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Central/South America

Cell Church Transition in Peru

by Joel Comiskey

Cell Net, April 2000

The Encounter with God movement has made a powerful impact in Latin America for nearly thirty years. It began in Lima, Perú in 1973 when an Alliance church of 120 people became desperate to reach their city. They were ready to do anything to win the lost. From this passion, the mother church named Lince Alliance was born. By 1993, Lince had given birth to 32 daughter/granddaughter churches throughout Lima, several of them numbering into the 1000s.

I first studied Lince Alliance Church back in 1993 as part of an Encounter with God team from Ecuador. I was already interested in cell groups at that time, so I took special note of their cell ministry. However, at that time, cells were just one high-powered program among many in the church.

In March 2000, I visited the Lince Alliance Church once again and discovered a totally different atmosphere. Lince Alliance is quickly becoming a cell church!!

The cell church vision began with the senior pastor, Pepé Chavez. He became very concerned with the slow growth of the church, which for several years had plateaued at about 3,000. There was no growth in attendance, even though there were 300 baptisms per year. An invisible roof didn’t allow the growth to occur. Many were saved, but they left the church.

Chavez and his pastoral team realized that the back door was as big as the front door, yet no one knew how to close it. Beyond the lack of growth, Chavez was very concerned about his inability to pastor his people. He felt the same desperation that marked the early years of the Encounter with God movement swept over the church. How could they retake their city for Christ?

Chavez caught the cell church vision at that time (perhaps it’s better to say “the vision caught him”). He realized that he had to take the lead in the cell church vision. He could no longer appoint a pastor over cell groups, like he had done earlier. As the senior pastor he had to lead the charge.

To capture the vision more fully, Chavez and fifteen of his key pastors and lay leaders visited the International Charismatic Mission in Bogota, Colombia. They just “showed-up” at ICM with a desire to learn. They spent nearly two weeks, trying to understand how ICM had grown to 20,000 cell groups and some 47,000 worshippers (ICM rents the coliseum for their worship services). The team returned to Lima with a new vision. Far from simply copying the ICM model, the pastoral team adapted the principles to their own context.

The results: In approximately one year, Lince has grown from 90 cell groups with about 800 people attending to 280 cell group wth 2,500 people attending! Their clearly stated goal is to have 500 cells groups by December 2000 and 1000 cells by December 2001.

They have developed quite an extensive cell strategy called “Plan Jethro.” I was impressed by how detailed it was. Unlike the earlier cell program, in which one pastor was “over cells,” all staff pastors have one major goal: Pastor and multiply cell groups. Pastor Miguel Serpa, one of the pastors on the team, admitted to me that before they concentrated on programs and cells were just one part of that program.

Now the cell ministry is the focus and the ministries of the church flow from the cell church base.

I was interested to learn that Lince uses Encuentro Retreats like ICM in Bogota (3 days retreats). Some 1115 have passed through their Encounter Retreats since they started one year ago. Normally there are 100 people in each retreat. The retreat starts with challenging the believers to confront and confess their sin; then they talk about emotional problems, demonic strongholds, the filling of the Spirit, and the vision of the church. Thus far, their Encounter Retreats have focused on the believers in the church, but soon they’ll start asking the new believers to attend, and it will become an integral part of their equipping track.

In order to be a cell leader at Lince, you must be baptized, pass through an Encounter Retreat, and begin the Bible Academy. Although their Bible Academy lasts for three years, a person can start leading a cell group after six months.

Their transition is not without difficulty. Pastor Serpa admitted that some in the church are struggling with such a huge change. They are also wrestling with how to balance the added time commitments.

While in Lima, I had the chance to talk to the pastoral team of the Pueblo Libre church, the first daughter church of Lince, which had about 3000 people in attendance. The Pueblo Libre church is also in the process of transitioning to the cell church model, and the pastoral team peppered me with questions about the specifics of the cell church.

At Quito 2000, we hope to have representatives from both Lince and Pueblo Libre. We’d like you to hear first hand about the exciting things that are happening today.

God is asking us to become desperate about reaching our cities for Christ. For some who are working in resistant soils, the growth will be much slower, while others will reap a white harvest.

I suspect that in Lima, Perú, we shall see a might harvest of souls as churches such as Lince Alliance lead the way.

Further reading on this topic:

Comiskey's book Passion and Persistence explains the history of the Elim Church and the principles that have compelled this church to penetrate San Salvador for Jesus.

Reap the Harvest details the worldwide cell churches.

Groups of Twelve reveals how the International Charismatic Mission in Bogota, Colombia has evangelized Bogota for Jesus.

Cell Church Solutions describes cell churches in North America.

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