From Joel Comiskey’s book, Children in Cell Ministry (chapter 6)
In 2011, Elim celebrated twenty-five years of cell ministry. During the stadium celebration—where only cell leaders were able to attend—Marisol’s father received a plaque for being one of the leaders who have provided faithful and uninterrupted cell leadership for twenty-five years (note 1).
Marisol was just four years old when her parents converted through an Elim cell, and it wasn’t long afterwards that they were leading their own cell group in their home. Marisol at a young age became accustomed to the cell environment, and she can’t even remember a time when a cell was not meeting in her home. Marisol grew to love the cell environment, growing increasingly aware that this is the way to do New Testament church.
As time passed, Marisol began leading prayers, and then the singing in her parents’ home cell group. Eventually she was baptized in water in the church.
At sixteen she began working as a leader of a CO cell and has not stopped leading one for twelve years. Today Marisol is twenty-nine and still remains dedicated to teaching children in the cell and in the celebration. She has mentored many girls who are now adults and even leading their own CO groups.
Children Only Groups Versus IG Groups
CO groups meet weekly outside the church building (normally in homes) just like the IG groups, but they meet separately from the adult groups. In other words, the children don’t mix with the adults for the icebreaker and worship but have their own icebreaker, worship, lesson, and vision casting time.
The children who attend IG groups normally come with their parents to the group, but this is often not the case with CO cell groups. In fact, the Elim Church will often target densely populated neighborhoods with the goal of starting CO groups. Those attending come from the packed housing sectors in that particular neighborhood.
This was also true in Cusco, Peru where the Vine Church has started 400 CO groups, with many of them meeting completely apart from an existing adult cell group. With CO cell groups, neighborhoods full of children can be targeted without the need for a fully functioning adult cell to make it happen.
Granted, many CO groups do meet at the same house as the adult group and often at the same time, although this is not always the case. In other words, there is more flexibility when using COgroups.
Another key distinction is leadership. In the IG group, leadership is shared. Adults rotate to teach the Kids’ Slot. In the CO groups, there are dedicated leaders who are considered the leader(s) of that particular cell group. COcell groups are treated as normal cell groups within the church. Having a dedicated children’s leader also allows for more flexibility in where and when the group will meet.
Like the adult leaders, all those who lead COcell groups must go through the church-wide equipping, just like the leaders of youth and adult cells. Like all leaders, those leading COcellsare thoroughly coached and cared for by the church’s leadership team.
The order for the CO group is similar to a normal IG group:
The difference lies in the welcome and worship times because the focus in on the children, rather than children and adults, like the IG groups. Because the icebreaker is only directed to the children, the leader can focus on children related themes. He or she might decide to connect the theme of the lesson with the icebreaker.
If the lesson is on forgiveness, for example, based on how Joseph forgave his brothers, the leader might ask the children to act out the story of Joseph being rejected from his brothers in Genesis 37:12ff. The leader might ask a child to play the role of Joseph going to his brothers to give them food. Other children can play the parts of the brothers. A couple can act out the parts of Reuben and Judah who tried to save Joseph.
The leader can then ask the children about a time when they were not understood or when someone treated them roughly when they were trying to help out. The responses might lead to praying for one another.
Since the worship time in a CO group is not with the adults, it can be more geared toward the children. Worshipping, sharing testimonies, asking for prayer might be part of the worship experience in a CO group. Some ideas to get children involved in prayer and worship include:
- Ask the children to share a time when God answered prayer. Praise God together for those answered prayers.
- Have each child say a short prayer for the person beside him or her, first asking the children what they would like prayer for. The leader should also ask for personal prayer as well.
- Ask the children to spend time quietly, listening to what Jesus would want to show them. Then have each child share what Jesus showed him or her.
- Ask the children to pick favorite worship songs and then ask one or more children to lead those songs
The Word and witness time in a CO cell are the same as the IG groups. If the CO cell group is meeting at the same time and place as the adult cell group, the children can share what they learned with the adults during the refreshment time.
Elim San Salvador
Several years ago I wrote a book about Elim called Passion and Persistence: How the Elim Church’s Cell Groups Penetrated an Entire City for Jesus. I noted three words to describe this church: Passion. Persistence. Penetration. Elim is all about passion and persistence to penetrate the city through multiplying cell groups. The Elim Church has a great cell system, but they have more than just the system. They have a contagious passion that makes the discipleship process work. This passion manifests itself in the commitment of the people to serve Christ and others—including the children.
