Open vs. closed groups


by Steve Cordle

Recently a new member to our church responded to our open, outreach-oriented group philosophy by asking “Didn’t Jesus have a closed group?” Our new friend had been part of a thriving church in another state that had used the closed small group approach. The thinking there is that authentic community will be hard to acheive if new people are always joining the group.

It’s a great question! My answer is that, yes, Jesus had a closed group of 12. However, we would say that Jesus’ closed group equated to the coaching group, not the open cell.

Like most cell churches, we use both open cell and coaching group (or G-12, or 5×5 meeting in other churches). The coaching group is made up of a leader who has birthed groups and is now working with those leaders. It is a training and discipling environment, rather like the one Jesus had with his 12. The open cell is the basic expression of the church, and as such it must be open. It is where the purposes of the church are lived out. To close it is to close off the church and shut down the evangelistic culture of the church.

Additionally, I recently heard Jim Egli share that his research shows that open groups actually experience a higher level of community than do closed groups. It seems counter-intuitive, but that’s what he found (watch for the info to appear in a book this Fall)

So we need not fear that by using open groups we are deviating from Jesus’ model. If we are coaching leaders in a group format we are using his model! And we need not fear that we are “watering down” the sense of community people can experience, we are actually increasing it while accomplishing the purposes of God for His people.

Circle Up (Part Two)

by Rob Campbell

In my post last week, I wrote about a circular versus a linear equipping track for a cell church.  A few in this blog community wanted me to comment more on this idea.  So, here we go.

Last week, I wrote:  “When you provide to your (potential) leaders a circular training experience, then you are joining them in their real life journey.  You are coming alongside them in a practical, reasonable and workable manner.  You are acknowledging that they have a life that may not always mesh with the calendar of the church.”

A circular equipping track is not step by step (or linear).  For example, one key ingredient in my church family’s equipping track is the Encounter weekend.  Currently, we offer this retreat once a year (maybe twice a year).  For illustrative purposes, let’s say the next Encounter retreat is in October.  Yet, in August (two months prior to the Encounter retreat) we want to equip our potential leaders in “Developing a Heart for the Harvest.”  Back in the day, we required our potential leaders to attend Encounter and then enroll in “Developing a Heart for the Harvest.”  This was a mistake.  The pastoral team helped me see:  “While we desire to equip our people, life is happening.”  We needed to shift from a linear training mindset to a circular mindset.    In simplest terms, precise order– step 1, step 2, step 3 must be relinquished; therefore, a potential leader can attend any equipping event that is currently being offered.  It’s CIRCULAR!

I’ll be the first to confess that it’s not always tidy and may even seem illogical.  Yet, this circular equipping track is pliable, flexible and fluid.

Further, the tools that you use to equip potential leaders are important, but not the main thing in equipping.  Forging and deepening relationship through the equipping tools that you utilize is the main thing. 




The Cell Driven Strategy

JOELI coined the term “the cell-driven strategy” to conceptualize the need to make cell ministry the driving force of church life, rather than an extrapriorities ministry or program. I noticed so many pastors consumed with Sunday celebration services to the point that they lost their concentration on cell ministry. Take Pastor Mark, for example. As I coached him over the months, I found that he naturally spent more time trying to attract people to the Sunday celebration service. He focused on sermon preparation, visiting, and dreaming of a crowd on Sunday. Cell ministry received leftover attention. When I challenged him on this, he acknowledged that he got a high from the Sunday crowd and didn’t get that same excitement from cell ministry.

This problem is not only on a pastoral level. I recently talked to someone who confessed to me that she loved the idea of cell ministry but simply didn’t have the time for it. She volunteered for children’s ministry in her church and had to make a concerted effort to go to a worship service to receive teaching. She just didn’t have time to attend one of her church’s home groups. Most church people follow a similar paradigm–involvement in a cell group is “extra.”

I”m asking this question because here at Wellspring we’ve been talking about moving to weekly celebration services. This has alwasy been our goal but as the cells grew stronger and more people were gathered. Currently we meet weekly in cell groups and prayer meetings but all the cells celebrate together once per month on Sunday and once per month during the Saturday half-night prayer meeting. Our current schedule assures that the cells drive all we do as a church.

What would you recommend to help us prioritize cell ministry? For you who have both weekly cell and celebration, what do you do to prioritize cell life and to keep it from simply becoming one of the many options?
Joel Comiskey

Training for Cell Ministry

marioby Mario Vega

At the beginning of our work with cells, training new leaders was fast. Our training course was only four sessions long. Every four weeks we had a new leader’s graduation.

