Worldwide Cell Churches
Note: This paper reflects my own personal analysis of FCBC from my trip to Singapore in April 1997. On May 02, 2000, I made some minor statistical changes that will be reflected in RED FONT.
This church is one of the most influential cell models in the world today. It has trained thousands of leaders from around the world in cell dynamics and continues to do so.
Chapter 1: General Description
Singapore is a small country of three milion citizens and another three million residents. About seventy percent of Singapore is Chinese. The original inhabitants, however, were Malays. Until 1965, in fact, Singapore was part of the Malay federation.
Singapore became a British port during the time when the superpowers European trading powers were vying over global influence. Yet, in 1942 not even the British could stop the Japanese from invading Singapore. For three years, Singaporeans were brutally occupied by Japan. In 1965 Singapore became an independent nation.
It, along with Hong Kong, is the world’s busiest, more productive sea port. Singapore is alive with financial activity and has become a model of economic growth. Education in Singapore is highly valued. A recent article in the L.A. Times was entitled, “Why Tiny Singapore Is at Top of the Class” (Colvin 1997). The subtitle reads, “It has outscored the world in math and science by believing education means survival. Its school system is based on two simple things–competition and government control.”
The government in Singapore is democratic but only one party wins year after year. Although I was told that opposition is possible, in fact, the people continue to vote for the same government year after year. They seem to be doing a good job and the people are satisfied.
Three official languages rule in Singapore: Hindi, Malay, Chinese, and English. Yet, English is the spoken language that ties everyone together. Since Singapore has always been racially mixed, cultural sensitivity is extremely important. Four years ago, a law was passed that prohibited religions from trying to convert others to their own faith. Door to door evangelism is barred.
The head usher at the FCBC worship service told me that Singaporeans are westernized. From the exuberant worship on Sunday morning, I thought that I was in the United States. It was hard get a read on the cultural in Singapore. It is busy, goal oriented, and serious. These people are serious about success, about survival. On the other hand, they are not as individualistic as western culture. There is a group orientation that respects authority and without challenging it. My friend and guide, Jimmy, went to great lengths to justify the centralized government in Singapore. These traits truly help the cell concept succeed.
One big question concerns the busyness of the Singaporeans. As I sat next to an Englishman married to a Singaporean, he confirmed the high pressured pace of the islanders. He feels that the Singapore lifestyle is too busy. There is little time for pleasure, relaxation, the simple things of life. He told me that priority is given to family and work, but it is hard for Singaporeans to make time for social relationships. He found it hard to even nail down social commitments with Singaporeans because something “might happen at work.”.
My initial observations of Singaporean culture and the busy lifestyle raise doubt and concern. Cell ministry, especially in FCBC, demands lots of commitment. For the cell member, there are commitments to attend the group, participate in the church, invite friends, and take part outreach activities. For the cell leader there are numerous other obligations. Ralph Neighbour has pointed FCBC in the direction of pure cell, but I wonder if there is too much purity–too many demands. I caught wind that much of Pastor Khong’s frustration centered on Neighbour’s dogma. Yet, it seems that FCBC continues to expect a lot. In a Latin culture, where economy is just okay, and where societal expectation evolve around the personal relationships, the high demands of cell ministry are more acceptable. In this culture, I’m not so sure. In fact, there is a good possibility that the recent four year plateau is more cultural than structural. My conversations with a number of disgruntled former cell leaders seem to confirm this fact.
History of the Church
The church began in 1986 while the cell group strategy began in 1988. Lawrence Khong graduated with honors from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1981. He was a dispensationalist. He returned home to Singapore to pastor his home congregation and under his leadership it grew from 300 to 1600. He realized that Scripture memory alone could not solve serious problems. He needed the power of God.
Power struggles within the congregation developed, and God used these dark time to lead LK into the Spirit-filled life. In 1986 he was fired from his church and began Faith Community Baptist Church. The three fold vision of the church is:
- To establish integrated ministries of outreach, discipleship, and service which encompass the whole of Singapore.
- To be a model Cell Group Church that provides quality pastoral training and equipping resources for Transitioning Cell Group Churches in Singapore and around the world.
- To establish at least 50 Cell Group Churches around the world by the year 2000 by sending out teams of at least 3 persons to reach unreached or responsive people groups.
Growth of the Church
The following graph shows comparative figures from 1993 to the 1997. They reveal steady growth in attendance, membership, and new staff. Statistics are not hard to obtain. FCBC is statistically inclined. Counters with “number clickers” stand at the door and count every person.
|TOTAL SUNDAY ATTENDANCE IN 1997||6,000 (today there are 10,000 on Sunday morning)|
|TOTAL SUNDAY ATTENDANCE IN 1992||4,500|
|MEMBERSHIP IN 1993||3,200|
|MEMBERSHIP IN 1997||5,937|
|CONVERSIONS IN 1992||1,800|
|CONVERSIONS IN 1996||2,834|
|STAFF MEMBERS IN 1993||120|
|STAFF MEMBERS IN 1997||195|
The attendance growth of 1,500 in the worship service since 1993 is moderate but not explosive. Such growth certainly doesn’t seem to necessitate the addition of seventy-five staff members during the same time period, especially since cell growth (number of cells and cell attendance) has been static in the same time period.  There is a very strong push to reach 10,000 in attendance by December, 1997. 
