Southern Baptist Church Planting–a Case Study

joel I talked last Wednesday about Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida–a Southern Baptist church plant that started in Miami in 2002 and has continued to grow in both quality and quantity. The church has grown to thirty-seven cells, approximately 200 worshippers each Sunday, and they recently planted their first daughter church.

I had the privilege of preaching in the church last Sunday and there were a few things I really liked about the church.

First, pastor Pedro Saavedra is a student of the cell church. He’s not afraid to research growing cell churches around the world and “steal the best with pride” (even through some of those growing cell churches are different from his own denomination). He’s used material from Ralph Neighbour and others with the goal of adapting such materials to his own context. He’s also sought out cell church coaching to fine-tune what he’s doing.

Second, the church exudes passion. I loved the way the Sunday celebration started with passionate prayer (much like the way Koreans pray all together). CHURCHPLANTINGThe worship and preaching was passionate. Remember that this is a non-Pentecostal Southern Baptist Church, yet the passion was very reminiscent of my experiences at the Elim Church (and who said that Southern Baptist Churches can’t lead the way in passion for Jesus Christ!).

Third, the church is willing to work hard. Cell church ministry demands sacrifice and few are willing to pay the price. Pastor Pedro opens his home for cells, training, and supervision. Pedro’s wife, Isabel, is the lead guitar player in the worship group, leads a ladie’s cell, and is truly Pedro’s number one encourager. As I ate dinner with the Saavedra’s and their key coaches, I reminded them not to be weary in well-doing. I told them that hard work for Jesus is the New Testament/kingdom lifestyle and to simply press ahead for His glory. CCNV is leading the way in Southern Baptist circles because they’re willing to pay the price.

Fourth, they have a well-laid out cell church structure: the cells goals are clear, the equipping track is well-known, and every leader is coached by a trained supervisor. Pastor Saavedra even goes over the cell lessons with the key leaders each Sunday evening.

Although cell church is a great startegy, it’s not an easy one. It requires sacrifice and grit. Jesus has to birth the strategy within because He’s the only One that can sustain us to press on.


Joel Comiskey

Beware the vision vacuum


by Steve Cordle

Pastors who are considering cell ministry sometimes express concern over the possibility of divison. What if a cell leader takes off on their own band wagon and pulls their people away from the church?

Some of that concern can be attributed to unnecessary insecurity and lack of trust. But some of it can be traced to experience! They have seen rogue leaders make their group a personal fiefdom, and they don’t want to sign up for that.

In all honesty, over the years I have to admit I’ve seen a couple of disaffected leaders influence their groups away from our church. So why do I keep equipping and releasing leaders? Mostly because I have seen the awesome minstry that results, which far outweighs the occassional heartache.

I am also learning to recognize the conditions which make leader open to drift: the vision vacuum. When leaders are connecting with their coaches and attending our monthly leadership gathering, they virtually never drift. That is because they have a steady infusion of vision that shapes the way they look at their groups, their ministry, and the mission of the church. If a leader is not willingly connecting in those ways, they lose their focus and become susceptible to other visions and agendas because they don’t have a vision directing them. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but so does cell leadership.

Fill the vacuum with your vision, or something else will!

Southern Baptist Cell Church Planting

joelLast Friday through Sunday I spoke to 275 Southern Baptist Spanish pastors and leaders at a two-day cell church conference near Miami, Florida. It was the first of its kind among the Southern Baptist of Florida. Even many of the high-level directors attended the conference.

Southern Baptists had shown little interest in the cell church strategy in the past. What happened to stimulate such interest? In 2000 the Southern Baptists launched a church planting initiative called “For You Miami.” The goal was to plant 100 churches between the years 2000-2005. I was told that approximately seventy churches were planted and most of them either closed or dwindled down to a handful (this goes along with the general U.S. statistics that say between 80-95% of church plants fail). There was one shining star, however, called Centro Cristiano Nueva Vida. churchplantingCCNV started like the other SB churches, but it has continued to grow in both quality and quantity. And you guessed it, CCNV is a Southern Baptist cell church.

