NCD statistical study of North American cell churches versus non-cell churches

Church Leadership

by Joel Comiskey, January 2006

In May 2005, Cell Church Solutions commissioned the Natural Church Development research center in Germany to do a statistical study that compared North American cell churches with North American non-cell churches. At the time, NCD had 7972 church profiles from North America. Out of that number 3.6% qualified as cell-churches. Although the percentage of cell churches is compartively small, statistical data software enables researchers to level the playing field in order to make exact comparisons.

In this article, I’ll simply quote the research of Christoph Schalk from the analysis he sent. To download the complete analysis in PDF format–which includes the graphs, CLICK HERE.

Definition of cell church according to NCD

NCD defines a cell church as a church with more than 75% of members involved in holistic small groups.

Schalk told me that their research team classified a cell church as a church with a score of 65 or higher in holistic small groups and with more than 75% of worship attendance in small groups. For the sake of emphasis, let me say this another way: in churches labeled cell churches by this study, more than 75% of those who attended weekend worship also attended holistic small groups during the week, and these churches excelled in holistic small groups by scoring higher than 65 in the NCD testing (note 1)

This still doesn’t define, however, what a holistic small group is according to NCD. The answer to this question can be found in the book Natural Church Development, where the characteristics of a holistic small group include the following:

  • Emphasis on the application of biblical truth that leads to transformation. People in these small groups have the liberty to bring up issues that apply to daily life.
  • Exercise of spiritual gifts within the small group.
  • Priority of small groups as being just as important as the celebration service. The small group, in other words, is not simply a programmatic extension of the celebration service. Schwarz uses the term “mini-church” to describe a holistic small group.
  • Multiplication. Multiplication stood out as the key factor in healthy, growing churches. Schwarz says, “If we were to identify any one principle as the most important . . . then without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups.” Schwarz continues, “Continuous multiplication of small groups is a universal church growth principle” (note 2).

The NCD definition of a holistic small group is very close to the cell definition given in the introduction of this book. I also like their definition of a cell church and believe it’s an excellent starting point. I have appreciated the ministry of NCD, and I’m encouraged to see that their extensive research is confirming that cell church ministry is a healthy strategy for church growth (note 3).

h3 NA cell churches scored higher in all categories

According to their research analysis of North American cell churches and non-cell churches, Schalk says, “Cell churches overall scored significantly higher in all areas than non-cell churches. Combined cell church scores averaged 58 while combined non-cell church scores averaged 50.”

The Inspiring Worship category showed the smallest difference (2 points higher for cell churches) and Holistic Small Groups showed the most difference (17 points higher for cell churches).

Better large group worship

Yet Schalk points out that even churches that say they would focus on small groups over large group worship still had better scores for large group worship. He says, “This finding indicates that cells don’t detract from corporate worship-they add to it. Additionally, the rate of church planting-in spite of the fact that the cell church movement has seemed to focus on getting larger rather than on planting more churches-would seem to indicate that multiplication is in fact in the genetic code.”

Higher growth rate

The study showed that cell churches demonstrated an average growth rate more than double that of non-cell churches. If you want more detailed comparisons on all NCD statistics, download the entire report.


Taking the time to build a God-honoring church that is making disciples is not easy. But Jesus did tell us to count the cost. The NCD study challenges us to grow a church from the inside out—one that produces lasting, fruitful growth. Growing healthy churches through the cell church strategy is vital to get the North American church back on track. Thankfully, many churches in North America are already successfully implementing the cell church strategy. They can inspire and give insight to those who want to follow in their steps.


  1. Christoph Schalk wrote to me on Tuesday, August 31, 2004, saying there were 30 157 711 data entries in the NCD database.
  2. Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development (Carol Steam, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), p. 32.
  3. Brickman, Natural Church Development and Cell Church: Friend or Foe? On page 8 he says, “I am suggesting a marriage between the principles of cell church and Natural Church Development. I am suggesting not only compatibility, but I am suggesting that if a cell church paradigm can chase a thousand, the union of a cell church paradigm with the NCD paradigm can chase ten thousand. The whole will be far greater than the sum of the parts.”