In the last year, I’ve had tremendous progress with my salt water aquarium. Although I’ve maintained a rigorous travel schedule, my little slice of the ocean is growing and happy. My leather coral has propagated four times and my mushrooms and polyps are spreading all over the tank. The few fish that I keep in the tank are chubby and bright in color. We’re a happy family. After years of experimentation and learning through failure, I found that good lighting, natural filtration and a careful choice of compatible inhabitants create a thriving reef tank.
Healthy cell group life isn't all that different. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit provide excellent illumination for our mission. Spending time with Him each day and with each other in true biblical community maintains a level of health in our spiritual lives. Reaching out to those who have yet to discover Christ’s love or true community draws us together as a team and makes us compatible.
As you read through this issue of the Journal, I hope you’ll be impacted by the insights in each article. Knowing the heart of each author, I can tell you that the goal is to move you to the next level of health and growth in your ministry, just as I work to improve the quality of life in my aquarium.
If you’re a senior leader, deacon, elder or staff member, be sure to read the article entitled “Navigating the hazards of transition.” This article contains information about a new process of implementing cell groups that will provide numerous “aha” moments for you as you consider your church's past or present journey into cell ministry.
We have also launched a new column just for cell members. In this issue, mentoring is the focus. We chose this topic because we’re finding that it’s the missing link in many cell groups across the United States, and must be included to produce healthy disciples and new leaders.
In 1996, we published an article on cross-cultural missions. In an effort to keep this exciting part of cell life on your mind, we asked the original author to write a second article and provide practical steps to making a cell-based mission trip a reality for your group. I challenge you to read this article and dream a little. Where could your group serve? What would the trip look like? How would it bring you together as a team?
I know many of you will peruse this issue and wonder where Toolkit has gone. Last issue, we published a plea to you—our dear readers—stating that Toolkit would die a natural death if we didn’t receive enough testimonies and tips from readers. We did receive a few, but not enough to fill the pages. If you’re as disappointed as we are, send us something today! With your participation, Toolkit will be back next issue. (end of article)
Cell Membership - By Randall Neighbour
Mentoring: Your new challenge: Discipling a new believer has incredible rewards, not to mention some frustrations!
In the early 90’s, I was a new intern in a cell group. My leader asked me to mentor a new believer named Jay, and while I didn’t feel mature enough for the task, I agreed to develop an accountable relationship with him. I had no idea what I was doing or how much it would change me.
Jay was a 19 year-old who had taken a year off before college to work and save money to get married to his high school sweetheart. He was not a man of low I.Q., but on a typical Friday night at 2 a.m., you might have thought differently. He and his buddies thought it was fun to jab knife blades into car tires on the residential streets of his Houston neighborhood. This progressed to taking baseball bats to car windows when alcohol was added to the equation. He and his friends did such a great job that they made the evening news. One night’s damage totaled more than $25,000.
While his neighborhood wasn’t all that rough, one of the residents took great offense and waited for Jay and his buddies to come back, brandishing a loaded 12-gauge shotgun. After all, this is Texas, and the best way to fight fire is with fire power.
That night, Jay narrowly escaped being shot in the act of tearing up yard grass with a friend in a pickup truck. The homeowner shattered the truck’s back window and provided Jay with what he called a “come to Jesus” event in his life. Later that night, he dedicated his life to Christ.
I didn’t know any of this information when I agreed to mentor Jay. He was a quiet guy with lots of apprehensions in cell meetings. Who knew he had such a secretive double life?
Mentoring Jay wasn’t easy, as you can imagine. I became discouraged, then frustrated, then disgusted with his lack of progress in the first month or two. He was undisciplined with spiritual tasks and clinged to sinful—and in some cases illegal—habits.
As I look back on my relationship with Jay, I can clearly see how I’d do it differently. That’s what this article is all about—helping you learn from my mistakes. While your protégé (the name for someone you’re mentoring) may not be as wild as Jay, I believe the discoveries I made as a first-time mentor will work in any relationship.
Stating the obvious
If you’ve never mentored another believer, I can say with some certainty that mentoring may stretch you beyond your known limits of discomfort, right into a overwhelming loss of patience.
Let me temper this statement with this: I am the kind of bull-headed person who must find himself in the midst of a crisis before I give God my full attention and give Him room to work. Jay drove me to that special place regularly, and I thank God for the challenge. Now I can give God my full attention without a crisis. Mentoring matured me.
God may give you someone who is eager to learn and is anxious to grow. Should this happen, praise God! But every new believer will have struggles, so expect a challenge or two.
Discovery: Expect God to purposely give you someone that’s hard to love and who has problems that are far greater than your resources. This will teach you to run to Him and find His love for the person and walk in it instead of what you have to offer.
Who’s got the harder role?
Your protégé may feel squeezed through accountability during your season of growth together, but you have the more difficult task. You must anticipate outcomes, stay consistent, be an example and moreover, stay prayed up for your protégé.
For this reason, I believe mentoring relationships are far more successful when the mentor initiates the relationship. He or she sees the potential in another person and desires to help them achieve it.
If you don’t see incredible potential in your protégé, gaining it is simple. Petition the Lord every day for His vision for your new friend and you’ll receive it.
Discovery: You simply must sense God’s vision for your protégé as your first priority. Without it, you’ll become weary of the relationship before you complete the task at hand.