A cell leader at Elim must be sold out to Jesus Christ first and foremost. Second, the leader must practice the vision of penetrating a city for Jesus through making disciples who make disciples. “Multiplication is a triumph because it means reaching more people for Jesus Christ,” Pastor Mario Vega said. With 110,000 people in 9,000 weekly cell groups, the mother church in San Salvador is a shining example of effective cell ministry. Many have described the Elim Church as an army conquering enemy territory. I would simply add that it’s a passionate army, rather than a stiff, cold militia. The people at Elim are passionate for Jesus Christ and their love for Jesus encourages them to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God. Many other words and phrases describe Elim: servanthood, evangelism, and leadership, but none of them describe Elim’s heartbeat like passion.
Rescuing the Children
Elim is also passionate and persistent about saving and discipling children before they fall into the clutches of gang activity. Juan, a four year old, was living in a very poor, crime infested neighborhood in San Salvador when he first started attending an Elim cell group. The cell leader asked Juan what he wanted to be when he grew up, and Juan responded, “I want to be a gang member.” But things have changed. After several months of experiencing love and gospel values, Juan now says he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up (note 2).
Elim is trying to change the culture of El Salvador by actively involving children in cells, transforming their lives with the gospel message, and then preparing them for cell leadership. Elim’s CO groups are not only evangelizing children, but they are also a place where children feel family warmth and care—something they have not known or experienced in their own homes. They also gain a purpose for their lives, based on eternal, kingdom values.
Elim will often target crime infested areas of the city with the hope of rescuing children before they are recruited in gangs. Jenny, for example, was sent to open a children’s cell in a very poor house in the center of San Salvador. An older lady and her eight-year-old grandson, Leonel, lived in a small, messy house. The neighborhood children packed the house to overflowing each week. Jenny recalls the messiness of the home and lack of space as the children crammed in each corner to hear God’s Word, memorize Scripture, worship God, and pray together. Leonel’s rooster would often peck at Jenny as she gave the lesson. Despite the difficulties, Jenny pressed on for the sake of the children.
Jenny noted that Leonel was very depressed and sometimes spoke about not wanting to live anymore. Jenny asked if something was wrong, but Leonel always avoided talking about his problems. Over time, and after talking to the grandmother, Jenny pieced together Leonel’s history. Leonel’s mother was impregnated at the age of thirteen by a gang member and turned Leonel over to the grandmother. Leonel’s father had to flee the country, and Leonel never heard from him. He had only seen a photo of him. To survive, Leonel and his grandmother tried selling roasted bananas on the city streets.
The good news was that Leonel received Jesus in the children’s cell and began the process of discipleship week after week. He memorized the verses and faithfully attended each meeting. Leonel’s mood changed dramatically, although he would sometimes become discouraged because of his living conditions. Many of the neighbors around Leonel were gang members, and Jenny knew he was vulnerable. She gave Leonel special attention, praying fervently that he would stay strong. She asked him to help her in the cell, which made him feel important and needed.
Leonel did make it through those difficult times. He’s now seventeen and testifies of God’s grace in his life. “Before I didn’t care about even living, but now I have a new purpose in life,” Leonel says. “Jesus is my priority now, and he’s helped me to avoid the mistakes of those around me.” Leonel now attends an Elim youth cell as well as the weekly celebration services. He is currently finishing high school and his dream is to study mechanical engineering in college. He’s polite, respectful, and a trophy of God’s grace—someone who was rescued by an Elim cell group in the dark, broken city of San Salvador.
Evangelism and Edification
Elim’s COgroups are led by those sixteen years old or older. They sprout up all over the city, wherever Elim can find a willing host. The cells are often held in the same house as the adult cell, but the children meet in a different room and are separated from start to finish, although the children might gather with the adults during the refreshment time. Many COgroups meet several hours before the adult cell group on Saturday night.
Normally, one member of the adult cell leadership team will sense a calling to lead the CO group, go through the required training, and then become the leader of the CO group.
