By Joel Comiskey, Summer 2012. Note: The following article is from Comiskey’s book Myths and Truths of the Cell Church.
Myth: The Cell Church Strategy Is a Mega-Church Strategy
When I first started writing about cell churches, a steering committee directed me to study the largest worldwide cell churches because they were the most prominent. I was told that people would recognize them more readily and benefit more from my study.
I spent one to two weeks in each of these churches, which numbered into the hundreds of thousands of people and tens of thousands of groups. I conducted interviews, passed out a questionnaire, and tried to understand each particular model. I then categorized the principles that each church had in common as well as what made them different.
I began to teach about the principles I saw in these large churches. However, in my teaching I gave the impression that the goal was to grow as large as these mega-cell churches. Several times during my early seminars people would challenge me about growing a large cell church. I would fumble a bit and respond that God wants church growth, and yes, he wills that our churches grow. I found it hard to mask my preference for large, growing cell churches. They had captured my attention, and it seemed like their example should stimulate other churches to expand their own vision.
I encountered one major obstacle, however. Practically all those in my seminars were from smaller churches. Many felt inadequate as I gave example after example of large cell churches. Whether I meant to or not, my underlying message was that growing large was a sure sign of success. Should growing into a large cell church be the goal?
Truth: Few Cell Churches Reach Mega-Church Status
Most churches around the world have between fifty to one hundred people. According to the Hartford Study on North American churches, the average church in North America has seventy-five Sunday worshippers. Even in Korea, the land admired for the world’s largest churches, most churches are very small.
The fact is that the vast majority of pastors around the world are not called to manage a large celebration gathering. God has simply not gifted them to do so. Administrating such a large church involves managing details that most people are simply not equipped to handle.
My friend Ben Wong and I have often discussed the problem of smaller cell churches feeling inadequate when we have always emphasized the importance of mega-cell churches. Wong writes,
Small churches comprise the great majority of churches in the world. Most pastors became pastors because they love God and desire to love his people. The reality is that in a small church, this can happen most effectively. In fact to become larger than 80 people, the pastor will need to become more administrative, and he may need a skill he does not have. Large churches need entrepreneurs, and very few pastors are like this.
When we constantly promote large churches in our conferences, books, blogs, and articles, we give the impression that smaller churches are failures. They are not.
On one occasion I was asked to speak about cell church to key worldwide mission leaders of the southern Baptist denomination at their headquarters in Virginia. They grilled me with questions about why the cell church movement focused on the few mega-cell churches, as if they were the norm. They desired a simpler, more reproducible strategy, one that didn’t require large buildings, expensive lands, and large staffs. They were working in majority world countries and found that land was simply too expensive and money spent on buildings was counter-productive. They were looking for simple, reproducible strategies.
I agreed wholeheartedly with their assessment, also believing also that the over-emphasis on mega-cell churches was ill-advised. I told them that ideally most cell churches would be small, simple, and reproducible. Some, I told them, however, would grow to a mammoth size, depending on the giftedness of the lead pastor and God’s sovereign grace. I emphasized once again that such churches would not be plentiful, nor the norm; rather, smaller, more nimble churches should be the emphasis.
In my book, Planting Churches That Reproduce: Starting a Network of Simple Churches, I emphasize the need for smaller more reproducible cell churches that generate new church plants at a smaller size.
Smaller churches are here to stay. God has and will use them for His glory. Pastors who are planting cells, reaching the lost, making disciples, and planting new churches need to feel confident they are on the right track.