Worldwide Cell Churches
by Joel Comiskey
Cell Group Journal, December 2000
When I was commissioned to write this article on the ten largest cell churches in the world, I immediately agreed to the project. As I began the research, I found it to be a daunting task and had second thoughts. After all, there are no lists from which to refer and use as a launching point.
Before I jump into the numbers, let me share a few important thoughts with you. My previous research into successful cell churches around the world was useful, but I needed to consult with others. Due to the various ways churches count groups and organize themselves, I had to remain accurate and balanced in the presentation of my findings. One of my advisors was Mikel Neumann, author of Home Groups for Urban Cultures. When I contacted him for information, he said, “Who can track the world’s largest cell churches? Only God knows.”[i] Another consultant on my list was David Barret, expert on the growth of Christianity and editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia. He offered this advice: “Be careful to give the whole picture. Perhaps no single person understands everything about these churches. There is a lot of picking and choosing to do.” [ii]
Single vs. Satellite Congregations
I originally decided to include only those cell churches that gather all cell members for a weekly celebration event in one place (and of course, the cell groups meeting weekly in various homes). Yet, by doing this I would have excluded Pastor Dion Robert’s famous cell church, The Works and Mission Baptist Church. This church meets in hundreds of satellite churches, that consist of 150,000 people, with only 6,000 meeting in one place. Other huge cell churches follow a similar model. For the sake of fairness, I decided to make a top ten list that compared those cell churches that celebrate in one weekly gathering and then a different top three list to compare those churches that meet in scattered satellite churches throughout the country (yet maintain only one statistical count).
One More Thing. . .
As you read this article, know that I’ve written it in a style that is descriptive (here’s what I found), rather than prescriptive (do it this way). I’m not saying that one strategy is better than another. Personally, I’m increasingly attracted to planting smaller cell churches before reaching the size of these citywide cell churches. This article only discusses churches in the free world. Only God knows the size of the loosely connected house churches of China and other restricted areas. One weakness of this study is the lack of cell group information in two of the top ten cell churches listed below. I tried, but failed to collect this information Whew! With all this prefaced, here’s the list!
The Top Cell Churches Today
These churches gather members in one weekly celebration event, with multiple services.
- Yoido Full Gospel, Korea
- 250,000 in worship attendance;
- 25,000 cell groups.
- Grace & Truth, Korea
- 105,000 in worship attendance;
- Over 1,000 cell groups.
- Kum Ran Methodist, Korea
- 50,000 in worship attendance;
- 2,700 cells.
- Nambu Full Gospel, Korea
- 47,000 in worship attendance;
- Number of cell groups unavailable.
- Elim Christian, El Salvador
- 35,000+ in worship attendance;
- 11,000 cell groups;
- 120,000 cell attendance.
- The International Charismatic Mission, Colombia;
- 35,000+ in worship attendance;
- 14,000 cell groups;
- 100,000+ cell attendance (G12 model)
- Showers of Grace, Guatemala
- 25,000 in worship attendance;
- 1,000+ cell groups;
- 15,000 cell attendance.
- Word of Faith, Kiev, Ukraine
- 20,000 worshippers;
- Number of cell groups unavailable.
- Family of God, Indonesia
- 12,000 in worship attendance;
- 1000+ cell groups.
- Faith Community Baptist, Singapore
- 11,000 in worship attendance;
- 700 cell groups.
