I often hear pastors talk about how fast their cell groups grew after transitioning from a PBD structure. However, after a few months they plateau. There are no more church members to become cell members. It is then they realize that pure cell churches double through conversions, not transfers.
Jim Egli and Lawrence Khong are among the writers this month who explain how to build evangelism into your cell groups. Use their suggestions and grow consistently. Ignore the harvest and you will miss the pure joy of what makes a cell church grow!
The heartbeat of God is for the children of this world to become His beloved sons and daughters. To serve Him fully, all the cell group does must be rooted in reaching out to the lost. Perhaps the fastest growing cell church in the world today is in El Salvador. They conduct weekly planning and prayer cells for Christians as well as a cell for reaching the lost. I like that pattern! Whether you try it or not, outreach must be the heart and soul of your cell life. Beware of letting your cells become navel gazers.
Is pressure to succeed strangling the discipleship process in your ministry? Inside the temple court Jesus was teaching. A multitude of people sat near him listening to every word. Suddenly he was interrupted by a commotion in the back of the crowd. Several Pharisees were dragging a woman to the front where Jesus sat. The crowd parted as the angry mob brought the woman to Him and threw her at Jesus' feet. There she lay as the angry men told Jesus about the depth and depravity of her sin. Jesus listened to the hateful words dripping off their tongues as they called for the law of Moses to be enforced. He clearly perceived their murderous thoughts were not only for the girl, but for Himself as well. All eyes were on Jesus. What would he say?
As He stooped down and began to draw in the sand, the men's cries became even angrier. He looked up and said one sentence: You who are without sin cast the first stone. The men stood stunned, for Jesus had turned the glaring judgment from the accused to the accusers. Slowly, as the light revealed the darkness of their hearts, they dropped their stones and walked away. The crowd, who had been there from the beginning, watched Jesus as he bent down and helped the woman to her feet. She brushed the tears from her eyes, realizing for the first time her accusers had left.
Jesus asked, Where are they? Has no one condemned you?
No one, sir. she replied, her tears slowly subsiding.
Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.
When we look into the eyes of Jesus, we see a man who loves people. That may sound trite at first, but in reality the fact that Jesus loves us is the most profound statement of all. Jesus was a man willing to love people no matter how that love might be interpreted or viewed by others.
In the ministry, we face a lot of these same pressures. Our hunger for approval from peers clouds our love for the individual. As a youth minister I have often made decisions out of my own in- security rather than considering what is truly best for my youth. Spending all my time and energy performing for others (youth ministers, parents, staff), I overlooked the needs of individuals. Recently, however, I have become convinced that my calling as a youth minister is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Rather than building a youth program (so I look good to the crowds), I have begun to focus on building youth disciples.
The premise for my plan is simple: youth disciples are made by modeling the Christian lifestyle to kids and becoming part of their friendship circle. Here are some of the key steps in this process:
I schedule an hour a week with each kid in my leadership core. We spend time going through a study of the foundational elements of the Christian faith. We discuss stronghold issues that might keep him or her from experiencing the freedom Christ's power provides.
Help them identify ministry opportunities. A true disciple is someone who is making other disciples. Therefore, it is important that we equip the youth in reaching out to the hurting persons in their world. Together we determine who is in his or her friendship circle. I ask the teenager the following questions:
Next, we pray that God will burden their heart for one of the non-Christian kids. Once we have determined which kid the Lord wants that teen to reach (this usually takes a couple of weeks), we plan some kind of outing that the three of us can enjoy together.
After I get together with the teen and the non-Christian friend, I encourage the teen to invite his or her friend to a relational fun night that our church provides once a month. We have done a Jurassic Park Pizza Pig-out party, played laser tag, and just hung out. The purpose of these events is simply to introduce these non-Christian teens to other Christian teenagers.
Once a kid has met others in the cell group, we get together for another purely relational type outing. This outing includes the teen, his non-Christian friend, myself, and another member of the youth cell who is of the same gender. This helps the non-Christian youth develop a friendship with another teen who is a Christian.
Generally, opportunities for sharing the gospel come in the midst of one of the
relational activities mentioned above. Christian teens who aren't yet open to relational
sharing can invite their lost friends to a Wednesday night event where we play games and
have a simple gospel presentation.
Debrief at every opportunity.
During each of these steps, I call the youth I am discipling to give and receive input. Reading about Christ's interaction with the disciples will give you a good understanding of what takes place during this time.
These are some simple steps I have learned for leading youth towards maturity. In the end, if we are to see our youth become mature disciples, we must be willing to take their hands and walk them through the steps of relational ministry. Jesus modeled this with the Twelve, can we do any less?