The Elim CO cells function a lot like the adult cells. Like the adult groups, participation is promoted and the emphasis is on both evangelism and edification. There is an initial icebreaker followed by a time of sharing God’s current work in the lives of those present. A confession time and praying for one another follows. Worship, sharing, and Bible memory verses are key aspects of each group. After this, the adult facilitator leads an interactive lesson. The leader tries to dramatize the lesson and will get the kids involved to make the teaching more dynamic. He or she reminds the children of the need to reach out and to share the gospel with their friends, family, and neighbors. Refreshments follow.
Example of an Elim Children’s Cell Lesson
WELCOME AND INITIAL PRAYER
WORSHIP THROUGH SONG (10 Minutes)
THE WIDOW’S OFFERING
ICEBREAKERS (10 Minutes)
- Why is it important to give God offerings?
- Can only rich people give offerings?
- Is God concerned about the amount of offering?
LECTURE: Mark 12:41-44
SEARCHING THE SCRIPTURE (10 Minutes)
- Did the rich give a lot in their offering? (v. 41)
- What did Jesus say about the widow’s offering? (v. 43)
- What did Jesus say about the offerings of the rich? (v. 44)
TEACHING (10 Minutes)
- THE OFFERING OF THE RICH. As Jesus stood by the box where people were placing their offering, he noticed how the rich were giving large amounts of money. Most likely the people watching were admiring the great amounts of money that the rich were giving. However, God is not impressed by outward appearance. He sees what’s going on in the heart. It’s more important to God what’s happening inside us than the outward appearance.
- THE OFFERING OF THE WIDOW. Jesus saw a poor widow who gave just a few cents. Even though she had so little to give, she actually gave more than all the rich people. The widow gave sacrificially from the little she had to live on, while the rich gave their extra money that didn’t require much sacrifice.
- WHAT GOD SEES. Jesus explained to his disciples that the rich only gave from their abundance but that the widow gave all that she had. She gave the money that she used to buy food to live on. She gave from her heart, but the rich only gave what they could afford to give.
SUMMARY: What goes on in our heart is most important to God. God isn’t as concerned about what we do as why we do it. Great amounts of money don’t impress God; what impresses God is the motivation of our heart. Think about what your heart looks like to God. To be pleasing to God, a person must receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. He knows if a person has done this sincerely or just to make a good impression. Receive Jesus with all sincerity.
APPLICATION (5 Minutes)
- Are there times you do good things but for the wrong reasons?
- When do you care more about how you look to others than how your heart looks to God?
- What are things you do to impress people and how can you turn your heart so you desire God’s best for you instead?
- How can you be generous and give to God sacrificially instead of merely giving God what you don’t need?
INVITATION TO RECEIVE JESUS
MEMORIZATION: Mark 12:44 (10 Minutes)
OFFERING AND FINAL PRAYER (5 Minutes)
Pastor Mario is passionate about discipling the next generation and transforming the street gangs into harvest workers for Jesus, but he also knows he needs equipped and competent leaders to get the job done. It might seem paradoxical, but Elim’s training for children’s cell leaders is more extensive than the training for adult cell leaders.
That is, all cell leaders (adult, youth, or children) must go through the normal six month equipping, which is embodied in the book, The Equipping Route. The booklet contains twenty-six lessons that cover basic doctrine, how to pray, baptism, temptation, and how to lead a cell group. Unless there are character issues, the person who completes the six month equipping is able to lead a youth or adult cell group or at least form part of a leadership team.
However, to lead a CO cell group, an additional eight months of training is required. So it takes fourteen months to lead a CO group but only six months to lead a normal adult cell group. The additional courses for those leading CO groups include:
- Biblical theology of childhood
- Childhood education
- Children and adolescents with traumas and addictions
- Child protection policy
- How to teach children (pedagogy)
- Dynamic teaching methods
- Identifying child abuse
Because many of the children in the CO groups live in gang-infested neighborhoods of El Salvador, cell leaders are prepared to spot and deal with childhood addictions, trauma, and child abuse. Leaders are trained to make sure the cell activity and lessons are dynamic, fun, and fast-moving, especially since many of the children have lower levels of education and short attention spans.
