The Nuts and Bolts of Goal Making in the Cell Church

Church Leadership

By Joel Comiskey

Fall, 2003

Most have heard the age-old story of the archer who shot the arrow, found where it landed, and then drew a bull’s eye on that exact spot. We chuckle when hearing this illustration but it’s the sad reality in many churches that prefer to wait until December to draw circles around their natural accomplishments. True, this methodology avoids stark failure, but accomplishes little. Human nature tends to look for the lowest denominator, so it’s important to make the goal (s) beforehand. Setting clear goals separates the record-breaking cell group churches from those that limp along year after year.

Many leaders agree about the importance of making yearly cell goals but don’t understand how to do it. Here’s some advice:

Determine a Yearly Goal

Although it’s not the only way to set goals, it’s best to initiate the new goal in January and finish it by December.

One large cell church in Tegucigalpa , Honduras called Love Alive Church purposely has only one official multiplication date per year. In other words, cell groups at LAC multiply at the same time and on a pre-determined date each year. This is not to say a cell group at LAC cannot multiply beforehand if it is ready to give birth. However, these new births are the exceptions. Only about ten percent of the new groups open at various times during the year. They purposely wait for one year because they believe that the cells need a period of solidification.[1]

There are some problems with having only one multiplication date. First, the church misses the excitement of seeing new cell multiplications throughout the year. I’ve come to believe (through experience) that waiting a whole year for one huge multiplication slowly drains away excitement throughout the year.

Second, it places too much pressure on top leaders at one particular time of the year. When pastors or key leaders are concentrating on too many leaders at one time, some leaders will fall through the cracks.

Third, if the multiplication date is at the end of the year (November, for example), some leaders will say, “I’m just going to wait until January to multiply.” We all know that December is filled with Christmas activity so some will think, “Why start a group only to close it for Christmas break?”

Divide the Goal into At Least Three Periods

There are positive points about dividing the goal into distinct time periods throughout the year. First, top leadership is focused from January onwards. Rather than thinking, “I have ten months until my groups multiply,” the pastor or leader over a network of cells is working right away, knowing that a portion of his small groups will multiply in March, for example.

Second, it alleviates end of the year pressure by spreading the commitment throughout the year.

Divide the Goal According to the Readiness of Each Cell

If the goal is seventy-five cells by the end of the year and the church currently has fifty cells, the divisions might look like this:

  • By March: 55 cells
  • By July: 65 cells
  • By November: 75 cells

The reason for proposing three check points instead of four is because it’s very difficult to multiply small groups beyond November. When a small group opens in December, for example, it immediately closes for Christmas and New Year’s break. Notice that the above numbers are not evenly divided. That’s because each key pastor or leader over cells needs to determine what cells are able to give birth in each of the three time periods.

The key is to divide the goal according to the readiness of the groups, rather than a mathematical calculation. In other words, don’t grab a calculator in order to divide your yearly goal into three precise sub-goals. This doesn’t work!

It’s best to decide the checkpoint goals during the yearly retreat time with the key leaders who are over cells (pastoral retreat, if you have full-time pastors, or ministerial retreat if you depend on key lay people). This retreat would normally take place in December, thinking about the upcoming year.

Each pastor or leader of a network of cells should come prepared to propose which cells will multiply at each specific checkpoint. This means giving specific names of cell leaders who will multiply at each particular time period, rather than general numbers of groups.

Determine the Goal Before the Year Starts

Make your goals for the following year in November and December. This avoids a slow start in the next year. Starting in November and December stimulates the thinking process to warm-up.

Thinking about next year’s goal, when the current year’s goal is not yet fulfilled, can be bothersome. In order to avoid hassling your hard-working leaders with new goals when they’re busily working to fulfill present ones, it’s best to keep this discussion at the ministerial team level.[2]

Make Sure the Goal is Reachable

In order to reach the goal and celebrate its fulfillment, make sure the goal is achievable. This is a common error among pastors. Suddenly, a pastor feels the urge to make goals (perhaps due to an irritated church board), so he launches an incredible goal that makes him look good for the moment (“people will think that I’m a man of intense vision”) but has no real chance of fulfillment. Some like to take out their calculators and piously assert, “If each member could just win one more member and each cell leader could just raise up two new leaders we could have 900 cells.” Easy! Presto!

In reality, it doesn’t work that way. Leaders quit. Excitement wanes. Cells close. People are busy.

A Miami pastor of 150 people said before a large congregation in March, “Our goal is to have 1500 attending the church by the end of the year.” It’s hard for a congregation to grasp on to such a goal, let alone participating in its fulfillment.