My first mistake
I assumed Jay wanted to be mentored. I called him on the phone and asked him what day and time of the week was best for him to meet with me to pray, go through his discipleship workbook and become accountable. Jay clearly stated that he wasn’t interested.
So I changed my strategy. Jay loved to play racquetball. I was overweight and needed exercise. So I asked him if we could play racquetball once a week, which was his favorite sport.
After we played our first excruciating hour, I collapsed and told Jay I’d buy him a cup of coffee at Starbucks. While sipping his mocha latté, he began to tell me of his hurts and problems.
Through this experience, I discovered the following:
a) Ask your cell leader to meet with you and your protégé to discuss the relationship and set goals and a timeline to complete those goals.
b) If your protégé doesn’t want to be mentored, it will still work if you ask him or her to help you with something in your own life, sharing your own needs.
Mentoring: Maturity for All
Not every protégé is resistant to mentoring. I’ve also mentored guys that were energetic about learning and surprisingly open with the obstacles they encountered on their roads to spiritual maturity.
My relationship with Jay tested and extended my level of patience, which I badly needed. My mentoring relationship with most other guys, however, took me to a completely new depth in my relationship with God. Some of my protégés hungered to pray for an hour or more with me each week. Each asked me hard questions about God and the Bible that caused me to dig into the Word and look at passages from their point of view.
Discovery: If you feel “stuck” in your relationship with God, mentoring can move you to new heights of maturity and new depths of understanding His love and will for your life. Everyone wins.
Take A Holistic View
Being a spiritual big brother or sister also includes non-spiritual issues. You may find that your protégé is lousy with money, screams at his kids incessantly, or doesn’t respect authority. As you spend time with your protégé and you listen, you’ll hear all kinds of issues surface.
A friend of mine tells me that his church’s mentoring process also includes counseling concerning finances, family nutrition, career selection and education. This is in addition to the discipleship, deliverance and leadership training they offer.
Discovery: God has put you in the life of this person to help him or her move to the next level in many areas of life. If your protégé needs help with something, provide it. You don’t need to be an expert to be valued.
But wait, there’s more!
There’s just not enough room in this article to discuss mentoring fully, but there are good books on the subject, and you should read every one you can find. I’ve done this, and learned all about setting boundaries and goals and how to find outside resources for hard issues.
One thing’s for sure. By mentoring another person, God will move you to the next level in spiritual maturity. Jay tried my patience and refused to finish his discipleship material. But there were a number of positive things that happened. We became friends, I became a prayer warrior, he discovered what being truly “sold out” for Jesus meant, and I had the privilege of baptizing him in my neighbor’s hot tub. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being responsible for just myself! (end of article)
Randall Neighbour is an author and the editor of CellGroup Journal.
Leading Student Cells - By Randy Riggins
Life without a summer calendar: Shared group experiences are far more powerful than a packed schedule.
Our students just completed two performances of a dessert theater production entitled Blast From The Past. They put on the performance to help raise money for our high school summer mission trip to an Indian Reservation in Arizona.
As I look back on the production, I realize that all our goals were attained. Parents, relatives, friends, church members and visitors enjoyed watching our students perform. A large amount of money was raised for the trip. Many of our students’ parents who are nonbelievers were present for the performances. And, our students grew dramatically in their relationships with each other. The accomplishment of this goal was supported by several of the comments that were overheard following the weekend: “This has been so much fun. I wish we could just keep on practicing.” “This has really brought the members of our cell group closer together.” “I’ve never seen my daughter so excited about being involved.”
The performances were just one hour in length, but it was the preparation time that really made the difference in seeing our students grow in their relationships with each other. They worked on sets, made props, shopped for costumes, practiced their choreography, and rehearsed their lines . . . together.
I’m convinced that the greatest tool you have for developing and deepening relationships within your cell group is the other 167 hours in your week. If all the interaction your group members have with each other occurs in the weekly cell meeting, something incredibly important is missing—the dynamic of shared group experiences.
A couple of years ago, I had an “aha” moment concerning “calendared student ministry events.” During a student leadership meeting, I asked if we might be missing something by doing things the way they had always been done. You know, fill the calendar with events to keep us busy.
I asked them to think about the relational aspect of those types of programmed events. One of my students described those events as being filled with “relational-chaos.” The point was made that new people tend to get lost in the crowd, while those who know each other the best find it difficult to break out of their comfortable close friendships. As we continued, I was reminded of how important it is to be intentional with our plans.
As a result, my student cell groups have limited the number of ministry-wide events held throughout the year. Now we challenge, encourage, empower, and expect our leaders to make sure their cell groups are experiencing shared group experiences, outside of the weekly time together.
We rely so heavily on this strategy that we may be one of the few student ministries in the country without a summer calendar! Below are some examples of what our small groups have done. Reading through these ideas may cause you to brainstorm about new ways in which your groups can spend time together. Remember, the ideas are endless. The key is casting a vision that will help your group members see that the greatest way to build deeper relationships is by doing activities together.
• One of our girls’ cell groups went to a local park and gave out free water bottles with the Gospel printed on them.
• Rock climbing, major league baseball games, paintball, and laser tag always seem to be a big hit with our guys’ groups.