The Korean Cell Movement
You’ll notice that four of the churches listed are located in Korea. Yoido Full Gospel Church tops the list. YFGC is by far the largest church in the world, and, I believe, the largest church in the history of Christianity. [iii] In 1964 David Cho literally collapsed of exhaustion, trying to do the work of a Moses. On his deathbed, God showed him the Biblical model for running the church, thus becoming the forerunner of the modern cell church movement.I visited YFGC in 1997. While there, I picked up a pamphlet that described the cell system this way: “The home cell has been the backbone of Yoido Full Gospel Church. Any church that wishes to implement this concept has to be completely reorganized into a cell-based church. . . . On Sunday, you will also attend one of the main worship services, an experience that will convince you of the power of the home cell. . . . Home cells are run by lay people, though training is provided by the pastor.” [iv]
Surprisingly – or perhaps not -David Cho’s brother, Young Mok Cho, leads the second largest church in the world. Both follow the same cell system. In fact, the cell church model that Cho started is followed by each of the Korean cell churches that appear on the top ten cell church list. [v]
The South American Cell Movement
The International Charismatic Mission in Bogota, Colombia and he Elim Church, located in San Salvador, El Salvador are equal in size and yet both have various different philosophies of cell ministry. At the Elim Church, between 35,000-40,000 people attend the weekly Sunday celebration services, yet, three times as many people attend the 11,000 cell groups during the week (approximately 120,000). I estimated that 600 rented public buses brought the faithful to the Sunday celebration services from all over the city (the cell groups rent the buses for the day). I was amazed at Elim’s professional statistical reporting. By Monday morning, the church knows exactly how many people met in the 11,000 cell groups.[vii] Seventh on the list is the Showers of Grace church in Guatemala City with 20,000 people attending on any given weekend. The pastor, Edmundo Madrid, had previously heard of David Cho’s cell church concept, but believed that such a system would not work in Latin America. They were shocked to hear of the Elim Church’s success with Cho’s model in neighboring El Salvador. Some still said that it would not work in Guatemala, but this church has proved the critics wrong. Church life takes place in thousands of small groups, as well as during the Sunday worship. The church has also planted 125 cell churches throughout the world. My contact, Luis Floriano, wrote, “Other churches in Guatemala are now also learning that the impossible is possible, and it is not uncommon for churches which previously had 80 members to now number 300 or 400.” [viii]
The Former Soviet Republic Cell Movement
Eighth on the list is a cell church in Kiev, Ukraine called the Word of Faith Church. This church, pastored by Sunday Adelajiah, is the largest church in all of the Former Soviet Republics. This cell church has grown exponentially to 20,000 members since implementing the G-12 model. [ix]
The South East Asian Cell Movement
Ninth on the list is the Family of God Church in Solo, Indonesia. The senior pastor, Obaja Tanto Setiawan, has led this church from 273 cells in February 1999 to more than a 1,000 today. The movement began 10 years ago, and currently has 12,000 in their weekly worship services. This church has also planted 25 daughter churches in the last year. The key has been implementing the principles of twelve, which they now teach in cell seminars. One Indonesian pastor, heavily influenced by this church, said, “For years, I have tried to develop our cell groups, but we only had 100 cell groups. On January 2000, we learned and started to apply the ‘Principle of Twelve.’ And now after 4 months, we have grown from 100 cell groups to 415 cell groups. This is an explosion for our church growth.” [x] Tenth is Faith Community Baptist Church, which started in 1986 with 600 people. With the help of Ralph Neighbour, on May 1, 1988 the church totally restructured itself to become a cell church. Twelve years later, the church has grown to 11,000 Sunday worshippers and 700 cell groups. The church is exemplifying cell church ministry to the rest of Asia, holding an annual cell church conference that attracts thousands of pastors. [xi]
Top Three Satellite Cell churches
This list compares some of world’s largest cell churches that meet in scattered satellite churches throughout the country (yet maintain only one statistical count):
- The Works and Mission Baptist Church, Ivory Coast, Africa
- 150,0000 in worship services;
- Hundreds of satellite churches throughout the world;
- 18,000 worldwide cell groups.
- Igreja Mana, Lisbon, Portugal
- 60,000 in worship services;
- 400 satellite churches;
- 4,000 cells.
- New Life Fellowship, Bombay, India
- 50,000 in worship services;
- 250 satellite churches;
- 1,200 cells
The #1 spot goes to Dion Robert’s The Works and Mission Baptist Church. The celebration event in the mother church attracts some 6,000 worshippers each Sunday. However, the Works and Mission Baptist Church has 56 local satellite churches in the capital city of Abidjan alone and many more throughout the country. A total of 18,000 cells (14,000 adult cells and about 4,000 children’s cells) form the basis of the church. There is one system of government and administration from the smallest cell in France to the Temple in Abidjan. All reports, accountability, etc. filter back to the mother church. The local churches are not independent. Each local church has exactly the same departmental structure and ultimately report back to Abidjan. Les Brickman, who did his doctoral dissertation at Regent University on the Works and Mission Baptist Church says, “This church has experienced quantitative and qualitative growth since its inception in 1975. With over 150,000 members worldwide, it has proven to be successful in the context of both African and non-African culture, having planted churches in 34% of current African nations as well as in Europe and North America.” [xii]
The #2 church is the Igreja Mana, pastored by George Tadeau. The headquarters of this huge church is Lisbon, Portugal. This growing cell church has about 50,000 to 60,000 worshippers that meet in the 400 satellite churches. Yet, the 4,000 cell groups provide intimate care for the members. Although these satellite churches are intimately connected to one another, the largest gathering in one spot for a Sunday worship service is approximately 8,000 people.[xiii]
The #3 spot belongs to New Life Fellowship, located in Bombay, India. The senior pastor and founder of the church is S. Joseph. Mikel Nuemann, who did a case study on this church, believes that, “New Life Fellowship in Bombay could easily touch 50,000 on a Sunday in their multiple sites.” [xiv] The church started in 1968, but by 1980 only had 100 in attendance. In 1990, the church emphasized planting house churches and satellite churches throughout Bombay. There are now approximately 1,200 house churches in 250 worship and celebration centers. The church owns little property. All worship centers are rented and the house groups meet in homes. Even the church offices are rented. [xv]
Cell Churches Deserving an Honorable Mention
While certain cell churches stand out as giant Redwoods, let’s not pass over the rest of the beautiful forest. Many mighty oaks demand our attention and most of all give glory to the living God.
