All Disciples are Leaders in Groups of Twelve

Cell Coaching

by Joel Comiskey

Cell Church Magazine, September 1999

Mario received Jesus Christ six years ago. Jesus radically changed his life, and gave him a hunger to win others. He began to share the good news of Jesus Christ with his buddies. John, Mario’s friend from elementary school, responded to the gospel message and began attending Mario’s cell group. As John attended Mario’s cell group and grew in his relationship with Jesus Christ, he heard about the need for further training. John attended a spiritual retreat, took Bible-oriented classes, and eventually opened his own cell group. Throughout this entire process, John continued to attend Mario’s cell group. When John started his own cell group, he officially became one of Mario’s 12 disciples, thus cementing their relationship even further. Now John is looking for his own disciples.

When a Person Becomes a Disciple

Just what is a disciple? The most basic New Testament definition of a disciple is pupil or follower. Jesus chose 12 followers. At ICM (Internacional Charistmatic Mission, Bogota, Colombia), a disciple is a cell leader and a cell leader is a disciple. If you want to be a disciple and form part of the 12 of someone, you must also lead a cell group. I once asked César Fajardo (the Youth Pastor at ICM) a clarification question. “Can you call a person part of your 12 if the person has not yet opened a cell group?” César Fajardo stated, “It’s clear that if someone isn’t leading a cell group, he or she isn’t a leader of anything and the G-12 groups are groups of leaders.” [1]

Let me emphasize this last phrase: G-12 groups are groups of leaders. ICM is a cell church, so at ICM a disciple is a cell leader and a cell leader is a disciple. You might be a “disciple in process” while you’re taking the training to become a cell leader. You’re not, however, part of the “12” of someone until you’re actually leading a cell group. César Castellanos says: “. . . all of the 12 must be there because of merit. They have to give birth to new cells, thus bearing fruit.” [2] César Castellanos gives thisinstruction:

You only choose your 12 after the person has borne fruit [opened a cell group]. If you choose too quickly [before opening a cell group] based on friendship or sympathy, it might turn out that the person never opens a cell, and thus you will never achieve your objective. The person who does not produce is hindering the conversion of thousands of people. [3]

Discipleship at ICM is not a static, ingrown activity. Since a disciple must lead a cell group, the concept of 12 is a method to multiply groups more rapidly. The goal is that each person in the church leads a cell group in order to be a true disciple. If the person refuses to lead a cell group, it’s best to terminate the discipleship relationship. [4]

ICM has only two titles: discipler (leader of 12) and disciple (cell leader). They have eliminated cell church titles like district pastor, zone pastor and zone supervisor or section leader. The G-12 system continues to flow to the lowest levels, and everyone disciples through G-12 groups as well as evangelizing through open cell groups.

Everyone a Potential Leader and Supervisor

The original cell structure (often called the 5×5 system), developed by David Yonggi Cho of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, teaches that the church must appoint a supervisor to care for each cluster of five cell groups. In the 5×5 cell system, John could not have supervised (discipled) new cell leaders until he was asked to become a supervisor by a higher-level leader (e.g., a zone pastor). The title “supervisor” is an appointed position. The G-12 model, in contrast, expects John like everyone else to become a supervisor (although ICM calls it a discipler). At ICM, it’s not sufficient for John to simply lead a cell group. Rather, he must raise-up new cell leaders from his group and then supervise them through his own G-12 group.

In this system, every person is a potential leader and every leader is a potential supervisor. Everyone from the senior pastor to the kitchen worker is commissioned to find 12 disciples, primarily from among the new Christians.