As the following table implies, FCBC has experienced Sunday attendance growth and church membership, but not cell growth. As the model cell church in Asia, this should be cause for alarm.
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1988||54|
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1989||105|
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1990||125|
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1991||225|
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1992||410|
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1993||515|
|TOTAL CELL GROUPS IN 1997||521 (today there are 600+)|
|TOTAL CELL GROUP ATTENDANCE IN 1997||4,500|
|TOTAL CELL GROUP ATTENDANCE IN 1993||3,850|
The number of cell groups has remained static for the last several years. By 1994 FCBC planned to have 10,000 people attending the cell groups (Egli 1993:6). Not only did FCBC drastically fail to reach 10,000 by 1994 , but it has not even broken the 5,000 cell attendance mark. Several leaders mentioned the plateaued state of FCBC. However, the barriers have not broken the vision and enthusiasm for cell ministry at FCBC. Rather, new ways of cell outreach are now being introduced (e.g., cell planting).
Although FCBC is a pure cell church, it is very multi-faceted.  There were a few characteristics that captured my attention.
I happened to be present when the whole church met in a rented indoor stadium for a celebration service. Over 6,000 people were present. There must have been forty worship team members on the stadium floor. Dancers in bright, colorful costumes swayed and danced to the music. The worship leaders alternated between Chinese and English as they exhorted the congregation to dance and to enter into the worship. One of the lively worship leaders who danced around the floor was none other than senior pastor Lawrence Khong. Talk about an energetic worship leader! He paced back and forth across the floor as he harmonized, danced, and exhorted the congregation. His style is highly energetic.
After worshipping for a solid forty-five minutes, he asked those who needed prayer to come forward. People were “slain in the Spirit.” The “slain” were covered with green clothes. Just like Vineyard and the Toronto Blessing Movement! Yet, these were conservative, unemotional Chinese! And this pastor was a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary! 
Church of Young People
I surmised that about sixty-five percent of the congregation were young people (thirty and under). These young people loved the lively worship and western flavor. Pastor Khong stays part of the charismatic “main stream” (prayer walks, journeys, spiritual warfare), and this is probably appealing to many young people.
FCBC believes in holistic ministry. Along with the spiritual aspects of ministry, FCBC reaches out to the physical needs of the Singaporeans through day care centers, after school clubs, centers for the handicapped and deaf, diabetic support groups, and legal counseling (Egli 1993:2). The Touch Community Service Center is a separate non-profit organization that receives direct help from the Singapore government. Eighty percent of its support comes from FCBC and most of the staff members belong to the church. FCBC members are not allowed to officially preach the gospel, but volunteers from the cell groups often come along side staff members to practically help as well as share their faith. The range and depth of ministry at Touch Community Service Center is staggering.
Pastor Khong has always believed in prayer. However, through the AD2000 prayer track and his relationship with Peter Wagner, Pastor Khong has begun to promote prayer in a new way. He encourages each member to pray one hour individually each day, five minutes for the senior pastor, and ten minutes for the nation.
FCBC envisions sending cell church planters around the world. Their goal is to plant fifty cell churches by 2000. Missionary candidates must be fruitful in ministry and then pass through four levels of training (Egli 1993:18). In 1993, giving to mission totaled about one million U.S. dollars.
Areas of Strength in the Church
FCBC reminded me of a top quality church. Children’s workers wear the same uniform, prepare drama, lessons centered around the same theme, and hi-tech presentations. The music ministry like all the other ministries has a ring of quality. Although there are many strong points in this church, I selected those which seemed to be the most evident.
High Quality Structure
This church is first class. The buildings are immaculate. High tech and diligent organization characterize every aspect of this church. Every ministry plays a specific role in the church structure and is professionally presented. I felt that FCBC excelled at marketing itself and its influence had grown far beyond its size and success.
Pastor Khong impressed me as a strong, visionary leader. He has implemented methodologies and ministries that others have strongly criticized. Yet, he hasn’t backed down. I was impressed by his creativeness, his demand for high quality, his powerful preaching, dynamic worship leadership, and command of the English and Chinese language.
Unique Aspects of Cell System
There are unique aspects of the cell system at FCBC that encourage me. Participation in the cell, creativity of various districts, quality control of the cell groups, strong organizational structure, and plans for sending out missionary cell workers impress me. The leadership requirements and material is original and well done.
Weaknesses of the Church
Every church has weak points. FCBC is not an exception. It is highly organized (Singaporean culture), but the needed volunteer cell leaders don’t have enough time to meet all of the stringent requirements (Singaporeans are very busy).
Lack of Growth
I suppose the bottom line pragmatic question about this church is why should I come all the way to Singapore to see a church of 6,000 attendees and 500+ cell groups. No matter how exemplarily and “pure” the cell structure, the ultimate test of any organization or structure is the results. At this church it is not clear that dynamic growth has occurred due to the cell structure. The addition of 1,500 attendees in four years is good growth but not incredible growth. Net cell gain has been minimal. In fact, it could be characterized as stagnated. When so many non-cell churches have grown so much more rapidly with many similar programs, it’s hard to feel compelled to adopt the cell structure at FCBC–especially because it requires a staff of 195!!