Transitioning to the cell model may well be the most difficult
ministry endeavor on earth. Nevertheless, the struggle is most glorious.
At prairie creek Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas, we have found something to be true: when God chooses a place to build His church, He always provides the resources. Sleepy Lindale, a small East Texas town, population 5000, seems an unlikely place for powerful new church paradigm shifts. However, the Holy Spirit didn't seem to care. He began to breath new life into our little 90- year-old traditional church about three years ago. Hungry believers began to be added to our fellowship as we went from 100 to 300 in attendance in a little over a year. As attendance grew to 500, excitement filled the air!
Despite this, we knew that the Kingdom of God was more than a numerical increase in a Sunday morning service. We began to seek God's heart for our church and felt He was calling us to provide two things for our people: an atmosphere to become more like Christ and an opportunity to lead more people to Christ.
As we examined our church structure of programs, Sunday School and worship services, we had to confess that few opportunities existed to truly experience Christ in our midst. Some would have applauded our increase, but what about the Church's Groom, Jesus Christ? Was the Kingdom of God growing, or were we in the Kingdom simply getting fatter? We felt there was something more dynamic for us.
As we searched for a strategy that would provide fertile soil for our people to grow and minister, we intersected the path of the cell church movement. What a breath of fresh air that was! We knew without a doubt that the second reformation was about to hit Prairie Creek Baptist Church.
It's been an exciting journey since the vision was birthed in June of 1992. We spent the following months clarifying the vision and equipping leaders, launching our first cells in September of 1993. Today we are halfway through our goal of transitioning in three years.
Throughout this process, God has continually focused us on His Kingdom growth principles. I'd like to share a few of those with you and pray that they would encourage and challenge you in your own journey.
BUILD PEOPLE, NOT LEADERS
This may sound a little strange, especially since one of the greatest needs in the cell church is leaders, and a lot of them. But we realized that our goal in leadership reproduction was not to produce a skilled cell leader, but a godly believer. There is a great temptation and pressure to train as many people as possible to facilitate a meeting and who agree with the cell vision. Jesus, on the other hand, wants healthy disciples more than he wants savvy leaders. He wants disciples who nurture their mates, train up their children, work diligently on the job and love people. We, as church leaders, must focus on the whole person. If a man is struggling desperately in his marriage, he will not be able to function as a cell leader. The bottom line of cell leadership is thissuccessful cell leaders are actually healthy disciples. Healthy disciples are those men and women who simply model the life of Jesus before their flock. People who strongly desire to be in right relationship with God, family, and others. This type of healthy Christianity is contagious. Every time I meet a pastor of a cell church, I hear the same question asked: How do you keep up with the leadership demand? My answer is, I don't. I focus on building men and let the leaders naturally rise to the top.
BELIEVERS NEED ACCOUNTABLE RELATIONSHIPS
From the beginning of our transition to cells, we knew that God wanted every member of our church to be spiritually accountable to another. Making that accountability a reality was a different story. In the beginning we tried assigning people partners. This was effective for a few people, but for most cell members it didn't work. We began to realize that true accountability flowed out of intimate relationships and no cell leader could make that happen.
As we continued to seek out a practical way for people to be accountable to one another, we stumbled upon what we simply term men's and women's cell meetings. These are meetings of men or women for an hour a week for personal ministry to one another. The momentum for these separate, weekly cell meetings came from the Promise Keepers meetings, which some of our men attended. They became burdened for more man-to-man ministry. As we channeled this momentum into our cell structure and experimented with men's meetings, we saw relationships go deeper as men bared their souls and stood in the gap for one another. We began to realize a new level of personal ministry that our people sometimes didn't receive in the regular cell meeting, but desperately needed. We soon launched women's meetings and saw the same exciting results. We are now seeing that accountability is also the fertile soil for healing and restoration whereas, in the past, a pastor's visit was the springboard for real ministry. The New Testament model for restoration is this: the Body surrounds and ministers to broken people, refusing to let them fall away from God's promise, bearing with them until victory comes.
HEALTHY SHEEP NATURALLY REPRODUCE HEALTHY SHEEP
We desire PCBC's evangelism to flow like the church in Acts 2:42- 47. One of the most frustrating aspects of transition, however, can be the time it takes for that kind of biblical evangelism to occur. Through it all, we have realized somethingeven if we are frustrated, God is not frustrated. In fact, he is delighted that his children are finally on the path to wholeness in Christ in the midst of the evangelism process. People being set free and drawing closer to Christ is true church growth. This must happen in the midst of establishing New Testament evangelism. Acts 2:42-47 portrays a people loving God and one another. It fails to mention any evangelistic activity per se, yet people received Christ daily. The reason? It is natural for healthy sheep to reproduce themselves
Does this mean that we have no outreach strategy? Not at all. In
fact, we are making it a priority to keep evangelism on the front burner in every cell.
