The Two-Winged Church: Cell and Celebration

by Joel Comiskey

As I was giving announcements during our Sunday celebration service this morning at Wellspring, I reminded those present that Christmas is an opportune time to share the good news of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. I reminded them that our LIFE groups (Living in Fellowship to Evangelize) are not just for community and one-another ministry, but to give away that community to a hurting, dying world. I also encouraged everyone to invite an unchurched person next Sunday to the celebration service on December 20. “Many unchurched people still feel a religious obligation to attend church on Christmas, so please invite them to our celebration gathering next Sunday morning,” I told them.

I was reminded afresh that the cell church is made up of both wings, cell and celebration. We see this two-wing dynamic in Acts 2:42-47 when the early church met together in the temple courts (large group expression) and from house to house (small group expression). We see this same structure in Acts 5:42,  “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” Again in Acts 20:20, Paul says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”

Both wings of the cell church play their essential part. For some people, the larger setting is the best introduction to the gospel message, while then being invited into the circle of warm relationship and support through cell ministry. For others their introduction to the gospel is through a small group of believers in their neighborhood, and they are then invited to the larger celebration service.

There are different times in the life of a church when one wing is emphasized over another. During the initial process of planting a cell church, for example, the cell is emphasized over the celebration. The opposite is true when transitioning from a traditional church to a cell church (see my video on this topic). Nevertheless, both cell and celebration play an essential role in cell church ministry. Bill Beckham says, “The cell church is balanced between corporate community and cell community: between a large-group expression and a small-group expression.”



6 thoughts on “The Two-Winged Church: Cell and Celebration

  • As I’ve stated previously in comments to this blog, I believe that the disciples gathering “in the temple courts” is the New Testament equipping track, not a “celebration” as would occur in our churches.

    A celebration/worship service in the temple courtyard as we understand it would conflict with the traditional temple worship and would have drawn instant persecution and ejection, as occurred in Acts 6:7 and following.

    Beckham’s symbol of the two winged church is beautiful and useful in our modern day church, but neglects the importance of the equipping track. It also doesn’t fit with what was happening in the church of Acts. Worship services in the temple were not conducted by the Apostles and did not glorify Jesus.

    Perhaps a more close to the New Testament application of the two winged metaphor would be for celebration to be the heart, the place where the two working wings come together to pray and worship.

    But however you look at it, I believe that there are three legs to this stool. The best book on equipping tracks is Joel Comiskey’s Leadership Explosion.

    In what I read and observe, the stronger the equipping track, the stronger the cell church; churches that overemphasize cell/celebration seem to me to rarely have clear, strong equipping tracks outside of cells and problems rise up from that.

    David Kueker

  • David: I would love to hear some practical ideas on how to draw people into the equipping tracks. My experience has been that only a small handful embrace the equipping track.

  • Hey David, I loved what you said about the equipping track and I totally agree! So key.

    And I also believe that there is flexibility in how cell churches celebrate. I wrote the following in PLANTING CHURCHES THAT REPRODUCE:

    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 corporate 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 first 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 finding innovative ways to live out the principle (note 25).

    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.


    Pam, my theory on equipping is that people move through spiritually developmental stages similar to the stages in human psychological development and with many of the same issues. This is discussed on pp 33-41 of the DMin project, in the Diagnosis Seminar, available for free download here: (It’s also the topic of the novel Ascending Grace –

    Basically the stages are:
    – believer/newborn/infant – totally dependent, needs nurture. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4

    – disciple/child/John 8:31-32 – curious, asks many questions, eager to learn

    – cross bearing servant/teenager/missional/ Matthew 16:24-26 – eager for adventure, challenge, wants to stretch wings, discover gifts & use them, find purpose in life, do great things for God. Not very consistent or stable, however, in this task oriented ministry; this phase expands into a calling, a task oriented ministry of service within the body of Christ.

    – laborers in the harvest/parents/disciple makers / Matthew 9:37-38 – this is a ministry of investing relationally in a few specific people who have names to help them find Christ (born again) and grow to spiritual maturity defined as becoming disciple makers and forming their own spiritual families.

    – grandparents / 2 Timothy 2:1-2 – makers of disciple makers, resulting in multiple generations of disciples making disciples making disciples.

    This structure is, of course, theoretical, but it seems to be applicable in situations where rapid evangelization is taking place. The goal of my research was to attempt to clarify the steps and stages of spiritual growth as a cyclical process where believers become disciples who eventually become disciple makers.

    If spiritual growth is a process controlled by God, then it takes place over time; it’s not overnight. The lack of the appropriate nurture to help a person grow healthy at their current level keeps them stuck at that level.

    Second, when the current needs are met, the person is naturally drawn to the next level; are measures in place to help them make that transition? Are people present who model that next level? Most of the time people want to be “big” and advance.

    So list the names of people at each level as examples.

    1. If cell leaders function like parents, the cell becomes excellent at nurturing infants and children. This nurture can become so need fulfilling, people sometimes don’t want to leave the nursery.

