Our Experience of Transitioning to Cell Church

houleby Richard Houle

I have been a pastor/teacher for thirty-five years now. After serving two churches over a period of nineteen years, I came to the conclusion that something was missing in the way we were doing things: we had almost no discipleship training and most of the growth came through transfers.

Then in the early 90’s I heard about the Cell Church concept. To my great surprise, things that I had learned with difficulty in my first twenty years of ministry were all summed up in the concept of the Cell-Church: small groups that reproduce, discipleship, leadership multiplication, encounter weekends, etc. I was really astonished. At that time I was also transitioning in my ministry to a Church in Granby, Canada (Quebec province). So we discussed with the new board about transitioning from a program based Church to the Cell-Church concept. They all fully agreed.

I took some training on transitioning via Touch Ministries. It helped us a great deal; first by preparing us to pay the price for becoming a Cell-Church and then by helping us in the way to do it without rocking the boat! So we began transitioning the Church with 250 people. As Baptists we always had our prayer meeting, so we let that continue for a few years, and during that time we started a prototype cell group with our leaders. We found we had much to learn: how to place relational evangelism in our schedule, how to develop coaching in every level of ministry, how to lead a cell by the Spirit, etc. Then we began establishing new cells as the leaders were ready. Our old prayer meeting died of itself without a problem.

We also had to establish a discipleship track. Because we are a French speaking congregation, the challenge was great. Not much is published in French for the Cell-Church! So until we were ready to write one, we translated the one written by Ralph Neighbour and used it for the first five years. Then we wrote one that was more in line with our French context. During this period all our members were “greatly encouraged” to get on the training track. This is where the struggle began. Many old timers did not want to embark on that road. So for a period of time people were leaving the Church. But the leaders were well prepared for this reaction, so we stayed united in our willingness to transition. We did it and it took us about 7 years altogether. Here are the results:


– 95% of our 200 people are in cell groups right now

– We saw a great multiplication in leadership.

– 4 other cell-churches (from 20 to 45 people) have been started from the mother church in the last five years and another in English is in the move..

– A missionary team has been launched from the mother church to fortify these churches.

– We use our Seminary graduate School to train our pastor/teachers and evangelists.

– We have become a strong influence for small groups in our Association of Churches

– We have developed a good prayer support by prayer partners (G.I.: Groups of Intercession) during the week.

– We have developed a “Tearing down strongholds weekends” twice a year that is functioning very well.

Difficulties :

– We found that we had to balance relational evangelism with intentional evangelism.

– We failed to sufficiently promote the importance of pastors putting relational and intentional evangelism in their hearts and schedules.

– We did not have the growth of new converts that we anticipated. This has been the hardest, but we are learning “to pray them” into the Kingdom.

– We did not engage the wives of the leaders enough in the change of values. We had to adjust.

But overall we are very pleased with the outcome.
May God help you in your transition. How was your transition? Was it difficult?

Richard Houle


Focusing on the Task at Hand

By Michael Sove

Nehemiah gives us an example of focused ministry, sticking to the task at hand.

Neh 6:3-4  “So I sent messengers to them with this answer: “I am doing a great work, and I can’t come down. I don’t want the work to stop while I leave to meet you.” Sanballat and Geshem sent the same message to me four times, and each time I sent back the same answer.”

When you embark on the cell ministry journey you must stick to the task.  There will be many calls to come down from the wall, so to speak.  Many times the good can become a distraction from the best.

Think about it.  If you are leading a holistic cell and trying to raise a team of future leaders you will have your hands full sticking to that task and doing that well.

There are people to disciple, outreach events to be planned, relationships to be built and nurtured, lessons to be internalized so real application can be made.  Then there is daily prayer for the members, invitations to be given weekly to the not yet members and on and on I could go.  This is the prime ministry to focus on as you spend quality time with the the real leader of your cell, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not saying that other ministries can’t happen but the prime ministry is focused on building the foundation of “holistic cells.”

Once you have this foundation built then you can begin to add other ministries with one main expectation.  If you want to start a ministry, you will be part of a cell for your nurture and development and accountability.

You receive ministry and then you go do ministry!  Stay on the wall and focus on the task and you will be blessed in the long run.  Those who begin ministries will be connected to the cell system and all things can work together for the advancement of the kingdom.



