Gathering the Cells to Celebrate

joelWe at Wellspring have been meeting in weekly celebrations for the past couple weeks. Meeting in weekly cells and weekly celebrations have many TWObenefits, such as more ways to reach people and regularity in seeing the rest of the church. There are also weaknesses, such as depending too much on the “preacher” to draw in the people and more overhead cost in paying for a place to meet (we’re meeting in a junior high school).

Rob Campbell, Jeff Tunnell, and Mario Vega also have weekly celebrations. Yet, I’m convinced that some church planters will never meet weekly. I’m coaching one church planter who never wants to go back to weekly celebrations–yet his church is growing and fruitful! In my new book Planting Churches that Reproduce I have a section on this topic. I included it here:


The cells of a cell church should meet together in a large group gathering. Not all cell churches, however, meet weekly in corperate gatherings. Cell churches, in other words, do not need to gather together weekly in corperate worship to be called a cell church. Weekly celebration services will not be the norm for every church.

I don’t think that the definition of a cell church requires a weekly celebration meeting. Rather, I believe that the cells do need to gather together in corporate worship to be called a cell church. The frequency of that meeting is what’s in question. The great benefit of the weekly celebration is that the cell church can reach out more frequently through the celebration wing. Yet, the cell must drive the church. The main priority is for the cells to meet weekly. Those cells should be networked together through pastoral care, coaching, training, and coming together. And these are the things that define a cell church—not whether the celebration meets weekly or not. I asked Bill Beckham about this, and he wrote back saying:

It seems to me that large group celebration can be very flexible in terms of frequency, place, number of people involved and even format of the meeting. Celebration was certainly flexible in the New Testament. Of course we must answer a question about the reference in the New Testament to “the fi rst day of the week.” What were they doing on the “First Day of the Week?” Were they meeting every “First Day” of the week in a large group expression? Or, were they meeting weekly in small group expression and from time to time in large group expression. I am inclined to believe that it is the second suggestion. I believe that we must operate from the large group celebration principle and not from the historical precedent of a large group meeting. The Body of Christ needs to experience God in a large group expression along with the small group and house church expression. I believe the 21st Century Church is fi nding innovative ways to live out the principle.

The cell church movement needs to develop new models of how the church will function in its large group expression. And we must remember that the large group expression is not just the time of public worship. In addition to public worship, the large group expression could be used for training, for showing a public face in the city, for fellowship, for coordina tion, and for evangelism.

The cells of a cell church should meet together in a large group gathering. Not all cell churches, however, meet weekly in corperate gatherings. The focus should remain on the weekly cells, and the celebration should develop as the cells build strength. Those cells might celebrate all together on a weekly basis or a monthly basis. Or they might meet together more than once per week, like in the case of Elim.They might even meet once a quarter.


What do you think?

Joel Comiskey

6 thoughts on “Gathering the Cells to Celebrate

  • In reference to John 4:20-24, I will not disagree with you or IGNORE Mathew 10:16-41, but I praise God for His great revelation,and understanding of Mathew 18:18-20……refers……and applies to all of us who are joined ORGANICALLY together as believers in the body of Christ; and for giving Appostle Paul the same revelations as he reached many for the Kingdom of God in his rented house Acts 28:23, and verses 28-31. This applies to all in the body of Christ even when we are rejected for standing with the truth. God will not only go by big clowds,masses,or church groups, but even where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name……Amen.

  • (1) A fast-growing cell church in central Asia found that too many new believers would neglect their cell participation, being content with the admittedly-delightful celebration service.
    So the leaders eliminated the weekly celebration service, and most folk returned to their cell groups. After some months, they started monthly celebrations that did not prove disruptive to cell participation. Increasing to twice monthly also proved undisruptive. However, when they went back to weekly celebrations, folks started, again, to neglect their cells.
    LESSON: Experiment to find the cell/celebration frequency that suits your culture group.
    (2) In Portland, Oregon, a mega-church that transformed into a cell church grew so numerous that multiple, weekly celebrations became necessary, taxing the big staff mercilessly. Their solution proved innovatinve and practical. Members are now expected to attend celebration and cell on alternate weeks.
    This reduced the number of meetings per week for believers, and it relieved the staff of conducting repetitious services, freeing them up to train cell leaders who assumed 90% of counseling work. Everyone seems to be satisfied.
    LESSON: Experiment with cell/celebration frequency that increases the spiritual impact of church personnel.

  • I don’t mind weekly celebrations.. as long as someone else does all the work and doesn’t distract me from winning people to the Lord and discipling them….

    OK I might get involved in the celebration as I am a musician and can use my musical gifts in that context. As long as the church has enough resources to run the celebration and that the workload is evenly shared…..

