Why Cell Church?

joelby Joel Comiskey

Why cell church? Why do we believe in it? Is it because David Cho’s church, the largest church in the history of Christianity, is a cell church? Is it because someone said the number 12 will bring blessings and growth? Is it because cell church is the strategy that many “great” churches are using?

The problem with the above reasons is that they don’t give long-term foundational strength. God has been showing me lately that theology must guide our strategies–and not the other way around. So what are the core theological reasons for doing cell church? Allow me to share three important ones:

1. The Trinity

Our God is a social God! He lives in relationship with the other members of the Trinity. God is not an independent, lone ranger. Individualism might be the cultural norm in the western world, but God loves community and unity (think of all the one-anothers in the Bible). One of the key values of cell church is that people need to live in community rather than hide in anonymity. The intimacy of a cell group encourages people to know and be known.

The Trinity is also an outreaching God. Evangelism flows from His very heart. God’s will is to reach lost people through His Son, Jesus, and the church is His instrument to make it happen. The cell church encourages  each member to reach out through relational evangelism. Cells expect all members to develop relationships with non-Christians because such activity reflects the heart of God.

2. Priesthood of all believers

It’s quite easy for people to sit in church. Some churches grow large through filling pews. Yet, Scripture teaches that all believers are priests. Cells value the participation of every believer.

Part of the priesthood of all believers is the use of spiritual gifts. My books, The Spirit-filled Small Group and Discover, talk about how cells are the best atmosphere for spiritual gift use. In fact, all of the New Testament gift passages were written to house churches. Cell churches are rediscovering this important truth.

3. Making disciples

Christ’s last command to His disciples was to make disciples of all nations. I believe the essence of cell ministry is making disciples who make disciples. Cells are leader breeders and the best place to prepare disciple-makers. Multiplication is at the heart of cell ministry because new cells provide the environment for making new disciples.

On this blog, I often highlight large, growing cell churches or church planting movements. But such examples shouldn’t be the main reasons for doing cell church. The best reason is because cell church promotes key theological concepts and brings glory to the living God.

Why do you do cell church? Or, perhaps you’d like to add a theological concept not listed here. . . .


16 thoughts on “Why Cell Church?

  • I have been part of what I might loosely term a “cell” church on board my ship, the USS Antietam. We started as a very small fellowship of about five guys on Tuesday nights during our deployment. I’m very happy to report that this last Tuesday we had nine people!

    And to bring up discipling, I would also report that I personally mentor three of the men in that group and one of them is mentoring his own young believer as well.

    All that to say, I completely agree with your theological concepts, particularly the 2nd and 3rd. This is a great post that I plan on sharing with the guys.

  • I really like your 3 theological reasons for doing cell-church.
    I think i will include them, if you please, in my French book on church life !

    I would include another reason. The use of the word “church” in the NT. We find in many instances that the word “church” in used clearly to define, not only the church in a locality where the members priestly officiate, where deacons serve, and elders oversee, but also the term is used to describe this “small group setting”, the “church in the house of”. The word “church” is even used to describe this “small group” at the same time that the word “church” is used to describe the gathering, in the city, of all the “small groups”. It is saying, in fact, that under the umbrella of the city church (church of Ephesus, church of Corinth), with elders overseeing this city church, there are many “small groups” called also churches. This use of the word “church” to describe the “small group” within the bigger city church gives a powerfull theological basis for presenting the church as having two wings : The city church composed of all the “house churches” under the supervision of elders in that city. When we read the NT this is the setting that flows from the pages as we read it. For me this is very powerfull. This “small group”, the church, is a microscopic image of the “church” in that city. As a “church” it has all the responsabilities of a church : baptize, make disciples, train, reproduce, but all under the supervision of the eldership of the church.

    On thing also : i am not sure that the affirmation that all NT exhortation on spiritual gifts were given to house churches is exhaustive. In 1Cor. 14.23, where Paul discusses the use of spiritual gifts, he describes how to use them in the context of the ingathering of all the church (V. 23 : “If therefore the whole church be assembled together”), contrasting it, it seems, to other gatherings where the whole church was not together, which in the NT were the house churches of the church. So in v.26, continuing his argument about the use of spiritual gifts when the whole church is together, he says : “What is it then, brethren? When ye come together, each one hath a psalm, hath a teaching, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”

    The setting of the whole exhortation in chapter 14 seems clearly in the context of all the house churches gathered together for edification.

    Sorry for the long comment. I am a bit passionnate on the subject of theological basis for the cell church so with the blog on the subject, i yielded to the temptation :).

