by Joel Comiskey
I ate lunch with one small group guru a few years ago who wanted to pick my brain about the G12 philosophy. I also wanted to pick his brain about his definition of a small group, which I felt was inadequate. Early in my ministry, I had tried to follow this man’s “inclusive” small group definition and later had to backtrack when the cell system fell apart. So I asked him about it. He answered, “I believe if two men are pounding nails on a roof every six months, this constitutes a small group in the church.” He went on to say, “I define my small groups sociologically.” I countered, “why don’t you have the same loose definition of the celebration service?” We eventually decided to disagree agreeably and remain friends.
I believe that defining the cell holistically has long-term consequences. I define a cell as a group of 3-15 that meets weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community, and spiritual growth with the goal of multiplication. The words “weekly” and “outside the church building” are the two most controversial points of the definition.
Let’s first look at the frequency question (weekly). I’ve noticed a trend among some churches doing cells to hold their meetings monthly or every other week. My heart always sinks when I hear this. Since the cell is the foundation of the cell church, it needs to be the first thing we dedicate our time to. Holding it monthly or bimonthly tends to weaken the quality, dilute the community, and dim the vision for outreach. It’s even hard to remember what happened from meeting to meeting. Other aspects of the cell system can meet less frequently (coaching, training, etc.), but the cell is the crown jewell of the cell church and needs to be prioritized accordingly.
Then there’s the issue of penetration (outside the building). I love cell ministry because it’s a penetration strategy, as opposd to a come-to-the-building strategy. The thrust of cell ministry is to go where the people live, breath, and work. I don’t believe cells must only meet in houses. They might meet in a Starbucks, on a university campus, or at work. The principle is establishing a lighthouse in the midst of a dark world. I love Laurence Khong’s quote, “The devil wants to trap us within the four walls of the church. Criminals don’t care if the policeman is pushing papersâ€”as long as he’s not out on the street” (Apostolic Cell Church, p. 38).
Of course, there are exceptions to these two principles, and we must avoid cell church legalism like the plague. However, if there’s one area in which I become dogmatic, it’s in maintaining a qualitative definition of the cell.