Strengths and Weaknesses of Coaching Structures

Cell Coaching

Summer 2010 (Taken from Chapter 9 of book, Groups of Twelve)

by Joel Comiskey

In 1792, an unknown English pastor, part-time teacher, and shoemaker began a revolution. His name was William Carey. He refused to accept the teaching in his day that the Great Commission was no longer relevant for the church. When he had the opportunity to address a group of ministers, he challenged them to give a reason why the Great Commission did not apply to them. They rebuked him, saying, “When God chooses to win the heathen, He will do it without your help or ours.” Yet Carey believed in his vision so strongly he became part of it and sailed as a missionary to India, thus launching the modern missionary movement.

Few possess the boldness to launch out into the deep, leaving behind conventional wisdom in order to blaze new trials. Most people prefer to follow the status quo—the tried-and true.

In The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner say, “Leaders venture out. Those who lead others to greatness seek and accept challenge. Leaders are pioneers—people who are willing to step out into the unknown. They’re willing to take risks, to innovate and experiment in order to find new and better ways of doing things” (note 1)

David Yonggi Cho and César Castellanos are both innovative pioneers. Both blazed trails that the worldwide cell church is now following. Like Carey, these church leaders refused to accept the status quo and followed their own convictions. The purpose of this chapter is to help you blaze your own trail—to adapt the principles that work best for you. In chapters ten and eleven, you’ll read about how twelve churches have applied the principles of the G-12 model to their own context. In this chapter you’ll understand the strengths and weaknesses of both the 5×5 model (Cho) and the G-12 model (Castellanos). After comparing the tracks these two men of God laid down, my counsel is that you steal the best and apply the principles that work for you.

Similarities of the Two Models

The path ICM forged is not entirely new. There are many similarities, in fact, between the G-12 system at ICM and the 5×5 model that originated at Yoido Full Gospel Church. Both models, for example, are similar in purpose—to provide support, care, and leadership for cell leaders. In both systems, the cell group is the same. The cells use the same order, focus on discipleship and evangelism, and are based on the senior pastor’s message (note 2).

Both models view cell ministry as the backbone of the church, the primary way to pastor the congregation, raise up new leadership, and evangelize non-Christians. The goal in both cell systems is to integrate cell members into the life of the local church.

Distinctions between the Two Models

In other ways the 5×5 model and the G-12 model are different. The 5×5 model is more hierarchical and top-heavy. Positions and titles are clear and distinct, and the entire system is easier to understand and control. Under this system, a supervisor cares for five cell leaders; a zone pastor directs 25 cell leaders; and a district pastor supervises approximately 125 cell leaders. A zone averages about 250 people in 25 cells, and a district numbers about 1,250 people in 125 cells (note 3).

Even the offices in the 5×5 structure clearly delineate the different positions and geographical territories for each district, zone, and sector of the city. Clarity, control, and leadership hierarchy characterize the 5×5 system. The structure looks something like this:

In the 5×5 model there is a necessity for a fairly large staff of paid workers at the church. When someone is paid full-time to do the work of ministry, it frees him or her to accomplish more than would be possible in a voluntary role, but it also changes the nature of the relationship between the paid-staff member and the one receiving the supervision.

The G-12 structure, on the other hand, is a grass-roots system. Like the complex underground root system of a giant oak tree, the G-12 administration functions below the surface. There are very few titles in this structure. The staff pastors who also lead the homogeneous departments are the only paid positions. The rest of the workers are volunteers. The G-12 structure looks like this when mapped out:


A more dynamic representation resembles this:

FIGURE 2: G-12 Structure

In the 5×5 model, oversight takes place predominately by individuals who have served as cell leaders, but have been removed from active cell involvement into more of a supervisory role. Although they continue to attend cells, they do so in a different capacity.

They are there primarily to observe, to critique, to encourage, and to exhort. Because they move from cell to cell, it is difficult for them to maintain deep intimate relationships within the cell or to participate actively in the cell.

In the G-12 model the majority of workers continue to lead a cell, while pastoring/discipling other cell leaders. Regardless of their stature or position in the church, they continue to have the weekly experience of participating in a cell.