High Ratio between Staff and Cell
I have never seen such a high ratio of staff to cell leader in my life. I suspect that so many staff positions add to the pressure of cell leadership. Zone pastors feel compelled to spend lots of time with cell leaders who don’t have much time. On the other hand, Love Alive Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras does not every employ district pastors, and yet, I did not sense any pressure at LAC. Is it because the leadership feel the same pressures that the cell leaders face?
This is a dynamic, highly organized church with a God anointed pastor. The church is filled with young people which point to a fruitful future. It certainly financially stable and enjoys a mobilized army of trained staff. I was very encouraged by the celebration service and the general organization of the church.
The cell structure itself seems over promoted and very top heavy. The cell growth does not justify the large number of staff and there are definite signs of stagnation and cell leader resistance to the many requirements. FCBC has not yet proven itself as the model cell church for Asia.
Chapter 2: Organizational Structure at Faith
Community Baptist Church
The organization of FCBC is important because it has a distinct niche in the cell church world. It combines the years of experience of cell expert, Ralph Neighbour, with the strong leadership of Lawrence Khong. This cell model is a pace setter in the world today. FCBC is probably the most organized cell church that I have ever witnessed. The Elim Church holds a close second. They are also the most reflective and articulate about their organization.
Development of the Cell Structure
Cell ministry at FCBC is still “under construction.” It is not fully developed. They are in the process of developing the cell structure, equipping people to reach type A unbelievers, type B unbelievers, training of all zone pastors, harvesting the many non-Christians, and overseas mission involvement (Egli 1993:4). They have learned from their mistakes. For example, they were too late to appoint zone supervisors. At first they required that supervisors first multiply their groups two times. Eventually, they simply had to pick their best people (Egli 1993:5). Type B “share groups” didn’t work, so they tried “interest groups”. Rotation among homes was the “only way” at first and now it is one of the ways. When I arrived on the scene four years later, the “interest groups” had sort of fizzled out. The assistant zone pastor of the North District told me that the changes are dizzying at times. Rapid change is always difficult, yet, perhaps, it is the greatest strength at FCBC.
For the most part, the leadership tree looks very similar to most cell churches. The senior pastor is at the top of the leadership tree. The district pastor is the next highest level in the cell system (although there is a “senior pastor’s office which consists of a few associate pastors). Under the district pastor is zone pastor. Both the district pastor and zone pastor are paid full time by the church. The next level is the zone supervisor who shepherds five cell groups (actually they have reduced this load to about three).
Division of Cell System
For me, it was the worth the trip just to discover such a creative, fresh organizational system. FCBC has combined the efficiency of the geographical district with the need for specialized ministry better than any other cell church.
These districts are described as homogeneous with heterogeneous cell groups. This simply means that the districts reach out to families who are culturally similar. Groups with children are called intergenerational cells. District divisions encourage cells to reach out to near neighbors as well as to assimilate church converts who live nearby. The goal for AD2000 is 5,000 cell groups in Singapore. 
This district serves college/university age youth–18-25. Younger people from the youth zone graduate into this district after high school and young people older than twenty-five graduate into the district cells. Chua Seng Lee, Campus Combat Director, told me that only future workers are allowed to stay within his district after age twenty-five. Pastor Lee establishes cells on university campuses as well as military camps in Singapore. In this district, the standard FCBC cell lessons are adapted, leadership commitment is often shorter, and more cells are planted. Every six weeks Pastor Lee gathers all of the cell members for a congregational service (about 600 attend).
This zone reaches those from twelve to nineteen. The Youth Zone requires more supervision. Instead of the normal ratio of one zone supervisor to five for five cells, the youth require one one zone supervisor for every three youth cells. Instead of hosting evangelistic events, the youth cells evangelize through personal, relational evangelism (1993:8).
Perhaps this zone is the most creative. It is comprised mainly of members from Touch Music Ministry. However, the cells are fully integrated with people not involved in the music ministry. Cell members are often friends of those in music ministry. Because of the demands of music ministry, leadership felt that it an integration between cell and ministry would be beneficial. I was impressed by the creativity of this arrangement. Jim Elgi wrote in 1993, “The reason why they are organized into a separate Zone is so that those in the music ministry do not need to develop two sets of relationships. Since the music ministry involves considerable time commitment, this eases their time and is freeing to them” (1993:12).
Although English unifies the four major languages spoken in Singapore, not everyone can speak English well. This district reaches out to non-English speakers through cells. One entire service is dedicated to these same people on Sunday morning.
This district reaches out to the Hearing Impaired, Wheelchair-bound, Intellectually Disabled, and Visually Handicapped. This district office is organized with the same charts and procedures as the other districts. I’m convinced that such specificity is needed. Oftentimes, these special people do not feel wanted nor cared for in normal geographical cell groups.
FCBC is one organized church! They are very professional about what they do. In the Organizational chart, there exists one entire area called “administration support.” This includes: Facilities (office planning, physical security, maintenance), Finance Department (accounting, budget planning, financial management), Human Resources (recruitment, benefits, employee relations, training of staff), Ministry Information System (establishes the information technology within the church).
