Coming Full Circle

by Michael Sove

1 Thess 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

From the beginning I have called the tool I give the cell leaders to use their weekly gatherings, the cell edification sheet.  I’ve done that in part to remind the leader that the purpose of the gathering is to experience Christ in the midst and to encourage one another ministry to flow as each member becomes a conduit of gifts of the Spirit.  I also prefer this term because the purpose of the Word time in the gathering is not Bible study but application of the Bible.

When I came to the church the pastor was excited about the fact that I was going to write all the edification sheets based on his weekly message themes.  This would provide continuity between what we were hearing on Sunday and what we were discussing and applying during the week.  We did this for my first year and really liked it.  The only challenge of this was getting the message topic early enough in the week so I could have adequate time to pray through and prepare good application questions.

The second year we took all our cells through our equipping track during the Word time in cell.  This got many people through our five book equipping series at the time.  I wrote edification sheets to apply what we were learning from the chapters each week.  Although this was a great way to introduce many people to our equipping track books, it quickly became a problem as new people came in and we were now in later books.

This past year we chose Books of the Bible like Ephesians, James and Philippians and I wrote the edifications sheets based on passages from these Books with an application focus.  This has been a good experience as people are in the Word and are going through it in a systematic way.  The benefit here was that I could work ahead and not have to wait for message topics and could get ahead so that I could hand out a month worth of edification sheets at our monthly cell leader meetings.

So during my three years here all our groups have used the same edification sheets in their cell gatherings regardless of the topic.  We have now come full circle and plan to start matching the message topics again in September.  This is our favorite approach because of the continuity of Sunday message to weekday application.  We don’t want to be “hearers only” but “doers of the Word” as well.

Comments?  Questions?  Do your cell groups use a common tool or do they all use something different?


A Cell Lesson Variation

by Mario Vega

Using the pastor’s Sunday message as grounds for the cell study seems to be an excellent way to organize the cell material. Personally, I would have wanted to do this in our church, but it’s simply not possible.

First of all, we have six services in our church on Sunday, and in each one of them a different message is preached. It would be extremely difficult to synthesize a single teaching of all six different sermons.

Second of all, when we designed our Leader’s Guide, we realized it would not only serve for the mother church but for all the Branch Churches of the Elim Mission.

For these reasons, we created a quarterly cell lesson guide that containts thirteen studies and is published every quarter. The studies follow the sequence of a New Testament book that the church is studying. For example, the Gospel of John is studied, section by section, from beginning to end. The same teaching, therefore, that is being imparted in a cell in San Salvador, is being imparted on the same date in our cells in Brussels, Madrid, Lima, San Francisco, etc.

For his part, Pastor Cho has written several volumes of lessons for cells that follow a thematic order. These volumes represent several years of continuos teaching. A leader in Cho’s church, for example, can buy all the volumes and know that he or she will have material until Christ returns.

Both in the case of Elim, as in the case of Korea, the Guides are written by the Senior Pastor. From that point of view, the principle of unity of teachings and of uniformity of contents is maintained. The leader’s Guide, therefore, is simply a variation from the one that revolves around the Sunday sermon.



Translation in Spanish:

Variaciones en las lecciones para las células.

El utilizar el mensaje dominical del pastor como base para el estudio en las células me parece que es un recurso excelente. En lo personal, es algo que me hubiese gustado hacer dentro de nuestra iglesia. Pero, tal cosa, no es posible.

En primer lugar, porque en nuestra iglesia tenemos seis servicios dominicales y en cada uno de ellos se predica un mensaje diferente. Sería sumamente difícil sintetizar una sola enseñanza de seis sermones diferentes.

En segundo lugar, porque desde el momento en que surgió nuestra Guía del Líder, se hizo pensando en que ésta sirviera no solamente para una iglesia en particular sino para todas la filiales de nuestra Misión.

