Church Planting: How Did Paul the Apostle Do it?

joelIn ten years Paul established the church in four provinces of the Empire: Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces. In AD 57 Paul could speak of his work being accomplished.

In his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Allen writes:

This is truly an astonishing fact. That churches should be founded so rapidly, so securely, seems to us today, accustomed to the difficulties, the uncertainties, the failures, the disastrous relapses of our own missionary work, almost incredible. Those who write off what Paul did as “exceptional” “ one-of-a-kind” and “not applicable” look to other texts for examples. Yet, this is what the Holy Spirit has given us. And isn’t it true that all Scripture is given for our learning? The bottom line is that just about all church planting methods are placed upon Paul. Most church planters look to Paul and the Scriptures for justification of what they’re doing. So it is extremely relevant to ask what Paul did and whether we should follow this. We westerners have the tendency to want to promote everything we are and do as the right way. In other words, we go to cultures and to places and we establish our western style of thinking. This surely is not in tune with Paul the apostle and his methods. There’s a validity of trying to discover what the apostle Paul did and how his strategy lines up with our own strategy roland allen's booktoday.

Allen goes on to assess the practice back in the days of English missions of first securing land, then a building, and there’s always the plea for more funds to finance these expensive endeavors. One of the key reasons for this is:

. . . the prevalence of the idea that the stability of the church in some way depends upon the permanence of its buildings. And of course, since we’re part of this heritage, we do the same thing. We think that the building makes the church plant secure, when in fact it does not. When we have secured a site and buildings we feel that the mission is firmly planted; we cannot then be easily driven away. A well-built church seems to imply a well-founded, stable society. Yet, we start mixing the metaphors and we assume that the building has something to do with the actual church, when it does not. So the externals of religion precede the inculcation of its principles. We must have the material establishment before we build the spiritual house.

Allen goes on to say, “Christianity is not an institution, but a principle of life. By importing an institution, we tend to obscure the truly spiritual character of our work. We take the externals first and so we make it easy for new converts to put the external in the place of the internal.”

My prayer is that God would raise up an army of church planters who want nothing else but God’s work in their midst. How we need a cell church planting movement that can rapidly expand and doesn’t have to be tied to one place or one building. We have to be so careful not to bind members to a building program or heaps of programmatic tasks in order to maintain the program. It’s all about life and reality rather than externals.

Mobilizing Blessing


By Steve Cordle

Often, when I see a picture of a cell group, it is a circle of people in a living room. And, appropriately, that is what our groups look like much of the time.

But in order for our groups to be true Kingdom outposts, they also need to break out of the living room and engage the hurting and needy people of its community from time to time.

Of course, evangelism extends the Kingdom. But we also demonstrate the kingdom when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Groups can do that well!  I’ve seen groups gather and distribute clothing for the homeless, repair the homes of people who can’t do it themselves, and contribute money to support a child overseas, among many other acts of service. In fact, a woman in the group I now lead first connected with our church when a men’s group changed her oil for free. She is now a growing disciple of Jesus.

Do your groups get out of the living room regularly? If so, they are reflecting the kingdom by pushing back hurt and pain in Jesus’ name. If not, give it a try and see the blessing flows both ways!

What serving ideas have worked for your groups?

Church Planting and Roland Allen

joelMy book writing projects for 2007-2008 are:

1. A book on church planting with a special emphasis on cell church planting (approximately 200 pages).

2. A smaller “how to” book on how to plant a cell church (approximately 95 pages).

I’ve been working on a cell church planting book for the last eight years and have a lot of material at this stage of the rough draft. I love this topic Roland Allenbecause church planting is the natural result of raising up a disciple (leader) who can make other disciples (new leaders). Some of those disciple-makers will want to continue the process all the way to starting a cell church plant.

As I’m going over this rough draft, I once again find myself in love with the writings of Roland Allen (1868 – 1947). Allen was born in England, the son of an Anglican priest but was orphaned early in life. Allen spent two periods in Northern China. These early experiences led him to a radical reassessment of his own vocation and the theology and missionary methods of the Western churches. Allen became an early advocate of establishing Churches which from the beginning would be self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing–rather than simply imitating Western Christianity.

Allen’s approach to Mission strategy for indigenous Churches is based on the study of Saint Paul’s missionary methods. He believed that Paul’s recognition of the church as a local entity and trust in the Holy Spirit’s indwelling within the converts and churches was the mark of his success. Allen felt that the people of his day were unable to entrust their converts to the Holy Spirit and rely on the Holy Spirit’s work in them. Allen wrote a MUST READ book called Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? which was first published in 1912.

He also wrote an excellent book called The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Allen’s view became increasingly influential, though Allen himself became disillusioned with the established churches. He spent the last years of his life in Kenya, establishing a church of his own. 

For the next few blogs, I’d like to include some of Allen’s key quotes and offer my commentary.


