by Joel Comiskey
When starting a pilot small group, I recommend the four Ws. While I don’t believe there is only one agenda, the following one, described below, works well. The four Ws offer maximum participation of group members and is easy to follow.
The four Ws
Each of the four Ws has a specific purpose. The icebreaker (welcome) helps people to experience the group dynamic. Prayer and singing (worship) directs people’s attention to the living God. The Bible time (word) applies God’s word to daily living. Finally, the members are encouraged to share the good news with others (witness).
Welcome (15 minutes)
The welcome normally includes some kind of icebreaker: What do you like to do on vacation? What is your favorite hobby? The idea is to connect each person in the group to everyone else. The welcome time lasts about 15 minutes.
Worship (20 minutes)
The worship time centers on God, who He is and what He has done. The cell exists to give glory to God, and the worship time initiates that process. Whether you have an instrument or not, the goal is to give Him glory through worship. You can worship through singing songs, praying, reading a Psalm, or meditating on God in silence. Provide a song sheet with the songs listed for that evening (normally 4-5 songs on the sheet). Don’t worry if no one is present to play a guitar or piano. You can always use a worship CD or worship without accompanying music. In between the songs, the worship leader should allow group members to offer a sentence praise, prayer, or silent confession.
Word (40 minutes)
The word time allows God to speak directly to His people through the Scriptures. Great leaders draw out others to share their thoughts and apply God’s word. Cell lessons normally have about three to seven questions based on God’s word.
The best cell leaders are facilitators—not Bible teachers or preachers. Cell leaders should not talk too much because the goal is not information, but transformation. Great leaders help steer the group away from talking about world politics, criticism of the church, or the opinions of different authors. Again, the goal is to apply God’s word to daily living. People should go away changed by God’s eternal message.
To begin, ask members to read the Bible verses out loud. However, only ask people to read who you know are confident readers in public. Some like to have the verses printed on a sheet of paper beforehand, using a reader-friendly translation, so everyone can follow along.
Then give a brief explanation of the Bible passage. Make sure to not preach; however, members won’t know how to answer the questions unless they grasp the meaning of the passage. The leader should take about ten minutes to explain the main points of the Bible passage. A leader doesn’t need to be a Bible expert to do this.
Many churches base their cell lessons on the Sunday morning preaching, and thus, cell leaders can take notes while the pastor is preaching the message, knowing that he or she will be covering that topic during the cell meeting the following week. If the cell lesson is not connected with the sermon, the leader will prepare by reviewing the Bible verses before the cell meeting.
Witness (15 minutes)
The witness time is the last part of the cell group. It focuses on reaching out to others, which may be planning an evangelistic activity, planning some kind of practical social action ministry, or simply praying in the group for friends and family who need Jesus.
To give you an idea of what a cell lesson might look like, a sample cell lesson that I’ve used on a number of occasions, is provided below. This sample will give you an idea of the four parts of the cell and how each part flows together.
My own life group
Let me give you an example of the cell that meets in my home every Sunday night. We start with an icebreaker (welcome). “If someone were to ask you a question that’s guaranteed to get you talking, what would that question be?” The purpose is to figuratively break the ice—to ease people into fellowship with one another. We always welcome newcomers and non-Christians.
Then we seek the Lord through a time of singing and prayer (worship). Each person receives a song sheet. Sometimes I pick the songs, while at times others choose. Flexibility reigns. What’s important is that we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ.
Next, we enter the cell lesson (word).The cell lesson is lively and full of participation. My role is facilitator—not Bible teacher. I’m successful when each member has applied the biblical passage to their own lives. During the cell lesson, through the Holy Spirit, God applies his Word to the specific needs of those present. After the lesson, I ask for specific prayer requests. We pray one for another. Often we’ll lay hands on someone who is hurting.
Last, I share the vision for outreach (witness). I might say: “Who will you invite next week? ” or “Let’s remember to pray for Bob, who will lead the next daughter cell group.”
Our cell meeting (no longer than 1 ½ hours) closes with a refreshment time. Some stay for an additional hour, while others leave. Some of the best ministry times occur after the cell group in the afterglow of God’s presence.
Cells are flexible yet consistent. No two cells are exactly alike, but each cell maintains the same components: seeking God (worship, prayer, and lesson), developing relationships with one another (ice-breaker, ministry to one another, and refreshment time), and reaching out to non-Christians (friendship evangelism, special cell activity, and multiplication).
Sample cell meeting
Welcome: icebreaker questions
- Where did you live between the ages of seven to twelve?
- How many brothers and sisters did you have?
- Who was the person you felt closest to?
- What is your favorite sport?
- Read Psalm 8 aloud in unison.
- Sing “Amazing Grace.”
- Read Psalm 29; let each person read a verse in turn.
- Ask for a period of silence for one minute; encourage the members to consider the ways God has comforted them in past situations.
- Read 2 Corinthians 1:3–5.
- Ask, “Share a time when you were in a crisis and God comforted you.”
- After a time of sharing, then ask, “Can you recall a time when you were used by God to comfort someone else?”
- Finally, ask, “Who in our group is in need of God’s comfort right now?”
- Edify one another as God opens the way to comfort one another.
- Share names and circumstances of unbelievers who are going through difficult times.
- Discuss how we as a cell might witness to these unbelievers by becoming God’s agents of comfort in their time of distress