Chapter 3 : Strategies of Cell-based Ministry Today

Joel Comiskey’s Ph.D. Dissertation

In this chapter I will analyze current day models of small group ministry. The following chart describes five distinct small group philosophies that are being utilized in the world today.

Strategy Description
  • Modeled after David Yonggi Cho’s church
  • Large following in Africa, Latin America, Singapore, and other parts of the world
  • Ralph Neighbour is a major promoter
  • Modeled by several large churches in the USA
  • Carl George is founder and major promoter
  • Serendipity model (Lyman Coleman, founder)
  • Covenant model (Roberta Hestenes, principal spokesperson)
  • Small Group Resurgence (Robert Wuthnow and George Gallup, Jr., primary researchers)

I will be giving more attention to the Pure Cell Movement in this chapter because it is by far the most influential, world-wide movement today, but also because the cell-based churches in Latin America utilize this model.

Pure Cell Model

This name is not completely accurate because there are varying degrees of cell “purity” among the churches which use this model. For example, in Latin America, new cell-based patterns are emerging (note 1). However, even with these new emerging structures, there is enough similarity to place them under the same model. Two observations need to be made from the beginning. First, the Pure Cell model is primarily a third world phenomena. Hadaway, S. Wright and DuBose write,

The catalyst which transformed the many unconnected attempts at Christian house groups into a movement was the emergence of new forms of church in the Third World. For centuries the Third World has been the recipient of missions and has often seen forms of church organization created in the West imposed upon itself with little attempt at adaptation. . . . This situation is changing, however. The growth of the evangelical churches has been so great in Korea, all over Africa, and in certain parts of Latin America that the direction of the flow may be reversing (1987:15).

When referring to “new forms of church” these authors are referring primarily to the cell movement. The second important observation is that the primary catalyst behind the Pure Cell model is David Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the largest church in the history of Christianity.

The Influence of David Yonggi Cho

David Cho’s influence cannot be overestimated. Hadaway makes this comment,

The word spread that Paul Cho’s church and several other huge churches in Seoul reached their massive size through home cell groups and that the technique will work anywhere. A movement began, and pastors have flocked to Korea to learn. . . . Churches all over the world are beginning to adopt the home cell group as an organizational tool. . . . In a real sense, the growth of the Yoido Full Gospel Church and the Young Nak Presbyterian Church has galvanized attention around a new idea, created a focus, and birthed a movement which is just beginning to impact mainline denominations in the United States (1987:17).

Cho’s cell system has been replicated by pastors and church leaders all over the world (note 2). One of the similarities among my case study churches in Latin America was the influence of Cho on their cell ministry. All of them attributed their initial vision and much of their ongoing cell philosophy to the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Korea. The pastors of the two largest cell churches, as well as the most influential in Latin America, visited Cho’s church before starting their own cell ministry (note 3). The influence of Cho is also seen in the writings of the top cell experts today. Ralph Neighbour, Carl George, and Dale Galloway all liberally quote Cho as the foundation for their particular model of cell ministry (note 4).

It is very hard to dispute the incredible church growth that has taken place at Cho’s church. With more than 625,000 members and 22,000 cell groups, Pastor Cho’s church grows at a rate of 140 new members per day (note 5). Cho attributes his church’s rapid growth to the cell group ministry (note 6).

When one thinks of aggressive evangelism and church growth in Korea, Pastor Cho’s church usually comes to mind. However, it must be remembered that there are nine other churches in Korea which have more than 30,000 members. All of them, without exception, have experienced rapid growth by structuring their church around the cell group ministry (George 1991:50) (note 7).

Although Cho is the primary inspiration behind the Pure Cell model, the one who has written the most extensively on this model is Ralph Neighbour (1990) (note 8). He also seems to have done the most research on cell-based churches world-wide, thus increasing the reliability of his studies. His zeal and purity are captured in the following quote,

. . . the cell is the church, and the church is the cell. It is the basic building block of the larger community called “local church”. There must be no competition with it–none at all. Everything in the city-wide structure must exist for the cells, be operated by the cells, and must strengthen the life of the cells. As in the human body, the life of the church is in the cells. Are people to be reached for Christ? It is done through cells. Are people to be built up in Him? It is to be done through cells. Are children to be nurtured? They are to be exposed from the start to the cell as normal church life. There are no Specialists and there are no programs . . . (1990:68-69).