One of the advantages of having such a short course was that it allowed the fast formation of new leaders at a time when the expansion of the trainwork required new leaders on a permanent basis.

But there were also disadvantages; such a short course could not give much information to the new leaders who began their work without having a vision of the whole cell model philosophy. Even us that were at the forefront didn’t know all the details. This would produce difficulties, mainly the “mini- service” syndrome.

At present, our training course lasts twelve weeks. I think that it’s still brief, but enough to provide the essential foundations of the cell work.

In our model we need to fill a void having a training route that could take a person from his conversion up to becoming a cell leader. We have reviewed other training courses models (Neighbour, Comiskey, Weitzs, Lay), but we feel that we need to design something that is more coupling to the Latin American reality, and specifically Salvadorian. The components must be: simplicity, practicality and dynamism.

The training course is essential for the work with small groups because it is the way for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry.

What has been your experience in this field?




Curso de capacitación.
Al inicio de nuestro trabajo con células la capacitación de los nuevos líderes se realizaba de manera rápida. Nuestro curso de entrenamiento solamente constaba de cuatro sesiones. Cada cuatro semanas teníamos una nueva promoción de líderes.
Una de las ventajas de un curso tan corto era que permitía la formación de nuevos líderes de manera rápida en un momento cuando la expansión del trabajo requería de nuevos líderes de manera permanente.
Pero también había desventajas, un curso tan corto no podía dar mucha información a los nuevos líderes que iniciaban su trabajo sin tener una visión de toda la filosofía del modelo celular. Ni siquiera los que estábamos al frente conocíamos todos los detalles. Esto produciría dificultades principalmente la del síndrome del ‘mini-culto’.
En la actualidad, nuestro curso de capacitación dura doce semanas. Creo que todavía es breve pero lo suficiente como para brindar los fundamentos esenciales del trabajo celular.
En nuestro modelo tenemos un vacío que llenar y es el tener una ruta de capacitación que pueda llevar a una persona desde su conversión hasta hacer de ella un líder de célula. Hemos revisado otros modelos de cursos de entrenamiento (Neighbour, Comiskey, Weitzs, Lay) pero sentimos que debemos diseñar algo que se acople más a la realidad latinoamericana y, específicamente, salvadoreña. Los componentes deben ser: sencillez, dinamismo y practicidad.
El curso de capacitación es fundamental para el trabajo con grupos pequeños porque es el camino que perfecciona a los santos para la obra del ministerio. ¿Cuál ha sido su experiencia en este campo?



Don’t look for leaders


by Steve Cordle


“I can’t find anyone in my group who will become a new leader.”

It’s not an uncommon sentiment to hear: I can’t find leaders. So give up trying to find leaders. Instead, start to develop new leaders.

It might be tempting to wait for a new leader to emerge: to hope a mature believer starts coming to the group, or a volunteer suddenly steps up. But if we take that approach we might end up with the wrong person in leadership. Like Samuel choosing Saul, we might choose someone who looks good, who seems to be a leader in other contexts, but in the end, they might not lead the work of the group very well.

But as Joel says, cells can be “leader breeders”. That’s because they give us the opportunity and context to develop them.

How? First, pick the person in your group (of your gender) you think is most open to growing spirtually. Do some individual discipling with that person a set period of time. There are many ways to do 1-2 discipling. One simple way is to use Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Group approach, which features reading large portions of the scripture then answering several application/accountability qusteions each week, while praying for lost people. It is simple, requires no teaching ability, and get people into the Word.

 Then, as that person grows, start giving him/her small,specific tasks in the group ministry. Lead a prayer or ice breaker, make some calls, plan something. Just give bite-size chunks of ministry and be sure to debried them later.

As the person grows spiritually, and gets a taste of ministry, then you are in a position to formally challenge him/her to become an apprentice and do the church’s equipping track. Your percentage of “yes” responses will be much higher when asking a developed person than an undeveloped person.


Can you share some ways you develop people spiritually and practically?

Circle Up

Let me add one thought to a cell church’s quest to equip future leaders.  Don’t underestimate the power of the “circle.”  Let me explain.  Inevitably, the vast majority of cell churches have a linear approach to the training of cell leaders.  Typically, it looks like:  Potential cell leader completes course of sudy “1,” he/she now is enrolled in course of study “2,” and when he/she finishes course of study “2,” off to course of study “3.”  Now, these studies may be brilliantly written, passionately delivered, and intellectually stimulating.  But, this linear approach needs to be challenged.  To me, life looks more like a circle than a step by step “line.”

