Worldwide Cell Churches
Misión Cristiana Elim
Pastor Jorge Galindo
100,000 attending in 1996
La Misión Carismática Internacional
Pastor César Castellaños
35,000 members en 1996
El Centro Cristiano
Pastor : Jerry Smith
10,000 attending in 1996
El Amor Viviente
Pastor Rene Peñalva
7,000 attending in 1996
El Agua Viva
Pastor Juan Capuro
5,000+ attending in 1996
One of the churches that I will study is called the International Charismatic Mission (La Iglesia Carismática Internacional). Pastor César Castellanos has led this church from eight members thirteen years ago to the present 35,000 (Guell 1996:42).
Reporting on this church, Guell writes, “…the Castellanos attribute the church’s growth to their emphasis on home cell-groups---a focus they believe the Lord gave them after they visited David Yonggi Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea….Today, Charismatic Mission has 2,600 home cell-groups for adults and 1,300 for youths. Each group meets weekly and has 10 to 15 members (1996:44).
Many cell churches are springing up across Latin America. Perhaps the cell church that is the most well-known is the Elim Church (Misión Elim) in El Salvador. This cell church has grown so rapidly that it now has a membership of 120,000 (note 8). Bethany World Prayer Center, the 7000 member cell church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana regularly sends their staff to the Elim Church to receive training in cell ministry. Other cell churches in Latin America have also received their initial vision from this church (note 9).
North America has experimented with models of cell-based ministry with limited success. There seems to be a general skepticism that what has worked so successfully in Korea would also bear fruit here in the U.S. However, more recently various U.S. cell-based churches have seen significant growth.
In this chapter, I will begin by reviewing various models of small group ministry. I do not consider the first three models (I’m including in these three the small group movement) to be cell-based, and therefore I will not review them in great detail. The second two (Meta Model and Pure Cell Model) are closer to my definition of cell-based ministry. Therefore, I will analyze these two models in greater detail.
In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 75 million out of the estimated 200 million adults are in a small group (Wuthnow 1994:370). One out of six of those 75 million people are new members of the small group movement, thus disclosing, that at least in the U.S., the small group movement is alive and growing (Wuthnow 1994:371). After listing twenty new innovations in the modern U.S. church scene Schaller says, “…perhaps most important of all, the decision by tens of millions of teenagers and adults to place a high personal priority on weekly participation in serious, in-depth, lay-led, and continuing Bible study and prayer groups” (1995:14). William Beckham wrote the book The Second Reformation to express forcefully his conviction that the church is the midst of a new small group revolution (1995:66,67).
The small group movement can be seen in the proliferation of books on the subject. Many Christian authors, seeing the positive potential of small groups for Christian growth and discipleship, have produced a multitude of literature which extols the virtues of small groups in general. Two Christian organizations, Serendipity and Navigators, are known for their numerous books and study guides on small group ministry. Several examples that I have come across include: Kunz (1974), Johnson (1985), McBride (1990), and Price and Springle (1991). The list could go on and on. Most of this type of literature applies equally to small groups in the church and outside the church.
The main spokeswomen today for this model is Roberta Hestenes (1983) (note 10) Her definition for this model is the following: "A Christian group is an intentional face-to-face gathering of 3 to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the possibilities of the abundant life in Christ"(Coleman 1993:4:5)
From the definition it is obvious that this type of group is directed toward committed believers. One of the major goals of this model is to create long term community. There is a need for strong commitment and a high level of accountability (Coleman 1993:4:7). The word Covenant in this model refers to the commitments or promises that were established in the Old Testament between God and His people. One major focal point of this model is that the group makes a commitment (covenant) to fulfill particular goals, purposes, study topics, ground rules, and logistical details (Coleman 1993: 4:5)
Although strong on Christian responsibility and commitment, Coleman makes a wise observation, “Unchurched, non-Christians would not be interested in this type of group. There is no mechanism built into the system for the Covenant groups to multiply, or to close with honor. Frequently, Covenant groups will last until they die a horrible death” (Coleman 1993: 4: 7).