Although Neighbour’s quote sets forth the priority of the cell, it does not describe the distinguishing features. Although the following characteristics are not exhaustive, they do describe the most common features of the Pure Cell model.

Cells Form Part of the Local Church Structure

In the Pure Cell church, the small groups are never viewed as isolated units. Rather, they are intimately linked to the life of the local church body. Those who attend the cell groups are expected to attend the church. Those who attend the church are expected to attend the cell groups. This is precisely the model that is used in Korea. In referring to Cho’s model, Hadaway states,

Members of Cho’s home cell groups are also expected to attend the meetings on a regular basis. Attendance is not taken lightly, and when a member is unexpectantly absent from a cell group meeting, the house church leader contacts the absentee person the following day to learn why (1987:99).

Cho’s own words are helpful here,

The local church is the strength of Christianity. Home cell groups contribute to that strength. Anything that dilutes the strength of the local church is to be avoided. That includes some of the parachurch ministries that sometimes take money and commitment away from the local church (1981:93).

This point needs to be carefully emphasized because of the growing house church movement around the world. In this movement, each house church is completely independent or only loosely connected to other house churches. Neighbour makes a helpful distinction,

There is a distinct difference between the house church and the cell group movements. House Churches tend to collect a community of 15-25 people who meet together on a weekly basis. Usually, each House Church stands alone. While they may be in touch with nearby House Churches, they usually do not recognize any further structure beyond themselves (1990:193).

Emphasis on Components or Characteristics of the Cell

In the Pure Cell church, the cell is defined by its characteristics and not by the fact that it is small and a group (note 9). The three major components of all cell groups include:

  • Seeking God (worship, prayer, lesson)
  • Developing relationships with one another (ice-breaker, ministry to one another, refreshment time)
  • Reaching out to non-Christians (friendship evangelism, special cell activity)

Similarity among the Cell Groups

Perhaps the phrase “quality control” best describes this aspect of the Pure Cell system. The small group format of each meeting remains the same from group to group. Because the goal of each cell group is to multiply, there is a constant need for new leaders. If the new leadership is going to be successful, they must have an exact pattern to follow. Such “quality control” in the Pure Cell model assures that potential leaders will know exactly what to do and how to do it.

Partnership in Evangelism

Evangelism has the highest priority in the cell church. Each cell is required to aggressively evangelize the lost. However, cell-based evangelism is different from most other forms of evangelism because the team approach is used in contrast to an individual approach.

Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing

What I am referring to can best be illustrated by the tools of the fisherman–the net and the fishing pole. Cell group evangelism in the church uses the net to catch fish. Larry Stockstill, the pastor of the most prominent cell church in the United States– Bethany World Prayer Center–describes it this way,

The old paradigm of hook fishing is being replaced by teams of believers who have entered into partnership (community) for the purpose of reaching souls together. . . . Jesus used the partnership of net fishing to illustrate the greatest principle of evangelism: our productivity is far greater together than alone (1996:1-2).

Likewise, Cho highlights his methodology of cell group evangelism by saying,

Our cell group system is a net for our Christians to cast. Instead of a pastor fishing for one fish at a time, organized believers form nets to gather hundreds and thousands of fish. A pastor should never try to fish with a single rod but should organize believers into the nets of a cell system (quoted in Hurston 1994:107).

How, specifically, does Cho do it? In a 1993 interview with Carl George, Cho explained how his cells go net fishing.

We have 50,000 cell groups and each group will love two people to Christ within the next year. They select someone who’s not a Christian, whom they can pray for, love, and serve. They bring meals, help sweep out the person’s store–whatever it takes to show they really care for them. . . . After three or four months of such love, the hardest soul softens up and surrenders to Christ (quoted in George 1994:94).

The Whole Group Participates in Evangelism

In every sense of the word, it is small group evangelism. Everyone participates in some small way–from the person who invites the guest, to the one who provides refreshments, to the one who leads the discussion. In addition, all participate in fervant prayer for the lost (note 10).

