The Ministry of Joel Comiskey

by Rob Campbell

My friendship with Joel Comiskey began in the Spring of 2001.  I was scheduled to have a ten week sabbatical during the summer months.  My desire was to travel around the world and see various cell churches.  Randall Neighbour suggested that I call Joel concerning the “hopping” cell churches in Central/Latin America.  I contacted Joel who had recently returned from Quito, Ecuador where he and his family ministered for several years.  Long story short, Joel helped me connect with churches in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Bogota.  It was a rich experience I will not soon forget.

Joel’s attitude was clear.  He didn’t know me, but he was for me.  That’s Joel Comiskey.  It’s true for you as well.  Joel may not know you, but he’s for you.  He is an encourager…a great supporter.

Joel is not merely a cell church theorist, but a cell church practitioner.  Not only does he have international cell church planting experience, but he has also planted a cell church in Morena Valley, California where he currently resides.  The church around the world knows him as the “cell church guy.”  At heart, Joel is a writer.  His articles/books/blog posts have resourced the church.

With this said, let me recommend you order a copy of his new book, Planting Churches That Reproduce. 

I’ve had a chance to read it from cover to cover.  You will benefit from reading this book.  Further, order it for your pastors, cell leaders, and/or cell members.

I like for the pastors at my church to read six to eight books a year.  I pick a book that I believe will help, change, and/or encourage us.  I get a copy into the hands of my pastors.  About a month after my pastors receive a book, then we discuss the book as a team.  We’ve enjoyed many enriching and fun discussions using such methodology.  I’ve also noticed another dynamic to such an endeavor.  Word trickles through the church family that the pastors have read a certain book.  This encourages our cell leaders and members to read.  I believe that “good leaders are good readers.”  I’m sure you have a similar strategy to keep your people reading.

Two final thoughts concerning Joel Comiskey’s ministry.  He is a disciple of Christ.  Finally, I have the privilege of knowing his wife (Celyce) and three daughters.  This is a family that not only love God, but clearly love each other.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes!




Simple Cell Church Planting

Untitled DocumentjoelI’m excited that my new book on church planting comes out in two weeks! I’ve been ruminating on this book for ten years. I remember one of my early church planting cell seminars in Uruguay in 1998. Some Southern Baptist missionaries came up to me during the seminar saying, “Your studies about the world’s largest cell churches are great, but how do you plant a cell church from scratch? We’re here in Uruguay starting from nothing. What should we do?” Their questions–and my lack of answers–stirred me to begin compiling research on cell church planting. And in two weeks I present to you, Planting Churches that Reproduce. Here is an excerpt from chapter two:
I spoke at a seminar in Florida a few years ago. The host church asked me to speak to the staff, and one of the pastors inquired about his network of small groups. He wanted to know what he should do when his network reached the third generation of small group multiplication. He hoped to tap into my knowledge of small group coaching structures in mega churches. My mind raced through the different case studies and variables, but my answer was less than convincing—and I was supposed to be the expert on the topic! It suddenly dawned on me that the church needed to simplify. The members had become too bulky and complicated in their quest for mega church status. I boldly declared:

Your church has become too complicated because you’ve grown too large. The fact that we’re talking about multiple layers of generational multiplication says to me that you need to simplify the process. You need to plant new churches. Give away some of those layers of multiplication to a new church plant. Don’t try to figure out how to keep them all under the same roof. God wants you to become a church planting movement—rather than growing your own church larger and larger.

I surprised myself by that answer. For many years I promoted complicated coaching structures in mega cell churches and wrote books that helped people figure them out. Yet I began to realize that very few churches were large enough to understand what I was writing about. It also dawned on me that smaller church plants had the added benefit of being far less complicated!


I rejoice in the world’s largest cell churches. However, I believe the VAST majority of cell churches will never reach that point. Most will focus on simple church planting movements. What do you think?

Joel Comiskey

Passion to Evangelize

mariby Mario Vega

After using two stadiums simultaneously to gather the church, we received new passion to spread the good news of salvation. Pastors, leaders and EVANGELISMsupervisors launched themselves with new strength to fulfill their responsibility.

