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How to Evangelize in the Cell Group
By Joel Comiskey
After I gave a cell conference in Liverpool , Australia , Andrew Harper, associate pastor at Liverpool Christian Centre, pointed out to me that my seminar lacked any clear presentation of small group evangelism. I wrote in my diary the next day, “He nailed me.” Andrew’s comments stirred me to acknowledge that I had placed evangelism on the back burner, choosing rather to focus on other aspects of cell ministry. From that day in September 2001, I re-committed myself to connect small group evangelism more pro-actively with cell multiplication and leadership development.
Some small group pastors are even more insistent about the importance of small group evangelism. Rob Reimer, for example, says,
Something is unhealthy about cells that don't reach people. In my experience, everyone who tries to make a go at a cell church and fails, blows it on this major point. They compromise this principle and multiply cells through transfer growth. It is an unforgivable cell church sin. They end up with small groups that don't do evangelism.
Pastor Reimer has taken his church plant from 0 to 500 in secular New England society by emphasizing small group evangelism.
Randall Neighbour, president of Touch Outreach, transformed his own cell group by telling each member on the first night that each of them would see a friend, family member or co-worker come to Christ before the cell multiplied at the end of the school year. Then Randall said, “My only role in your life will be to help you get this accomplished, so get ready to be challenged. You’re about to grow.” Previously, Randall prioritized shepherding the sheep in his cell group; his new purpose is to help each one get a friend, family member or co-worker saved within six months.
Paul said to Philemon, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (verse 6). As a small group evangelizes, it experiences all those good things and begins to operate in the power of God. How does evangelism take place in the cell group? Here are a few suggestions.
If we’re going to see our friends, family, neighbors and work associates won to Christ, we must pay the price in prayer. The Scripture tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Only prayer can break the hold of the enemy on people’s lives. Satan and his demons have blinded people’s minds, and they’re unable to see the glorious gospel of Christ.
Paul says in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
Effective cells and cell leaders recognize the most effective tool to win non-Christians to Christ is through fervent prayer. They take the words of Paul seriously: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).
Jim Pesce, founder and pastor of Harvest Family Community, regularly practices prayer evangelism. Jim and his wife, Debbie, have seen people healed from all kinds of dysfunctional behavior through fasting and prayer. They regularly participate in 21-day fasts and 40-day fasts. Jim writes, “We also asked the Lord to grow our cells with new baby Christians during this fast. By faith, we set multiplication dates based on non-existent new believers, knowing only the Lord could empower us to reach these goals. All but one cell received new saints and were ready to multiply well before the multiplication dates.”
Cell evangelism begins and ends with fervent prayer. All of the other suggestions pale in comparison with prayer. Let’s fervently commit ourselves to prayer evangelism as our first and foremost resource to win lost men and women to Jesus Christ.
Evangelism as a Group Event
“I’m the cell leader. I need to do all the work.” Wrong. The cell leader is the facilitator, not the work horse. The cell leaders orchestrates the work for the whole group to carry out. Remember the concept of net fishing versus pole fishing? It’s the team that does the work. Everyone participate. The following are a list of group evangelistic ideas:
- Asks Members to Invite Non-Christians: Leaders who weekly encourage the cell members to invite visitors multiply their groups twice as much as those who do so occasionally or not at all. To be effective, cell leaders mobilize the entire team to invite new people. Dale Galloway writes: “To keep evangelism thriving in small groups, you must continue to push people out of their comfort zones by encouraging them to call on new people, putting the names of new prospects into their hands, and continually keeping the message of evangelism before them.”[i]
- Video: During a cell meeting, watch an evangelistic video instead of having a Bible-based lesson or rent a video and tie-in Bible lessons.
- Empty Chair: Place an empty chair in the cell meeting and have the members pray for the next person who will fill it.
- Special Outreach: Prepare a special outreach to one segment of society, such as police officers or teachers ( Bethany World Prayer Center used this approach with great success). Dan Godard says, “We ask each of our groups to hold one social event every 4-6 weeks. The coaches hold the groups accountable for it. We give them lots of ideas as to what they could do such as, go bowling, go for diner, have a potluck, have a B-B-Q, have a games night (board games etc.), go to a local theater, watch a movie together (especially a spiritually meaningful one).”[4 ]
Evangelism through Honest Transparency
Honest transparency is perhaps the most effective witness to win non-Christians to Jesus. My cell group experience in Moreno Valley confirms this. Our most effective evangelism has come through opening our own hearts and sharing honestly. We’ve noticed when non-Christians see other members of the group wrestling with normal day-to-day issues—just like themselves--and that Jesus makes a difference, they hunger for more of God.
Remember that the cells of John Wesley were very oriented to sharing from the heart. Wesley’s cells met only for one hour, the main event was “reporting on your soul.” The meeting was built upon sharing personal experiences of the past week. Everyone was expected “... to speak freely and plainly about every subject for from their own temptations to plans for establishing a new cottage meeting or visiting the distressed.” In other words, these groups emphasized transparency. Within this framework of “open sharing,” many were converted. The hearts of sinners melted as they interacted with “saved sinners.” Jesus Christ made all the difference.
Find a Need and Meet It
The Elim Church in San Salvador , El Salvador has grown to 120,000 in 11,000 weekly cells and has also planted over 110 churches. I asked Mario Vega the secret behind their successful evangelism. He said, “We make and strengthen friendships with non-Christians with the goal of serving them and giving testimony to god’s love. We then continually invite non-Christians to attend the cells, while praying for the conversions of those we invite to the cell. We emphasize to the members of the cell that the goal is multiplication, which we achieve through the winning of people to Christ.” The Elim cells personally care for the hurts and needs of those around them, winning the people to Jesus as a result.