Focus on Multiplication of Cell Group

This issue of cell multiplication seems to be the common thread that links all of the rapidly growing world-wide cell churches (note 11). In the Pure Cell church, the rallying cry is “born to multiply.” This genetic code of cell multiplication is instilled into every cell group. In many cell churches, if a group does not multiply within a set number of months, it is necessary to dissolve the group and let those cell members integrate into groups that are experiencing growth and multiplication.

Multiplication Maintains Intimacy

From a very practical standpoint, cell groups must multiply if they are going to maintain a state of intimacy while continuing to reach out to non-Christian people. There is common agreement among the experts that a cell group must be small enough so that all the members can freely contribute and share personal needs.

Length of Time before Multiplication

In many of the most rapidly growing cell churches around the world, the time that it takes for the individual cells to multiply is approximately six months (Neighbour 1992: 32-35). Neighbour states,

Long years of experience with groups has verified that they stagnate after a certain period. People draw from one another for the first six months; after that, they tend to “coast” along together. For that reason, each Shepherd Group will be expected to multiply naturally after six months or be restructured (1992:113).

I recently even heard of a Baptist church in Modesto, California which is multiplying its cell groups every four months (note 12). However, not all cells multiply in a matter of months. For some it is a matter of years. Carl George gives this counsel,

The gestation period for healthy groups to grow and divide ranges from four to twenty-four months. The more frequently a group meets, the sooner it is able to divide. If a group stays together for more than two years without becoming a parent, it stagnates. Bob Orr, of the Win Arn Church Growth, Inc., reports that groups that meet for a year without birthing a daughter cell only have a 50 percent chance of doing so. But every time a cell bears a child, the clock resets. Thus a small subgroup can remain together indefinitely and remain healthy and fresh by giving birth every few months (1991:101).

Bethany World Prayer Center, a true cell-based church, has adopted the policy that their cell groups must multiply within one year or be integrated into the existing structure. This period of time seems the most realistic.

Uniformity of Lesson Material

In the Pure Cell church, there is uniformity of lesson material. All of the cell leaders cover the same lesson plan. The lesson might be a summary of the Sunday message (Cho’s church) or four carefully designed application questions that follow the Sunday morning message (Stockstill’s church). As we will see in Chapters 7 and 8, all of the cell-based case study churches in Latin America developed their lessons based on the pastor’s weekly message.

Strong Administrative Control

In the Pure Cell church, there is strong administrative accountability. Everyone is monitored, pastored, and accountable. The philosophy behind this model is Jethro’s advice to Moses in Exodus, chapter 18. Most cell churches set leaders over geographical districts, zones, and areas of the city. However, the fundamental leadership role is always given to the cell leader.

Administrative control also takes place through the required reporting from each cell group. Although most cell churches require weekly reports, this is not always the case (note 13). It is through tight administrative control that the Pure Cell Church is able to pastor every member (note 14).

Required Cell Leader Training

Although each cell church has their own leadership requirements and models of training, all cell churches offer both initial and ongoing training. Most cell churches around the world provide:

  • Pre-training for potential cell leaders before they begin leading their groups.
  • An apprentice system within the cell group in which potential leaders are in the process of being trained from the moment they enter the group.
  • A Jethro system in which every leader is pastored (note 15).
  • Some type of on-going training (weekly, bimonthly, or monthly).

The Rapid Releasing of Leadership

The rapid multiplication of small groups in the Pure Cell church makes it imperative that new leaders be found, trained, and released. Again, David Yonggi Cho is the best example. Even in a church of 750,000, Cho has been able to maintain an average of one lay leader to every ten to sixteen church members (Hurston 1995:68). For example, in 1988 alone 10,000 new lay leaders were appointed for ministry (Hurston 1995:194) (note 16).

Very Few Programs apart from Cells

Neighbour most radically defines this characteristic of the cell church. He declares,

We must actively abandon the hope that stagnant churches can be renewed by painful restructuring and the tacking on of Cell Group Church principles. . . . The church cannot effectively mix traditional patterns of church life with Cell Group Patterns. There must be a deliberate transition. After devoting nearly a quarter of a century to attempt to help “renew the churches,” I am totally skeptical that it can be done (1990:36-37).