Like any well-organized, effective church, many specific needs must be met that cannot easily fit under the category of “cell.” Some people like to label these activities as “evil programs.” And sometimes these categories do become an end in themselves. However, even in the cell church, specialized ministries are essential. FCBC lists ten specialized ministries.  They include: Children’s Ministry (support for intergenerational cells, training and resource center, in charge of the Sunday celebration for children), Counseling Ministry (equips members, leaders, and pastors with people-helping skills), Family Life Ministry (prepares young people for marriage, assists districts in the area of counseling), Mission Department (serves as mission resource center and assists the districts to fulfill the great commission), Prayer Ministry (establishes prayer shield for senior pastor’s office, coordinates spiritual warfare network in Singapore), Touch Community Services (an independent, non-profit organization to meet a variety of physical needs), Touch Equipping Stations System (helps cell districts and developing cell churches worldwide equip leadership), Touch Ministries International (encourages international network of cell churches), Touch Music Ministry (provides support for celebration services as well as to outreach efforts), and Touch Resource (provides cell equipping material).
The staff at FCBC is very large, efficient, and well-organized. There are several characteristics that are worth noting.
What they do they write about.  Jim Elgi noted that in 1993 the goal was to have a zone supervisor for every five cell leaders. For every five zone supervisors, there is one full time zone pastor (Egli 1993:3). In April 1997 FCBC had far exceeded their goal. For every 2.5 cell groups there is a paid staff member (or one pastoral staff for every 4.5 cell groups). For ever thirty people who attend FCBC there is a staff member (or one pastoral staff for every fifty persons).  This church has the highest member to staff proportion that I know.
The entire staff pray each morning from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Staff planning and report collecting takes place on Tuesday. On this day, the staff spend two to three hours praying and worshipping together (Egli 1993:17). On Wednesday, the senior pastor meets with the entire staff. Also on Wednesday, the district pastors meet with their staff. Once each month there is a half-day of prayer (Egli 1993:17).
The last Saturday of each month at 2:30 p.m. all cell leadership meet together. Pastor Khong first meets with district pastors, zone pastors, zone supervisors, and cell group leaders. Afterwards, the leadership meets in districts (Egli 1993:15). Zone pastors and zone supervisors meet together every two weeks (Egli 1993:20).
Pastor Khong encourages the staff “to play together.” Retreats, recreation, and time with family is a high priority (Egli 1993:18).
Personal Cell Involvement
The senior pastor, associate pastor, and most district pastors and zone pastors participate in regular cell groups (Egli 1993:16).  One district pastor also told me that he personally reads every cell report.
Cell Group Structure
I like the cell group structure at FCBC. I was emotionally and spiritually touched during the cell that I attended. My fervent prayer is that the participant If there is one transferable influence.
Time of Meetings
Most groups meet on Thursday or Friday, although there are no restrictions. Friday is the preferred night because most do not work on Saturday (Egli 1993:16).
Every Sunday, cell leaders receive clear the weekly lesson. It is a two page hand-out, complete with seven worship songs (with guitar notes), ice-breaker, lesson, and mission focus. The lessons are based on the pastor’s sermon (an appointed leader takes notes and forms the lesson). One district leader boasted that little time commitment is required of cell leadership in lesson preparation.
Although the entire format is provided, I was told by leaders of various districts that adaptation is necessary. For example, the youth and university students want specific application and relevance for their needs, as do members of the handicap district.
Unlike the Cho system of Bible study which I found so common in Latin America, FCBC promotes the Ralph Neighbour emphasis on participation. Each member is encouraged to communicate. The format follows the Ralph Neighbour pattern of welcome (man to man), worship (man to God, Word (God to man), and works (man to man). Egli notes,
The attention given to these components varies during the life of the cell group. For example, initially much more time is taken for the welcome portion as people get to know each other. As the group progresses, less time is taken for this aspect and more time is given to vision. As the group begins to grow and involve new people, more time must again be given to group building through the welcome ice breakers (Egli 1993:13).
One key difference in the FCBC system is that communion is served every third week. This makes the cell leader a “mini-pastor.” When I questioned this requirement, one district pastor told me that the ultimate responsibility is never placed upon the cell leader whether or not a cell member takes communion in an unworthy manner. 
Cell Offices at FCBC
The cell offices are spread out over four locations. The core offices consist of three floors of an office building. Most of the district office, the senior pastor’s office, and Touch Community Service are positioned in that complex. I sense a lot of activity in a crowed space–Singapore style. The workers are packed in like sardines. In another office complex about five minutes away, Touch Publications, the music district, youth district, and Tess have their offices. At the church site, there are also a few administrative office. I wasn’t overly impressed by their office structure. In fact, I’m a believer that if possible, the offices should be located at the mother church complex to provide more opportunities for counseling before and after the main services.
FCBC is a very statistically oriented. In the weekly Sunday bulletin, attendance for each service is recorded, as well as a cumulative and weekly financial report. FCBC still requires a weekly report from every cell leader that may be faxed into the office. The zone supervisors diligently read the reports and pass them on to the district superintendent. One district pastor told me that he even reads the reports of every zone! I was told that more than just the statistics, the cell report provides information about the progress of the group.
Well designed organizational charts hang on every district wall (often in several places). The monthly statistical progress of every cell, complete with the cell leader’s photo, is part of each organizational chart.
Social Outreach within Cells
FCBC has done a great job in addressing the social needs of the Singaporeans. Cell members are encouraged to participate both individually and at a larger level (cell or zone) in the social ministries of Touch Community Services.
