Three steps for transitioning and integration

marioby Mario Vega

Pastor Roberto Lay, who runs an excellent instruction program on the cell model in Brazil, sums up the issue of transition and integration in a way that, up to now, I think is the most clear and practical.

For Roberto Lay three steps should lead to integration of ministries during the transition from a traditional church to a cell church:

1 – Add. Just add the cell work to the ministries that are already operating without touching anything that is already ongoing.

2 – Adapt. Once the cell model is set, start adapting your ministries around the cell model.

3 – Suppress. Once you’ve adapted all the programs that you can to the cell model, you’ll find that some will simply not adapt. When that happens, the life of the cells will have taken on such a significant part of the life of the church, that the programs will no longer be so attractive. When this happens, suppress the remaining programs. No one will notice.

If those three steps are implemented wisely, they will be an excellent guide to achieve a smooth transition, so it can end with an integration adjusted to the conditions of the local congregation.


Mario Vega

Translation in Spanish:

Tres pasos para la transición y la integración.

El Pastor Roberto Lay, quien dirige un excelente programa de instrucción sobre el modelo celular en Brasil, resume el tema de la transición y la integración de una manera que, por hoy, me parece la más clara y práctica.

Para Roberto Lay son tres pasos los que deben conducir a la integración de ministerios durante la transición de una iglesia tradicional a una celular:

1- Añada. A los ministerios que tiene ya operando simplemente añada el trabajo celular, sin tocar nada de lo anterior.

2- Adapte. Una vez el modelo celular se ha establecido comience a adaptar sus ministerios alrededor del modelo celular.

3- Suprima. Cuando se han adaptado todos los programas que se pueda al modelo celular quedarán otros que no podrán hacerlo. Pero para cuando eso suceda, la vida de las células habrá tomado tal fuerza que los programas ya no resultarán tan llamativos. Entonces, suprmalos. Nadie lo notará.

Esos tres pasos, si se aplican con sabidura, serán una excelente gua para lograr una transición sin sobresaltos y que termine con una integración ajustada a las condiciones de la congregación local.


Transitioning at Crestline First Baptist

billby Bill Mellinger, lead pastor of Crestline First Baptist Church

Joel has asked me to do a guest blog. Since he is our coach, I try to listen do what he says.  Seriously, I am honored to share our journey of “integration” with you.

I have been on an interesting journey the last three years.  After serving for several years as a church planter, God led us to serve a sixty-year old church.  This church has had twenty-three pastors and one of them was pastor for sixteen years.  It has been a small program-based ministry.  Since coming, we have been working to transition the church from its program format to being a “relational church that is sold out for Jesus Christ.”

With the help of some great counsel and encouragement from Joel Comiskey and after a lot of reading, we have carefully been transitioning to a cell church model.  Since I am more of a burster and innovator, I knew that I needed to heed the counsel of others who said to “take it slow” and be sure to have the new ministry approach in place before discontinuing the “old way of doing things.”  While this goes against my nature, we have worked to build a good foundation.

I have taught, talked, modeled and led the people in becoming more relational.  Slowly, we began one prototype and now we have transitioned into three prototypes while we develop our coaching and training tracks.  The exciting thing is that this process has allowed people who were negative on the idea to actually become great supporters.  Members of the Leadership Team which were not involved are now committed to the cell concept and one of the three functioning cells. It has taken a lot of discipline, but God is blessing the patience we have applied.  This has truly been a God thing for the church and me.


Bill Mellinger

Seeing through a Different Lens

by Michael Sove

To me the biggest problem in transition is helping the people see through a different lens.  People have been taught that the answer to every problem is a program.  Programs aren’t bad things in and of themselves.  The program was initiated to meet a need.  But as you know, programs all need a point person, they compete for time in the calendar and dollars in the budget.

So in the midst of transition it is very important to educate people about the change in the operating system.  Most of the misunderstandings come from people who see cells as just another program and if cells are just another program why rock the boat.

I liked what Jeff Tunnell said a few days ago about starting with a prototype cell and as a leadership team, really learning the values of a cell based church and beginning to build the infrastructure of equipping and the other components that will prepare future leaders.  There is no way around this as there is no instant cell church.

While you are in the prototyping stage, and you are building a base of cells that can reproduce I would use every opportunity to teach and illustrate the values behind what you are doing.  I wouldn’t preach a message without bridging it to a value.  I’m not talking about filling your sermons with “cell talk” or “cell terminology” but filling them with real stories of life transformation, serving in the community, reaching out as a team, the power of mentoring and on and on I could go.

Cells are not a program shift but a lifestyle change so do all you can to help people see through a new lens.  You cannot teach or illustrate enough.  Long after you have transitioned, the stories and illustrations will capture people’s hearts and breath life into the cell church strategy.



Preferences & Principles

by Jeff Tunnell

My preference in transitioning an established church from “programs” to “cells” as the base of ministry is for the Pastor to begin a prototype cell group with key leaders (along with their spouses if possible).  As this group grows in relationship, experiencing and accepting the biblical values of living in community, they should also develop an equipping track for preparing additional cell leaders.  They can experiment among themselves with the traning components to become confident in them.

Principles that will serve you well in transition:

Prayer: the foundation for EVERYTHING you do.  All successful Cell churches have a base of consistent prayer and dependence upon God.  If our cell church has a weakness this is where we will find it.

Faith: in God (not cells).  Trust Him to keep the rest of the church intact as you work with the prototype until it experiences a shift in values and becomes life-giving and ready for its first multiplication.

Coaching: Secure a known and trusted coach to come alongside you during the first year; they will help you build correctly from the beginning, rather than having to remodel later (if you have ever been involved in remodeling you are aware that it takes MORE time and MORE resources than building does).  You will also need to trust your coach; this will require faith also.  Remember, as pastors we are required to “know-it-all” constantly.  To avoid this trap you will need to trust the coach to know more than you do as you learn a new set of values.

Homes: Take your prototype home!  Experience this life-giving cell group the same way as the early church did and set the precedent for all of your multiplication cells to come.

Pastors are used to adding one more spinning plate to their already full agenda so forming the first cell group will satisfy this habit at the onset.  Commit to NOT ADDING other programs for at least one year (more or less) once the cell is formed.  Give all of your time to this as the ONLY new 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!

Moving Toward Full Integration

joelby Joel Comiskey

I coached one denominational church that had grown to mega church status through their wide array of programs. Every night of the week they featured a different program to attract people. The senior pastor eventually realized he was a one-man show, and that his people were not growing as disciples. He asked me to help move the church to the cell-based strategy.

I counseled them not to move too quickly in deleting the programs. “After all,” I said, “Those programs are meeting felt needs. Cells will eventually do a much better job of fulfilling those needs, but until the cells are functioning, programs are all the people have.”

The pastoral team thanked me for helping them to understand how cell ministry replaces the need for programs, but also for helping them to avoid abruptly closing all of  their ministries.

Becoming a fully integrated cell based church takes time. Most churches are somewhere on the path to becoming fully integrated (e.g., Michael Sove’s and Allen Memorial), but few churches have reached the point of Mario Vega’s church (see last week’s blog).

In the process toward integration, it’s important to have functioning cells to offer the people before stripping away cherished ministries and programs. Effective transitions, in fact, happen underground. As more and more cells become available, the need for programs diminish and the leadership team can get rid of those ministries that are no longer needed. Effective pastors patiently and persistently guide the church toward the cell driven strategy.