Pastor Pedro Saavedra planted CCNV in Miami in 2002, and the church has grown to thirty-seven cells, approximately 200 worshippers each Sunday, and they recently planted their first daughter church. Pastor Pedro is a student of the cell church. He has taken several trips to Elim, gone to various Touch conferences on cell church, and even sought me out for personal coaching. I had the privilege of preaching at CCNV on Sunday and was impressed by the passionate prayer, worship, and vision. I also witnessed the presentation of several new cell leaders.

Southern Baptists in general are pragmatic. The top leadership that organized the cell church conference last week realized that their people were interested in an integrated cell/celebration strategy. Florida and all the U.S. is being flooded with Latin American immigrants. Cell Church is a growing phenomonenon throughout Latin America, and many of the SB leaders and pastors settling in the U.S. are wanting to continue the two-winged church (both cell and celebration). I believe that the cell church strategy will be a key future tool for Southern Baptists throughout the U.S.



Joel Comiskey

Don’t Dump….Delegate!

There’s a great difference between dumping and delegating. Dr. Roger Fritz wrote, “Dumping is indiscriminate. It’s done for expedience, taking no account of the strengths and weaknesses of the person who is supposed to do the work. In its worst form, it’s a matter of the manager [or cell leader/pastor] dumping whatever he or she doesn’t personally want to do. It’s demeaning and perpetuates unhealthy workplace hierarchies.”

An excellent cell leader/pastor knows how to delgate. It’s an important attribute to develop and employ. However, many struggle with delegation. Here’s why you may choose not to delegate.

You may enjoy the task too much and can’t imagine “allowing” anyone else to do it. Or, you may have had a bad experience in your past with delegation. Maybe you believe that you are hard pressed to find quality people. Some who have difficulty delegating want to maintain total control. There are a myriad of other explanations, aren’t there?

You won’t be surprised to hear me say that delegation is a healthy practice when done appropriately. Here are some questions to ponder.

WHAT needs to be done? WHY does it need to be done? WHEN does it need to be done? WHO is the best person to do it? WHAT equipping needs to take place?

If you want to be a great delegator, then know yourself and your cell/team members. Clearly define priorities and tasks. Provide equipping and resources. Hold people accountable for their actions. Recognize their efforts and extend your gratitude to them consistently.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) is known for having built one of the most powerful and influential corporations in United States history. Later in his life he gave away most of his riches to fund many libraries, schools and universities in America, Scotland and other countries throughout the world. “Carnegie” is a well known name worldwide.

What follows is the epitaph on Carnegie’s tombstone: “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself.”

Two closing questions.

What is God teaching you to delegate?

What did Jesus delegate to you through the power of the Holy Spirit?


by Rob Campbell

How Elim Survived A Major Crisis

joelWhen I visited the Elim Church in San Salvador for the first time in 1996, the church was going through a major crisis (Elim is the second largest church in the world). The founding pastor had divorced his wife, run off with another woman, and was mismanaging the church’s finances. elimHis wild living was splashed across the headlines of the San Salvadorian newspapers. The leadership of Elim dearly loved their pastor and made the mistake of not quickly dealing with his sin. The church leaders did eventually deal with this problem openly and honesty,and I deal with all the details of this situation in my book, Passion and Persistence: How the Elim Church’s Cell Groups Penetrated an Entire City for Jesus.

Yet, I noticed an interesting phenomon: even when the crisis was at a boiling point, the church didn’t fall apart. Why? Because absolutely everyone at Elim is either a member of a cell, a cell leader, or part of the coaching structure. Surely, the fall of their beloved pastor was enormous. Yet, each person who attended Elim had an invidivdual pastor–the cell leader. And each cell leader had a coach. And each coach was pastored by someone else. You get the picture.

Cell churches are like starfishes, which have the ability to regenerate lost arms and can regrow an entire new arm in time (and a few species can grow an entire starfish from a single ray). I do believe in the key role of the senior pastor in the cell church and thankfully, Elim made the wise decision in 1997 to call Mario Vega to take over the senior pastorate of the church. Yet the beauty of the cell church is that members are personally pastored and can better withstand the Satanic storms than most church structures.


Joel Comiskey