Strengths of Cell System
FCBC offers important insight to the worldwide cell movement. I believe the most important are the following.
Participation within Cells
Thanks to the involvement of Ralph Neighbour, the cell format is very participatory. My prayer is that the influence of FCBC would reverse the Bible study domination so common in most cell churches throughout the world.
Division of Districts
FCBC has successfully integrated all aspects of church life with cell ministry. They’ve avoided the pitfall of David Cho’s church which only emphasized geographical division and thus failed to integrate many into the cell structure. FCBC has the best balance that I have ever seen.
Articulation of Cell System
This church both practices cell ministry and reflects on that practice. It’s able to write down what it has learned and then publicize those findings. For this reason, the influence of FCBC goes far beyond its numerical success.
Integration of Children in Cells
This is one of the weakest areas in the cell church worldwide. Yet, FCBC has addressed this problem and provided an acceptable solution–intergenerational cell groups. Children participate in the ice-breaker, as well as the worship, but leave the room during the lesson. They receive their own personalized cell lesson that is prepared by the specialized children’s ministry of the church. Each cell group follows a similar lesson.
Social Outreach through Cell Ministry
FCBC has clearly addressed the social outreach question by organizing an entire social service branch. Although this branch is not officially tied into the cell ministry, it does provide opportunity for cell members to participate in social activity. FCBC has also done a great job in organizing one entire district around those with special needs.
Weaknesses of Cell Organization
It seems that FCBC is over-organized. It’s hard to believe that so many staff members have not produced more concrete results. This church has only five percent of the number of cells at MCI and seventeen percent of the attendance, yet double the number of paid staff!! Actually, these statistics concern me. First and foremost, what does it say to the majority of less affluent transitioning cell churches–have staff and you’ll fly. It seems to create a barrier too high to climb.
I would come away discouraged from a conference with such an incredibly high staff proportion. The fact that seventy-seven are administrative staff sends the wrong message as well–the cell church requires an large number of secretaries. Second, it seems strange that with so many staff members the church has not grown faster. I wonder out loud if so many staff members are not suffocating the church. 
I have heard repeatedly that cell leaders are placed under a lot of pressure to perform. The mentality of “do or die” can be crippling to a potential cell leader. I also heard from a few cell leaders that cell leadership is costly due to the number of other events in the church. As I reviewed the number of staff in comparison to cell groups, I began to realize that with so many full time staff and so few cell groups, the staff must create work. I can imagine that cell leaders receive a lot of phone calls because the zone pastors have lots of time on their hands.
It seems to me that FCBC should place far more emphasis on pressuring the staff to reproduce than placing pressure on volunteer help. As I ate with three disgruntled “X-leaders” I realized that feelings of pressure might be far reaching. I wonder if those on top are hearing the complaints on the bottom. 
Chapter 3: Cell Multiplication at Faith Community
Although FCBC is a model cell structure, it has yet to prove that correct cell structure translate into cell multiplication. Although the number of staff has multiplied, the number of cells has not. It is not that FCBC is ingrown. They strongly believe in evangelism.
The cell philosophy at FCBC is clearly evangelistic. There are two bedrock truths that make-up the cell manifesto at FCBC: Cells must minister to one another and cells must multiply by reaching out. The two Es (evangelism and edification) or the two Ms (ministry and mission) provide easy memory guides. Cell members are constantly reminded to reach their oikos, or extended web of close relationships (e.g., family and friends). Every six weeks, cells are encouraged to hold a social event to attract non-Christians.
FCBC has experimented with different forms of cell outreach over the years. Several years ago, transformed Neighbour’s concept of reaching “type B share groups” by creating “activity oriented” groups. Rather than “information oriented” groups they created biking groups, tennis groups, and parenting groups. However, by April 1997 this concept had was no longer promoted.
The present evangelistic thrust occurs through harvest events. Earlier on in the cell journey, these events happened in large celebration gatherings. Now the event takes place within the cell. “TGIF” or “Thank God Its Friday” is a Good Friday outreach through the cell group. The cell focuses on inviting non-Christian friends to a carefully planned seeker sensitive cell meeting. Communion is served and a portion of the Jesus film is shown. Another harvest event within the cell is “Come Celebrate Christmas.” I was told that this event takes place on Christmas eve. or Christmas day. There is one other celebration type harvest event that takes place in August. Normally, it is a music concert. Through events like these, FCBC harvested almost 3,000 souls in 1996.
Cell Assimilation that Results in Multiplication
The plans and programs for evangelism are sound and conversions occur. However, the cells have not sufficiently grown and multiplied as a result. Net cell gain has stagnated in the last several years. The stagnation problem has been the main topic of leadership discussion. Various leaders told me that Pastor Khong’s busy international speaking schedule contributed to the lack of growth. In love, his staff pleaded with him to limit his outside speaking. He responded positively and has canceled most outside engagements for 1997. Another reason given by Richard Ong is that FCBC is in the “show case” too much. He believes that FCBC needs time to do the work of the ministry rather than always showing others how to do it. He told me that often cells are hosting an observer and thus can’t really function normally and naturally.
Whatever the reason, the leadership realizes that the normal process of mother-daughter cell multiplication has not produced the desired result. When I was present in April 1997 several staff members acknowledged the present plateaued status but assured me that FCBC hoped to solve this problem by emphasizing cell planting. Before talking about the new direction at FCBC, I want to examine an old policy.