This is the same method that David Cho, the pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church , has been so successful in implementing. In Cho’s church, cell members are instructed to select someone who’s not a Christian, whom they can pray for, love, and serve. They bring meals, help sweep out the person’s store—whatever it takes to show they really care for them. … After three or four months of such love, the hardest soul softens up and surrenders to Christ.”[iv] Rob Reimer guides his own cell groups to “find a need and fill it; find a hurt and heal it; find a common interest & do it!”
Seeker Sensitive Sub Groups from the Cell
Another great way to increase the evangelistic momentum is to design outreach groups that are seeker-oriented. Seeker-sensitive groups specifically gear the cell lessons to reach non-Christians. In these groups there is little praying, singing, or talking about the church. The needs of the non-Christians are the priority.[v]
Ralph Neighbour teaches cell groups to distinguish “Type A” unbelievers who are fairly open to Christian faith from “Type B” unbelievers who “... are not searching for Jesus Christ, and show no interest in Bible study or other Christian activities.”[i] For the “Type B” unbelievers, Neighbour designed a “non-Christian type” group called Share Groups. These do not replace the cell group but rather serve as an extension of it.
Believers who participate in Share Groups have the dual responsibility of attending their normal cell group as well as the separate Share Group. Neighbour writes, “This group should be free, informal, and spontaneous. … It’s important for all Share Group members to feel they can be themselves.”[ii] Share Groups allow cell groups to reach hard-core unbelievers who are not yet open to the gospel but who are open to friendships.
Alpha Course in Cell Groups
The Alpha Course is an introduction to the Christian faith, designed to instruct in a non-threatening way and inspire people who have little to no church background. It’s lasts eleven weeks and includes fifteen sessions. It’s designed primarily to appeal to non Christians and relatively new or immature believers. It began 20 years ago at a dying Anglican church in central London (Holy Trinity Brompton). Now there are close to 12,000 courses being run worldwide in over eighty denominations. Over one million people have gone through it. Some have called it the source of a renewal of the church in England .[viii]
When I heard that Ralph Neighbour was using the Alpha course as a tool of evangelism in his cell church plant in Houston , my ears perked. I then began to discover that many cell churches are using Alpha as a tool of evangelism within their cell group. Kenneth Behr in discussing how the Alpha course blended with his cell groups says, “We used the Alpha Course at my church and the home cell groups . . . to lead the discussion groups and then it became very natural for some of these new and almost new Christians to start attending the groups.”[xi]
Zone or Network Evangelistic Activity
I visited one cell church that works on the zone level to plan evangelistic activities, and each cell in the zone participates. The zone might present a Christian movie, a special speaker, or some type of servant evangelism, depending on the particular zone. Each cell is encouraged to reach its neighborhood through the zone-level events, and for special occasions that the cell itself sponsors. Some groups might create special cards inviting neighborhood mothers to a Mother’s Day celebration. Or the cell might plan a special dinner and invite those living in the neighborhood.
This has become more of an emphasis in the G12 movement. The homogeneous networks come together occasionally to plan evangelism rallies and reach out to non-Christians. The men’s network, for example, might have an all-men’s rally. These are congregations (based on cells) that come together to reach a particular homogeneous group of people.
Cell Harvest Events in the Celebration
One of the cell church pastors I’m coaching had a harvest event in his church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving 2002. They put together a 36 hour prayer rally to prepare for the event. The cells participated in the planning of the event. Cell members invited non-Christian and prepared parts of the harvest event (food, setting up tables, renting a bounce house, etc.). Pastor Harrell spent extra time in orienting his message toward non-Christians. The result was that forty-five new people showed up and several received Christ as their Savior.
One Southern Baptist pastor I know said to me, “I train our cell leaders to be ready to pounce on every visitor in the church. Our cell leaders immediately try to assimilate the newcomers by inviting them to their cell groups. We’ve discovered here in North America people prefer to first attend a large celebration service and afterwards attend a cell group for fellowship and growth.”
Rob Reimer said something similar, “Most of our evangelism growth occurs through the cells - that is, people from the cells, doing teamwork evangelism, bring people to church. But, usually their first exposure to a "Church" experience is Sunday morning worship. They'll have gone to cell outreaches and the special events. But, usually they end up coming to a service with their friend before landing in a cell. I preach an evangelistic message on grace about 8-10 times a year.”
Don’t Give Up
Effective leaders are not necessarily talented, gifted, or outgoing. But they do have one thing in common. They’re persistent. They don’t give up. They keep on encouraging the cell members to reach out and invite people, even when the results are few. They keep on praying, even though the answer is not immediate. Remember the Scripture in Proverbs 14:23: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Such diligence will lead to success eventually.
 Rob Reimer sent me this email on 7/25/2002 .
 Randall Neighour, “The Goal is Clear: Live our Your Purpose,” Cell Group Journal, Vol. 9, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 16.
 Jim Pesce, “Fasting for Results,” Cell Group Journal, Vol. 9, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 30.
 Dan Godard wrote to Small Groups Network, http://www.smallgroups.com/ on 4/05/2001 at 18:05:50 .
 Howard A. Snyder, The Radical Wesley and Patterns for Church Renewal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 55.
 David Sheppard, Built As A City: God and the Urban World Today (London: Hodder and Stoughton Publishers, 1974), p. 127.
 Mario Vega sent to me this email on 11/22/2002 .