In the G-12 model, cell groups multiply across the entire city. They are limited by homogeneity as opposed to geography. In a pure 5×5 structure, even the multiplication of cell groups must occur within geographical confines. If a cell in District 3, Zone 1, sector 4 multiplies into Zone 2, sector 3, that cell comes under the leadership of another zone pastor and supervisor. This is not the case in the G-12 model. Youth cells, men’s cells, and women’s cells, can multiply across the entire city.

Strengths of the 5×5 Model

More Quality Control

The 5×5 structure continues to add higher level leadership as the cell system grows. For every five units (cells, sectors, zones, districts) new higher-level leadership is added. This helps maintain the quality control.

Healthier Cell Groups

Cell groups in the 5×5 model are often more healthy. Two factors make this possible: First, there is a higher ratio of supervision: one supervisor per five cells instead of one discipler per 12 cells. Second, cell groups start with a fixed number of people. The emphasis is on mother-daughter multiplication, rather than cell planting. Thus, when the cell starts, there is already a group consciousness. In the G-12 model this group consciousness often doesn’t occur right away.

Easily Understood

This model has been around longer and is more easily understood. With its emphasis on positions and titles and specific geographical delineation, most people immediately understand it. Part of the reason for the clarity is the ability to map each aspect of the system. In 5×5 churches, huge district offices mark the location of all workers. At a glance, you can recognize this system.

More Success in Tracking Progress

the 5×5 model, it is possible to maintain up-to-date records of all activities. Since this system maintains higher levels of leadership as the system expands, these leaders can devote more time to compiling and analyzing the data. This information allows the staff to better understand the situation and make corrections according to the needs.

Weaknesses of the 5×5 Model

Particular Members are Commissioned to Lead Cell Groups

Generally, the 5×5 model chooses certain gifted members as leaders over others. The concept of “every member a leader” is not practiced. Again, the emphasis on titles (supervisor, leader, assistant leader, host, etc.) separates leaders from non-leaders. Talented and gifted people enter the training to become leaders, and this type of selection continues to higher levels of leadership in the hierarchical leadership structure.

Too Much Hierarchy

The danger in the 5×5 model is the inactivity of middle managers (supervisor, zone pastor, district pastor). Often, those in such positions lose touch with the life of the cell because they concentrate on supervising cell leaders instead of actively being involved in the ministry. Larry Stockstill’s insight is helpful:

North America has moved away from middle management. Some cell structures emphasize this middle management and set up a corporate type structure (district pastor, zone pastors, etc.). The three levels are just supervising and not winning souls. All levels should be winning souls. No one should just sit back and do nothing. Everyone in the church should be winning souls. Everybody (note 4).

Break-up of Relationships

In the 5×5 model, the cell multiplication process causes breaks in relationships. Close bonds within cell groups are severed when the group multiplies. The new cell comes under the jurisdiction of the area supervisor, not the original cell leader.

Multiplication within Geographical Boundaries

In the 5×5 geographical model, if a group is ready to give birth and the new leader lives in a different zone, he or she would be forced to come under the supervision of another zone leader, thus separating ties with the parent group. Because of this separation, the parent cell leader loses contact with that new cell.

Cell members are restricted to winning neighbors and contacts that live in the same geographical area. Yet, friendships in today’s fast-changing society are often developed in the workplace, university, or a restaurant. Neighbour says, “The difficulty with a geographical structure is that people often have no natural contact with their neighbors and eventually run out of oikos contacts (friendship circle) that can be reached” (note 5)

Strengths of the G-12 Model

Every Person is a Leader

The G-12 system is designed to develop leaders. It takes the commitment to the priesthood of all believers to a new level. The equipping is designed to prepare everyone for leadership and no one is allowed to stand by and watch.

Relationships are Maintained

Because the leader who multiplies his or her cell supervises the new group, relationships between cell groups are maintained. In this system, multiplication without division occurs. The parent cell leader maintains close relationships with the new cell leader and even invites him or her back to the parent cell. Since there are no geographical hindrances in the G-12 model, cells can multiply throughout the city without coming under the supervision of another leader.