Our strategy is simplewe look at our church one cell at a time, one person at a time. Many
of your cell members are just like many of ours. They need healing before they are
mobilized for evangelism. At the same time, there are cell members that are ready to
impact their friends and neighbors with the Gospel. Let's equip and release those who are
ready to bring in the harvest, and continue to be sensitive to those who are still
There has been a common thread woven throughout these kingdom growth principles. That thread is a discipleship focus on each individual believer. Just as God continues to single me out personally in relationship with Him, we, as leaders, must keep our focus on the spiritual growth of each sheep rather than the numerical growth of the flock. Remember, it is possible to have all of your church members into cells and yet not be the church. Our goal is not cell members, but faithful discipleshealthy sheep!
Transitioning to the cell model may well be the most difficult ministry endeavor on earth. Nevertheless, the struggle is most glorious. I would rather be here watching God transform a 90-year- old rural fellowship than anywhere else. To see believers wake up to the fact that God wants to do miracles in and through them is a sight I will never tire of observing. Let's commit afresh to building God's Church one disciple at a time, in the context of cell ministry.
Brian Childres is associate pastor of Prairie Creek Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas. Prairie Creek is in the middle of a three year transitioning plan. At the moment they have ten cells and three zone pastors.
The revolution in church life is spilling over into children's ministry. How do we work this revolution in the local church?
A revolution is taking place in the church today. It's a revolution touching all areas of church life: worship, community, and outreach. Part of what God is doing is a transformation of how children are touched and involved in Christ's body. As old mindsets and patterns crumble, God is doing beautiful and wonderful things in our midst. We have a long way to go in letting God transform us, but I am excited about what's beginning to take place.
As I ponder this revolution in children's ministry an experience at our cell group several months ago comes to my mind. We started cell with all involvedadults and childrenfor an icebreaker and worship. For the study and ministry time of the cell, the adults and children were separate. When we came back together for refreshments at the end of the meeting, the adult who had been with the children told me how they had looked at Joshua 1 and talked about their personal fears and prayed for one another. He told me my nine-year old son shared his fear of the dark that caused him to leave his window blinds and door open each night when he went to bed. It sounded like the children had a deeper time of ministry than we adults. That night my son went to bed, as he has ever since, with his blinds and door closed, his fear of the dark gone.
Also that night after returning home my son said, Tonight at cell we laid hands on each other when we prayed for special needs. When I prayed for Laura I had a tingling feeling go all through my body. It went down my arm and out my hand. What was that? My husband shared with him, That's Jesus showing you that he is ministering his life and power through you. Whenever you sense that, keep praying because God is telling you that he is at work. Do you want to learn more about how to pray for people? He responded, Yeah, I'd really like that!
God has been using little incidents like this to explode and reshape many of my assumptions about children. Sometimes He's whispering and sometimes He's shouting: The children are not just the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today! They can use spiritual gifts, develop leadership and do evangelism effectively. Teach them and learn from them. Expect great things as I work among them.
As we reshape children's ministry, we must not start with structure but with the underlying assumptions that shape our patterns of ministry. True transformation begins by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Before we can truly know what ministry to build for our children, we must first establish a foundation resting in God's truth rather than the faulty and limited assumptions stemming from our unique pasts. As we better understand where we're coming from and what God's Word says, we can confidently move into what God is calling us to. To uncover our present attitudes toward children and then implement biblical principles, I visited each cell in our church. We asked three questions as we began our journey.
Where are we coming from? As congregations form and members with different backgrounds unite, many different perspectives on children emerge. Visiting with the different members brought our attitudes toward children into focus. Words that came to mind when we thought of children ranged from spontaneous, playful, energetic, loving, precious, and wonderful, to dependent, needful of protection and discipline, a privilege, easily molded, challenging, and a big responsibility. Some adults among us dared to express the negative thoughts that came to mind: noisy, hard-to-control, and troublesome. Our discussion about these views was important because our views of children shape our actions toward them.
Our actions toward our children, however, were causing us some anxiety. After all, it is difficult to understand things on their level. Will we be too lenient, or too strict, or too impatient? What do we do when they cry? What if they get out of control? What if we really aren't gifte to work with children? Do we have anything to offer? There were many questions, but as we looked our anxieties in the face, we saw that each of us had unique gifts to offer our children, even in our imperfection.
It was refreshing to affirm that God, even in children's ministry, uses ordinary people. We realized afresh that those who most effectively shared God's love with us when we were children were everyday people who took time to be with uslike the grandparents who always prayed about specific problems or the Sunday school teachers who had parties outside of class. Or how about the friend's parents who loved us unconditionally through teenage rebellion? God needs these uncles and aunts to influence the children among us more than he needs full-time children's workers. We asked: How could we be the ones who continue to share with the next generation the love that was shared with us when we were children?
What is God's heart for children's ministry? The answer was in God's Word, which is where our meeting continued. We took time to ponder the flavorful references to children in Scripture. We pictured Jesus with the children in Matthew 18 and 19 and were encouraged to bless the children and include them in ministry times. We saw Samuel serving in the temple, David the shepherd boy, the prodigal son, and the boy who shared his lunch. Phrases that flashed through our minds challenged us, for God has spoken clearly that children are important in His kingdom. Jesus values their influence on us. They are a part of us! He wants us to learn from them as well as teach them. As we weighed Scripture against Scripture we desired to lay a foundation for ministry to children that reflects the Father's heart. Following are three of the key scriptural principles we are using in the foundation of our children's ministry.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9: Children's Ministry Begins at Home. This passage challenges us to start in our homes. The most effective ministry to children takes place in the home on a daily basis. We recognize that parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual nurture of their children, which means support and training for parents is essential. When Christian parents are not present, then those who bring the children into the church are responsible for their nurture.
Psalm 145:4-7 and Psalm 8:2: Allow children to hear and enter into praise. Children must hear our praise. The Psalms proclaim the excitement that abounds when one generation pulls out all the stops to share the glory of the Lord with the next generation. We must allow our praise and faith in our awesome God to be contagious. As we encourage and facilitate the praise of children among us, their foe and avenger will be silenced. What joyful power is released when our children praise God aloud in our homes, cells, and congregations whether in song, prayer, or thanksgiving.
Luke 18:16-17: Separate adults and children for the purpose of ministry not child-care. For our sakes, as well as our children's, we cannot tolerate an attitude that insists on the separation of our children from the adults during worship.
There are occasions where it is best to allow children separate activities so the unique needs of both adults and children can be addressed. However, at Shepherd Community Church we are repenting of a child-care mentality: setting children aside to pursue adult business. Children are not a distraction from what God is doing, but key players in his kingdom. We want to give them opportunity to grow whenever we come together.
What kind of a structure will we build on this foundation? The challenge facing us is how to incorporate the children in the life and ministry of the church without expecting them to be miniature adults. How do we allow them to give freely what the Lord is giving them without pressuring them to perform? These are questions we are prayerfully considering. In the meantime, we're excited to see God's work among us, empowering us to proclaim his greatness from one generation to the next.
To experience church growth you must be willing to die! At Touch Outreach Ministries we regularly receive calls from frustrated pastors who have a common concern: I'm doing cells; why isn't my church exploding with growth? For various reasons they believe moving into the cell model automatically equals a larger church, and this just isn't happening for them. Many come up with explanations like these: cells don't work in our culture; my church is just not ready for cells; cell groups require too much leadership. There are others for sure. While these explanations may have some validity, other important questions should be examined before abandoning the cell model or giving up the pastorate. Are you committed to making disciples, not just converts? To many, the key term for someone becoming a Christian is born again. But Jesus most often used the term follow me. This contrast illustrates our perspective on growthwe often see the goal as getting someone born into the kingdomChrist saw the goal as maturity. One of the greatest elements of disciple making is time. At the end of 3 years of ministry, Christ had a small band of 50 - 100 who followed him, with 12 primary disciples. If we measured Christ's success against our standards of church numbers and growth, most would say that he failed miserably. On the contrary, very soon this small band of disciples was accused of turning the world upside down. Christ's short-term commitment to developing disciples paid off in long-term benefits. Are you willing to die? In the cell church where disciple making is a primary focus, leading is not simply a matter of what you do, but who you are. Dion Robert, pastor of a 40,000 member cell church in the Ivory Coast, uses the word death to describe how you grow a cell churchdeath to your selfish ambitions, to your agenda, to your self sufficiency, to your style of leadership and communication. Bringing people to the cross (including yourself) is the key to growing a vibrant, living body. Do you have realistic expectations? Because of this radical commitment to disciple making, the cell model is not a short term solution to slow or non-existent growth. In fact, you may experience membership loss before numerical growth takes place (as members leave over a change in vision and priorities). The J-curve graph below indicates that major numeric growth occurs in years 13 and beyond, not in the short term. Have you counted the cost? Most of us want to experience long-term benefits without short-term costs. We want to ride the explosive end of the J-curve without going through the value changing flat portion of the curve. This is typically not how God builds His Church. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. As you pray through these issues, ask yourself:
(Callout Box) The J-curve Explained The J-curve is a graphic illustration of the exponential growth phenomenon. Growth appears flat for a period of time, then increases rapidly. If you are committed to moving into the cell model, the J- curve is an important concept for you to understand. It is most simply illustrated by the following scenario: If you were given a penny this year, and I told you that each year I would double the number of pennies (1 to 2 the first year, 2 to 4 the second year, 4 to 8 the third,etc.), how many years would it take for you to accumulate $1,000,000? Most people are suprised (and begin searching for their calculator) that a penny, when doubled yearly, yields over $1,000,000 in less than 30 years! Think about this: if most of your members reached one person for Christ per year (like the doubling of the penny), what would your membership be in five, ten and fifteen years?
