JCG Report and Church Planting in Practice

JOELby Joel Comiskey

Allow me to give an update on the ninth annual JCG board meeting and third annual special event. Both were held last week in Dallas. On Thursday, each board member (Mario Vega, Jeff Tunnell, Rob Campbell, and Celyce Comiskey) shared trials and victories of the past year–both personally and ministerially. On Friday, we spent a lot of time dreaming about the JCG event for 2012 and how to resource the worldwide cell church movement.

Special praise: Last year we set the goal of 100 registered guests for the 2011 JCG event (even though we only had 14 people register for the 2010 JCG event). While we were in the board meeting on Friday, eight new people registered, which made 100 exactly! God is faithful. During the event on Saturday, Mario Vega and I rotated the speaking load. Jeff Tunnell did an incredible job of organizing the entire event. Celyce and Rob Campbell played vital roles as well. We felt the event exceeded our expectations.

Next year’s event will also be in Dallas on Saturday, February 25, 2012. Those speaking English will meet in one part of the building and Spanish speakers in another. Mario Vega and I will rotate the speaking among both language groups and the JCG team will help out with the English group.


This week, we will be blogging about cell church planting models–those who are doing a great job of it. One exciting cell church planting ministry is Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. Jimmy Seibert, the founding pastor of ACC, was radically transformed at the age of seventeen. He started small groups on the Baylor University Campus that eventually grew to 600 students on four campuses. He and some of the students wrote a book called Reaching College Students through Cells. In 1999 Jimmy started ACC.

ACC has sent thirty-eight church planting teams to twenty-four nations all over the world and have a missionary support staff from their own church of 450. ACC has never been content to grow one church larger and larger. Yet as the mother church gives itself away, it keeps growing (135 life groups and 2500 in worship attendance). Like the New Testament church, God has called them to become a church planting movement. Jimmy once told me that churches need to offer their people a practical missionary vision to reach the world. As a college pastor, he noticed that parachurch organizations were often more mission focused than the church. “God’s plan is for the church to offer a world vision. Young people long to give themselves to a world-changing vision,” Jimmy said.

ACC breathes the principle of multiplication—in their groups, leaders, churches, and missionaries. Each year ACC offers either a missions conference or a church planting conference on a rotating basis.

Antioch believes and teaches the need for brokenness and the filling of the Holy Spirit which result in radical obedience. This church emphasizes very plain, clear biblical concepts. I pressed Jimmy about what model he was following and he kept on coming back to their desire to follow biblical principles. “The church at large doesn’t do the simple, biblical things well so we get caught up in following models,” he told me. The home life group is the basis for church planting at Antioch, just like it was in the New Testament period.

What are some of the other fruitful cell church planting models? Please share.


Understanding Your Region and Context

By Michael Sove

This week we are talking about church planting strategies for cell churches.  Obviously understanding your region and context is very important in the selection of a strategy that makes the most sense for church planting impact.  Last week I talked about some of the lessons I learned from the experiences I’ve had in planting, rescuing and merging churches.

In my first church plant I lived on the south side of Indianapolis, just outside Hwy 465 which loops the city.  In that context, it would take over an hour to completely circle the city.  I found out that for the most part, people wouldn’t travel from the north to the south to attend a celebration service.  I was part of a church planting vision from a mothering church on the west side that wanted to plant 10 churches in ten years around Indianapolis.  All of the churches were mentored under the staff of the mothering church until self-support status could be attained, usually about four years.  We all had our own vision and strategy and were autonomous once self-supporting, but we were keenly aware that we were part of a larger vision for a city. We did things together and the pastors of those plants maintained close relationships as we envisioned influencing all of Indianapolis.

In another region south of Dayton, Ohio I rescued and merged two churches together.  This was more of a rural setting and people were spread out.  Our church was located on a State highway and there was easy access to it.  The vision we had there was to bring worshipers to a central location yet plant networks of cells in the surrounding towns. If a network could grow to about 100 people or ten cells, the vision was to plant a new celebration service but that congregation would remain under the central hub for leadership and overall vision.

Years later in the same region, I formed a house church network.  The house churches were independent but we came together for quarterly worship events.  We were spread out across the Miami Valley of Ohio, which spanned Western Ohio from north to south. We envisioned a five-fold ministry team of leaders who would serve the overall network and give it leadership.  This was a much larger regional vision.

Now I find myself on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on the peninsula known as Delmarva.  We have a central worship location and people travel from greater distances to attend our celebration services.  The vision we have here is to plant cells and form networks of cells in the surrounding towns but to maintain a central location for worship.