Por estas razones, se publica cada trimestre un pequeño volumen que contiene trece estudios para los siguientes tres meses. Esos estudios siguen la secuencia de un libro del Nuevo Testamento. Por ejemplo, puede ser que se estudie el evangelio de Juan, sección a sección, de principio a fin. La misma enseñanza que se imparte en una célula de San Salvador, se está impartiendo en la misma fecha en nuestras células en Bruselas, Madrid, Lima o San Francisco.

Por su parte, el Pastor Cho ha escrito varios volúmenes de lecciones para células que siguen un orden temático. Estos volúmenes representan varios años de enseñanzas continuadas que al finalizar regresan al líder al punto de inicio. Así, un líder puede comprar todos los volúmenes y saber que con ello tendrá el material adecuado hasta que Cristo vuelva.

Tanto en el caso de Elim como en el caso de Corea, las guías son escritas por el Pastor titular. Desde ese punto de vista, se mantiene el principio de la unidad de enseñanzas y uniformidad de contenidos. Esta es una variación de la Guía para el líder que no desvirtúa aquella que gira en torno al sermón dominical.

Unity of Heart & Vision

by Jeff Tunnell

Walking in unity of heart and mind is such a benefit. Keeping the vision clear and consistent throughout the congregation underwrites a consistent spiritual formation of those in the cells. W have discovered that when all the cells have the same content we are healthier overall.

We provide the cell facilitation guide each week on our website or in printed form for each leader.  Our preaching service is recorded and posted to the website for those who were not in the weekend Celebration so that they can review the content as desired. The questions provided in the guide point to the message of the Celebration in a way that begs for personal and corporate application.  The 4 Ws are followed and each cell leader has the authority to adjust their implementation, adapting for visitors, extended prayer for members, longer worship as the Holy Spirit prompts, etc. We do not encourage re-preaching or teaching the message.

We have practiced this method from the beginning with only a few deviations.  Those deviations simply trained us to NOT deviate!

Vision comes from the leadership and is successfully transmitted to each participant via the faithful leadership of each cell leader.  I have quizzed many pastors this way, “How would you like to see your message applied to the lives of your congregation instead of forgotten within 45 minutes after you’ve finished preaching each week?”  Using the message in the cell accomplishes this more effectively than any other method I have used.

Basing the Cell Lesson on the Pastor’s Teaching

joelby Joel Comiskey

I’ve become increasingly excited about the effectiveness of using the pastor’s sermon (teaching) as the basis for the cell lesson. We’ve been doing this in our church plant here in Moreno Valley for years, and I’ve increasingly seen its importance. Here are a  few reasons:

  1. It connects small group with the large group. Basing the cell lesson on the Sunday sermon serves as a constant reminder that the cell isn’t an independent entity doing its own thing. The larger purpose and vision of the cell is to build the local church. The expectation is that those in the cell are also part of the larger gathering on Sunday—or at least being evangelized to eventually hook into the celebration service.
  2. It applies the expository/teaching message to real 24/7 life. I like a church that has a well-planned preaching schedule and skillfully exegetes God’s inerrant Word from the pulpit. Yet, the best churches humbly realize that even excellent sermons are inadequate to completely transform the hearers. George Barna and others are reporting that those inside the U.S. church are not applying what they hear. Statistics demonstrate that North American church goers are not significantly different from those outside the church (e.g., ethics, morals, divorce, pornography, etc.). When a church asks each member to discuss and apply the Sunday message in a cell during the week, there’s a far greater chance that transformation, rather than information, will take place.
  3. This is the pattern of cell churches around the world. As I researched these churches, I noticed that all of them–without exception–based their cell lessons on the pastor’s teaching (either the Sunday sermon or mid-week expository teaching).
  4. It provides a never ending supply of material.Buying cell material at the local Christian bookstore can be very expensive. And even the best material is bound to run out. When the lesson is based on the pastor’s teaching, there is a steady stream of new material–as long as the pastor doesn’t repeat the same sermons each week!
  5. It relieves pressure from the leader.It’s hard enough leading a cell. There are people to visit, leadership development to consider, etc. Add the need to find or prepare the lesson, and the leader might feel overwhelmed. Distributing questions based on the Sunday morning message helps alleviate the leader’s workload.