He goes on to say,

I returned to the disturbing point that has been made before in this book and will be repeated again and again, The Cell Church lifestyle is too New Testament to be blended into a PBD [program based design] structure. It causes endless conflicts for those who attempt it (1990:55).

At the same time, I have discovered that most cell churches have programs, although they might call them something different (note 17). Realistically, perhaps it is best to say that in the cell church very few additional programs exist.

Most of the normal “programs” are met through the cell groups. In fact, little volunteer help is needed. Normally, the various districts or zones provide the ushers, counselors, and parking lot attendants. With this format, the burdens of a church program do not weigh down a few people in the church.

Commitment of Head Pastor to Cell Ministry

The active leadership of the head pastor in the direction of the cell ministry seems to be a clear, distinguishing mark in the Pure Cell church. Cho declares,

There is only one way that the home cell group system will be successful in a church, if that system is to be used as a tool of evangelism. The pastor must be the key person involved. Without the pastor, the system will not hold together. It is a system, and a system must have a control point. The controlling factor in home cell groups is the pastor (1981:107).

In my research and experience in cell-based churches, I have discovered that the role of the senior pastor is crucial to the long term success of the cell ministry. This role cannot be delegated to someone else (note 18). Beyond, the head pastor’s role, in the Pure Cell model, each minister on the pastoral team is fully integrated in the cell ministry.

Goal of One Hundred Percent Participation in Cell Groups

Because cells form the basic building block of life in the cell church, it is expected that everyone participates. Refusal to participate in a cell group indicates that one is not in line with the vision of the church. Although one hundred percent participation is the goal, in reality, this rarely happens. I have witnessed ninety percent participation, but seventy percent is more common.

The Meta Model

Carl George is the author and promoter of the Meta model. It is George’s attempt to adapt cell group principles and church growth found in the majority world to a North American context (Coleman 1993:12). The impact of the Meta model can be noted by the successful North American churches that are using this model (Table 2).

Influences on George

I can see at least three major influences on George that helped him to establish the Meta model. First, George was impressed by the incredible growth of the cell church throughout the world. Not only has the cell church grown rapidly in terms of numbers, but there is also a built-in capability to care for new converts. Second, as a pragmatic church growth practitioner, it seems to me that George was drawn to study how to make the world-wide cell church paradigm relevant to a North American audience. Third, George was influenced by Dale Galloway, who founded the New Hope Community in Portland, Oregon based on small groups. Before writing his book, Prepare Your Church for the Future, George did an in-depth case study of the New Hope Community Church (note 19).

Original Version of the Meta Model

In George’s first book dedicated to cell ministry, Prepare Your Church for the Future, the Meta model is introduced. The underlying thrust of George’s thinking is that because small group ministry has worked so effectively in large, growing churches around the world, it should be adapted to work in any size church, whether in North America or overseas. His overriding emphasis throughout the book is that our current models of church ministry simply do not provide sufficient quality care to sustain a growing church (1991:57-84).

His first book comes very close to describing the Pure Cell approach used in most cell churches around the world. Throughout the book, he describes the home cell group and its contribution to both quality and quantitative growth. The book had a powerful impact on the North American church scene because George gives fresh North American terminology to cell-based concepts.

Latest Version of the Meta Model

In his most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution, George seems to redefine the Meta model. Instead of promoting a model, he now talks about a way of analyzing your church,

Meta-Church thinking examines the degree to which a church has been “cellularized,” and its leadership linked. . . . It tries to discern the degree to which group leaders are in fact convening their people, and the degree to which coaches are in fact working with group leaders. The Meta-Church, then, . . . is an X ray to help you look at what you have in order to figure out what’s missing (1994: 279-280).

The Meta model then is a way of discerning the degree of small group involvement in a church. George insists throughout this book that the Meta approach is simply a way of seeing what you already have.

In this latest book, George spends most of the time describing his mapping strategy called the Meta Globe. This is George’s attempt to categorize all groups in the church within certain boundaries. This categorization is supposed to help a church examine their real structure.

