By Joel Comiskey
A Ph.D. Tutorial
Presented to Dr. Peace
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Philosophy In Intercultural Studies
The School of World Mission
FULLER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
- How the Tutorial Fits into the Dissertation
- Problem Statement
- Research Questions
- Cell Group
- Church-based Cells
- Open Cells Versus Closed Cells
- Cell Group Multiplication
- Cell-Based Church
- Church Growth
CHAPTER 2 THE VARIOUS APPROACHES TO SMALL GROUP MINISTRY 9
- The Small Group Movement
- Variety of Models Within the Church
- Covenant Model
- Serendipity Model
- Meta Model
- Cho Model
- Church Growth Model
CHAPTER 3 CHURCH GROWTH AND CELL GROUP MINISTRY
- The Movement’s Founder, Donald McGavran
- The Concept Defined
- The Priority Of Evangelism
- The Central Role Of The Church In The Plan Of God
- It Is The Will Of God That The Church Grows
- The Homogeneous Unit Principle
- Church Growth and Cell-Based Ministry
- Examples Of This Growth In The Cell Church Today
- The Cost of Church Growth
- Cell Groups and the Homogeneous Unit Principle
CHAPTER 4 CELL GROUP EVANGELISM
- Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing
- Life Style Evangelism
- Evangelism Through Edification
- Evangelism Through Friendship
- Evangelism Through Honest Transparency
- Evangelism that Creates Natural Links to the Church
- Aggressive Evangelism
- The Urgency of Our Task
- Practical Suggestions
CHAPTER 5 THE GOAL OF CELL EVANGELISM: MULTIPLICATION
- Multiplication Maintains the Intimacy
- Length of Time Before Multiplication
- The Theme: Born to Multiply
- The Process of Multiplication
- Problems and Pain
- The Rapid Releasing of Leadership
- The Training of New Leaders
- The Covenant Model
- The Serendipity Model
- The Meta Model
- The Cho Model
- The Church Growth Model
- Practical Suggestions
- Vision Casting
- Promotion Before the Congregation
- Proper Terminology
- Goal Setting
- Knowledge of the Multiplication Process
- Ways to Give Birth
- Special Considerations of the Birth Process………..
CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION
Chapter 1: Introduction
This tutorial is primarily about evangelism. I’m referring to the winning of lost men and women to Jesus Christ. However, it is my conviction that simply winning people to Jesus Christ is not enough. There is more. The evangelism that will be espoused in this tutorial is firmly rooted and grounded in the church of Jesus Christ. It’s my belief that men and women are only truly evangelized when they also become responsible members of the church (church growth).
I believe that God wants His church to grow. Church growth is His will. It is this conviction that has led me to research cell-based churches. Throughout this tutorial, I will be describing characteristics of cell-based churches. However if there is one distinguishing characteristic about cell-based churches, it is that they are growing churches (note 1).
Because of this amazing growth in the cell-church today, this tutorial will be dedicated to analyzing how the cell structure can contribute to that growth through evangelistic activity and cell multiplication.
How the Tutorial Fits into the Dissertation
Each of my tutorials will examine some aspect of cell-based ministry. This tutorial will analyze the cell model from an evangelistic perspective. My other five tutorials will explore cell-based ministry from a theological, historical, anthropological, strategic, and leadership perspective.
Only my tutorials on the theological perspectives and the historical perspectives of cell ministry will actually serve as chapters in my dissertation. The remaining chapters are focused on my case study churches. However, one of my key research questions is focused on discovering how the cell groups are effectively evangelizing. Therefore, this tutorial will provide valuable background material.
The purpose of this tutorial is to discover principles concerning how cell-based ministry contributes to the growth of the church. Not all small group ministries actually contribute to the growth of the church. In this tutorial, I hope to isolate some key principles that cell group ministries are utilizing to both evangelize and disciple more effectively.
I have three major goals for this tutorial:
- Analyze the various small group ministries today.
- Set forth a brief summary of the church growth movement
- Explore how cell groups effectively evangelize and contribute to church growth, specifically through the emphasis on cell multiplication.
The central research issue of this dissertation is an analysis of the contribution of cell-based ministry as a positive factor for church growth in selected growing churches in Latin America.
- What have been the patterns of church growth that these churches have experienced before and after the implementation of a cell-based ministry?
- How have these churches utilized their cell-based methodology as a tool for church growth?
- What have been the patterns that characterize effective cell leadership in these churches?
- How have the cultural distinctives of these churches affected their cell-based ministry?
- I can see several delimitations in this tutorial:
- This tutorial will not analyze in an in depth manner the great variety of the small group movement today. For example, in this tutorial, I will not even mention the house church movement which is gaining rapid momentum. Rather, my purpose in this tutorial is to summarize some of the key small group approaches that are being used in the church today.
- Many books have been written about the church growth movement. These books go into great detail about this movement’s principles and practices. In this tutorial, I will only sketch the basic foundational concepts behind the church growth movement.
- An attempt will be made in this tutorial to determine why cell groups multiply. From my initial research, it appears that this concept is central in understanding how cell-based ministry contributes to church growth. For this tutorial, my information about cell multiplication will primarily come from the library as well as reflection upon my own personal experience in cell ministry (founder and director of the cell ministry for three years in Ecuador). My actual field research will be several months down the road, and then I will be empirically trying to collect data on this subject. Because of my lack of present empirical data, my authority on this topic will be limited at this time.
Before I begin this tutorial, it is important that I define some specific terms. Although these terms are common, they offer a wide variety of meaning, depending on who is using them. Therefore, it is important to set forth my understanding of these terms.
I often interchange the term cell group with small group. I do so because in one sense, cell groups are small groups. However, I believe that there is also a danger in doing so because my definition of cell groups really refers to a particular type of small group. In a nutshell, the small group that I’m defining in this tutorial is one that is squarely based within the church. Here’s a sample definition:
Cell groups, as they are used in this paper, are small groups of people (between 5-15) which are intimately linked to the life of the church (Acts 2:46). These groups meet for the purpose of spiritual edification which overflows in the form of evangelistic outreach. Those in the cell groups are committed to participate in the functions of the local church and when new people outside the church are added to the group, they too are encouraged to become responsible, baptized members of Christ’s body. The cell group is never seen as an isolated gathering of believers who have replaced the role of the local church.
I believe that it will be helpful to examine several part of my definition.
My definition makes it clear that I’m referring to church based small groups. They are not isolated units. Rather, they are intimately linked to the life of the church. 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).
I reiterate this point because of the growing ‘house church movement’ that is expanding rapidly throughout the world and especially in such places as China, England, and Australia. Dr. Ralph Neighbour’s makes a helpful distinction here,
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 (Neighbour 1990:193).
Open Cells Versus Closed Cells
Another important part of my definition is that cell groups should be reaching out both to Christians and non-Christians. For the most part (there will be exceptions to this generalization), I will be investigating ‘open cell groups’ as opposed to ‘closed cell groups’. There are some churches that use cell groups exclusively for discipleship. It’s a system of closed cell groups (Price & Springle 1992: 46,47). The goal of these groups is spiritual growth with little reference to evangelistic outreach of the church (Hull 1988: 225-250).
However, my concept of cell groups includes both believers as well as unbelievers, since the group must be constantly evangelizing. This point is made quite dogmatically by Carl George,
Show me a nurturing group not regularly open to new life, and I will guarantee that it´s dying. If cells are units of redemption, then no one can button up the lifeboats and hang out a sign, ‘You can´t come in here.’ The notion of group members shutting themselves off in order to accomplish discipleship is a scourge that will destroy any church´s missionary mandate (George 1991:99).
Although ‘outreach’ will be one important distinguishing feature of the cell groups that I will be studying, the edification of believers is also a central concern. Since these cell groups are church based, it’s expected that believers will comprise a majority of the cell group. Therefore, these groups are ‘open’ for non-believers, but primarily populated by believers. In fact, in the cell-based churches that I will be studying, one prerequisite is that sixty percent or more of those who attend the church, also regularly attend a cell group.
Cell Group Multiplication
Cell group multiplication refers to the creation of a new cell group from an existing one. This multiplication takes place when the regular attendance in the cell group reaches an agreed upon size.
Those churches will be considered cell-based if at least 60% of the regular attendees are also involved in a church related small group which regularly meets for the purpose of edification and evangelism. The cell group ministry is not considered to be just another program in the church but are viewed to be the very heart of the church.
The more simple definition given by C. Peter Wagner will be used, “All that is involved in bringing men and women who do not have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ into fellowship with him and into responsible church membership” (1984:14).
Chapter 2: The Various Approaches to Small Group Ministry
As I mentioned in the introduction, I do not hope to be exhaustive in my treatment of small group ministries today. For example, I will not even mention the growing house church movement nor the famous base communities of Latin America. The models that I do treat will not be analyzed in depth. I will spend be spending more time with those models that are church based and have a proven track record for contributing to church growth (note 2).
The Small Group Movement
In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 75 million out of the estimated 200 million adults are in a small group (Wuthnow 1994:370). One out of six of those 75 million people are new members of the small group movement, thus disclosing, that at least in the U.S., the small group movement is alive and growing (Wuthnow 1994:371). After listing twenty new innovations in the modern U.S. church scene Schaller says, “…perhaps most important of all, 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). William Beckham wrote the book The Second Reformation to express forcefully his conviction that the church is the midst of a new small group revolution (1995:66,67).
The small group movement can be seen in the proliferation of books on the subject. Many Christian authors, seeing the positive potential of small groups for Christian growth and discipleship, have produced a multitude of literature which extols the virtues of small groups in general. Two Christian organizations, Serendipity and Navigators, are known for their numerous books and study guides on small group ministry. Several examples that I have come across include: Kunz (1974), Johnson (1985), McBride (1990), and Price and Springle (1991). The list could go on and on. Most of this type of literature applies equally to small groups in the church and outside the church.
Various Models Within the Church
Even if I was to focus on small group ministries that are connected with the church, it would go far beyond the range of this paper. For example, Hadaway, Wright and DuBose refer to the home Bible study, the home fellowship group, base-satellite units, the house church, and finally the home cell group (1987:12-20).
Actually, in this paper I will focus on their last category—the home cell group. It is this latter definition that is more in accord with my overall thrust in this paper. These authors say,
Home cell groups are…controlled and organized by the host church. This is the model coming out of Korea where a congregation is divided into small groups which meet in the home during he week for prayer, singing, sharing, Bible study, and other activities (1987:13).
Their definition places the focal point on the church and not on the cell. The other types of small groups, according to these authors, are viewed as connected to the church, but in a more independent way (1987: 11-14).