[please check out the source for the above picture of Roland Allen]

Created to be Creative

“In the beginning, God CREATED…” “Man is CREATED in the image of God…”

The American church is becoming more and more creative. I believe this to be true. Artists, authors, songwriters, web-techs, musicians, speakers, webmasters, and more have provided useful models in the realm of the creative.

The cell church should not be left behind. A clarion call is due for cell church practitioners to move forward, advance the kingdom of God, and reach the future leadership which is in the harvest through creativity. Copying models of old should be avoided and creative attempts to do new things heralded.

A cell church is a two winged church, right? It is cells and Celebration. I’m thankful for the cell church pioneers who taught me this back in the day. Allow me to tell you about an experience that I shared with my church family during Celebration this past Sunday.

One of our worship leaders, Grayson Belvin, chatted with me a few weeks ago about an idea. Gray said, “How cool would it be to write a song during worship? I mean right there on the spot– write a song and sing it together as a spiritual family.” A discussion ensued and a few other pastors on the team joined the lively and CREATIVE process.

Here’s how his creative idea culminated this past Sunday during Celebration. During the praise and worship time, Grayson invited anyone to come to two large sheets of paper and write down a word or two– even a sentence or a phrase in the context of “What God Thinks About Me” (which happened to be the message title for the teaching). It was fascinating to see young and old participate– men, women, parents with children in tow.

This time of worship concluded. The worship team grabbed the large pieces of paper and journeyed to a room near the worship center. I began to teach on “What God Thinks About You.” I wrapped up the message and prayed.

After the prayer, the worship team sang a song– a new song. You see, during my teaching, they took the words, phrases, sentences from the church family (the “lyrics”) and wrote a song. Not only for one time of Celebration, but for two Celebration services. Yes sir and mam, a NEW SONG for each Celebration gathering. The words were projected on the screens and the church family joined in the new song.

After the song was sung by the full worship team and the Celebration attenders, I shared with the church family what just took place. Shouts of praise…tears of joy…appreciative smiles… bewildered looks that suggested “How did they do that?”…glory to the creative God…filled the room.

“Creativity is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found” (James Russell Lowell, US Diplomat, essayist, poet, 1819-1891).

May God’s creative Spirit flow through you today!


by Rob Campbell

Children and Youth Cells

joel One pastor I’m coaching recently wrote, “We have no idea what to do with the children in the adult cell groups. Some of our adults have been including the children and teens in their lessons, however, this is taking away the teens from the program that is in place for them. childrenINcellsWhich leads into how can we make cell groups work for teens?”

His question is one that many pastors, leaders, and churches are asking. The following is the gist of the answer that I gave him:

If you’re referring to children in the cell, I think it’s great for young adolescents to lead children’s cells. This gives them something to do and prepares them to be disciples. My oldest daughter, Sarah (16), has led cells for years. My second born, Nicole (13), is leading a cell right now. My youngest, Chelsea (11), is the associate of Nicole’s cell. The cells that my daughters lead are connected with normal cell groups that have children present. Ideally, the parents can help prepare adolescent cell leaders with the cell lessons, thus, making discipleship a home-grown process.

I recommend that the children/adolescents stay with the adults for the ice-breaker and the worship time, and then they leave to do their own cell lesson. Normally, the kids will come back and share what they learned. Last night, for example, the children’s cell presented a paper chain they created with different names of sins they had confessed to each other during the cell group. The idea was to then to break the chain, signifying Christ breaking our bondage and freeing us from sin (they will get together today to actually break the paper chain).

The second part of the pastor’s question referred to youth cells. I told him, “I have quite a complete article on youth cells at”

If you’re reading this blog and are interested in youth cells, I’d encourage you also to read the above article.



God’s Sovereignty

joel Persecution is good for the church. Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” (Revelation 2:8-9). The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Persecution causes the church to grow stronger. Look at China. When Mao came to power in 1949 there were a few million believers in China. Now there are probably 100 million. I’ve personally witnessed on various occassions how that Christ grows His church during hard times and under difficult conditions. venezuela

I noticed similar pressures in Venezuela. The Chavez government is trying to control the churches and politicize them as part of the government’s progoganda machine. Those who oppose the government’s policies are carefully watched and subtle forms of persecution already exist (e.g., lack of job promotions, etc.).

A few days ago I talked to a pastor’s kid from Venezuela who told me that he felt like God was purging and pruning  Venezuela, so that the people would wake up from their slumber. I bore witness to what he was saying. God loves us so much, in fact, that He’ll do whatever it takes to make us more like Him.

I was very grieved by the political pressures and problems in Venezuela and felt so sad for the people who find themselves trapped in a very difficult situation. Yet the third day in Venezuela while having my devotions, God showed me His sovereignty through the book of Daniel and the book of Revelations. He’s in control of nations, governments, and all people. He sets up one and disposes another. We can trust in our powerful, loving God. And so can the people in Veneuzuela. The gates of hell won’t prevail against Christ’s church, and I could testify that Christ’s church is alive and well in Venezuela.

Let’s remember that God is His soverignty uses hard times to mold and shape us.