Cell material is far less important than other key cell components that I’ve blogged about for the last few weeks, but it’s still important. What about you? What kind of material do you use? What are your convictions on this issue?


Traditional-thinking and Cells don’t mix!

by Bill Joukhadar (guest blogger for Rob Campbell, who is on sabbatical)

While traditional-thinking works nicely in a ministry-based church context, in a cells-based church setting it simply doesn’t work, believe me! Trying to convince traditional-thinkers that cells is the best way to grow a church (and the Kingdom of God) is like trying to convert Goliath to Judaism.

Back in 2000, when I joined Maadi Community Church (MCC), an English speaking international church in Cairo, with the goal of transitioning MCC from being ministry-based to a cell-based church, I was greatly encouraged by the writings of Joel and the wholehearted support of the Senior Pastor, the late Dave Petrescue – and so with the heartfelt inspiration of the Lord I started a radical experiment of “road-testing” cells-based church principles with a particular demographic group of solid, ‘traditional-thinking’ church members. Genuinely believing this to be a wise strategic move, my goal was for this group of people to “buy-in” to the whole “cells” idea and join with me in influencing the rest of the church community.

Well, while I was busy trying to “sell cells” to my dear traditional-thinking brethren, the not-so-traditional-thinking African and Asian demographic of our church had bought into the cells vision with the little they knew and understood and engaged wholly and heartfully in the work of growing our church through the formation of healthy, multiplying cell groups. Their passion, and the way that they embraced this non-traditional (but biblical) model inspired and encouraged me AND other new wineskin-thinkers in the church to the point where we experienced huge growth in cells, leadership training, outreach, church membership, attendance at worship celebrations and – most importantly – lives saved for the Kingdom! During the eight years that my wife and I served in Cairo, MCC saw their cell group community grow from 0 to 413 groups involving over 4,000 people, regular attendance at weekend worship grew to around 1,500 a week and five new churches were planted among the African and Sudanese refugee communities – a truly amazing harvest!

This fantastic, life-transforming experience in Egypt turned my passion for the cells-based church model from a roaring fire into a blazing inferno, which is why we set up Cells-church Consultants International ( when we returned to Australia in 2008. Friends, I have learned that cells-based church principles perform quite differently in certain soils, and I encourage any church – whether a new plant, or a ministry-based church transitioning to a cells-based model – to look for “non-traditional” soil in which to plant their precious cell groups seeds.

It’s my conviction that in Cairo, Australia … or anywhere else in the world, traditional-thinking and cells don’t mix!


Bill Joukhadar

“Bread and Butter” Cells before Specializing

by Michael Sove

This week I would like to speak to those who are just starting out with cells or transitioning toward a base of “holistic” cells.

When I first arrived at Allen three years ago, I came into a situation where there were some cells in place.  The problem was that these cells were not “holistic” as we have been describing in our blogs this month.  There was no leadership training or coaching in place.  There was not a common vision or approach toward what happened as these cells gathered.

So the first thing we did was introduce training to help the existing leaders begin to understand cell life and the dimensions that make a cell holistic.  A few weeks ago I introduced these dimensions and the questions to ask to determine if your cell is “holistic” in nature.

#1  (Upward)  Are the people being directed into the presence of God?

#2  (Inward)  Are the people experiencing community and serving one another.

#3  (Outward)  Is the cell actively praying for and reaching out to the lost?

#4  (Forward)  Are people being discipled and leaders being raised toward the next multiplication?

Next we made sure every cell leader was coached.  I believe this is one of the most important aspects of a cell system.  Everyone needs to be cared for, especially your cell leaders.  Beyond this, one of the best decisions we made during this initial phase was to make our mixed (family) cells to be the “bread and butter” type cells we focused on starting.  We didn’t want to start specialized cells until we had the basic systems in place.  So we said no to many requests about starting specialized cells and directed people to first participate in a mixed cell.