Covenant groups have a high commitment level, and therefore they are very beneficial for spiritual growth. However, due to the lack of cell multiplication and their closed system, his model is probably the least effective from a church growth standpoint.
The founder of this approach is Lyman Coleman, who has been a small group leader for some four decades (Coleman 1993: 4:17). Coleman was especially influenced by Sam Shoemaker, who the pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City. Sam believed that all of the people around his church were his parish. His church grew in its vision to reach out to the entire parish. This vision to reach out to all people has greatly influenced Lyman Coleman (Coleman 1993: 4:17). He says, “The heart of the Serendipity model is the broken people at the door…the intention is to create a small group system where people outside the church can find a place of entry and be transformed” (Coleman 1993:4:19).
He illustrates his approach by using a baseball diamond. To experience true koinonia, the group must reach all four bases. Lyman explains the base levels in this manner, “First base is telling the story of your spiritual past. Second base is sharing your current situation, and affirming the other members of the group. Third base is goal—setting. After a group has completed this process together, real community can be experienced” (Coleman 1993 4:19). Each base represents a higher level of group maturity. The time frame to complete all four bases is one year (Coleman 1993: 4:19).
Perhaps this model is best understood by the characteristics that distinguish it from other models:
- There is a definite beginning and end
Although his earlier models consisted of shorter time period groups, now Lyman Coleman suggest a one year time period. He says, “The end is marked by a period of releasing where everyone responds to his new calling” (Coleman 1993: 4:21)
- A democracy of options
People can be in a group whether or not they are members of the church or even attend the worship services. Coleman believes that this is a distinct from Paul Cho’s model (1993 4:21).
- Integrated model
This differs from a model which places small groups as only an appendage to the other programs in the church. There is a place for all kinds of groups in the church. “This model can also include traditional Sunday school, where people who are already involved can find a place for sharing and caring” (1993: 4:21)
- Collegiate system
This approach is similar to the old Sunday School system where there was a definite departure from one class and entrance into another class (Coleman 1993: 4:21). “This model has a two-semester structure, with ‘kick offs’ twice a year and closure at the end of each semester. There is also a graduation/celebration at the end of the year” (Coleman 1993: 2:21).
Dr. Coleman is truly an expert on small groups. In my opinion, his knowledge of how small groups function is second to none. The many books that his publishing house has produced have also had a powerful impact on the small group movement in America.
However, I feel that this model as a church based model was weak in several key areas. First, although cell group multiplication is mentioned as a possibility (or one option) in this model, it’s not given a high priority. In fact, when critiquing the Meta Model, Coleman points out its over commitment to cell multiplication. He mentions that such rapid multiplication interrupts the group building process by ‘splitting cells to create new cells’ (1993: 4:13).
Second, it seems that the bulk of Coleman’s teaching relates to the quality of small group life, wherever that small group might be or whatever that small group might do (the variety of small groups that he promotes are dizzying). In other words, my general impression is that his model is not sufficiently centered in the church. The emphasis is on the small group and not on how the small group will contribute to the growth of the church. After reading through two of Lyman Coleman’s most recent manuals on small group ministry in the church ,(note 11) I sought in vain for any reference to church growth, or more specifically, how his model will more effectively win souls to Christ and integrate them into the church.
Third, I have my doubts about Coleman’s use of the collegiate system. From my knowledge of the large cell-based churches today, I’m not aware of any who use Coleman’s collegiate system of graduation (note 12). This approach seems very programatic and Sunday School oriented.
Fourth, I question his approach to small group diversity. He seems to infer that anything that is small and a group is a functioning small group (note 13). It has been my observation that a cell group must have certain marks (elements, characteristics) in order to be called one.
The Meta Model
The Meta Model was pioneered by Carl George. It is his attempt to adapt cell group principles and church growth found in the third world to a North American context (Coleman 1993:4:12). One of the key features of this model is the Jethro system which is based upon Jethro’s council to Moses to decentralize (Exodus 18), so that everyone would receive proper care (Coleman 1993:13).