I will now point out some of the popular models that are used today in the church. I will attempt to define these models and then give my critique of them. My critique will not primarily deal with each model from a church growth perspective. In other words, does the model contribute to church growth both qualitatively and quantitatively?
The main spokeswomen today for this model is Roberta Hestenes (note 3). Her definition for this model is the following: “A Christian group 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 1993:4:5)
From the definition it is obvious that this type of group is directed toward 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 1993:4:7). 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: 4:5)
Although strong on Christian responsibility and commitment, Coleman makes a wise observation, “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” (Coleman 1993: 4: 7).
Covenant groups have a high commitment level, and therefore they are very beneficial for spiritual growth. However, due to the lack of cell multiplication and their closed system, his model is probably the least effective from a church growth standpoint.
The founder of this approach is Lyman Coleman, who has been a small group leader for some four decades (Coleman 1993: 4:17). Coleman was especially influenced by Sam Shoemaker, who the pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City. Sam believed that all of the people around his church were his parish. His church grew in her vision to reach out to the entire parish. This vision to reach out to all people has greatly influenced Lyman Coleman (Coleman 1993: 4:17). 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” (Coleman 1993:4:19).
He illustrates his approach by using a baseball diamond. To experience true koinonia, the group must reach all four bases. Lyman explains the base levels in this manner, “First base is telling the story of your spiritual past. Second base is sharing your current situation, and affirming the other members of the group. Third base is goal—setting. After a group has completed this process together, real community can be experienced” (Coleman 1993 4:19). Each base represents a higher level of group maturity. The time frame to complete all four bases is one year (Coleman 1993: 4:19).
Perhaps this best understood by the characteristics that distinguish it from other models:
- There is a definite beginning and end
- Although his earlier models consisted of shorter time period groups, now Lyman Coleman suggest a one year time period. He says, “The end is marked by a period of releasing where everyone responds to his new calling” (Coleman 1993: 4:21)
- 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 a distinct from Paul Cho’s model (1993 4:21).
- Integrated model
- This differs from a model which places small groups as only an appendage to the other programs in the church. There is a place for all kinds of groups in the church. “This model can also include traditional Sunday school, where people who are already involved can find a place for sharing and caring” (1993: 4:21)
- Collegiate system
- This 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: 4:21). “This model has a two-semester structure, with kick offs twice a year and closure at the end of each semester. There is also a graduation/celebration at the end of the year” (Coleman 1993: 2:21).
Dr. Coleman is truly an expert on small groups. In my opinion, his knowledge of how small groups function is second to none. The many books that his publishing has produced have also had a powerful impact on the small group movement in America.
However, I felt that his small group model in the church was weak in several key areas. First, although cell group multiplication is mentioned as a possibility (or one option) in his model, it’s not given a high priority. In fact, when critiquing the Meta Model, Coleman points out its over commitment to cell multiplication. He mentions that such rapid multiplication interrupts the group building process by ‘splitting cells to create new cells’ (1993: 4:13).
Second, it seems that the bulk of Coleman’s teaching concerns he quality of the small group life, wherever that small group might be (inside or outside the church) or whatever that small group might do (the variety of small groups that he promotes are dizzying). In other words, my general impression is that his model is not sufficiently centered in the church. It s not a church growth model. The emphasis is more small group rather than church growth. After reading through two of Lyman Coleman’s most recent manuals on small group ministry in the church (note 4) , I sought in vain for any reference to church growth, or more specifically, how his model will more effectively win souls to Christ and integrate them into the church.
Third, I have my doubts about Coleman’s use of the collegiate system. From my knowledge of the large cell-based churches today, I’m not aware of any who use Coleman’s collegiate system of graduation (note 5). This approach seems very programatic and Sunday School oriented.
Fourth, I question his approach to small group diversity. He seems to infer that anything that is small and a group is a functioning small group (note 6). It has been my observation that a cell group must have certain marks (elements, characteristics) in order to be called one. In Ecuador, we never labeled our Sunday School as cell groups because there was a totally different purpose for those groups, namely Christian education.
My argument here might appear to be trivial or a matter of terminology. However, from the standpoint of promoting the cell group vision in the church, I believe that this is a very important point. For example, in Ecuador, our head pastor strongly insisted every week, that everyone attend a weekly cell group, so that they might receive personal care and might be able to reach their neighbors. What the people did not receive in the main worship service, we knew that they could receive through the pastoral care in the small groups. We also knew that the cell groups in the church would be open to receive the people that heard that announcement on Sunday morning.
Yet, how could those people receive this type of care by joining a ‘sports team’ which meets for a season, or by attending a ‘Sunday School class’ which meets for a semester and studies a academic subject, or by being on a ‘committee’ which might meet for a month. It’s not that such gatherings are not important, it’s simply that they do not fulfill the purposes of a cell group. By joining such a group, the person would not truly be pastored and in many cases the person would not be comfortable in inviting his or her friend. As pastors, we could not truly be assured that God’s purposes were being fulfilled in the life of our members. By calling all small gatherings ‘cell groups’ or ‘small groups’ there is a certain confusion that is created (note 7). In summary, I believe that the focus needs to be on the elements that make up a small group and not the fact that it is a gathering and it is small (note 8).
The Meta model was pioneered by Carl George. It is his attempt to adapt cell group principles and church growth found in the third world to a North American context (Coleman 1993:4:12). Some of the key features of this model is the Jethro system which utilizes the teaching of Jethro to Moses to decentralize (Exodus 18), so that everyone would receive the proper care (Coleman 1993:13). According to Coleman, “The main function of groups in the Meta model is multiplication…the entire purpose of small groups in the Meta model is church growth” (note 9) (1993:13). Coleman believes that the restructuring of the church organization and the rapid multiplication of cell groups is a weakness in this system (1993:13).
In George’s book, 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. In that book, George gives new, fresh terminology to cell-based design. He sets forth a clear model of cell ministry in the church (note 10). His overriding emphasis throughout the book is the cell group which emphasizes both pastoral care and evangelism, although in one chapter he does mention that other types of small groups exist in the church (1992:97-106). There is no doubt that in this book, George seems to be setting forth a new model for the cell-based church.
However, in his most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution , George redefines his so-called Meta model. He says,
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 mission (George 1994: 279,280).
In other words, instead of promoting a model, George is saying that he is simply providing the church with a way of discerning their small group involvement and how (or if) they are moving toward a purer cell group approach (note 11).
CRITIQUE: Carl George’s first book, Prepare Your Church for the Future was truly revolutionary. George was able to capture like no one else the powerful potential of a cell-based ministry. He was also extremely insightful in making that model palatable to the North American Church. For me, it was highly significant that one of the premier church growth consultants had arrived at the conclusion that cell-based ministry was the wave of the future and the best way to manage a church (note 12). Personally, out of all of the small group literature, George’s t book has had the most profound effect on my ministry.
However, in his latest book, The Coming Church Revolution, George spends most of the time describing his Meta Globe way of thinking (note 13) and attempts to categorize all groups in the church within certain boundaries. In my opinion, the concept is confusing, (note 14) and he often seems to force programs and ministries into categories that don’t necessarily fit. In the end, George’s new model (or perhaps the real model that didn’t appear in his first book) appears much like the Serendipity model. For example, he 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 goes on to redefine the Sunday School, “The phrase cell groups refers to an encompassing care system that includes Sunday School. A Sunday school is simply a centralized, on premises cell system. Churches should have as many Sunday schools as they can afford (1994: 284).
After reading his latest book, I felt like much of the revolution had been stripped away from George’s philosophy (or the philosophy that I thought he was promoting in Prepare Your Church for the Future). For example, George recommends that the cell ministry be introduced quietly into the church. It’s not even wise to tell the board when you introduce the cell ministry (1994:259). That doesn’t seem very revolutionary to me!
In contrast to his strict emphasis on cell leadership training (the VHS) in his early work (1992:135-145), now George says that it’s possible not to even have a regular VHS, if the basic structures and principles exists somewhere else in your church (1994:203).
It’s very hard to critique the Meta Model because I’m not sure what it is anymore. Carl George has not clearly defined himself. It seems like he ‘switched gears’ from his first book on cell ministry to his second. Perhaps, the lack of clarity in George’s writing has something to do with the fact that George does not write his own books (note 15) I have found that the very writing process helps one to think more logically and adds clarity to one’s thinking.
The defining point of the Cho Model for Dr. Coleman is the fact that Cho uses his Sunday morning message as lesson material for he cell leaders (1993:4:9). Another distinguishing feature is the focus on church members. Dr. Coleman says, “Like the covenant model, the Cho model focuses on church members who are already involved” (1993:4:9).
This definition seems very simplistic and even misleading. Yes, Cho does use his Sunday morning message as lesson material for the cell leaders, but that fact hardly seems to be a major point in his system. And yes, all church members are encouraged to be involved in a cell group, but evangelism to non-believers is a major emphasis in this model.
From reading and studying Cho’s book Successful Home Cell Groups both in English and Spanish, I have identified several key principles of his system (note 16) :
- The cell meets for only one hour.
- Leadership is trained on a weekly basis
- The members of the cell are encouraged to meet the needs of other cell members in a practical way (take an offering , etc.)
- Outreach to non-Christians is based on the idea of finding a need and meeting it. In other words, the evangelism is ‘need oriented’ and not ‘programmed oriented’
- Groups are strongly encouraged to evangelize or they will die
- The leaders of the group must visit, follow-up, and generally pastor those who attend
- All leaders are encouraged to set specific goals for church growth
- The small groups are closely connected within the boundaries of the local church..
- The senior pastor is the key to a successful cell system
- Cell leaders are affirmed and complimented before the entire congregation
I have studied the Cho model more than any of the other models (note 17). Throughout this tutorial, I’ll be focusing on various aspects of this model, so I won’t go into more detail right here.
CRITIQUE: This model seems to be the most widely copied model in the worldwide cell church today. Cho’s hierarchical system of pastoral care (Hurtson 1995: 62-80) has been copied by many (e.g., George, Galloway, and Neighbour). His success at cell multiplication is esteemed by all. His cell system is also highly organized. After Dr. McGavran had visited the church, he called it ‘the best organized church in the world’ (Hurtson 1995:192). I heard Cho say in 1984 that even when he is in the U.S., he can locate every person in his 500,000 member church (now much larger) through of the cell system (note 18).