Now with 25 cells we are open to planting specialized cells, like recovery cells, women’s cells, college cells, single mom’s cells as well as forming networks.  We now have a men’s network.  The key is train your leaders well and build a base of “bread and butter” type cells then God will begin to call different people to plant more specialized cells.  But the common denominator is that all these cells are holistic in nature, there is a common training system and coaching structure in place.

This approach was very helpful in our startup phase and the first few years of our transition.

Comments?  Questions?  What has been your experience as far as types of cells in your system?


Let the Holy Spirit Guide Cell Homogeneity

by Mario Vega

There is no doubt that when the New Testament church met in houses, it had no major concerns about whether or not the meetings were homogeneous. For them, the meetings of Christian worship were for what they called their “oikos,” the extended family that included slaves.

It is obvious that the characteristics of their meetings corresponded to the social and economic conditions of their time. They settled on what was more natural at the time. Similarly, we should not try to force one type of homogeneity; rather we should let things happen naturally.

In our case, we began working with mixed cell and cells for women only. The leaders of the mixed cells were always men and the leader of a women’s cell was alwasy a woman. However, it was an artificial division. Over time we realized that many men preferred to go to a cell led by a woman. Now, the cells headed by women are also mixed cells.

Regarding the work with children, we have gone in the opposite direction. We began emphasizing intergenerational cells. However, it was difficult to maintain a suitable environment. Currently, we are developing children’s cells on a different time and at a different place than the adult cells. The result has been very successful. Please understand that I don’t disqualify intergenerational cells. I’m just sharing our experience.

In each case the Holy Spirit will guide the churches to what is best. And when that happens, things will occur naturally, without forcing them. They’ll run free like water finding its own way.



translation into Spanish

El Espíritu Santo como modelador de las células.

Sin dudas que cuando la iglesia del Nuevo Testamento se reunía en las casas no tenía mayores preocupaciones sobre si sus reuniones eran o no homogéneas. Para ellos, las reuniones de culto cristiano eran para lo que llamaban su “oikos”, la familia ampliada que incluía a los esclavos.

Es obvio que las características de sus reuniones correspondían a las condiciones sociales y económicas de su época. Ellas se acomodaron a lo que resultaba más natural en su momento. De igual manera, no debemos tratar de forzar nada sino permitir que las cosas sucedan con toda naturalidad.

En nuestro caso, comenzamos trabajando con células mixtas y células sólo para mujeres. Los líderes de las células mixtas siempre eran hombres en tanto que en las células para mujeres el líder siempre era una mujer. No obstante, se trataba de una división artificial. Con el tiempo nos dimos cuenta que muchos hombres preferían asistir a una célula dirigida por una mujer. Ahora, las células dirigidas por mujeres son también mixtas.

Pero, en cuanto al trabajo con los niños se ha caminado en la dirección inversa. Comenzamos enfatizando las células intergeneracionales. Sin embargo, era difícil conservar un ambiente adecuado. En la actualidad, estamos desarrollando las células infantiles en un lugar y horario diferente al de las de adultos. El resultado ha sido exitoso. No descalifico con ello a las células intergeneracionales. Solamente estoy compartiendo nuestra experiencia.

En cada caso el Espíritu Santo ha de guiar a las iglesias a lo que les resulte mejor. Y cuando eso suceda, las cosas ocurrirán de manera natural. Sin forzarlas. Correrán libres como el agua que encuentra su propio camino.

Where’s My Dictionary?

by Jeff Tunnell

Homogeneous?  I couldn’t even pronounce the word correctly when it first came my way!  Already a little overwhelmed with the fact that cell-based ministry would alter the methods I had practiced for 20 years, learning new vocabulary made me run for my dictionary to see if I could figure out why this homogeneity stuff was of importance.