So through prayer and an understanding of your region and context, God will give you the strategy that makes the most sense and has the greatest Kingdom impact.



Building Mega Churches


by Mario Vega

There are several models of church planting that cell churches follow. In our case, we have opted to set up mega churches instead of many churches. In fact, when the cell work was adopted, we had about 22 churches in the capital city. As part of the adoption of the cell model the decision to close those churches was taken to centralize the effort into one mega church.

Since then, Elim has been focused on a few churches that have become quite numerous. In a country like El Salvador, we only have about 40 churches. This is a small number when compared to the Assemblies of God which has more than 1,100 churches in the country.

One reason we chose to become a mega cell church is to unify forces. By doing this, we have been able to achieve great goals such as television, various radio stations, land, buildings, etc. If the efforts were scattered in several churches, each one would have its own projects, and it would be very difficult to achieve something that would impact the country. For example, Elim owns a TV station which broadcasts 24 hours a day and covers the entire country.

A mega church also has considerable political impact within society. It allows the church to influence decision making, the enactment of laws, etc. The church can become a protagonist and a speaker before the State. Of course, this power can also be a temptation, but if the equanimity is maintained, the influence can be used to exercise an exemplary and ethical influence.

Some of our church plants have built the largest buildings in the interior of the country, and this allows them to develop a wide variety of projects to benefit their communities.

Obviously, we are not opposed in any way to the policy of aggressive church planting. I would not even dare to recommend our strategy for others to follow. However, our policy has its reasons, and that is what I have tried to explain here.



Translation into Spanish

Edificando mega iglesias.

Existen varios modelos de plantación de iglesias que siguen las iglesias celulares. En nuestro caso, hemos optado por establecer mega iglesias en lugar de muchas iglesias. De hecho, cuando se adoptó el trabajo celular, teníamos alrededor de 22 iglesias en la ciudad capital. Como parte de la adopción del modelo celular se tomó la decisión de cerrar esas iglesias para centralizar el esfuerzo en una sola mega iglesia.

Desde entonces, Elim ha estado enfocada en muy pocas iglesias pero que llegan a ser bastante numerosas. En un país como El Salvador, solamente tenemos unas 40 iglesias. Si eso se compara, por ejemplo, con las Asambleas de Dios que tienen más de 1,100 iglesias en el país, resulta ser una cantidad muy pequeña.

Las razones son varias. Una es que solamente unificando las fuerzas la iglesia ha podido alcanzar grandes metas como la televisión, las radios, los terrenos, los edificios. Si las fuerzas estuvieran dispersas en varias iglesias, cada una tendría sus propios proyectos y difícilmente podría alcanzarse algo que impactara el país. Impactar como la televisión, por ejemplo, que transmite 24 horas diarias cubriendo todo el país.

Una mega iglesia también desarrolla una influencia política considerable dentro de la sociedad. Eso permite que la iglesia tenga los elementos como para influir en la toma de decisiones, promulgación de leyes, etc. La iglesia se convierte en una protagonista e interlocutora frente al Estado. Eso supone la tentación de capitalizar la fuerza en un sentido partidario; pero, si se mantiene la ecuanimidad, la influencia puede usarse para ejercer una influencia ética y ejemplar.

Otras de nuestras iglesias han construido los edificios más grandes en el interior del país y, eso, les permite desarrollar diversos proyectos de beneficio para sus comunidades. Obviamente, no nos oponemos en ninguna manera a que otras iglesias sigan una política de plantación agresiva de iglesias. Ni siquiera me atrevería a recomendar que se siguiera nuestra política. No obstante, esa política tiene sus razones y, eso, es lo que he tratado de exponer.

Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria…

by Jeff Tunnell

The primary thrust of the Apostles had direction from the risen Lord Jesus.  Starting in the center of the earth, Jerusalem, they would then expand an ever-extending circle of the gospel’s reach until the entire earth was affected.

I have been called to a “Jerusalem” of sorts for my life; the center of my world is a small resort community in the Southern California mountains called Big Bear Valley.  This is where I start.  I am not suggesting a limitation by stages, rather a vibrant heartbeat for my immediate surroundings.  It may be that, in a sense, we are on an island one hour’s drive in any direction from the lower elevations, sticking up above the clouds that makes me focus here first.

So my goal is to saturate this community with cells first and as we progress by building districts of cells to keep them connected in one church.  More of the Elim model mentioned by Joel in yesterday’s blog.  I would not resist a satellite church with it’s own leader as God raises up a leader, but I would keep the fellowship of churches connected overall.   This has been my vision now for some years, I’ve failed at accomplishing it twice.  If Dr. Cho is correct, I must fail that many times before success, so hopefully we’ll get Judea in our sites soon also!