U.S. Cell Churches
Don’t be discouraged because North America isn’t included in the top ten list. In reality, exciting things are happening in the North American cell church. Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana has grown from a respectable church of twenty-five ingrown “fellowship” groups to a dynamic church of 700 multiplying cell groups with 8,000 Sunday worshippers. This church dispels the myth that cell churches just don’t work in America.Bethany is not alone.
Another North American cell church has a record number for the U.S. Victory Temple in Tulsa, Oklahoma has nearly 12,000 in worship attendance and 1,000 cells.
Door of Hope, AK, Church of the Nations, GA, Cornerstone Church, VA, Colonial Hills Baptist Church, MS, Clear Point Church, TX, Long Reach Church of God, MD, are examples of healthy, growing cell churches. These are just a few of the relatively smaller, yet rapidly growing cell churches in this country. Be encouraged!
Asian Cell Churches
Hong Kong cell churches have set an outstanding precedent by networking together to share resources and better reach a lost world for Jesus. Ben Wong left his growing Hong Kong cell church (Shepherd Community) to direct the HK Cell Church Network, which links approximately 160 cell churches to share ideas and resources to more effectively reach the remaining unreached people groups.
The 11,000 member City Harvest Church in Singapore, pastored by Hee Kong, is a cell church that registers some 400 weekly decisions for Christ. With approximately 500 cell groups, this church is committed to reaching Singapore with the gospel. [xvi]
Compared to Singapore, church growth in Thailand is almost non-existent. After 100 years of Protestant missionary service, less than 0.5% of the population is Christian. Yet, there is one notable exception. The Hope of Bangkok Church has grown to 9,000 worshippers and 1,000 cell groups. This church exemplifys how God is using the cell church strategy.[xvii]
South African Cell Churches
In South Africa, some 3,000 churches are making the cell church transition and some cases, they are quite advanced. My visit to South Africa brought me into contact with the Lighthouse Christian Centre in Cape Town (600 cells, 7,000 worshippers); the Christian Family Church in Johannesburg (690 cells, 6,000 worshippers), Christian Revival Centre in Bloemfontein (500 cells, 5000 worshippers) and Little Falls Christian Centre (400 cells, 4,000worshippers).
The South African cell movement is unique in that hundreds of churches have transitioned together. The senior leaders of large, well established denominations – with overwhelming support from all the churches within — made a complete transitional shift to cell-based church structures.
European/ former Soviet Republic Cell Churches
God is working in the former U.S.S.R. Chuck Squeri, who is committed to network and train cell churches in the former Soviet Union says, “The largest church in all of Russia is a cell church. It has 3,000 members and 150 cell groups and holds regular cell church conferences.”[xviii]
The largest Church in the southern part of the former Soviet republics (Uzbekistan) is the Church of God Tash Kent (10,000 members 1,000 cell groups). Even in the midst of persecution, this church continues to flourish. Faith Church is located in Budapest Hungary, and worth mentioning. This church, pastored by Pastor Nameth, is growing rapidly in this former communist country. There are about 63 home-cells in Budapest, with an average Sunday meeting of approximately 5,000 people. There are about 40,000 believers involved in Faith Church all over the country.[xix]
Latin American Cell Churches
Three of the world’s top ten churches are in Latin America (Elim, ICM, & Showers of Grace). However, this article wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the dynamic cell movement taking place in Brazil. There are some 2,000 Brazilian churches exploding with cell church growth, Neville Chamberlin, director of the Cell Church Missions Network, reports, “. . . whole denominations, like the Baptists and Assemblies of God, are deciding to transition to all their churches – hundreds of them – to cells. . .” [xx]
How Did These Churches Get So Large?
All the churches here have a number of common values. The commonalities clearly show why they are so large and successful at building the kingdom of God.
- They value prayer. Prayer is given a high priority and many members spend a generous portion of each day and/or week in prayer. This is where they receive an increased passion for the lost, see their leadership potential and enjoy miraculous signs and wonders. Their purpose in life is clear. The members of these churches understand that glorifying God and reaching the lost brings greater satisfaction than any other activity. Family life is fully integrated into cell life; going to work is for financial provision and is not seen as much as a “career builder” as a home mission field.
- Leadership is for everyone. As souls are saved, new converts are discipled to become disciplers of others and then group leaders. It is not reserved for a privileged few. The vision to become a leader begins immediately after conversion, and there is a sense of urgency to cast off the fears and strongholds that keep a new believer from moving into leadership.