Of the same or a similar kind or nature could not be limited to just 4 similarities: Children, Youth, Men, Women?  There had to be more!  Families, couples, singles, college, workers together at a company, salesmen/women, brokers and more came to mind as I raised a BIG QUESTION: why should I limit who can come to Jesus and mature in Him by just 4 possibilities?

But I tried, because I was learning and was a responsible pastor that knew how to ADOPT what was being presented in the latest programmed approach.  Soon I experienced the failures connected to cultural rejections of novel ideas. Ouch.

Recovery came next.  Let’s allow God to show us how to gather his flocks, nurture them in a healthy setting, following well-known, biblical principles and resulting in JOY.  We all liked that, very much.  Seeing those we had natural connections to on a weekly basis brought life giving friendships formed by the broader definition of homogeneity.  This is good!

Let’s go into all the world, find them in their families (oikos) and tell them, as Paul & Silas told the Philippian Jailer, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved along with your family. Which occurred by morning’s light! That would not have been a good moment to separate the family.

What do you think?

Homogeneous Cell Groups

joelby Joel Comiskey

According to the dictionary, a FAD is: “something that is embraced very enthusiastically for a short time, especially by many people.”

Since Cho initiated the modern day cell church movement in 1965, the cell church has passed through many fads. Those who start a fad are often motivated with a pure desire to jump-start the cell system to produce more rapid growth. The motivation might be good and right, but the problem occurs when the promoter starts declaring that the “jump-start” is now God’s new revelation (the only right way) for doing cell ministry.

Homogenous cells suffered this fate when a famous church in Latin America began promoting them as the “right way” to do cell ministry. Granted, the church grew more rapidly when they divided their cells into the categories of men, women, youth, and children. This famous church asked all their worldwide network churches to follow these strict homogeneous categories.

I remember speaking in several cell churches who had adopted this new homogeneous way of doing cells. They tried to convince me of the superiority of doing away with family cells and focusing only on cells of men, women, youth, and children.

“Shouldn’t the cell be reaching the family unit, rather than just the individual parts?” I asked. “What about intergenerational cells that have children involved.? Didn’t the early church meeting together as families from house to house?”

They replied, “But breaking up into these homogeneous categories causes rapid church growth. The men will share more intimately, and you won’t have to worry about children in the cells.”

I reminded them that both Cho’s church and the Elim Church primarily have family cells, and many believe that these two churches are the number one and two largest churches in the world.They obviously were doing quite well without the new categories.

Well, those conversations took place seven years ago. Like all fads, the hype has now died down and the fad has faded. I rarely hear anyone talking about the superiority of strict homogeneous cells.

I’m not against homogenous cells. My wife leads a women’s cell and I’m just about to open a men’s cell group. I simply believe that homogeneity should flow naturally from a clear definition of a cell group. I also believe that since the family is the foundation of society (or should be), cell churches should always emphasize family cells, along with other diverse types of cell groups.

Again, my counsel is to start with a clear definition and then allow homogeneity to flow naturally as the need arises.

What are your thoughts?


The Importance of Meeting Outside the Building

by Steve Cordle

When I eat out, I judge the restaurant not only by the quality of the food but also by the atmosphere and décor. The food and the setting combine to create the experience.

Cell groups are influenced by their settings, too. If a group meets in a church building, the public setting makes it a little harder for the participants to get personal. But the same group of people meeting in a living room can feel more relaxed and open. Meeting in a home also subtly communicates, “Faith in Jesus is not just confined to church settings, but your whole life.”

Of course, homes can be distracting environments at times. It is important for the host to plan ahead to minimize phone calls, undisciplined dogs, and the like.

Meeting in homes also allows us to invite our neighbors across the yard to a familiar setting (living room) instead of across town to an environment which is foreign to them (church building).

As a pastor, I am also quite glad that we don’t have to build enough space for all the groups to meet in the building. Instead of competing for limited space in a building, we have an unlimited amount of free square footage available as the ministry grows!

Question: For those of you ministering in inner-city American environments, do you find that people willingly open their homes to host groups there as they do in suburban or small town settings?