By Joel Comiskey, Spring 2005, Note: The following article is an excerpt from chapter 14 of Comiskey’s book The Church that Multiplies.
Because books and articles often focus on the mega cell churches around the world, many people equate successful cell church ministry with mega church results.
I admit that my writing has compounded this problem, as my original research focused on the largest cell churches in the world (note 1). To discover key principles is one thing; it’s quite another thing to say that growing to mega church size is the goal—it’s not!
My personal conviction is that exceedingly few cell churches will ever grow to mega cell church status and that church planting should be a far higher priority than expanding one church.
The purpose of this chapter is to stir vision for cell church planting. I believe that the cell church vision in North America will take root only as church planters spread this strategy across the entire continent through new church plants.
Snapshot of cell church planting
Cell church plants come in different varieties: mother–daughter cell church plants, satellite cell church plants, or just starting a cell from scratch.
The simplicity of cell church planting makes it exciting. Even without a supporting mother church, a church planter can simply open the first cell in a home and begin reaching non-Christians. The cell at this stage is more like a house church. The goal is to see non-Christians come to Christ, be trained through the training track, and then be sent out to lead their own cell groups.
I recommend, however, that the church planter seek to find a team of core members. Each core member should be prepared to eventually start a cell group (or perhaps start one in partnership with another core team member). Where will these core members come from? A few possibilities are the mother church, the denomination, a plea for “missionaries,” or help from another church.
The core group meets together in a pilot cell for six months to one year. During that period, the pilot cell of core members practice cell life, using the four Ws as the guide for the cell (welcome, worship, Word, witness). Each core member is encouraged to get to know non-Christians in the neighborhood.
During this same time, the church planter teaches the training track to the core team members apart from the cell itself (see Chapter 10). In our church plant, we found it effective to set apart a Saturday or Sunday for concentrated training.
As the time gets closer to multiplication, the pilot group practices group evangelism (see Chapter 8 of Cell Church Solutions). When the cell multiplies into several new cells, the church planter concentrates on coaching the new cell leaders (see Chapter 11 of Cell Church Solutions) while continuing to lead a regular cell group.
I recommend starting monthly celebration services when there are four new cells. Those monthly gatherings might take place in a park, a large house, a school, or church building. When there are eight cells, I recommend a weekly celebration service.
A key part of the DNA from the very beginning is to plant new cell churches.
I’ve just painted a very brief description of cell church planting. I’m currently writing a new book on cell church planting, which will go into far more detail about the various types of cell church planting and how to do it (note 2)
Return to simplicity
More and more leaders around the world are attracted to a simple form of church life, one that doesn’t require huge budgets and super-talented preachers but follows the pattern of the New Testament church. I now find myself desiring a simple, reproducible, New Testament model. And I believe North America needs the same thing.
Tomorrow’s cell church won’t depend on large buildings or technology to make it work. It will go back to the New Testament rhythm of meeting in celebration and cell.
One reason the mega churches appear so complicated is that they are. One influential mega church in the suburbs of Los Angeles, for example, is embarking on a ten-year expansion project with a 4000-seat worship center, an artificial lake, food court, coffee house, and recreational attractions including a rock-climbing wall and jumbo video screens. The list of activities sounds like the offerings at a Club Med or a small liberal arts college: poetry workshops, creative writing, singles groups, job fairs, vocational training, musical lessons, and even auto repair clinics (note 3).
The beauty of a simple cell church is that it’s reproducible.
A person who has led a cell, multiplied it, and coached the daughter-cell leader(s) has completed the core basics of cell church planting. Such a person is a prime candidate for future church planting—anywhere in the world.
Undoubtedly, this same person will seek out biblical education and grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Fruitfulness on the cell level builds confidence for future church planting and allows the candidate to then make it happen. The order is clear cut:
- Attend a cell.
- Receive training.
- Plant a cell.
- Multiply the cell several times.
- Coach the leaders who have multiplied out.
- Receive higher-level biblical training.
- Plant a church in the U.S. or overseas using the same strategy.
