Church Leadership

By Joel Comiskey

Fall, 2003

Many cell group churches are led by committed senior pastors, hold to a proper view of the cell, and concentrate on cell ministry. In other words, they do everything else perfectly. What makes the difference? One of the key differences is that some cell churches are guided by clear-cut goals for cell multiplication and some are not.

David Cho, the pastor and founder of the largest church in the history of Christianity, is a very goal-oriented pastor. Listen to his words:

“Many people criticized me because I was giving goals to my people then encouraging them to accomplish the goals. But if you don’t give them a goal, they will have no purpose to being in the cell.” [1] He goes on to say, “Many churches are failing in their cell system because they do not give their people a clear goal and remind them constantly of their goal. If they have no goal, then the people will gather together and just have a grand fellowship.”[2]

Ted Engstrom, an expert on leadership observes, “The best leaders always had a planned course, specific goals, and written objectives. They had in mind the direction in which they wanted to go.”[3]

Both goal setting and making plans are God’s will. The writer of Proverbs said: “We should make plans . . . counting on God to direct us” (Prov. 16:14,TLB). The same writer goes on to say, “Any enterprise is built by wise planning, becomes strong through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts” (Prov. 24:34,TLB).

Some leaders obscure the process by setting goals too high or too low, not setting goals, or lacking an accountability structure while setting goals. Having made all of these mistakes and learning the hard way, my goal for this chapter is to offer practical advice that will help your ministry.

Watch the Motivation

It’s hard to promote a worthless goal. A Christian salesperson could sell 50 cartons of cigarettes a day and condemn himself afterwards. When setting goals, a leader must ask the why question before determining the what question. Why should we set this goal? What is the motivation? Is it for the glory of God? Will this goal help us advance the kingdom of God ? The congregation will only respond to a goal that moves their souls, stirs them to greater heights, and accomplishes greater things for God’s glory.

Some cell group churches reject goal setting as carnal and numbers-oriented. Some pastors feel that projecting a numerical goal is sinful and worldly, but the only proper motivation for setting a goal for multiplying cell groups is to glorify God and advance His Kingdom. Pastors need to ask God to give them a higher motivation for goal setting.

Donald McGavran said it well, “It is essential that Christian leaders align their basic purposes with the eternal purpose of God to save unbelievers through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the first step in the consequent growth and development of the church. Goal setting helps implement such alignment.”[4] When a leader doubts the validity of goal setting, he or she needs time to reflect on God’s will and to align his own purposes with God’s.

Once that alignment has taken place, the leader needs to constantly remind people, “We’re not setting a goal today just to have a more successful church or so that the pastors can impress others. No, we want to double the number of cell groups this year because people are going to hell and we desire to reach our city for Jesus.”

I can never justify a preoccupation with success. In my view it is always wrong to seek personal success in ministry. Whenever I am preoccupied with personal success, I am sinning. Whenever, I want my superiors to notice how “successful” I am, I am guilty of personal ambition. Yet, personal success and ambition have nothing to do with God’s desire to grow His church. I have now come to realize that an ambition for church growth is literally God’s ambition for a lost world. He is not willing that any should perish but that all might come to repentance.

As a young pastor I wrestled with the motivation issue. I knew that my quest for church growth was to succeed. I wrestled with my own carnal motivation for success when setting a numerical goal.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that Jesus Christ is extremely concerned with numbers. It’s not God’s will that anyone should perish. The apostle Peter says: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9). Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:3-5). God desires to save ALL men and to bring them to the knowledge of the truth. I can never justify personal ambition.

God finally convinced me that He wants His church to grow more than I ever will. I now see goal setting as part of His perfect plan, but I still wrestle with unworthy motives. I still have to resist carnal motivations of self-promotion and success, calling them for what they are: sin. Yet, my own sinful tendency must never stop me from working toward His greater glory—the salvation and discipleship of a lost world. When by God’s grace you move beyond that lower level thinking and realize that God Himself is intimately concerned with the salvation of His creation, you’ll then be encouraged to make goals so that more people will be saved and enter the kingdom.

The Inadequacy of Attendance Goals

I co-founded a church that grew from 150 to 550 in four years. Yet before transitioning to the cell group church philosophy, we uncovered glaring weaknesses. An exceedingly small percentage participated in prayer, training, and other ministries. Without realizing it, we were proclaiming, by our goals and values, that it was okay to just attend church on Sunday morning. Our Sunday emphasis also attracted the crowd of church connoisseurs who loved to taste something new.

I attribute much of my zeal for celebration attendance to church growth theory, though not all church growth theorists point to Sunday morning attendance as the primary or only way to measure church growth. Peter Wagner teaches his students to combine worship attendance, membership, and Sunday School attendance to arrive at a composite membership. Practically, however, for most pastors, Sunday attendance is the primary indicator of church growth success.[5]

The Sunday attendance focus can subtly produce inactivity among church attendees who feel like they’ve fulfilled their purpose by attending the Sunday morning service. There is always a danger in aiming too low, and aiming at Sunday attendance is too low (just like aiming at cell attendance instead of the next leader is inadequate).

