Cell Evangelism: The Need for Modeling and Training

joelby Joel Comiskey

I’m writing from the Dominican Republic where I just finished a cell church conference. 1300 pastors and leaders from a wide-variety of denominations were present. Shekinah Fellowship, the sponsoring church, did a marvelous job of bringing together the entire body of Christ to learn about cell church ministry. I prophesied to this hungry group of pastors and leaders that God desired to use the Dominican Republic to be a sending base for pastors and missionaries all over the world. I told them that cells are a perfect breeding ground for future pastors and missionaries because people are converted in the cell, grow in Christ, become co-leaders, leaders, and eventually multiply new groups. “Some of you,” I told them, “will sense the call to plant cell churches in the most needy places of the world.”

The process starts when Spirit-filled cell groups win new people to Jesus and prepare them to become disciple-makers. Evangelism, in other words, is at the heart of cell ministry.

Last week I spent time with the founding pastor of “La Iglesia del Nuevo Testamento Vega Baja” in Puerto Rico.  Pastor Emilio  burns with a passion to reach people through cell evangelism. His church started five years ago in a cell with the express purpose of reaching non-Christians for Jesus.  I noticed that each of the twenty-five cell leaders burn with the same evangelistic passion of their senior pastor. Emilio models what he expects others to follow.

While modeling is the best way to train cell members to evangelize, I believe cell evangelism training should be an integral part of a church’s training track. In my own 5-book training track, one of those books is called Share, which deals exclusively with how to share the gospel from a cell perspective (I’m also excited that Share (Comparta) and the other training books are now available in Spanish).

In the last two weeks I’ve been encouraged by the power and potential of cell evangelism, both in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Modeling and training are the keys to keep the evangelistic fire burning. What about you? What has your experience been? Do you think modeling is more important than training? Both equally important?

Joel

Open Groups

jim
by Jim Wall

This generation is motivated by relationships. People often come to relationship with Christians they trust before they come into a relationship with Jesus.

Last week, I blogged about the driving force behind the formation of our church’s cell vision. In 1996, we concluded that a cell-based approach was the only way we could keep our evangelistic passion and yet create opportunities for young believers to grow up in their faith. We developed a ministry that focused on celebration services designed for evangelism and a closed-cell system focused on intimacy and discipleship. It worked—the church continued to grow by conversion growth and the congregation’s maturity deepened—for a while.

In recent years, we’ve noticed that the larger the church has gotten, the more intimidating the crowds have become to unchurched, unsaved people who visit. (We call it the “deer-in-the-headlights-look” and we see it every Sunday!) Even more disturbing, we’ve found that many of the unsaved people who do come, hide in the crowd. Add to that, we had to acknowledge our closed-cell system had stagnated.

After much prayer we decided to heed Joel Comiskey’s advice to open our cells to anyone who would come. Joel had advised us to add an evangelistic element to our cells for years. I liked what he was saying, but I was nervous. After all, most of our cells leaders had come to Christ here, joined their first cell group here and had become cell leaders here. How would they react to an open-cell system? Besides, our cells weren’t growing but they were very intimate and they had become the backbone of everything we did as a body. We decided to step out by faith.

We started by casting vision for the open-system to our cell leaders. Part of the vision included inspiring our cell groups to build their own friends (oikos) list. We also took advantage of our new sanctuary construction by giving markers to our members on a Sunday morning. We invited them to write their “friends list” on the floor before the carpet went down as a reminder to pray. They filled the floor with names!

The next step was to cast vision to the congregation and encourage everyone to participate in a cell for a six-week “trial” period. Our cell numbers soared. A high percentage of those who responded stayed after the trial period.

Since then, we’ve seen a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit blowing through the place! There is a new buzz in our monthly cell leader’s gatherings. There is new fervor in our prayer times. People are coming to Christ in larger numbers than ever and intimacy among our members is at an all time high. Add to that, we’ve now started new cells on area college campuses and even on board a US Navy ship deployed in the middle east. Thanks Joel!

Next week, I’ll blog about the training process we’re using to prepare laborers for the harvest. For now, how about sharing your stories of the impact of evangelism at the cell level?

Jim

Many Approaches – One Desired Outcome

By Michael Sove

In previous weeks we have been talking about all the ways cell groups can emphasize evangelism as a group, from, “body-life” evangelism to praying over the open chair as the group gathers weekly, to throwing monthly outreach events as a group.