Three other distinct differences are made clear in George’s most recent book. First, small groups are defined by size rather than components. For example, George says, “Cells include Sunday-School classes, ministry teams, outreach teams, worship-production teams, sports teams, recovery groups, and more . . . any time sixteen or fewer people meet together, you have a small-group meeting” (1994:69-70). He redefines the Sunday School, as an “on premises” cell system (1994:284). Second, cell ministry should be introduced unobtrusively in the church. According to George, it is not wise to tell the board when you introduce the cell ministry (1994:259). Third, in his earlier work he recommended a bimonthly leadership gathering (1994:135-145), but now George says that it is possible not to have this meeting, if the basic structures and principles exist somewhere else in the church (1994:203).

Characteristics of the Meta Model Adopted by Other Churches

Whether or not George has clearly defined his Meta model remains to be seen. To understand the Meta model, I have found it more helpful to analyze the churches that are using this model. After doing case studies of all five of the Meta churches listed in Table 2, I was able to discern various patterns among them (note 20). The following are the various characteristics that I discovered.

Church Statistics
Willow Creek Community Church Sunday a.m. attendance: 16,000
Saddleback Community Church (note 21) Sunday a.m. attendance: 11,000
New Hope Community Church (note 22) Sunday a.m. attendance: 4,000
Cincinnati Vineyard Sunday a.m. attendance: 3,500
Fairhaven Alliance Church Sunday a.m. attendance: 1,500
Variety of Groups

The five Meta churches that I studied had a wide variety of small groups. I observed such groups as drama groups, lawn mowing groups, parking lot attendant groups, cancer groups, sports groups, and Vietnam Veteran groups. Normally the various groups can be categorized into specific types or purposes, although certain Meta models are so varied that they are hard to classify (note 23). David Tan is correct when he states,

For the Meta-Church any type of groups within the church constitute the cells. All these groups may have different agendas and purposes. The main principle is to involve as many members as possible in groups. Since . . . the agenda of every group cannot be identical, the goal of the Meta-Church is accommodation (1994:18).

Three common types of groups that most frequently surface in the Meta churches are task groups (focus: a particular ministry), fellowship groups (focus: personal care), and discipleship groups (focus: spiritual growth).

The emphasis on variety also extends to the life of the groups. Some groups continue indefinitely while other groups may only last a few weeks. Again, it depends on the purpose of the group or the vision of the leader.


As I have talked to the leadership in these Meta churches, one essential value that continued to surface was the flexibility of their system. Freedom of choice is highly esteemed and emphasized. The top leadership is careful not to assert too much pressure. This flexibility can be seen in at least three major areas.

Study Material

The leaders are free to choose their own material. Saddleback Community Church gives each leader complete freedom, while Willow Creek Community Church only requires that the leaders obtain their material from the Willow Creek bookstore.

Group Meetings

Meetings can be held any day of the week at any location. I noted that at Willow Creek Community Church many of the small groups met in the church, and oftentimes the group meeting would be scheduled 1 1/ 2 hours before the normal service (note 24).

Multiplication of the Groups

Multiplication seems to be a desired ideal in the Meta system, but it is not enforced. Again, the strong emphasis on freedom of choice precludes any type of pressure for the groups to multiply. One staff person at Saddleback Church told me that several groups have been meeting as long as the church has been in existence.

Leadership Training

All of the churches using the Meta model feature some kind of ongoing leadership training, but there is a great degree of flexibility. Willow Creek Community Church tried to gather the coaches (leaders of five small group leaders) every month. The Cincinnati Vineyard and Fairhaven Alliance Church held monthly leadership meetings, although they found it very difficult to train such a wide variety of small group leadership.

Jethro Model

All five of these churches exercised administrative control over their small groups through the Jethro structure. How many times must the upper leadership visit those under them? Again, flexibility was the key element. At Saddleback Community Church the district lay pastors are encouraged to visit the cell leaders every quarter.

Variety of Additional Church Programs

Meta churches have a variety of additional church programs (note 25). There does not seem to be any conflict between these additional church programs and the small groups (note 26). Four of the five churches intentionally utilized their Sunday morning worship as “seeker sensitive” services with the goal of reaching more non-Christians.

Comparison of the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model

Admittedly, there is overlap between these two models. Some churches using the Meta model embrace many Pure Cell model principles, and other churches who might see themselves in the Pure Cell model category embrace many of the Meta principles (note 27). Both models place a high priority on small group ministry, find support in the ministry of David Yonggi Cho, use the Jethro system to care for each leader, and normally practice some degree of evangelism and discipleship within the small group.