• One of our 7th grade girls’ cell group is having a Bake Sale this weekend. The money is being raised by our students to help a church in South Africa purchase a tent for their weekly worship services.
• Two weeks ago, a high school guys’ cell spent five days building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
• Several of our high school girls’ groups are talking about inviting their moms to a mother/daughter night out at the theater.
Here’s the best part of all. Did you notice what was occurring as our small groups did things together? They were accomplishing the major purposes of the local church! I am convinced that your cell group will be on the “fast track” developmentally when they are truly living out discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, worship, and ministry . . . and they are doing it together. It will never happen with just a one-hour-a-week commitment.
I’m not saying that you need to do extra activities weekly with your group. But I have observed that when groups do extra activities over the course of a year, there is a high probability that they will grow numerically and relationally. And best of all, the Kingdom of God will be expanded and God will be glorified! (end of article)
Randy Riggins is a youth pastor with a growing youth-led cell ministry at Clearpoint Church in Pasadena, Texas.
Editorial - By Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.
The third generation of the movement: A first generation voice offers a warning to the third generation cell leaders
We are entering the third generation of the modern cell church movement. Here is what happens in each generation of a new movement:
In the first generation, visionaries commit themselves to an unrealized vision. There are only a few innovators. They enthusiastically share their findings and are so committed to the dream that nothing is considered “sacred.”
Yonggi Cho is such a man. Although he started over 35 years ago, I found him open to spend time with me—a stranger—when we first met in 1974. At that time, Cho’s church had 50,000 people in cell groups. Dion Robert is also such a man, freely sharing with me his cell strategy that made it possible for him to baptize 9,000 on one day in 1988 and now to have over 120,000 members in cells. Mario Vega in El Salvador is such a man, answering my e-mails in a day or two. His cells exceed 120,000 and Elim Church has a 20 year track record. These are all first generation pioneers. Around the world, those of us in that first generation bonded to each other with much love. We never compared structures. We found the values behind cell groups to be preeminent and learned from each other.
The second generation focused more on the structure and the mechanics of the cell movement. Newcomers were attracted by the temptation of “easy growth.” The motive was often to build a huge church. Other pastors were encouraged to join networks that would provide the right systems for growth. This second generation leadership appealed to those pastors looking for a quick fix. Little emphasis focused on the values that support the formation of basic Christian communities.
The second generation mega-churches also focused on selling materials for training cell members, many of which have now been discontinued due to ineffectiveness or abandoned because these churches are on to the next wave of cell structure to come along.
In 1970, I tested daily growth guides that were interactive, seeking to instill values—not structure—into new and maturing believers. Although hundreds of churches have used and even adapted my work to fit the values of their church’s mission and succeeded with cells, there are thousands who have failed. Why? I believe it can be traced back to a basic desire to be rapidly successful. A lack of respect for the purposeful task of changing member’s values will kill any church’s plans to grow through a cell-based ministry.
Where are we today?
Sadly, we are now entering the third generation. A new spirit is among us. There is only one way to create and manage cell groups, and it’s either “My way or the highway!” This insistence on the rigid following of a system, first developed in a foreign culture, is appealing because it seems to promise instant painless success by following “the formula.”
Early adopters flock to use the “system,” dazzled by the promise of a huge congregation that will mushroom overnight.
But it takes a full seven years before a new concept can be effectively evaluated. During those years, many revisions are made. For example, when Joel Comiskey asked a successful youth pastor if he would share his strategy for growing teen cell groups, the leader refused, saying everything was being revised so rapidly that anything put into print might be altered before the ink was dry.
This is a first generation voice speaking to the third generation cell leaders: “Beware of growing mushrooms. They do not survive very long. Oak trees grow slowly, season upon season, and last a long time.”
Do not be dazzled by mushroom systems. Instead, evaluate and apply the values underlying the strategies presented. Do they grow the kingdom of God, or do they only help to build castles for kings? Christians encouraged to achieve personal significance by multiplying cells burn out sooner or later. The “Amway pyramid scheme” of cell group organization dazzles many, but there is endless dropout at the lower levels, leaving only a few promoters at the top to be admired.
Building basic Christian communities is a task for those who wash feet. Using people to grow a big church instead of instilling passion for the Kingdom will bring disillusionment to those so manipulated.
There are many models for managing cell groups, and we’ll see more innovative structures in the years to follow. Keep the main thing the main thing . . . the values Jesus demonstrated for us! (end of article)
Ralph W. Neighbour Jr. is an author and local church planter in the Houston area.
Cover Article - By Mike Cegielski
Cell-Based Missions: Changing Your World View
It’s 1 a.m. Jeff gets into the old beat-up Toyota outside of my apartment. The car and its Russian taxi driver reek of tobacco.
Jeff has been traveling for 24 hours without sleep.
His wife is having an allergic reaction back at the dormitory. He’s gotten some medicine from my apartment and is headed back across town to the dorm where his short-term missions team is sleeping, recovering from their trip into Russia.
Jeff asks me, “Do you know this guy? How do you know he will take me back to the dormitory? What if he can’t find it?”
I smile and reply, “Jeff, I just flagged this man down 30 seconds ago. There is a good probability that he will really take you back to the dormitory, rather than get lost, mug you, or kidnap you for ransom. I will pray for you . . .”
