by Joel Comiskey, winter 2019
Today’s church is often imbalanced toward two extremes. Some independent house churches do not acknowledge connections beyond themselves, which is not what took place in the early church. On the other hand, the majority of today’s churches have become imbalanced on the Sunday celebration side. Small groups are often a programmatic technique to keep people coming back to Sunday celebration, rather than being at the very heart of ministry.
The early church primarily met in house churches, but those house churches were not independent entities. At times the house churches gathered regularly together for larger meetings, as we can see in both Jerusalem and Corinth. At other times those gatherings were less frequent. The New Testament writers used the word ecclesia to refer to the house church gatherings, the large gatherings, and the universal church (please read Biblical Foundations for the Cell-based Church for my detail).
Churches must determine if they are going to view the cell group as the church and the primary care structure for members, or just another program to keep people coming back to the Sunday gathering. If the church chooses to prioritize cell ministry, those cells and cell leaders need to be equipped, coached and cared for in a cell structure that includes training, coaching, and celebrating together.
If you are the lead pastor, your principal role is to care and equip the cell leaders who in turn will care for the rest of the church. When you do gather the cells in a larger celebration gathering, see that time as a gathering of the house churches to celebrate. Mario Vega, the lead pastor of Elim, one of the largest cell churches in the world, wrote a JCG blog saying,
We only keep statistics for what takes place in cell gatherings and don’t keep track of how many attend the celebration services. For Elim members, the cells are the church. The celebration is to celebrate together and enjoy the oneness of the body of Christ.
Elim considers the cell meetings as the primary place of ministry, while not neglecting the importance of gathering those house groups to hear God’s Word and worship the Creator.
When this approach is taken, the larger celebration service is a time to minister to the leaders and members. Preaching focuses on expounding God’s inerrant Word to make sure the leaders and members are well grounded in biblical truth. Then the teaching and preaching is reinforced in the house church setting through lessons that correlate with the preaching. For many this will prove to be a radical shift. Some might even think of it as diminishing the value of the large church services. I actually argue that this approach elevates the celebration service as people will attend not as spectators and spiritual consumers but as worshippers and participants.
This has practical implications on areas like announcements and vision casting. Announcements should focus on how your church is reaching people through the family house church strategy and to give members a vision about what the church is doing to reach new areas through house-to-house ministry. Vision casting in these celebration meetings should be geared around existing cells and envisioning new groups. If there are visitors in the larger gatherings, try to connect them to cell members who will welcome them into a new family.