On Guard

By Steve Cordle

It was a tearful scene. The Apostle Paul was saying good-bye to the leaders of the church in Ephesus, and everyone was quite emotional. (Acts 20)

Like a parent dropping off a child at college for the first time, Paul was excited and confident in the church’s future, but…. he also couldn’t help but wonder if they’d survive the new challenges they’d face without him around. “I know that fater I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (v. 29)

As group leaders, when we finally leaves a group to our apprentice, we might wonder how they will fare. When a coach lets the new leader go on his own for a while, he may be concerned about what will happen.

It is true they will face problems, even savage wolves. But God’s power is greater, which is why Paul wrote about the armor of God. (Eph. 6) If you lead leaders, it is very helpful to pray for the armor of God to be upon them. And we can encourage them to be on guard for the inevitable attacks from the evil one, who doesn’t like what they are doing.

We need not fear, but anyone in a battle should take realisitic precautions! it is a joy to know the Lord has already provided us what we need: his armor.


Cell Ministry in Venezuela

joel Last Sunday I returned from a week-long cell ministry trip in Caracas, Venezuela (my first trip to Venezuela). The people are super friendly–like most Latin Americans. When I do cell seminars around the world, I use a personal rating system of 1-3 (3 being the highest), depending on how the people responded and what I felt about the entire trip. This trip received a “3.” It was excellent. The Las Acacias church took great care of me. Someone was assigned to me during and after each speaking session. I wasn’t left to fend for myself. I actually felt renewed throughout the venezuelaentire time.

Yet, the highlight was the hunger and responses among the participants. They were captivated by the cell church message–especially the message that cell church is based on following principles rather than models. The G12 movement is strong in Venezuela, and many churches have been divided over it and hurt as a result. The pastores and leades who attended the seminar were encouraged to follow timeless cell church principles that they could apply in their own culture and context. One hundred participants bought the videos of the entire conference. I received multiple invitations to return to Venezuela to speak to pastors in other parts of Venezuela.

Do pray for Venezuela. Life is tough for the people under the new regime (e.g., communistic socialism). I heard story after story of the abuse of human rights in Venezuela. Most of the people that I talked with are pessimistic about the future. Yet, we do know that God allows trials and sufferings to turn people to Himself. Pray that Christ’s church would continue to grow and prosper during these hard times.



An Encouraging Note

Isn’t it great to receive an encouraging note?  It lifts your spirit and helps you stay in the fight.  I received such a note a few weeks ago.  The note’s author is Tom who is a Southwest Airline pilot and cell leader in my church family.  Here are a few paragraphs.

“Reach, Connect, Disciple, Send.  These are four simple words that are on a banner in our worship center.  The banner, like the church, is not fancy; in fact, you may miss it unless you really look closely.  Yet the words on the banner have been experienced in my life.”

“When I first started to attend Cypress Creek Church, I thought it would be a typical American church in which I could sit quietly, unnoticed in the back and be fed the word of God.  No participation on my part was required.  I could stay in my little comfort zone.  Little did I know that I was being equipped to do the work of God in my city and beyond.”

“Not long after my first worship experience at CCC, a man took the time to REACH out and introduced himself to me.  We talked and eventually set up a time to have breakfast.  At this meal, or CONNECTION time, we talked about our families and our lives.  We talked more over the weeks ahead and eventually decided to commit to reading a few books of the Bible.  You see, what he was very gently doing was beginning a DISCIPLING relationship with me.  I learned so much from this man as he took the time to disciple and mentor me.”

“The last word:  SEND.  I lead a cell group each week with my wife.  I have the opporunity to disciple other men.  I have walked dusty trails in foreign lands to share God’s word with not-yet believers.  And here is a stretch:  I’ve even shared my faith journey with friends at work.  I now look forward to when God is going to stretch me because I know that I am going to see God at work in my life and the lives of those around me.”

“Reach, Connect, Disciple, Send.  These are four words that meant nothing to me in the beginning, but now I see how this experiential process is one way for equipping God’s people to live out the Great Commission.”

My friends, do not grow weary….May God grant you encouragement this day and week as you follow Him. 


by Rob Campbell


God’s Word in the Cell

joel During the sharing of the Word in the small group (normally after the worship time), God speaks to our hearts through the Bible. Many small groups follow the same theme and Scripture passage as was used in the Sunday-morning message. Even if this is the case, it’s best not to discuss what the Biblepastor said on Sunday.

The people should interact with God’s Word, not with the sermon, which is merely the words of one human being. The reason is simple: If the sermon itself is the reference point, visitors and those who missed the celebration service will feel isolated. They’ll feel inhibited in freely participating in the group.

Remember that the Word and the Spirit-led worship go hand in hand. There’s a lot of truth in the oft-repeated phrase, “Without the Spirit, Christians will dry up, but without the Word of God, believers will blow up.” Both the Spirit and the Word are essential. God wants to use both to transform His Church through the small group. He uses the Word to keep us on track, but the only way we can apply the Word of God is through the Spirit of God.