At the end of last Saturday’s seminar in Champaign, IL, Roger Ross, the senior pastor of the host United Methodist church, said to me, “Joel, thanks for reminding us of John Wesley and our Methodist heritage. Our Wesleyan heritage is the one foundational piece that we can’t escape and that gives me hope that one day we’ll come back to Wesley’s method.”
Roger has a great church in which cells are the heart, yet the majority of the 120 mainly Methodist pastors at the seminar were from small, traditional churches, in which cells were not the heartbeat.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was sold out to cell groups. Before a person could even be part of the Methodist society, he or she had to join a cell group (they called them classes). In other words, you weren’t allowed to join the large group (society) before joining the small group (class). How did the rest of the Methodists know if one had been faithful in attending the cells and following the Lord? The members were issued tickets which had to be renewed every three months. A person had to show the ticket to get into the larger celebration service (society).
Wesley’s cell groups were evangelistic, multiplied, and provided care for the members. The average size was about 12 people and they were always open to non-Christians. By the time, Wesley died, he left behind 10,000 cells and 100,000 members.
Why did the cell part of Wesley’s movement die out? Why is cell church a foreign concept to many in the modern day Methodist movement?
I’ve heard from someone who researched this topic that the main reason for the demise of the cell system was that the cell groups became too large. Instead of sticking to Wesley’s original vision of 12 people in the cell, the groups began to grow to 40 or more. These large groups eventually morphed into churches. We need to learn from this. Don’t allow your cell groups to become too large. Multiplication is critical to the sustained health in cell ministry. The cell church vision is primarily a leadership development strategy and if the groups grow too large, the focus once again rests on the “preacher” or the great “leader” rather than raising up an army of leaders.