By Joel Comiskey
Celyce and I recently ministered in Ministerio Sabaoth, a vibrant cell church in Milan Italy. This 1000 member church has planted 50 cell churches throughout Europe. The church uses dance, drama, and the media to reach out, knowing that the arts have been an important part of Italian culture for centuries. But this church is also a pure cell church and wants everyone to first be intimately involved in the life of the cell. They don’t want some involved with the arts while others only participating in cell ministry.
Ministerio Sabaoth asks all those involved with their varied ministries to first become cell leaders. Their level of integration is above and beyond what most cell churches require. The majority of cell churches ask those involved in church ministries (e.g., usher, worship team) to first be actively participating in a cell group.
Cell integration is one of the key distinguishing features between a cell church and a church with cells.
A “church with cells” promotes cells as one ministry among a variety of possibilities. Some members participate with cells, if they have time. Others choose to serve in the varied ministries of the church. Many only come to the Sunday celebration.
Some churches, on the other hand, practice what I call faulty integration. That is, they don’t clearly define their cell groups and call everything a small group (e.g., prison ministry, worship team, elders). Some do this because they want to report rapid growth in their small group ministry.
Cell churches, on the other hand, start with a holistic cell definition because it’s the base of the church and the primary place where disciples are made and sent forth. They realize that ministries and programs don’t make disciples like cell groups. They realize that the transition to becoming a cell church is a slow process and complete cell integration is one of the last steps. The lead pastor’s direction and involvement in cell ministry is critical in making this happen. As the cells grow and multiply, the church can expect cell attendance as a prerequisite for ministry involvement.
Why is integration important? Because people have limited time and can only do a few things well. Cell churches have chosen to prioritize cell involvement, knowing that disciples are formed in the cell and spiritual gifts are also best discovered in the small group atmosphere. Cell churches concentrate on the small and large group (celebration), citing the New Testament as their guide.