overseers saying, “Thank you gentlemen.  I’ve waited all my life to hear those words and I’ll never forget them.”  His life changed because of the power of encouragement. 

Recently, I ran across a list entitled “How to be Perfectly Miserable.”  I don’t know the origin of the list, but I do want to share it with you.  Here’s a few things you can do that will not only make you perfectly miserable but also keep you that way.

1.  Think about yourself, 2.  Talk about yourself, 3.  Use the personal pronoun “I” as often as possible in your conversation, 4.  Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others, 5.  Listen greedily to what people say about you, 6.  Insist on consideration and respect, 7.  Demand agreement with your own views on everything, 8.  Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown them, 9.  Never forget a service you may have rendered, 10.  Expect to be appreciated, 11.  Be suspicious, 12.  Be sensitive to slights, 13.  Be jealous and envious, 14.  Never forget a criticism, and 15.  Trust noboby but yourself.

Sounds like a pathway to a miserable life, eh?  Here’s my point.  Cell gathering and cell life are incredible platforms for encouragement to flow.   “Encourage one another.”  Yes, this is a simple but powerful command from scripture.  God is the “lifter of our head.”  How God wants to use you to lift up the head of your fellow cell member!

A journeyman walking down a miserable path is inward focused.  He’s not others-centered.  One will never find himself until he/she focuses on the needs of others.

Allow your cells to teem with encouragement. 



Jesus and the Cell Church

As I said in my newsletter this month, Jesus, not structure is the key to cell church success. And the key way to commune with Jesus is through prayer. Prayer is the power behind the cell church. Prayer should never be categorized as a program. It’s beyond that. I believe prayer and missions provide the air that the church breathes. All of the growing cell churches I studied made prayer their priority. They emphasized prayer both in the cell and in the celebration. These churches organized morning prayer meetings, half-night prayer meetings, all night prayer meetings, or other types of organized prayer.

A few weeks ago, I ate lunch with David and Ty King, the pastors at York Alliance Church in York, PA. Ty King is passionate about prayer and has done an excellent job of promoting prayer at York Alliance. She asked me if I could give her advice about prayer in the cell church. My answer was to check out the prayer ministry at Cypress Creek Church (pastor Rob Campbell, also a board member at JCG).

I’ve taken two groups of pastors to Cypress Creek Church. Both times, I came away energized by the power of God through prayer. When this church was first started in 1994, the very first person they hired was Cecilia Belvin, the pastor of prayer. Cecilia has developed likeminded prayer warriors at CCC. Today, Cypress Creek Church has one of the most vital prayer ministries I have ever encountered. God has blessed this church abundantly because they’ve placed Him first.

Here at Wellspring we have a weekly Wedneday evening prayer meeting and a once per month half-night prayer meeting. Of course, the cells engage in regular prayer as well.

Why do you believe that the power behind the cell church is Jesus and His work through prayer? 
Joel Comiskey

The Strength of Smaller Cells

Most cell churches need fine-tuning. The one main critique I offered to York Alliance Church was that their cell groups were too large. Most of these cells had 15-20 adults and were in need of multiplication. I challenged them to envision thirty-five cells and to make the vision a reality as soon as possible. As I shared in Wednesday’s blog, I loved the actual cell meeting at York Alliance and I’ve been boasting in the incredible things that God is doing.

Yet, unless a beautiful vine is trimmed, it’s very difficult to continue bearing fruit (John 15). Here are few dangers of overly larger cell groups:

1. No desire to invite newcomers. When a cell has 15 adults or more, there is simply no desire among members to make it more crowded by inviting their non-Christian or unchurched friends–or even inviting those who are attending the Sunday service but are not in a cell group. It’s simply too large. And who would want to host such a large cell? Thus, the unspoken thinking among members is let’s keep this cell manageable by not inviting anyone else. Thus, large cells actually hinder the overall cell growth of the congregation.

2. Harder to lead a large cell. When a cell is too large, it becomes a harder task to actually lead it. It simply takes more time to prepare, call the members, etc., etc. Thus, those who are leading large cells will often want to step down to try an easier ministry after awhile.

3. Doesn’t model simplicity of facilitation in leadership. Another more subtle consequence of a large cell is that future leaders won’t easily step up to the plate. Potential leaders might feel like they’re not the “leader type.” In the mind of a potential leader, it appears that leading a cell requires a certain charisma, organizational skill, etc., etc. Thus, if the groups are too big, fewer potential leaders will volunteer to lead future multiplications.

4. Community suffers. Shy Mary won’t talk much in a larger cell group. She just doesn’t feel comfortable. She will speak in a group of 5-10 adults, but just doesn’t feel comforgable in a larger atmosphere.

The average size of our cell groups in Ecuador was 7.5. I was in one famous cell church that multiplied their cells at ten people. Our groups here at Wellspring are also smaller. The strength of smaller cells include:

1. Each member has to work harder to reach out. Yes, there’s some pain involved, but the growth can only go upward. There’s always room for that open chair and the new invitee. In fact, smaller cells long for growth.

2. New leadership will more readily step up to the plate. It’s far easier to lead a group of eight people than one with 15-20.

3. Shy Mary feels extremely comfortable in sharing. Thus, community is sweeter

4. Hosting the cell is more manageable.

I believe that leadership development (mulitplying disciples who make disciples) is at the heart of cell leadership. Christ’s plea in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”