How can cell churches bring people to Christ and enfold them in his family?
First-time observers of the cell church movement are often amazed at the growth rate of cell churches, but a closer look reveals something even more remarkable about their growth. Cell churches grow primarily through conversions. This stands in sharp contrast to growing program-based churches in North America that grow overwhelmingly through transfer growth.
How do cell churches do evangelism? Why do they succeed where traditional churches fail? How do they bring people to Christ and enfold them in his body?
As I have researched cell churches around the world, I have seen several factors at work in church after church. These factors are passion, training, teamwork, and special events. I want to explain each one of these and then draw some practical conclusions for those just beginning to implement cell church principles.
Effective outreach doesn't begin with techniques. It begins when
we ask God to give us His heart for the lost. God's compassion moved
Him to sacrifice even to the point of the death of His Son. Outreach is costly. We want it to be costless and comfortable. That's
impossible. It will cost us our lives as we sacrifice our time, our agendas and ourselves. This kind of sacrifice comes only when we
let God plant his heart for the lost in our own hearts.
In a number of surveys, the American Institute for Church Growth asked over 14,000 people the question, "Who or what was responsible for your coming to Christ and the church?" More than four out of five of these people said that they were influenced to receive Christ by a friend or relative. Extensive research in this area points to one simple truth: most people are brought to Christ by ordinary people who loved them and made Jesus real to them. Cell churches maximize this simple principle by training each believer in caring, relational outreach.
Different churches use different materials and training settings. In the "equipping track" developed by Ralph Neighbour, within six months after coming to Christ, new believers are given confidence to share their faith through Knocking on Doors, Opening Hearts. Typically this training occurs in a one-on-one relationship within the cell or through a weekend seminar. This illustrates an important factor: people should be equipped to share their faith as soon as possible after receiving Christ because this is when they have the broadest network of non-Christian friends.
New Christians make great evangelists. In fact, pre-Christians sometimes are really good at evangelism. I remember a young woman in one of our cells who came for several months before she made a commitment to Christ. However, she was so excited about the love that she found there that she was weekly bringing friends and relatives, even before she was a Christian herself.
In the past we waited to equip people in evangelism until they were more "mature." Unfortunately, when we wait a year or more, they have often lost contact with their unbelieving friends and the relational bridges needed for the gospel to travel across are gone.
Evangelism equipping materials must have a deliberate plan for equipping the body that trains believers in the basics of loving others to Christ: relational outreach, prayer for the lost, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, how to share their testimony and how to share the good news of Jesus. Whether you use TOUCH materials or others, you must think through and strategize how this training takes place in the flow of cell church life.
Jesus said, "One sows, another reaps" (John 4:37). The implication is, evangelism takes more than one of us; it takes teamwork.
I like the way Win Arn put this in his Master's Plan for Making Disciples. "A non-Christian friend can see Jesus in me, but not in a complete way. The more Christians I introduce him to, the more completely he can see Christ." I have seen this truth repeated in my own outreach, and its reality is seen in cell churches around the world. Effective evangelism takes teamwork, and the most effective evangelism team is the cell.
When we introduce non-Christians to cell members, they see Him reflected in Christians' lives and in the relationships that we have with each other. Broken relationships fill the world around us, and when they see caring relationships, it grabs their attention. The Apostle John puts it this way, "No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us" (1 John 4:12). In other words, the way God is going to become real to others is through our practical love for one another.
Cells can work at team evangelism in lots of ways:
This sense of teamwork in cells is consistent. It is a part of their weekly agenda as they pray for outreach and encourage each other. It is deliberate as the cells plan events and sub-groups for outreach. The events are often parties or outings with the purpose of building relationships with non-Christians and introducing them to cell members. Special groups are also formed to appeal to the felt needs of those around them. For example, it's November as I write this, my cell is now planning a Christmas party in December to invite non-Christian friends to. My wife and I also recently completed a parenting class that we led in our neighborhood for young parents. Only one couple from the cell was in the group of six couples, but another couple from the cell baby-sat for the class and everyone else prayed for the group. It was exciting and fun and now we are following through on the relationships formed there.
Cell churches around the world have "harvest events." Although these may be called different things in different locations, the same principles are at work. Several times a year there are high quality events that believers can easily invite non-Christians to. These may by drama events, special Christmas services, crusades, musicals, or healing services.
At the rural church which I pastored we used these same principles in annual Invite-A-Friend Sundays and candlelight Christmas Eve services. We would print invitations for these events and soak them in prayer. Our attendance would typically jump 70% for these events.
At Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore, they have a big musical every year called "Come, Celebrate Christmas!" Last year it drew a total attendance of 40,000 and the church recorded thousands of decisions for Christ that were followed up by the cell groups.
The name and shape of harvest events vary from place to place. But the principles remain the same. They are exciting, appealing events, soaked in prayer, that believers can enthusiastically invite friends to knowing that they'll have a great time and hear a clear and compelling presentation of the gospel.
If you are just now beginning your cell journey, where do you start? I've got three "D's" for you. Do it, design it, and discern it.
Do it. The starting point is you. Are you personally reaching out to the lost? Is relational outreach a high priority in your own weekly schedule? Pastors, staff members and cell leaders must live relational outreach if it is to take root throughout the church.
There are different tools for getting serious. Personally, I'm biased towards The I-Factor: How to Influence Your World, which I co-authored with Ben Hoerr. It's an action-oriented study, designed for transitioning churches. Even if you don't have cells in place yet, start using it in existing classes or programs to put the values in place that will make the cells effective. Watch out, though, it may change your lives! Other excellent resources besides the I-Factor are: The Master's Plan by Win Arn, Knocking on Doors, Opening Hearts by Ralph Neighbour, and Living Proof by Jim Petersen. Realize that the curriculum isn't the biggest factor, though. The real issue is asking God to give you a new heart and a new lifestyle.
Design it. Have you designed a plan for equipping your church in relational outreach? If not, how are you going to do it? We are encouraged in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Do people know how to share their testimony and a simple presentation of the gospel? Do they know how to be sensitive to people and to the Holy Spirit so that it is done in a caring, respectful way? Are they forming friendships with unbelievers, so that people even ask about the hope within your cell members' lives?
Once the leadership begins to live relational outreach, the next step is to design a plan to equip as many as possible. You will often need two plans, one for the transition phase where you are shaping new values and another for equipping people within the emerging cell system once it is established.
Discern it. Listen to God. What specific plans does he have for you as a church? Is there a certain target group that he is calling you to target such as singles, young families or a particular ethnic group? Are there harvest events that he wants you to try? Pray! Consider fasting. What is God saying to you as you submit to him? The goal is not to get God running with your plan, but to get yourself running with God's plan!
As you move forward in outreach, understand that the cell system is like an extension cord. It has no power in and of itself. But if you plug it into God on one end and unbelievers on the other, life changing power can flow. Put the pieces of your cell strategy in place. That's essential. But even more essential is to plug it in. Connect to God and to the hurting world around you, then let Christ's life and power flow through you. Jesus has made his intentions clear: "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. . . . This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15:4,8). Jim Egli is vice president of New Products at Touch Outreach Ministries. He is a popular seminar speaker and author. Jim co-authored The I-Factor. Reach him at fax 713-896-1874.
The church of today is much like that refinery. It has a plant
with fancy equipment, sophisticated gadgets, and impressive
programs that keep the members busy caring for themselves. The Body of Christ has become like a person in a rocking chair. There is a lot of motion, but no movement forward! The result: the Great Commission has become the Great Commotion.