Cell churches don’t require a huge budget, a large plot of land, modern buildings, or super-talented pastors. The cell strategy uses the houses of people all over the city as the primary meeting locations. Instead of laboring to get people out of their houses once a week for an hour-long service, it seeks to utilize those same houses to penetrate an entire city and nation.
In May 2002 I spoke to denominational executives who were highly influenced by the house church movement. They resisted the idea of the mega church because of the mega problems associated with this phenomenon: mega buildings, mega land space, and bureaucratic nightmare of mega proportions.
I encouraged these leaders not to reject large cell churches altogether. “After all,” I told them, “if God calls a pastor who can lead a cell church to mega church status as a flagship church, such a church could have a powerful influence.” Bethany World Prayer Center is one of those examples. Mega cell churches, however, shouldn’t be the norm or the goal. In my list of successful cell churches (see Chapter 5 of Cell Church Solutions), only two of the forty-four churches grew to mega status. The vast majority of cell church pastors will have smaller, more nimble churches that focus on church planting.
- My original research focused on:
- I’m teaching a doctoral course at Columbia International University on church planting—with an emphasis on cell church planting. The following books are recommended reading:
- Comiskey, Joel. Home Cell Group Explosion. Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 2002. 178 pp. ISBN: 1880828421.
- Garrison, David. Church planting Movements. Richmond, VA: International Mission Board, 2000, 60 pp. Free download at: http://www.imb.org/CPM/default.htm
- Green, Michael, editor. Church without Walls. Carlisle, United Kingdom, Paternoster Press, 2002, 133 pp. ISBN: 1842271393.
- Kreider, Larry. Helping You Build Cell Churches: A Comprehensive Training Manual for Pastors, Cell Leaders and Church Planters. Ephrata, PA: Dove Christian Publications, 2000, 256 pp. ISBN: 1886973385.
- Shenk, David W. and Ervin R. Stutzman. Creating Communities of the Kingdom: New Testament Models of Church Planting. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988, 232 pp. ISBN: 0836134702.
- Stetzer, Ed. Planting New Churches in a Post-Modern Age ( Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003), 365 pp. ISBN: 080542730
- Mega cell churches are certainly preferred to mega non-cell mega churches. The mega program-based church phenomenon is growing throughout North American, but the gravest problem, in my opinion, is that such churches subtly promote anonymity. I’ve also noticed that a majority of the attendees are from other churches. My estimate is that seven out of ten have migrated from a smaller church to attend the mega church. Why? Often it’s the freedom that comes from non-accountability. Most people involved with mega churches admit that some congregations swell their ranks with the entertaining Sunday show. Gibbs says, “It must not be assumed that the impressive growth of many seeker-sensitive churches is due primarily to the conversion of the unchurched or to the reactivatation of the once-churched-but-subsequently-lapsed. The bulk of the growth is more likely to through the transfer of church members, either because of relocation or because of disillusionment or boredom with their former church” (Church Next, Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 173). Some who study this phenomenon compare some mega churches with a giant chain store that comes into a town and puts all the little stores out of business. The smaller churches are often drained by the mega church down the street. It has created an unhealthy celebrity focus. Celebrities have been described as people well known for their well-knowness. In contrast, those in the cell church meet together in total transparency. A cell group is the true Body of Christ, not 5000 people sitting in rows observing one man’s charismatic activity. It is the basic Christian community where Christ can be transparently observed.
|Name of Church||Country||Senior Pastor||No. of Cells||Attend.|
|Bethany World Prayer Center||Baker, Louisiana||Larry Stockstill||1100||8000|
|The Christian Center of Guayaquil||Guayaquil, Ecuador||Jerry Smith||1400||7000|
|Elim Church||San Salvador, El Salvador||Mario Vega||9000||35 000|
|Faith Community Baptist Church||Singapore||Lawrence Khong||700||10 000|
|The Inter-national Charismatic Mission||Bogota, Colombia||César Castellanos||15 000||45 000|
|Love Alive Church||Tegucigalpa, Honduras||René Peñalba||1000||8000|
|Living Water Church||Lima, Perú||Juan Capuro||1000||9000|
|Yoido Full Gospel Church||Seoul , Korea||David Cho||25 000||250 000|