WHAT IS A ''CELL GROUP'' CHURCH? A "Cell Group" Church is built on the fact that all Christians are ministers, and that there is no 'professional clergy" hired to do the work of ministry. According to Ephesians 4, God has provided "Gifted Men" to equip "Believers Who Are Gifted" to do the work of ministry.
Such a church is not built around the assembly of all its members but the clustering of believers to become "Basic Christian Communities" which do the work of ministry from Cell Groups that meet in homes. These Cells then cluster for area Congregation activities, and assemble regionally for "Celebration" times. The life of the church is in its Cells, not in a building. While it has weekly worship events, the focus of the church is in the Cells. A detailed explanation is provided in the fast-selling book, "WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?", available from Touch Outreach Ministries.
Responding To Your Needs Through Change
The second Reformation is here. The only ones who don't recognize it are those who have invested much in the 'status quo.'' The program based church that draws people to a building to "serve the Lord" is on its way out. I have a Chinese proverb, hand lettered in the traditional characters, hanging in my Singapore office. Its rough translation into English is, "Let man who says it cannot be done not
disturb man doing it." This is going to have to be the way churchmen co-exist for the rest of this century. Those who are still of the conviction that the Cell Group church can't work in America will discover they are wrong. But-it's going to be a slow and painful journey for those who are in the vanguard. Some years ago, a well known pastor took over a distinguished old Houston church. His predecessor had spoken to the press as he flew away, saying, "This church is never going to amount to anything!" On the front of the church building there was a sign board. The new pastor had this comment put on it: "The first bird in the air flies alone!"
How did God shape you? Are you an entrepreneur who dares to go "where no man has gone before?" Those who are pioneering the Cell Church in America are growing in numbers week by week. The "first birds" are no longer flying alone. Pictured on the cover is a Cell Group of the Bammel Baptist Church, a Christian Celebration Center. The Pastor, Richard Shearer, struggled for several years to keep a dying church alive in North Houston. A few months ago, I met with him and his two-man staff to discuss the possible transition to become a Cell Group church. The transition has been exciting, and for the first time in several years the church is beginning to experience some growth. The Cell Leader in the cover picture is Mr. Elihu Dodier, a judge and practicing attorney in Houston, Texas. When Bammel's cell ministry was launched in March of 1991, there were 130 people in the cells. Five weeks into cell life, they had grown to 160. Throughout the summer months, the cell group attendance held steady. Projections for the end of 1992 are to have well over 200 persons in the Cells. In the first 26 weeks, there were 29 persons baptized due to the ministry of the Shepherd Groups. A New Jersey pastor resigned from the Willingboro Baptist Church earlier this year, stepping out on faith. The first week's offerings from the Cell Group church he founded was $1,800. He didn't miss a pay check! Every day, many times a day, our 800 numbers gives us the privilege of counseling pastors who want to make the switch. While we are the only source in the USA. for cell group equipping materials, we are committed to do whatever we can, as long as the Lord gives us strength, to cause the "Second Reformation" to sweep across the United States. Meanwhile, I live in Singapore, where I can be a "light year" ahead of those in the States as I learn by experience how to create the superstructure for Cell churches who grow to have thousands of members. It's exciting!
Since the time of Constantine in the Fourth Century the church as functioned primarily as a "Cathedral". At least five important elements are identified with this "Cathedral" way of being the church:
In spite of different types of church government, different
architectural designs of buildings, different titles and clothes for leaders, different
worship form, and different theologies, churches for the most part have functioned through
this "Cathedral" form. Whether Catholic or Baptist, Presbyterian or Pentecostal,
"High Church" or Low Church," urban or rural, large or small, rich or poor,
Western or Eastern, churches have been "Cathedral" in nature. This
"Cathedral" system has survived political upheavals, rearrangement of world
maps, great social changes, theological heresies, the Protestant Reformation, and numerous
movements. Its adaptability has been nothing short of amazing. The "Cathedral"
structure has had the capacity to absorb all major movements into its structure without
changing its own basic form.
The Church Growth movement has developed ways to statistically count, measure and document the growth of "Cathedral" churches. However, there is currently more and more evidence of uneasiness and frustration with the way the "Cathedral: church functions. Many see it as an old wineskin that can no longer encapsulate and serve as the guardian of the Gospel message. Even those who love the church as it is, often wish it could be:
Is there an alternative to the church as "Cathedral?" Many are convinced that God has raised up an alternative structure that better expresses the design of the New Testament Church. This is the church as "Community." It's often referred to as the "Cell Group Church."