Another problem with Sunday celebration goals is the lack of accountability. It’s easy to set a yearly attendance goal, but in the end, who’s responsible? It’s easy to proclaim an attendance goal to the entire congregation, but who in the congregation is responsible for the goal’s fulfillment? What if the goal is not met? Who’s responsible? The entire congregation? Is it the pastor’s fault? The board’s? Larry Crabb addresses a similar issue in his book Encouragement,

A goal may be defined as a purpose to which a person is unalterably committed. He assumes unconditional responsibility for a goal, and it can be achieved if he is willing to work at it. A desire may be defined as something wanted that cannot be obtained without the cooperation of another person. It is an objective for which a person can assume no responsibility, because it is beyond his control. Reaching a desire must never become the motivating purpose behind behavior, because then a person is assuming responsibility for something he cannot fulfill on his own[6] [italics my own].

Celebration attendance goals fall into the category of desire because in the long run, no one person can be held responsible. Schwarz arrived at a similar conclusion in his book Natural Church Development and even discovered that only 31% of the growing churches actually have a precise attendance goal.[7] While an attendance goal is not wrong, attendance should be the result of clear, concise goals to grow the infrastructure.

Growing the Infrastructure

Growing cell group churches around the world prioritize the goal of new cell groups as their primary goal. In other words, the one driving goal in the cell church should be how many cells will we have at the end of the year.[8] These churches expect harvest to occur as a result of their hard work in the cells. They concentrate on developing and releasing new leadership (which requires cell multiplication), and the result is increased church attendance.

With this approach, a church can concentrate on multiplying the infrastructure—new leaders—and be assured of quality and quantity growth. Outreach and evangelism are core values in this approach. A church that is constantly multiplying cells is penetrating the city with red-hot evangelistic fervor and diligent leadership development.

This concept is straightforward and simple: concentrate on developing new leaders through constantly multiplying cell groups, and they will in turn reap the harvest. Wasn’t this Christ’s strategy? We read in Matthew 9: 35-37 that Christ

. . . went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Then in Matthew 10:1-2ff, Jesus fulfills His own strategy: “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles . . . ” According to Jesus, the way to harvest was not to call crowds into a big building. The most effective way to harvest was to raise-up workers to reap the harvest.

Jesus believed so much in this strategy that He spent a life-time developing leaders to reap the harvest after His departure. He accomplished His purpose, leaving behind twelve leaders that stood up to the entire Roman empire and won.

This is the principle behind the mighty harvest that these huge cell churches are experiencing. They’ve learned the secret of converting the multitude into workers who reap the harvest. Dale Galloway , a pioneer of cell church philosophy in the U.S. , understood this well. He wrote, “The concept is that first you build leaders. The leaders build groups. Out of these groups come more leaders and a multiplication into more groups.”[9]

Warning: Multiply Leaders, Not Just Cells

Cell multiplication is the motivation for cell ministry, but only as cell multiplication means new leadership development. In exceptional circumstances, one leader might lead two cell groups. However, this is the exception, not the rule. The clear goal must be one leader per cell. At the International Charismatic Mission, many leaders led two or three cells. In fact, leaders were expected to have at least two cells. In this way, they were able to arrive at a large number of cell groups, when in reality they only had half that many leaders (20,000 cell groups with half that many leaders).

My own church was so concerned about meeting the goal that we allowed key leaders and pastors to lead more than one cell group. Yet, as the months and years went by, we had to confront the reality of a leadership shortage. Each succeeding year, we had less leaders and it became harder to reach the goal. We finally had to bite the bullet and realize that it’s dangerous to allow a cell leader to lead more than one group. The burn-out might not show immediately, but it will eventually stall the system. We fell into this trap. Many of our leaders led more than one group and were tired. They couldn’t produce any more. We saw the writing on the wall and made a firm commitment to one cell per leader. We ask our cell leaders to personally shepherd their own daughter cell leaders and realized that we were asking far too much of them to lead more than one cell group.

When setting a goal for cell multiplication, just remember that implicit in the goal is the idea that each cell group will be led by a different person. Otherwise, the cracks will begin to appear in succeeding years, as has been the case with the International Charismatic Mission.

Public Goals versus Private Goals

The major public church goal should be the total number of cell groups by the end of the year. Additional goals such as baptisms, conversions, and number of leaders are important as well, but it’s best to keep these goals among the leadership. Confusion reigns when the congregation hears ten goals simultaneously. Proclaim the one goal—cell groups—and then privately work towards the sub-goals throughout the year. A church might decide to make the following sub-goals for the year:

  • 25 baptisms
  • 75 conversions
  • 50 leaders trained

The public goal is for the number of new cell groups, but this inherently means new conversions, new baptisms, and new leaders trained. The sub-goals serve the greater goal of producing new cell groups, which ultimately produces church growth. The church above set the goal to train 50 new leaders, yet the greater goal was that each one of those fifty graduates from the equipping track by actually leading a cell group (since each cell leader must pass through the entire equipping track before leading a cell group).