As the taxi drives off with Jeff, I see a look in his eyes— the look of one who now realizes that he is totally out of control of his destiny and totally dependent on God. He has now entered what I call “a missions moment.” All the seeker-friendly Bible lessons he has written, dogmatic positions he’s taken on minute theological issues, and the title he’s earned in his local church as a great cell leader all get steamrolled into one question . . . “Is God really with me?” There is no substitute for a missions moment!
Why cell-based missions?
The primary reason you should take your cell group on a short-term missions trip is to redefine and experience what Christian community is really about. A mission trip will: 1) Help your cell group reposition itself in a place where members really learn dependence on God and on one another; 2) Help them catch a vision for being a missions outpost whether they are in Zimbabwe or Santa Barbara; and 3) Help them taste Christian life and community at its best, bringing it back to blast out the drudge and complacency of 9-5 American “fru-fru” Christianity! And while you’re receiving all this wonderful help, the local church or missionaries where you are working will be able to use you in building their Christian community!
Before you read the balance of this article, take a moment to read the testimonies and ask the Lord to birth within you a new passion for missions. Then, come back and read the practical steps I’ve included to help you get started.
The Team Leader
Every missions project needs a team leader. As a cell leader, you are the perfect person for this role. You’ve served your group and know how much a mission trip will impact their lives. Take a deep breath and make a prayerful decision to step out and do it.
Plan a trip that has a primary goal of a “Jesus-transformation” for each of your cell members and for your group as a whole. You might think this is very selfish, but you can’t give away what you do not possess. When Jesus transforms your cell members through “missions moments” and working as a team for a common goal, others will be greatly impacted.
A Basic Plan
Here are the practical steps to create a life-transforming mission trip.
Spiritual preparation. (10 months prior to your trip)
• Fast and pray for a weekend. Take your intern to the lake and pray for a night together. Seek God’s vision for a life-transforming mission next summer. Take a copy of Operation World with you—it contains details of missions in every country!
• Explore the Internet for different mission networks and agencies for information on places where you might want to go. Gather as much information as you can! (Ask your cell group to help with the research . . . it will build anticipation).
Get your leaders involved. (9 months prior)
• Meet with your church’s leaders. This would be the person who oversees future mission plans and can help sponsor your trip. Share your findings and vision.
• Get a copy of your church’s mission vision and policy. If it does not exist, write a draft copy of a missions statement that proclaims why you are going to the nations and submit it to your church leadership for approval.
• Write church planters and national pastors where you plan to go. Tell them of the skills and make-up of the team you want to send. Ask how you might serve in their ministry. Have your pastor write the potential people with whom you want to work, to introduce them to the sending church and validate you and your team. (The TOUCH web site has a network of cell churches around the world and links to other cell church web sites with more international church contacts).
• Find a sponsor. Your sponsor will be a person who has done it before and will help you through the planning and execution of your mission. If you don’t have a person like this in your church, work with your leadership to find a sister church that has short-term missions-savvy people.
Write a general trip plan and schedule. (8 months prior)
• Give it to your church leadership early! Include your training plan, your team profile, and your financial challenges. Describe the actual goals of the team on the field. If you know you need training but don’t have a clue as to what to do, contact a missionary associated with your church or denomination for help.
Prepare your team. (This will begin as soon as you decide to do a missions trip)
• Set a weekend each month aside for missions training. You may think that this is too much, but it’s not. Imagine yourselves as an Olympic team. Your team trains hard for quite some time to show up and play one game. Everything you are doing is to be excellent for that “one hour” of strenuous, muscle-aching, back-breaking time.
• Love each other. Focus on team building exercises. Teach your team how to resolve conflicts and how to make decisions together, then practice these skills! Learn to pray and worship together. Help each member to use his or her spiritual gifts. Identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Become increasingly transparent with one another. Learn to laugh and have fun together too!
• Carry your stilettos. Ask everyone to write out their testimonies and practice sharing them. Make these “little swords of the Lord” sharp! Teach your team how to “whip them out” and use them with people! Your cell’s salvation stories will be a major weapon for your team.
• Communicate. Choose to learn 20-30 useful phrases in the local language. Either buy a cassette course, or find someone from that country in your city to teach you the language and culture. Study the history of the nation and its church. Learn about the religion and culture. Continue writing the in-country leader with whom you are working. Get details and insights from him or her on the local spiritual scene.
• Draw up a covenant with your team members. It should describe the intent of the team and the things that they are agreeing to be and do together. This agreement then becomes a standard by which your team members will stay accountable and focused when they are having a really bad day on the field.
Raise Funds for Your Mission. (6 months prior or earlier)
• Design a simple, tri-fold brochure explaining who you are, where you’re going, what you’ll be doing, when the trip will take place, and information about the people and church with whom you’ll be working. Challenge people to become partners in the trip by giving to cover expenses. The deadline for giving should be two to three weeks prior to purchasing airline tickets.
• Sacrificially give your own funds. This shows others that you’re serious, and it helps you focus on the trip. If you’re not willing to give to your own cause, examine your motives.
• Ask your church to hold your designated funds for you in the missions account. This way, the friends, family members and church members will feel comfortable knowing that the monies will not be spent for any other reason than your mission trip.
Tips for Success
1. Be smart, not cheap. Don’t try to save $40 by having your team take a flight that has eight layovers. Shop around for deals, but flying from Los Angeles to Singapore via Mexico City might not be the best use of your team’s energy and time!
2. Small is better. On the field, I was able to work well with teams that I could fit in one van, along with their driver and translator. With a small group, finding housing with nationals was easier and I could quickly arrange transportation. So keep your group under 8 persons.
3. Keep it light. Set a standard of one roll-on suitcase and a backpack. Don’t embarrass (and exhaust) yourself by bringing hundred-pound suitcases! You will not need most of it. Also, you might have to carry or pull that suitcase a mile or more, then carry it up nine flights of stairs!
4. Make a “My Life” photo album. People in almost all cultures would love to look at your life back home. Also, a pack of postcards from your locality will help. When you create your photo album, include pictures of family members, friends, your cell group and even your dog or cat. Because the American standard of living is higher than most other countries, be sensitive in this regard. Use caution when you choose snapshots depicting your car and home.
5. Don’t make trouble. When you are a guest in another country and a local comes to you and starts asking your advice on a situation, ask the local leader to listen in. This way, you won’t accidentally speak against the local leadership. And while we’re on the subject, never give money to church members without asking the local leader’s advice. If he is a national, get some advice on financial gifts from long-term missionaries in the area before you give anyone money directly.
6. Always build a bridge. Gathering people around your team makes for great photos. However, if these new contacts do not connect with the local church leaders for long-term discipleship, we all lose. Introduce any nationals you befriend to the local church with whom you’re working.
7. Set real expectations. You are not going to save all of Japan on your trip. Better to set a goal that each team member will make one significant relationship where they can encourage someone to walk closer with Jesus.
8. Express thankfulness. Be grateful for everything that you are fed or given. The national may have made a great sacrifice for those fish eyes, even though your stomach is telling you otherwise!
9. Get to know your host. Make sure that you get to know the person, church or ministry receiving you well in advance of your trip. Secure references and insights from other people serving in the locality, or from people networked with your host. Most of your team’s success is based on having a good host who has the time and desire to work with you.
10. Giggle times. Schedule time to laugh and be together alone as a missions team. Here you can discuss issues and lighten the load. While we’re on the subject, let everyone diffuse stress their own way—exercise, sleep, talk it out or read a book.
11. Pray. Develop the art and passion of being in constant fellowship with our Lord. He will guide you through all the messes and crises that may occur if your team will only listen to Him together.
Stay flexible to see growth
One of my mission professors said, “Missions is messy.” He’s right. Just because you have meticulously planned your trip does not mean that it will really happen as planned. Being prepared to serve with a well-thought out plan is a good start. Add flexibility and your team will be ready for a great trip.
Concerning those “missions moments” I mentioned earlier, know that Christ provides these as needed. As the team leader, do not miss them when they come! When you think you see one coming, ask Jesus to show you how to get out of the way so He can step in and transform one of your cell members a little closer to His character.
Cell-based missions is a great way to unify your cell group and inspire each member to see the world around them in a different way. When you return from your first missions trip, your cell members may ask you, “Why can’t we now be missionaries to America?”
During the summer of 2000 I took my wife and 1 year old to Vladivostok, Russia. We tried to go on two other occasions but never made it “out of the nest.” Our cell leaders, Dana and Amy, led our missions team. Our time in Russia was spent working and playing with children at TB clinics, orphanages, and at summer camps.
Upon our return, we moved into a new apartment. It felt natural to pick up where we left off in Russia by forging relationships with the neighborhood children from Mexico. Before a year’s time, we had committed to the Lord not to move into a house like we wanted, but to stay for another year to reach our neighbors and plant a cell group. We stopped thinking of missions as where you are but as who you are.
Our time in Russia helped us to think outside the box, seeing opportunities to serve right in front of our eyes that we were blind to previously. Dana and Amy are doing the same thing in their neighborhood with great success.
The short-term experience for us was a stepping-stone to real world ministry at home and long-term missions abroad. Lord willing, September 3rd we leave to plant churches in Southern Thailand!
— Jeremy Williams, Cell Leader, Christ Fellowship, Denton, Texas
Mike and Susan Cegielski are leaders in Far Eastern Missions, a network focused on starting church planting movements in the Far East. You can write them at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And on September 3rd, they indeed went to Thailand to work in Phuket and support themselves, in part, through a local business venture.
Just for Pastors - By Scott Boren and Don Tillman
Navigating the hazards of transition: An introduction to the 8-stage process of transition in Making Cell Groups Work
With the explosion of the first modern cell church during the 1970’s—the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Korea—a wave of church leaders traveled to Korea and returned with a vision to emulate Dr. Cho’s pattern. Some, like Dale Galloway and the New Hope Community Church in Portland, Oregon, succeeded. Many others started home groups, but never saw the growth. Instead, they watched their groups become in-grown cliques. In other churches, the groups stalled out and church leaders shut them down.
In 1990, a new wave of cell group experiments burst forth. Much of this experimentation rose from the unexpected stir caused by Dr. Neighbour’s book Where Do We Go From Here?. In it, Dr. Neighbour recorded his insights that rose from his frustration with the American church. After twenty-one of the pastors he had helped develop cell groups were forced to resign, Dr. Neighbour stated that there was little hope for the traditional church to live out the values of cell groups.
Instead of listening to Dr. Neighbour’s caution about the traditional church, many church leaders were incited and challenged by his negative assessment. One pastor wrote: “I was frankly outraged at how easily Dr. Neighbour disposed of the traditional American church and described a new paradigm of church structure called the ‘cell church.’” During the 1990’s, churches from every denomination—Baptist to Episcopal, Pentecostal to Presbyterian, Methodist to Church of God, Mennonite to Vineyard—have experimented with cell groups. These churches were like ships taking a voyage into uncharted territory. They ventured into places where most had not dared to go 20 years before. On these voyages, these ships encountered almost every imaginable navigational hazard
As we listened to their stories, we kept hearing the same hazards being described. With the knowledge gained from the experiences of these churches, those churches that follow can avoid these hazards and sail more freely toward the destination of fruitful, dynamic, and growing cell groups.
Hazard #1: Misunderstanding the Destination
When a ship captain prepares for a sea-going journey, he takes the time to plan well. He studies ocean charts, determines destinations, plots courses, consults weather reports, purchases and stores provisions. No sailor dares a sea venture without a proper knowledge of his destination and what it will take to arrive there.
Many times pastors fail to thoroughly consider the destination toward which they travel. They call us or visit our offices and ask for help in starting ten groups within three months. While they come with a desire for biblical community, they do not know what it really looks like. They often have only read one book or heard about a big church that is doing cell groups. They have not done enough research to understand where they are going or how they can really get there.
Too many pastors have experienced the hazardous nature of this approach to starting cell groups. Reading one book or attending one conference is not enough to attain a clear vision for cell groups. Most pastors spend years in seminary learning how to follow patterns of traditional church ministry. It might not take three years to learn how to run a cell group ministry, but it will take considerably more than reading one book.
We can state this fact with a great deal of confidence because the churches that have done the best job of “making cell groups work” have this in common: they do their homework, and they do it before they make plans to start groups or announce those plans to the church congregation. They also hear God’s call to cell ministry very clearly. They do not make the transition because it has made the church down the road grow large or because it seems like a good idea. They do it because they sense God calling their churches to do it. Stage 1: Envision by Discovery, will deepen your understanding of the cell group vision.
Hazard #2: Not Identifying the Starting Point
It is not enough for a ship captain to know his destination point when determining the proper course to steer at sea. Two vessels may have the same destination, but vastly different starting points. The issues and challenges each ship will face will be unique because of its unique starting point.
The same is true for the church. Two churches embarking from two starting points will take different courses to arrive at the same location. The journey toward making cell groups work will be very different for a 100-year-old Baptist church in rural east Texas than it will be for a 5-year-old non-denominational church in metropolitan Cleveland. Or imagine the difference between the journey of a church who has had three pastors in the last 8 years and that of a church who has had the same pastor for the last 20 years.
This is the reason that copying the exact transition strategy of another church rarely works. For instance, Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana started 53 groups with 500 prayer warriors who had been meeting for prayer training and intercession every Saturday morning for two years. Within three years, the church had 310 groups. Another large church on the east coast used the same transition strategy and started 50 groups. At year three, they have 60 groups. This church assumed they had the same starting point as Bethany World Prayer Center. But this was not the case.
When churches fail to understand their starting points, they blindly steer into waters replete with hidden dangers and unseen hazards. Stage 2: Assess Your Church’s Current Reality, will guide you in your quest to understanding your church’s starting point so that you will be able to prepare your members and lead them in the God-directed steps toward the vision of cell ministry.
Hazard #3: Failing to Practice Team Leadership
Pastoral leaders cannot force cell groups to work through strength of will, knowledge, or diligent effort. Leading a cell group initiative will fail if it is a solo project. Cell groups work because people work together in relationships, which require the commitment of more than one person.
Shouldering the transitional burden alone seems to be a common hazard in many churches. The senior pastor goes to his study, reads all of the available literature on cell groups, attends conferences, and develops a plan, often using fancy charts and illustrations. Then he announces the plan to the leadership.
When one person announces his cell group strategy to a group of people as if it is a done deal, he is asking for trouble. People do not adopt new ideas blindly. They need understanding, time, and much discussion. This means the senior pastor will need help in disseminating the idea to other members of the church. Seminars and sermons will not work in the early stages.
To overcome this hazard, the senior pastor must gather a team of key people who will help him discover how God is calling the church to navigate the waters of change. Stage 3: Develop Vision and Strategy as a Team, will guide you through this process.
Hazard #4: Putting Old Wine into New Wineskins
Many churches have embraced the new wineskin of cell groups, but the people of the church have not allowed their personal lives to be challenged, changed, and remade by the work of the Holy Spirit. Some have carried with them old patterns of ministry that stand in the way of what God is doing. Others have transported unbiblical ideas of what the church is. Most people entering the cell group wineskin struggle with simple things like becoming transparent, relating to unsaved people, and mentoring future leaders.