  • Thanks for the column. I agree with you. In our day of mega-church promotions where the large image can overshadow the smaller details, small cell groups are the way to nurture, communicate, build relationships and strengthen the church. This is true not only for the mega-churches but also for the small community churches which are by far the greatest majority. And as you stress in your blog, it’s important to have a theological foundation for what we do with and in the church. That fact is often lost in the maze today.

  • I’m a Lutheran pastor (Missouri-Synod) who has struggled for a while with the traditional “one-winged” way of expressing the ekklesia. The Lord has put a vision in my heart for body-life community in small home groups.

    In the last few years I have looked into the biblical and theological principles for the cell church and house church movements. I have read some of your books, as well as some by Ralph and Randall Neighbor, William Beckham, Scott Boren, and Larry Stockstill about the cell church. I have read books on the house church movement by Robert Banks, Frank Viola, Wolfgang Simpson, Jim Rutz, and Jon Zens. I have also read Larry Kreider who has been an advocate for both cell churches and house churches.

    My goal has been to examine the underlying biblical and theological foundation for each. Does one have a more solid theological foundation than the other? Or are they both equally valid theologically but different ways practically to be the church?

    As you no doubt know, house church proponents appreciate the cell church but don’t think it goes far enough biblically. They are critical of paid, professional pastors (as well as a “top-heavy” leadership structure) and see that “office” as inhibiting the priesthood of all believers. How does the cell church answer that theologically? And what are some theological criticisms the cell church might have of any house church principles?

    As I ask these questions, I’m also aware that the Lord may be thinning the boundary of separation that distinguishes the two, since there are now some house-church networks that gather together as the whole church. A house-church network can look a lot like a cell church in practice.

    So my basic theological question: Why a cell church instead of a house church?

  • Chris, I love your questions and comments and will actually answer your question in a separate blog tomorrow (while including Richard Houle’s point as well). blessings, Joel

    What Are We Trying To Accomplish?
    © By Rick Diefenderfer


    1. Everything in life revolves around relationships — everything. The most important relationship is a personal relationship with our heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ — a vertical relationship. But let us not be so heavenly high that we are of no earthly good. Horizontal relationships bring balance in this life. And the best horizontal relationships are covenant commitments to live with others, to become connected with others in a basic Christian community.

    2. A church should be large enough to celebrate while remaining small enough to care.

    3. In Acts 20:20, Paul’s vision was “to preach the message in public (large-group worship) and to teach the message from house to house (cell-group community)” — a 20/20 vision for the church.

    4. Our church’s mission is: “to lead people into a growing relationship with God, each other and unbelievers, through Jesus Christ, into basic Christian community,” is gleaned from both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Both emphasize a balance of vertical and horizontal relationship.

    5. In Acts 2:41-47, we read that the early Christians were involved in nine basic activities. They: (1) believed in Jesus Christ, (2) were baptized, (3) were added to the group, (4) spent their time in learning, (5) took part in the fellowship, (6) shared their possessions, (7) prayed together, (8) met regularly as a group to worship, and (9) regularly added new believers to the group.

    6. In his book, The Bride — Renewing Our Passion For The Church, Charles Swindoll identifies four major objectives in these nine basic activities; Worship, Instruction, Fellowship, and Expressions of our faith in Jesus Christ. (pp. 47-63).

    7. Under the subheading, “Reasons We Embrace These Objectives” (p. 44) Swindoll writes, “What a scene! Here in ancient Jerusalem was a group of believers whose worship was spontaneous, whose instruction was substantial, whose fellowship was genuine, and whose expressions were compassionate. No wonder so many new folks were attracted! It is no surprise to me that the Lord added to their number day after day.”

    8. Swindoll adds, “When we embrace these objectives, several benefits come our way. Our eyes will get off ourselves and unto the Lord. Our own petty differences are minimized, which deepens the unity of the relationship. And all this, when kept in balance, creates such a magnetism that the church becomes irresistible. And then? Well, then we start becoming what the church was originally designed to be — irresistible!”

    9. Why have cell groups? So the church can once again become an irresistible Christian community where a person can: love and be loved, know and be known, serve and be served, and celebrate and be celebrated.

    10. In Acts 20:20; 2:41-47; and throughout Scripture we discover large-group worship wed to cell-group communities. The large-group worship is the time to focus on our personal relationship with God. This is also the time to receive biblical instruction. The experience of large-group worship helps fulfill the first of the Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37).

    11. The gathered large-group then becomes scattered cell-groups of people meeting in the homes of church members one evening each week. The focus of cell-group community is to discuss and make application of the teaching of the previous week’s message and also to become connected (fellowship) with one another as we express our faith in Jesus Christ through edification of the Saints and lifestyle evangelism of skeptics. Fellowship and expression of our faith in Jesus Christ is the focus of cell-group community. Cell groups meet throughout the community in the homes of members of the church who are willing and able to open their hearts and homes to each other and to unbelievers. In this setting people establish relationships of accountability and openness with one another. True fellowship means that we care about and therefore care for one another. And, in our expression of our faith in Jesus Christ, the church reveals that it is reaching out to one another and also to unbelievers as edification and lifestyle evangelism spring up naturally. The experience of cell-group helps to fulfill the second part of the Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love your neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39).