Baptism can be seen in a similar light. Many churches won’t allow a person to lead a cell unless they’re baptized, so again, this is a sub-goal that promotes the major goal of cell leadership.

The public goal should be the number of new cell groups, but to fulfill that goal, the leadership team must focus on conversions, baptisms, pastoral care, and leadership development.

The Two Killers: Idealism & Indifference

Year after year one cell group church failed to reach their cell goals or grow in celebration attendance. The senior pastor seemed to have captured the cell vision. His cells were defined accurately. Yet, something was missing.

For two consecutive years, the church established the goal of 100 cell groups and both years failed to even come close. When the church launched this goal, only thirty or so cell groups existed. Idealism birthed the goal of 100 and then fed it. The goal might have initially inspired the congregation to expect something great, but it failed to motivate and inspire throughout the year. Adding insult to injury, the leadership acted like the goal didn’t exist–a forgotten paper tucked away in a dusty filing cabinet. Their goal, bred in idealism, inspired people for a moment but soon lost its luster and became useless.

The second killer in this church was indifference. The goal of 100 was not owned by the congregation because it was never officially announced (nor proclaimed in a public way through the use of banners). The pastor paid lip service to making goals, but was indifferent to enforcing them. The next year, he didn’t even bother to set an overall goal for the number of cell groups. Idealism and indifference encourage each other. They both oppose reality and diligence in goal setting.

Multiply Healthy Cells

Cell multiplication goals must always take into account two things: The urgency to reach a lost world without Christ (rapid multiplication of cells) and the long-term commitment of the church to reach this lost world (quality cells that endure over time). It’s important to strike a balance between quality and quantity with regard to cell groups. If the goal is too high, the danger is producing weak cells.[10]

Meeting goals is important, but it’s also essential to multiply healthy cells. There is a danger of multiplying too fast, and reproducing weakness. A company that releases a product too early might need to recall it later. If a new cell group starts too quickly, it might fulfill the goal but will also close unexpectedly. This is particularly true in the G-12 system, in which individuals leave the mother cell to plant new cells with only one or two people.[11]

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


[1] David Yonggi Cho, Church Growth. Manual No. 7. (Seoul, Korea: Church Growth International, 1995) p. 18

[2] Ibid, p. 18.

[3] Ted W. Engstrom, The Making of a Christian Leader (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p. 106.

[4] Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth. 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 265.

[5] All churches can measure weekend attendance, and thus it’s a common standard in measuring church growth success. Membership definitions vary from church to church and not all churches have Sunday school. Thus, attendance is normally used to measure church growth success.

[6] Larry J. Crabb, Jr. and Dan B. Allender, Encouragement: The Key to Caring (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p. 52).

[7] Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development (Carol Steam, IL: ChurchSmart Resources), p. 44.

[8] You can see from the below list that these churches are constantly breaking records:

  • Yoido Full Gospel Church (25,000+ cells)
  • Bethany World Prayer Center (900 cells )
  • International Charismatic Mission (20,000 cells)
  • Elim Church (11,000 cells when counting children’s cells)
  • Christian Center of Guayaquil (2,000 cells)
  • Love Alive Church (1,000 cells)
  • Living Water Church (900 cells)
  • Faith Community Baptist Church (600 cells)

[9] Dale Galloway , 20-20 Vision (Portland, OR: Scott Publishing House, 1986), p. 155.

[10] I started my cell network with five cells in 1997. My wife and I set the goal of twenty-one cells for 1998, and we exceeded that goal by two. We sensed the joy and accomplishment of victory, but we were also painfully aware of weaker cells within our network. For a variety of reasons, we as a pastoral team decided to set a huge cell goal for 1999: 250 cell groups. My wife and I were responsible to grow our network from twenty-three cells to sixty cells in one year. We grudgingly accepted, but looking back from the advantage of hindsight, I now realize that we should have said no. The goal of forty-five cells would have been far more realistic and feasible. Wanting to carry our weight on the pastoral team, we accepted. We felt driven to meet the goal of sixty cells, and we did meet the goal. However, many of our cells lacked quality. In January 2000, Celyce and I turned over our network of cells to national pastors. In the process approximately twelve of our cells died. They were just not healthy enough to stand the transition. As we look back, the goal of forty-five would have challenging but realistic. Sixty was out of the ballpark.

[11] I’ve seen the International Charismatic Mission change their cell statistics from 24,000 to 18,000 for this reason. Bethany World Prayer Center , using the G-12 model, skyrocketed from 300+ cells to 900 cells in two years. Yet, in the year 2000 they reduced the number from 900 to 600. Why? Billy Hornsby wrote to me, “Spring Cleaning! We “consolidated” about 200 groups. Some of the groups were not really a “G-12” prototype and had no real chance to multiply and for some other reasons others didn’t meet the criteria that we expected. So, we closed them. However, we are up and at it full strength and expect some major growth this year.” (E-mail sent to me on 2/22/2000 ).