As a result, the church continued to grow. Therefore in 1999 we decided to use three stadiums simultaneously. Again, the stadiums were filled with a number reaching closely to 100,000 attendees.

For the next year, 2000, the logical step would have been to use four stadiums. But, instead, we embarked to use five simultaneously. Again, the stadiums were filled at their full capacity with an attendance of about 120,000 people.

The problem is that in El Salvador, there are only five stadiums. And we could not continue to add more stadiums. So we projected for 2002 to gather again the whole church in an open field equivalent to eleven soccer fields. At that time, attendance was estimated at 150,000 people.

Again in 2004, we used the same open field. This time, an estimated number of 200,000 people were present. But the rally already had such relevance that in that particular time the President of the Republic, several congressmen and several mayors attended. Other government officials joined in too. It was a great opportunity to present to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Mario Vega

Translated into Spanish:
La pasión en acción.

Después de utilizar dos estadios simultáneamente para reunir a la iglesia, recibimos nueva pasión para extender las buenas nuevas de salvación. Pastores, supervisores y líderes se lanzaron con nuevas fuerzas a cumplir su responsabilidad.

Como resultado, la iglesia continuó creciendo. De manera que en 1999 decimos utilizar tres estadios simultáneamente. Nuevamente los estadios se llenaron con una cantidad ya cercana a los 100,000 asistentes.

Para el año siguiente, 2000, el paso lógico habría sido utilizar cuatro estadios. Pero, en lugar de ello, nos lanzamos a utilizar cinco estadios simultáneamente. De nuevo, los estadios se llenaron en su completa capacidad con una asistencia de unas 120,000 personas.

El problema es que en El Salvador solamente hay cinco estadios. Ya no podíamos seguir añadiendo estadios adicionales. De manera que proyectamos para el año 2002 reunir a la iglesia de nuevo toda junta en un campo abierto equivalente a once canchas de fútbol. En esa ocasión, la asistencia se estimó en 150,000 personas.

En 2004, volvimos a utilizar el mismo campo abierto. Esa vez un estimado de 200,000 personas se hicieron presentes. Pero el evento tenía ya tal relevancia que, en esa ocasión, asistió el Presidente de la República, varios congresistas y varios alcaldes. También se sumaron otros funcionarios de gobierno. Fue una gran oportunidad para presentarles el evangelio de Jesucristo.



Walking the Fields

Jeff TunnellMy father was a midwestern farmer.  I recall seeing him walk through the fields to inspect the growing crops.  As he walked between the rows, he would wave his hands along just above the heads of wheat in the same way he would rustle my little head of hair as an expression of love.  I believe he loved his harvest and cared for it closely.wheat.jpg

Translation?  Point?  I need to be walking among those God has put in my care, watching for their maturity, rubbing elbows, tousling heads, expressing love and care.  Sharing one another’s burdens fulfills the law of Christ.  Confirming their growth along a training track and encouraging discipleship that reflects Jesus to the world, the cell church pastor cannot become isolated from the lives of those making up the field entrusted to him.  Jesus deomonstrates this principle of discipleship; it is recorded in the Bible and in our own lives.  He walks with us, while calling us to abide in Him and draw life that leads to maturity.

How do you sense Jesus tousling your hair in love?  How do you proactively spend time with your people?

Jeff Tunnell

JCG and International Expansion of the Cell Church

coaches-rob2.jpgby Rob Campbell

Joel’s post yesterday concerning his ministry trip to Uzbekistan was encouraging.  These trips are possible because of financial contributors to JCG.  Monies given to JCG enable Joel to equip in various international sites around the world.  He has participated in such ventures for many years.

My church family financially supports JCG.  When I receive reports from Joel like his post yesterday, I am greatly encouraged and motivated to be a ministry partner with JCG.

I encourage you to contact me concerning financial partnership with JCG.  Let me be clear.  When Joel travels abroad, he is speaking forth the life changing message of Christ.  Indeed, cell church structure is “in the mix.”  However, he travels abroad because of his commitment and love for Christ.

Become a part of his sending team!