From a church growth perspective, this is the premier model. However, it has yet to be proven that Cho’s pure church model effectively works here in the states. Dale Galloway (1986) has been one of the chief proponents of the Cho model from a North American perspective. His church is based on a wide assortment of small groups (some 500). His most recent work (1995) summarizes his years of experience in cell-based ministry. At this present time, it is not certain that Galloway’s church will continue to model cell-based ministry in the United States. The church seems to have stagnated, and pastor Galloway has recently resigned.
From a philosophical level , the one who has written the most extensively on Cho’s model is Ralph Neighbour (1990). He also seems to have done the most research on cell-based churches, thus increasing the reliability of his studies. His writings are not only based on the careful study of cell ministry, but also on many years of personal experience. However, Neighbour is very dogmatic on the place of cell groups in the life of the church. Cells are the church. All other programs are looked upon with suspicion. He also seems to be quite dogmatic in his cell-based methodology and does not seem to allow for cultural variations.
I do not believe that it is necessary to reject all other programs in order to have a true cell church. Furthermore, since I will be examining cell-based ministry from a cultural as well as a church growth perspective, I will need to be open to a wider variety of cell-based methodology.
Church Growth Model
This model has not yet been established. More than anything, it mainly exists in my head. It is a model that I am creating as I study cell-based ministry worldwide and seek to relate it to Christ’s church. The reason I have felt compelled to create my own model is because my philosophy of cell-based ministry does not currently coincide with any of the existing models. Although I most closely agree with the Cho model, I do believe that Cho’s model must be adapted to meet the needs of each generation and each culture. Although I’m exceedingly grateful for the excellent material and insight that Ralph Neighbour has brought forth, I am not in agreement with his dogmatism and lack of flexibility.
Perhaps a few characteristics of my new model will suffice right now:
- It’s church growth oriented
- Cells are the servant of the church. If the cells do not help the church grow both in quantity and quality, it’s better not to use them.
- It’s pragmatic
- The question that is constantly asked is, What works? There need not be a slavish following of one cell model or system. If something else is working better, use it.
- It’s flexible
This is also related to my above pragmatism. My own manual is simply a compendium of principles and practices from a number of small group ministries. I feel like I have truly ‘spoiled the Egyptians’.
- Based on my manual
Overall, I come closer to the pure cell approach. However, unlike Neighbour I believe that there is a place for programs in the church today (note 19). Before George’s most recent book, I thought I was best classified by the book Prepare Your Church for the Future (note 20) However, I now recognize that I now must define my own system.
Chapter 3: Church Growth and Cell Group Ministry
I have several reasons for writing this chapter. First, I personally hold to a church growth philosophy (note 21). Second, my Ph.D. dissertation focuses on how cell-based churches contribute to church growth. Third, this tutorial actually includes church growth in the title description, and it will be the only tutorial in which I will cover this topic.
Therefore, in this tutorial I will only give a brief, cursory summary of what I believe are the main church growth tenants. My goal is to ultimately link cell group ministry to the philosophy of church growth.
The Movement’s Founder, Donald Mcgavran
After meticulously defining church growth, The North American Society for Church Growth added a noteworthy phrase, “…employing as the initial frame of reference, the foundational work done by Donald McGavran” ( Wagner, 1989: 50). Since the year 1955, McGavran has been the undisputed founder of the church growth movement. That was the year that Donald McGavran wrote his landmark book, The Bridges of God, thus giving birth to the movement. McGavran’s convictions were solidified by two pivotal events. First, the founding of an institution which ended up at Fuller (1960-65) and secondly, the writing of understanding Church Growth in 1970, the Magna Carta of the church growth movement (Rainer 1993:33-39).
The Concept Defined
Although church growth is complex and multi-faceted, there are certain basic foundational principles.
The Priority Of Evangelism
Church growth firmly places itself under the narrow definition of missions. McGavran boldly declares, “Among other characteristics of mission, therefore, the chief and irreplaceable one must be this: that mission is a divine finding, vast and continuous. The chief and irreplaceable purpose of mission is church growth” (McGavran 1990: 22).
However, some would argue that kingdom growth instead of church growth should be our major concern. Some have challenged the movement for being too church centered and not sufficiently kingdom centered. Ralph Elliot writes, “…the entire case for the church growth movement appears to be built upon a call to the church rather than upon a call to the kingdom of God…The emphasis is not on how easy but on how costly it is to enter the kingdom” (1982: 69). Eddie Gibbs, a church growth advocate, is quick to admit that Donald McGavran does not make clear the relationship between the church and the kingdom (Gibbs as quoted in Wagner 1982).
Wagner defends the movement by seeking to relate evangelism with the kingdom. As the church grows through evangelism, one will find kingdom growth. Wagner asserts,
“The major burden of the Church Growth Movement has been to assist new conversion growth, the kind of church growth that most nearly parallels true kingdom growth….If true kingdom preaching, by the power of the Holy Spirit, makes disciples who become responsible church members, then the growth of the church is very intimately connected with the growth of the kingdom of God”(1982: 10,11).
Although the gospel of the kingdom is primarily evangelistic it does not shun its social responsibility. Wagner would also agree (1989:16).
The Central Role Of The Church In The Plan Of God
The church growth school insists that the church is the means by which God disciples a lost world. Unless the new convert become a responsible member of a local church, evangelism is not complete. Peter Wagner writes,
“How, then, is a disciple to be recognized? Obviously, it is a person who has turned from an old way of life and acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior. But just a verbal affirmation of faith is not enough….There are many fruits that are borne in the life of a true Christian through the Holy Spirit. However, the fruit that the Church Growth Movement has selected as the validating criterion for discipleship is responsible church membership” (1984: 20-21).
The church growth movement teaches that , ‘seed sowing’, isn´t enough. Nor is mass crusade evangelism that registers many decisions. What pleases God most is when there is a harvest. How does one know if and when there´s a harvest? When the ‘seed sowing’ and the ‘decisions’ result in increased church attendance and membership. As Waldo Werning put it, “Our heavenly Father, who is not willing that one person should perish (2 Pet 3:9), is interested in results” (1977: 14).
It Is The Will Of God That The Church Grows
There are several passages in the Bible which manifest God´s will for an unsaved world. I Tim. 2:3-5 proclaims, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and man Christ Jesus,….” Peter´s declaration is similar, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).
These verses and others have persuaded the church growth movement to conclude that it is God´s will that the church grows. McGavran´s words are clear and direct as he recounted all the church growth writing of the previous fifteen years, “From beginning to end it assumed that quantitative growth of the church was God´s will and ought to be measured, depicted, discussed, and made the basis for evangelistic and missionary labors” (1990:271). If one believes that church growth is the will of God, he or she will do everything possible to see that it happens. Paul tells us that we are God´s fellow workers; we are God´s building (I Cor. 3:9).
In a very brief fashion, I have covered what I believe are the foundational principles of the church growth movement. There are many other principles which I could have mentioned. Perhaps, it will help understand the church growth movement better to underline one of its most controversial principles. This will also help critique the cell movement more effectively.
The Homogeneous Unit Principle
What is a homogenous unit? The Lausanne Committee defined it like this,
“A people is a sufficiently large sociological grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another” (Wagner 1989:IV-1).One only has to look out on the cultural landscape to see the vast grouping of like cultures in our world today. It is a fact of life that similar cultures group together. However, when McGavran made his famous statement, “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers,” (1990: 223), a flood of criticism issued. This concept has been the most criticized tenant of the church growth school of thought. Rainer writes,
“When Donald McGavran began to advocate that principle as a tenet of church growth, an avalanche of criticism and debate ensued. Cries of ‘racism,’ ‘narrow-mindedness,’ ‘exclusiveness,’ and ‘psychological manipulation’ were voiced as a reaction to the much-debated principle” (1993:254).
Why has there been so much conflict in this area? Partly because many believe that church growth advocates are promoting a subtle type of racism or that they’re ‘watering down’ the gospel. However, the very heart of this principle is summed by Rainer,
“First, rapid evangelization takes place best when people of a culture share their faith in Jesus Christ with others within their own culture. Second, Christians must not insist that a person abandon his or her culture in order to become a Christian. Such is the essence of the homogeneous unit principle” (1993:260,261)
Therefore, the homogeneous unit principle can be a helpful evangelistic tool, but never the goal of the Christian life.
Church Growth and Cell-Based Ministry
John Mallison who dedicated over 20 years of his life to small group ministry declares, “Where churches (in many countries) are growing in quality of Christian life and witness and in numbers, in almost every instance small groups are the heartbeat of that new life” (1989:xiii).
Examples Of This Growth In The Cell Church Today
One does not have look hard to notice this amazing growth. For example, 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. Due to this incredible growth, Cho has found it necessary to plant churches of 5,000 members (Neighbor 1990:24). Cho attributes the churches rapid growth to the cell group ministry.
When we think of aggressive evangelism and church growth in Korea, we usually think of Pastor Cho´s church. However, we must remember 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. Is Korea the only place where aggressive cell group evangelism is resulting in church growth? No. In 1975, pastor Dion Robert started a Baptist church in the Ivory Coast. By 1983 it had grown to 683 members. It was then that Pastor Dion decided to restructure his church around cell groups. In eight years the church grew to 23, 000 members (Neighbour 1990: 31).
I will be specifically studying cell-based churches in Latin America. One of those churches is located in Guayquil, Ecuador and is called El Centro Cristiano. When I visited that church in May, 1995, there were about 5,000 people in some 400 cell groups. Today, the church has some 10, 000 people in 1,000 cell groups. La iglesia Elim in El Salvador is another example of a cell-based church which now has a membership of 120,000 (note 22). Example after example could be given of exciting growth through the cell church in China, Australia, England, America, Latin America and around the world (Neighbour 1990: 23-37).
Perhaps it is because of this amazing growth that so many are turning to the cell church concept? One should take heed when a veteran church watcher like Elmer Towns says, “…the wave of the future is in body life through cell groups (Elmer Towns in George 1993: 136).”After years of analyzing and offering advice to the church, it´s significant also that a highly respected church growth counselor such as Carl George would write an entire book on reasons why the ‘cell based church model’ is a superior church growth model (1990) (note 23).
The Cost of Growth
First a word of warning is needed. The growth that many churches are experiencing is not automatic. In other words, having a cell group ministry in the local church will not magically transform the church. There is a price to pay. Werning hits the nail on the head when he states, “It is held that growth will result whenever a church believes growth is God´s will and they pray for it, plan for it, work toward it, and evaluate the results of carefully followed strategies” (Werning 1977:15). Although it is my conviction that cell ministry will aid in the churches’ growth, I also realize that the cell ministry is not a magical formula. There is no substitute for careful and well-laid plans.
Cell Groups and the Homogenous Unit Principle
The observations of many seem to indicate that cell groups do best when they are allowed to function as homogenous units. These natural cultural ties might be built upon friendship, sex, class, neighborhood, age, etc. For example, a very influential church in Lima, Perú was transformed into a cell based church by dividing her age based departments into cell groups (Navarro 1991). The young married, professionals, university students, older adult, etc. formed cells among themselves with marvelous results. Both the el Batán Church and the República Church in Quito, Ecuador have followed the same pattern with much success.
Why are the results better? Mainly because the homogeneous unit principle is a reality. People are more willing to invite their friends to a homogeneous group, and those same friends are more resolved to attend a group in which there are people of their own kind. Cell groups of this type naturally grow faster, and are soon ready to give birth to daughter groups.
The Bible based cell study also has more impact when the needs of the members are similar. For example, the young married all have similar concerns, as do the university students, professionals,
Chapter 4: Cell Group Evangelism
Evangelism is a primary function of the church as it relates to her call to disciple
the nations. When the first disciples received Christ’s last command, there were only a handful of believers. Therefore it is necessary to interpret the command of Christ to disciple the nations as a call to evangelism. Christ’s call to evangelism will not change, but the methods by which we evangelize must be based on relevance and effectiveness.
One new methodology that is being used in recent times is cell group evangelism. Yet, I use the word new in a relative sense. In reality, this method is as old as the Christian church. In fact, it appears that most of the evangelism in the primitive church took place through the home churches. Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose write,
“Another significant matter about evangelism in the New Testament is that much of it—if not most of the more enduring type—took place in the house churches. This was true not simply because the larger homes were able to accommodate the function. It was also true because proclamation took place as a result of the total witness of the interrelated functions of church life in the homes” (1987:66).
I believe that we can learn much from those early saints concerning how to effectively evangelize.
In this chapter, I would like to examine three major aspects of cell group evangelism. First, I will examine a new paradigm for understanding cell group evangelism that distinguishes it from the traditional one on one methodology. I’m referring to the difference between fishing with a hook and fishing with a net.
Second, I want to explore the concept of lifestyle evangelism in the cell group.
Referring to this type of evangelism, Jesus declares in John 17:23, “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is this love in action that is often the most effective means of outreach (Hadaway, Wright, DuBose 1987:91).
Finally, I will try to uncover the meaning of aggressive evangelism in cell group ministry. We know that every person on this earth is only granted a limited time to decide for Christ. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “…man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (9:27). This fact should jar us with a certain urgency. With this in mind, cell groups in the church must take on an active, aggressive role in reaching the unchurched around them.
Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing
What I’m referring to can be best 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. 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 for the guest, to the one who leads the discussion. Larry Stockstill 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 (note 24)
Likewise, Cho credits the growth of his 700,000+ church to his system of cell groups (note 25). 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 (Hurtson 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” (George 1995:94).
Commenting on Cho’s evangelistic method of net fishing, George says,
Cho is not talking about two ‘decision cards’ per group. Rather, his people win a person to the group, to the Lord, and then to the specific tenets of the faith. New people, without objecting to what is happening, are caught within the pastoral-care network of these groups…In short, Cho and others have discovered how to blend evangelism, assimilation, pastoral care, and leadership development within their small groups…” (1994:94).
Although one might not agree with everything that Paul Cho says and does, the fact that he has 700,000 people in his church should cause us who are interested in church growth to listen attentively. Effective evangelism and discipleship through cell groups is not only a possibility; it’s a reality.
Life Style Evangelism
Lifestyle evangelism in the small group is more relational than task oriented. It is not to say that this type of evangelism is not planned. Rather, life style evangelism is accomplished more through the development personal relationships that attract the non-Christians rather than pushing them.
Evangelism Through Christian Edification
According to Jesus, the church will win the world by demonstrating our unity and love for one another. According to Christ, there is a relationship between Christian edification and effective outreach. Christ summed up this truth in John 17:21, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
We have found that open sharing among believers is often the most effective evangelistic tool. It is cell group ministry, in contrast to the large congregational gathering, that provide these opportunities for the church to truly be the Body of Christ and the People of God. In the cell group, the church meets in a face to face encounter with each other. During this encounter there are many occasions when Christ’s love can be demonstrated both on a spiritual level (Heb. 10:25) as well as on a very practical level (I Jn. 3:17). When the world see the body of Christ in action, they are attracted and drawn to Jesus Christ.
The main objective, then, of the cell group is that each cell group member experience true koinonia fellowship (Neighbour 1992: 60-65) which results in the evangelization of those who don’t know Jesus Christ. Several veterans of the small group ministry team up to write,
And that is the purpose of all this—of caring for one another,…so that the world will know that Jesus Christ is Lord. That’s why the church exists in the first place. The ultimate goal of the small group is to expose people who don’t know Jesus Christ to His love. We have small groups so the world can see Christ fleshed out. It´s our way of taking Christ to the world” (Meir, Meir, Getz, Doran 1992:180).
Evangelism Through Friendship
This ‘life style’ evangelism in the small group often takes place through friendship. Frequently a non-Christian is hesitant to immediately enter the doors of a church. It’s much easier to first participate in a cell group in the warmth of a home. Dale Galloway writes, “Many people who will not attend a church because it is too threatening, will come to a home meeting” (1986:144). Later, these same non-Christians will enter the church by the side of a friend that they’ve met in the cell group.
Evangelism Through Honest Transparency
In a small group environment, it seems to be easier to treat the non-Christian as a person with real emotions and feelings. The gospel can be presented in a way that meets the needs of the new person (Mallison 1989:9). In fact, Dr. Peace wrote the book Small Group Evangelism because he believes that the small group is the ideal place to evangelize. He believes that it is in the small group a non-Christian can manifest deep, personal needs and find the healing touch of Christ. Dr. Peace writes,
…in a successful small group, love, acceptance and fellowship flow in unusual measure. This is the ideal situation in which to hear about the kingdom of God. In this context the ‘facts of the gospel’ come through not as cold proposition but as living truths visible in the lives of others. In such an atmosphere a person is irresistibly drawn to Christ by his gracious presence (1996:36).
It is in the small group atmosphere where the Christian witness oftentimes can more easily be presented in a transparent, natural way. Sadly, too many of our rigid methodologies of ‘doing evangelism’ only strengthens this impersonal wall between the Christian and the non-Christian. Instead of being honest, open, and transparent, we are more concerned about repeating our prepared text. Dr. Peace says, “…our failure to be honest is probably the greatest hindrance to easy and natural conversational witness (1996:27). It can be argued (as does Dr. Peace) that the small group provides the best atmosphere for honest, open communication and witness.
Evangelism that Creates Natural Links to the Church
In the cell group, not only are friendship made that lead to effective evangelism, those friendships are also kept after one receives Jesus Christ. It is those friendships that provide natural links to the church where the new person can either grow in the faith or find Jesus for the first time. George calls this type of evangelism, ‘side door evangelism’ verses ‘front door evangelism’ (1991:73-75). Logan explains this concept,
In the ideal church of the coming decades, what Ralph Neighbour calls the cell-group church and Carl George terms the metachurch, assimilation of the un-churched will occur through the side door—that is, through the unchurched person’s involvement in a church’s cell groups (invited by a neighbor, friend, or relative who is a member of both the church and the cell group)…(1989:66).
It can be argued that the very heart of evangelism is relational (Hadaway, Wright, DuBose 1987:81). This relational concept is the under girding principle behind the amazing success in Pastor Cho’s church. Hurtson writes, “After a leader has established a caring relationship with an unbeliever, he or she may invite the person to a cell meeting or church service” (1995:105). When one thinks that the effective evangelization and rapid growth of the early church mainly took place in the home, the wave of friendship evangelism through the cell group offers exciting potential.
I believe that numerical growth in the cell group must also be intentionally planned and aggressively pursued. The members must be encouraged to aggressively evangelize. The reality of a lost world on the edge of a Christless eternity should never be far from the minds of both the leaders and members of the cell group.
The Urgency of the Task
Some have labeled this type of concern ‘urgent evangelization’ (note 26). There are many places in the Bible where this type of urgency can be found. For example, in the parable of the wedding banquet the king told his servants to, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Mat. 22:9). Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel of Christ (I Cor. 9:16) because of the love of Christ which controlled him (II Cor. 5:14). He tells us that the knowledge that all men would stand before the judgment seat of Christ was another motivation for the persuasion of lost men (II Cor. 5:11). It was this same urgency that stirred him to say, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Rom. 10:14).
I acknowledge that not all churches use cell groups for the purpose of evangelism. Some groups are closed groups while others are equipped to support those with a particular type of need. On the other hand, my Ph.D. focuses on cell group ministry which has the dual purpose of both aggressive evangelism and warm, pastoral care. In this type of church, there is a planned strategy to evangelize non-Christians.
Practical Suggestions for outreach
Effective cell groups are intentional about their evangelistic activities. They plan for evangelism , and they are not satisfied with their methodology until they get results. There are many ways for the cell group to reach out. Since this is not a ‘how to’ paper, I will just name a few:
- Plan a ‘friendship dinner’ instead of the normal cell meeting with the intent of inviting non-Christian friends
- Use an evangelistic video instead of the regular Bible based lesson
- Place a empty chair in their midst and pray for the next person who will fill it
- Prepare a special outreach to one segment of society (e.g., police officers, teachers,) (note 27).
- Every other week have a special seeker sensitive cell group. On the following week, have a believer’s oriented cell group (note 28).
The list of possible evangelistic activities in the cell groups is endless. It extends as far as the creativity of our imagination. Beyond the specific evangelistic activities that the small group uses, it’s important to remember the general philosophy behind aggressive evangelistic activity in the small group.
Chapter 5: The Goal of Cell Group Evangelism: Multiplication
What is successful cell group evangelism? Winning many to Christ in the group? Discipling the new converts in the cell? Establishing the new converts in the church? Surely, all of the above form vital links in the successful chain. However, from my studies and personal experience, a far more superior goal of cell group evangelism is the multiplication of the cell group itself. In my opinion, this is the final measure of whether or not a group has ultimately been successful.
This issue of cell multiplication seems to be the common thread that links all of the rapidly growing worldwide cell churches. In each one, there is rapid cell group multiplication. Larry Kreider, who is the founding apostle of several cell churches worldwide, believes that multiplication and reproduction most clearly demonstrate God’s heartbeat for a lost an dying world. If we are going to be in tune with God, we must be willing and committed to rapid multiplication (note 29). I’m so convinced of this principle, that I will be spending the bulk of my field research trying to determine the factors behind cell multiplication.
Multiplication Maintains the 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. Hadaway writes,
…the principle of cell division and growth seems critical here to help avert the problem of exclusiveness. Cell division is not always experienced as a pleasant plan of action for members who have developed deep relationships in the home group meetings. However, the purpose of such action is designed to prevent the kind of exclusiveness and inwardness that can eventually undermine one of the most significant goals of cell groups—outreach and growth (1987:101).
The scientific study of small group dynamics has helped us to understand that as small group size increases there is a direct decrease of equally distributed participation. In other words, the difference in the percentage of remarks between the most active person and the least active person becomes greater and greater as the small group size increases (Brilhart 1982:59).
Even though all small group experts are in agreement that cells must remain small, there is little agreement concerning the exact size. Many believe that the perfect size lies between eight and twelve people. Mallison, who is a veteran small group practitioner states, “Twelve not only sets the upper limit for meaningful relationships, but provides a non—threatening situation for those who are new to small group experiences…It is significant that Jesus chose twelve men to be in his group” (1989:25).
On the other hand, George sets the number at ten. He is more emphatic by insisting that the perfect size for a cell group is ten since it is “…the time-tested, scientifically validated size that allows for optimal communication” (1993:136). Although perhaps a bit dogmatic, George’s point is well worth hearing. He feels that in order for a leader to give quality pastoral care, the group must be kept small (1990:125-127).
Although I personally (along with others) believe that fifteen is a healthy limit, my point here is that a cell group must remain small enough in order to maximize personal sharing. Therefore, when a group reaches that level, it’s essential that it gives birth to another group.
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). I recently even heard of a Baptist Church in Modesto, California which is multiplying their cell groups every four months (note 30). However, it is true that not all cells multiply in a matter of months. For some it’s a matter of years.
However, there seems to be a consensus that the longer a cell group stays together, the harder it is to multiply. Carl George, who has studied multitudes of cell-based churches around the world 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’s 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)
Perhaps a healthy balance between the rapid multiplication period of six months and the dangerous two year figure is a one year goal (and time limit) for cell multiplication. From what I understand about small group cycles, one year would give the group sufficient time to solidify and yet not too much time to fossilize.
The Theme: Born to Multiply
Should a cell group be allowed to meet beyond a certain period? Should cell groups be allowed to continue indefinitely without multiplying? As the director of a cell group ministry in two growing churches in Ecuador, it was my policy to keep the groups alive as long as possible—even if they were weak and had not multiplied. I reasoned from a pastoral care standpoint, that more cells could naturally care for more church people. However, I’m beginning to understand that this type of thinking might be dangerous to the overall thrust of the cell group ministry in the church.
Many in the science of small groups believe that small groups have very definite cycles. They move from birth to death. One expert in small group ministry said to me, “Groups are born to die” (note 31). He was referring to the life cycle of small groups (Gorman 1993: 219-237). This life cycle has a definite termination point. Concerning this termination of the group, Julie Gormans says, “In actuality, concluding is as vital as beginning and fulfills commitments made in contracting to end by a certain time or when goals have been reached” (1993:227). In the same way, Lyman Coleman encourages groups to have a beginning and an end (1993:4:21).
It seems to me that most cell-based ministries in the church do not take these small group life cycles very seriously, if they even know about them. Small groups in cell-based churches are programmed to continue indefinitely, with the general hope of multiplication. From my understanding, this certainly is the case with Paul Cho’s system in Seoul, Korea. The groups do not have a planned termination point. Carl F. George echoes the thinking of most of these cell-based churches when he states,
Meta-Church cells aren’t calendared to terminate. If someone wants to get away from a fellow member with whom there’s a personality conflict, and both parties can’t work it out on spiritual grounds, then one of these people can be part of a daughter cell commissioned off from the group. Tensions and discontent can be motivational devices for birthing (1992:101).
Why have cell-based churches resisted programming their cells to stop and start according to definite time periods? In my opinion, there are at least two reasons for this resistance. First, the pastoral/caring priority is given a high priority in these small groups. Since the need for pastoral care among the congregation never stops, why should the cell groups? This emphasis on pastoral care can be seen in the names given to these small groups. Rarely, are they called ‘Bible Study Groups’ or ‘Discipleship Groups’. Rather, it’s not uncommon to hear names such as, ‘Kinship Groups’, ‘Tender Loving Care Groups’, ‘Shepherd Groups’, or ‘Care Groups’ (Logan 1989:125). Second, there is a move away from programs in these cell-based churches. The idea of starting and stopping a cell group in order to join another one, appears to be closely associated with a programatic approach that has been quite common in the traditional Sunday School system.
There could very well be other reasons why there is a resistance to this cyclical pattern. However, by ignoring these the definite small group cycle, perhaps the cell-based movement has unknowingly fallen into other, more subtle kinds of difficulties. These problems include:
- The ‘once a leader always a leader’ syndrome. Sometimes it appears that there is no honorable way out for cell leaders
- Maintaining weak, non-producing groups
- Because there is no cut off point, some groups tend to limp along year after year.
- Non-multiplication becomes the norm
As I look back at my own experience, I can’t help but wonder if weak, non-multiplying groups actually begin to stagnate the entire cell system. In other words, their experience becomes the norm. New groups look at the weak, non-multiplying groups, and reason that there is little hope to multiple since such and such a group has not done so. The members within these groups never experience exciting cell group multiplication and thus, even sub-consciously, they contribute to the stagnation of the entire process.
All that I have said thus far in this section is leading me to the revolutionary conclusion that in the cell church, the rallying cry should be : BORN TO MULTIPLY. This should be the genetic code established in every new group in the church—born to multiply. If the group does not multiply within a set number of months, perhaps it is best just to dissolve the group and let those cell members integrate into groups that are experiencing growth and multiplication.
This truth has been a growing conviction on my heart lately. For that reason, I was encouraged when I talked with Dr. Ralph Neighbour recently. He told me that in his system, if a cell group has not multiplied within about seven months (he immediately added that the seven month figure depended on the situation), he counsels that the cell should dissolve and be integrated into the existing groups (note 32).
I recently heard about a cell church in Medan, Indonesia that follows similar principles. This church was established in the mid 80’s, and it now has almost 10,000 members and a 700 member “in house” Bible School to train church planters and missionaries. The cell groups in that church comprise the core of all church activities. The effectiveness of their evangelism can be seen in this statement by one of the former members of the church, “The cells never go over 15 in number. The goal of each group is to divide every year. In fact if a cell does not divide to divide every year. In fact if a cell does not divide, it is “absorbed” by other cells. The goal is evangelism, then discipleship” (note 33).
Likewise, Tony Rosenthal, a Southern Baptist church planter, has developed an effective way to plant churches using cell groups. In his system, a cell group must give birth within six months or the group disbands. He has discovered that groups tend to become stagnant and inward looking if they are not constantly looking for new converts (Hadaway, Wright, and DuBose 1987:262).
This concept of ‘born to multiply’ combines the truth of definite, specific small group cycles with the evangelistic goal of cell group multiplication. Instead of denying the one to emphasize the other, there seems to be an instant harmony between the two concepts. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of this approach:
- Each cell group begins with a very definite goal in mind
- The group does not have a chance to stagnate
- There is a definite cut off date for the group
- Leaders are less likely to get burned out and members do not feel the pressure of a life long commitment. In other words, there is a way out.
- Those groups that do not multiply are integrated into a system of small groups that are multiplying. In other words, the cell members will eventually experience the vision of healthy cell multiplication.
- Church growth takes place as a result.
I have no hard facts for this statement, but it seems logical to me that if there is success in the rapid multiplication of cells, there will generally be rapid church growth—unless more groups are dissolving than multiplying.
- A feeling of failure if the group does not multiply.
- There is the potential that members would feel like second class citizens if he group did not multiply.
- Failure to establish intimate relationships
- With such an intense emphasis on evangelism and cell growth, it might be more difficult for deep levels of intimate sharing to take place (note 34).
- Inadequate preparation of new leaders.
With an intense program of multiplication, it would be necessary to constantly train and raise up new leaders.
The Process of Cell Multiplication
If cell multiplication is the goal of small group evangelism, it’s extremely important to understand the problems, pitfalls, and principles that make this process successful. As a Ph.D. student at Fuller, I plan on learning a lot more about this topic when I do my actual field research. My plan is to use the same questionnaire in groups that have multiplied rapidly and those that have not multiplied. My hope is that I will discover characteristics that are unique to the multiplication process. The following are just a few principles that I have learned thus far.
Problems and Pain
Jesus says in John 16:21,22, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” Childbirth is a painful experience, as my wife can thrice testify. Yet, after the agonizing experience of the first two, she was more than ready to give birth to another. For my wife, the joy of having and holding her child by far exceeded the pain of childbirth.
Yet, too many cells never give birth for at least three reasons. First, the members of the group are afraid of the pain of birthing and do everything possible to avoid it. In other words, The members become comfortable with each other. People tend to cling tightly to their newly formed relationships, and do not want to let go, even if it means new people being won into the Kingdom. There is no easy answer to this dilemma. Indeed, cell members are encouraged to develop intimate relationships. I have found that it’s helpful to remind the cell members that even if they participate in the planting of another group, this does not mean that they cannot contact their former cell group friends. In fact, both the mother and the daughter cell might want to reunite on occasion to celebrate their common links. Probably the most effective way to avoid koinonitus (note 35) in the small group is to promote the greater goal of evangelism and church growth (I will cover the importance of vision casting later on).
The second reason for resisting the birth process is that members are not aware of the great joy that accompanies the planting of a daughter cell. I’m referring to the joy that that comes from having significantly contributed to the growth of the church and to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. It’s the joy of having participated in the accomplishment of something eternal. However, I do not believe that mere promotion and explanation can sufficiently solve this dilemma. It’s not enough to talk about the fulfillment that comes from giving birth to a daughter cell. This joy must be experienced.
In fact, I’m becoming convinced that if the majority of cell members have never experienced this birthing process, it seems to me that the disease of stagnation has already infected the cell system. I’m beginning to conclude that the only way to inject believers with the joy of cell multiplication is to place them in vital, growing cells that eventually multiply. As I mentioned earlier, there is more of a possibility that this will happen if a time table for cell multiplication is instituted in the church.
The last reason is somewhat like the first. After experiencing the beauty of God’s Spirit moving in one’s small group, there is a tendency to think that the next cell group will fall short. I’m talking here about the unwritten feeling that the new group could not possibly be as anointed as the present one. It’s the age old problem of believing that the bygone days are somehow superior to the present or future. To overcome this tendency, education is needed. Cell leaders and cell members must continually be reminded that the Spirit of God will make the next cell group just as special as the present one. The words of Ralph Neighbour should especially be heeded, “The beauty of the cell church continues even when the group gives birth because the power of the Spirit continues to work in the life of the new group” (Neighbour 1990:70).
My comments are by no means exhaustive. More reasons could be listed. However, these are the ones that have most commonly surfaced in my cell experience and study.
The Rapid Releasing of Leadership
The general theme in this chapter is cell multiplication. If cells are going to multiply rapidly, new leaders must be constantly sought and released. It seems to me that this is the key. Paul Cho agrees. He was recently asked by Larry Kreider why the cell church concept had not experienced the same, exciting fruit in America as it has in Korea. Without hesitating Cho said that the problem here in America is that pastors are not willing to release their lay people for ministry (note 36). It is my understanding that Pastor Cho is referring to the hesitancy of pastoral leadership here in North America to delegate pastoral authority to their cell leaders and interns. Perhaps this fear constitutes the main reason why cells do not multiply more rapidly.
In one sense, this hesitancy is understandable. No pastor wants to be accused of shallowness or emphasizing quantity over quality. It is also true that the majority of pastors in the U.S. have passed through a system that is characterized by extensive , formal training. Therefore, it is natural, although perhaps subconscious, that pastoral leadership expect that potential lay leadership pass through a similar process. And yes, there are merits to this type of pre-service training. It certainly weeds out the non-committed and assures that potential leaders become thoroughly acquainted with sound Christian doctrine.
However, I’m convinced that this approach makes two fatal errors. First, it fails to grapple with the fact that oftentimes the best learning is caught rather than taught. In other words, it fails to allow potential leaders to make mistakes and receive corrections. Leadership learning is a process. Cell leaders (both the leader and the intern) learn best through experience and reflection. George rightly says, …the best possible context anyone has ever discovered for developing leadership occurs because of a small group” (1994:48). If the small group is the best context for a leader to gain experience, the bimonthly leadership training session is the best place for leaders to reflect on their experiences. It is during these leadership training meetings that the top leadership of the church can help in the training process (George 1992: 119-152).
The second flaw has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. A philosophy that relies on formal training for cell leadership oftentimes minimizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Take the example of Paul, the apostle. During the first century, when Paul established churches throughout the Mediterranean world, he would leave his churches in the hands of relatively new Christians (Allen 1962:84-94). He trusted in the Holy Spirit to work through them these young leaders. Speaking of Paul’s method, Allen writes,
…the moment converts were made in any place ministers were appointed from among themselves, presbyter Bishops, or Bishops, who in turn could organize and bring into the unity of the visible Church and new group of Christian in their neighborhood (1956:9).
Unlike the apostle Paul, we often hang educational nooses around the necks of our potential leaders. No wonder, we can’t find enough to lead our cell groups!
I’m personally convinced that we should be risky when it comes to raising up cell leadership. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to work through those who show enthusiasm, clear testimony, and desire to serve Jesus (Kreider 1995:41-53). If we are going to release leadership rapidly to serve the needs of growing church, we need to use every potential leader. Again, Paul Cho is an example of someone who has done that. 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 (Hurtson 1995:68). For example, in 1988 alone, 10,000 new lay leaders were appointed for ministry (Hurton 1995:194).
In fact, when Paul Cho was asked where he got his leadership for his sixty thousand cell groups, (note 37) without even hesitating he said, “We get them from our new Christians” (Galloway 1995:105). I don’t believe that Cho immediately places these new Christians into leadership, but it does mean that his major pool of leadership comes from this camp.
One person who does immediately use new Christian in cell leadership is Pete Scazzero, the pastor of a growing C&MA cell church in New York. Pastor Scazzero has been so successful that Carl George dedicates six pages to Pete’s church in his revolutionary book Prepare Your Church for the Future. Here is what Pete says about leadership in cell ministry,
Our future is limited by our leadership…Give me ten solid cell-group leaders, and our attendance will grow by another 100, because we’ll have provided an environment where the Holy Spirit’s gifts can be released to do the work of the ministry…Several of the cell-group leaders (X’s) and apprentices (Xa’s) are new Christians. ‘Young Christians who lead cell groups grow like crazy…especially as they learn to base their identity in Christ instead of in their ministries or on their egos (1992:203,204).
Personally, I’ve never placed brand new Christians into cell leadership positions. Perhaps it’s best to encourage them to begin as interns, under an experienced cell leader. However, my point is that we must be willing to use all potential leaders for cell group ministry (that is, if we are going to multiply cell groups constantly).
Perhaps, we will be more willing to release leaders if we can remember that cell leaders and interns are not Bible teachers. Rather, they are facilitators (note 38). A facilitator’s job description focuses more on guiding the communication process, praying for cell members, calls, visitation, and reaching the lost for Christ. George wisely adds, “…in the church of the future a leader won’t be known for his or her ability to handle a quarterly or written study guide so much as for a skill in relating to people in such a way that they allow access into their lives (1994:68). Therefore, I don’t believe that it’s essential that a potential leader be required to know large amounts of Bible doctrine, be a recognized leader in the church, etc. etc.
In fact, it’s not the end of the world if the cell group is dissolved (note 39). Important principles have been learned. The cell leader and members should be encouraged to attend another group that is better prepared for the task. However, with the proper control and administration over the cell groups, we have found that the vast majority of groups succeed.
Before leaving this discussion on releasing new leaders, it’s worthwhile to remember that most of the most rapidly growing cell churches make extensive use of women in ministry. It is well known that Cho’s cell ministry was launched by women and
that now he vast majority of cell leaders are women (1982:21-32). From my cell leadership experience, I have discovered that oftentimes women can communicate better than men, and thus are able to direct the cell discussion to a deeper level of intimacy and koinonia.
The Training of New Leaders
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)..
My interest in leadership development and cell groups is intimately linked with my passion for church growth. How does a cell church effectively, as well as rapidly, train leadership to meet the burgeoning needs of a growing church? However, it does behoove us to examine the various small group models of leadership training before we can analyze which model will help us become more effective in the multiplication process.
The Covenant Model
My focus in this chapter is cell group multiplication. I am aware that the covenant model does not emphasize this aspect of cell group ministry. For that reason, I will only briefly describe their system of training new leadership. The training of new leadership in this model is academic oriented. The training takes place over a two semester period. During the first semester the small group director teaches the course. However, during the second semester each student is expected to lead the group under the watchful eye of the small group director. In the Covenant Model, the leaders are not given any further training the two semester course is completed (Coleman 1993: 5:19).
The Serendipity Model
The Serendipity Model of leadership training requires six sessions of up-front training with periodic on-going training. This on-going training consists of monthly leadership meetings that the group leader must attend. This model also takes into account the various types of groups in the church. For example, support groups might receive more training than other groups (Coleman 1993: 5:19).
Serendipity has established itself as being a first class producer of small group material for both cell leaders and cell group members. I have also found that Lyman Colman’s knowledge of small dynamics is the foremost in the field. He truly is an expert on small groups.
However, I have noticed one difficulty with regard to leadership training. Serendipity promotes that churches initiate a variety of small groups in the church (e.g., sports groups, choir groups, care groups, etc.). Dr. Coleman says, “It is not easy to categorize small groups. Often, they have several different goals which cross the lines of categorization” (1993: 11). Because the groups are so diverse, it’s extremely difficult to offer unified training that will meet the needs of each leader. For example, the leader of a sports team or a choir group will not need to learn about lesson preparation or how to lead worship in the group. Those issues are simply not relevant to them. Therefore, I have discovered that the requirement for small groups leaders to attend a monthly training session is hard to enforce under this system.
The Meta Model
According to Lyman Coleman, the Meta model requires less up-front training than the Serendipity approach. Coleman goes on to say, “The up-front training of the Meta model is called an apprenticeship, and it is basically the associate, assistant, or co-leader who is ‘mentored’ while they are in the group” (1993:5:19). At the same time, the Meta Model requires that the cell leaders spend more time on the job training. Every other week, they are required to meet in a general leadership training event called the VHS.
In his book, Prepare Your Church for the Future, George strongly emphasizes the bimonthly leadership gatherings which he calls VHS (Vision, Huddle, and Skill Training) gatherings. He dedicates some thirty pages to describe these events in detail and how the Jethro system of care (D’s, L’s, X’s, etc.) tie into these bimonthly leadership training meetings (1992:121-148). In that book, George is very dogmatic about the necessity of having those bimonthly meetings. On the other hand, there was very little said about the apprentice system of training leaders.
However, in George’s most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution, he reverses gears. Very little is said about the VHS . He even implies that an official VHS gathering is not even necessary if you are providing the same type of training in another manner (1994:128). He recommends that a church does not launch the VHS right away as a program , but rather tries to identify the VHS functions already present in the church (1994:203). On the other hand, lots of space is dedicated to raising up leadership from among the lay leaders in the church. One example will suffice, “…the limiting resource for most churches’ part of the harvest is usually the lack of trained leaders. The model we increasingly find in healthy, growing churches is one of apprentice that leads to leadership (1994:61).
The Cho Model
According to Lyman Coleman, the Cho model requires no up-front training. Coleman then proceeds to talk about what Dale Galloway does, who is supposedly the major advocate of the Cho model in the U.S. (note 40) It is true that Galloway offers a Superbowl event three times a year in which any cell member is welcome to attend. From the superbowl future leaders emerge who face the challenge of raising up their own group Once the group is formed, the leaders are required to attend a weekly training event where they are given the notes to the pastors and discussion questions for Bible application (Coleman 1993: 5:19).
If by calling this training system the ‘Cho model’, Coleman is referring to the what Paul Yonggi Cho actually does in Korea, he is mistaken. Contrary to what this model implies, Cho does offer up-front training. Potential cell leaders must attend an eight-week leadership training course that is taught on Sunday afternoon in one of Yoida Full Gospel Churches’ small auditoriums (Hurtson 1995:75). Topics covered in this eight-week course include: cell leader responsibilities, home cell-group growth, Bible lesson preparation, etc. (Hurtson 1995:215). Neither does Cho offer a weekly training session to his cell leaders at the church (since 1988 this has been discontinued due to the rapid growth). Rather, printed supplemental materials are available before and after the Wednesday night services (Hurtson 1995:214).
The ongoing training now consists of semiannual cell leader conferences in which pastor Cho personally addresses the cell leaders. Due to their large number, half of the cell leaders attend the conference one day, while the other half attend the next day. Practical tips and vision casting seem to be the main agenda for these conferences (Hurtson 1995: 75). However, the main ongoing training takes place as section leaders spend time with group leaders both during ministry visits and during the actual group meetings (Hurtson 1995:75).
The Church Growth Model
After describing the four training models, Lyman Coleman refers to the fifth model, that is, the model that best describes your own personal situation. So allow me to describe my own personal model which I have coined with the phrase ‘Church Growth Model’. When my wife and I began the cell system in Ecuador, I followed a small manual that we received from a fellow missionary who was the head pastor of a C&MA church in Colombia. As I look back on it, this manual promoted a very similar approach to the VHS model that is now promoted by Carl George (note 41). Apart from many helpful hints in the manual, the core principle was holding bimonthly training session with all cell leadership. We followed the general tenor of that model throughout our time in Ecuador.
Before leaving Ecuador, a key co-worker (a fellow missionary with whom I had worked side by side in the cell ministry) and I reflected back on 3 ½ years of cell ministry. Both of us agreed that the bimonthly training sessions were the backbone of our cell ministry. In my own cell manual, I call this bimonthly meeting, the motor of the cell group ministry.
Our other ongoing system of training took place through the Jethro model. This idea was unashamedly stolen from Carl George through his book, Prepare Your Church for the Future. Following George’s teaching, we appointed D’s (myself), L’s (at one point we had eleven), X’s (at one time 50 ), and Xa’s (at one time 50). This system offered mixed results. It really depended on the commitment of the L (overseer of five cell groups), as to whether or not the cell leaders received proper care.
Our pre-training developed in two stages. In the initial stages of the cell ministry, I taught a taught a Sunday School course at the mother church, El Bat án entitled “How To Lead A Cell Group.” That was my first attempt to put together my cell manual. Later, when the manual was more fully developed, I offered a one day seminar for new leaders. Eventually, I was asked to teach seminars around the country using that manual (note 42)
In my future tutorial entitled, Issues of Leadership in Cell-Based Ministry, I will explore these training models more in-depth. I especially want to analyze the leadership training model that Dr. Ralph Neighbour has developed (note 43). From my understanding, his model significantly differs from the above mentioned models, in that much of the planned training takes place between cell leader and cell intern.
The pressing question that must be asked when examining training models is, ‘Which model best serves the multiplication process?’ This would immediately lead me to examine Cho’s model first, due to the rapid multiplication of his cell groups and the growth in his church. However, Cho, contrary to what Coleman says, has always offered pre-training, much like the first two models. His system of apprentice care (the Jethro model) is also implemented in both the Meta Model and in Galloway’s church (note 44).
In conclusion, I believe that it’s safe to say that a training model for growing, multiplying cell churches should include:
- Some kind of pre-training for the cell leaders
- A Jethro system in which every leader is pastored (note 45).
- Some type of on-going training. This training might be weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. Actually, I have found that every three weeks is probably the best option.
- Some kind of intentional way for emerging leaders to be spotted, encouraged, and integrated into the leadership structure.
It’s easier to talk about cell multiplication that to actually do it. It looks good on paper and sounds great during a training session. Yet, as the date for the new cell birth draws nearer, the problems and resistance multiplies. In this section, I would like to be as realistic and practical as possible knowing that consistent cell multiplication is very difficult to implement.
Multiplication does not just naturally happen. Just the opposite. The actual tendency is for cell groups to look inward. Close relationships have developed; fun times have been shared. Why even think about forming a new group? It’s precisely at this point that without a vision the people perish (Proverbs 28:19). It is here that the vision for cell multiplication is absolutely necessary. This vision can only come from one place: Leadership. I’m referring to top leadership, section leaders (L’s), cell leaders, and intern leaders.
Cells will not multiply in the church unless the top leadership (pastoral team) intentionally motivate the cells leaders to make cell multiplication the chief priority. This primarily takes place in the ongoing training times, but it also should be heard in the announcements, the sermon, and the award ceremonies (in honor of cell groups that have given birth) Again, the goal of the top leadership is to instill this vision for cell multiplication into the thinking of the cell leaders. Ultimately, the cell leaders are the ground troops who make it happen.
How do the cell leaders actually make it happen? I’m sure there are many factors. My field research will largely be dedicated to isolating some of those variables. However, I suspect that much of it has to do with expectation. The cell leader must expect that his group will multiply, and then constantly communication this expectation with the members of the cell. It’s not enough to dream and pray. The dreaming and praying must lead to expectation that results in practical step by step planning (Cho 1982:166). In commenting on the miracle of Paul Cho’s church and how it grew from twenty small groups to fifty thousand small groups, Hadaway says, “…the numbers continued to grow because a growth strategy was built into each cell group” (1987:19).
It is this type of ‘built in strategy’ or ‘ genetic code’ that be part of the cell system. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Perhaps an illustration will help. Karen Hurtson talks about one cell leader named Pablo, who shares with the group his vision for multiplication before every meeting. The people in Pablo’s group have a very positive idea about cell group multiplication. They see the multiplication of their group as a sign of success (Hurtson 1995:12). Karen Hurtson writes about another group in Shreveport, Louisiana, that baked a cake and had a party before giving birth to a daughter cell. Hurtson comments, “…they understood that multiplying was a sign that their group had been effective, an event worth celebrating” (Hurtson 1995:12).
Promotion Before the Congregation
Cell leaders and interns who have been successful in multiplying their cell groups should be highly esteemed before the congregation (note 46). Galloway talks about the importance of motivating your cell leaders by giving them attention, appreciation, and affirmation (1995:126). This is especially true of those who have given birth to a daughter cell. At the El Batan Church in Quito, Ecuador, I would honor those cell leaders (and their wives!) before the congregation (note 47). However, I made sure that the senior pastor was intimately involved with the process. If I were to lead a cell ministry again, I would make a greater effort to promote and honor those leader who had multiplied their cell group.
The word ‘division’ must be forever erased from the cell ministry’s vocabulary. As we have mentioned earlier, there is already a natural tendency to become ingrown instead of outreach oriented. The last thing that cell members (who are already having second thoughts about starting a new group) need to hear about is their upcoming ‘division’ (note 48) Speaking of this negative terminology, Ric Lehman, says, “You ‘divide’ people with barriers like the Berlin Wall or the Iron Curtain. Because of the…negative connotations, we exchanged these words for more life-giving words or phrases like releasing a new leader, multiplication, and birthing (1994:8).
Ric Lehman’s article, “Don’t Believe THE LIE!” is intended to expose the fallacy, ‘When small groups divide, relationships are severed.’ However, the truth that has remained with me from that article is that I need to change my cell vocabulary. For example, the term assistant cell leader can subtly give the connotation that a change of leadership is unnecessary—the assistant might never become the leader. Ric recommends the title ‘intern’. This word implies that there is something more coming, like starting a new group (1994:11).
One thing that I really appreciate about Paul Cho is his emphasis on goal setting (note 49). I have learned a lot from him in this area. Cho says, “The number-one requirement for having real growth—unlimited church growth—is to set goals” (1982:162). Not only does Cho believe in this principle, but he also requires that his cell leaders practice it as well. Referring to the cell leaders in Cho’s church, Karen Hurtson writes, “Each cell leader is to pray that God will give him a specific number he and his group are to win to Jesus Christ that year” (1995:101).
An obvious corollary to establishing a goal of converts is setting a goal for cell multiplication. Mallison recommends that goal setting can be aided by the group claiming the verse, ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ (John 12:24). He writes,
“Let the goal be to grow to 10 or 12 members by the end of the first year….This becomes the group’s motivation for their life together—to grow to the point where they lose their original identity by dividing at the end of twelve months, to become the basis for two more groups with the same goal. AS this process is repeated, so the redemptive fellowship of the original small group is multiplied” (1989:22).
The principle of goal setting is essential in those churches where the cells continue indefinitely. If the church leadership has already established a time limit for multiplication (e.g., one year), in one sense, the goal has already been set.
Knowledge of the Multiplication Process
The more knowledge cell leaders have about the birth process, the more confidence they will have in actually given birth. I’ll never forget the first time my wife gave birth. Not only did we have the natural anxiety that comes with the first pregnancy, but we were also in a foreign land (Quito, Ecuador). God provided a mid-wife from the American embassy who patiently taught us everything we needed to know about the birth process. Through her knowledge, we felt ready when the big day arrived. This illustration needs little explanation. The more knowledge that our cell leaders receive, the more confident they will be when the cell birthday finally arrives ( there will be far fewer abortions).
Ways to Give Birth
There are many small group books which talk about the various ways to multiple. Although variations exists among the different authors, these variations are slight. The list that Carl George provides (1992: 145-149) is a good one:
- The intern takes part of the original group and begins a new one in a different place.
- The leader of the group forms a new group in a different place, leaving the original group with the intern.
- A new leader forms a new group, made up of new people from the church.
I have overseen the birth process using all three methodologies, and I can say that all three methodologies work well. Whether or not the intern stays in the original group or launches out to start a new group really depends on the maturity and leadership of the intern. However, there are a few principles that will help the process.
Special Considerations of the Birth Process
When determining which members will go with the new group and which ones will stay, it’s important to remember at least two things. First, the natural ‘clicks’ within the group will help determine who will stay and who will go. Perhaps, the reflection of a district pastor in Cho’s church will be helpful,
As much as possible, we divide groups based on natural networks. For example, if the assistant in that group brought two other cell members to the Lord, then that individual will split off with those members to start a new group. If there are no natural networks, then we divide the groups based on geography (Hurtson 1994:93).
Bob Logan adds,
A group ripped asunder without regard for the naturally occurring segments or affinity clusters within the group will make a big mess. If you split a group by arbitrarily counting of, or in this culture, even by using geographical boundaries or some means other than affinity clusters, you may end up with many injured group members. However, if you identify naturally occurring affinity or relational clusters within your group, plant a leader for each (or watch to see what leader naturally emerges to the top of each), and then divide the group by these clusters, the result will be much more beneficial. To encourage the formation of these clusters, start early in the group’s life to experiment with different cluster compositions. Perhaps allow your members to divide by their own devices into groups or three, four, or five members. Note who gravitated to whom, and who took leadership. Try this for three or four weeks to see if any specific clusters are gelling (Logan 1989:138),
The wise cell leader will be continually analyzing those natural friendship links. When the time comes to give birth, the leader’s discernment will prove to be very helpful.
Second, if natural links can’t be established, it’s usually wise that the more mature Christian believers accompany the intern and that the newcomers or less mature stay with the original cell leader (note 50)..