Cell leaders also know that one of their main goals is to create a sense of love, acceptance, and belonging in the cell group—something that the children lack in their own homes. In this way, the CO cells at Elim are creating a sense of family, love, camaraderie, and a clear alternative from the insidious gangs that are common place throughout San Salvador.
CO Cells at First Baptist Campo Grande
We met this creative, dynamic church in the last chapter and noted that their sixty IG groups focused on missions and outreach in a city of about one million inhabitants.
FBCG also allows adolescents to lead CO cells, as long as an adult is present. The adult is ultimately responsible, but the adult doesn’t actually lead these COcell groups—the older children, or adolescents lead them.
Tuesday night leadership equipping is geared toward older children (11-12) and some thirteen year olds, like Gabriel, who is dedicated to lead a CO cell group (more on equipping at FBCG in chapter 7).
FBCG has also developed a top-notch coaching structure for their children’s ministry. They have several people on fulltime staff who coach the supervisors who in turn coach those who are leading CO cell groups. Those coaching the leaders—both pastors and supervisors—do a lot of one-on-one coaching, visiting the cell groups, and also gathering the leaders into a larger coaching gathering on Tuesday night. After the equipping time on Tuesday night, the staff, supervisors, and leaders meet together to talk about the progress of the CO groups. The coaches help the young leaders to facilitate the next lesson, practice effective small group dynamics, and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Gabriel, for example, has already gone through the equipping, but he still attends Tuesday meeting to receive help on his cell lesson, general encouragement, and specific areas of need. Although the church gives him the lesson and goes over the main points, Gabriel realizes he is ultimately responsible for the lesson and the CO group in general. “I make adjustments to the cell lesson to fit the needs of my own group,” Gabriel told me. “I want to make sure I’m ministering to their needs.”
Gabriel has multiplied his COgroup three times since he has been in charge, although the cell itself has multiplied seven times. An adult sits in the cell with him to provide accountability and help the parents who send their children to feel more secure.
Gabriel plays guitar, so he leads the group in worship. “But I don’t want to do everything,” he told me. “I try to get others to lead the ice-breaker, the prayer, and other activities in the group.” Gabriel’s cell meets weekly in the same house, but it is not connected to another cell group. Rather, parents from FBCG have opened their home for Gabriel’s group. FBCG prefers to have a more or less “permanent location,” so those attending will know where to go each week. At age thirteen, Gabriel is the oldest in the group, but not by much. The other children in attendance are between five and twelve.
I asked Gabriel if he wanted to be a pastor, and he told me he wasn’t sure. His parents quickly chimed in, “We want Gabriel to know God’s calling for him, whether it means being a doctor, teacher, dentist, or pastor.”
Laura, a twelve year old, is another adolescent cell leader at FBCG who leads a CO group. Her parents are Christians and were brought up in the church. She is very shy, but she has been an integral part of a group for quite some time. As she participated in all aspects of her group, she realized that she could lead one. Her parents encouraged her to go to the Tuesday equipping.
As Laura invited children to the CO group, the group began to grow. She brought four friends to the group, and the group multiplied. One of those friends, Laureen, received Jesus, and became a strong follower of Jesus. Laura taught Laureen about the importance of the devotional life, how to maintain a godly attitude, and how to share with others. Now both Laura and Laureen go to the equipping on Tuesday night, although Laureen’s parents are not yet believers. The parents allow Laureen to attend the CO group and Tuesday equipping because they’ve seen such a dramatic change in her life. They like what they see and don’t want to hinder God’s work.
MCM in Baquisimieto, Venezuela
Baquisimieto, Venezuela is the home of an exciting cell church called MCM (Misión Cristiana para el Mundo), which we met in an earlier chapter. Apostles Keison and Belkys Carrillo are the founders and lead pastors. Keison was part of the revolution that brought Chavez into power, and he has three bullets in his body to prove it. Since Keison and Belkys started the church in 2002, they have grown to 5,000 people and 500 cells. The main pillars of the church are:
- Church growth
- Helping the poor
- Children’s ministry
Of the 500 cells, 250 are CO cells. Their adult cells are a mixture of couples, singles, and youth, while their children’s cells are the CO variety.
Keison caught the vision for children’s cells when visiting Wales and seeing all the empty buildings. “This is the land of revival,” he thought, “and there are now only empty buildings. If we fail to develop the children, we ourselves will have empty buildings.” God showed him to focus on the children in everything they do.
