Planting A Cell Based Church

by Jeannette Buller

Top 10 Mistakes Made
In Planting A Cell Church

> Wrong person is planting the church
> Values and experience aren't consistent with cell church philosophy
> Vision is adopted from a book
> Lack of a sufficient plan (goals and timeline) to reach vision
> Not building enough relationships with broad base of unchurched
> Too much focus on keeping the first cell group together
> Neglecting to train leaders from the harvest
> Inability to release people in ministry
> Starting the public celebration service too early
> Lack of a vision to reproduce churches (not just cells)

In Luke 5, several of the prospective disciples have been fishing all night but have caught nothing. However, when Jesus suggests that they let down their nets on the other side of the boat, at a time of day when effective fishing was over, Peter did as he was told. The result was a catch of fish so large that the nets began to tear and the boats began to sink.

What kind of churches can we plant that will bring in and hold the harvest without sinking the boats or tearing the nets in our post-Christian society? I believe the cell church is one model that can meet this challenge. So, where do we begin?

The first step is to become familiar with the literature that paints a picture of a cell church. There are many in print today, such as:
• The Second Reformation by William Beckham
• Where Do We Go From Here? by Ralph Neighbour
• Home Cell Group Explosion by Joel Comiskey

These books will help shape your vision for the new church. But remember that vision comes from God, not from books.

The second step is to determine whether you are in fact the person who should be the church planter. I have met many people who would like to see a cell church in their area but they really aren't gifted to lead the charge. The result is that they are able to start one or two cell groups, but they never grow larger.

A church planter's assessment will give you an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses as a church planter. It may be that you are called to be a part of a church planting team even if you are not the senior planter. Dr. Charles Ridley has developed a list of thirteen competencies every church planter needs (see box).

In additional to Dr. Ridley's thirteen, the ability to train and release leaders in ministry is a critical skill for cell church planters.

13 Essential Competencies
Of A Church Planter

> Has a visionizing capacity
> Intrinsically motivated
> Ability to create ownership of ministry
> Ability to relate to the unchurched
> Spousal cooperation
> Effective relationship building
> Committed to church growth
> Responsiveness to the community
> Utilization of the giftedness of others
> Flexibility and adaptability
> Building a cohesive church body
> Resilience
> Exercising faith

Once you have determined that you are called and gifted to be a cell church planter, you will need to identify your personal and ministry core values and consider how your values correlate and support a cell church model. I once talked to a cell church planter who said he would rather read a book than go out and meet people. This says something about his values for gaining knowledge vs. building relationships. While a cell church model does not preclude gaining knowledge, the cell church places a high value on relationships. Closely examine you values to determine if there will be conflicts with the cell church model.

Finally, before you start any cell group you will need to clarify your vision and develop a strategic plan to reach that vision. Make sure this is the vision God is giving to you and not the vision he gave to the pastor whose book you just finished. Then carefully consider how to go about achieving your vision. Consider the kinds of people you will need on your team, the ministry focus group you will be reaching, the kind of evangelism that will reach those people and channel them into cell groups, and the process you will use to raise up leaders from the harvest.
All the steps up until this point could be used in any church plant. I emphasize them simply because many cell church planters I meet think that planting a cell church will be easy and there planning is unnecessary. Some even believer that all they need to do is go out and start a cell group. This is another reason I believe many cell churches do not grow.

As in any church plant, intercession is a critical factor in reaching the lost. Locate intercessors who will pray for your planting efforts. Then get into the field and find people who are looking for connection, authenticity, and significance. Nothing will replace meeting people and the people they love. The challenge is to increase the number of relationships with unchurched people while you explore in more depth the relationships you already have.

Instead of starting with a fully functioning cell group, I would suggest starting with some short-term "pre-cells" which are focused on a particular need or interest in your ministry focus group. These could be evangelistically-oriented Bible studies, instructional help in areas like finances or parenting, or simply an interest group focused on a specific topic. This gives a chance for people to experience connection with you and your team on subjects relevant to their lives in a small group setting. As trust develops, you will be able to talk to them about joining something more permanent.

Once you have connected with a large number of unchurched people, strategically invite some of them to be in a pilot cell group. Be careful not to be consumed by the needs of the people in the pilot group so that evangelistic energies are depleted. Care for people but maintain an outward focus.

As cell groups increase, you will need to put more energy into training and coaching leaders. If you don't, you will soon use up all your 'natural' leaders and cell multiplication will stall out. After launching your first cell groups, a leadership training track is your next priority. Always keep developing leaders! Leadership development begins when you win people to Christ. Disciple new believers in a way that challenges them to their full potential and begins to develop their leadership skills.

One question many cell church planters have is when to start the corporate worship service. In some cultures this is needed sooner for legitimacy purposes, but don't get caught in the trap of putting so much energy into a celebration service that you loose momentum in developing relationships with unchurched people or training your leaders. Remember that "what you win them with, you win them to." If you win people with a large show in a celebration service, you may have a difficult time moving those people into authentic community in small groups

When you do start, keep it simple. One cell church plant started their worship services on Saturday night. They found that new Christians needed an alternative activity on Saturday nights to replace previous ungodly activities. They also found that expectations were different and they could be less formal and more relational.

Cell churches value reproduction of disciples, leaders, and cell groups. The logical conclusion is the reproduction of churches. Consider the ways that planting more churches can be a part of your vision. Most cell church planters begin with the vision that their churches will become very large. Yet studies have shown that small churches are more effective at reaching the lost. Perhaps ten cell churches with 100 members each would actually have more impact for the Kingdom of God than one church of 1,000.

In order to help you with the process of planting a cell church, a new resource is now available. The Cell Church Planters Guide includes instruction (with audio tapes), coaching guides, and worksheets to guide you through the process of planting a cell church. (See <> for ordering information.)

If planting a cell church is what God has called you to do, I encourage you to do the groundwork before you begin. Then trust God to go above and beyond what you can ask or think.

Jeannette Buller is on staff with Strategic Ministries and CoachNet. She consults with churches desiring to start cell groups and/or plant cell churches and is a trained NCD consultant. Jeannette has taught classes on cell-based churches at Fuller Seminary and Azusa Pacific University and has recently co-authored The Cell Church Planter's Guide with Bob Logan. She resides in Phoenix, AZ.