I (Don) became friends with the pastor of a west coast denominational church who caught the vision for cell groups. He received training on cell group ministry, brought in experts for consultation, and hosted seminars for his church members. The church started groups and the level of excitement rose. The church began reaching nonbelievers, and new Christians not only came to the groups, but they also started attending the worship services. The church discipled these new believers and even began reaching their friends. Everything was working well until the old guard started looking across the isle of the church and realized that they were losing control. The deacons started questioning the cell group strategy (one which they had endorsed and approved two years before) and then they began to pull in the reigns on the pastor, telling him that he needed to get back to pastoring and caring for the people. This pastor did most things right, but there was no change of heart on the part of his church’s leadership.
In our research, we have yet to find a church that made cell groups work but did not develop a deep hunger for God. The church sought to change not only to the wineskin of cells, but also to change the wine that flows into the hearts of the people. In order to enter into what God is doing in our world today, we must go beyond a transition of structures; we must embrace God Himself and allow Him to transform us through repentance. Stage 4: Prepare Your Church Through Repentance, provides practical ways to prepare people for a successful cell group experience.
Hazard #5: Starting Too Abruptly
The average tenure of senior pastors in the United States is five years. Therefore, when pastors feel they have a God-given idea, they do not have much time enact it and often encounter great resistance when doing so.
While pastors feel like they do not have a lot of time to do what God is calling them to do, cell groups begun too abruptly rarely work. Church after church over the last twenty years has tried to jump from Stage 1 to Stage 5, skipping Stages 2,3, and 4. They dive into the deep end without considering whether or not they can swim!
Instead of launching groups recklessly, churches that
succeed launch them
intentionally. Pastors do not intend to be reckless; their motives are usually pure. But when leaders try to begin groups too quickly, they often find themselves picking up the pieces. Intentional start-ups are based on the realization that leaders must be prepared and the cell group members must be committed to the values that make cell groups work. Without such a commitment, cell members will be distracted from the vision and purpose of the groups.
We imagine that some readers will struggle as they read this section. They might believe that their church is unique, that they can start more quickly than others, that they will not encounter the hazards and the struggles of a quick start-up.
Before your church decides to begin cell groups quickly, please consider the ramifications if you are wrong. Read through the information on the first five stages. These chapters will help you chart a course of action and determine how quickly you can begin.
As we have talked with pastors, we have discovered that the churches who loaded the front end of their start-up efforts with as much thought, preparation, and training as possible were more likely to launch effective start up groups. Stage 5: Launch the First Group(s) with Kingdom-driven People, will give you the confidence to know that when your church does start its cell groups, it will start them with a great potential for success.
Hazard #6: Viewing Cell Groups as a Program
Cell groups are not a panacea that will solve the ills of your church. The cell ministry strategy is not a program that a church can purchase and put on auto-pilot. Cell groups work because pastors and coaches are ministering to, mentoring, and releasing others into ministry.
Sadly, many churches have treated cell groups as a program that will run itself. Pastors promote cell groups from the pulpit, put charts on the walls, and hire a “cell pastor,” assuming that everything will work itself out. An effective cell group ministry is not like an effective Sunday School program where you can purchase curriculum and pass it out to teachers who have been teaching for 15 years. When you put cell groups on auto pilot, they crash.
In the early 1990’s one early adopter of the cell group strategy had a goal posted on the walls of his worship facility. It read: “2000 groups by 2000.” I looked around his church and thought, “How?” They were doing cells according to the proper structure, but the groups had not developed any momentum. The pastor had heard a cell pioneer state that a vision should be an impossible vision. Well, this vision was so impossible that they did not even come within shouting distance of it!
Cell groups do not grow and multiply just because they are meeting together. Cell group growth is a result of momentum generated by Christ-centered and Christ-empowered relationships. Momentum must be developed through cell group wins in three areas: personal victories, new Christians, and new cell groups. When Christ moves through the cell group relationships in these three ways, it propels the cell system forward, creating more and more momentum. Stage 6: Generate Cell Group Momentum, will explain how to develop new leaders relationally, and thereby birth new groups.
Hazard #7: No Support Systems
One west coast pastor took me (Scott) out to lunch after a conference and told me about his church’s groups. They had 20 groups that had grown stagnant. I asked him how his cell group members were discipled. They were not. I asked him how he was coaching the cell group leaders. There were no coaches. I asked him how much energy he, as the cell group pastor, spent ministering to the groups and leaders. He told me about the other administrative responsibilities he had in the church and how he had no time to invest in the leaders.
Cell groups are not designed to work autonomously. When left alone, cell group leaders must do all of the work of setting direction, discipling members, training interns, and evangelizing the world. This leads to burnout and failed groups. Group members and group leaders need oversight, support, accountability, and direction. This is the biblical role of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Stage 7: Establish the Vision by Supporting the Cells, will help your church provide the needed support that comes in the form of training, pastoral staff oversight, organization, teaching, evangelistic harvest events, children’s cell ministry, youth cell ministry, and much more.
Hazard #8: Failing To Maintain Focus and Expand the Ministry
We were asked recently by a church leadership team, “What percentage of our members should be participating in our cell groups? 70%? 80%? 100%?” We thought afterward, “This is not the right question.” The mission of the church is not about getting current Christians into cell groups. The mission of the church is to transform the world by the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us. Cell group ministry can accomplish this mission.
But some churches have fallen to the temptation of shifting the focus of the church after 75% or more of the membership has joined a cell group. They assume that the job is done. There is nothing further from the truth! Groups are like roses in a garden. Weeds will invade and insects will destroy, leaving the rose bushes distorted or dying unless the gardener tends to the garden. Without the focus of church leadership, groups lose energy, people focus on other things, and Satan invades what is left unprotected.