I can see at least three major influences on George that helped him to establish the Meta Model:
- The growth of the cell church worldwide
George was impressed by the incredible growth of the cell church world wide (note 14). Not only has the cell church grown rapidly in number, there is also a built in capability to care for new converts.
- Church growth pragmatism
As a pragmatic church growth practitioner, it seems to me that George was drawn to study how to make the world wide cell church paradigm relevant to a North American audience.
- New Hope Community Church
Dale Galloway founded the New Hope Community in Portland, Oregon based on small groups (note 15). Originally, Dale’s model was a strict cell-based model, much like Cho’s church in Korea. However, it appears that the small group ministry at New Hope Community Church began to diversify and change. When I spoke with Dale Galloway at one of his seminars in October, 1995, (note 16) he told me that Carl George had done an in-depth case study of the New Hope Community Church before writing the book, Prepare Your Church for the Future. Dale told me that George’s book was simply a description of the small group ministry at New Hope Community Church. As I reflect on the Meta Model and New Hope Community Church, I have to agree with Dale Galloway’s comments.
Original Version Of The Meta Model
In George’s first book dedicated to cell ministry, Prepare Your Church for the Future, the Meta Model is introduced. The underlying thrust of George’s thinking is that because small group ministry has worked so effectively in large, growing churches around the world, it should be adapted to work in any size church, whether in North America or overseas. His overriding emphasis throughout the book is that our current models of church ministry simply do not provide sufficient quality care to sustain a growing church (1991:57-84).
I like to talk about the original version of the Meta Model because it seems that his first book comes very close to describing the pure cell approach used in most cell churches around the world. Throughout the book, the clear, overriding focus is on the home cell group which emphasize both pastoral care and evangelism (note 17). The book had a powerful impact on the North American church scene because George gives fresh, new North American terminology to the cell-based concepts that have worked so well overseas. In Prepare Your Church for the Future, there is no doubt that George is setting forth a new model of ministry for the church in North America and around the world.
Latest Version Of The Meta Model
In his most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution , George seems to redefine his so-called Meta Model. Instead of promoting a model, he now talks about a way of analyzing your church,
Meta-Church thinking examines the degree to which a church has been ‘cellularized,’ and its leadership linked… It tries to discern the degree to which group leaders are in fact convening their people, and the degree to which coaches are in fact working with group leaders. The Meta-Church, then,…is an X ray to help you look at what you have in order to figure out what’s mission (George 1994: 279,280).
In other words, instead of promoting a model, George is saying that he is providing the church with a way of discerning their small group involvement and how (or if) they are moving toward a purer cell group approach. George insists throughout his new book that the Meta approach is simply a way of seeing (X-ray machine) what you already have.
In this latest book, George spends most of the time describing his mapping strategy called the Meta Globe (note 18). This is George’s attempts to categorize all groups in the church within certain boundaries. This categorization is supposed to help a church examine their real structure. However, I have found the concept more confusing than helpful (note 19). In fact, I have found that trying to fit everything into the Meta Globe tends to force programs and ministries into categories that don’t naturally fit.
In the end, George’s new thinking (or perhaps the real model that didn’t appear in his first book) appears much like the Serendipity model. For example, he says, “Cells include Sunday-School classes, ministry teams, outreach teams, worship-production teams, sports teams, recovery groups, and more… any time sixteen or fewer people meet together, you have a small-group meeting(1994:69,70).
He goes on to redefine the Sunday School, "The phrase cell groups refers to an encompassing care system that includes Sunday School. A Sunday school is simply a centralized, on premises cell system. Churches should have as many Sunday schools as they can afford"(1994: 284).
George includes the word ‘revolution’ in the title of his latest book. Yet, he makes it clear that the small group ministry should not upset anyone in the church. Rather, he recommends that the cell ministry be introduced quietly into the church. It’s not even wise to tell the board when you introduce the cell ministry (1994:259). In my experience, this backdoor approach which avoids the serious, painstaking church planning needed to begin a cell ministry, usually has disastrous consequences. This approach is anything but revolutionary! It’s interesting to me that even small group authors which are considered more programmatic in their approach to small group ministry recommend church wide planning before starting a small group ministry (note 20).