At the same time there are some key differences. First, the Pure Cell model gives a higher priority to the cell than the Meta model. Second, the Meta model promotes small group variety as compared to small group similarity (Pure Cell model). Third, the small group in the Meta model is more nurture/pastoral oriented, while the small group in the Pure Cell model is more evangelistic. Finally, there is far more administrative control in the Pure Cell model than the Meta model. Table 3 represents the major differences between the Meta model and the Pure Cell model.

(Adapted from Egli 1993 along with personal observations)
  • Any type of group acceptable
  • The cell group is similar in purpose, vision, and format
  • No conflict between the small groups and church programs
  • Small groups are seen as another program
  • Cell groups are key program of the church
  • Other programs generally resisted in order to prioritize the cell ministry
  • Could possibly delegate this ministry to an associate pastor
  • Must be at the very center of the cell ministry
  • Very loose and flexible with some light control
  • Strongly organized, directed to ensure quality control
  • Strong nurture focus in small groups with some evangelism
  • Multiplication a desired option for the small groups
  • Strong evangelism focus with nurture as well
  • Multiplication strongly encouraged and promoted
  • Some kind of ongoing training, although flexible and loosely organized
  • Leaders on pastoral team oversee specific ministries
  • Closely monitored, required ongoing training
  • Leaders on pastoral team oversee small groups in some manner
  • Leaders free to choose
  • Material chosen for leaders and normally based on head pastor’s message

Other Small Group Movements in the United States

I will deal with these three movements under the same category because all three of these movements primarily focus on the small group itself (small group dynamics and content) as opposed to cell-based strategy within the church (note 28). These models are primarily having an impact within North America.

The Serendipity Model

The founder of this approach is Lyman Coleman, who has been a small group leader for four decades. Lyman Coleman is founder both of Serendipity Publishing House as well as a popular small group seminar. He is truly an expert on small group dynamics and small group cycles. The variety of books that his publishing house has produced have greatly influenced the small group movement in North America.

Describing his small group approach, he says, “The heart of the Serendipity model is the broken people at the door . . . the intention is to create a small group system where people outside the church can find a place of entry and be transformed” (1993:19). Perhaps this model is best understood by the characteristics that distinguish it from other models.

First, there is a definite beginning and end to each small group. Although his earlier model consisted of a shorter length for each group, now Coleman promotes a one-year group cycle. He says, “The end is marked by a period of releasing where everyone responds to his new calling” (1993:21). Second, there is a democracy of options. People can be in a group whether or not they are members of the church or even attend the worship services. Coleman believes that this is distinct from David Cho’s model (1993:21). Third, the Serendipity model promotes a wide variety of small groups. He says, “This model can also include traditional Sunday school, where people who are already involved can find a place for sharing and caring” (1993:21). Finally, it is a collegiate system of small groups. Coleman’s approach is similar to the old Sunday School system where there was a definite departure from one class and entrance into another class (Coleman 1993:21).

The Covenant Model

The main spokesperson today for this model is Roberta Hestenes (1983) (note 29) Her definition for this model is, “. . . an intentional face-to-face gathering of 3 to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the possibilities of the abundant life in Christ” (Coleman 1993:5). From this definition it is obvious that these groups are primarily directed to committed believers. One of the major goals of this model is to create long term community. There is a need for strong commitment and a high level of accountability (Coleman 1993:7). The word “Covenant” in this model refers to the commitments or promises that were established in the Old Testament between God and His people. One major focal point of this model is that the group makes a commitment (covenant) to fulfill particular goals, purposes, study topics, ground rules, and logistical details (Coleman 1993:5). Neither evangelism nor group multiplication is a high priority in this system (note 30).

The Small Group Resurgence

Robert Wuthnow and George Gallup, Jr. have been instrumental in researching the resurgence of small groups across the United States. They estimate that 75 million out of the estimated 200 million adults in the United States participate in a small group (Wuthnow 1994:370). These small groups include both church groups (e.g., Bible studies, Sunday School, cell groups) as well as non-church groups (e.g., support groups, recovery groups). One out of six of those 75 million people are new members of the small group movement, thus disclosing that, at least in the United States, the small group movement is alive and growing (Wuthnow 1994:371).

