Don’t Start Cell Church Immediately

April 2019

By Joel Comiskey, check out: Myths and Truths of the Cell Church

Myth: Jump into Cell Church Immediately

The cell church strategy has so many benefits. Through the cells, a church can pastor the entire congregation. Cell church also makes sense from a biblical perspective because it helps members grow in relationships and accountability. Then there’s the doctrinal factor. Most cell churches connect the pastor’s teaching with the cell lesson. Most pastors are thrilled to have the congregation apply the Sunday sermon.

Because there are so many benefits, it’s common for a pastor to come back from a cell seminar and make an immediate announcement about becoming a cell church. Is this wise?

Truth: It’s Best to Have a Long-Term Transition Plan

I counsel pastors not to make a church-wide announcement until the church is in the process of transitioning. In reality, what would the pastor announce? A structural shift? People who haven’t experienced cell life will interpret the announcement about becoming a cell church as just another program. This is counter-productive and will cause weariness in the congregation to have to work through another change in programs.

It’s much better if the lead pastor and key leaders work out a long-term strategy behind the scenes that include time-tables, development of the equipping track, strategy for coaching, and how the leadership team will guide the cell vision. Such strategizing is part of the pre-transition stage of effective cell church transitions.

The actual transition starts when the lead pastor facilitates a pilot group. This pilot group normally meets for six months to a year. Those in the group are strong believers who are willing to lead their own cell group when the pilot group gives birth. In the pilot group, the lead pastor demonstrates how to lead a cell by doing it. Before the pilot group multiplies, the lead pastor will attempt evangelistic outreach with the new believers going to the new cell groups.

After the pilot group multiplies, the lead pastor can make an announcement about the new cell groups in the church.

Carefully laid out plans are always better than ones that are made in a hurry. Remember the tortoise and the hare. The hare ran out quickly, confidently, and arrogantly. The tortoise’s strategy paid off in the long run, and he crossed the finish line first.

One large traditional church in New York became excited about cell church ministry. As I helped them plan their transition, the senior pastor instinctively articulated his own need to lead a pilot group to the staff and key leaders, so that he could model cell ministry and make sure his key leaders also understood it. He gathered staff members in his house while he led the first cell. This pastor understood the need to start right and that it was best for him to fix the problems in his pilot cell before those problems became part of the entire cell structure.

Just the opposite happened in another church I consulted. As I made initial contact with the lead pastor, it became clear that he didn’t want to change anything in his program-based church. He liked the idea of the cell church strategy as an addition to what he was already doing, as long as he didn’t have to be involved. He was only interested in the outward achievements that cell ministry might bring without paying any cost to make them a reality.