Avoiding the Temptation to Stray from the Cell Model

by Mario Vega

When a church has completed its transition to the cell model, not only must it stand firm in its adjustment to the New Testament cell model but also to the temptation to adopt dramatic changes.

Usually, those changes are presented with the offer of extraordinary results in a short time period. Those results from the “new changes” emphasize numerical growth above the other principles of the cell model. The problem is that when you do not get the desired results, people are discouraged. And they are not only discouraged by the new novelty, they also become discouraged with cell ministry.

Therefore, it is best to continue with patience the work of living the cell model’s values and principles, which are the ones that in the long run, will produce the fruit that pleases God. There are no shortcuts, no magic formulas, or infallible recipes. There is only one way to the fruit: perseverance. Do not allow anything to deflect you from your goal. In the end, God will bless you.



Spanish translation:

El camino hacia los resultados

Cuando una iglesia ha completado su transición al modelo celular, no solamente debe mantenerse firme en su ajuste a lo que el Nuevo Testamento presenta como iglesia sino también ante la tentación de adoptar modificaciones dramáticas.

Normalmente, esas modificaciones se presentan con el ofrecimiento de resultados extraordinarios al corto plazo. Esos resultados enfatizan el elemento del crecimiento numérico por arriba de los demás principios del modelo celular. El problema es que cuando no se obtienen lo resultados anunciados las personas se desalientan. Y no solamente con respecto a la novedad adoptada sino con respecto a todo el trabajo celular.

Por ello, es mejor continuar de manera paciente el trabajo de vivir los valores y principios del modelo celular que son los que, a la larga, producirán los frutos que a Dios le agradan. No existen atajos, fórmulas mágicas ni recetas infalibles. Sólo hay un camino para el fruto: el trabajo perseverante. No permita que nada le desve de su objetivo. Al final, Dios le bendecirá.

Nothing New Here

by Jeff Tunnell

When I say “Nothing New Here” it is a double-edged sword, or statement.  First, I am saying that we should not allow any NEW thing to compete with cell systems and their continuance.  Second, most of what follows was in last week’s post also.

Pastors are prone to adding one more ministry to their already full agenda.  They are generally entrepreneurial in nature and LOVE to start new things. Unfortunately these new starts can appear as the next greatest idea to improve our level of current ministry, or outreach, or children’s programs, or youth programs, or whatever.   Movement does not necessarily equal progress; we cannot substitute activity for accomplishment.  But we are prone to try anyway, ouch.

Commit to NOT ADD any new programs for at least one year (more or less) and hold that discipline in place.  Give all of your time to strengthening your cells as the ONLY thing you are doing AND begin to let other programs conclude and disappear in a natural way WITHOUT replacing them.  You will get your life back, time back, relationships will deepen and you’ll begin to experience life in His Kingdom like never before!

I was presented with another opportunity to begin a mentoring ministry today that would target a special group within the church for a special outcome, just for them.  My answer?  The cell system is the place for the special outcome they seek and will produce maturity much quicker than the desired NEW ministry being suggested.

Stay with it, don’t give up, or give in: hold out for the exponential, critical-mass growth that WILL COME if you do not surrender any momentum achieved thus far.  Allow no competition for time, finances or personnel by staying true to becoming good at ONE THING.  As Larry Stockstill stated, win souls, make disciples.  That will do just fine.

NO is a Blessed Word in Cell Ministry

joelby Joel Comiskey

I came in contact with one “cell church” several years ago that was adding programs in the name of “strenthening the cell ministry.” The pastor was simply unaware of the danger of mixing cells and programs. In one sense, everything “potentially” could help cell ministry. Yet the cost of adding programs is great because the programs will drain the scarce “people” resources. If a church expects people to multiply cell groups, oversee those new groups, get to know non-Christians, and participate in celebration activities,  it cannot also expect those same people to get involved in a variety of additional programs. Billy Hornsby once said, “There are many good ideas that we want to attach to the cells to help them be successful. These attachments are simply not needed. In fact, they will eventually burden the cell groups so much that there will be an “overload” factor that will kill one cell group after another, along with its leadership.”

Most pastors can testify that a million well-intentioned programs will knock, even pound, on the door. Yet, they will also drown cell ministry.

Learning to say “NO” is an important fundamental in the cell church. NO, in fact, is a blessed word in the cell church. If a pastor doesn’t learn to say “NO,” the cell church system will flounder.

What has your experience been in this area?