This should not be for a cell group church. A cell church should be a community that experiences the reality of God's love and power while touching lives and meeting the needs of hurting people. As a result, the cell church is able to penetrate the community, impacting lives with the gospel. It experiences dynamic growth through effective evangelism. Acts 2:47 shows us that as the Jerusalem church organized itself around the "cell" community in their homes: "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Here in Singapore, Faith Community Baptist Church is beginning to experience such daily growth. In 1993 alone, some 2,000 persons put their faith in Jesus Christ. This is an average of more than 5 persons a day coming into the Kingdom of God. Through the community life of the cells, more than 60% of these who professed faith in Jesus Christ are being retained and nurtured in the cell groups. There are three main reasons for such dynamic evangelism in our cell church.
First, the cell church is structured for growth. Every cell sets a target of multiplying the group into two within about eight months through evangelism. The cell is not allowed to remain beyond eight months without multiplying. There may be momentary stagnation due to temporary problems, but each cell is monitored carefully. In addition, every member of the cell is brought through a "year of equipping" in which he is carefully taught how to evangelize his friends and penetrate specific groups in the community. Every week, the cell meets to pray for the lost and plan outreach efforts. This provides an environment, a "spiritual atmosphere," that encourages the sharing of one's faith in a bold way. In other words, everything we do in our cells is directed toward evangelism. At FCBC we have discovered many of our new believers do not even know there is such a thing as a Christian who does not win others to Christ!
The second reason for effective evangelism is the mobilization of every member in the Body of Christ. One of the greatest obstacles to growth is the belief that evangelism is the exclusive responsibility of a few select individuals. The task of evangelism is typically relegated to the full-time pastors or members of the evangelism committee. Hence, evangelism for many Christians is an event or a series of evangelistic events on the church calendar rather than a lifestyle.
A few years ago, the Lord led me to cancel our yearly Good Friday Evangelistic Crusade. Instead, we organized "mini-crusades" in every cell group. Each cell invited unsaved friends to a Good Friday Service in a member's home. An evangelistic appeal was made through a video tape. The meeting ended with every Christian sharing the gospel with an unsaved friend in small groups of three. The response was so overwhelming that it has become a yearly event for our church. I have preached to crowds of 10,000 people at one time; there was no way of tracking the number of non-Christians in the crowd. Yet, in one Good Friday evening when all the cells met for a concerted outreach to the lost, we had a total of 4,000 unsaved people present-complete with names, addresses and telephone numbers. That evening, nearly 400 persons made a commitment of faith in Christ!
The third reason for effective evangelism is that the cell structure draws the church back into the society. Traditionally, the church is seen as a building in which Christians meet to do their religious thing. The cell church, however, exhibits the life of Christ right where people are living. This is why it is set up for oikos evangelism.
Oikos evangelism is sharing the gospel among people within our own oikos. The Greek word oikos means household. We define it to mean more than just those in our immediate family. It also includes those with whom we spend at least two hours a week. Our oikos includes our colleagues, business associates and our friends. It is natural to invite our friends to our home for a cell meeting. Every cell member is taught and encouraged to work among those within their oikos to share the gospel. We use every opportunity to share the gospel as a cell group to all who visit our meeting from our oikoses.
I am reminded of a fascinating story told to me by Betty Lim, a cell leader in our church. Her cell members led many in their oikoses to Christ. Betty herself led her colleague Kelvin to Christ when he came to the Christmas Crusade in 1993. Within three months, Kelvin invited his neighbor Simon to a cell meeting. That evening, the cell observed the Lord's Supper. A member of the cell explained the meaning of the Lord's Supper to Simon. He accepted Jesus Christ as Savior that evening. Simon brought his friend Alvin to the Good Friday meeting in the cell. Alvin too was converted. Meanwhile, a grandmother of a cell member became a Christian as the result of an illness healed through the prayers of the cell. Also, the father of another member was led to Christ in a hospital through a visit by the cell. Within seven months, eight people came to know the Lord!
By bringing the church back into the community, the cell demonstrated the reality of the Body of Christ to the unbelieving world. Therefore, the cell not only experienced effective oikos evangelism, but it powerfully reached out to people through body-life evangelism.
In 1 Cor. 14:25, we read that when the church meets, there is an environment of God's power demonstrated through the use of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. The result is that the unbeliever will "fall down and worship God, exclaiming, 'God is really among you!'" This is Body evangelism. The Body of Christ offers the unbelieving world not only a message concerning personal redemption from sin or personal salvation in eternity, but a community in which God moves powerfully and to which they can now belong. The cell church does not just present God's plan of salvation to an individual. It offers the unbeliever a community of people in which God is manifested and experienced. God's Word is authenticated by God's work among his people. The cell church presents this reality to a world that is tired of our words and hungry for the reality of God.