It’s amazing how many common people at ICM are actually supervising others. Willie, who drove us around in the van, had 45 cell groups under his care. He hoped to be supervising 250 cells within a year. We talked to a young girl who cleaned the floor, who supervised four cell groups. The phone operator for ICM had 80 cell groups under her care. Another security guard had already formed his G-12 group and was now seeking to form his group of 144. Castellanos says:

We even have humble people who are handling large numbers of cells. Even the cleaning ladies have cell groups. Everyone has cells. Some have two, others seven, others 50, others many, many more. In order to become a part-time minister in our church, a person must have 250 cells. In order tobecome full-time in the church, a person must have 500. [5]

Everyone Receives Ministry in Order to Minister

Billy Graham was once asked, “If you were a pastor, what strategy would you implement?” Billy Graham replied, “I would choose 12 people and transmit my life to them. I would then send them out to do the work.” [6] The idea of transmitting life and ministering to the ministers is central to the G-12 system. In the normal, program-oriented church, about 40 people have direct access to the pastor. Through the G-12 model, the care system of the pastor is passed down to each one. [7]

Everyone who is leading a cell forms part of a G-12 group. If a person has not yet opened a cell group, he or she receives care from the open cell group leader. But the badge of honor at ICM is to form part of a G-12 group. Therefore everyone desires to enter the training process in order to become a cell leader and thus form part of a G-12 group.

We all know that the ministers need ministry in order to minister more effectively. When someone asks César Castellanos for counsel, the first question that he asks the person is: “Who is your leader?” The person answers: “I’m part of the 12 of the 12 of such-and-such a person.” [8] Castellanos expects the G-12 leader to offer counsel and ministry to the cell leader before looking to anyone higher. [9]

The Significance of the Number 12

“I believe the number seven would be better than 12 for my church in Juarez, Mexico,” said the senior pastor. “Our houses are smaller than those of Bogota, and 12 is just too many for our context,” he said to me. We batted around the idea concerning whether or not the number 12 was essential.

ICM believes strongly in the special significance of the number 12. They base this belief on that fact that God spoke clearly to pastor Castellanos in 1991 about the G-12 concept.13 Pastor Castellanos also regularly preaches on the importance of the number 12. He references the fact that God chose 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 35:22-26; Exodus 28:21), the Hebrew calendar has 12 months, Solomon had 12 governors (1 Kings 4:7), and Jesus chose 12 disciples (Luke 6:12-15).

Luis Salas, one of the 12 of Castellanos, says to his potential leaders, “The number 12 is your key to success. From this day onwards, you will dream and pray about the number 12. The most important thing that you can do is make disciples.” [10]

Material Used in the G-12 Meeting

Sometimes, Mario teaches his disciples a message passed down from César Castellanos. Until his recent move to Miami, Pastor Castellanos met with his 12 on a weekly basis. His 12 took fervent notes of the content of that meeting and passed the message down to their disciples. What was learned from the senior pastor was then passed down to the entire leadership structure through the G-12 system. [11]

It’s my observation, however, that the content of most G-12 meetings at ICM depend on the G-12 leader and what he or she receives directly from the Lord. [12] Mario, for example, begins his G-12 meeting asking each disciple to share his personal needs. “I’m struggling in my marriage,” says John. “Please pray for me.” Those present lay hands on John, praying that Jesus would heal his marriage.

After praying for each disciple, Mario says, “Now I’d like each of you to share what happened in your cell group and G-12 group during the past week.” This has been a tough week for John since only three people attended his cell group and only one disciple attended his G-12 group meeting. “Keep on pressing on, John,” exhorts Mario. “I’ve been there. Make sure you call your disciples this week and keep on inviting new people to your cell group,” Mario says.

Then Mario reminds his disciples about the men’s evangelistic rally in three months. “This is going to be a huge event. We’ve rented the indoor stadium, and we all need to be praying. Remember also that in one month we’re going to invite our wives and families to meet with us at the retreat center.” Normally Mario edifies his leaders through a passage from God’s Word, and he tries to limit his G-12 meeting to one hour.