Now I want to focus on the whole church gathered together and share some ideas how all the cells can work together to reach out with larger events. As I write this, we are involved in a multi-faceted series of outreach events as a church.

The Lead Pastor and our Missions Coordinator met with city officials a few weeks back and asked if there was a particular part of town that really needed a positive influence that we could adopt as a church.  They quickly told us about an area only a few miles away from where we meet for our weekend services.

Two weeks ago, about ninety of us went out door to door inviting the residents to a “Block Party” to be held in their area the next week.  People were really receptive to the invitation.  At this “Block Party” there was free food and games, door prizes, music etc.  Here is a link for you to get an idea of how it went for us.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtuH6SxOPOc&feature=sub At the “Block Party” we passed out invitations to our next big event “Double Day” which will be held this weekend.  An estimated 500 people came through the “Block Party.”

Double Day is just our internal name for this weekend where we are seeking to double the number of first time guests in our Sunday services.  The message is called “Peace of Mind… At Last” and is geared for those we are inviting.  We have been advertising in the community all month with billboards, yard signs and most importantly, personal invitations.  Each person has been asked to invite two people who do not know Christ.

Finally, one week later we are holding our annual Comedy Night.  For this event, we invite a well known, Christian comedian to come in and we give personal invitations to our un-churched friends.  This Saturday night event is packed out every year.  My friends without Christ will come to an event like this.  We encourage our cell members to pay for their friend’s tickets, take them to dinner and then to the event!

We have held golf outings and many other events that are easy to invite people to.  In all these events there is one desired outcome, which is best expressed by the following verse:

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

What events have you used to successfully reach out to your community?

Michael

Taking Over the Air with the Gospel

MARIO
by Mario Vega

Even though Elim Church is a cell church, its evangelization work is not confined to cells only. One strategy Elim has developed over the years is the use of media.

We’ve discovered that the use of radio and television are effective tools of evangelization and church growth. Currently, the church owns six radio stations and one television channel. These mediums of communication and evangelism have impacted the country in an incredible way.

Elim began working with cells in September 1986. Two months earlier, Elim acquired its first radio station. In 1988 the city’s stadium was first used for a rally attended by approximately 25.000 people. The church had tripled its members.

As I saw what appeared to me like a huge crowd, I asked the former senior pastor at that time: “What has produced the growth? The cells or the radio?” The Pastor thought for a few seconds and replied: “I don’t know.”

The question was not answered until 1995, in the city of Santa Ana, El Salvador where I was pastoring at the time. The church in Santa Ana completed its transition to the cellular model in 1987 and began to see strong, consistent growth. In 1995 the Santa Ana church acquired its first radio station and saw about the same level of growth as before. The difference in eight years showed that both cell and radio were important elements in evangelization and discipleship. Since then, we use the media as another way of proclaiming the gospel in a cell church.

Comments?

Mario

Translation:

Tomando los aires con el evangelio.

Si bien Iglesia Elim es una iglesia celular, su trabajo de evangelización no se limita solamente a las células. Elim desarrolla otras acciones evangelizadoras de las cuales solo deseo mencionar, por hoy, el uso de los medios de comunicación.

El uso de la radio y de la televisión es para nosotros una de las herramientas más poderosas de evangelización. En la actualidad, la iglesia posee seis emisoras de radio y un canal de televisión propios. El fruto que se ha cosechado es incontable y la influencia en el país innegable.

Elim comenzó a trabajar con células en septiembre de 1986. Dos meses antes, también se había adquirido la primera emisora de radio. En 1988 se utilizó por primera vez el estadio de la ciudad para un evento al que asistieron aproximadamente 25,000 personas. La iglesia había triplicado sus miembros.

Al ver lo que me parecía una enorme multitud, le pregunté a quien era el Pastor Principal en ese tiempo: ‘¿Qué ha producido el crecimiento? ¿Las células o la radio?’ El Pastor se quedó pensativo unos segundos y luego me respondió: ‘No sé.”