In some form, the church as "Community" has existed as a remnant alongside the cathedral approach throughout history. For example, Martin Luther intended to introduce home groups into the Reformation, but was hindered by other matters. John Wesley did establish Cells which he called "Classes." The Cells were the cause of the dramatic growth of his movement. However, he attached the movement to the conventional "Cathedral" structure and the movement was eventually absorbed into it. The best known modern model of a Cell Group Church in Seoul, Korea, the largest church in the world. Much of the attention given to this model, and others like it, has centered on size. But these Cell Group Churches are not just large "Cathedral" churches that do things a little better. They are totally different in nature. They have a "Community" Cell Group structure. Their size and phenomenal growth can be attributed to the New Testament design of their structure. These Cell Group Churches have caught the attention of those laboring within the "Cathedral" systems. Large numbers of leaders, for different reasons, seem to be open to consider the Cell Group Church as an alternative to what they now try to promote. Pastors of dying or stagnant churches sincerely want to "turn it around." On the other hand, pastors of successful churches want to keep growing, and are always interested in new approaches that might help keep the momentum rolling. Leaders just entering into church-related work are looking for a way to fulfill their call to be part of a church that is relevant and growing. People in the pew, serving on committees, filling positions in the "Cathedral," and contributing constantly to pay for every new building program and new staff member, are open to new ways of being the church. They know too well the limits of the "Cathedral" church! Is the church as "Community" a viable alternative for you? If it is, what are the options you have for doing it? And, if you choose to do it, what will it cost you? What demands of change will it make upon you? Let's assume you are ready to enter into being the church as "Community" rather than as "Cathedral."
What are your options for beginning such a church?
1. BEGIN FROM ''SCRATCH''
2. BEGIN FROM AN EXISTING CATHEDRAL CHURCH
Beginning from scratch" calls for at least one visionary and a core team to plant a new Cell Group Church while supporting themselves as tent makers or by raising support outside of the new work. God is presently using large numbers of these committed leaders to set the initial models of the Cell Group Church. This option offers great freedom, but it also demands a great faith in God.
Case Two is the point of greatest challenge. Can the existing "Cathedral" church contribute to the Cell Group movement? Starting a new mission seems to offer the best opportunity of success within the context of an existing church. A creative pastor of an existing "Cathedral" church may be able to lead a church to start a Cell Group Church mission. This will give support to the new work, but will allow for the necessary freedom to be creative and different. This could be an attractive way for a church to begin new work, since it does not demand the outlay of money associated with beginning a cathedral mission with a required guilding and paid staff. Many leaders, though unable personally to step outside of the "Cathedral" approach, may be supportive of someone else beginning a Cell Group Church. The sponsoring of a new Cell Group mission appears to be made to order for them.
To Begin a Cell Group Church through an existing "Cathedral" church and transition the entire congregation is more difficult. The degree of success depends upon the size, age, creative flexibility, and openness to change of the members. To try to use both the "Cathedral" framework and "Cell" framework will most likely result in burnout for those who try to do both. What option or options are possible with you? Are you ready to become part of this new exciting movement?
A Cell Group Church is made up of "Basic Christian
Communities." Each one of these Cells has a "Servant" (sometimes called a
Shepherd" or a "Cell Leader") to care for the flock. Cells cluster in
groups of five to create "Subzones," which are cared for by a "Zone
" Every five "Zone Supervisors" are under the care of a full-time "Zone Pastor," who cares for about 25 Cells.
Each Cell seems to naturally divide into three categories of Christians: "Little Children," "Young Men," and "Fathers." In the illustration, each category is involved in being equipped for ministry.
Young Christians and those who have problemed lives are seeking
to get a stable value system for their life in Christ.
The center group have passed through this first stage, and are learning to reach out to the lost. The third group, the "Fathers," are targeting totally unreached persons who have no interest in spiritual matters.
The group's growth is the result of consistent outreach by all members except the newly converted and the problem people. Those reached are brought back into the Cell and are nurtured to grow into their personal ministry.
There are no "programs" in a Cell Group Church to compete with the life of the Cells. This means all the traditional clustering of people into Sunday school classes, men's groups, women's groups, youth groups, etc. are completely eliminated. In a Cell Church, anything a "program Based Design" church does can be done through the levels of Cells, Congregations, and Celebrations.
The outreach of the Cell to unbelievers is the critical path used to evaluate the effectiveness of the Cell group pattern. They are not "Holding Tanks to keep church members happy. They are not Bible study groups. They are not prayer groups. They are "Basic Christian Communities," and they exist to grow together in Christ so they may be productive in reaching the unreached which lice in droves under the shadows of the traditional churches. A Cell Group gathering is typically less than 2 hours in length. It divides this time into two segments:
The Shepherd of the Cell Group has a personal consultation with each incoming member, using the "Journey Guide." This is used to chart the "Journey" of each person to be equipped for ministry. Daily growth guides and practical activities then lead the Christian into ministry. "Equipping Modules" are studied at home during the week, and then shared during the Equipping Time with another Cell Croup member who has recently completed the module. Therefore, the motto of the Cell Group Church is, "Each One Is Equipping One, Qhile Being Equipped By Someone!" This creates accountability and also allows each person to quickly pass on what has just been learned.