In George’s latest book he also tones down his strict emphasis on continual ongoing leadership training (VHS). In his earlier work he recommended a bimonthly leadership gathering (1992:135-145), but now George says that it’s possible not to even have a regular VHS, if the basic structures and principles exists somewhere else in your church (1994:203).
It’s very hard to critique the Meta Model because I’m not sure what it is anymore. Carl George has not clearly defined himself. It seems like he ‘switched gears’ from his first book on cell ministry to his second. Perhaps, the lack of clarity in George’s writing has something to do with the fact that George does not write his own books (note 21). I have found that the very writing process helps one to think more logically and adds clarity to one’s thinking.
Characteristics Of The Meta Model Adopted by Other Churches
Whether or not George has clearly defined his Meta Model remains to be seen. However, it is clear that many large churches have adopted various characteristics of the Meta Model and even identify themselves as Meta Churches (note 22). In the next chapter, I will analyze six of these churches, but here I will list some common characteristics.
Variety Of Groups
Clearly this is one of the most common characteristics. Following the lead of Dale Galloway, these Meta churches feature a plethora of small groups. In fact, just about any type of small group is acceptable. I have heard of groups for married couples over fifty, drama groups, lawn mowing groups, parking lot attendant groups, cancer groups, staging groups, sports groups, Vietnam Veteran groups, etc.
Normally the various groups can be categorized into specific types or purposes, although certain Meta Models are so varied that they are hard to classify (note 23). Three common types of groups that most frequently surface in the Meta Churches are:
COMMON SMALL GROUPS IN THE META MODEL
Focus: A Particular Ministry
Focus: Care For One Another
Focus: Spiritual Growth
The emphasis on variety also extends to the length of the groups. Some groups go on indefinitely while other groups may only last a few weeks. Again, it depends on the purpose of the group or the vision of the leader.
As I have talked to the leadership in these Meta churches, one essential value that continues to surface is the flexibility of their system. Freedom of choice is highly esteemed and emphasized. The top leadership is careful not to assert too much pressure. This flexibility can be seen in at least three major areas:
The leaders are free to choose their own material. Saddleback Church gives the leaders complete freedom, while Willow Creek Community Church only asks that the leaders obtain their material from the Willow Creek bookstore.
Meetings can be held any day of the week at any location. I noted that at Willow Creek, many of the small groups arrive at church 1 ½ hours before their church activity in order to meet in their groups.
Multiplication of the Groups
Multiplication seems to be a desired ideal in the Meta system, but it is not enforced. Again, the strong emphasis on freedom of choice precludes any type of pressure for the groups to multiply. One staff person at Saddleback Church told me that several groups have been meeting as long as the church has been in existence (note 24).
In all of the Meta Models there is some type of ongoing leadership training, but the system seems to be very flexible and changing. Willow Creek tried to gather the coaches (leaders of five small group leaders) every month. The Cincinnati Vineyard and Fairhaven struggled with monthly leadership meetings (VHS) but found it very difficult to train such a wide variety of cell leadership.
The five major Meta Models that I examined exercised administrative control over their small groups through a loose knit Jethro structure. I’m using the term Jethro Model to refer to the counsel of Jethro to Moses in Exodus 18. Each cell leader has someone to whom he or she is accountable. That person (called by various names) is assigned to oversee no more than five cell leaders. Over the leader of five is another leader to whom the leader of five is accountable, and the process continues. How many times must the upper leadership visit those under them? Again, the buzz word, ‘flexibility’ was often used. At Saddleback Church the district lay pastors are encouraged to visit the cell leaders every quarter.
Small Groups Support the Church Program
Without exception, the Meta Churches have high powered programs. There doesn’t seem to be any conflict between the church programs and the small groups. In fact, oftentimes in the Meta Model there is simply a redefinition of the word program in order to include the small groups. For example, instead of calling it Children’s Sunday School, it is now labeled Small Groups For Children. Instead of the music program, there are now musical small groups.
In this reshuffling of programs for small groups, oftentimes key small group components are lost. Because of the incredible flexibility, variety, and lack of control that characterize these groups, there is little assurance that key characteristics and core values are being fulfilled and passed on.
This danger becomes particularly acute because of the very nature of most of these Meta churches. They tend to be more temple (church) focused than small group focused. The primary event centers around the weekend services. Not surprisingly, oftentimes the small groups in the Meta system exist to support the temple program. The very atmosphere of programmed, busy ministry can easily swallow up the life in these groups. An example is Willow Creek Community Church, the largest church in the U.S. I was told that the ‘bread and butter’ small groups at Willow Creek are now the task groups (note 25). These task groups meet to accomplish some ministry program in the church (e.g., ushering, money counting, etc.), but at the same time, they’re supposed to include more spiritual elements such as Bible study and prayer.
The one who has written the most extensively on the Pure Cell Model is Ralph Neighbour (1990). He also seems to have done the most research on cell-based churches worldwide, thus increasing the reliability of his studies. His writings are not only based on the careful study of cell ministry, but also on many years of personal experience. Here’s how he describes pure cell ministry,
“One of the greatest struggles of those wishing to make the transition from P.B.D. [Program Based Design] church life involves this shift in thinking: the cell is the church, and the church is the cell. It is the basic building block of the larger community called ‘local church’. There must be no competition with it—none at all. Everything in the city-wide structure must exist for the cells, be operated by the cells, and must strengthen the life of the cells. As in the human body, the life of the church is in the cells. Are people to be reached for Christ? It is done through cells. Are people to be built up in Him? It is to be done through cells. Are children to be nurtured? They are to be exposed from the start to the cell as normal church life. There are no Specialists and there are no programs in the cell group church” (1990:68,69).
This concept of the cell being the church and the church being the cell permeates all of Ralph Neighbour’s teaching and writing. He views the cell church as ushering in the second reformation (1990:6,7). When reading Neighbour, you get the impression that you should be either totally committed to the Pure Cell Model or you are against it by remaining in the traditional church structure. There is no middle ground.
Although it seems to me that Dr. Neighbour tends to be overly dogmatic, there is no doubt that he is the premier expert on the cell church worldwide (note 26). Yet, what is this Pure Cell Model? What are the distinguishing features? Here I will list some of the key principles in a simplified format. Later in my case study of Bethany World Prayer Center (a pure cell church), I will be describing many of these facets in much greater detail.
Cells Form Part of the Local Church Structure
In the pure cell church, cells are not isolated units. They are not individual, unconnected mini-churches. Rather, they are intimately linked to the life of local church body. Those who attend the cell groups are expected to attend the church. Those who attend the church are expected to attend the cell groups. This is precisely the model that is used in Korea. In referring to Cho’s model, Hadaway states,
Members of Cho’s home cell groups are also expected to attend the meetings on a regular basis. Attendance is not taken lightly, and when a member is unexpectantly absent from a cell group meeting, the house church leader contacts the absentee person the following day to learn why”(1987:99).
Cho own words are helpful here,
The local church is the strength of Christianity. Home cell groups contribute to that strength. Anything that dilutes the strength of the local church is to be avoided. That includes some of the parachurch ministries that sometimes take money and commitment away from the local church (1981:93).
This point needs to be carefully emphasized because of the growing house church movement around the world. In this movement, each house church is completely independent or only loosely connected to other house churches. Here, Dr. Ralph Neighbour’s makes a helpful distinction,
There is a distinct difference between the house church and the cell group movements. House Churches tend to collect a community of 15-25 people who meet together on a weekly basis. Usually, each House Church stands alone. While they may be in touch with nearby House Churches, they usually do not recognize any further structure beyond themselves (Neighbour 1990:193).
