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The Four Streams of Ministry and the Cell Church

by Joel Comiskey

June 2005

Billy Graham once said that God is using four major streams/movements in the world today:

  • Contemporary Worship
  • Purpose Driven
  • Cell Church
  • Seeker Sensitive

These four streams were the focus of a recent conference in Cambridge, England, hosted by the C-3 church of which Steve Campbell is the senior pastor. The church invited me to represent the cell church stream, and as a side-benefit I took my entire family with me!

Gary Clarke, senior pastor of Hillsong in London, started the conference with a message on contemporary worship. He described how dynamic, lively Hillsong-type worship has helped grow his church to 4,000 people on Sunday morning. His message did not relate to my understanding of seeker sensitive but again, this conference didn’t attempt to integrate the four streams. The purpose, rather, was to call pastors and leaders to take the brave step of making change. The conference, in fact, was called Crossing.

The next speaker was Dan Southerland. I soon realized that Dan introduced the four streams to the Cambridge church and goes everywhere proclaiming the need for change. He talks highly of all four movements, but it’s apparent that he’s a spokesperson for the purpose driven church (he wrote the book called Transitioning).

I was pleasantly surprised when he presented cell church as one of the streams. He boldly proclaimed that the cell is the church AND that four of the five purposes of God can best be fulfilled in the cell (e.g., fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, and ministry are best fulfilled in the cell). He felt that worship might be best fulfilled in the celebration.

Southerland challenged those present to break out of their ministry boxes, and I felt the Lord speak to me about the danger of over-defining cell church structure and thus putting God in a box. God is so much bigger than our boxes and is constantly breaking out of them.

When my turn came, I pointed out that cell church is the best way to integrate all four streams. “After all,” I said, “cell church highlights the two winged focus of both cell and celebration. The cell church evangelizes and disciples through both cell and celebration.” “Cell evangelism,” I said, “is second only to multiplication in priority.” I also shared that many cell churches have dynamic, contemporary worship services.

After the conference, an older lady whose husband pastors a small, traditional church near Cambridge, approached me with a sincere question, “Forgive me because I’m a slow learner, but what was the main point of this conference? Could you tell me if your message was the way to practically integrate the other streams?”

I told her that I was not officially designated to connect the diverse streams mentioned in the seminar. “I think the main purpose of this conference was to help people to change in general,” I told her. “I do believe strongly, however, that cell church is the best strategy to fulfill the other streams and to reach a world for Jesus.”

The Cambridge conference taught me two major lessons. First, I need to guard against closed cell church boxes that exclude God’s creative power. Second, pastors and leaders need a guiding principle. Talking about all four streams on an equal level can easily leave pastors stranded in theory.

I came away more convinced than ever that cell driven ministry is the best way to connect the other streams and have an effective ministry for Jesus.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey's book Cell Church Solutions: Transforming the Church in North America expounds on how to make cell church work in a North American context. Buy HERE or call 1-888-344-CELL.