by Joel Comiskey
This chapter is taken from Comiskey’s book Youth in Cell Ministry
Chapter 10: Starting Youth Churches
When Jesus saw the incredible needs around him and especially those who were helpless and harassed and in need of a shepherd, he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matthew 9:37-38). We’ve seen how youth can lead cells and multiply them. But what about church planting? As I travel around the world, I passionately plead with larger cell churches to hear God’s call for missionary church planting. But why not start this vision among youth?
Mark Senter III, youth professor at Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, and one of the leading researchers on youth ministry today, believes that youth ministry finds its full potential when youth are sent out to plant new churches. He writes, "Perhaps the answer to the problems created by discontinuities in discipling relationships lies in a new vision of youth ministries: Youth pastors should become spiritual midwives and assist in birthing new churches" (note 1). Senter describes more specifically how youth would be involved in planting new churches:
Youth staff and students evangelized and discipled through the youth ministry would become the nucleus of the new church. The families of the students and former students under the youth minister’s care would be encouraged to participate with their children in the project. Though the idea has some inherent weaknesses, most of them could be minimized by careful selection of the youth minister, along with a mentoring relationship with the senior pastor. The concept would require a paradigm shift both on the part of church and within the youth ministry fraternity (note 2).
Senter’s vision is significant because of his experience and expertise in youth ministry. Senter has dedicated his life to youth over a lifetime and has concluded that youth planting churches is the best possible scenario for youth ministry.
Paul the apostle was the most effective missionary church planter of the first century. He planted simple, reproducible churches and moved on to spread the gospel. He could say, "So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:19). Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces. In AD 57 Paul spoke of his work being accomplished.
In the cell church movement worldwide, there is a renewed interest in planting smaller, more reproducible cell churches. Very few cell churches grow to megachurch size. Most are nimble and simple. The best church planters are those who have multiplied cell groups and supervised the new leaders. They possess the vital, needed experience to plant a church.
Jimmy Seibert saw wonderful fruit with student-led cells in Waco, Texas, on the Baylor campus. God created a youth movement on campus of some 600 students in sixty youth cells. Eventually the Antioch church movement was formed, which has its main church building close to the Baylor Campus in Waco, Texas. Seibert writes,
Our goal in college ministry is to see students transformed by the power of Jesus Christ, brought into belong in his body and released to fulfill his wonderful purposes in the world. To achieve this end we have arrived at a very simple and effective formula. It is: Cell Groups + prayer = world missions (note 3).
The Antioch church plants around the world often start their churches near college campuses because the focus is to raise up a new generation for Jesus who are willing to reach their world and plant new churches. Seibert writes, "The vision and purpose of cells is to win souls for the Kingdom of God, as well as pastor one another. Though some cell meetings focus more on evangelism or edification, each cell gathering must encompass a vision for both" (note 4).
In 2008, Antioch Church in Waco, Texas, planted All Peoples Church, in San Diego, California, with the vision of reaching young people and promoting missions. Lead pastor and founder, Robert Herber, moved from Waco, Texas, with a team of people, and among them was Joel Sanders, who is now the youth pastor. The All Peoples Churchhas grown into a church of over 1,300, but they have not forgotten their church planting roots. All Peoples Church holds annual church planting and mission conferences and has planted churches in Thailand and Mexico with plans for church plants in South Africa and Moldova in 2017.
The Antioch Community Church (ACC) movement has never been content to grow one church larger and larger. Yet as the mother church gives itself away, it has continued to grow over the years. Like the New Testament Church, God has called them to become a church planting movement. Some of these multiplication pastors will plant churches nearby. Others will become cross-cultural missionaries to plant cell churches on distant shores.
Dove Christian Fellowship (DCG) is another worldwide church planting movement that was born out of youth reaching youth in cell ministry. Church planting is at the heart of Dove, and as of 2016, there were 388 DOVE churches worldwide in twenty nations and five continents. Dove encourages young people to plant simple, reproducing cell churches and house church networks.