Body evangelism was beautifully demonstrated in the conversion of a whole family. Evelyn Chang, a single lady, was stricken with cancer. The cell group rallied around her and her family in the next twelve months as Evelyn fought this awful illness. The cell members visited her many times a week as she went in and out of the hospital. During the last days of Evelyn's life the cell members got to know her brother, Wai Kay and his wife, Mui Gek. They saw the love and concern shown by the cell members. At that time, the cell members took turns visiting Evelyn every day at the hospital. When Evelyn went home to be with the Lord, the cell surrounded the family with love. At the end of the funeral service, one of the cell members shared Christ personally with Wai Kay and his family. Today Wai Kay, Mui Gek and their teenage daughter, Magdalene are part of the cell group and are growing in the Lord. Recently Wai Kay's mother also gave her heart to Jesus.
At FCBC, testimonies such as these are countless. When the people of God stop playing religious games in a church building and commit themselves to evangelism through the cell, the world must take note of a message proclaimed not by some professional behind the pulpit but by the living Body of Jesus Christ moving from house to house turning the world upside down with the power and love of God.
Where does evangelism come from? Does it come from good evangelists? Good evangelism technique? Boldness? Being unashamed? Surely these are all parts of evangelism. The problem is, none are the source of evangelism. The source of evangelism is revealed in John 17 where Jesus exhorts the Father to make his people "one" and bring them to "complete unity." He says he asks so the "world may know that you sent me," vv. 21, 23. This revelation that Jesus is real and from God is the source of earth-shaking evangelism.
It's clear that the early church felt this way, meeting daily, contending for the gospel as "one man" (Phil. 1:27). People saw their unity and wanted to be part of them. Have we failed to understand that the source of biblical evangelism is the revelation of Jesus' love in our unity?
If we have failed, I think I know why: unity is hard work (the unity I am analyzing here is unity of Christians in local churches rather than Body-wide unity). The unity of Christians can be compared to the soil of a field. Just as it is hard to prepare the soil in the field to receive seeds, so also it is hard to prepare the soil of unity in the Church-which receives the seeker.
Christians could learn from the farmer. He knows the value of good soil. But our churches can become good soil only if we are willing to start with our own personal relationships. Unity, understand, is simply about being committed to healthy relationships with the rest of your Christian community or church. It is a commitment to struggle through problems, care through hurt, pursue relationship when there is no reward. Without this commitment, there is no unity-and no John 17 evangelism. Therefore, we must make pursuing committed relationships priority.
For me, the beginning of this commitment was rocky. I have always been fairly introverted, which is part of who I am as a person. Recently, however, God has been revealing that it was morethan just my personality; it was a tendency to be independent of people. Essentially, I felt I didn't really need others (though I said, to be spiritual, that I did). This independence manifested itself in a tendency to withdraw from people when times got rough. It was more than just enjoying time alone (which I do enjoy). It was enjoying time apart-apart from community and certain relationships, which I perceived as a hassle. Rather than struggling daily to relate transparently, selflessly and tenderly with these people, I chose to not relate to them at all. I chose to not risk getting hurt, being abandoned, or being corrected. I chose not to be committed to pursuing relationships.
My distance not only affected me, it affected the people with whom I am in community. They felt my distance. They sensed my unwillingness to work through problems with them, and some told me so.
What I did not realize about this whole situation until later was that my distance also affected our evangelism as a cell group. Jesus' prayer in John 17 cannot be truly realized unless all involved are committed to working the soil of relational unity, because in that unity, Jesus says, the world will know that he is from God.
How? Not sure, but I do know that part of it is the mercy-filled heart of God, the side of God that seeks to reveal himself. People looking at Christians need to sense Jesus in us-us as a Body, not just individuals. They need to see his love alive in our forgiveness and confession. They need to feel his love personally when a whole group pursues them and radically cares for them for no apparent reason. They need to hear his love in the compassionate inquiries about their dreams and lives and families. They need to sense and experience all of Jesus as unified Christians touch them together.
Jesus has a way of glowing in the darkness when his Body lives in unity. Ray Stedman, in Body Life, says the koinonia-love of the early Christians created a warmth and glow that drew love-starved people "like a candy store draws little children."
I think Jesus still cries out to the Father like he did in John 17:23, ". . . may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them. . . ." His prayer for intense relational unity, when obeyed by you and me, shall be the foundation for the most profound outpouring of God's mercy on the nations yet known. They will not just hear sermons, go to meetings, read books. They will see God in us-bodies of Christians in whom God is alive and kicking! Truly, this is the way the world figures out that God is pursuing them, not retreating from them, hungering for their affection.
This is where evangelism comes from.
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