In order to avoid this hazard, it is important for a pastor to understand that initiating change and then leaving the congregation for another ministry position is a recipe for cell group demise. Without the guidance of the leader who initiated the groups, the church members are pulled back toward the old ways of ministry. This is what they know, and without the leader, they will feel safer with the old style.
Cell groups do not work as a maintenance strategy. They only work when they exist to change the world. Cell groups are either growing or dying, just like a rose garden. Therefore the focus should lie on expanding the groups, starting new churches, training new pastors, and impacting the world. Churches that have a vision to impact their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) have exciting cell groups full of people who are called to minister and see the hand of God transforming society. Stage 8: Expand the Cell Groups and the Church, will provide practical ways to increase the impact of the cell groups to transform more than just your church and neighborhood.
Navigation is foundational to a successful sea-going voyage. Without a good navigator, a ship is likely to end up in trouble and perhaps even destroyed. Churches face a similar situation when trying to move God’s people from no cell groups to expanding cell groups. Haphazard navigation will almost always lead a church into a head-on collision with a debilitating hazard. The eight stages found in the pages of Making Cell Groups Work provide the necessary tools for navigating around these eight hazards. The journey to making cell groups work will look differently in every church. These eight stages will provide broad parameters for navigating that stage, while at the same time allowing room for God to sovereignly guide the church forward.
Prepare yourself for the adventure of a lifetime. Your ministry will never be the same as God leads you and your church into the new territory of making cell groups work. (end of article)
M. Scott Boren is the director of Research and Development for TOUCH Outreach, The Cell Group People, and an associate pastor of Hosanna!, both based in Houston, Texas.
Don Tillman is president of Crosspoint International, a cell church planting cooperative with a mission to plant cell-based congregations.
Nucleus - By Larry Kreider
You can build a house of prayer! Six “spiritual rooms” you need to pray in daily
Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Many Christians struggle more with a personal prayer life than with any other area of their lives. Jesus told His disciples, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). Paul preached, “Our God does not dwell in temples made with hands. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 3:16). Christ lives within us, and our Heavenly Father’s call on each of our lives is to be a house of prayer.
As believers in Christ, we can sometimes experience frustration as we try to establish prayer in our lives. We find ourselves praying “lopsided” prayers as we focus on one or two small rooms. To experience an entire home, we must walk from one room to another. As we pray from one spiritual room to another in our personal prayer lives, the Lord grants us the privilege of establishing our lives as houses of prayer.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray with six major focuses (or spiritual rooms to pray in) so they could experience a balanced prayer life (Luke 11:1-4; Matt. 6:9-13). This prayer is a guide as we pray by the leading of His Holy Spirit. I invite you to join me and allow Jesus to walk you into the following six spiritual rooms:
The adoration room
Our Father in heaven, May your name be honored (Matt. 6:9b). He is our Daddy who loves when we come to Him. When I build my daily house of prayer, I worship and adore Him as my God and spend time honoring His holy name. I declare His lordship over my life and over my family and the region I live in. I declare that His name is above every name.
The declaration room
May your kingdom come [soon]. May your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Take time to declare His kingdom to come to your life, your family, your church, your city, your region, your nation. Pray for the unreached that are without Christ.
God’s will is God’s Word. Read the Word and pray the Word of God! His Word is filled with living power (Heb. 4:12). Declare His kingdom to come. Within the past few years, crime has dropped by 28% in the county in which I live. I am convinced it is a direct answer to the prayers of God’s people in our region.
The provision room
Give us our food for today (Matt. 6:11). He is the God who is more than enough (El Shaddai). Be specific when you ask for provision. He wants to provide for you. He does not mind you asking, but wants you to ask in faith and thanksgiving out of a deep relationship with Him.
I took my three daughters out to eat recently. Afterwards we went shopping and I told them they could each pick out a piece of jewelry. It was so much fun! I am their daddy! That’s how our heavenly Father feels about you asking Him for your needs to be met with abundance left over to give to others.
The freedom room
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us (Matt. 6:12). God has called us to keep short accounts. We forgive those who hurt us so no bitterness can develop a root in our hearts. If someone has hurt us, we must forgive him, ask God to forgive him, and ask God to forgive us for any wrong attitudes. We need to forgive others and confess our sins to experience personal freedom (Matt. 6:14-15).
The warfare room
And don’t let us yield to temptation, But deliver us from the evil one (Matt. 6:13a). We are instructed to resist the devil in prayer. We are called to spiritual warfare as soldiers of Christ! Regardless of the temptation that comes your way, God always provides a way of escape! (I Cor.10:13). You can trust Him! Resist the devil, and He will flee from you (James 4:7-8). Ask the Lord daily to keep you from temptation.
The exaltation room
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen (Matt. 6:13b). Building a personal house of prayer begins and ends with honoring and exalting the Lord and gazing on Him. He is our source and our life. Let’s give our God the worship only He only deserves! He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think according to the power that is at work within us! Christ in us is the hope of glory! (end of article)
Larry Kreider is director of DOVE Christian Fellowship International, a world-wide network of cell churches.
(end of issue)