La pregunta no tuvo respuesta hasta 1995 en la ciudad donde entonces yo era Pastor: Santa Ana. Sucede que en Santa Ana la iglesia completó su transición al modelo celular en 1987 y produjo a partir de entonces un crecimiento sostenido. Pero en 1995 adquirió su primera emisora de radio. Esa diferencia de 8 años entre los dos eventos mostró claramente el efecto de cada elemento. El crecimiento proporcionado por estas dos herramientas de evangelización era equiparable. Desde entonces, usamos los medio de comunicación como otra manera de anunciar el evangelio en una iglesia celular.

Points of Evangelism

Jeff Tunnell

Baptisms in homes and at public facilities (beaches, pools, apartment building spas, etc) have proved a good venue for us.  Friends and family members of the person being baptized feel no pressure in responding to an invitation to attend.  Here they will listen to the testimonies of all being baptized and we regularly make an appeal to the unsaved to welcome Jesus into their hearts (even being baptized at the same time).

Celebration gatherings on Sunday have become our greatest point of interaction with those seeking a relationship with Christ and his people.  God has drawn them to us and they are looking for the reason to connect.  This is where cell leaders introduce themselves and extend a warm invite to their cell.  We often have the cell leaders stand and identify themselves while we point out the printed contact information on the back of our weekly handout (bulletin).  We do not leave this as a “come to us” gospel strategy, we want the “go” in gospel to be at the forefront of our thinking, so we are proactive in approaching the visitor.

Praying together (outloud) for new leaders that God wants to establish within our congregation, we acknowledge that many of our new leaders are still pre-saved and need to come to salvation.  I like this prayer time!  It keeps an edge on our view of those we meet, investigating their need for salvation while wondering if this is our next leader – it’s very much like a treasure hunt.

Annual youth conferences produce a high level of interest for young people.  They enjoy getting to go away from home for a weekend with peers.  Many unsaved will gladly tag along to see what it is all about, leaving us with the opportunity to reap a harvest.

Overall, elementary aged children seem to be the easiest harvest to gather.  They respond to the love of the Saviour simply.  We must always give the moment in our celebrations and cells for this response to be made.  Harvesting the parents later is the next step in reaching the child’s oikos.

Concluding today I would like to insert an excerpt from the October 2010 newsletter of Great Commission Ministries:

Looking for God

On September 20th, I noticed an intriguing story on a BBC news web page. The headline read: “The Top 10 Unanswerable Questions Revealed”.

The internet search engine “Ask Jeeves” had compiled what it called the Top Ten “unanswerable questions” of the past decade. The list was based on 1.1 billion queries made on the website. The top two questions asked by over one billion people was: “What is the meaning of life?” and “Is there a God?”  Isn’t this a massive wake up call for every follower of Christ? This is a golden hour of opportunity. The answers are right at our fingertips—in the Scriptures.  Today holds a great opportunity for evangelism through media saturation of mega cities with the Gospel to answer the greatest questions of our generation. Let us labor together as never before. We can shake the cities of our generation with the Gospel!

Cell Evangelism: Whatever It Takes

JOELby Joel Comiskey

Even though prayer is primary in the evangelization of lost souls, God uses human beings to reach unbelievers. And while it’s true that only God can regenerate someone, He uses people to plant and water.

Cell groups and cell churches primarily focus on building relationships (oikos connections) in the process of sowing the seed. Meeting needs is also a critical component of softening hardened ground. But what about other evangelistic techniques? What are some of the additional ways cells reach out?

My personal conviction is this: Do whatever it takes to win people to Jesus. I’ve coached some cell pastors who limited themselves evangelistically, thinking that cells and cell churches only practice certain types of evangelism. One cell church pastor, for example, limited himself by ONLY spending months and months getting to know a few non-Christians. He thought this was the only way cell churches COULD evangelize (i.e., other methods were “against the rules”).