I was amazed at the original art paintings that decorated the children’s classrooms. Those who visit the Sunday celebration are treated to visual stories of the gospel painted on the walls. The entire church seemed geared around equipping the children of Venezuela.
All leaders—adults, youth, and adolescents—must complete the discipleship equipping track which includes:
- Encounter retreat
- Basic Christian doctrine
- How to lead an effective cell group
One conviction that pastor Keison emphasizes is for children to actually minister to other children. On Sunday they often will have children take part of the lesson or lead the worship. They like to talk about children preaching on Sunday to other children. The conviction of children in ministry spills over to the COgroups, which are often led by those between the ages of 10-14 years old.
I interviewed several adolescents who told me how they finished the equipping and were now taking full responsibility to visit, prepare the lesson, and pastor their CO group. As I talked to three children (11-12) who were leading CO groups, I was amazed at their zeal for Jesus. They were excited about serving him, practicing the spiritual disciplines, visiting the children in their cells, and even preaching the gospel in their neighborhood. I felt like I was talking to young adults or at the very least, mature youth leaders.
The CO groups meet in the homes of adults to offer security and protection. They always have an adult present to ensure against abuse or other problems. The children’s ministry staff prepare the cell material, which is connected to the Sunday lesson. MCM does an excellent job of connecting the Sunday school theme with the material for the CO groups. Their children’s cell ministry has become so fruitful that they now have conferences on how to develop and grow CO group ministry in other churches.
The Vine Church
The Vine Church started in 1999 with a gathering of sixty believers in the Brazilian city of Goiania, located in the western center of Brazil. Aluizio da Silva and Marcelo Almeida are the co-founders of this sprawling, worldwide movement.
Aluizio oversees the work in Brazil and Marcelo supervises the Vine work overseas (Europe, Africa, and North/South America). The church has grown to become a network of 800 churches with 45,000 adult believers in the mother church in Goiania. The mother church has some 5,000 cells, which are a mix of adult cells, youth cells, and children’s cells. One exciting, unique aspect of this church is their emphasis and commitment to children’s cell ministry (note 3).
Growth of the Children’s Cells
In 1999, Marcia Silva, Aluizio’s wife, prayed and fasted for God’s purpose and design for her own ministry in the church. She felt like God was calling her to minister to the children and that God wanted her to do it through the cell groups.
As she looked around, she noticed there were very few models of children’s cells to follow. She received a prophecy that same year, telling her to follow God’s direction, and that he would give her new direction, a new path to follow. She opened her first CO group and watched God prosper the ministry. By the year 2000 there were forty-two CO groups and 190 kids in the cells. The church had already been transitioning to the cell model, so CO cells became an intimate part of the mix from the beginning.
God gave her an ever-growing conviction that children were members of the body of Christ and were often neglected, and God confirmed his direction by helping her multiply the number of COcells to the current 10,000 with 100,000 children attending these cell groups worldwide (note 4). In the mother church alone, there are some 2,000 COgroups with 20,000 people attending them.
They call their children’s network “Radical Kids.” Marcia and her team have dug deep to understand the values behind children’s cell ministry and the three most important are:
- God is a God of generations. He is not just the God of Abraham, but of Isaac, Jacob, and all those who would later believe in Jesus. He is concerned that each generation wins the next generation. God has called the Church to pass the baton of faith safely to the next generation, which means winning the children of the current generation who will eventually win their own generation.
- Children are part of the body of Christ. If they are part of the body of Christ, they must not be neglected or forgotten. The church must not give them less attention because they are small and helpless. The only requirement to be part of the body of Christ is to believe and be born again, and children are an example of simple, sincere faith.
- Developing disciples who will win the next generation begins with children. The discipleship process begins as children. The church must think far into the future and start right away to prepare disciples who make disciples. This means concentrating on the children.
The Vine believes that children are best prepared to become disciples in the home environment, just like adults. They also realize that they will never reach the multitude by requiring the children to come to the church building. Rather, the Vine takes their CO groups to the neighborhoods.
The Vine Church has a growing number of testimonies of those who were born again in a CO cell, trained through the children’s ministry, and now serving fulltime in ministry as pastors and missionaries. John Paul Alves is an example. He accepted Jesus when he was eleven years old at a CO group. His parents had been taking him to the CO group since he was four years old.