I was told that Ralph Neighbour introduced the idea of cell closure to FCBC. Originally, if a cell did not multiply in one year, it dissolved. When I was present in April 1997, I heard leaders talking about a one to two year closure date. It seems that once again reality won the day.
I remember frequently hearing about the closure concept during my Ph.D. studies. At that time (1996) I thought that it was the norm of most cell churches around the world. However, during my field research I discovered that such thinking was totally foreign to Latin American cell churches. Rather, leadership in the Latin American do everything possible to keep the cells open. One leader in Colombia told me that it was a sin to close a group. Resistance to this concept was so fierce in Latin America that I had practically forgotten about it. Suddenly, I see it face to face at FCBC, and I immediately began to question the practice.
What is the value of closing a group? Is it more of a war cry, a statement of purity? I can hear a pious cell purist say, “We close our groups if they don’t multiply.” It sounds haughty. Yes, I’ve heard the justification about such closures–cells in the body multiply or die, weak cells infect the rest of the body, etc. In fact, I have used these arguments.
Yet, when I looked at FCBC, I saw a church struggling to place some positive statistics on their roster. Here is a church that grew rapidly from 1988 to 1993, but for the last four years the cell growth has stagnated. I felt their frurstration. How could they teach others about cell church success when their own system had stagnated.  One reason for stagnation is the failure to attract new leadership. Leaders are hesitant to volunteer because of the possibility of cell closure. It’s a vicious cycle. Everyone needs a victory. No matter how hard you explain the painlessness of “dissolving a group,” it can be downright humiliating. Is this one of the reasons why FCBC struggles with finding new leadership?
What about the issues of leadership motivation? Is it right to burden a new leader with the goal of multiplication or death? It’s already painful enough when none of the fifteen invitees to the cell group show up. Feelings of failure are part of cell ministry. Yet to add the ultimatum of closure seems to be the ultimate blow. I talked with a group of ex-cell leaders after the Sunday morning worship service. These people left cell leadership feeling immense pressure. One person told me that he kept receiving comments from the upper leadership about the cell size (six), and he subtly felt pressure to produce. He gave me the illustration of a man who received $50,000,00 and was expected to multiply it to 100,000.00. Because he failed to do so in a particular time period, the money was taken away. Is it better to take the money away? All three of the ex-cell leaders expressed tremendous pressure and frustration as former cell leaders. It seems that FCBC should reexamine this procedure at perhaps focus on restructuring weak cell groups rather than closing them.
Mother-Daughter Cell Multiplication
Since initiating the cell structure in May 1988 mother-daughter multiplication has been the norm. The leadership expected each cell to multiply within one year. During the 1993 conference, Egli wrote that after two generations of cell multiplication, the process had became natural (Egli 1993:5). However, four yeas later, several staff acknowledged that this “natural process” was simply not taking place. Most districts could point to minimal numbers between cells closed and those birthed.
Cell planting involves starting a cell from scratch. It is a lot like pioneer church planting. Cells formed through cell planting are normally less qualitative but can be started more rapidly and provide a sort of “jump start” to a stagnated cell ministry.
The lack of cell multiplication opened the door for the new philosophy of cell planting. District Pastor Leong Wing Keen told me that cell planting will be the emphasis of the 1998 annual cell conference. It is a breath of new hope for FCBC. Where did this new philosophy come from. Rev. Richard Ong, executive director of Touch Ministries International, told me that the Holy Spirit is waking up the worldwide cell church with similar ideas. He specifically mentioned Ralph Neighbour and the cell planting success at MCI in Colombia. Rev. Ong explained that endless cell multiplication is just not possible. Like in the human body, cells cease to multiply. A person’s oikos eventually runs dry. Campus Combat Ministry director, Chua Seng Lee, told me that cell planting at FCBC originated in his district with university students and the idea is now taking hold throughout the church. I’m sure that many sources have contributed to this concept. The big question is how it works at FCBC.
How Cells Are Planted
At this moment and time (April 1997) this concept is in the idea stage. I was told that cell planting is the new thrust of FCBC. I’m sure that a pamphlet will soon appear. Two cell planting techniques are now used. First, a cell will target a particular area for prayer. Prayer walks take place. The cell seeks to find a contact with someone from the area (non-Christian or church sympathizer) who would be willing to open his home. Several of the stronger members from the mother group (spiritual fathers) meet with the new group while continuing to attend the mother cell. The goal is to to eventually hive off and form two cells.
The second method or for cell planting ties into the harvest events. The homes of those who receive Christ are targeted for cell plants. Often, these new converts are culturally or geographically distant. That is, they are not naturally assimilated into the mother group due to distance from the group or cultural districts (e.g., language or age). Again, a few of the stronger members of the group hive off from the mother group (while continuing to attend) to meet with these new prospects.
Statistical Reporting of the Cell Plants
At this point, whether or not these new cell plants are immediately counted as new FCBC cells, is not clear. For example, Chua Seng Lee, who regularly plants new cells, does not include these cells in the official statistics (only within his department). He told me that since many do not FCBC, these cells do not truly represent a church cell. Leong Wing Keen includes some and doesn’t include others, depending on the stage of development. I’m sure that the statistical reporting will eventually normalize.