Less Hierarchy

This model requires less hierarchy and can be implemented on a grass-roots level. There is greater potential for exponential growth in the G-12 model because less outward structure is needed to make it work. Each leader can become a supervisor. Leaders don’t have to be promoted to occupy an official leadership position. All leaders can rise to the height of their talent and success.

More Adaptable

The G-12 model is a fluid model that can connect to any type of structure. For example, if you choose to organize your cells according to geography, you could still use the G-12 system. If you choose to organize the cells according to homogeneous groupings or ministry department, the G-12 works just fine. A key strength is its adaptability. This is not true of the 5×5 model in which the leadership positions are even named according to the geographical divisions (zone servant, district pastor, etc.).

Less Staff Required

Some point out that the G-12 model requires less staff. ICM, for example, doesn’t hire a full-time pastor until he or she has 500 cell groups. The G-12 model lends itself to more of a grass roots care structure, thus reducing the need for salaried personnel. It’s true, however, that even in the 5×5 structure you don’t necessarily need to pay higher level leadership. The Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, which has 1000 cells in the 5×5 structure, expects voluntary service from all zone pastors. The church did not provide financial support for its four district pastors until 1996.

Multiplication Occurs More Rapidly

Multiplication occurs more rapidly and greater potential exists for continual multiplication of cell groups (some have over 1,000). There are no boundaries to multiplication in the G-12 model.

Weaknesses of the G-12 Model

Greater time commitment

The G-12 model requires a greater time commitment. Parent cell leaders are asked to supervise those who start new groups, thus increasing the time commitment. The ICM G-12 system requires three meetings per week. This is a great drawback for many—especially in North America. Mike Atkins, former senior pastor of the Church of the Nations, writes:

This difficult challenge seems to be in convincing individuals who have never experienced cell life that they will find it rewarding enough to be willing to invest two periods of time a week to active and personal participation. Unquestionably, there will be those whose lifestyles or priorities simply will not allow them to make this level of time commitment. For others, it will merely be a matter of allowing them to experience cells; the joy and rewarding experience will sell itself when it comes to asking them to make the commitment to lead a cell as well (note 6).

Quality Control

The organizational chart in the G-12 system flows downward and new levels of leadership are not added to sustain quality control. The quality control can therefore falter as cell groups multiply at lower levels. In contrast, the 5×5 model constantly adds higher level leadership as the organizational system expands. One of Castellanos’ 12, Rafael Perez, admits that degeneration takes place within the G-12 model. The original 12 understand the vision. The farther away a disciple is from the original discipler, the more the purity of the vision falters.

To further this problem, some G-12 churches lack clear, consistent statistical reporting (note 7). Because the cells that multiply far below escape the attention of the pastoral staff, it’s difficult to get clear, up-to-date data on what’s happening at lower levels.

Weaker Cell Groups

Since the G-12 system asks each cell member to start a cell group (often from scratch), cells tend to start with only one or two people. Thus, it takes longer for a cell to develop a group consciousness. Some of these cell plants never arrive at this group level and fizzle out or cease.

Permanency of the Disciple

The G-12 model also asks each person to find 12 permanent disciples. Some might hesitate to commit to a permanent discipleship group. Why? Because of the desire for personal freedom and not wanting to come under the control of someone else in a discipleship relationship (note 8).

Choosing Among the Alternatives

Hindsight is clearer than foresight. The trails that David Yonggi Cho and César Castellanos blazed for the church make it easier for us to see the road ahead. Yet, you don’t have to commit your church to the 5×5 model or the G-12 model. I recommend, in fact, that you base your transition on principles, rather than outward structures. Take the best of both worlds and then blaze your own trail.

