by Richard Houle
I have been a pastor/teacher for thirty-five years now. After serving two churches over a period of nineteen years, I came to the conclusion that something was missing in the way we were doing things: we had almost no discipleship training and most of the growth came through transfers.
Then in the early 90′s I heard about the Cell Church concept. To my great surprise, things that I had learned with difficulty in my first twenty years of ministry were all summed up in the concept of the Cell-Church: small groups that reproduce, discipleship, leadership multiplication, encounter weekends, etc. I was really astonished. At that time I was also transitioning in my ministry to a Church in Granby, Canada (Quebec province). So we discussed with the new board about transitioning from a program based Church to the Cell-Church concept. They all fully agreed.
I took some training on transitioning via Touch Ministries. It helped us a great deal; first by preparing us to pay the price for becoming a Cell-Church and then by helping us in the way to do it without rocking the boat! So we began transitioning the Church with 250 people. As Baptists we always had our prayer meeting, so we let that continue for a few years, and during that time we started a prototype cell group with our leaders. We found we had much to learn: how to place relational evangelism in our schedule, how to develop coaching in every level of ministry, how to lead a cell by the Spirit, etc. Then we began establishing new cells as the leaders were ready. Our old prayer meeting died of itself without a problem.
We also had to establish a discipleship track. Because we are a French speaking congregation, the challenge was great. Not much is published in French for the Cell-Church! So until we were ready to write one, we translated the one written by Ralph Neighbour and used it for the first five years. Then we wrote one that was more in line with our French context. During this period all our members were “greatly encouraged” to get on the training track. This is where the struggle began. Many old timers did not want to embark on that road. So for a period of time people were leaving the Church. But the leaders were well prepared for this reaction, so we stayed united in our willingness to transition. We did it and it took us about 7 years altogether. Here are the results:
- 95% of our 200 people are in cell groups right now
- We saw a great multiplication in leadership.
- 4 other cell-churches (from 20 to 45 people) have been started from the mother church in the last five years and another in English is in the move..
- A missionary team has been launched from the mother church to fortify these churches.
- We use our Seminary graduate School to train our pastor/teachers and evangelists.
- We have become a strong influence for small groups in our Association of Churches
- We have developed a good prayer support by prayer partners (G.I.: Groups of Intercession) during the week.
- We have developed a “Tearing down strongholds weekends” twice a year that is functioning very well.
- We found that we had to balance relational evangelism with intentional evangelism.
- We failed to sufficiently promote the importance of pastors putting relational and intentional evangelism in their hearts and schedules.
- We did not have the growth of new converts that we anticipated. This has been the hardest, but we are learning “to pray them” into the Kingdom.
- We did not engage the wives of the leaders enough in the change of values. We had to adjust.
But overall we are very pleased with the outcome.
May God help you in your transition. How was your transition? Was it difficult?