by Joel Comiskey
Appeared in Making Cell Groups Work Navigation Guide
How do you assimilate your people from celebration to cell or from cell to celebration? Some ideas are more radical than others. For example, Jeff Green wrote:
Each Sunday using a small squirt bottle, we secretly mark first time visitors with a scent undetectable to humans but very favorable to dogs. Immediately after the celebration service we loose several ferocious dogs from the back of the auditorium. In less than five minutes they find all the visitors and back them into a corner barking, snarling and bearing their teeth. This affords a very opportune moment in which to get a commitment from each visitor to attend a cell meeting during the week. After receiving the commitment we call off the dogs and the visitor is allowed to leave. Our retention rate is nearing 100% (note 1).
Most church take less threatening approaches to connecting people with their cell groups. The churches that best assimilate their people through cell ministry do at least these five things well:
- Activate Cell Leaders to Reach Newcomers and New Converts
- Identify Newcomers
- Distinguish Those Who Receive Christ
- Establish Immediate Contact
- Disciple Them in the Cell Group
Activate Cell Leaders to Reach Newcomers and New Converts
While it’s the goal to fill the cell group with unsaved friends and neighbors, many cell group members and future leaders will come from within the celebration service. Cell groups made-up primarily of non-Christians are very difficult to multiply. The reason? You can’t depend on a non-Christian to attend the group faithfully. It also takes time for the non-Christian to convert, receive discipleship, and enter the equipping track.
While the majority of new cell members might come from the mother cell group, many new cell groups are planted with one to three people from the mother cell group. People not yet attending a cell from the celebration service can help form the cell nucleus Cell leaders and cell members should pro-actively recruit newcomers from the celebration to the cell. Wise cell leaders work on Sunday morning, looking for new prospects to join their group. All it takes is simple hospitality. “Hi, my name is Joan. Is this the first time you’ve visited our church? How did you like it? I’m the leader of a cell group in the north end of town on Wednesday nights. It’s a small group of eight people. Here’s my phone number and address. We’d love to have you attend.”
Though there might be reasons why a person can’t attend (time, work, etc.), there are also many newcomers and new Christians who would jump at the chance! This communicates that your church is friendly and wants to include others. Wouldn’t it be great if five cell leaders approached the same person on Sunday?
As the cell group church gathers momentum, most first time visitors will hear or see something in the celebration that makes them aware that cell groups are a vital part of the church, the very base of the church (e.g., announcement from pulpit, bulletin insert, etc.). Some cell group churches display pictures of all of their cell group leaders. They provide take-home cards for visitors that include leaders’ phone numbers and area where the group meets. Therefore, i t won’t be alarming when a cell leader or member offers an invitation.
Identify the Newcomers
To assimilate celebration newcomers into cell ministry, you first need to know who those newcomers are. How do you identify the newcomer? Many churches have successfully used a tear off section within the bulletin. The person making announcements asks everyone to take a moment to fill in the information and drop the card in the offering plate. One reason that everyone fills out a card is to make visitors feel more comfortable. Another reason is to gather prayer requests and needs from church members. In some churches, right after the worship, the pastor greets newcomers by asking them to raise their hands for a brief moment, while everyone claps.
Never embarrass the newcomer in order to gather information. This is always counter-productive. Don’t have the newcomer stand, say his name, and then share a testimony. The person will not only be traumatized, but won’t think too highly of your church or cell ministry.
Distinguish Those Who Receive Christ
The most effective churches not only clearly articulate a salvation message, but also gather the saved for further counseling. Some churches ask those accepting Christ to meet in another room for coffee and to receive a special gift. The International Charismatic Mission has been highly successful by asking those who raise their hand to come forward. These people are whisked into another room for discipleship.
In this room, the leader always gives another invitation to receive Jesus Christ. Then counselors give individual attention to each convert. During this personal time between counselor and new convert, instruction is given, and the counselor asks for prayer requests. The counselor then prays for the new convert and asks him to record his personal information on a card. Another counselor will then confirm the information on the card: “Okay so you’re name is ______ and you live where?” Part of the reason for ICM’s success is carefully identifying and separating the new converts for immediate follow-up.
Establish Immediate Contact
One larger church positions a welcome team outside the worship center with a sign posted “Visitor’s Table.” Visitors fill out cards and the information is processed on the same day (note 2). By the end of each service, a cell leader is assigned to personally care for the visitor. By Monday, the cell leader calls or visits the new person in order to initiate a personal follow-up program that is closely connected with the cell (note 3).
The core principle is to make contact with the newcomer/new convert as close to the celebration event as possible. Herb Miller declares,
No other single factor makes a greater difference in improving annual membership addition than an immediate visit to the home of first‑time worshippers . . . When laypersons make fifteen‑minute visits to the homes of first‑time worship visitors within thirty‑six hours, 85 percent of them return the following week. Make this home visit within seventy‑two hours, and 60 percent of them return. Make it seven days later, and 15 percent will return. The pastor making this call, rather than laypersons, cuts each result in half (note 4)..
One of the best ways to initially visit is with a loaf of bread. One cell group church pastor, writes
I suggest . . . something similar to the approach used by Bethany World Prayer Center. BWPC has contracted with a bakery to make fresh loaves of french bread. Within just a few days of the initial visit to BWPC celebration, the previous week’s guests are visited by persons belonging to a cell within the geographic region and presented with a free gift of a freshly baked loaf of French bread and are extended an invitation to attend cell (note 5)..
Obviously a personal visit is the best. If this proves too difficult for your situation, make a phone call. The principle is to make immediate contact.
Discipleship within the Cell Group
The cell group is the place that true follow-up takes place. This is where progressive sanctification happens. As the new person attends the cell, information will turn into transformation. The new convert will learn to apply God’s Word to daily life. Cell involvement, however, is only the beginning. If new cell members are going to grow, they must enter the equipping track. Cell leaders need to encourage each cell member to receive further training while attending the cell group. Assimilation continues to cell leadership and beyond.
- Jeff Green, Sunday, September 17, 2000, cellchurchtalk – www.cell-church.org.
- The church that uses this method is Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In 1996, LAC received approximately 150 first-time visitors each month.
- The member of the cell group (or the leader) meets with the person once per week to cover one of the four lessons contained in the pamphlet, “Your New Life In Christ.” The pamphlet covers the person’s new life in Christ, spiritual growth, and finally the importance of the cell group. A form is completed, each time the leader meets with the visitor. The last page of the pamphlet contains a final report of the visitation process.
- Herb Miller, How to Build a Magnetic Church Schaller. Creative Leadership Series. Lyle Schaller, ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1987), pp.72-73.
- Rick Diefenderfer wrote on cellchurchtalk on Sunday, September 17, 2000: