Train Cell Group Leaders Effectively

by Randall Neighbour

Training an increasing number of qualified cell group leaders is a challenge for most churches, but it's possible when you have the right strategy. The following process is tried-and-true, based on Jesus' examples. It will help you find, develop and release new cell leaders for your growing cell ministry. In the early stages, the potential leaders are unaware that they are being prepared for future leadership. You must develop relationships with cell members for a number of months, covertly pointing them down the path toward greater ministry, before the time is right to ask the question: "Are you ready to enroll in cell group leader training?"

Step One: Develop Relationships with Members
Jesus found men and women who could be trusted to take His ministry to the utmost parts of the world. When developing His first leadership team, Jesus rarely just walked up to strangers and prophetically called them into service. First, He made friends with them. Then, He spent time with them on their turf and then brought them on ministry trips He made. Finally, He challenged and released them for ministry. You too must begin where Jesus began…by making friends of those who are potential leaders for the cell ministry God has given your church.

As a coach or cell pastor, visit the regular cell gatherings and become friends with the cell group members. Look for those who have hearts for God, which is the most important attribute in a good cell leader. Then, visit with your existing group leaders for assistance as to who would be best or is being developed for a leadership role but has not yet been challenged with leadership. While current cell leaders play important support roles in the development of potential cell leaders, they cannot be burdened with the entire discovery, development and release of new leaders.

You, the pastor or coach, must take the lead in scouting, developing, training and releasing new leaders! This comes through relationships and time invested in men and women who will make great cell leaders in the short-term and long-term future. These potential leaders must not feel manipulated, but befriended. Spend time with them doing things they enjoy doing, invite them to your home to help you with projects, or watch a movie or eat dinner. Jesus' disciples were His best friends. You'll learn a great deal about these cell group members and whether or not they are ready for the next step by simply spending time together.

Step Two: Develop Ministers Out of Members
After you've developed initial friendships with leadership-quality cell group members, test their willingness to serve. Take them with you as you minister to hurting cell members on a home visit. Ask their cell leaders to assign parts of upcoming cell group meetings to them so they begin to feel like they are taking the lead even though they have no titles. Challenge them to think about other cell member's needs and respond. Remember, all this is being done while they are members…you are still developing a leadership pool in a covert manner.

Another important issue to consider in potential leaders is the extent of their "outward" attitudes. Do they spend time with lost friends? Have they mentored new Christians? If not, these people should still be considered for leadership. But they will need to experience these joys before they can be considered for cell group leader training. Ignoring this vital area of growth has created many dead cell groups. Leaders who have no heart for the lost or for mentor-based discipleship have been given groups, which then stagnate. Do not get caught in this trap.

Step Three: Make the Challenge
After you have developed friendships with cell group members and started them on a covert leadership track, it is time to challenge them to commit to cell group leadership. They are ready to move through the internship process your church has designed, and it is up to you to help them see God's hand on their lives. You, as the pastor or coach, have a good relationship with each potential leader, have given them responsibility without a title, and have helped each person gain self-confidence as a minister.

One of the best ways to make this overt challenge is for you (the coach or pastor over the group) to have lunch with the potential leader, his or her spouse, and his or her cell leader. Share what you've seen in him, and publicly encourage him. Share that you've worked along side her and you've grown to respect her as a friend and co-laborer in the harvest fields. Ask him to join you on the leadership team, and inform him that it's the next step.

Another great option is to hold a private meeting and use a tool like the Journey Guide for Cell Group Leaders. This will enable a potential leader, his or her cell leader, and the coach to find out more information and determine a person's readiness for leadership. Some people will need to work on certain areas, while others will be ready for training. Some people will be completely unprepared, and for those, it helps to encourage them on improving their walks with Christ before considering leadership. Don't show disappointment or frustration, because God is preparing them for a later time.

Or, hold a cell leadership kick-off retreat like the one recommended in Cell Group Leader Training. Take cell members and their spouses to a retreat center for the purpose of thanking them for their hard work in the cells and sharing the vision for the next step in ministry. On Friday, pastoral staff members should cast the vision; cell leaders will provide testimonies. Each couple should then sign up for a meeting the next day.

Saturday morning will include breakfast and more information on cell leadership; the afternoon is free, with the exception of each private meeting. At the end of the day, those who come forward for leadership should be prayed over and thanked. They should also be given a copy of the Cell Group Leader Training Participant's Manual or similar training manual.

No matter which challenge you make, you should bring those who accepted the call to leadership before the church body and pray a blessing over them. Then, follow up this commissioning service with a solid cell group leadership training program that combines pastoral-taught classroom training with practical exercises that will help them do what they've learned about. One of the best that is currently available is Cell Group Leader Training, which can be taught in a variety of formats, including a weekend retreat, weekly classes, etc. It also includes practicums at the end of each topic that are designed for implementation in a cell group. It's vital to the training of future leaders that they learn in a safe environment, where it is all right if they mess up. That is the home cell group.

The most important part of the process is mentoring. Over the first four months of the training period, the potential leaders should assume more and more control over the cell group meetings. Their leaders should step back and pass on the responsibilities, acting more as co-leaders. In the last few months before cell multiplication or launch, the interns should be acting as the senior leaders and the existing leaders should step back, miss a meeting or two, and rest up for the next cell cycle where it will all begin over again. During this time, interns should be reading additional materials to help them prepare for the time when they will be leading on their own. The learning process won't stop even after new leaders begin groups of their own. They can find great ideas in books like How to Lead a Great Cell Group Meeting and 8 Habits of Effective Small Group Leaders.

Jesus befriended future leaders, developed them covertly, and finally challenged them to a life-long ministry to build the kingdom. Your role is no different! Make friends of those who will lead your sheep in the months to follow. Get to know them well enough to judge their characters, and shape them if they fall short of what you need in good cell group leaders. Help each person see his or her potential and live it out. Then, when you ask people to become leaders, they'll be ready and won't make excuses!