Cell Leadership Development
By Joel Comiskey
Fall 2002, 2016
While eating lunch with Rick Harrell, senior pastor of Brookside Chapel, I soon discovered that Rick wasn’t satisfied with his training track. In reality, his church of 150 was doing quite well (e.g., from 6 to 14 small groups, a functioning coaching structure, growing celebration service), but he wanted more. Like most pastors, he wondered how his training track measured up to other cell churches that produced more leaders.
As we discussed various training tracks, I noticed that our conversation began to spiral downward. We were looking for a secret key to unlock training track success. Our conversation meandered into whether Touch’s Encounter Retreat was better than Bethany’s Encounter Retreat. We sized up the training track of a growing small group-based church in Santa Barbara, CA that offered a “toolbox” of courses in preparation for small group leadership. Would that work at Brookside Chapel? I reflected on a huge small group-based church in Brazil that emphasized one-on-one discipleship as the key to training success.
Was this what Brookside Chapel needed? We seemed to generate more questions than answers, and I felt depleted, sensing that I had not really helped Rick. We finished our meal and were driving down the road when Jesus illuminated my heart. I turned to Rick and said, “Jesus doesn’t want you to copy someone else’s model. He wants you to tweak what you have until it works for you.”
The Lord impressed upon me that the best training track is the one that has passed through the hard knocks of personal experience and testing. I was reminded that the SECRET to a highly effective training track is polishing and promoting it to the point of making it work. The worst training track, on the other hand, is simply copied from someone else and then expected to produce amazing results–like believing a diet plan would cause weight loss without the pain of eating less. The training track of the International Charismatic Mission, for example, has produced more than 10,000 cell leaders. I made my yearly pilgrimage to ICM, trying to understand their training track. Every month, it seemed, they would change it. I discovered that the reason it worked so well for them was because the leaders tested it, retested it, threw out portions of it, tested it again, and then adapted it until it worked well. I realized that Pastor Rick would have to go through the same process.
How do you start?
My advice is to start by knowing and following the principles inherent in all effective training tracks around the world.[i]
Principle #1: Keep the Training Track Simple
Don’t over complicate your cell leadership-training track. Most cell church equipping tracks prepare their leaders in the following areas:
- Basic doctrine
- Freedom from bondage (Encounter Retreat)
- Inner-life Development
- Personal evangelism
- Leadership training
Principle #2: Provide Action Steps with the Training
Make sure that your training is practical, and that you have an action step for each step of your training.
- First step: Basic Doctrine; action step of baptism in water
- Second step: Encounter Retreat; action step of confession of sin and commitment to the vision of the church
- Third Step: Inner Development; action step of having a regular devotional time
- Fourth Step: Personal Evangelism; action step of witnessing and inviting a non-Christian to the cell group
- Fifth Step: Leadership Training; action step of leading a cell group
Principle #3: Prepare a Second Level of Training for Small Group Leaders
Many small group based churches fall into the trap of over-complicating the first-level of training. They try to place too many steps of training in the first level and potential small group leaders never arrive at the point of actually leading a group.
My advice is to divide your training into at least two levels. The first level should include the five basic areas or steps (each area is normally embodied in a manual). It’s important that the first level is not too complicated and allows rapid preparation of cell leaders. The second level provides additional training for cell leaders (second level training is only for those leading a cell group).
Principle #4: Use Only One Equipping Track
While you should allow flexibility in the training methodology (next principle), you should only have one training track. After deciding on a church-wide training track (ideally both first and second levels, although the first level will probably come first), a church should require that all future leaders pass through the same training.
Principle #5: There is No One Methodology for Implementing Your Training
Some believe that the only way to train new believers is one-on-one. Others disagree and train new believers in a group setting. Don’t confuse the training methodology (where or how you train people) with the training track. (e.g., retreat, one-on-one, classroom, etc.). From my study of the fastest growing small group based churches around the world, I’ve noticed a great variety of methodologies for implementing the training model (e.g., one-on-one discipleship, one-on-two or three, training after the cell group, seminars, classes, retreats, or a combination of all of them).