He then went to an Encounter retreat for children and God touched him in a powerful way. He was healed of his bronchitis. When he turned twelve he was baptized in water and began the Spiritual Maturity Course. He became a leader of a youth cell group, which multiplied three times. He then began to coach four cell leaders.
In the process, God placed a calling in John’s heart to become a pastor. He received various prophetic confirmations, and in 2011 he entered the church’s equipping for future ministers. Through the equipping, God broadened his vision and after two years he became a pastor in the church overseeing a network of youth cell groups.
John is now twenty-three and one of the many pastors and missionaries who were discipled through the children’s ministry and now are in pastoral leadership. The Vine is intent on preparing the next generation of church leaders by starting with the children.
Female Cell Leaders
The wives of pastors in Vine Churches are mobilized to help out in the children’s ministry. The church prefers that women lead CO groups, although they do have some male CO leaders as well. They are not opposed to men leading the CO cell groups, but they have found that female leaders are more readily accepted in Brazilian society, and parents feel more comfortable when women are leading the groups. In their culture, people often jump to conclusions about men working with children, assuming that they are more likely to abuse them.
Those leading the CO cells are normally the wives of the adult cell leaders. The local church pastor’s wife is the pastor responsible for the network of CO cells and leaders, so she develops a coaching network for all of those who are leading the CO groups. Depending on the size of the church, the pastor’s wife might have additional fulltime staff under her or just volunteer coaches-supervisors of cell leaders. The wife of the pastor, therefore, is responsible to develop the network of CO cell leaders and to make sure they are properly coached.
The coaching of the CO leaders takes place on a weekly basis. The Vine uses the name disciplers for those who are coaching the women cell leaders. In the weekly coaching meetings (discipleship gatherings), the coach will pray with the leader, ask questions about the leader’s life, and go over any problems in the cell. These discipleship meetings ensure that the leader is not running on empty but has a place to receive encouragement and counsel. Once per month, the disciplers will go over the cell reports to ensure the quality of the groups.
Apart from the weekly discipleship-coaching time, the children’s cell leaders also receive fellowship at the cell group. The wife of the adult cell leader normally leads the CO group, so she fellowships with the other adults during the refreshment time.
What a CO Cell Looks Like
The CO groups meet in homes and normally at the same home where an adult cell is meeting, but in a different room in the house. Parents can bring their children to the same house where they are already meeting, which helps breed confidence. In fact, normally, the CO groups are birthed from the adult cell groups. At one point they started to open CO groups apart from the adult groups, but they discovered that it just didn’t work as well, since many children depend on adults to bring them to the cell gathering.
Unlike IG groups, the children do not meet with the adults for icebreaker and worship. They are immediately gathered into their own cell group. The very young children (0-3) stay with their parents in the adult group. Those who are 4-12 years old attend the CO group. I was told that there is often 15-20 children present in the CO cells.
The CO groups are very dynamic, full of worship and interaction. The Vine has an entire department who prepares the materials for the leaders and provides handouts for each leader. The lesson theme is based on the church’s general Sunday teaching but adapted for the children.
The children are also taught to reach out, pray for the sick, and live the Christian life in front of their friends and family. In one cell, the children were asked to pray for a pregnant mother who was in danger of losing her baby. The children knew this mother and insisted on visiting the mother and laying hands on her. As they did, the mother and unborn baby were immediately healed.
The children and adults usually come together at the end of the cell for food and fellowship. Because the CO cell leader is often the wife of the adult cell leader, she has contact with everyone in the group.
Equipping the CO Leaders
The Vine Church asks CO leaders to be at least sixteen years old. Although the majority of children’s workers are adult females, quite a few young people from the youth ministry participate as leaders in the CO cells.
The Vine only has one equipping for all those leading cell groups, whether adult cells, youth cells, or CO cells. The children’s ministry was very careful from the beginning not to create a different structure for those wanting to be children’s leaders.