    12. It’s hard to form “relationships” and come into “community” when people sit in rows looking at the back of each other’s heads on Sunday mornings. I recently heard that when people are asked why they attend many of the fastest growing mega-churches in America, the number one reason given is so “they can remain anonymous.” How very strange! The number one reason for the fastest growing mega-churches in America is “anonymity” when the number one need in every person’s life is the need for meaningful “relationships.”

    “Relationships,” “community” — basic Christian community — involves a covenant commitment to one another, which results from total surrender to Jesus Christ, a very hard concept it seems for most Americans to grasp.


    The Bride — Renewing Our Passion for the Church, formerly titled Rise & Shine; Charles R. Swindoll; Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, Michigan; 1994; ISBN 0-310-20229-9.

    Creating Christian Communities — The Structure & Strategy of a Simple Cell-Based Church System Rick Diefenderfer; CreatingChristianCommunities Publishing; Godley, Texas; 2003; ISBN: 1-59196-171-8.

  • Joel,

    The Satan attacks the concept of the cell church through the theology because it’s not acceptable for his kingdom and plans.
    But what Jesus and the apostles say about it:

    Mark 3:25 – “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (King James Version)
    1Peter 2:5 – “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
    (King James Version)
    2 Timothy 2:20 – “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. ” (King James Version)
    Hebrews 3:6 – ” But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
    (King James Version)

    God wants His church( His house) to be strong and not be divided. It’s possible only through the cell church model.

    Hebrews 10:24 -“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (King James Version)
    Galatians 6:2 -” Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
    (King James Version)
    1Corinthians 12:26 -“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
    (King James Version)
    1 Peter 4:10 – “As every man hath received the gift, [even so] minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
    (King James Version)
    James 5:16 – “Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (King James Version)

    How could we fulfill all the above without the cell church model ?

    The concept of the cell church comes from Holy Spirit and is absolutely biblical and according to God’s plans and purposes for His Church.

    God’s plan for us is not to be alone and separeted individuals but active parts from a cell that is part from a comunity of cells representing local church.

    When everybody is at his/her place doing God’s will then the whole church is at its place in the God’s plan.
    Ephesians 4:16 -“From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (King James Version)

    God bless you Joel, you are on the right road ! Bloom where you are planted !

  • Let me summarize all the above. The three reasons are:

    1. The church (like a house) should be strong enough and not divided to endure unto the end and do the God’s will
    Mark 13:13 -“And ye shall be hated of all [men] for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (King James Version)

    2. We should consider one another to provoke unto love and good works
    Hebrews 10:24 -”And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works” (King James Version)

    3. We should work together to reach the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ

    Ephesians 4:13 -“till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (King James Version)

  • Ive been trying lately to create a cell church here in Dumangas, Iloilo, Phils. but I cant seem to get off the ground. I have 2 starting members a man & a woman but they cant seem to get off the ground. Pls ;advise me thanks. .

  • Ed Palmes said, “Ive been trying lately to create a cell church… but I cant seem to get off the ground.”

    Ed, you will save yourself many years of heartache by reading some of the great cell-church books that are available.

    Sharing the Journey,
    Rick & Becky Diefenderfer

  • Thanks Joel,

    The Theology of cell ministry, fit well in the African Christian Philosophy. I like the way brother John Mbiti put it that:,” I am because we are” I am a Christian and will grow as I relate with others, because we grow better in a Christian Community cycle. We should not neglect it because God has put it that way.

  • The foundational sturcture and function of the New Testiment Church is given in Acts 2:42-47. “It is written!” That should be enough but traditions and religion die hard. The program based, old testment “Man of God” leader mentality and model have dominated for generations in most of the Western World and America.
    Great to see the Word of God define what it is, as apposed to looking to the success stories. They are valid and can be a great testimony but only when we look to see if they line up with God’s plan for His church that is given in scripture.
    Thank you to everyone who contributes to this great subject of The Church. I know that I will learn much in the process.

  • Really solid word, Steve. I especially liked your comment, “Great to see the Word of God define what it is, as apposed to looking to the success stories. They are valid and can be a great testimony but only when we look to see if they line up with God’s plan for His church that is given in scripture.” I’m learning that such testimonies can INSPIRE but they shouldn’t be the REASON. I’ve come a long way. Previously, I would have said–or at least acted–that such models were the REASON! So I’ve been growing in my understanding. . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *