Worldwide Cell Churches
Excerpt from chapter fourteen of Joel Comiskey’s book The Church that Multiplies: Growing a Healthy Cell Church in North America.
I stayed away from cell church circles until 1996. I wasn’t impressed with cell church rhetoric; I even resisted it. Something changed radically in 1996 that made me a cell church enthusiast. The difference? I visited cell churches. I saw the power of cell evangelism and multiplication. I witnessed the intimate pastoral care provided by the cell leaders. I realized that this was what I was looking for in church life and ministry.
I hear a similar yearning in pastors today. They don’t want the rhetoric, but they do want to see reality. I hear them say continually, “Where are the healthy cell churches in North America?”
North Americans are pragmatic. It’s part of their cultural heritage. They want to see, experience, and analyze healthy cell churches before they’re willing to make the leap. In this chapter we look at these cell churches, what they’re doing, and what we can learn from them.
Admittedly, the churches chosen in this chapter reflect my bias. I’ve picked them because I’m personally familiar with them, having ministered in them or known the senior pastor, or can verify the results. I’ve held seminars, in fact, in nineteen of the forty-four churches listed here. I’m sure I’ve missed many great cell churches. Touch Outreach has listed close to 300 North American cell churches at www.touchusa.org for those looking for more information (note 1).
The churches in this chapter represent various denominations and networks: Assemblies of God, American Baptist, Chapel, Church of Christ, Church of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Dove Christian Fellowship, Free Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Pentecostal Free Will Baptist, United Methodist, Vineyard, and Wesleyan.
Seventeen of the churches are non-denominational. Some of the churches would be considered charismatic while others would not use that label. The forty U.S. churches are found in twenty-one states. That they are dispersed throughout the U.S. strongly suggests that the cell church can work anywhere in the U.S.
Two of the four Canadian churches are located in the province of Ontario; the other two are 2000 miles to the west in the province of British Columbia. For further treatment of the cell movement in Canada, I recommend the book Church without Walls, edited by Michael Green, specifically the first chapter, titled “Cell Church in Canada” (note 2).
I didn’t pick these churches based on their Natural Church Development scores because I didn’t want to exclude churches that had not submitted to NCD testing (note 3). I strongly suspect, however, that their scores would be well over 65% in holistic small groups and that more than 75% of the worshippers would be in small groups during the week. Some of them, in fact, have more people in cells than in celebration.
None of these churches is perfect. The perfect cell church doesn’t exist. On a scale of one to ten, I would place most of them at eight or nine. All of them are in transition and would tell you that they haven’t arrived.
Another limitation is that the scope of this book doesn’t allow me to include cell churches in other western contexts, such as Europe or Australia. One of my favorite cell churches is in Zurich, Switzerland, pastored by my good friend Werner Kniessel.
The churches listed here exemplify church health, not necessarily the largest Sunday celebration attendance in North America. I have purposely avoided arranging them according to size to avoid “number” comparisons.
Some of the churches on this list have chosen to emphasize cell church planting rather than grow into one huge cell church. I personally think this is the best option (note 4).
When describing certain churches, I use the term G12 to show how the church cares for cell leaders. G12 simply means Groups of Twelve and is a way to coach cell leaders that César Castellanos developed in 1990. G12 patterns itself after how Jesus cared for his twelve disciples.
Antioch Community Church
Pastor Jimmy Seibert, non-denominational
Facts: 135 cells; 2000 worship attendance,
30+ church planting teams
Pastor Jimmy Seibert, while college pastor at Highland Baptist Church, pioneered student-led cell ministry on the Baylor University Campus in Waco, Texas. It grew to some 600 students on four campuses (note 5). In 1999 Antioch Community Church was sent out from Highland Baptist Church as a cell church under the leadership of Seibert.
Wherever I go in North America, I keep hearing about the effectiveness of cell ministry at Antioch Community Church. As I’ve considered the key strength of this church, I’ve noticed a primary principle: multiplication. This church teaches and practices the multiplication of groups, leaders, churches, and missionaries. With the multiplication of disciples as the core principle, Antioch Community Church is an exciting blend of cell growth, church planting, and missions. This church is exemplifying the power of cell-based ministry in a North American context.
Bethany World Prayer Center
Pastor Larry Stockstill, non-denominational
Facts: 700 cells, 6000 worship attendance, 12,500 church plants worldwide (note 6)
Bethany World Prayer center is the most fully formed cell church in North America, in my opinion. Bethany’s pastors have researched cell church worldwide and since 1996 have hosted yearly cell church conferences. Bethany attracts thousands of pastors to its yearly cell conferences promoting “Winning souls and making Disciples. ” Stockstill’s book The Cell Church stimulates faith and vision to make cell church a reality in North America (note 7). I constantly recommend it to inspire churches to press on in the cell strategy.
Big Bear Christian Center
Big Bear City, CA
Pastor Jeff Tunnell, non-denominational
Facts: 35 cells, 200 worship attendance,
1 church plant
This growing cell church is located in a mountain community of 5700 (24 000 in the surrounding area). I’ve heard people say that cell ministry works only in bustling urban environments. Big Bear Christian Center (BBCC) finds itself in just the opposite environment, yet God is doing great things through the cell ministry.
Since 2000 Tunnell has patiently steered the church through transition to the cell-driven strategy, adapting cell principles to fit the context of Big Bear City. BBCC highlights prayer as the guiding star, emphasizes a rotating preaching team, and has a growing vision to make a world impact through cell ministry.
Camino Real Christian Fellowship
San Antonio, TX
Pastor Ernie Hinojosa, Lutheran (ELCA)
Facts: 20 cells, 125 worship attendance,
2 satellite centers
Pastor Ernie Hinojosa planted an innovative Lutheran cell church in San Antonio, Texas, in 2001. The church’s special calling is to minister to the needs of San Antonio’s inner city community. The church emphasizes the power of prayer and intercession as the key focal points for church growth. The goal is to start at least one cell in each zip code of San Antonio.
This will be accomplished by multiplying cell groups that are part of Camino Real but also by multiplying cell-based satellite ministries in San Antonio. To date, Camino Real has planted a satellite ministry targeting postmodern young adults near the city’s downtown art district. This satellite, started as a single cell group of Camino Real, has grown into a full-fledged satellite ministry with five cells.
Camino Real also has recently begun developing a Spanish–English bilingual outreach ministry, started from three Camino Real cell groups. Camino Real believes that, as it multiplies cells of its own and plants other cell-based ministries in the city, it will eventually reach an entire city for Christ.
New Orleans, LA
Pastor Dennis Watson, Southern Baptist
Facts: 163 cells, 3600 worship attendance, 2100 in cells, and
37 church plants (12 in U.S. and 25 worldwide)
Pastor Dennis Watson led his church’s transition to cell-based ministry in 1995 by personally leading the first pilot cell group. God has now granted them more than 100 cells, and the church is at the forefront of the cell movement, even hosting an annual cell church conference.
Celebration Church sees itself as a missionary church, possessing a vision of starting cell-based churches in Louisiana and around the world. They value cell-based ministry as the best way to develop leaders who will penetrate the diverse cultures of New Orleans. The church is also preparing leaders from Africa, Latin America, and Asia to take the gospel back to their home countries.
Celebration Church, City of Champions
(Formerly Long Reach Church of God)
Columbia , MD
Bishop Bob Davis, Church of God
Facts: 100 cells, 1800 worship attendance,
7 church plants
Bob Davis , a founding member of this church who became pastor a year later, has been at the forefront of the cell church movement since moving this congregation through the transition to a cell church approach fifteen years ago. Davis has coached many pastors in cell church ministry, sharing the insights he’s learned in his own church.
High on the priority list in this church is the training track. The church has walked many believers from conversion to maturity through it. Davis writes about the training track: “We have seen God deliver His people from all kinds of life-dominating sins (drugs, spousal and child abuse, homosexuality, marital problems, financial problems, and more) without specific counseling for their particular problem.”
This church has effectively reached the Baltimore and Columbia, Maryland, and Washington, DC region for the past thirty-one years.
Vero Beach, FL
Pastor Buddy Tipton, Assembly of God
Facts: 80 cells, 800 worship attendance,
Buddy Tipton, the senior pastor of Central Assembly in Vero Beach, Florida for 30+ years, loves cell ministry because it’s outreach oriented. “We tried fellowship groups for years,” he told the participants during my cell seminar in his church, “and they turned inward. They didn’t bring new life into our church.” Tipton and his leadership team were attracted to the cell strategy because of evangelism and multiplication that forms the DNA of each cell group.
After 30 years as the pastor of Central Assembly, Tipton began to feel that there was still much more God wanted to accomplish. The church took their time, prayed a lot, and felt God calling them to become a cell church.
The church adopted principles rather than models, and tried to make sure it reflected the heart of the church culture and leadership. The church started the transition with a single prototype cell made up of Tipton and the leadership team. Each key leader started a leadership prototype in the home, and invited a handful of people to become the first generation of cell leaders. The church took nearly a year in these first leadership groups before launching open cells at the end of 2004. As is typical of an established church, most of the first groups were full of church people. Soon, new people started appearing in the cells. Shortly after, the church started their equipping training (called Road to Maturity) and has seen God change lives in a powerful way.
The church has seen steady growth since 2004. They have obvious, measurable growth in the celebrations, and more importantly, the new people are unchurched people who have never darkened the door of a church.
Central Christian Assembly
Pastor Terry Kirk, Assemblies of God
Facts: 50 cells, 700 worship attendance,
1 church plant
Pastor Terry Kirk surrendered his life to Jesus in 1972 after facing hardship growing up in the hills of West Virginia and having experienced several tragic family events. A few months later he was baptized in the Holy Spirit.
God called him into the ministry, and one of the key influences in his life was David Cho (at that time he was Yonggi Cho). During a church growth conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1978, God used Cho to ignite a passion in pastor Kirk’s heart for cell ministry. In 1983, when pastor Kirk started Central Christian in Baltimore, he finally had the chance to practice the cell vision God had given him five years earlier.
The church has adjusted and adapted cell principles to their own culture and context. They would love to say that their cells were exploding, but they have seriously taken the advice of Karen Hurston, who said, “Just keep plodding, the breakthrough will come.” I was impressed with this church’s desire to press ahead with the vision that God has given them to reach Baltimore through cell-based ministry.
Pastor Happy Leman, Vineyard
Facts: 95 adult cells, 35 teen cells, 2200, 5 church plants
Senior pastor Happy Leman was one of the early cell church pioneers. He, along with Jim Egli, provided training and materials for cell-based ministry in the ’90s. Egli, cell church author, earned his PhD studying cell churches around the world and then returned to Champaign Vineyard in 2001 to spearhead the cell ministry there.
The church has grown from 25 cells to 95 (in addition to 35 youth small groups). They are using the Alpha course alongside cell ministry to effectively reach out. The church has increasingly become cell driven as Leman recently made the decision to train all of the staff to coach cell groups. Most of the staff were already leading cells, but their new assignment allows them to pastor the entire church through the cell structure. Egli continues to be the cell champion, under Leman. Champaign Vineyard is fast becoming a shining model of cell-based ministry in North America. Many small group resources can be downloaded at: www.thevineyardchurch.us/getconnected/communitylife.htm.
Fort Worth, TX
Jamey Miller, non-denominational
Facts: 25 cells, 300 worship attendance,
9 church plants
Christ Fellowship, founded in 1993, was not content with simply multiplying cell groups. The church also felt called to plant churches in North America and beyond. Pastor Jamey Miller writes, “We believe that our call to cultivate life-giving cell groups and church plants is rooted in God’s plan for His glory on the earth.”
The cell-church-planting emphasis flows from the belief that living things multiply. Cell groups multiply through Christ’s living presence, and then Christ continues to reach out through church planting. Miller writes, “There’s nothing like cell life to bring people into ministry opportunities that cultivate readiness for church planting in another context.”
When I met Miller, I was thrilled to hear about his worldwide cell-church-planting vision.
Church Without Walls
Pastor Steve McCranie, non-denominational
Facts: 6 cells, 95 worship attendance
Pastor Steve McCranie ministered in a traditional Baptist Church for 20 years before starting the Church Without Walls. He now realizes how much easier it is to plant a cell church than try to move an aging one through the transition to cell church. McCranie launched into cell-based ministry in 2000.
The excitement about this church can be seen in its web site—one of the best cell church web sites I’ve ever seen. The church is not large but it’s healthy. Those in the celebration are also in a cell and vice-versa. It’s truly a church without walls.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Pastors David and Cheryl Koop, non-denominational
Facts: 35 cells, 700 worshippers
In October 1993, a group of Bible school students began witnessing and preaching Jesus on the streets of Vancouver. Pastors Dave and Cheryl Koop, leaders of this student group, eventually planted a church in 1994 called Coastal Church. The church is located in one of the most densely populated and unchurched areas of Canada—only 2% of the population attend church.
The church tried various approaches to reach the community but found that only the cell church model would reach and hold the harvest in this high-rise community. In 2003, for example, the church baptized ninety-one people in nearby English Bay (located in the Pacific Ocean a few blocks away) and then discipled them through the cell system. Heavily influenced by Ralph Neighbour and David Cho, Coastal Church has built and adapted its cell structure over the years.
More than thirty-five nations are represented in this congregation. Some of the cells, in fact, are led in the mother languages of those represented in the congregation. A key value at Coastal Church is missions. One way they engage in missions is to prepare, train, and send harvest workers back to the countries they came from (a large percentage of the congregation is first-generation Christian). I was thrilled to hear that Dave still leads a cell—one of the marketplace cells that meet at lunch time. The church was not only born in a cell in 1994, but the senior pastor still leads one. Koop is doing what Paul said to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Cornerstone Church & Ministries
Senior Leader Gerald Martin, non-denominational
Facts: 125 cells, 1350 worship attendance in 10 network churches and church plants, 1500 total membership (note 9)
Cornerstone Church & Ministries International (CCMI) is an apostolic network of cell churches and ministries committed to church growth, church planting, and cross-cultural missions.
The church’s goal is to multiply the ministry at every level by raising up and training leaders to multiply believers, cell groups, churches and networks. The discipleship track begins with encounter retreats focused on gaining personal freedom from past baggage by taking people to the cross. It continues with schools of leaders designed to teach and train believers for ministry and leadership followed with advanced courses in preparation for full time pastoral ministry .
Martin, now operating in the apostolic role, is one of the stalwarts of North American cell-based ministry, having worked closely with Ralph Neighbour for many years. I’ve been impressed with how Cornerstone has remained on the cutting edge of cell church ministry over the long haul. Their training track is one of the best available today.
Cornerstone has not adopted the G12 care structure in its entirety. Rather they’ve adapted and fine-tuned it to fit their own culture and context.
CrossBridge Community Church
San Antonio, TX
Pastor Kirk Freeman
Facts: 37 cells, 650 worship attendance
In April 2003, Kirk Freeman started this contemporary church. The core value of CrossBridge Community Church (CBCC) is to build community through multiplying life groups.
The church is located in a growing part of north San Antonio. The CBCC celebration attracts many unconnected, unchurched people. Freeman envisions the day when the life groups do most of the connecting and outreach in the community.
The life groups, organized geographically, are designed to reach out to neighbors and friends who live in the same community. Freeman leads his own cell group and highlights the advantages of geographically designed cells: “People in my life group also are in my subdivision. We already shared common schools, shopping patterns, income levels, plus we saw each other regularly through the week.” The life group uses the Sunday message as the lesson, trying to integrate as much as possible. These were naturally occuring points of community which we could leverage.” The focus of the Life Group isn’t Bible study, though application of the Word is a component. Moving the groups to experience deeper worship and times of ministry is a constant goal.
Crossroads UMC Church
Pastor Dr. Steve Cordle, United Methodist
Facts: 85 cells, 1400 worship attendance, 3 campuses
Crossroad UMC exemplifies to North America that cell church ministry is a viable option and works here just like it does overseas.
Dr. Steve Cordle wrote his dissertation on small-group ministry and understands the concepts very well. In 1994, he planted Crossroads from scratch, and the church has now grown to more than 1000 in Sunday attendance. Cordle has increasingly focused his church along the cell church path, birthing eighty-three cell groups in the process (720 adults and teens in cell groups–not counting chidlren).
Cordle understands the need to produce disciples who are producing disciples.
Cordle recently wrote a book called The Church in Many Houses: Reaching Your Community through Cell-based Ministry (Abingdon, 2005), and I highly recommend it. Cordle is one of the partners at Joel Comiskey Group and is available for coaching pastors: www.joelcomiskeygroup.com.
Cypress Creek Church
Pastor Rob Campbell, non-denominational
Facts: 104 cells, 1100 worship attendance,
67 church plants and partner churches
I’ve taken two groups of pastors to Cypress Creek Church (CCC) since 2002 to give them an introduction and initiation to the North American cell church.
Pastor Rob Campbell started CCC in 1993, recruiting a prayer pastor as the first staff person. Not only has CCC seen incredible local church growth through cell ministry, but this church is committed to planting cell churches worldwide. CCC has great college-and-career cells that meet weekly outside the church building.
Campbell’s exciting book, Dance with me, Daddy tells the story of CCC as well as his own story. Campbell is one of the partners connected at Joel Comiskey Group and is available for coaching pastors: www.joelcomiskeygroup.com.
DOVE Christian Fellowship
Started in Pennsylvania
Founder Larry Kreider, non-denominational
Facts: 150 cell churches
Larry Kreider, founder and international director of the DOVE movement, never intended to start a church. He tried as long as possible to integrate the vanloads of young people whom he and a group of youth had won to Christ into the existing church structures.
Yet, the new wine of God’s Spirit burst the old, existing wineskins. Finally, Kreider yielded to God’s call on his life and in 1980 started DOVE Christian Fellowship. DOVE is an acronym for “Declaring Our Victory Emmanuel.”
This church is perhaps the leading cell church in North America because God has birthed a worldwide cell church planting movement, seminar ministry, and publishing arm through DOVE .
DOVE has planted more than 150 cell churches on five continents. Kreider has based his movement on biblical and cell church principles rather than following one model structure. DOVE cell churches are located in eighteen U.S. states and dispel the myth that cell church doesn’t work in North America.
East Hills Alliance Church
Pastor Nick Stumbo, CMA
Facts: 9 cells, 200 worship attendance
Steve Fowler took over this church in 1996, when the church had 70 people. He prayed, studied, and planned for more than four years before making the transition to cell ministry in 2001. He and the elders chose the cell church option because they felt it was the most biblically based strategy.
He changed the church’s motto to “Making it hard for the people of Kelso to go to hell.” He positioned his small groups to evangelize. From one prototype life group, the life groups multiplied to fifteen, and the church has tripled in both cell and celebration attendance. Fowler and family felt called to become missionaries to China in 2004, and the associate pasor, Nick Stumbo, became the lead pastor. The church continues to grow in cell-based ministry.
John Pitman (contact person), non-denominational
Facts: 7 cells, 50 worshippers,
John Pitman, one of the ministers in a Disciples of Christ church, received a mandate from the elders in 2002 to launch a “seeker-friendly” assembly to try to connect with “unchurched” people. Pitman had no desire for such an enterprise but did sense an immense need to create a place where folks could find God without feeling awkward throughout the entire experience. The result is Encounter, a brand new home-based cell church that meets in the Memphis area.
This church represents an innovative cell church structure that is a hybrid between cell church and a house church network. Pitman describes the church as a network of home-based ecclesias. Each of these churches has men’s and women’s cells. The idea is for the home-based units to be simple churches—or house churches who assemble on Sunday—and the gender groups to function as cells.
Family Life Church
Pastor Dave Smith, Nazarene
Facts: 6 cells, 125 worship attendance
Before this Nazarene church officially started, the leaders immersed themselves in cell church literature to clearly see what they wanted to eventually become. God birthed the vision for cells in their hearts.
Pastor Dave Smith started the first pilot cell in 2001, and they have since continued the process of multiplication, while gathering the cells together each Sunday to celebrate.
Smith writes, “The cell philosophy has given us the context for making disciples who are making disciples. Our cell groups are being the church that Christ called us to be in our community. The vision for our cells is to connect with Christ, one another, and pre-believers. It’s happening! Last fiscal year we baptized 34 new believers. This year our goal is for 70. Our cell leaders are winning people to Jesus, participating in their baptism and discipling them to become future cell leaders. It’s so much fun for me to see the church in action. I grew up in a very traditional church looking for something more. Cell church is the N.T. body life I was looking for.”
Grace Christian Church
Pastor Jeff Barbieri, independent Bible church
Facts: 9 cells, 120 worship attendance
In 2003, Pastor Jeff Barbieri stepped outside of his box and started a cell-based church called Grace Christian Church. Barbieri writes, “Though I am new at pastoring this way, it feels so natural. In the traditional church I was trying to superimpose the biblical principles of edification, equipping, and evangelism on a structure that was at best neutral and at times hostile to these functions. But in a cell church the very model gives birth to and supports these biblical functions.” God is giving Grace Christian Church new converts, and they are effectively discipling these converts through the cell structure. The church has seen many people come to Christ since the church started. At the end of 2008, the key leaders produced the following long-term visionn statement:
The long-term vision of Grace Christian Church is to become the premier grace-centered, cell-based church in the Northeast that will give birth to:
Grace Counseling Center – providing spiritual, emotional, and relational healing and training in Exchange Life Counseling.
Grace Ministry Training Center – discipling, training, mentoring of future pastors in the Grace Cell Model.
Grace Missions – planting grace-centered, cell churches worldwide.
Hope Community Church
Douglasville , GA
Pastor Dave Wiener, CMA
Facts: 4 cells, 60 worship attendance
Dave Wiener moved in 2005 to Douglasville, GA, to take over Emmanuel Fellowship. Emmanuel Fellowship was a church that had suffered through church splits and difficult situations over the previous 10 years and was down to 20 people attending. As a part of the redevelopment strategy, Emmanuel Fellowship was closed in August 2005, and Pastor Dave and the leaders covenated to open a new cell-driven church in its place. Two prototype cell groups were started and the new church, Hope Community Church, opened to the public just three months later. The transition continues.
Pastor Dave is clear that the cell church vision isn’t just about fellowship. He writes, “A spiritual cell group is very similar to a biological cell. Followers of Jesus Christ edify one another and increase the kingdom by sharing their lives with unbelievers. New leaders are raised up from within the group (with support and training by the pastoral staff) to grow and expand the ministry to a hurting world. When the group multiplies, the process repeats itself. . . . We are living in the last days. God has called us to storm the gates of Hell, set the captives free and fulfill the Great Commission. It can easily be accomplished through cell groups in your church. Cell Groups are built for storming!” The entire explanation of the cell church vision is well-worth reading- http://hope4douglasville.org/cellchurch.asp.
Pastor Dave is not only excited about sharing the cell vision with his church, he’s also desirous that more churches within the Christian and Missionary Alliance would catch the same vision. He’s in the process of networking cell churches with the CMA fellowship, as well as coaching several other cell church pastors.
International Christian Center
Staten Island, NY
Pastor Russell L. Hodgins, Assembly of God
Facts: 33 cells, 2000 worship attendance
Pastor Russell Hodgins became the senior pastor of ICC in 1998, taking over a diminishing congregation of 125 people. A fresh wind of the Holy Spirit began to blow, people began to experience God, and growth took place. Seven years later, with multi-site expansion on the horizon, they realized that the program-driven approach of doing church in the past was not going to take ICC into the fullness of God’s plans for their future. A shift needed to take place at the very core of the church structure.
ICC started their cell church transition in 2006 with the introduction of Bridge Groups. Pastor Hodgins led the first prototype among staff and lay leaders. Each of them then started their own prototype group comprised of future cell leaders. When the leadership prototype groups multiplied, ICC had thirty three cells. Thus, ICC had thirty-three cell groups before they ever made an announcement to the congregation about cell ministry.
I’ve had the privilege of coaching ICC in their cell transition, and I’ve been super impressed at how skillfully Pastor Hodgins has guided the transition process. He has guided the leadership team to make hard, strategic decisions about what existing programs did not fit the vision of cell ministry. The leadership team understands that the cell church transition is a long-term commitment, and they’ve counted the cost to make it happen. ICC is a great example of the new breed of the radical middle in North America.
Living Hope Christian Assembly
Hamilton , ON, Canada
Pastor Bob Leach, affiliated with Ministers Fellowship International
Facts: 60 cells, 650 worship attendance
Pastor Bob Leach was part of the drug culture of the ’70s and was saved in Kabul, Afghanistan, while on his way to India. He, along with his wife, Joanne, began attending a local church in 1974 and were called to be senior pastors in 1985.
Living Hope is a cell-based church that is connected with the worldwide G12 movement. Leach’s first introduction to the cell concept came from the International Charismatic Mission in Bogota, Colombia. The church’s web site declares, “We at Living Hope believe in a life-giving God who, in the foundation of His creation, created cells. These natural cells are the foundation of life, growth, and health. In the spiritual world God is using the same principle to reproduce His spiritual life through His Church.” Their passion is to win, consolidate, disciple, and send people into ministry.
The church has effectively reached the non-Christian community, and today 60% of those attending the church are from the unsaved and unchurched world.
Pastor Bryan James, non-denominational
Facts: 20 cells, 400 worship attendance
I’m privileged to coach some first-class pastors. Most of them are lead pastors and a few of them are cell champions, serving as associates alongside the lead pastor. Elizabeth Lynberg is one of those cell champions who God raised up from within the cell ministry and now trains and coaches other cell leaders at Monterey Church (check them out at). At Monterey, they call the groups dGroups [d standing for discipleship]. They currently have approximately 20 dgroups. Listen to some of the testimonies of God’s transforming work through the dgroups:
Loner becomes Leader:
One man tells the story of when he was new to Monterey Church and a younger guy came up to him and invited him to his dGroup. The man admits to not being much of a small group guy, saying, “Small groups are great for other people, they are just not for me.” But since he was personally invited, he felt compelled to go, at least once. Fast forward one year and he is now leading his own dGroup and is blessed each week to get to know the others in his group in a deep and meaningful way as they share their lives and dig into God’s Word
New Faces, New Friends:
Before service one day, a young lady noticed a new face in the lobby. She describes that she felt led to approach this woman in an effort to make her feel welcome. The new friends talked and prayed together that morning. The young lady also sensed her new friend needed the unconditional love of a community of women and introduced her to a dGroup leader. The woman began to attend the group weekly. Over the past six months, she has experienced acceptance, healing and God’s love in new and real ways. Her life is being transformed by the love of Jesus expressed by the people around her.
I encourage Elizabeth with how fortunate she is to have a first-class celebration service that is attracting loads of young families. Yet, we are also aware that it takes a lot of work to assure that people in the celebration get connected to the cell. Liz recently wrote to her leaders:
Each week, many people express an interest in getting into community. We do our best to get each person connected through follow up emails and phone calls. However, the Lord has shown me that nothing can replace a personal invitation from you. Many of you do this regularly and I pray God will continue to equip you with everything good for doing His will.
I’m excited to follow the cell church vision at Monterey Church.
Pastor Rob Fairbanks, interdenominational emerging church
Facts: 35 cells, 700 worship attendance,
3 church plants
New Community’s web site says, “New Community’s vision is to establish an urban small-group driven church which wholeheartedly loves and worships God, boldly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ and unconditionally loves all people, regardless of background.”
While giving a seminar at New Community, I was impressed by the church’s attempt to be missional to a postmodern membership while staying true to the cell values that form the basis of the church. Fairbanks was an early adopter of cell ministry and has bridged the gap between cell quality and effective outreach. I like his balance. He loves cell ministry and has carefully and persistently introduced a new generation of postmoderns to the cell church. New Community primarily reaches university students in Spokane.
New Hope Christian Fellowship
Pastor Dave Scott, Free Methodist
Facts: 20 cells, 300 worship attendance
Pastor Dave Scott not only can clearly articulate the values of cell-based ministry (perhaps the best value/mission statements to define the cell church that I’ve seen), but he also lives those values to those around him. Scott is leading a growing cell church because he practices what he preaches.
Every week Scott plays basketball in the gym. He sweats with sinners. He helps coach little league sports and has even picked up the hobby of radio control cars. These activities have opened doors of relationships with unchurched people. He also leads a cell in his neighborhood.
His values and priorities speak loudly: “I want to exemplify what it means to be a f riend of sinners and I want you, congregation, to do the same.”
Scott has done a superb job of adapting a conventional staff to cell-based ministry.
New Life Community Church
Pastor Mark Jobe, non-denominational
Facts: 125, cells, 2000 worship attendance,
8 satellite locations
New Life began in 1987 as a resurrection of a small, dying inner-city church. Mark Jobe, son of missionary parents from Spain, arrived in December 1985 and began to emphasize home-cell-group ministry in 1991. It has since grown into a multi-cultural, multi-site, cell-based church that meets in eight satellite locations throughout the Chicago area.
The coaching structure follows social networks as opposed to geography. That is, when a group multiplies, it stays in the zone regardless of location. The zones are divided into women’s groups, men’s groups, married couples, youth, specialty groups and Spanish-speaking groups.
The church has a clear training track that begins with new believers and equips the members to minister through the cell structure.
New Life Worship Center
Pastor Eric Thompson, Assemblies of God
Facts: 10 cells, 75 worship attendance
Pastor Eric Thompson tried many programs to involve the church in discipleship and evangelism. Yet none of them had the success or fruit he desired. Through the hard knocks of ministry, God led him to adapt the church to the cell vision.
The cell groups at New Life meet weekly for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship while the leadership groups (G12) meet for coaching every other week. Thompson says, “We are working on getting our cell leaders and cells out into the community in order to get the community into our cells.”
Because the church was still very young when they began their transition, they didn’t experience many difficulties. Thompson says, “We are excited about the fruit and our future.”
New River Community Church
South Windsor, CT
Pastor Doug Rowse, CMA
Facts: 20 cells, 300 worship attendance, 1 church plant
The evangelical population of Connecticut is less than 4.6%. God has raised up New River Community Church to help stem the tide. NRCC, in fact, is a young church, in which the average age is 32 years old. They have 300 people, of which 150 are kids.
When Pastor Doug first started the church in 1997, he possessed the vision for cell ministry. Implementing that vision was another matter. Becoming a cell church, in fact, was far harder than he imagined back then. Yet, Pastor Doug doggedly stuck with the vision, hiring staff with a similar values and principles. Cell ministry has now begun to gel, forming the heartbeat of all the church does.
When I was with this church, I noticed the emphasis on evangelism through the cell groups (called life groups). The cells are not content with simply reaching churched people. They are pro-actively inviting the unreached people of the area. I was also impressed with pastor Doug’s transparency. He’s real about his failures and triumphs and models cell life by leading his own weekly cell group.
The cell vision is crystal clear at NRCC. Their web site declares: New River is a vibrant cell church in Connecticut’s Greater Hartford area designed especially for people looking for something real in a church. . . .We are an expanding network of Life Groups dedicated to the person and cause of Jesus Christ in Connecticut and around the world. NRCC has already planted one church and is currently working on the second plant. They believe that multiplication needs to happen at all levels: Christians, leaders, cells, and congregations.
Newmarket Alliance Church
Newmarket, ON, Canada
Pastor Ian Knight, CMA
Facts: 30 cells; 200 Sunday worship attendance
This church has remained on the cutting edge during the past decade. The church isn’t afraid to risk and obey what God is revealing. In my book Groups of Twelve I mentioned this church because of the creative application in applying G12 principles.
The church recently restructured the leadership to eliminate the title “senior pastor” and shift the board of elders from a “board of directors” role so that the lead pastor (now called lead elder) and elders would be a team of overseers of the church.
The church also began to experiment with the integration of house churches and cell groups. The founding pastor, Dave Brandon, writes, “Essentially Newmarket Alliance Church is becoming a church of churches. We are attempting to transition the worship service into a corporate gathering of churches.”
Northlake Baptist Church
Pastor Mark Schmutz, American Baptist
Facts: 28 cells, 400 worship attendance
Pastor Mark Schmutz came to the church in 1996 and prayed that God would give him a strategy. God burdened his heart with the cell vision, and in 1999, with about 300 people, the congregation started the transition to cell church.
Although the going was tough, they continued to reach out and multiply. The church has since added 100 people and has multiplied the first prototype cell to the current twenty-eight cell groups.
Schmutz meets with a different zone of cell leaders each Wednesday night and meets with the youth zone occasionally (in months that have five Wednesdays). The youth pastor meets with the youth zone each week.
I appreciated the steady growth in both cell and celebration that I witnessed in this church. Rather than abruptly changing a structure, Schmutz guided the church through value change among the members.
The Oasis at Rita Ranch
Pastor David Gainey, Southern Baptist
Facts: 10 cells, 130 worship attendance
David Gainey, the pastor and founder of the Oasis at Rita Ranch, is convinced that real life change takes place in the cell group (they call them home groups). Although Pastor David founded the church, the Oasis began as a purpose-driven, program-based church, rather than a cell church. In 2003, he caught the cell church vision and never looked back. He fully transitioned his church over a two-year period.
I like the fact that David exemplifies cell life by leading his own cell group and reaching out to friends and neighbors. Teaching religion classes part-time at the local community college has opened up numerous contacts with pre-Christians.
I’ve spent a lot of time with David and have learned a lot from him. I’ve been impressed with how his church has integrated Alpha as the first link in the equipping process. Cell members invite friends to a home-based Alpha course and those same members welcome the new converts into their cell groups. Those graduating from Alpha are already accustomed to the home atmosphere, so cell life comes naturally.
Pastor David has tweaked the Sunday morning atmosphere to reflect the church’s focus on cell and celebration. On Sunday, cell members are encouraged to sit with their own group and invited guests. Attenders sit around large, round tables while Pastor David speaks from God’s Word. The application of God’s Word comes very naturally in this setting, where attenders often discuss spiritual matters at their tables.
Pastor David plans to begin a charter school in the near future, which will serve as a prototype for future schools. With each new school, the Oasis hopes to plant a cell church. Each school will provide funding for a building, and each church will provide after-school programs, tutoring, and other support to students, parents and teachers. The Oasis expects this symbiotic relationship between church and school to define their ministry over the next twenty years.
Riverside Community Church
Pastor Don Flynn, CMA
Facts: 6 cells, 100 worship attendance
Riverside Community Church has been in transition to the cell-group model since February 2003 when they began with a twelve-week cell bootcamp, designed to bring everyone onto the same page. Flynn recognizes the growing pains but also rejoices in the great learning experience. He writes, “The key is to be in it for the long haul, and we are. There is no plan B! Value change is a slow and tedious process, but true change does not come without it.” The church’s commitment to making it happen over the long haul is reflected in its recent hiring of Les and Twyla Brickman, leading researchers of the cell movement worldwide, to help them in their transition.
Encouragement along the way always helps. One cell leader wrote to Flynn , “If it had not been for the way God weaved into your heart a burning desire for a cell church, He never would have weaved into my heart the freedom that I now have—in this particular way. I truly believe that your devotion to Him set in motion my freedom.”
Pastor Tom Tanner, Weslyan
Facts: 78 cells, 900 worship attendance
I first met the pastor and staff of Riverstone in a seminar in Atlanta in 1999. It was the same year that this church decided to dedicate itself to become a cell-based church. Tanner writes, “We are still figuring out some things, but we are having fun and God is most definitely blessing us as well as changing us.” I love this church because it’s such a great example of following the principles while adapting each step of the way.
This church, like all churches on this list, hasn’t arrived. Yet they are committed to a New Testament style of ministry that emphasizes transformation through a careful disciplemaking process (note 12).
Royal Ridge Church of God
Pastor Brian Wade, Church of God
Facts: 23 cells, 275 worship attendance
Since 2002, Royal Ridge Church of God has been in transition to the cell church structure. Their guiding vision is crystal clear: “to see hundreds of cell groups meeting throughout the week all around southern Maine, all coming together on Sunday for a giant celebration.”
Royal Ridge believes that cell groups are as much for evangelism as they are for fellowship and accountability and that each member of a cell group is a potential cell leader. Through cell ministry, the church encourages members to enter the leadership track and prepare to become cell leaders.
I like the balance of this church. It highlights both cell and celebration; it also follows an adapted G12 coaching structure because of its particular cultural realities.
San-Lee Chapel (SLC)
Pastor Dale Sauls, Pentecostal Free Will Baptist
Facts: 6 cells, 150 worship attendance
In November of 2004, Pastor Dale began pastoring San-Lee Chapel. Previously, he was on staff at Western Branch Community Church (WBCC) in Chesapeake, Virginia and helped WBCC through the transition from program-based to cell-based. While at WBCC, Pastor Dale fell in love with the cell-based model WBCC embraced.
He accepted the call to come to SLC, a troubled, 25-year old congregation with the following condition, “We are going to wipe everything off the table and start fresh. We aren’t going to argue about it, we are just going to do it.” With over a 9 0% vote, the church agreed.
Dale started leading a pilot cell group made up of future leaders and meeting with the key influencers in a “Strategy Group.” Then, they launched the cell groups and stopped the programs in June of 2005. During the transition, they consistently averaged around 130 in Sunday morning worship and ninety—five in the six cell s.
Although some left, a new culture has been established in the church. In the last year they’ve grown by 17%. Pastor Dale writes, “The morale is very high and we are at a place that it seems people get saved weekly. My firm belief is if the American church does not learn how to change more effectively, we are in trouble. I believe the cell church model is the best church structure. We are piloting this in rural NC with small congregationally governed churches. So far, it has been a tough, but AMAZING journey. It can and is working !”
South Shore Community Church
Pastor Rob Reimer, CMA
Facts: 45 cells, 725 worshippers, 2 campuses
In 1994, founding pastor Rob Reimer began the first cell group with his wife and six others from the mother church. In October 1995, there were two cells with twenty-three people, and South Shore Community Church (SSCC) launched its first worship service. Cells have continued to multiply, people have trusted Christ, and the church has continued to grow.
Approximately 50% of the growth at SSCC comes through new converts. In fact, each cell has the rule that it must reach at least three people for Christ in order to multiply.
Reimer is very clear about their cell emphasis: “The cell group is the backbone of SSCC. The cell group features praying for each others’ needs, discussing how to apply God’s Word, developing authentic relationships, contributing to others’ spiritual formation, and participating in a team effort to share the good news about God’s love.”
Each zone pastor at SSCC also leads a cell group, along with coaching other cell leaders. Reimer envisions the zone pastors working together in teams to more effectively care for the cell leaders under them.
North Vancouver, BC, Canada
Pastor Owen Scott, Full Gospel
Facts: 42 cells, 600 worshippers
When Owen and Val Scott started pastoring Valley Church in 1986, it already had a thirty-one-year history but only twenty-two members. Since that time, God has done exciting things, molding a church that is both multi-racial and inter-generational. And this church gives all glory to God, depending on prayer to make the growth happen. In the fall of 2000, Valley Church leadership decided to move the congregation toward becoming a cell church. Matthew and Winnie Low, who had extensive experience and training in cell ministry, were brought on staff in 2001 to help implement the cell model at Valley Church.
I was very impressed with the bold value statements that this church proclaims:
The cell is the center of the church.
The cell is the center of ministry in the church.
The cell is the church and meets every week.
The cell is the place of edification (building up), it’s not a Bible study per se.
The cell is the community of accountability and encouragement.
The cell members are to reach out to their pre-believing friends and loved ones (oikos).
The cells gather together with other cells weekly to celebrate Christ.
The cell multiplies itself as a mark of a healthy cell and a healthy church.
This church has done an excellent job of using Alpha to reach non-Christians while carefully integrating this ministry within the cell structure.
Victory Christian Center
Pastor Billy Joe Daugherty, non-denominational
Facts: 900 cells, 8670 weekend service attendance, and 184 international Bible schools in 52 countries
Victory Christian Center, founded and led by Billy Joe Daugherty, is an exciting cell church, one of the largest in North America. This church has been on a journey since the early 1980s. Initially inflamed with the cell vision through Cho’s church, Victory has been adapting ever since. As I talked with people during and after my first seminar at Victory, I was impressed with the various cell qualities in the church.
First, Daugherty is clearly leading the charge. He has the excellent help of a cell champion in Jerry Popenhagen, but the vision for cell ministry comes from the top. Second, the church has a superb training track. People are set free to serve through their training track, and they understand that holiness will bring forth the best fruit. Third, they are following principles in their coaching structure, having adapted the G12 care structure to fit their own particular needs. They didn’t blindly adopt the entire G12 care structure, but rather they adapted it to fit their own situation. Fourth, every cell receives the cell lesson in the weekly bulletin and is encouraged to follow the five-fold purposes of the cell.
The best thing about Victory is that they are passionate about reaching lost souls for Jesus Christ.
Wenatchee Free Methodist Church
Pastor John Paul Clark, Free Methodist
Facts: 120 cells, 1200 worship attendance
This church has been an important witness in the community for more than 100 years. Clark came in 1996 and has since been integrating the church into cell ministry. He has led and multiplied cell groups, and he understands cell values. Their web site mission statement declares, “At WFMC we’re passionate about loving God, loving each other, and loving those who do not yet know Jesus. Each of these purposes is best lived out in a small group—a small community of between five and fifteen people where ‘life’ is shared.”
When I held a seminar in this church I sensed a great excitement for what God is doing through cell ministry. A lot of this can be attributed to Floyd Schwanz, the cell champion (note 10). Schwanz wrote the excellent book, Growing Small Groups (note 11). Before joining WFMC, he was a key cell pastor at Dale Galloway’s church in Portland, Oregon. Schwanz’s fire for cell ministry is contagious, and his ministry stokes the flame of cell ministry for everyone in the church.
Western Branch Community Church
Pastor Jim Wall, The Acts 2 Network
Facts: 90 cells, 1600 worship attendance, 5 church plants
Pastor Jim Wall, a former missionary to the Philippines for nine years, felt led to return to the U.S. in 1989 and plant a church committed to reaching people who still believed in God but had given up on the church.
The Sunday morning services are not seeker-driven but members do work to provide a warm, accepting environment for newcomers and to ensure the songs and messages are understandable to the average unchurched person. Today, 59% of the church’s members were unchurched before joining WBCC.
In 1996, Pastor Jim began to move the church toward cell-based ministry, mainly because of the “hundreds of baby Christians crying for nourishment and no one to feed them!” Every cell group maintains three roles; i.e. members, sponsorees and friends. Members are those who are active in the cell. Sponsorees are those who are attending the Sunday services; but, have not yet joined a cell. Friends are the unsaved people cell members are committed to reaching for Christ. In that way, all ministry originates at a cell level; i.e. discipleship, assimilation and evangelism. Their cell network is structured in a hybrid system of 5X5 and G12. They currently have three Zones sub-divided into twelve Sections and 90 cells.
Pastor Jim writes, “As a result, we have effectively closed our back door (only a trickle now) and newcomers who choose to stay with us flow right into cell life. More importantly, we are watching new believers come to Christ every week and members grow up in Christ!”
Pastor Jim also coaches the leaders through a monthly huddle in which the leaders receive vision casting, prayer for their needs, and ongoing leadership training. He also provides coaching in church planting and cell dynamics through the Acts 2 Network.
York Alliance Church
Pastor David King, CMA
Facts: 20 cells, 500 worshippers
In 1998, key leaders from York Alliance went to an ACTS cell seminar in Virginia and became convinced that God wanted them to become a cell-based church. Starting with three pilot small groups made up of board leaders and church members, the church has been on a journey ever since. Transforming an eighty-year-old church is not an easy task, as the pastors know only too well. From 1998 until now, God has been molding King and the staff to live the values they expect the rest of the church to follow.
The journey has also been an exciting one. This church has testimony after testimony of transformed lives through cell ministry. As I interviewed cell leader after cell leader, my own life was transformed by the total dedication to friendship evangelism that many of the groups are experiencing. God is molding this church with a passion for the lost through small group evangelism.
Cell church is a great way to do ministry—even in North America. It works among people in a wide range of denominational and non-denominational backgrounds. The churches described here demonstrate that the cell church strategy can be implemented throughout North America.
As in most of life’s endeavors, success is not pain free. Becoming a cell church requires counting the cost, planning carefully, preparing the church through prayer and preaching, and especially involving the top leadership. Unless the lead pastor and key leaders model what they want others to follow, the church will go nowhere fast.
Remember also that weak, human pastors—just like you and me—shepherd North American cell churches. And these cell churches are composed of normal, hurting people. Their cells perform the function of hospital care and delivery rooms, spreading out over the city to reach and care for the sick and dying.
The beauty and power of cell ministry is in its fulfillment of the very words of Christ, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
- Each church must update itself on Touch’s cell church web service every six months or the name of the church is removed from the list. Only current cell churches, therefore, are listed.
- Michael Green, ed., Church without Walls: A global examination of cell church Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2002), pp. 133.
- NCD testing is not free of charge and requires that a church or denomination take various steps to ensure quality control.
- The data from Christian Schwarz’s research team in Germany suggests that cell churches averaged 2.5 churches planted compared to 1.9 churches planted for non-cell churches.
- As a result of this ministry, Seibert, along with others from the college ministries, wrote the book, Reaching College Students through Cells: A practical training tool for college cell leaders from Highland Baptist College Ministries (Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1997).
- Carl Everett, who heads up Bethany Cell Church Network, wrote on Tuesday, August 24, 2004, “Last year through the G12 Global plants, we planted 1009 churches. This year we have planted 326 churches. We are planting on the average of 1 church every 12 hours.” For more information on the global G12 project, please see www.global12project.com.
Larry Stockstill, The Cell Church(Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1998), pp. 136. The book outlines what a church can do to build a vibrant, relevant, and workable cell church. The book identifies the key principles that have catapulted Bethany World Prayer Center from a respectable church of twenty-five ingrown “fellowship” groups to a dynamic church of 800 multiplying cell groups. In the first chapter Stockstill relates his own pilgrimage:
- 1992 read Neighbour’s book Where Do We Go From Here (derived principles)
- 1993 visited Faith Community Baptist in Singapore (copied the cell office structure)
- 1993 visited Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea (understood care/growth structure)
- 1993 visited Elim Church in El Salvador (understood the importance of evangelism in cells)
For years Stockstill juggled numerous church programs. He says on pp. 29–30: “As the pastor of a church with cells, I was like the juggler who performed on the Ed Sullivan show years ago. He could spin a plate and put it on a stick, repeating that process 15 to 20 times. The catch was, however, that the juggler had to constantly run back and forth to spin each plate or it would fall. His personal momentum was necessary to keep all the plates aloft.”
Chapter eight delineates seven key principles of the G12 model that Bethany was following at the time. (Since the book was published they have moved to a pure G12 model.) Stockstill speaks from his heart in the chapter called “Dangers and Challenges.” He covers financial impropriety in cell meetings, unapproved teaching, backsliding and burnout, children in cells, and other important themes.
- Jay Firebaugh has an excellent tape series called The Key is the Coach: Practical Steps to Successful Coaching (Houston, TX: Touch Outreach Ministries, 1999). A manual comes with the four-cassette series.
- This church’s worldwide statistics are 220 cells, 2750 worship attendance in 30 network churches and church plants, 3500 total membership.
- Boren, Making Cell Groups Work, pp. 113–115. He talks about the role of the cell champion. Boren defines this person as, “A person with a special passion for cell group ministry, who has a submissive heart and can work in unity with the senior pastor.” The senior pastor must always maintain the cell church vision and personally be involved with cell ministry to practice what he preaches. Yet a cell champion—like Floyd Schwanz—will stay on the cutting edge of cell ministry, providing resources and personal passion to keep the cell flame burning brightly.
- Floyd Schwanz, Growing Small Groups (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1995), pp. 213.
- The simplicity and power of their approach can be found on their web site, which declares, “We are structured as a church of cells and celebration. Our cells (small groups) meet weekly in homes and are places where people, in any stage of life, can come together to discover more about who God is and how He can make a difference in their lives. The congregation meets for corporate worship on Sunday mornings at 9 and 11 a.m.”