The first step is an Encounter retreat. In the mother church in Goiania there is an Encounter every weekend. The Encounter starts on a Friday and ends on Sunday. People are saved, set free from sin, healed, and filled with the Spirit. On Sunday, people testify of how God has changed their lives. Then the person goes through the rest of the equipping. They call it the Winner’s Path. The steps are:
- Encounter retreat
- Living Water course
- Consolidation course
- Spiritual Maturity course
- Leaders Training course
All those in the church are encouraged to take the entire equipping, and finishing the equipping is a requirement for leadership. The Vine has a mission to develop an army of leaders who can change the world, starting with the children. Each children’s cell leader is encouraged to develop a team of leaders, so that the process of multiplication can continue.
In the Sunday celebration service, all the children celebrate together through worship, drama and general teaching. The children see and hear the story interacted in drama. Then they have age specific teaching in the classrooms. The teaching on Sunday is also applied in the CO group. The children experience the same teaching as the adults but on their own level.
Once per year they have a huge rally to celebrate the ministry of children. What is the purpose of the rally? Encouragement and vision. Because there are Vine Churches all over Brazil, many of the churches are small. When the leaders from smaller churches see all that God is doing at the large rally, they are encouraged to press on with children’s ministry. Some 10,000 leaders come to this event each year. The women see themselves as part of a larger vision.
The Vine’s example is spreading to many churches in Brazil. As they grow and see transformed lives, many are wanting the Vine to share what they are doing and how they are doing it.
Changing Old Paradigms
One of the main difficulties the Vine confronts is the mentality that ministry to children is not as exciting as other ministries. Gabriella, one of the team leaders who oversees the children’s cell ministry throughout Brazil, said, “The old mentality is that wives don’t want to work with children. There is no reward in this. It’s not something exciting. We at the Vine are breaking this mentality.” Many wives are now realizing that the children are the future, and that they need to be discipled prior to their becoming adults. The Vine churches are aware that they are influencing many other churches in children’s ministry. They are helping churches throughout the world prioritize children in the discipleship process.
Another oft-heard phrase was, “We just don’t have enough leaders.” While leadership development is always an issue, the Vine discovered that the harvest workers are coming from the harvest. As the children grow, complete the equipping, and become youth, many are becoming leaders of CO groups. They are also finding that more women are catching the vision to disciple children.
The Vine in Cusco, Peru
In the 1990s Cusco, Peru was known as the graveyard of missions and churches. Missionary agencies poured lots of money into Cusco, paying the salaries of national pastors for years. But when the foreign funds dried up, the pastors moved on, and the churches died.
The Vine is different. It is completely indigenous, has 900 cell groups (500 family cells and 400 CO cells), a staff of eleven pastors, and fifty church plants, as of 2015. The Vine in Peru is intimately connected to the Vine church in Brazil. As I talked to the pastors on staff, I realized that each one of them moved along the same progression:
- Converted in the cell
- Cell member
- Part of the cell leadership team
- Cell leader
- Multiplication leader
- Network leader
- Part of the pastoral team
No one, in other words, is asked to come on staff who wasn’t naturally developed in the cell system. I asked Luis Alberto, the lead pastor, “So those who are fruitful in multiplying cells become part of your pastoral staff?” He replied, “Fruitfulness is one of the measures. However, we also want to ensure that the leader is godly, called to be a pastor, and has the right attitude.”
I was impressed that most of the pastors were twenty-five to thirty years old and completely willing to stay in the mother church or plant a Vine Church. It became clear that God is using the cell system at the Vine to change the Cusco “cemetery” culture into an explosion of harvest workers.
Their adults cells are comprised mainly of married couples, although it’s possible to have a single woman or man leading a mixed cell. They also have mixed youth cells, led by either a male or female. The CO cell groups, however, are the fastest growing segment of groups in the church.
The CO cells are led by adult females—and specifically those who are over the age of sixteen. Jenny, the pastor’s wife is the pastor over the CO leaders. She has two additional overseers who help her lead the children’s ministry. The overseers are wives of pastors on staff.
Only the women lead the CO cells, and normally the wives are the ones mobilized to lead this important ministry. They believe that women have more influence over CO cells because male leadership is perceived as having a problem of potential abuse. After school CO cells are much more acceptable when the parents know that females will be leading them (note 5). They insist that all CO groups have two leaders.