  1. James M. Kourzes & Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), 9-10.
  2. Not every church bases cell lessons on the Sunday morning sermon. Karen Hurston points out that Yoido Full Gospel Church originally used Cho’s expository messages from the Wednesday evening meetings. Later key leaders prepared the cell lessons based on Cho’s teaching in general. The majority of cell churches worldwide, however, use the Sunday morning message as the basis for the weekly cell lesson.
  3. Understand that this is the ideal. I’ve observed that the 5×5 numbering is not always observed. Elim, for example, had eight zone pastors (instead of five) under each district pastor.
Foundational Principles 5×5 Structure G-12 Structure
LEADERSHIP TRAINING Potential leaders are trained within the cell and through seminars before beginning cell leadership. Ongoing (often weekly) training takes in the zones and districts. Potential leaders are trained through Encounter Retreats and School of Leadership (see chapter five)
GEOGRAPHICAL DIVISION Cell groups are divided into geographical areas under district pastors, zone leaders, and section supervisors. Cell groups are divided in homogeneous groups: men, women, couples, young professionals, youth, adolescents, and children. The G-12 system flows down from each homogeneous category.
JETHRO SYSTEM Top leadership is raised up to pastor cell leaders under them. The names of these leaders are: district pastors, zone pastors, supervisors (or section leaders) and cell leaders. There are only two titles: G-12 leader and cell leader. Very successful G-12 leaders (as measured in cell multiplication) are invited to serve on the pastoral staff.
MULTIPLICATION Certain gifted members are appointed as future leaders and guide the newly formed daughter cell. Mother-daughter cell multiplication is the norm. The cell gives birth to another cell when the parent cell reaches a certain size. Every member is expected to eventually lead a cell group. When the person finishes training he or she starts a cell group. Size of the parent cell is not an issue.
CENTRAL PLANNING Cell group planning takes place on a centralized level in district offices. Cell group planning is primarily handled through each G-12 group under the different homogeneous departments.
CELL LEADER CARE Cell Leaders are cared for by district pastors, zone pastors, and supervisors. Leaders are cared for by leaders of twelve-from the lower levels all the way up to the twelve disciples of Pastor Castellanos.

The 5×5 model focuses on the size of a group and giving birth to daughter cells—exact replicas of the parent cells. In the 5×5 model, the parent group prepares to give birth to a daughter cell. Assistant leaders are chosen and trained to lead daughter cell groups. The following table highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the two models.

5×5 Model G-12 Model
Better chance of Cell survival
Good control & easier management
Simple structure to understand (Clear)
Good Pastoral (care) structure and communication
Not time taxing
Promotion path is clear
Territorial, Focused & Defined Planned leadership promotion
Evangelism focused
Weekly Leadership meetings (more personal contact)
Emphasis on new leadership
Cell planting concept
Faster growth potential
Focus on homogenous groups
Weak members can hide forever
Working relationships severed at multiplication
Geographical boundary emphasis
Multiple levels create distance between pastors, cell leaders and members
Need more full time Pastors
Slower leadership development
Some homogenous groups are overlooked
Quality of leadership could diminish
Quality of meetings could diminish
Monitoring/Care process weakens
Enforced relationships (sometimes unwanted fixed relationships)
Time pressures
A sense of loss of control
Potentially weak Cells
Stable Church structure
Clear Ministry opportunities
Evangelism (Target groups)
Rapid church growth
Cell planting (Homogenous)
Leadership development
Evangelism (Target groups)

The 5×5 structure normally adds paid staff at higher levels. However, as the system grows, more staff are added. This is not necessarily true, however. Love Alive Church (Amor Viviente) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, doesn’t even pay their district pastors. All cell positions are voluntary, except for the role of “cell director” (as of 1996-97).

  1. Larry Stockstill, G-12 System, audiotape of message at November 1998 cell church conference.
  2. Ralph Neighbour, Jr. “Structuring Your Church for Growth,” CellChurch, Vol. 7, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 15.
  3. Mike Atkins.
  4. ICM, for example, reported incredible cell growth in 1998 (24,000) and later had to change the statistics to adjust to reality in the beginning of 1999 (20,000).
  5. The Shepherding Movement of the 1970s taught obedience to leadership. In this movement a “disciple” had to obey the leader and submit to his or her direction. Individual freedom and initiative were not highly esteemed, and many leaders controlled their disciples.