There is a huge difference between casting a long-term vision (hope) for incredible growth and the short-term yearly goal. A pastor needs to paint an exciting long-term vision. He or she could say, “In ten years we hope to have 5,000 people attending this church.” This is far more stimulating than a logical, risk-free statement, “In ten years we hope to have 200 people in our church.” The 10,000 number stimulates vision and purpose, while the 200 number reveals the pastor’s lack of vision.

A short-term goal, however, should be practical and concise. People think in one-year time frames, whether contemplating family planning, annual payments, or work goals. When the congregation hears a one-year goal, they can envision how the fulfillment of that goal will look in the church. A ten-year goal, on the other hand, is almost incomprehensible. It’s difficult to think practically when hearing it. Think of inspiration when launching a long-term goal, and think of realism when introducing the short-term goal.

For years the Elim Church in El Salvador automatically set their goals based on 100% growth. Each district, zone, and sector had to double every year. The problem was that the church never expected to double. Rather, pastors and leaders were placed on a list in the order of how close they came to arriving at the goal of doubling. Those highest on the list often only reached 22% or 24% of their goal to double. Finally, Elim changed this system because it simply wasn’t based on reality.

Base Your Goal on Church Health

When trying to determine a goal for the next year, examine the infrastructure. For example, if an equipping track is not in place, it will be very difficult to produce new leadership. In the beginning, a church can draw from the old pros, those who have taken loads of Sunday School classes or have been involved in various programs for a number of years.[3] Yet, that pool will soon run dry, and they must depend on the new leaders who have passed through the equipping track.

Remember the exhortation of Proverbs 27:23: “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” If your herd is tired, pressured, and goal-weary, be very careful about demanding another record-breaking year. To know the state of your flocks, it’s best to use information on weekly reports from cell leaders.

Pastors need to hold cell leaders, coaches, and network pastors accountable for collecting reports. Place someone in charge of having exact statistics from all the cells by the time the pastoral team meets. [4]

If a group doesn’t meet for six weeks, it’s wise to delete that group from the statistics. That group might reappear at a different date, but it’s a great mistake to count a group that’s not actively involved in meeting. What are the results?

  1. Reality. The key leaders are aware of what’s really happening. This is hard but necessary.
  2. Healthy Groups: The purpose of statistics is to maintain healthier groups.
  3. Plans for the Future: The church can now better plan for the future.

Start staff meeting with prayer and then ask each pastor to give a report about the state of his network. Each pastor will give a verbal report, based on a written report of all the cell statistics for that week from all the cell reports.

The cell report that each cell leader turns in might look like this:

Weekly LifeGroup Report–Please return to LifeGroup mail slot in church workroom by Sunday

Leader: ____________________ Attendance: _______ Date: ___________

Conversions: __________

Topic/Theme of gathering: ____________________________

Multiplication date: ___________ Multiplication Leaders: ________________

Contacts of members/visitors: _______ Visitors: __________

How many in Training Track: ________ Meeting with Coach: __________

Utilize the back for prayer requests or information you deem important to communicate with your Coach/Pastoral Staff.

Those reports are collected and summarized so that each pastor can see the results. Each pastor (or lay leader) reports on what is happening in his or her network of cells. This includes struggles, number of leaders visited during the week, groups that have closed or are in the process of closing, victories, conversions, number of people in the training track, plans, why certain groups didn’t meet, etc. As each key leader reports on his or her network, there is a sense that the church is truly pastored.

Since every pastor has a written copy of the report, while one pastor is talking, the others can follow along. Each is free to ask questions like, “John, I noticed that Mary’s cell group hasn’t met in awhile, is she still leading the group?” Godly peer pressures keeps everyone on track. Since there is a global goal for the number of cell groups, if one pastor fails, everyone fails. Here’s a sample report,

Actual Cells Cells that Met Atten-dance Conversions Leaders Goals Visitors in Cells Contact of Leaders
Acu. Act. Act. Meta Trim. Anual Pers. / Telf. G-12 Meeting
Pr. David/Mireya 15 12 79 2 0 12 17 17 30 3 7 7
Pr. Héctor / Lorena 22 15 109 0 0 14 27 27 40 7 10 4
Pr. Teddy 6 6 40 1 1 5 7 7 10 4 2 3
TOTAL 43 33 228 3 1 31 51 51 80 14 19 14
Figure 2-Weekly Report of Smaller Cell Church

The overarching goal is the number of cell groups. From that goal, each staff member gives a report on cells that actually met in his network, the attendance in his network, conversions, how many cell groups he visited, his contacts with cell leaders by telephone, and his personal contacts with cell leaders. Above and beyond this general summary report, each network has a more extensive list that includes individual cell groups (attendance, conversions, etc.).