I told him to open his mind and methods by starting a food pantry, passing out fliers, and any other evangelistic method that worked in his community. I shared with him other methods that cells have used effectively such as:

  • Special dinners or potlucks. Remember that Jesus was always eating with people—often in their homes.
  • Moving the cell from house to house. This is an excellent way to attract visitors. When a cell member hosts the meeting in his or her home, that member’s friends and family are more likely to attend.
  • Video in the cell. Some have used the Jesus video or parts of a secular video with a specific purpose in mind (e.g., Shindler’s List)
  • Sports event. One cell leader in Portland, Oregon said in one of my seminars: “We as a cell group plan an evangelistic outreach every six weeks. We’ll go to a Portland Trailblazer basketball game or something else at least every six weeks. In this way, we’re constantly reaching out and befriending non-Christians. Without regularity, we find we lose persistency.”
  • Interest/share groups. Ralph Neighbour has developed and tested materials to prepare members to start 12 week outreach groups to reach non-Christians.
  • Witness-Works time. Use the Witness/Works time to talk about cell outreach or plan for a future multiplication. Laurence Singlehurst (Cell UK) has developed excellent materials to enhance this aspect of the cell.

Many cell churches also reach out via the celebration service, planning 2-4 harvest events each year. The cells are mobilized to invite their non-Christian contacts and follow-up visitors and new converts.

Cell churches are uniquely positioned to reach out through a wide variety of methods. What method (s) has worked best for you? What are you currently doing to reach out?

Joel

The Vision Begins to Take Shape

jim

I, Joel Comiskey, am excited to present Jim Wall, our guest blogger. Dr. Wall pastors a growing cell church in Chesapeake, VA. Jim is not only a friend, but I’ve had the privilege of visiting/consulting with this church on two different occassions. He will share the next three “Thursday” blogs.

by Jim Wall

I sat in the seminar knowing God was saying something profound to me. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew I’d never be the same. The speaker talked about the problem of having a generation of Americans, who still believed in God, but had given up on the church. He said it was going to get worse. That was 1979. By 1989, that experience grew into a vision for a church designed to do something about it. Western Branch Community Church in Chesapeake, Virginia was born.

The first seven years were amazing. I knew there were thousands of unchurched people within a short drive of our new rented facilities. I had no idea how many would respond to this new church. By 1996, the church had well over 1,000 people attending services regularly with 60% of them reporting they were unchurched before coming.

As exciting as that was, we had another problem. We had managed to get them into church and even to lead them to make a profession of faith in Christ. We weren’t see much life-changed. I had to acknowledge we were an immature body at best. I also came to realize during that period that we had just as many people going out the back door as we had coming in the front! Clearly, something had to be done.

To address those problems, I formed a team of seven mature couples. I told them our task was to learn how to help our members mature in Christ without losing our evangelistic effectiveness. I told them, “We’ve got to keep reaching lost people. At the same time, we have to close our back door and help these baby Christians grow.” After months of praying, visiting effective churches, reading books and attending seminars we agreed; God was calling us to become a cell-based church.

That team became the prototype cell. One year later, I began to preach the value of authentic Christian community to the congregation and to call them to join a cell group. The transition to the cell-based model was underway. The next four years were filled with spiritual warfare. Many battles were won and some were lost. Most of our members embraced the cell-church vision. Some left the church. They were some of the brightest days and the darkest days in the history of our young church.

Today, we are a cell-based church approaching 100 cells and 2,500 regular weekend worshipers. The majority of our growth continues to come from the unchurched people around us. We’ve seen life-transformation happen among our members—including a depth of worship and spiritual maturity that has brought healing to their lives and (I pray) glory to the name of Christ.

Next week, I’ll write a bit about the process we’ve developed to help our members mature. For now, I’d love to hear about your stories of struggle and success as you help your congregation connect with one another and mature in Christ.

Comments?

Jim

Connection Week – Net Fishing Together

By Michael Sove

One of the exciting aspects of being in a cell group is the opportunity to work together to maximize impact on those the group is praying for to receive Christ.  Each of us has a different set of relationships and even the ability to be aware of and pray for each other’s friends is a powerful step toward reaching them.

As a church we have declared the week following the first Sunday of each month “Connection Week.”   All our Life Groups (Cells) hold events during “Connection Week.”  The goal is to connect with people who are without Christ or even those who are attending our weekend services who have not connected to a group.  The group can meet on their normal gathering night or any time during that week.  Many of our groups hold their events on the weekend of “Connection Week” as we have found unconnected people will be more inclined to participate in an event held on a weekend versus a weeknight.  The event can also be a service evangelism project, anything to impact people and be out in the community.

