Discipleship Details

By Joel Comiskey, Myths and Truths of the Cell-Based Church

Because a school in Texas didn’t have a functioning sprinkler system, 200 people perished when a fire burned down the buildings. The principal began to rebuild the school after the initial shock had passed. They called in a leading company in fire prevention equipment to install a sprinkler system. When the new school was opened for public inspection, the principal pointed out the new sprinklers in each room to remove fears of another disaster.

The school operated without a problem for several years but needed to add to the existing structure. As work progressed, they made a startling discovery. The new fire extinguishing equipment had never been connected to the water supply! They had the latest in technology and equipment, yet it was useless.

Details matter. In the U.S., we often say, “The devil is in the details.” People use this term when describing a complicated contract with hidden fine print that the recipient only later discovers.

When I think of cell church ministry, I’ve noticed a few crucial details that often remain hidden or overlooked, like the disconnected sprinkler system. These details can negatively impact quality discipleship, so clarifying them is essential. Here are a few of them:

#1. Not inviting believers from Bible-believing churches to the cell groups—or positively, only inviting unchurched people or church members. Allowing Christians from other churches to attend the cells stagnates the cell groups and hinders true discipleship. Why is this a bad idea? First is Christian ethics. Sheep stealing or shepherding someone else’s sheep is unethical. Second, true discipleship involves cell and celebration under the same local church with the same vision. Making quality disciples means that those attending the cells also hear the Word from the lead pastor on Sunday. Third, the Christian from another church cannot be trained to become a future leader and won’t share in the cell outreach in the same way as members from the same church.

#2. Statistical control. Knowing what is happening each week through statistical control deepens the discipleship process. Not having statistics can easily lead to ghost groups. People know who has attended the Sunday celebration service because everyone is present. Because cells are out-of-sight, the pastoral team must understand what’s happening to care for them properly.

#3. Cell group frequency. Weekly cell groups enhance the quality of discipleship. Practicing the one-anothers weekly keeps believers sharp and helps them to evangelize more effectively. I’ve noticed a tendency in churches to lower the bar in this area, but monthly groups or every-other-week groups reduce the quality of discipleship. Some members won’t come each week, but when the group only meets once per month or every other week, missing the group widens the frequency gap and lowers the discipleship quality.

#4. Meeting in homes. Reaching outside the church building helps members practice hospitality and take the church to the people. Cell ministry is a “go-to-the-people” strategy rather than a “come-to-the-building” strategy. The building adds a lot of value to cell groups: training, coaching, and celebration. Cell group meetings, however, have another focus.

For November, seasoned leaders and pastors will write twenty blogs on discipleship details. Click here if you’d like to receive these blogs in your email inbox. We’ll cover:

  • November 06-12: Focusing on church members and the unchurched. We need to constantly remind our people about this detail because once a Christian from another church joins a cell group, lay leaders hesitate to ask them to find a small group in their church. Granted, we’re talking about those attending Bible-believing churches regularly.
  • November 13-19: Statistical control is essential for deep discipleship. We’re not talking about a numbers game but quality control. We want to make quality disciples and thus need to know what’s happening in our groups.
  • November 20-26: Weekly cell meetings. To make disciples, we need to encourage each other regularly. Monthly cells or every-other-week cells do not make disciples effectively.   
  • November 27- December 02: Outside the church building. It’s easy to use the facility for everything, including cells. Yet, cell groups penetrate society and neighborhoods. They also encourage members to practice hospitality and open their homes. The quality of discipleship suffers when cells meet in the church and fail to exercise their outreach muscles.