Contact me!


God’s Work in Uzbekistan

joelThanks, Jeff Tunnell, for covering my blog for me while in Uzbekistan.

While there, I spoke at an “underground conference” to cell church/house church leaders. JOELrobeNinety percent of those present were leading unregistered churches. Only the churches started before 1999, in fact, are considered “legal.” All churches after 1999 are “illegal.” The current government is trying to quell religion in the country and wants believers to only meet in officially sponsored churches (sounds a lot like China).

Of course, God’s Spirit can’t be contained in “government sponsored” churches. He works in His own way and those leaders present at the conference were obeying His guidance.

The Uzbek leader of the event said afterwards, “You don’t know how fortunate we were that the police didn’t break up our meeting, and that we weren’t thrown in prison.” Even though about 100 believers were present, I learned that many others stayed away because of the threat of persecution.

I focused my teaching on the cell group during my four day conference. I also talked about how to plant simple cell churches. All Uzbek churches must be very simple. Most of the pastors at the conference told me that they bring their cells together only once per month or just on the holidays. A few pastors present met in weekly celebrations.

I’m sure you’ve spoken at churches or events where it was “easy to speak.” This was one of those events. These perscuted believers radiated God’s love and grace. I felt picked up just looking into their eyes. Their love and genuine humililty helped me to stop “peforming as a seminar speaker” and simply relate to them as a fellow brother and teacher. I wish I could show you the photo of the nineteen leaders who committed themselves at the end of the conference to plant a new church in Uzbekistan (each one planting a new church).

The highlight was the last night’s foot washing. The Uzbek believers washed our feet, prayed over us, and then clothed us with an Uzbek robe.

I went away encouraged by God’s work in Uzbekistan.


Two Stadiums

Untitled Document marioIn November 1998, the church launched itself to use two stadiums simultaneously. The combined capacity of the two stadiums reached over 90,000 multitudespeople.

The program at both stadiums started at the same time. But in one of them, the program had been designed to extend long enough to give me time to finish the preaching in the first stadium, and to allow me to move right after to the second one just in time for the sermon.

Since the press stated that it was not possible that the church could fill the stadium twice, we took a bold decision: to use a helicopter that could take me from one stadium to the other. There isn’t really much of a distance between the two stadiums. But the idea was to make a continuous video shooting taken from the first completely full stadium to the second one equally full.

Once I had finished the first preaching the helicopter descended to the ground. A camera was following me. We got on the helicopter. Once in the air the pilot over flew the stadium to make it clear that it was full. The camera kept on recording without stopping when departing to the second stadium. In the helicopter I was interviewed, it lasted three minutes. Time enough by air to arrive to the second stadium.

The pilot over flew the second stadium, I felt deeply impressed to see this other stadium completely full. Then we descended and I stepped onto the platform for the second preaching.
After that Sunday the press never again doubted that Elim was a large church, indeed.

Mario Vega

Translation in Spanish

Dos estadios.
En noviembre de 1998 la iglesia se lanzó a usar dos estadios de manera simultánea. La capacidad sumada de los dos estadios llegaba a las 90,000 personas.
El programa en ambos estadios comenzó a la misma hora. Pero, en uno de ellos, el programa se había diseñado de manera que fuera prolongándose lo suficiente como para que me diera tiempo de terminar la predicación en el primer estadio para luego trasladarme al segundo justo a tiempo para el sermón.
Dado que la prensa expresaba que no era posible que la iglesia pudiese llenar dos veces un mismo estadio tomamos una decisión audaz: utilizar un helicóptero que me pudiera trasladar de un estadio al otro. En realidad no hay mucha distancia entre los dos estadios. Pero, la idea era poder hacer una toma continua de video partiendo del primer estadio totalmente lleno hasta llegar al segundo igualmente lleno.
Al terminar la primera predicación el helicóptero descendió. Una cámara me seguía. Subimos al helicóptero. Ya en el aire el piloto sobrevoló el estadio de manera que quedara claro lo lleno que estaba. Al momento de partir hacia el segundo estadio la cámara siguió grabando sin detenerse. Dentro del helicóptero me hicieron una entrevista que duró tres minutos. Justo el tiempo para llegar por aire al segundo estadio.
El piloto sobrevoló el segundo estadio y me sentí hondamente impresionado al ver este otro estadio completamente lleno. Luego descendimos y pasé a la plataforma para la segunda predicación.
Después de ese domingo nunca más la prensa dudó que Elim era una iglesia, en verdad, numerosa.


by Steve Cordle

“How are your church’s groups going?”