For those unconnected on the inside this gives an opportunity once a month to invite people to connect with a group.  Many times this is their first exposure to our groups.  It is good to hold monthly events focused on outreach.  Years ago I used to say to the cell leaders, “Hold an event every six weeks or so beside your normal gatherings.”  What I found was that some groups would and some wouldn’t.  It was seen as something optional.  Another problem was that often the time would stretch out to a few months in between events as well.  Now that we hold them accountable on a monthly basis and declare a given week for these events, the groups are very good about holding events.  We do have to constantly remind our leaders that these events are for connecting and not simply fellowship events for their groups.

There is great potential when all cell members are actively building relationships with those needing Christ, then praying for each other and these relationships to grow.  Combine that with events designed with those relationships in mind and there is great potential to see people come to Christ on a regular basis as the cell group throws out a net together.

What do your groups do to reach out together?

Michael

Winning People for Jesus with Actions

MARIO
by Mario Vega

For evangelism to be effective in the cell, emphasis must be placed on action rather than in words. People without Jesus are drawn to the actions of believers rather than their mere words. For this reason, at Elim Church, our leaders have been trained to evangelize using the following five steps:

1. Make a list of family and friends (oikos).

2. Choose two people from the list and start praying daily for their conversion.

3. Build ties of friendship with those two people, serving them and introducing them to other Christians.

4. Do works of love and care for them.

5. Invite them to the cell.

Notice how the invitation to the cell is the final step. Before this, it is necessary to define the circle of influence and to make a systematic effort of prayer and works of love for these people. When a Christian has dedicated himself to cultivating loving actions, the people will find it hard to resist an invitation to a cell. We emphasize that these works of love are not to be used only as a hook to catch guests, but must be genuine and sincere. This effort has borne much fruit.

Comments?

Mario

Spanish translation:

Evangelismo en la célula.

Para que el evangelismo en la célula sea efectivo, se debe colocar énfasis en los hechos más que en las palabras. Se sabe que las personas reaccionan más ante las obras de los cristianos que ante sus palabras. Por esa razón, en Iglesia Elim, nuestros líderes han sido entrenados para evangelizar siguiendo los siguientes cinco pasos:

1. Elaborar una lista de familiares y amigos (oikos).

2. Escoger de esa lista dos personas para comenzar a orar por su conversión todos los días.

3. Estrechar la amistad con esas dos personas, servirles y presentarles a otros cristianos.

4. Hacer obras de amor e interés a favor de ellos.

5. Invitarlos a la célula.

Como puede notarse, la invitación a la célula es el paso final. Antes de ello, se hace necesario definir el círculo de influencia y realizar un esfuerzo sistemático de oración y obras de amor a favor de esas personas. Cuando un cristiano se ha dedicado a cultivar acciones de amor, es muy difícil que las personas se resistan a una invitación a una célula. Enfatizamos que esas obras de amor no deben ser usadas sólo como un anzuelo para cazar invitados, sino que deben ser auténticas y sinceras. Este esfuerzo ha llevado mucho fruto.

Developing Relationships with Non-Christians

Jeff Tunnell

Pastors may find this aspect of cell ministry quite pressing on their minds maybe even to the point of awkwardness or condemnation.  We rarely have relationships outside the context of the church family.  As a matter of course the majority of our waking moments are spent between maintaining relationship with God and the people we are leading.  Where can we find additional time to develop a relationship with someone outside the church?

We reason that it may be possible to multi-task this assignment while doing something else; Golf course?  A bus stop?  Passerby?  Even during a funeral or memorial service there might be a connection, right?

OIKOS is the key here.  Look inside the circle of influence ALREADY in place.  Not the wide body of congregation members, but the narrow field of individuals with whom we presently interact on a weekly basis.  Re-read Acts 10:24 and see how Cornelius gathered his family and close friends to hear Peter.  Who would you be inviting, personally, to hear Peter?  Go ahead, list their names on a paper or file on your computer screen and ask yourself “Are any of these people unsaved?”  “Do I have enough primary relationship to move to another level?”  Pinpoint one to begin praying for and then watch for God to open the moment into which you can take the next step of friendship.  See them as a person, not something to be conquered or a number for a goal sheet.  Learn how to do this and model it for those in your cell group.

Cell members have the advantage here.  Their work relationships and neighborhood exchanges provide a larger group of pre-saved people to choose from, so always work through the cell members’ oikos to reach your community. After all, it is a part of the cell strategy.