Strategies for Planting Cell Churches

JOELby Joel Comiskey

Whenever I do a seminar about cell church planting, I start by talking about the different concepts or strategies for cell church planting. I’ve noticed four:

  • Plant Independent Cell Churches in the Same City
  • Plant Independent Cell Churches in Different Cities
  • Plant Satellite Cell Churches in the Same City

Some churches /denominations plant independent daughter cell churches in the same city, like the Southern Baptists do all over the world. Normally, the church planter opens a cell in a home or restaurant and invites people.As the cell group grows and new leaders are trained, multiplicationtakes place. Eventually a celebration service is started once per month and when there are enough cells the frequency of the celebration increases. I highlight this simple cell church planting option in my book Planting Churches that Reproduce.

Some cell churches choose to plant only one cell church per city. The Elim Church in San Salvador is an example of this strategy. Elim does plant churches in different cities—just not in the same city. The Elim Church now has more than 120 churches in distinct cities around the world with about 200,000 attending them. Before Elim starts a celebration service in a city, they wait until there are at least five cell groups fully operating. They want to make sure the cell system is fully functioning before they go public.

Other cell churches have chosen to plant satellite cell churches that are connected to the mother church. The finances of the satellite churches, for example, are administered through the mother church, and the satellite pastors are seen as staff pastors for the mother church. Often the satellite pastors attend the weekly staff meeting, with the exception of those staff pastors who live too far away.

One caution: A senior pastor should never try to keep leaders under his control through the satellite model. Some satellite pastors may feel trapped and never able to fully express themselves as the pastor of their own church. We need to be willing to release anyone who wants to plant a church, and then do our best to assure the success of the new church.



Fruit First

STEVEby Steve Cordle

There are many excellent church planter assessment programs being offered today. However, before sending a candidate to an assessment program, I look for one trait: have they started and multiplied a group?

Not everyone who multiplies a cell should plant a church, but everyone who wants to plant a church should first multiply a cell. This can save a lot of heartache and money. If someone cannot gather people in a group and equip a new leader, they will not be effective as a cell-church planter, no matter how much they desire to do so.

If the cell is the basic building block of the church, then those who seek to start a church need to be able to create that basic unit.

Ideally, the planter should be able to start a cell not only from within an existing church, but also be able to add unchurched people to the group. When that is happening, you have a candidate to send to the church planter assessment program!



Presence, Passion, Persistence and Perspective

by Michael Sove

One of my favorite talks is to hear Mario Vega tell his story and the importance of passion and persistence.  This week as we are talking about the qualities of church planters, those two words fit perfectly with the qualities that would make a great church planter.  From my own life and experience of planting, rescuing and merging churches, I want to add a few more.

The most important quality for someone who would plant a church is what I call “Presence.”  Their number one role is to stay very close to God.  He is the source, the power, the real leader of any movement to reach the unreached.  Prayer and listening followed by obedience is critical in any church planting endeavor.

Next is “Passion.”  A church planter needs to have passion for this calling.  This includes passion for God, passion for people and passion for the vision God gives.  Passion is the fuel that will help this point person gather a core team, reach out to the lost, and lead the vision.

Of course “Persistence” is the quality that will keep the church planter going when they face the obstacles, doubts and perhaps the dark night of the soul that comes with any new venture.  Persistence keeps the church planter going when they cannot see any progress or come up against an unforeseen challenge.

Another quality I want to address is what I call “Perspective.”  The very qualities that help a church planter to succeed can also hurt those closest to them.  Make sure your spouse and or children are not lost in the process of planting.  The demands of church planting can wreak havoc on a marriage or a family unless balance is maintained.

If I could do it all over again, I would spend even more time with God, plant with a team and protect my family by giving them priority time in my schedule and not assuming they’ll understand.  May more churches be planted for the sake of the lost and the Glory of God.



Working Together to Plant Churches


by Mario Vega

One of the characteristics of church planters is that they must have an appreciation for the Body of Christ. This appreciation should manifest itself in an effort to achieve cooperation with other denominations.

Probably one of the main weaknesses in church planting is the duplication of efforts due to lack of strategic effort and failure to utilize the experience of others. Knowing what others are planning and communication of goals is vital to develop a joint effort. This effort can build team work in the area of finances, human resources, and more effective evangelization.

When working in isolation, planting new churches can be counterproductive to other efforts that are already taking place. This may even lead to an unnecessary competition between denominations. It is not about extending a personal or ecclesiastical kingdom. It is about extending the kingdom of God.