Growing as a Disciple

John has not yet arrived at spiritual maturity. He still struggles in his marriage, for example. Yet, since completing the equipping track and becoming actively involved in the ministry, he is growing daily. He feels responsible to exemplify the life of Christ to his disciples, so he personally studies the Word and prays continually. When he has questions and doubts, he knows that he can approach Mario at any time, and that he will receive answers. At times John marvels at how completely his life has changed since hearing Mario’s testimony six years ago. He’s so thankful to be Mario’s disciple, but even more important to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey’s book Groups of Twelve expounds on the G12 principles. The book From Twelve to Three also explains G12 principles that should be adapted rather than adopted. Comiskey’s book How to be a Great Cell Group Coach highlights what it takes to effectively care for small group leaders. Buy HERE or call 1-888-344-CELL.


[1] E-mail sent to Joel Comiskey from César Farjado on Tuesday, December 01, 1998.

[2] Audio tape by Pastor César Castellanos entitled “The Cell Method through the Groups of 12” (in Spanish) given at the Living Water Church in Lima, Perú. March 1998. At times, it appears that ICM teaches that each person “picks” his disciples subjectively, according to various characteristics in the potential disciple (César Castellanos, “Liderazgo de Exito Atravez de los Doce” [“Successful Leadership through the G-12 Model”]. 4th Convention of Multiplication and Revival, January 1999. Audio tape). For example, I talked to one leader who told me that he had seven disciples, but that only three of them were actually leading cell groups. The other four were in the “process” of becoming cell leaders. Admittedly, this is a confusing area in which different pastors at ICM will give different opinions. I’ve tried to describe the practical reality of a disciple at ICM. Practically, all disciples must lead at least one cell. For clarity sake, it’s best to distinguish between a “disciple in process” (someone who might not be leading a cell at the present time) and “one of the 12” (one who is leading a cell).

[3] César Castellanos, Sueña y Ganarás el Mundo (Bogota, Colombia: Vilit Editorial, 1998), pp. 91-92.

[4] Luis Salas will not allow any of his “potential disciples” to graduate from the first semester of the school of leaders unless he or she is leading a cell group (more on leadership training in the next chapter). If they haven’t “borne fruit” by that time, Salas often terminates the relationship.

[5] César Castellanos, Tape message Called “Anointing for Multiplication.” Given at Bethany World Prayer Center in November, 1997.

[6] César Castellanos, “Liderazgo de Exito Atravez de los Doce” [“Successful Leadership through the G-12 Model”]. 4th Convention of Multiplication and Revival, January 1999. Audio tape.

[7] César Castellanos, “Liderazgo de Exito Atravez de los Doce” [“Successful Leadership through the G-12 Model”]. 4th Convention of Multiplication and Revival, January 1999. Audio tape.

[8] Audio tape by Pastor César Castellanos entitled “The Cell Method through the Groups of 12” (in Spanish) given at the Living Water Church in Lima, Perú. March 1998.

[9] Before his recent move to Miami, Pastor Castellanos ministered to his disciples every Monday (even though there is more than 12 present). Pastor Castellanos says: “In each meeting [Monday] the leaders receive the vision, we share what the Lord has shown us, we talk about goals, and we motivate each other to achieve our goals.” Following the example of their pastor, the 12 of César care for those under them and the care pattern continues throughout the church.

[10] An exhortation in May 1998 by Luis Salas to potential disciples during a session of pre-encuentro (explained more fully in chapter on leadership training).

[11] Luis Salas, conference at the Republic Church, Saturday, November 28, 1998.

[12] I have yet to discover “discipleship material” that all G-12 groups use at ICM. Each G-12 leader uses his own teaching and material. I’ve seen little systematic discipleship in this model. I’ve witnessed the G-12 meeting of César Fajardo in Bogota, Colombia. His 12 met after the morning worship service. I sensed obedience and interaction, but nothing like an in-depth, systematic approach to Bible. It’s possible, however, to convert your G-12 system into a powerful discipleship structure. But in practice, the word CARE and PASTORING better describes the G-12 system.