by Scott Boren
Colonial Hills Baptist Church, a successful Sunday school church, built a new facility to house its growth in the early 1990s. On the Sunday that the new building was initiated, it filled up completely. Church leaders soon realized that they could not continue to build Sunday school space. As a result, they turned to cell groups and now have over 160 of them. How did they do it?
Pantego Bible Church in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area had been a teaching-based church. The church focused its life around excellent Sunday morning teaching along with other services and events that brought in special Bible teachers. Church attendance had dropped from a high of 1,300 in 1985 to 425 in 1990, when Randy Frazee assumed leadership as its pastor. Over the last 10 years, Pantego Bible Church has successfully navigated the shift from the tradition of teaching-based ministry to relationship-based ministry with over 200 cell groups. How did they make this happen?
Bethany World Prayer Center was a church that based its life around power, prayer, and worship, primarily a large-group setting. Charismatic churches similar to this hold services where a gifted pastor inspires the people and prays for miracles, seeking the touch of God's presence. Many churches like Bethany, which now has over 900 groups, have successfully grown effective cell group systems. How have these churches seen this success?
The real question to ask is, "How does a church go from no cell groups to expanding cell groups?" Since the early 1990s, hundreds of churches have developed effective cell group systems and can help answer this question. Over the last three years, TOUCH Outreach Ministries has sought the answer through case study research so that other churches could learn from the experiences of the forerunners, adopting their successes and avoiding their mistakes. This research has led to an eight-stage process for developing expanding cell groups.
When pastors and church leaders travel to model cell-based churches and observe what they are doing, they leave with a sense of excitement and vision. They often leave with something else: a sense of being overwhelmed because the vision is so different and the methods are so radical. They often feel like they have been looking at a watermelon and must eat it whole.
Yet model churches did not develop overnight. They didn't try to eat the watermelon in one bite. They took a journey from no cell groups to expanding cell groups. It is not enough to understand what the watermelon looks like. Pastors and church leaders need to understand the journeys of these model churches just as much as they need to grasp the end result. They need to hear how these churches began, the lessons they learned, the mistakes they made along the way, and the surprising successes they found. These model churches have pioneered the journey to making cell groups work. By hearing these journey stories, others can avoid many mistakes and more quickly develop a working cell group base. When they only see the watermelon, they feel pressured to leapfrog over the journey and immediately force cell groups to work.
Our latest release, Making Cell Groups Work, cuts the watermelon into eight stages so that other churches will be able to eat it one bite at a time. It provides an 8-stage process for leading a church from no cell groups to effective expanding cell groups. The eight stages aim to do four things:
This process will serve as a navigational guide for the journey toward making cell groups work in a church. This journey is similar to that of a ship sailing to a new destination. Much goes into a sea-going voyage, including pre-sailing preparation, gathering information, charting a course, recruiting crew members, navigating around islands and continents that impede the path to the port of call. The eight stages will serve as a travel guide for leading people into life-transforming, God-filled, adventure-loving, risk-taking, people-caring, lost-seeking, leader-developing cell groups.