In 2011, I gave a church planting seminar at the Vine Church in Goiana, Brazil. Joseph, a young person, told me that he began his journey in a children’s cell but now was planting youth based churches. He simply continued to multiply leaders and the Vine trained him during each stage of the process. The Vine Church, in fact, encourages everyone to consider becoming a church planter. Character and fruitfulness are key characteristics but cell ministry is the perfect schooling or preparation for those who want to continue the process of making disciples through church planning.
Pastor Valter at Belem Foursquare is encouraging youth to consider church planting. He and his leadership team are becoming a sending church and planting cell churches around the country and world. The lead pastor, Josué, is constantly talking about opening new churches and the youth are a key part of this. The youth love a challenge and pastor Valter instills them with the vision of sending groups of youth cells to plant new churches all over the world.
Asia is another place where youth are challenged to plant churches. Ben Wong, founder of Grace Church in Hong Kong, has dedicated his life to plant reproducible cell churches around the world. Young people are the cornerstone in making this happen. Ben wasn’t content with simply growing his own church larger and larger. He developed a resource sharing network called The Cell Church Missions Network (CCMN), which is primarily concerned with mobilizing cell church people to finish the Great Commission.
CCMN hosts a youth cell church mission network during the same time period each year to challenge youth to plant churches. They believe that those who have led and multiplied a cell group are the best missionaries to penetrate the unreached cultures because they’ve already experienced fruitful ministry in their own culture. CCMN has sent out some 175 missionaries between 1997 and the present and held over one hundred mission conferences. CCMN missionaries are on thirteen fields, including, Macau, China, Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East (note 5).
I have no doubt that youth planting youth churches will become a significant force in the twenty-first century Church. Youth desire to change the world and have a God-size vision to fulfill that dream. Church plants need new people, new ideas, and new vision if they are going to emerge out of the darkness into the sunlight. Youth have what it takes to make this happen.
Established churches tend to be more concerned about building upkeep, the personality of the new preacher, who’s on the board, and the program schedule for the upcoming year.
Church planting requires both vision and effort. Church plants are completely stripped of all illusions. The process is one of do or die. Reach out or close the doors. Invite or implode. Church planters are desperate for growth. Without growth, the church folds. This reality keeps church planters on their knees, crying out to God.
Unless church plants organize around evangelism, no one will show up. After all, most Christians would rather worship in a full-service church where their needs are met. Few modern-day Christians with families are willing to join a new church where programmed ministries don’t exist. Christian Schwarz in Natural Church Development reveals that church plants are more effective in every area (leading people to become Christ-followers, baptizing members, and ministering to needs). He writes:
If instead of a single church with 2,856 in worship we had 56 churches, each with 51 worshippers, these churches would, statistically win 1,792 new people within five years—16 times the number the megachurch would win. Thus we can conclude that the evangelistic effectiveness of minichurches is statistically 1,600 percent greater than that of megachurches! (note 6)
Struggling to start a church does wonders for youth church planters. They are developed and honed in the crucible of church planting.
Whether church planting or transitioning, those ministering to youth are on the cutting edge of ministry. They are the ones preparing the next generation, and need to stay healthy and connected to the Vine, Jesus Christ. The next chapter highlights some bedrock truths for staying healthy over the long haul.
- Senter III, Mark H.; Wesley Black; Chap Clark; Malan Nel (2010-01-05). Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church: Inclusive Congregational, Preparatory, Missional, Strategic (YS Academic) (Kindle Locations 3586-3589). Zondervan Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
- Ibid., Kindle Locations 3594-3608.
- Jimmy Seibert, Reaching College Students through Cells (Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1997), p. 9.
- Ibid., p. 47.
- "100 conferences" refers to some thirteen CCMN summits, approximately thirty missionary and international conferences, and some sixty including regional, national, and coaching conferences.
- For more on this topic, read pp. 46-48 of Natural Church Development (Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996).