    2. Children become curious and begin to read scripture; how much scripture are people reading each week? A lack of scripture, just like a vitamin deficiency, can prevent growth, especially into the teen level.

    3. The equipping track in this system is for the teen level; it is about discovering gifts and self, employing them and having adventures. It is about differentiating from the cell family of origin and developing a new identity among peers.

    Is this next level clearly organized in your church? Do you have a “youth group” for spiritual teenagers, in other words? Do they go on adventures aka mission trips just for their peers?

    4. Is the excitement of the teenage level modeled for the spiritual children so they would want to enter it and go on a mission for God?

    5. Are there challenges that speak to and develop teen ambitions? Neil Cole uses a simple one: are you interested in participating in a Life Transformation Group of 2-3 where you commit to reading 28 chapters of the bible each week?

    6. Cell celebration seemingly meets the needs of spiritual infants and children very well. While it can generate teenagers, churches without an equipping track seem often to become saturated with people in the first two stages of growth. Without a teenage/equipping track stage, people leap from child to being an exhausted leader trying to meet the needs of all those people who aren’t growing up. People are often expected to go from cell member directly to cell leader, and often are too immature to lead their spiritual families without lots of help and support.

    7. An exciting equipping track can recruit spiritual children out of cells (when they are ready) and train them for cell leadership (parenting). It functions as a rite of passage into task oriented ministry. Missional churches have an equipping track that involves people in ministry.

    8. If missional church equipping tracks do not encourage people to move on to self denial and make and parent new disciples, they clog up with spiritual teenagers seeking endless spiritual adventures and stuck in spiritual consumerism. There are many roller coaster churches full of spiritual teenagers lurching from one dramatic crisis to another. So this phase needs to be moved through quickly so that people don’t get stuck. But it can’t be skipped; you need spiritual teenagers to get spiritual parents/disciple makers/cell leaders.

    9. When people become teens, you can’t prevent them from seeking new opportunities to grow outside the cell; if you try to hold them back, they will do anything to escape and fulfill their destiny. If people are still at the child level and you push them out of the nest, they will be fearful and do anything to get back into the place where they are dependent on the nurture of others. If there is a lack of people interested in the equipping track, it’s because they are not yet ripe. What in the system is preventing children from ripening into teens?


    1. Cells provide nurture that meets infant needs through spiritual parenting.
    When emotional nurture needs are met, spiritual curiosity develops.
    When curiosity leads to scripture reading, children begin to hunger for more of God and begin to be restless in the nursery; they are outgrowing it.

    2. Therefore, encourage people to read lots of scripture, particularly the gospels, and apply it their lives. Monitor them for restlessness.

    3. When children are restless, provide them with safe adventures away from the cell family with similar peers at this new level of spiritual maturity. This can be a sequence of mission trips or an ongoing “special” group only for those who are “very mature” in the faith.

    4. Make certain that ministry is evangelistic and not just service. They need to develop relationships with lost people, not just feed and clothe them, even though that is very important.

    6. Teens will bond and partner with others, and these partnerships between members of different cells will lead to spiritual bonding resulting in new cells forming, just as teenagers bond with another teen outside their family, marry and form new biological families.

    1. How much scripture are your cell members reading? (scripture pushes maturity)
    2. Who is restless? (outgrowing the cell, ready for more)
    3. What exists to provide the restless ones with spiritual adventures with their peers, away from the cell nuclear family?
    4. Who is gifted to work with those spiritual teenagers in partnership (not competition) with their cell parents? (teens participate in both cell and equipping track groups).
    5. Do equipping tracks move people not just toward using their gifts (task) but into making disciples (relationships)?

    While this is just my opinion, it’s the pattern I see emerging in the literature when the systems are working well. I hope it is helpful.

    David Kueker

  • F. Cell Parable: Hunger
    Once upon a time the master gathered with his five disciples, each one at a different level of spiritual maturity. “Today,” he announced, “we will talk about the problem of hunger.”

    “I’m not really hungry yet, Master. It’s at least an hour before lunch,” the spiritual newborn announced.

    “What does the Bible say about it?” the spiritual child asked curiously.

    There was silence for a moment. “Master,” the new spiritual parent said tentatively, “I’m inviting two homeless men, Roger and Bill, to my house tonight for supper. Is this what you mean?”

    The Master smiled and nodded. He looked at the most spiritually mature man present, the spiritual grandparent, and they exchanged nods. He knew the older man was coaching the younger in how to love his neighbor as himself.

    “Master, I’ve done more,” the spiritual teenager interrupted excitedly. “Yesterday I volunteered at the soup kitchen and served lunch to over a hundred hungry, homeless people!”

    The master was quick to notice the look of self reproach in the eyes of the man who would only be feeding two and decided a lesson was in order.

    “How wonderful a thing you have done,” the master said to the spiritual teenager, who beamed with pride. “Now please name each of them and we will pray for them all.”

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