Lyle Schaller has taken note of the explosion of small group interest in the U.S. After listing twenty new innovations in the modern American church scene Schaller says, “. . . perhaps most important of all, is the decision by tens of millions of teenagers and adults to place a high personal priority on weekly participation in serious, in-depth, lay-led, and continuing Bible study and prayer groups” (1995:14).


The bulk of this chapter has focused on two major models today–the Pure Cell model and the Meta model. Both of these models stress the virtues of small group ministry in the church today. However, the Meta model is an adaptation of cell principles for the North American church while the Pure Cell model has a world-wide following.

This chapter pointed out that the Pure Cell model is an all-encompassing system of pastoral care, church administration, evangelism, and leadership training. On the other hand, the Meta model tends to emphasize variety and flexibility. In the Meta model, the seeker-sensitive church service is often the major tool of evangelistic outreach. Small groups are primarily the means to care for those who have already come to Christ through the church services; whereas cells in the Pure Cell model are primarily evangelistic. Although the Serendipity model, the Covenant model, and the small group resurgence have not been the focus of this study, they are having a significant impact on the church in North America and therefore aid in our understanding of present day small group ministry.


  1. La Misión Carismática is in the process of pioneering a new style of cell-based ministry. I will describe their system more fully in Chapter 7.
  2. One such example is Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore, founded by Pastor Lawrence Khong. The church started in 1986 with 600 people. On May 1, 1988, with the help of Ralph Neighbour, the church totally restructured itself to become a full-fledged cell church (Tan 1994:8). Today, the 7,000 to 8,000 people who attend this church are personally pastored by the 500 active cell groups. Khong’s church has so successfully modeled the cell-based philosophy of ministry that some 6,000 people now attend their yearly cell seminar.
  3. I am referring to César Castellanos, founding pastor of La Misión Carismática Internacional, in Bogota, Colombia, and Sergio Solórzano, founding pastor of La Misión Cristiana Elim, in San Salvador, El Salvador.
  4. In George’s Prepare Your Church For The Future, Cho or Cho’s church appears on thirteen pages. In his most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution, Cho is mentioned on nine pages. A similar pattern appears in Neighbour’s book, Where Do We Go From Here, and Galloway’s book, 20/20 Vision.
  5. This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the worlds’ fifty largest churches claims that there are 320,000 people attending Cho’s church each week with an additional 280,000 meeting in satellite locations. However, Karen Hurtson’s recent case study analysis declares that there are 720,000 members at the Yoido Full Gospel Church (1995:17).
  6. During his 1984 church growth lectures at Fuller Seminary, Cho often mentioned that the cell group ministry has been the key to the amazing growth that they have experienced.
  7. On April 14, 1996 John Vaughn sent me a fax that listed the fifty largest churches in the world. I noticed that a large proportion of those churches were cell-based churches–mainly from Korea. It was only a few months later that Jim Egli of Touch Ministries confirmed to me that twenty-four of the world’s fifty largest churches are cell-based and primarily from Korea.
  8. There was a common complaint that I heard in Latin America. The cell pastors with whom I talked were inspired by Cho, but they lacked concrete instruction from Cho concerning how to run a cell ministry.
  9. In the Pure Cell model, all these are necessary to comprise a cell. For instance, Larry Stockstill , of Bethany World Prayer Center, stopped referring to his worship team meeting as a cell group because they were not able to effectively evangelize non-Christians.
  10. For example, at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana, each group is given a small white board. Names of unsaved friends and family members are written on the board, so that the entire group can pray until the person receives Christ and joins the cell group.
  11. Although this characteristic was true in all of my case study churches, there were differences in how the cells reproduced (members planting cells from scratch versus the mother-daughter method)
  12. This information comes from a personal conversation that I had with Ralph Neighbour in May, 1996. I do know that Neighbour works closely with this church.
  13. Three out of the five cell-based case study churches in Latin America required weekly reports while the other two required monthly reports.
  14. After Donald McGavran visited Cho’s church in 1976, he called it “the best organized church in the world” (Hurston 1995:192). I heard Cho say in 1984 that even when he is in the United States, he can locate every person in his 500,000 member church through the cell system (Church Growth Lectures at Fuller Seminary, 1984).