It’s not necessary that each denomination has its own name posted in every sector of the city. What is important is that the church is a light in every community. Instead of accumulating churches side by side on a street, it is best to place them strategically to get a much more extensive and wider network. In this way the body of Christ can work together, rather than work as a personal enterprise.



Translation into Spanish

La cooperación en la plantación de iglesias.

Una de las cualidades de los plantadores de iglesias es que deben tener un aprecio por el Cuerpo de Cristo. Este aprecio debe manifestarse en un esfuerzo por alcanzar la cooperación con otras denominaciones.

Probablemente, una de las mayores debilidades en la plantación de iglesias sea la de la duplicación de esfuerzos, el desaprovechamiento de la experiencia de otros y la falta de una visión estratégica. El conocer lo que otros planean y el dar a conocer lo que se piensa es vital para elaborar un esfuerzo conjunto. Este esfuerzo permite construir acuerdos para una optimización de las finanzas, la disponibilidad de recursos humanos y una mayor eficacia evangelizadora.

Cuando se trabaja de manera aislada, el plantar nuevas iglesias puede llegar a ser contraproducente para otros esfuerzos que ya se hacen. Incluso, puede conducir a una competencia innecesaria entre denominaciones. No se trata de extender un reinado eclesiástico o personal. Se trata de extender el reino de Dios.

Probablemente en determinado sector o ciudad no habrá un edificio con el nombre de cada denominación existente. Tal vez, el nombre de una denominación no se encuentre; pero, lo importante es que exista una iglesia que sea la luz en esa comunidad. En lugar de acumular iglesias, lado a lado sobre una calle, es mejor ubicarlas estratégicamente para obtener una red mucho más extensa y amplia. De esa manera, se estará trabajando como Cuerpo de Cristo y no como una empresa personal.

Qualifications of Church Planters

by Jeff Tunnell

Saved, called, set apart. Sent, anointed, sincere.  Knowledgeable, understanding scripture, fearless. Undeterred by persecution, bold, willing to die.  Workers of miracles, preachers of revelation, servants of Jesus.  Dependent, praying, faithful.  Heralds of Good News, dispensers of truth, confounders of religion.  Eyewitnesses of the works of Christ, obedient to His commands, sharers in His sufferings.  Stewards of grace, seekers of a homeland, strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

These are a few “qualifications” I found in the book of Acts of the Apostles for church planters!  The New Testament evangelists were motivated by a passion that pushes a person beyond caring for the comforts offered by this world, in order to obtain the promises given by the Savior.


Two Essential Qualities for Church Planters

joelby Joel Comiskey

Two weeks ago when I challenged the 800 cell leaders and supervisors at Bethel International Church to be church planters, I realized that those who responded would need two key qualities:

1. Call of God.

When a person is called by God to plant a church, he or she will hang in there until it’s accomplished. A lack of a true calling by God is why many church planters give up. If the church planter is married, this means that both husband and wife are called. I’ve witnessed church planting failures due to the hesitancy and resistance of a spouse. Jesus told us to count the cost before making a decision to follow Him. Counting the “church planting cost” means that both husband and wife are in one hundred percent agreement before starting the church.

2. Training.

Some church planters will be trained formally in a seminary / Bible college setting while others will receive training through the local church (e.g., biblical knowledge, church planting principles, etc.).

Beyond the knowledge is the foundational training of leading and multiplying a cell group before trying to plant a cell church. Why? Because this is essentially what the church planter will be doing when planting the church. Bob Roberts, Jr., church planting pastor and author of The Multiplying Church, writes:

The church planting interns start small groups in our church, so they are part of our normal, ongoing community. They get to “take with them” anyone they reach in their small group, keeping in mind that the majority of their people are going to come from outside Northwood. If they can’t start a small group, why should they think they can start a church? If all they do is gather existing church members for their small group, they haven’t indicated their ability to plant a church. When they gather people from outside Northwood, we start getting excited (The Multiplying Church, p. 66).

Leading and multiplying a small group gives the church planter confidence to do the same in a church planting setting. Simple cell church planting is all about raising up leaders for the harvest who can lead home groups and keep the process going.

More church planters needed

I believe that many more are called to plant churches than are actually doing it. As Steve Cordle mentioned last week, “Over 180 million Americans do not have a vital church connection and less than 5% of churches are growing through reaching the un-churched.” In other parts of the world, the statistics are far worse. Cordle then quotes Peter Wagner’s famous declaration, “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches (“Church Planting For a Greater Harvest,” Page 7).

Are you called to plant a church? Do you have plans to give birth to a daughter church? Additional comments?