By Joel Comiskey
World Pulse magazine (1999)
As part of his Ph.D. research at Fuller School of World Mission, Joel Comiskey spent an average of eight days in eight prominent “cell churches,” which place evangelistic small groups or “cells” at the cores of their ministries. Cell church advocates such as Comiskey say that in these cell churches, small group ministry is not just another program, but is the very heart of the church. Below, Comiskey, who is a missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Quito, Ecuador, presents his findings.
“One of the constant variables that I noticed among the case study churches was the positive influence of David Yonggi Cho and the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea. In fact, the International Charismatic Mission and The Elim Church initiated their cell ministry after visiting Cho’s church in the mid-1980s. Yet far from simply imitating or copying other cell-based models, these churches have effectively contextualized the cell mode. I discovered new, creative patterns emerging from these cell-based churches.
Although I observed more than 17 similarities between these churches, four clearly stood out.
1. Cells Positioned to Evangelize
These churches were convinced that the best way to reach the lost for Christ was through cell outreach. The cells were expected to multiply over and over utilizing ever-expanding webs of relationships. From my questionnaire survey of 700-plus cell leaders, I discovered that over 60 percent had multiplied their group at least once. The cells in these churches function like nets that spread out over the entire city. Buses haul the ‘catch’ to the celebration service for worship and preparation. These churches did not hesitate to set quantifiable goals for their cell ministry. In fact, some of them even promoted ‘healthy competition’ among leadership. Again, passion for the lost was the motivation that kept everything in perspective.
2. Cell Ministry the Base of the Church
They were not just adding cell ministry as another program. Rather, cells were the very life of the church. These churches organized pastoral staff, specific programs, membership, baptisms, offerings, and celebration services around cell ministry. Cell attendance was expected from everyone in the church. For example, the Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, said that 90 percent of the 7,500 weekend worshipers also participated in a weekly cell group.
3. Cells linked to the Celebration Service
These cell churches carefully linked cell ministry to the celebration service. In other words, precaution was taken to guarantee that individual cells shared the same vision and philosophy as the mother church. To assure this continuity, the cell lessons were based on the senior pastor’s weekly message. For example, at the Living Water Church in Lima, Peru, a talented leader took diligent notes of the pastor’s message in order to weave his thought into the weekly cell lesson. At the Christian Center in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the senior pastor himself prepares the weekly cell lesson. Although each church used a different method, the senior pastor’s message was always the launching point for the cell group topic.
4. Cell Training given top priority
Cell leadership training was given top priority. Although the length and type of training varied from church to church, all were compelled to find, train, and release new leadership as quickly and efficiently as possible. For example, the declared goal of the International Charismatic Mission is to transform every new convert into a dynamic cell leader. In this church, leadership training involves a two-day spiritual retreat and a core three-month cell leader training course. When I was present in October, 1996, 3,000 potential cell leaders were attending the three-month courses.”
Appendix: I’ve listed below the common patterns or principles that I observed in the eight largest worldwide cell churches. The first four are the most important, in my opinion.
- Dependence on Jesus Christ through prayer.
- Senior pastor and leadership team giving strong, visionary leadership to the cell ministry.
- Cell ministry promoted as the backbone of the church.
- Clear definition of a cell group (weekly, outside the church building, evangelistic, pastoral care/discipleship, clear goal of multiplication).
- The passion behind cell ministry is evangelism and church growth.
- Reproduction (multiplication) is the major goal of each cell group.
- Cell and celebration attendance expected of everyone attending the church.
- Clearly established leadership requirements for those entering cell ministry.
- Required cell leadership training for all potential cell group leaders.
- Cell leadership developed from within the church itself, at all levels.
- A supervisory care structure for each level of leadership (G-12 or 5×5).
- Follow-up system of visitors and new converts administered through cell groups.
- Cell lessons based on pastor’s teaching to promote continuity between cell and celebration (although flexibility might be given to meet the needs of specific homogeneous groups)
[i] The figure 35,000+ worshippers and 20,000 cells groups only apply to the mother church. There are an additional 10,000 worshippers and 7,000 cell groups in the twelve satellite churches around Bogota, thus totaling 45,000 worshippers and 27,000 cell groups.
[ii] The figure “155,000” is an accurate attendance figure for those who attend the mother church on Sunday. There are, however, an additional 100,000 people attending the fourteen YFGC satellite churches in different parts of Seoul, Korea. These satellite churches are considered extensions of the mother church and could be included in the mother church attendance, thus totaling 255,000 people in the Sunday morning worship services at YFGC. The 155,000 figure is included in the chart because the 25,000 cell groups only operate in the mother church. It’s unknown how many cells function in the fourteen extension churches (official statistics at YFGC only mention the 25,000 cell groups of the mother church).