  15. Neighbour points out that this aspect is common to all of the cell churches (1990:73-80).
  16. Dale Galloway says it well, “The most important job of the pastor and the pastoral staff is leadership development, training lay leaders who will build small groups. Leadership development is essential, and it must be top priority. It cannot be left to chance” (1995:118). George adds, “Since the whole system depends on trained leaders being available, the number of groups cannot grow if you are not multiplying the number of Xs”[cell leader] (1994:61).
  17. For example, at Bethany World Prayer Center there is a children’s Sunday School, worship team ministry, Saturday morning prayer meeting, youth ministry, and college and career ministry. At the same time, Bethany talks about “getting rid of all programs”.
  18. Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center demonstrates his leadership commitment to the cell model in three areas: First, he personally prepared the lessons for the leaders; second, he speaks to the cell leaders every Wednesday evening; third, he visits a different cell group every week; fourth, he often includes his weekly cell experiences in his Sunday morning sermon.
  19. When I spoke with Dale Galloway at one of his seminars in October 1995, he told me that George’s book, Prepare Your Church For The Future, was a description of the small group ministry at New Hope Community Church. I have come to agree with Dale Galloway’s conclusions.
  20. I visited two of the five case study churches (Fairhaven Alliance and Cincinnati Vineyard). For Saddleback, Willowcreek, and New Hope Community Church, I made extensive phone calls, read their literature, and conducted interviews with those associated with the church.
  21. Saddleback Community Church was the first to try the Meta model. At this time, they do not officially embrace it. However, their small group system is very similar to the Meta Model.
  22. Some people believe that New Hope Community is an advocate of the Cho model in the U.S (Coleman 1993:19). However, it appears that the small group ministry at New Hope Community Church began to diversify and change. Now, I believe it is more accurate to describe the New Hope Community Church as the first prototype Meta model of small group ministry. This statement is based on three main factors: First, Carl George used this church as the primary U.S. case study before he wrote the book, Prepare Your Church for the Future; second, George’s Meta model follows the structure of New Hope Community Church very closely; third, Galloway has been promoting Meta principles through his small group seminars for the past fifteen years (Galloway identifies his system with the Meta model).
  23. Cincinnati Vineyard is one of those. They list any and every conceivable small group on their bulletin boards.
  24. The “service” might be an usher’s planning meeting, a prayer meeting, or the Wednesday night believer’s meeting.
  25. New Hope Community Church might be an exception here. Until Dale Galloway left the church in 1995, the primary focus of the church was its small groups. However, since the departure of Dale Galloway, the church seems to be in transition.
  26. In fact, oftentimes in the Meta model there is simply a redefinition of the word program in order to include the small groups. For example, instead of calling it Children’s Sunday School, it is now labeled Small Groups For Children. Instead of the music program, there are now musical small groups. One of the dangers of such a system is that the life and vision of the small group often becomes lost in the process. This danger becomes particularly acute as these Meta Churches tend to be more “temple” focused than “small group” focused. The primary event centers around the weekend services. Not surprisingly, oftentimes the small groups in the Meta system exist to support the temple program. The very atmosphere of programmed, busy ministry can easily swallow up the life in these groups .
  27. In another tutorial I developed a third model called the pragmatic or church growth approach. This approach embraces much of the Pure Cell approach but rejects the exclusivity of Neighbour and even allows various programs to exist.
  28. I use the term “movement” and “model” interchangeably due to the fact that the word “model” best describes the Serendipity and Covenant approaches, while the word “movement” best refers to the small group resurgence in the United States.
  29. She has become very well known for her expertise in small group ministry in general and in particular for being the spokesperson for this model. She received her D.Min. from Fuller Seminary and was also a professor there. She also served as president of Eastern Seminary.
  30. Coleman observes, “Unchurched, non-Christians would not be interested in this type of group. There is no mechanism built into the system for the Covenant groups to multiply, or to close with honor. Frequently, Covenant groups will last until they die a horrible death” (1993:7).