Cell multiplication is not working at FCBC. With one staff person for every 2.5 cells there should be double the number of cell groups. However, while staff has increased cell groups and cell attendance have remained the same. If FCBC is going to maintain its place as Asia’s cell model, it must begin to multiply the number of groups. Perhaps, it will need to ease more restrictions or restructure. My advice would be to place far more pressure on staff to reproduce and far less pressure on cell volunteers. Staff will need to be creative, but they must change.
Cell planting offers a ray of hope, but FCBC needs to be more radical about its application. It needs to increase in the number of cells rapidly if it is going to remain competitive in the cell model market. Beyond planting new cells, FCBC must change its structure so that cell planting will be more conducive to present and future cell leaders.
Chapter 4: Leadership Patterns at Faith Community
This church could count on the expertise of Dr. Ralph Neighbour to guide their early influence. Leadership requirement is a thorough process here.
All potential leaders must pass a number of hurdles before entering cell leadership. It is actually quite a complicated process. The process is called the “year of equipping,” but I can imagine that it might take longer than one year. Another name for training at FCBC is Touch Equipping Stations System (TESS). The 1997 TESS brochure states,
The term ‘Equipping Stations’ underscores an important aspect of the training philosophy of FCBC. The equipping process adopted by FCBC is likened to a subway system where commuters get on and off stations along a particular line in order to get to an intended destination. No one stays in a particular station for long. Likewise TESS has a very clear end in mind-equipping FCBC’s members for ministry. A member goes to a particular station for a very specific purpose and leaves it once he has been equipped for that purpose. He does not go to anotehr equipping station until he needs to be further equipped for ministry.
There are two stages of this equipping. Completion of one stage leads to the next one.
Basic Christian Growth Stage
Each new believer in the cell group is assigned a sponsor, a believer from within the cell group to disciple him (sponsor). With the help of the sponsor, the new believer passes through the various station. Three of the four stations under “Basic Christian Growth Stage” occur within the cell while the Spiritual Formation Station takes place in a weekend retreat format.  There are four elements of this particular stage: New Believers’ Station, Journey Guide Station, Cell Group Participation Station, and Spiritual Formation Station.
In the New Believers’ Station, the sponsor teaches the new believer how to have a devotional life, the meaning of salvation, and key Scriptural verses. The New Believer’s Station utilizes a small book called Beginning Your new Life (Chan 1996).The Cell Group Participation Station involves basic activity within the cell group (e.g., attendance, participation in a cell social gathering, sharing testimony with an unbeliever, and participation in an outreach event). The Journey Guide is helps the new believer to work through past issues. The sponsor guides the disciple through this process. The Spiritual Formation Station is a weekend retreat which covers church vision and structure and allow individuals to become members.
A small note on the “Year of Equipping Log” states, “While you ae participating in the New Believer’s and Journey Guide Stations, you may participate in all the other Stations except the Arrival Kit and Sponsor-sponsee Stations” (1996:2). Therefore, there is some flexibility.
Intermediate Christian Growth Stage
The stations within this stage are called: Arrival Kit Station, Sponsor-Sponsee Station, Type A Evangelism Station, Spiritual Warfare Station, and Time with God station. The sponsor goes through the Arrival Kit booklet with the disciple. The disciple learns about the Kingdom, the new man, God’s power, and freedom of past bondages (Tong 1996). In the Sponsor-sponsee Station, the disciple watches a video, observes a sponsor in action, and begins the process of sponsoring others. The Type A Evangelism Station is a course on personal evangelism through the cell group that utilizes a workbook by Lawrence Khong (1996). The Time with God Station a booklet about how to read the Bible and a check-up about the disciple’s devotional life. The Spiritual Warfare Station is a weekend retreat designed to equip the disciple on spiritual warfare issues. After the new believer has completed all of the stations, he is ready for the cell leader intern training.
All of the earlier requirements were the preparation for cell leadership. The next step is the actual cell lead intern training.
Recommendation by Cell Leader
This is the first requirement. The cell leader must recommend the potential cell leader. Cell leaders are looking for FAST people (faith, available, submissive, and teachable).
Cell Leader Intern Training
This course lasts for nine weeks and is usually taught by the zone pastor. The course covers the cell church, the cell agenda, worship time in the cell, Word time in the cell, works time in the cell, cell life, prayer, and leadership. A potential cell leader must complete this course before officially becoming a cell leader. The final training is at the district level. The training itself is taught like a cell meeting.
Internship for Six Months
After the intern completes the basic nine week training, he or she must serve as the cell leader intern for six months before becoming the official cell leader. When the group multiplies, the intern is then ready to take the new group. In the past (1993) they asked each leader to stay on the job until the cell multiplied two times, but I didn’t hear this requirement mentioned when I was present.
Leadership emergence is the major issue facing FCBC as they enter into the next century. It seems that FCBC is having a very difficult time finding and maintaining cell leadership. Could it be that too much is expected of new leaders? FCBC is proud of its cell purity. Everything runs according to the pure cell rules (whatever that may be).  I visited one cell group at FCBC and talked with two former leaders who felt a lot of pressure from the top.  After the Sunday service I talked with two more disgruntled x-leaders.