When you respond to a question like that you used some measurement benchmarks which indicated to you whether the groups were doing well, fair, or not so well.

When it comes to your groups, what do you measure? Attendance? Most of us do. It tells us something about what is going on in the group, but the attendance number alone is not a reliable indicator of group health.

Generally we measure what is important to us. However, sometimes what is important to us is hard or impossible to measure. For example, how do we measure and track the sense of Christ’s presence in a group?

I have been a part of countless groups in my 30+ years as a Christ-follower. The ones I wanted most to attend were the ones in which I sensed Jesus’ presence in a unique way.  Of course, we really can’t measure and record that, but we all respond to it when we sense it. And that is the most fundamental metric of all, to me. If the group is gathered around the presence of Jesus, then I believe it is a healthy group.

Do you record and measure aspects of your cell ministry? If so, we would love to hear what and how you do this.

And how do you assess the degree to which people experience the presence of Christ in your groups?


Hurricane Ike and My Evacuee

coaches-rob1.jpgby Rob Campbell

I have had the privilege of serving the people who suffered catostrophic losses in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  As a matter of fact, helping a few families through the devastation of Katrina was one of the most rewarding experiences of my time in ministry.

Today, I picked up a Hurricane Ike evacuee.  She happens to be my 19 year old daughter who is a student athlete at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.  Her university has no electricity and there’s no telling when “school as normal” will return.

All this to say– I have nothing to offer you concerning cell church/group this posting.  My apologies!

However, might I offer you a ministry principle that was taught to me years ago?  Here it is.  There is no church/ministry in the universe worth losing your family over.

Ladies and Gents– take care of your family– first!

I wouldn’t trade the five hour “catch up time” (our drive time home) with my 19 year old for anything…including a “wow” or “insightful” blog post concerning cell church!

Please understand.  I don’t have the “father” and “family” thing figured out.  I have many flaws as a father and husband.  Yet, my mentors are relentless in my life.  “It’s your relationship with God– first.  Next, it’s your family.  A distance third is your church/ministry.”

Today’s journey to pick up my precious evacuee was a vivid reminder of what’s important.


Iron Sharpens Iron

jeffJeff Tunnell here, filling in for Joel Comiskey, who is ministering in Uzbekistan.

Proverbs 27:17 states “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another. (NRSV)

Coaching another cell pastor for the last couple of years has produced a growing relationship of great value. Dan and I live in different states, so we irontalk each week on the telephone. We set it up for 30-minute coaching, but I find myself taking advantage of my friend by keeping him on the call a little longer because he is ‘sharpening me’ as the proverb states.

Dan has sharpened my wits and become a friend. Our journey in transitioning an existing church to cell-based has given us a lasting bond and camaraderie that is healthy and refreshing. Pastors could use more encouragement because of their constant hard work to advance the Kingdom of God. Cell church pastors often travel a lonely road filled with potholes of misunderstanding that come from the very people they are leading.

Here’s a recommendation for you: find another pastor to keep an appointment with, commit to a once-per-week call and pray for one another as you lead your cell church. Enjoy the synergy that comes from the Holy Spirit in your midst. Bear one another’s burdens and celebrate the victories too. If you are an international reader of this blog, consider a program like Skype to connect with someone you’ve come to know from a conference or even here on the blog. Even MSN Messenger type programs could provide a “real-time” connection for dialogue and encouragement.

Another way of saying “iron sharpens iron” is this: “Conversation promotes intelligence, which the face exhibits.”

How have you found this to be beneficial? How long have you had someone to talk with concerning your cell church journey? Are you searching for this type of connection?


Jeff Tunnell