Is Bigger Better?
The purpose of this article is to excite you about what God is doing through the cell church movement. It’s certainly not to “split hairs” about what church is bigger or better. Perish the thought! God moves in mysterious ways.
In fact, many cell churches have consciously decided to plant smaller cell churches, instead of concentrating on growing a huge mother celebration service. The most important point is that God is interested in reaching a lost, dying world for His Son Jesus Christ. In fact, that’s the very reason why He hasn’t come sooner.
The cell church phenomenon is here to stay. It may be that your church will never be featured as one of the largest churches in the world. But you are part of the largest church in the world . . . the church of Jesus Christ! Adopt the values of the churches listed here and you will see incredible things happen in your life and the life of your church. As you focus on prayer, living out your purpose to reach the lost and raising up leaders, your church will flourish and grow. Jump in the fray and enjoy the ride!
[i] Personal e-mail correspondence with Mikel Neuman on October 2000. Mikel’s book , Home Groups for Urban Cultures ((Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1999) pp. 197, is a must reading for those interested in the cell church movement worldwide.
[ii] Personal notes from a one-hour telephone conversation with David Barrett on 1012/2000.
[iii] Actually, I counted 153,000 in the mother church during the Sunday services I attended in April 1997. The figure 250,000 includes the addition of 100,000 who attend the ten satellite churches connected by close-circuit TV.
[iv] 1997 brochure promoting the16th Annual Church Growth International Conference that was held at YFGC in Seoul, Korea. .
[v] Size estimates of Korean churches given by Dr. H. Vinson Synan, “The Yoido Full Gospel Church,” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research, July 1997. I personally estimated the size of YFGC in May 1997.
[vi] For more information on the G-12 model, read my book G-12: A New Way to Mobilize Leaders and Multiply Groups in Your Church (Touch Publications, 1999).
[vii] The 11,000 figure for cell groups includes the children’s cell groups. Elim normally gives the figure of 5,500 cell groups, but this only refers to the adult cell groups. One-half of the home cell groups at Elim are for children. I’ve urged the senior pastor, Mario Vega, to count all cell groups, including the children.
[viii] This information comes from Luis Floriano, a staff pastor of a 3,000 member Nazarene church in Guatemala. Luis personally visited every church in Guatemala over 2,000 people.
[ix] All information about the cell church in the former Soviet Republic was given to me by Chuck Squeri. Chuck is president of CCRN (Cell Church Resource Network), that networks and trains cell churches in the Soviet Union (mainly in Russia). His church in Cincinnati, Ohio (where he is the associate pastor) is the founding church of a fellowship of cell churches throughout the world that amount to some 150 churches.
[x] Quoted in Neville Chamberlin, Cell Church Missions Network, News Roundup #55. Part 2. Received on 7/27/2000.
[xi] Victory Temple in Tulsa, Oklahoma may have more in worship attendance and cell groups than Faith Community Baptist Church (in reality, it’s my guess that the size of both churches are about the same). However, I took the liberty to place Faith Community Baptist in the tenth spot because of their cell church influence throughout the world. I had the opportunity to travel in Asia in January 2000 (visited Cambodia and Thailand) and became aware of how strongly FCBC is influencing the cell model in Asia.
[xii] Les Brickman, Rapid Cell Church Growth and Reproduction: Case study of Eglise Protestante Baptiste Oeuvres et Mission Internationale, Abidjan, Cote Divoire, dissertation draft for Regent University, November 2000.
[xiii] Information sent to me via e-mail by a worker at the Mana Church named Adrian Noel-Tod email@example.com on 11/3/2000.
[xiv] E-mail sent to me by Mikel Neumann on 9/29/2000.
[xv]. Mikel Neuman, Home Groups for Urban Cultures ((Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1999) p. 7.
[xvi] For more information about this dynamic church, see: Hee Kong, “Regaining a Passion to Win the Lost,” Ministries Today, September/October, 2000. Some say that Hee Kong’s church has more people in attendance than Faith Community Baptist Church. However, FCBC has more cell groups and is far more influential in the cell church world.
[xvii] These statistics are based on a case study completed in 1997. I hesitate mentioning the author of this case study because Hope of Bangkok is very sensitive about other people studying their church. About eight months ago, the author of this case study gave me permission to post the entire case study on my web site. However, when the Hope of Bangkok discovered it, they asked us to remove it.
[xviii] Series of e-mails from Chuck Squeri, October-November 2000 (see endnote #9).
[xix] Anna Simon, who works at Faith Church, sent me this information on 11/3/200.
[xx] Neville Chamberlin, Cell Church Missions Network, News Roundup #54. Received 6/16/2000. To subscribe to this excellent Internet cell church/missions newsletter send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.