    But one thing I have noted is that when the weekly church service becomes the main focus it starts to become a bigger production than Ben-Hur. The sermons become longer and more ornate, we start having communion in the service replacing sharing the bread and wine with people we know (ironic isn’t it, we share communion with more people and it rapidly loses its intimacy and significance, we start putting on entertainment, event evangelism becomes the only form of outreach….

    And what happens is that the weekly service becomes a curse, a noose on everyone’s neck. You want to buy your own church facility because it’s too much effort setting up and pulling down the sound and lighting gear (which by this stage has increased in amount and complexity so you need experts to run them), this diverts money to a building program instead of outreach.

    Then the introvert musician/artistic/techo guys start to use their gifts in music and audio engineering (which suits them because they don’t have to deal with people). That bit is true – I used to hide behind my keyboards at church, play in front of a couple of thousand people – no problems. Talk to one person about Jesus? Disciple someone? Sorry couldn’t do it. I had no relationship with anyone, in or outside of the church! (By the way that does not apply to all creative types…). Look I am not against celebration church services, but when it becomes the “main event” instead of outreach/discipleship everything becomes skewed!

    And then there is the preachers. The sermon becomes the big thing. The Senior Pastor starts to see everything centring around their sermon, and how deep eloquant and impressive it sounds. The worship must lead in to the sermon. The sound engineering must be perfect so the sermon can be heard perfectly. The preacher starts locking himself in to an office for 25 hours a week to preaper the message (true story from a cell church plant) and doesn’t spend much time with people.

    The messages start going for an an hour at a time, and it goes in one ear and out the other. That’s because the sermon starts to become an event in itself, instead of being an easily digestible life application style of message that will get disected and digested during the week as part of cell life.

    I listened to a message by Rod Plummer from Jesus Life House Tokyo the other day ( and it was just 37 minutes long, and that included saying it in english and then translating it into japanese! You don’t have to preach long sermons – just ones that can be applied. Now that doesn’t mean I am against good preaching, but when the celebration gets detatched from the gathering of the cells, the preaching starts to divert away from building up the cells and becomes a means to an end in itself.

    OK – I better stop. I’m writing an epic.
    Boy Joel – you touched a button in my psyche.

  • Great comments here about celebration frequency. We have to guard fiercly again buildings,sermons, and nice sounding music taking priority over cell life. And it’s true that in very busy, secular cultures, people often pick-and-choose what they will be involved with. The challenge is maintaing the cell and cell life as the priority.

  • We are in this boat of meeting once a month as a group and meeting weekly in cells. It is not to say that this is a “model” per-se, but more of how it seems to work best and most effectively in our setting.

    We have found that with first generation Christians that are won to the Lord outside of the walls of a church do not necessarily have a concept of how “church” is supposed to look, and so meeting monthly together, or on non-traditional days, at non-traditional places seems normal…and in fact, many of the things we “do at church” in a traditional sense are sort of bizarre (people almost need a glossary of terms to get through the service – I’ve totally been guilty of this kind of service).

    As a group, we review Scripture regarding church and the body of Christ to make sure we are hitting on all points the best we can, and that keeps us balanced and Biblically based as far as structure.

    …linked this article to – thanks!

  • Earlier this year (2008) I visited the celebration service of a Hong Kong cell church (their family congregation) that met in Tai Wai near where I was living. I was going to hear a friend of mine preach. There were about 150 people in a school auditorium. The worship band was a couple, their guitar and three daughters. The songs were OLD. These were locals in the service, many working class folk and everything was in local cantonese. The projector wouldn’t work, My friend had to try and fix it before the service started so he could show his Powerpoint slides. The sound was basic (at least they had one
    chap there to help!) It wasn’t that flash at all.

    While I was sitting there my friend’s wife starts pointing out different people. That person, her son is with a team planting a cell church inside China. That person, her two children were doing church planting. That lady, she is an elder. She lost her husband a couple of years ago. Her two children are doing church planting in Asia. I realised that alot of the potential top level leaders, they had sent them off to reproduce….

    During the service, one of the church elders gets up on stage (a blind lady) and starts praying. She is repenting on behalf of the congregation for the lack of progress they have been making in soulwinning….

    The son of my friend who was about to preach is off to Japan next year with a church planting team. Hmmm, I said. These people practice what they preach. I think I will learn as much as I can from these folk…..

    These folk, the power was not in the celebration. It was not much of a spectacle at all. But then I could start to tell you about the stories my wife would bring back from one of the ladies cells of this church that she had been attending. The ladies in the cell were leading family and friends to the Lord. Having trouble discipling the younger christians. All sorts of things were going on. Chaos, confusion, joy, disappointment, victories etc etc This cell group was ALIVE..

    My wife said to me that every time the cell members got together they would start talking about all of their problems. But then the focus would be on how they would use the testimonies of how God had helped them sort out their problems as examples to use to witness to people and help bring them to God. Well, it seemed that these folk were focusing on the main thing……

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