Why bother with reports? Accurate statistical reporting preserves the quality control. It also keeps goals and ministry on track.

The above reports are only examples. Make your own. Decide what aspects are most important to your church and pastoral team. Just make sure that everything the staff person does and reports on leads to the ultimate goal of cell multiplication, (which means developing new leaders).

Make Sure the Goal Challenges and Demands Sacrifice

Goals must excite people. If the goal is super safe (ten to twelve cells in one year) it’s doubtful that anyone will get behind it. Why even bother setting a goal? Most likely two out of ten cells would multiply in one year anyway, so such a goal is more of a scientific statement rather than a target to stimulate progress.

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras studied some of the most successful companies on the face of the earth (e.g., Sony, IBM, Disney, etc.) and compared them with companies that started at a similar time but were not as successful. Along with other discoveries, these Stanford researchers revealed that although the successful companies might appear safe to outsiders, they make big hairy audacious goals in order to stimulate progress.[5] These researchers define a big, hairy, and audacious goal this way: “A BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation.”[6] The key to a BHAG, according to these researchers, is whether it stimulates the organization to forward progress, whether it creates momentum, gets people’s juices flowing and if people find it stimulating.[7] Make sure your goals stimulate others to work hard, without killing them in the process.

Work as a Team to Decide the Goal

So how exactly do you arrive at the goal? Here are some principles:

  • Cell Members: Cell leaders should talk in cell group meetings about the goal to multiply. Since reproduction means that members will be involved, with one or two actually leading the new group, there is absolutely nothing to hide. So the goal starts with the cell members.
  • Cell Leader-Supervisor:The coach/supervisor should know right away when the group will multiply and who is preparing to be the next leader.[8]
  • Network of Supervisors-Staff Pastor: The network of supervisors (the twelve disciples of the staff pastor) meet at least once per month for skill training, vision casting, prayer, and also to confirm the details of cell reproduction. At the end of the year—or at the latest, the beginning of January—the staff pastor asks each key G-12 leader to set an annual goal for their sub-networks. There will be some give and take between pastor and supervisor.
  • Pastoral team: Working as a team to develop goals is a rigorous task that demands tough skin, lots of feedback, and prayer. During a pastoral team meeting (as described above), each pastor will present his or her annual set group vision for the year. One leader might promote a conservative goal—just a few more than last year, while another suggests reaching the entire city for Christ in one year. The senior pastor usually must mediate between the various opinions, always reserving the right to make the final decision. It’s best if the leadership team can slip away for one day to pray, debate, analyze, and project the yearly goal for cell groups (as well as any other goals for the church). The final decision might come a week or so later in an official meeting. (Let the leaders sleep on it for a few days.) The pastor must lead the charge, while treasuring team participating
  • Pastor: It’s unwise for a senior pastor to dictate God’s goal to everyone else. Dictated goals dampen team spirit. The senior pastor, however, must ultimately decide what the goal should be.

The Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa , Honduras follows this process for making their reproduction goals:

  • The cell leaders communicate their goals for multiplication to the area supervisors.
  • The area supervisors tell their zone pastors how many cell groups under their care will be ready to give birth.
  • The zone pastors tell the district pastors how many possible new births to expect in their zones.
  • The district pastors communicate their goals and visions to the director of the cell groups.
  • The director of cell groups, in coordination with the district pastors, establishes a multiplication goal for the year.
  • The pastoral team then approves this goal.

Distribute the Goal among Leadership

After arriving at a general goal for the church, break it down and delegate the goals to those responsible. If you’re a church planter with five cells, the yearly goal might be ten cells (and maybe even to start your first weekly celebration service by the end of the year). In this scenario, the five cell leaders will be responsible to help reach the goal of ten. After you’ve reached ten, you’ll appoint two supervisors who will each care for a cluster of five cells (if you’re using the 5×5 Jethro system). These supervisors will primarily be responsible for the next year’s goals. When you hire your first staff member, place him over a network of cell groups and hold him responsible to multiply new groups.

