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Cell Principles Your Church can Use

by Joel Comiskey, January 2006

Jeff Tunnell’s church, Big Bear Christian Center, is located in an area of California where some believe cell ministry just doesn’t work (pop. 6,000 and perhaps 25,000 in greater Big Bear). One former Big Bear pastor told me that Big Bear people are fiercely independent and uninterested in cell community. “After all,” he said, “they moved up to Big Bear to get away from people.” If this is true, then how did BBCC go from 19 cells in 2004 to 31 cells in 2005? (and cell growth brought lots of new people to the celebration services).

I’ve been coaching this church for the last 2 ½ years and know them up close. Each week I have the privilege of spending ½ hour with pastor Jeff on the telephone. Each month both Jeff and Mike meet in my home for coaching—along with other pastors. Allow me to share seven life-changing principles from BBCC that will fine-tune your church experience:

Principle #1: Make sure the senior pastor is leading the charge

The more I engage with cell churches around the world, the more I’m convinced that unless the senior pastor (and pastoral team) is leading the charge, cell ministry won’t work. Don’t even try to become a cell church unless the senior leadership is fully onboard. Jeff Tunnell has been leading a cell for years. He’s multiplied it many times. His wife leads a cell. Mike Erickson, the associate pastor, also leads a cell and has multiplied it repeatedly. Mike’s wife, Trish, is fully on board. . . . I could go on. I think you get the idea.

Question: Are you as the senior pastor fully committed to make cell church work?

Principle #2: Move beyond cells to the power of God

BBCC understands the power source—and it’s not cell ministry. It’s God. He alone empowers the cells. He alone converts sinners. He alone stirs members to rise up and prepare for cell leadership. Cell ministry is a God thing. Remember that cells are simply the vehicle through which the power of God moves. Go beyond cells to God. Structure will not grow your church.

Question: Is prayer and worship the driving force behind your church?

Principle #3: Work as a team

I love the fact that Jeff has formed a coaching team made up of pastors, their wives, and lay volunteers. These coaches meet weekly with pastor Jeff to shepherd the rest of the cells. They have exact cell statistical data that they pour over each week, while asking the question, how can we do a better coaching job?

Questions: Do you have a coaching team in place? Are you concentrating on coaching your current cells?

Principle #4: Be willing to fail

Thomas Edison once remarked, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” In 2004 Lighthouse Christian Center planned to multiply their 17 cells to 25. They ended the year with 19 cells, missing their goal by 6. But the staff refused to digress into the “cells just don’t work in Big Bear” mode. Instead, they analyzed, fine-tuned, and pressed ahead. Remember spoudé?

Question: Are you willing to learn from your failures and press ahead in cell ministry?

Principle #5: Mend your nets each year

Fishermen mend nets to fish effectively. You’ve probably heard cell ministry likened to net fishing rather than pole fishing because cell groups fish for lost souls as a group rather than individually. What you might not have heard is the need to mend the nets each year. Nets might need mending throughout the year, but cell churches should take special care to mend them at the start of each year. When the BBCC analyzed why they didn’t meet their cell multiplication goal for 2004, they noticed key holes in their net:

  • The lack of coaching. They actually lost 5 cells in 2004 and gained 7 for a net gain of 2. They realized they were so focused on new cells that they neglected their old ones. As they mended their nets in Jan. 2005, they decided to focus on coaching their existing cells. BBCC made an all-out repair on their net coaching system, pouring time and energy into cell leader care. Net result for 2005: started with 19, closed 3, added 15, saved 2, and ended November 2005 with 31.
  • Need to fine-tune the training track. BBCC now has a great cell training track because of fine-tuning. One key decision was to offer each level of training throughout the year even if only one or two people signed up.
  • Work harder in the beginning, rather than the end of the year. The lack of urgency in the first months of 2004 made it very difficult to reach their goal later on. The team corrected this deficiency and stormed into 2005 to make it work—and it did.

Question: Are you mending your cell nets each year?

Principle #6: receive coaching/networking help

Be humble and get help. And I’m not only referring to professional coaching help. Before I stepped on the scene, BBCC networked with Bethany World Prayer Center. This church has been humble enough to ask for help and coaching.

Question: Are you receiving coaching help from others in your cell church journey?

Principle #7: celebrate the fulfillment

Celebrating the fulfillment of the goal for 2005 was exciting and raised the level of expectation and excitement for the BBCC cell ministry. And they went on all-out to celebrate: great cell leader dinner, gifts, and special memory video. Encouragement keeps the fire burning.

Question: Are you encouraging your cell leaders sufficiently?

Conclusion

The great thing about principles is that they’re transferable. You’ll never be like BBCC. Your context, history, and style of ministry are completely unique. These seven principles, therefore, are simply to encourage your cell church ministry and help fine-tune it. God wants to use you and your church as a bright lighthouse to a dark, dying world.


Appendix:

I've listed below the common patterns or principles that I observed in the eight largest worldwide cell churches. The first four are the most important, in my opinion.

  1. Dependence on Jesus Christ through prayer.
  2. Senior pastor and leadership team giving strong, visionary leadership to the cell ministry.
  3. Cell ministry promoted as the backbone of the church.
  4. Clear definition of a cell group (weekly, outside the church building, evangelistic, pastoral care/discipleship, clear goal of multiplication).
  5. The passion behind cell ministry is evangelism and church growth.
  6. Reproduction (multiplication) is the major goal of each cell group.
  7. Cell and celebration attendance expected of everyone attending the church.
  8. Clearly established leadership requirements for those entering cell ministry.
  9. Required cell leadership training for all potential cell group leaders.
  10. Cell leadership developed from within the church itself, at all levels.
  11. A supervisory care structure for each level of leadership (G-12 or 5x5).
  12. Follow-up system of visitors and new converts administered through cell groups.
  13. Cell lessons based on pastor’s teaching to promote continuity between cell and celebration (although flexibility might be given to meet the needs of specific homogeneous groups)