Principle #6: Train Everyone to Become a Cell Leader
When a church concludes that every small group member is a potential cell leader, the logical step is to train each person to eventually lead a cell group. Ideally, each new believer in the church should immediately start attending a cell and begin the equipping track. In reality, it often takes more time. However, the more a church closes the gap between idealism and realism, the more effective it will be.
Principle #7: Continually Adjust and Improve the Training
You should be fine-tuning your equipping system continually. The Cornerstone Church , led by Pastor Gerald Martin , has been working on their model for 7 years. Dennis Wadley , a pastor in Santa Barbara , CA says that their equipping track has been in a process of development for three years, as they have been creating and recreating the tools. You will also need to adapt, adjust, and improve your training system as you receive feedback from your members.
What Materials will you Use?
Many cell churches, while in the process of developing their own materials, use the materials of others. Remember the words of leadership expert Tom Peters: “The best leaders…are the best ‘note-takers’, the best ‘askers,’ the best learners. They are shameless thieves.”[ii] Peters recommends the title, “Swiped from the Best with Pride.”[iii]
- The Clearpoint Church in Houston , Texas (Pastor Blake McKenzie) has taken the best from Saddleback Community Church , Touch Outreach Ministries, Bethany World Prayer Center and others that are effective at equipping believers.
- Long Reach Church of God (Pastor Bob Davis ) has elected to use “The Year of Equipping” materials published by Touch Outreach.[iv] They have followed the basic format for the Freedom (Victory) Encounter, Spiritual Formations and John 3:16 Weekend.
- The International Charismatic Mission borrowed extensively from another cell church in Guatemala called Fraternidad Cristiana de Guatemala .[v]
- The Christian Center in Guayaquil borrowed concepts from Neighbour, the Elim Church and the International Charismatic Mission. Little Falls Christian Centre took the best from Neighbour and then synthesized it into four booklets and manuals.[vi] We’ve done the same in our own church. I recommend this process:
Obtain Copies of Other Equipping Material
Research what is out there. Obtain copies of the material from the best cell churches, such as Bethany World Prayer Center , and other cell churches listed in chapter 13 of my book Leadership Explosion. I’ve provided e-mails and phone numbers in the footnotes.[vii] . You can obtain copies of my own five-book equipping here.
Test the Material
After receiving materials from a variety of sources, test those materials according to Biblical truth and specifically according to your denominational stance. Do you believe that a person must speak in tongues to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Is it Biblically meaty enough for you?
Listen to God and Adapt
Most importantly, listen to God. Discover what’s best for your own particular church and context. You’ll want to include in your materials your specific doctrinal slant. God has been uniquely working in your own situation from eternity past. Adapt the materials according to your own needs.
Create Your Own Materials
Over time, most cell churches establish their own materials. It’s just more comfortable and it fits better. God has made your church unique, with particular convictions and methodology. I’ve followed this advice in creating my own five-book equipping. You’ll want to reflect this uniqueness in your material. Second, it’s cheaper; you only pay for the copying costs.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Take that step today, whether that means fine tuning your existing training track or ordering the materials for the one you’re creating. Remember that many more steps will be required as you perfect your training track. If you keep at it, you’ll discover that the secret to a great training track is continual testing and perfecting until the training track actually does what it’s supposed to do: produce disciples who are making more disciples (small group leaders who are producing new small group leaders).
 Taken from chapter 12 of my book Leadership Explosion Touch Publications, 2000).
 J.Peters Thomas, Thriving on Chaos (New York: HarperPerennial,1987), p. 284.
 Contact TOUCH through Touch’s web site: www.touchusa.org, or by calling 1-800-735-5865 (TOUCH PUBLICATIONS) or (281) 497-7901 Monday through Friday from 9a.m. to 5p.m. You can order by e-mail from – firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a Fax: (281) 497-0904.
 Contact the International Charismatic Mission by telephone at (571) 565-7708, 337-9211; Fax (571) 269-6172; E-mail: email@example.com
 Contact Little Falls Christian Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org . Their web site is: http://www.cellchurchint.co.za/ or http://www.lfcc.co.za/
 The phone number of BWPC is 504-774-1700. For material/tapes, ask for Montie Pitts (MPitts@bethany.com)