Avoid Spiritualizing the Goal

Watch out for the phrase, “If the Lord wills, I will multiply my cell.” This phrase is deadly and can kill the best initiative. Here’s a typical scenario: The ministerial team decides on a particular goal. The entire year, each pastor is working hard to fulfill the goal. Each week there is accountability and everyone is enthused about meeting the goal. During the last months, however, the reality of the situation begins to sink in. Some cell leaders have quit. Others who have promised to multiply their cells will begin to say, “I’m not ready to lead a new cell. It’s better to wait until the next year.” Expect this to happen.[9]

Yet when it does happen, the goal will seem daunting, unreachable. At this moment, some members of the ministerial team will say, “If the Lord wills, I will fulfill my projected goal.” Watch for this mentality and avoid it like the plague. I like to say to those who make such statements, “Yes, the Lord wills for this cell to multiply. What are you doing about it?” We have made this a rule among our ministerial team (although it often turns into a time of laughter) that when someone uses the phrase “If the Lord wills” we all retort, “yes, the Lord wills.”

It’s easy to hide behind spiritual language. It eases the pain of not fulfilling the goal and even makes a person appear spiritual—“I’m trusting the Lord, brother.” Yet, people respect someone much more who just acknowledges failure and says, “I’m struggling because I’m not sure if I’m going to make my goal.” Be honest and real. If you’re not going to meet your goal, admit it. Most likely your failure will stir you to work much harder the next year and to start much earlier to prepare your leadership.

Remember also to give yourself margin in reaching your goal. Over project the goal by a few cell groups. If your goal is to reach ten cells by the end of the year, project thirteen cells. Most likely three of the thirteen groups will make excuses, experience an expected tragedy, or transfer to another city.

Proclaim the Goal Publicly

There is no such thing as a hidden goal. Goals by their very nature are public. We learned from other successful cell churches about the importance of using banners to proclaim the cell goal. Each year we proclaim our yearly goal through huge banners that hang down on either side of the pulpit. The banners not only proclaim our goal but also declare our cell group church philosophy. Every Sunday the entire congregation stares directly at our goal for the year. If we fail, we will admit it, but we refuse to hide by not setting a goal.

Measure Progress Continually

For the last several months, I’ve vigorously tried to lose weight. I’ve discovered that my best friend is my bathroom scale. I force myself to get on it every morning because I know that my friend will tell me the truth—the reality of my situation. In some of my heavier moments, I’ve avoided my scale like the plague.

One of the main reasons to maintain and review weekly cell statistics is to mark progress toward the yearly goal. Statistics provide the necessary shock treatment, forcing us to see the reality of the situation—“you mean Susana’s cell has also closed!”

Time flies. Twelve months might seem like an eternity in January, but December will soon be here. Those churches that fail to fulfill their goals also do a poor job of measuring their goals throughout the year. Think of how quickly a year flies by:

First quarter (January-March). These are mop-up months from the previous year. Some cells are weak and need lots of encouragement. Yet, mature cell churches begin training people in earnest during this time period, knowing that twelve months pass very quickly.

Second quarter (April-June). These should be the most fruitful months to train, disciple, and cast the vision, yet it’s common for pastors and leaders to take a break during this period. Everyone is tired and often very little transpires during this time period.

Third quarter (July-September). In many places around the world, these are vacation months. We never close cells, but we also realize that it’s hard to get lots of work done when people are busy or on vacation.[10]

Fourth quarter (October-December). This quarter suddenly arrives and each network pastor (or district pastor) must give an account. This quarter is the make-it-or-break-it time. The amount of work done previously will determine the amount of work that the pastor performs during this time period.

The regular review of statistics keep the state of the flock continually before the pastor and the ministerial team. The accurate reporting of cell groups will expose weaknesses as well as initiate action.

Fulfill the Goal

Failure. The word everyone avoids. It’s possible that your church won’t reach the goal. Admit your disappointment, acknowledge it before the congregation, and by all means learn from it. Respect this mindset far more than the justifying, excuse making mentality of some. Use the failure to calculate next year’s goal with more precision and then run toward it with all your energy.

Try to develop the habit of fulfilling your goals each year. First it will build confidence in the congregation. When a goal is not reached—or worse yet, ignored after not reaching it—the congregation stops listening to next year’s goal. “We’ve heard that before,” they say under their breath as the pastor proclaims the new goal.

Second, it produces assurance among the leadership team that next year’s goal will also be reached. With this comes a seriousness to set the next goal. Success breeds more success. No one wants to taste failure after feeding on success. This is the mindset that will prevail in the leadership team. Pastors and key leaders will begin to think to themselves, “Our senior pastor takes these goals seriously. I better plan now to fulfill them.” Everyone will wholeheartedly analyze and debate the goals for the next year in November and December, knowing that the fulfillment of the goal is the norm.