Simply put, while we desire to equip others for cell ministry, life is happening!  When you provide to your (potential) leaders a circular training experience, then you are joining them in their real life journey.  You are coming alongside them in a practical, reasonable and workable manner.  You are acknowledging that they have a life that may not always mesh with the calendar of the church.

Some questions to consider:  Is there pliability and flexibility in your approach to equip others?  Is the senior pastor doing all the equipping or are others able to equip?  What about group size?  Can your equipping be done with 3 or 30 people?  Can your equipping be delivered in a living room, sitting around a cafe table, or in a worship center?  Can a cell leader train others? 

I trust the point of these questions is clear:  Diversify how you equip your (potential) leaders.  Everyone does not have to be equipped the same way for all time.

In summation, if your training experience is linear (lacking fluidity and flexibility), then maybe it’s time to circle up.

Keeping the Motivation Pure

joelI had a great time in San Juan Capistrano yesterday with the key leaders of Hope Christian Fellowship. Jeff Bassette, the senior pastor HCF, wanted DISCIPLESme to talk to his key leaders about making disciples and raising up leaders. I’ve had the great privilege of coaching Jeff and his church for the past year.

I shared with the group my PowerPoints on disciple-making through cell ministry. I shared how that cells are leader breeders and that the main task of the cell leader is to find another disciple–not just to fill the cell with members.

During the discussion a couple of the leaders questioned me in the area of motivation. One said, “I find it difficult to talk about making disciples of people. People can often feel “used,” like they are my “agenda.” I find it much better just to become friends with people.” I wholeheartedly agreed with her that we have to watch the motivation. But I also challenged her with the fact that Jesus had a clear agenda of making disciples. He even said to his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15: 14).

Pastor Jeff chimed in, “one of the most difficult aspects of ministry is finding the balance between taking people to the next step without making people feel they are being used.”

I told the group that I’ve seen this very clearly in the cell church world. Some cell churches are multiplication machines but many people feel used and spit out of the system. On the far left are those churches that have “love boat” groups. Everybody is a great friend but few disciples are made.

Cell groups are perfectly suited to make future disciples who lead cell groups. Yet, we have to skillfully, gracefully plant the vision, so that people truly understand the movitation behind what we’re doing.

What has you been your experience in this area? How do you keep moving people forward in discipleship without causing them to feel “used”?
Joel Comiskey


More about Transitioning

mario By Mario Vega

I appreciate the comments on the blog about our experience of transitioning. In fact, from the moment I wrote it, I knew that the situation of lightHOUSEChristianity and culture of American readers is different from the Latin American one.

When Elim made its transition to the cellular model, there were already several churches within our denomination. I must say that when the other churches made their own transition some experienced difficulties. There were people who left the churches, some divisions took place, critics talked about it as a human method, etc. At the end, all of the Elim churches, everywhere in the world, became cell churches.

Why did some Elim churches experienced difficulties? I think the reasons were varied. Sometimes because of lack of adequate information. In another cases, things were taken too fast. Other pastors simply wanted to impose the new working model.

This is the truth of what happened in some of our churches. I wanted to say these things to bring a balance, so I don’t create a too idealistic idea of what a transition is.

I was very moved by Randall Neighbour’s comment and supplication of prayer for the United States. Of course we will pray and also for Australia. I do thank Joel for his wise comments. In our cell conference we always use Joel’s materials when imparting the transition theme. When Joel and I speak toegether at conferences, I always leave to him the subject of transition and questions related to transition. He is an expert on it. Don’t doubt in consulting with him on this topic.


Mario Vega

Translation in Spanish

Más sobre la transición.