Another pressure comes from leadership role. Cell leaders at FCBC are pastors. They serve communion and baptize. The cell is the church and the cell leader is the pastor. I have always felt that such pressure was unnatural and unnecessary. None of the cell churches in Latin America allowed the cells to serve communion nor baptize (with the possible exception of AGV). Nor does Yoido Full Gospel Church, the forerunner of the modern cell movement, allow cell leaders to administer the sacraments within the cell. Again, it seems to me that such a immense leadership responsibility is unnecessary. I believe that cell leaders are facilitators as opposed to pastors.
Another pressure comes from the multitude of pastors on staff at FCBC. Full time pastoral staff can easily lose touch with the time demands of a busy work force. I’m hearing from the volunteer cell work force that too many demands are placed on them by full-time leadership. Again, the situation of over-staff seems to be a problem.
Advice from the cell leaders and zone pastors is a crucial part in determining future staff. Proven fruitfulness is also important (Egli 1993:17).Before staff is selected,
Top Level Training
FCBC is the first cell church that I know which offers specific training for zone pastors. This is a full-time eighteen month which trains a student to become an effective Zone Pastor in the context of a cell group church. When I was present in April 1997 there were about thirty people receiving training (Tuesday to Friday). The program involves both classroom instruction and practical training. This program draw upon professors from around the world as well as FCBC staff members.
- 1997 “The 16th Annual Church Growth International Conference.” CGI: Seoul, Korea.
Cho, David Yonggi
- 1993 Church Growth. Manual No. 6. Church Growth International: Seoul, Korea.
- 1995 Church Growth. Manual No. 7. Church Growth International: Seoul, Korea.
Colvin, Richard Lee
- 1997 “Why Tiny Singapore Is at the Top of the Class.” L.A. Times (Sunday, Feb. 23).
Crowther, Geoff and Choe Hyung Pun
- 1991 Korea. 2nd ed. Lonely Planet Publications: Hawthorn, Australia.
- 1993 North Star Strategies Special Report #5. Urbana, Illinois.
Johnson, G. L.
- 1993 “Greetings to the 13th Annual Church Growth Conference.” Church Growth. The Last Frontiers. Manual no. 6. Church Growth International: Seoul, Korea.
Kannaday, P.L., ed.
- 1995 Church Growth and the Home Cell System. Church Growth International: Seoul, Korea.
- 1997 “Land of the Morning Calm.” International Travel News. March.
- 1997 “DMP Kang trying to restore image of Korean economy in APEC meeting.” The Korean Herald. (No.13,525; April 7).
 Perhaps this is a warning to cell churches–adding staff does not necessarily mean faster growth. AMV in Honduras has 850 cell groups and only some twenty-five paid staff. MCI claims to have onver 10,000 cell groups and less than 100 people on staff. Yet, FCBC has only 500 cell groups, 6,000 people in attendance and 195 staff members!! This means that for every cell groups there are 2.5 paid staff member and for every thirty people in attendance there is one staff member. FCBC staff strengthens the structure but has not increased the growth.
 According to one source, this goal is passionately pusehed by Rev. Khong. According to this person (former zone supervisor) there was too much emphasis and pressure to fulfill this goal.
 Like so many cell churches, there is a fine line between program and integrated cell ministry. In one sense FCBC has many departments and ministries, much like a “program church.” The challenge for FCBC in the years to come is to maintain the close integration bertween cell and “specialized departments.”
 Personally, it seemed overdone and “unoriginal.” It reminded me of someone who had a Pentecostal experience and now was on the other side of the pendulum. It almost seemed like there was a point to be made. In fact, the whole service, from beginning to end was high strung and dynamic. Actually, I liked the conservative atmosphere of Cho’s service better.
 This goal is not logically possible, from what I saw at FCBC. To reach such a bold goal, they cannot continue to place such stringent requirements on cell and cell leader. I’ve learned from experience that impossible and illogical goals are possible with God.
 Inwardly, I laugh a bit at the many “progams” that the cell church promotes. I know that the word program has evil connotations for many, but in reality they serve the same function.
 Richard Ong jokingly talked about the constant need to redit books that contained principles and practices that were no longer adhered to.
 There are actually 118 pastoral staff and 77 administrative staff. Church growth theorists believe that a healthy staff balance is one per every 150 people.
 The cell can be located in any area. The zone pastors are less likely to participate in one cell since they rotate from cell to cell.
 However, in reality, the owness is placed upon the cell leader. He is the pastor in charge of the meeting. He must discern the preparation of the members.
 My counsel to Rev. Khong would be firmness with the staff–produce or find another role–and less demanding with the cell group leaders who are volunteers.
 The idea that a cell leader (relatively new in leadership) must multiply his or her group within one or two year or face closure can be crippling.
 At this time, all you need is William Beckham to tell you that your not “pure” enough. Just like the old E.E. line. What a vicious cyle!
 When I was with Ralph Neighbour in Colombia we compared the spiritual retreat he developed at FCBC and the retreat at MCI. Ralph felt that his was superior.
 Although I must admit that FCBC is liberal compared to Ralph Neighbour’s regulations. I heard that FCBC felt overwhelmed by the endless requirements of Ralph Neighbour. Peter Wagner mentioned a conversation that he had with Pastor Khong about this type of pressure.
 Singapore is a modern, high-tech society with numerous pressures placed on individuals to succeed. I’m sure this is part of the reason why potential leaders are hesitant to serve.