Chapter 5: Conclusion
As much as possible, I have tried to stick to the theme embodied in the title of this tutorial: Cell Group Design and Evangelism/Church Growth. I have sought to define and analyze the various church based small group models that are in the marketplace today. I have attempted to critique these models by the last two words of my tutorial—evangelism and church growth. Were these models structured to produce rapid church growth? Did their track record testify to a history of rapid church growth? I even made a feeble attempt to set forth the initial principles of my own cell group model.
Since the philosophy of church growth serves as an anchor for this tutorial and my own cell-based philosophy, one entire chapter was dedicated to examining the major tenants of the church growth school of thought. I mentioned how cell-based churches today are models of rapid church growth and how that almost half of the 50 largest churches in the world today are cell-based.
One chapter was dedicated to exploring how small groups evangelize. It is becoming popular to view the cell network in terms of ‘net fishing’ rather than fishing with a single hook. We also explored the place of friendship evangelism and aggressive or urgent evangelism in the cell group.
The major bulk of this tutorial was dedicated to analyzing the goal of cell group evangelism, namely cell multiplication. Although there is much more research to be accomplished, the evidence is pointing to cell multiplication as one of the key principles that sets apart effective cell-based ministry.
I now conclude this tutorial with much personal satisfaction. By examining and reflecting upon other cell group models, I have a new understanding of hat God is doing in the world around us. My examination of cell multiplication has given me a new hunger to explore this topic further. By completing this tutorial, I have become even more convinced that I can help the body of Christ at large, by discovering why and how cells multiply, and then sharing that information with Christian leaders.
- John Vaughn sent me a fax on April 14, 1996 that listed the 50 largest churches in the world. It is my understanding that 24 of those churches are cell-based. Jim Egli of Touch Ministries was the first to bring this to my attention.
- I will be referring quite a bit to Paul Cho’s Korean model of cell ministry. That is because Ralph Neighbour, Dale Galloway, and Carl George receive their chief inspiration and core ideas from Cho. Granted, they have adapted Cho’s model (George more than the other two), but only slightly.
- 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 doctorate from Fuller Seminary and was also a professor there. Now she is the president of Eastern Seminary.
- I’m referring to the 1993 Serendipity manual that is geared for the upper leadership in small groups. In this manual Coleman distinguishes between the various types of small group ministry. In his other earlier manual, Coleman simply goes through the six sessions of pre-training for small group leaders.
- I’m referring here to Coleman’s emphasis on a programmed beginning and end to the cell group; graduation to next group.
- Every conceivable type of small group is mentioned by Dr. Coleman: Board meetings, choir groups, usher groups, care groups, sports groups, etc.
- I knew of one C&MA church in Guayquil that many types of small groups. They gloried in their diversity, but the congregation never caught on to a cell group vision because, in my opinion, it wasn’t distinct enough. The idea was foggy because many of the so called small groups had very few of the key small group elements present.
- I’m thinking specifically of the chief characteristics of spiritual fellowship and effective outreach. For example, I hesitate calling the worship team practice a cell group because it meets for a particular purpose and outsiders are not welcome. The same is true for the board. Concerning a sports team, I wonder where the face to face spiritual communion is going to take place.
- I was very surprised that Dr. Coleman picked the aspect of multiplication to distinguish the Meta Model. From my in-depth study of all of Carl George’s books on small groups, minimal reference is made to multiplication. When I say, ‘minimal’ I’m comparing George’s emphasis with say Ralph Neighbour or Cho’s model. In George’s latest book on small groups he hardly mentions cell multiplication.
- Chapter six called, “Identify Your Mice” promotes the identification of any type of small group in the church. This is unique from most cell-based churches. However, very little is mentioned about this philosophy in Prepare Your Church for the Future.
- George insists throughout the book that the Meta approach is simply a way of seeing (X-ray machine) what you already have. It’s not a model to help you get somewhere else.
- I know that Carl George has been strongly criticized for his stance. In fact, some believe that his single minded focus on small group ministry was the reason for the demise of the Charles Fuller Church Growth Institute (I can’t mention names here).
- According to George its a way of analyzing your church by placing all of the ministries into various categories.
- Dale Galloway mentioned the same thing to me at his cell conference in Columbus, Ohio (Nov., 1995) He felt that the Meta Globe idea was the worse part of George’s book. I have found that the more George talks about this concept, the more confusing it becomes. It seems that he takes a simple idea (categorizing your ministries) and makes a complex process out of it (trying to place all of your ministries on a globe with different colors, etc.).
- Warren Bird wrote both Prepare Your Church for the Future and The Coming Church Revolution.
- I realize that these principles are not properly footnoted. I wrote these principles down from the Spanish version of Cho’s book, while I was in Ecuador.
- I have read all of Cho’s major books, read his articles, listened and re-listened to his Church Growth Lectures on tape, read must of the cell literature that uses Cho as a model (Neighbour, Galloway, etc.). Hurtson’s latest book, Growing the World’s Largest Church is an excellent case study on Cho’s church.
- Cho said this during the Church Growth Lectures at Fuller Semiary in 1984
- I do not advocate getting rid of all programs. In Ecuador, we maintained a healthy Sunday School, DVBS, and Youth Program.
- Apart from chapters six, twelve, and thirteen,
- I toyed with the church growth idea throughout Bible School and seminary, but it was never really a part of my life. While I planted a church in downtown Long Beach, I maintained a love/hate relationship with church growth. It wasn’t until 1989 while taking Peter Wagner’s foundational course here at Fuller that I became a church growth convert.
- Dr. Ralph Neighbour mentioned this statistic in his presentation at the Post-Denominational Seminar on May 22, 1996.
- The thesis of the book, Prepare Your Church for the Future, is that the cell based model is the best approach for the future church
- A quotation from Larry Stockstill’s two page handout during the Post-Denominational Seminar (May 22, 1996)
- This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 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 Cho’s church, points to 720,000 members (17).
- I first became aware of this terminology from Ian Presley’s, international director of OMF and a Fuller D.Miss. student. He used this phrase in his D.Miss proposal to describe the urgent task of the church to evangelized the unreached people. He said that this terminology is quite common in OMF circles.
- Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Fellowship has used this technique with great success. At the Post-denominational seminar, he described how that the pastoral staff provides the evangelism penetration points every other week. They might emphasize special outreach to international students, etc.
- This is practiced in the Elim Church in El Salvador and is now implemented by Larry Stockstill’s church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- Larry is talking about both rapid cell multiplication and church multiplication (i.e., church planting). He made this statement on May 22 during the panel discussion at the Post-Denominational seminar.
- This information comes from a personal conversation that I had with Dr. Ralph Neighbour in May, 1996. I do know that Dr. Neighbour works closely with this church.
- This was the term that Dr. Dick Peace used during a personal conversation with him in April, 1996.
- He told me this during an interview that I had with him in May, 1996 at Lake Ave. Congregational Church in Pasadena, California.
- Taken from an e-mail from Don Davis, who is a Cross Cultural/Educational Consultant for Greater Asia Training Enterprises. He wrote this to Dan Gibson on Abril 12, 1996.
- I would say that in practice this is often the case. However, cell experts like Dr. Ralph Neighbour would remind us that it is the New Testament body life and intimate sharing that will attract and convert the non-Christians.
- I believe that Peter Wagner created this term , although it now appears in most church growth texts.
- Larry Kreider is the author of House to House (Touch, 1995). He referred to this conversation with Cho during his panel discussion at the Post Denominational seminar on May 22, 1996. Cho reportedly made this comment several year earlier.
- This figure 60,000 is used by Galloway in his 1995 book called The Small Group Book. It’s interesting to note that the difference in time between the publishing of this book and Cho’s 1993 interview with Carl George in which Cho said that he had 50,000 cell groups.
- In our system, Bible teachers are best used in the Sunday School and the preaching/ teaching ministries of the church.
- In the C&MA it seems that we are willing to take great risks in planting new churches. Many of these churches die because the initial foundations were so weak. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that we should only start churches when we have a good chance of succeeding. In contrast, I believe that we should not hesitate to launch new cell groups. From my experience, I have discovered that it is far less devastating to both leader and followers when a cell group dissolves than when an entire church has to close the doors.
- For a more in-depth understanding of Galloway’s system of training, read pages .93-110 in Galloway’s most recent book entitled, The Small Group Book (1995).
- It’s also true that there is nothing new under the sun, and I suspect that Carl George simply gave new life to an already existing bimonthly cell training model.
- My excitement about my present manual is due to the fact that it has gone through so many editions. In other words, I changed it according to what actually worked in our cell ministry. Cell theory that didn’t work has been deleted as a result of the numerous editions.
- Neighbour has developed an elaborate set of materials which deals with every stage of the believer’s walk. However, all of this material is designed to be used within the cell group and the cell group structure.
- I had four conversations with Dale Galloway during and after his 1995 cell seminar in Columbus, Ohio. Dale explicitly told me that Carl George had intensely studied Hope Community Church (Galloway’s church) in Portland, Oregon before writing his book, Prepare Your Church for the Future. Dale implied that the principles in George’s book came from his ministry. Yet, in one sense, all of those principles ultimately came from Cho’’ model in Korea, since Galloway began his cell ministry based on Cho’s model.
- Neighbour points out that this is one aspect that is common to all of the cell churches. In his book, Where Do We Go From Here (1990:73-80), Neighbour talks about this apprentice system (George calls this the Jethro model) that is so common in cell churches today .
- Chapter 13 of Successful Home Cell Groups is dedicated to the importance of recognition of cell leadership.
- In the special presentation, we also included the leaders (and their wives) of the new daughter group.
- I have become so convinced of this truth that I will openly correct cell leaders who use this terminology. I remember one L who I invited to speak at one of my seminars. He repeatedly used the word division in describing cell multiplication, and I corrected him before the whole seminar, as a point of clarification (he was a good friend).
- Cho attributes much of his success in ministry to goal setting principles (1982:161-176). He has a fourfold goal setting formula: 1 st: Set the goal (after much prayer) 2 nd : Dream about the goal (capture God’s vision for it) 3 rd: Proclaim the goal to those who will make it happen (congregation, etc.) 4 th : Prepare for the fulfillment of the goal (In other words, make plans as though God were going to accomplish it).
- I should clarify the term ‘mature’. Only because oftentimes the so called ‘mature people’ resist cell multiplication the most. They can also be very critical of the new leader. I’m using ‘mature’ to refer to people who are convinced of the cell multiplication idea and will do everything possible to make it work.
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