Agradezco los comentarios en relación al blog sobre nuestra experiencia de transición. En realidad, desde el momento en que lo escribía, sabía que la situación del cristianismo y de la cultura de los lectores estadounidenses son diferentes a la de Latinoamérica.
Cuando Elim hizo su transición al modelo celular, ya había ya varias iglesias dentro de nuestra denominación. Debo decir que cuando las otras iglesias hicieron su propia transición algunas experimentaron dificultades. Personas que se retiraron de las iglesias, divisiones que se produjeron, críticas en el sentido que se estaba adoptando un método humano, etc. Al final, todas las iglesias Elim, en cualquier parte del mundo, llegaron a ser iglesias celulares.
¿Por qué algunas iglesias Elim experimentaron dificultades? Creo que las razones fueron variadas. A veces hizo falta información adecuada. Otras veces, las cosas se llevaron demasiado de prisa. Otros pastores simplemente quisieron imponer el nuevo modelo de trabajo.
Esta es la verdad de lo que sucedió en algunas de nuestras iglesias. Debe ser dicho para poner un balance y no crear una idea demasiado idealista de lo que es una transición.
Me conmovió mucho el comentario de Randall Neighbour y su súplica de oración por los Estados Unidos. Por supuesto que oraremos y también por Australia. Gracias a Joel por su acertado comentario. En nuestra Conferencia Celular siempre usamos los materiales de Joel al impartir el tema de la transición y cuando hemos compartido juntos en algunas conferencias siempre dejo a él el tema y las preguntas sobre transición. Es un experto en ello. No duden en consultarlo.




From Educating to Equipping

by Steve Cordle


Let me offer another factor we encountered in our transition to cell ministry: changing from an education mindset to an equipping mindset.

When my sons each turned 16, they wanted to drive. So they got the book: the state driver’s manual. They needed to pass a written test on the contents. But even when they passed the written test, they were not  issued a license. They also needed to pass the driving test, when they demonstrated their ability to put the book into practice. They needed to be equipped to drive, not just educated about driving.

Believers need to be equipped to minister, not just be educated about the Bible.

I was speaking with a pastor who is seeking to introduce cell ministry into his very traditional, Sunday School based church. Recently a woman told him she found the Bible study in the cell to be too shallow, she wanted to do a rigorous purchased curriculum of Bible instruction instead. She needs to know that the cell group generally won’t feature teaching on original languages or historical context, because the group is not about educating, it is ministry in action. And the goal of the church is to equip her, not just educate her.  

Those who come from a background valuing study often conclude the cell doesn’t provide sufficient opportunity for spiritual growth. The reason they draw that conclusion is they have equated gathering of knowledge with spiritual growth. However, that is not an accurate equation.

When we transitioned, we needed to help people see that our church’s goal was not to educational (though we teach), it was transformational. Our church that wants to release an army of saints who will evangelize, disciple, and serve the region will structure their ministry much differently than one that wants to educate their people in classes. Instead of a Christian Education Department we will have an Equipping Track.

I’m not against education (I’ve got a doctorate!). But most of us would agree we the American church are often educated beyond our obedience. We will not see our area won to Christ because the believers learn one more Bible factoid. Anyone who seeks to put into practice the message they hear preached on the weekend and applied in the cell – that person will grow deeply.


Traversing Transition

“Traversing” means to pass over, along, or through.

Traversing transition has been the topic of the last few blog posts.  Further, the comments have been excellent.  This blog community continues to link arms with each other in such important matters as transition.  Peer to peer learning meshed with some voices who have actually transtioned a church family is a platform for healthy transition in a church family.  Simply put, thanks for being apart of the dialogue and may it continue.

With that said, I am not a transition expert.  I have not transitioned a church from x,y, z to cell.  Joel, Mario, and Steve have experience in this arena.  I would, however, offer a few thoughts concerning traversing a transition.  This will be brief.  Needless to say, the cell church movement has come along way in seeing churches transition. 

First thought:  Let’s strive to begin with prayer.  Could prayer be our starting point in all endeavors including transition?  I sincerely believe we miss the boat in any endeavor without our starting point being prayer.  Specifically, pray for your own heart.  Pray for a heart of compassion, grace, mercy, and love.  Pray for God to direct your steps and conversations moment by moment, day by day.

Final thought:  Consider aligning yourself with mentors who have transitioned well.  Not just one mentor, but….let’s say three mentors.  The first mentor would be someone who is ten years further down the road than where you are presently.  The second mentor would be an individual who is five years further down the road than where you are presently.  Finally, the third mentor is someone who is one year down the road than where you are presently.  Forgive me for the redundancy in the previous sentences.  It is extremely important to think both/and…short term AND long term.  These “transitional mentors” are at hand through this blog community.  They will help you not make the same mistakes they have made.  Their experiences will shed light on your next potential step in the process.

In essence, humility is the key.  When we incarnate the fact that we need help, then breakthrough is on the very near horizon. 

by Rob Campbell