By Joel Comiskey
On Friday night, October 25, 2009, I challenged the 1000+ participants at the cell church conference at La Misión Cristiana Moderna in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands to go beyond one big church and plant a multitude of churches. I thought the lead pastor (Ángel Manuel Hernández) would receive the challenge with joy. However, I ate dinner with him afterwards, and he said to me, “God wants me to continue to grow a large church here in Fuerteventura before we actively engage in planting new churches.” I responded, “But it’s much better to plant new churches because cell church is all about raising up new leaders–not just at the cell level but also at the pastoral level.” He shot back, “As an Assembly of God denomination, we’ve already planted many, many smaller churches that have yet to make a powerful impact on the Canary Islands. In a large cell church, we are having a far greater impact.” We went back and forth.
I had to admit that La Misión Cristiana Moderna has uniquely impacted their island as a large church. Patrick Johntone in Operation World (2003) wrote about all eight of the Canary Islands saying, “Among the 1,630,000 inhabitants are but 3,600 believers in 75 small churches and fellowships — most being on the two larger islands and over half being Assemblies of God.” Fast forward six years since Johnstone wrote these words and in just this one church on one island there are 200 cells and 1300 people in those cells and celebration. The island’s mayor often comes to the celebration services, the church has a powerful social outreach, and the church’s size stirs believers to openly express their faith in a very secular, Catholic atmopshere.
Lately, I’ve been so completely immersed in church planting literature that I haven’t thought too much about growing a large cell church. In the last five years, the cell church pendulum has swung away from promoting large cell churches to church planting. I’ve heard lots of criticism, in fact, about the tendency in the cell church movement to promote mega, mega cell churches. And I’m sure some of that criticism was directed toward me because in the earlier days I exclusively promoted and wrote about these very large cell churches.
Have we now swung too far the other way? Is there a case to be made for huge cell churches? Look at Mario Vega and the Elim Church. Elim’s size allows it to wield a special influence in El Salvador. For example, the government of El Salvador recently asked Mario Vega to pray a seven minute prayer in congress (check it out). The size of Elim (100,000) gives them a powerful voice in the country. The same is true with David Cho and Yoido Full Gospel Church.
What is the place of mega cell churches? I do believe that even the huge cell churches need to engage in church planting. Pastor Angel told me that he’ll eventually plant churches and in fact, they’ve already planted their first daughter church on another island. And Elim has planted some 150 cell churches all over the world.
I’d like to hear what you think. Please comment HERE.