During the first year in the Cell group, called the "Year of Equipping," the new Cell member will be led to complete COVER THE BIBLE, a 52-week module of Bible Survey. This uses taped teaching messages, 5 minutes long, prepared by the Pastor for use by each member. Thus, in 25 minutes a week (Monday through Friday) a Christian can complete a Bible survey in 12 months. His first 20 minutes of the Equipping Time Is devoted to the review of the COVER THE BIBLE materials.
The second 20 minutes is spent reviewing another set of modules, which together take about one year to complete. Each of these modules builds the Christian toward the ministry Christ will eventually assign.
The first of these modules digs into the personal value system of the new Christian. While salvation from the penalty of sin takes place in an instant of time, unfortunately the conversion experience does not alter many of the value systems which have been made habits through years of living without faith. Such maters as Power, wealth, personal significance, sexuality, etc., are dealt with during the first 11 weeks in the Cell. This is followed by an 11 week module entitled "Knocking On Doors, Opening Hearts," as the Cell member learns how to share his faith with those who have a basic understanding of the Christian message. The goal is for each person to win someone to Christ. This is a sort of "sound barrier" which must be passed before true ministry can begin.
During this time, in addition to the second 20 minutes spent with another person reviewing the "Knocking On Doors" module, the pair of persons will actually be involved in going out together to share Christ with those who have not come to Christ. The final modules, "BUILDING BRIDGES, OPENING HEARTS.' BUILDING GROUPS' and BUILDING AWARENESS', the second and third modules, are designed to create "subgroups" of those who have learned how to reach the lost for Christ. They conduct 10-week long "Share Groups" which are preceded by 7 weeks of cultivation and followed by 10 weeks of penetrating "Oikoses," or "households." of the unbelievers who participated in the Share Group. Step by step, through the first year of life in a Cell group, the member is prepared for a lifetime of ministry through Cells.
The last 90 minutes of the Shepherd group experience is for the purpose of EDIFICATION, a ministry area that has been totally ignored by the traditional church This time is divided into four parts.
The first few minutes are devoted to bonding man to man. This is
called the "Ice Breaker" period.
When it is over, there will follow a time for bonding men to God. This period of worship must be taken seriously! If the Cell is not ushered into the presence of the Lord of the Church, the next period of time will fall flat.
The third period is for building up one another through ministry. Paul makes it explicit in 1 Corinthians 14 that when a Cell group gathers, EACH ONE Is to participate in building up one another. This is not to be done lightly! It requires two ingredients to take place in a Biblical manner. First of all, those present must be willing to share their struggles, their doubts, their burdens. A group of people hiding from one another will never experience true edification. The second ingredient is for those present to be able to serve as the instruments of grace for one another. Being a "Priest" for God means one stands before Him on behalf of others, and then comes from the Throne of Grace with an endowment to minister His life to those in need. This means the believer must discover how to HEAR GOD and to know how He wants to flow His spiritual gifts through each person to build up other. This entire dimension is an unexplored agenda for most Christians. They have either ignored it completely, or have gone into an overemphasis of a few gifts which are not properly applied to ministering to one another. Edification can only be learned by being in a group where it is authentically taking place! Sermons may help, but there's no substitute For being in a room with ten or twelve other people when God begins to flow through each one for building up others!
The final period in the Cell meeting will focus on bonding believers to unbelievers. It 's typically called the "Share The Vision" Time. Each person in the Cell shares the names of unbelievers they will be reaching out to during the week, and there is mutual prayer for the ministries of the Share Group Team, the Visitation Team, and the personal contacts which will be made. The total vision of the church is reviewed as well.
(Editor's Note: This article describes a cell meeting design that we no longer embrace. We left the article as it was published, but suggest that you read "The Shepherd's Guidebook" for a current design that we feel is much more refined and workable.)
Over 62 years ago, I was born in a Baptist parsonage and quickly
became a child of the church. I had the greatest preacher for a Dad that any boy could
listen to, and at an early age I sensed the call of God to preach. One of His assignments
for me was to plant churches. Ruth and I have planted a couple of dozen through the years.