It stirs the ministerial staff to work extremely hard to make it happen.

Celebrate the Fulfillment

Give your leaders a break. They are the volunteer stars who have sacrificed the whole year for Jesus Christ. Shower honor upon them. It’s the least that you can do. We always hold a cell recognition dinner in December to honor the most important people in our church—the cell leaders. We go out of our way to prepare a first-class meal, special gift, and slide show that highlights their accomplishments.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey’s book Making Cell Groups Work Navigation Guideand Home Cell Group Explosion talk about the place of goal setting in cell ministry. Order HERE or call 1-888-344-CELL.

[1] The reasons that LAC multiplies on one date are:

  1. The top leadership is able to think and plan together more concretely concerning future goals.
  2. The training of new leadership teams can take place at the same time in the church.
  3. Leaders of sectors, zones, and districts are able to consolidate their time and energy by focusing on one particular time period of multiplication.
  4. There is more support for the new cell groups when they open together. It’s harder for weaker groups to fall through the cracks.
  5. The church can better focus its attention on prayer and support when there is simultaneous multiplication

[2] At the Republic Church we’ve always believed in team ministry and have worked with a multiplicity of pastors from the very beginning of our church. If you are the only pastor in your church, you can think about including your board or key leaders in the planning of next year’s goals. Ideally, those planning the goals should be those totally involved in cell ministry or there is the danger of setting the goals too low.

[3] In my first cell ministry, I didn’t even have to worry about establishing an equipping track because the church (El Batán) had a strong teaching ministry. The problem in that church is that those taught had very few significant places to serve. Starting a cell ministry met a deep felt need among those already trained—the need to serve. My job was to identify these trained people and convince them that they needed to lead cell groups. I train them in cell principles and offered ongoing Summit Meetings, but I didn’t have to worry about the entire equipping track. In this manner, we grew from five cells to fifty-one in two years.

[4] It boiled down to two options: Option One: That the cell secretary become totally responsible to produce the report for our Wednesday pastoral meeting (to the point where she could not say that the “pastors weren’t giving her data). With this option the cell secretary could receive help from the pastors, but ultimately she would be responsible.

Option Two: The pastors becoming totally responsible to make sure that the reports were completed—with the penalty of paying five cents for every cell group that was not reported on. With this option, the pastors could ask help from the cell secretary, but ultimately she would be responsible.

After much debate, we decided on the second option, making the pastors responsible. We decided to fine a pastor five-cents for every missing report (lack of information from a cell group).[4]

[5] James C. Collins & Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), p. 9.

[6] James C. Collins & Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), p. 94.

[7] James C. Collins & Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994), p. 95.

[8] If a G-3 cell leader (explained in chapter on coaching) has found all three of his daughter cell leaders, he should know when each one of them plan on giving birth to a daughter cell. The rule of thumb is that each cell must multiply in one year.

[9] I believe that it’s helpful to set a higher goal than the one officially given. When leaders fail to fulfill what they said a year earlier, when groups close, or when circumstances hinder the opening of a new group, you’ll have more groups than you need. For example, as pastor of a network of cells, my goal for 1999 was to go from twenty-three cells to sixty cells. In order to do so, I projected seventy cells, knowing that several of my groups would fail to bring forth fruit. I knew that at the last minute, one particular leader would decide to wait until the next year to open a cell. Sure enough, I discovered that I desperately needed those extra cells to meet the goal of sixty groups.

[10] When I first started a cell ministry, I believed that it was essential to give all the cells a break for the summer. I wrote this in my manual: “Do the cells meet all year? In our system the cells do not completely dissolve each year, but there are several ‘breaks’ during the year: a. One month break from the 1st week of December to the 1st week of January b. Two week break during the Easter season 3. Two month break during the summer time.” I had it all figured out. Once again, however, I learned from the fast growing cell churches around the world that it wasn’t necessary to program in such breaks. I believe that cell groups will take naturally breaks throughout the year, but you don’t have to legislate such breaks. Some will want to meet while others will not. Each case will be worked out between pastor, supervisor, or G-12 leader. For example, if your church legislates that cell groups will not meet during Christmas break, you might quench the family spirit of some groups who really want to do something special right around Christmas time. The same holds true for the summer break. Most groups will want to meet and maintain contact, while some will take short breaks. Every situation is different and is worked out between cell leader and director (pastor, G-12 leader, etc.). My point here is that it’s far better NOT to legislate at the level of the entire church what the various networks of cell groups (or geographical districts) should or shouldn’t do.