Community or fellowship is an essential part of any cell group. My next book, The Relational Disciple, is all about how God uses community to shape followers of Jesus. Yet, the cell group is not only about community. The greatest difference, in fact, between cell groups and other “small groups” is the emphasis on evangelism and multiplication in the cell. This emphasis doesn’t neglect community/fellowship, it just gives the community forward momentum. The vision in the cell is to get those outside the cell to experience God’s rich community, and thus the need to start additional cells. And of course, all elements of the cell (evangelism, community, spiritual growth, and multiplication) must take place under the power of Christ’s working in the cell. Ralph Neighbour, in his book Christ’s Basic Bodies, rightly reminds us that cells must be directed by Christ Himself.
Why am I saying all this? Every two months I drive 20 minutes to a large Christian bookstore in Redlands, CA, buy a book, and then sit in one of their soft chairs and read all the major Christian magazines. I was reading Leadership Journal yesterday and saw an excerpt (several paragraphs) from Larry Osborne’s recent book Sticky Church (Osborne is a megachurch pastor in California). Osborne strongly criticized the cell church’s emphasis on cell multiplication, claimed multiplication doesn’t work, and then concluded that the reason for small groups is fellowship.
I was reminded once again of how normal it is for churches like the one Osborne pastors to focus on the large celebration as the primary means of church growth, but then to use cells more like “holding pens” for people to get to know each other. Is there anything wrong with fellowship? No. It’s an important aspect of cell life.
In the cell church, however, we see the cell as the church. We believe that members need to exercise their muscles and reach out to their neighbors–not just depend on the “preacher” to do the evangelizing. There are way too few Larry Osbornes in the world, and if we depend on them, we will continue to lose the overall battle between population growth and church growth. In the cell church, members are seen as the ministers and encouraged to start their own cell.
Is this emphasis difficult in secular places like the U.S.? Yes. Is it easier to just ask the members to focus on their own needs (fellowship)? Oh yes!
As I’ve said over and over on this blog, some places in the world are far more receptive to cell growth. You might be ministering in one of those places. Other places are more difficult and see less cell results (the western world). Regardless of where you live, it’s best to emphasize HOLISTIC small groups, which turn your members into ministers by asking them to exercise their spiritual muscles through evangelism and leadership development. I believe it’s unhealthy to solely focus on personal needs in the name of fellowship. But what do you think?