Then, serving on the staff of the Baptist General Convention of Texas for five years was a
revelation to me. Traveling among these churches made me realize that the average church
member was absorbed in "serving the Lord" inside a building, while the world
went to hell in a hand basket all around him. Frequent interviews with pastors in America
and missionaries overseas documented that the typical preacher doesn't even have a
certified, gold plated unbeliever as a personal friend. As disillusionment with the
traditional church set in, so did a burning desire to see God reach our world. At age 36,
my wonderful family followed me into a faith decision. We would lovingly bid farewell to
the traditional church and seek a more Biblical lifestyle for the people of God. Years of
experience in "Churchianity" had been drilled into me. I enjoyed my share of the
"perks" and respect of being a "Hired Holy Man." It was tough to face
the insecurity of no patterns for the Cell Group Church. I also trembled at taking such a
step into the unknown with six mouths to feed.
It was then I discovered the exhilarating truth that it is a servant's task to obey his Master, and it is the Master's task to provide for such a servant. Trusting the Lord instead of the denomination was, at the time, a scary step to take. Twenty-five years later, I smile at my financial fears as we made the break.
However, I could not even anticipate the greatest "culture shock" I would face. I relinquished forever the privilege of preaching whatever struck my fancy. I soon learned that when I became an EQUIPPING pastor rather than a "Hired Holy Man," my sermons had to help the members who didn't come any more from Sunday School classes into the sanctuary. Instead, they came from living rooms where they had been face to face with all the hell-on-earth that exists in the the lives of unbelievers. They came gasping for truth that would help them when they returned to their ministry.
Being a model for the flock was also a critical path for me in those early months. Previously, the members of my traditional churches expected me to marry, to bury, to baptize, to counsel, to study my Greek and Hebrew in sermon preparation. Now, they needed me to be a model for them of how to make contacts with pagans, how to minister to their hurts, and how to bring them to Christ in a living room instead of from a pulpit. It took a couple of years to shed my role-playing and be a coach on a team-and it became the most exhilarating thing that had ever happened to me!
If you can frankly say to yourself, "I can explain much of
my ministry as the result of my own hard work," you must ask another question:
"How much of what happens around me is the result of what God is doing in the lives
of my flock?" Did you leave your last church disgusted because the people didn't get
excited about reaching out? And, did you inherit your present church from a pastor that
also left in frustration? Will you now leave the people you serve as a group of
half-committed Christians who have really not grown into a significant measure of
What's wrong? Is it your theology? Probably not. Are you a failure as a pastor? Probably not. What IS wrong, is wrong WORLDWIDE; it's the curse of a church life which is not Biblical, which is the result of traditions which no longer impress the unchurched. The truth is, the form of church life which produced me and produced you is no longer valid, and is driving more and more people out the church door to never return again. At the same time, the Holy Spirit has created a truly Biblical model of church life.
Pastor Dong, serving in Singapore, has written out his definition of a Cell Group Church:
COMMUNITY LIFE; where each one seeks to edify one another; where each one encouraged others to live and not withdraw from their place of contact; where praying for and ministering to one another creates a sense of concern and the desire to have the best for each one; where the fruit of the Spirit is evidently seen and demonstrated for the benefit of the group; EVANGELISTIC; where each born again member looks beyond the group to reach out to an unsaved friend or relative to be brought to the saving relationship found in Jesus Christ; where each member sees any church-related function as an opportunity to share one's faith and experience in Jesus Christ;
LEADERSHIP; where all members recognize their roles as priests before God; where all exercise their God-given gifts for the building up of the body of Christ; where each is encouraged to have an attitude of servanthood; where each is responsible to, and for, another person in the Cell group;
LIVING; where freshness and dynamism characterizes the whole Body; where each Cell multiplies and breaks into new Cell groups on a regular basis; where the Cell extends itself into places and ministries which, in the flesh, seem impossible to penetrate;
SPIRIT-LED; where all members are open to the leadership and vision of the Holy Spirit; where all recognize their self-bankruptcy and become totally dependent on the grace of God; where praise and worship occur with love for Christ, the Head of the Body.
Pastor Dong has put together all the ingredients of a Cell Group Church except one: the heart and the vision of the man who launches such a movement! To go before the Lord and hear His voice giving the mandate to form a Cell Group Church-to become an Abraham who leaves all his "security blankets" behind because he knows God will provide for him-that's what he left out! The Second Reformation is on its way! I exult in the Lord every Sunday when we see 4,000 coming for the weekly Cell Group Celebration at Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore. No greater joy may ever exceed that of training 1,000 Cell members at one time to use the relational "John 3:16" model presented in KNOCKING ON DOORS, OPENING HEARTS, and then hear of the chains of decisions which result from Cell-based evangelism reaching out to the oikoses of a city. Are you ready? Shall we begin?
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