The CO groups meet weekly all over the city in different neighborhoods. If they can’t find a home to host the cell, they will meet in parks or other available space. Those attending the cells are from the ages of 3-12. Each group will determine when they will meet during the week. The children are encouraged to invite their friends and neighbors. When the cell gets too large, they multiply.
The groups follow the children’s material from the Vine Church in Goiania, Brazil. There is one general theme for the month, which is used both in cell and celebration. The cell groups start with an icebreaker, then worship, a lesson time based on the pastor’s message, outreach time, and announcements—just like the mother church in Brazil. The theme for the group is expounded in the Sunday worship service, where children are treated to theatre, dance, and teaching. They encourage Sunday Kids’ to be very interactive. That same theme is then applied in the cell group. They have the help from the children’s pastor to make this happen. Thus, there is harmony of the theme of celebration and cell.
All leaders of CO groups must go through the equipping track, just like the adults. To take the equipping, the person must be in a cell group and recommended by the leader. They follow the exact same equipping that the mother church uses in Goiania, Brazil.
The Vine in England
Giles Stevens, lead pastor and founder of the Vine Church in England, is British born and has work extensively in Asia, Europe, and South America. As the son of a British army officer, he was raised in Hong Kong, Russia and Germany and various UK locations. In 2005 he and his wife Silvia relocated to Brazil, where Silvia was born and raised. As a young girl, Silvia had a vision of the Union Jack and bringing revival to the UK.
Both Giles and Silvia worked as network pastors in the Vine Church in Goiania, Brazil for a number of years. In 2009 Giles and Silvia returned to the UK with a vision to raise up a new generation of dynamic leaders through a network of cell churches. The church now has nineteen cell groups, six of which are CO groups.
The CO cell groups run very similar to the CO cell groups of Brazilian churches. They meet either after school between 4-6 p.m., or alongside the adult cell groups between 7-9pm. The only difference is that in European culture children tend to sleep earlier during weekdays, so a lot of the CO groups meet on Fridays rather than Wednesdays. The children’s leaders are mostly females in their twenties and thirties who dedicate themselves to equipping the next generation.
Like all Vine Churches, the children begin their equipping process in an Encounter retreat (more about equipping in next chapter). In England they have their Kid’s Encounters every six months from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon at a local retreat center. Slowly and surely, the Vine is establishing a culture in the church where children and children’s ministry are prioritized (Matt. 18:3-5).
The CO cell groups allow for added flexibility when reaching children. A new group can start in an unreached neighborhood, like many groups at Elim, MCM, or the Vine Church.
We’ve seen in this chapter how Christ is developing his Church to reach children through multiplying cell groups. But Jesus is also thinking of future harvest workers. While on earth, Jesus saw the people as sheep without a shepherd and said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37-38). Jesus told his disciples to pray for new harvest workers to reap the harvest. But where will these new harvest workers come from?
Effective cell churches realize that a significant number of the next generation of harvest workers will come from those children who are currently in the cell groups. These churches are actively involved in equipping the children and preparing them for future ministry, the topic of the next chapter.
- I was at this event and noted that probably about 30 people received a plaque/trophy for leading a cell for 25 years or more. These leaders had multiplied their cell many times in the process but continued leading even after their multiplication.
- Mario Vega, “Working with Children in the Cell Church,” blogpost on Joel Comiskey Group on October 10, 2013.
- The Vine Church has a conference each year to promote their children’s cell groups and to teach others how to implement children’s cells in their churches. Some 10,000 leaders come together from all over Brazil to learn about their children’s ministry. During this conference, they celebrate the “Feast of Multiplication” of children in cells in Brazil and in countries where they have the Vine Churches.
- Here is some additional information about children’s cell groups at the Vine Church:
- Video of our last Radicais Kids Conference with 10,000 children leaders! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0J_UamwxIw)
- Video about Vine statistics international (http://youtu.be/Myp6E_ZiXEM)
- Video about Vine statistics in Brazil Brasil(http://youtu.be/jXeL1Dj7Znk)
- Video of what the Vine does in children’s ministry (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5MNuGWf3ppXY3ZMN3hxUUEzOGc/view)
- Another video of the equipping that children go through at the Vine (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5MNuGWf3ppXeEp3WjFSeHFrblE/view)
- It was my understanding that the church believes that women have more influence over CO cells because there’s not the same problem of sexual abuse.