In the pure cell church, the cell is defined by its characteristics and not by the fact that it’s small and a group (George’s loose definition). The three major components of all cell groups include:
MAJOR COMPONENTS IN CELL GROUPS
Get To Know God
Get To Know Each Other
Multiply The Group
Perhaps the phrase Quality Control best describes and defends this aspect of the pure cell system. It is quality control that enables a McDonald’s hamburger to taste the same in each of its restaurants. Customers expect that a McDonald’s hamburger will taste just as good in Georgia as in California (or Hong Kong). A similar approach can be found in the ministry of Evangelism Explosion. The reason they expect that each session is taught in a similar fashion is to assure that each trainee receives the same quality.
It is the quest for quality control in the pure cell church that requires that the small group format remains the same. The goal of each cell group is to multiply. For this reason, there is a constant need for new leaders. If these new leaders are going to be successful, they must know exactly what to do and how to do it.
It seems to me that evangelism has the highest priority in the cell church. Each cell is required to aggressively evangelize the lost. However, cell-based evangelism is different than most forms of evangelism because the team approach is used in contrast to the individual approach.
Net Fishing Versus Hook Fishing
What I’m referring to can be best illustrated by the tools of the fisherman—the net and the fishing pole. Cell group evangelism in the church uses the net to catch fish. Larry Stockstill describes it this way,
The old paradigm of ‘hook fishing’ is being replaced by teams of believers who have entered into partnership (‘community’) for the purpose of reaching souls together…Jesus used the ‘partnership’ of net fishing to illustrate the greatest principle of evangelism: our productivity is far greater together than alone” (note 29)
Our cell group system is a net for our Christians to cast. Instead of a pastor fishing for one fish at a time, organized believers form nets to gather hundreds and thousands of fish. A pastor should never try to fish with a single rod but should organize believers into the ‘nets’ of a cell system (Hurston 1994:107).
How specifically does Cho do it? In a 1993 interview with Carl George, Cho explained how his cells go net fishing,
We have 50,000 cell groups and each group will love two people to Christ within the next year. They select someone who’s not a Christian, whom they can pray for, love , and serve. They bring meals, help sweep out the person’s store—whatever it takes to show they really care for them…After three or four months of such love, the hardest soul softens up and surrenders to Christ (George 1995:94).
Commenting on Cho’s evangelistic method of net fishing, George says,
Cho is not talking about two ‘decision cards’ per group. Rather, his people win a person to the group, to the Lord, and then to the specific tenets of the faith. New people, without objecting to what is happening, are caught within the pastoral-care network of these groups…In short, Cho and others have discovered how to blend evangelism, assimilation, pastoral care, and leadership development within their small groups… (1994:94).
Although one might not agree with everything that Paul Cho says and does, the fact that he has 700,000 people in his church should cause us who are interested in church growth to listen attentively. Effective evangelism and discipleship through cell groups is not only a possibility; it’s a reality.
The Whole Group Participates in Evangelism
In every sense of the word, it is small group evangelism. Everyone participates in some small way—from the person who invites the guest, to the one who provides refreshments for the guest, to the one who leads the discussion. This participation can be seen in prayer . For example, at Bethany World Prayer Center ( Larry Stockstill is the pastor) each group has a small white board. Names of unsaved friends and family are written on the board and the whole group prays for each name until the person receives Christ and joins the cell group.
This issue of cell multiplication seems to be the common thread that links all of the rapidly growing worldwide cell churches. In each one, there is rapid cell group multiplication.
Theme: Born To Multiply
In the pure cell church, the rallying cry is ‘born to multiply (note 31)’. There seems to be a genetic code established in every new group in the church—born to multiply. If the group does not multiply within a set number of months, most of these cell churches feel it’s best to dissolve the group and let those cell members integrate into groups that are experiencing growth and multiplication.
This concept of ‘born to multiply’ combines the truth of definite, specific small group cycles with the evangelistic goal of cell group multiplication. Instead of denying the one to emphasize the other, there seems to be an instant harmony between the two concepts.
Multiplication Maintains Intimacy
From a very practical standpoint, cell groups must multiply if they are going to maintain a state of intimacy while continuing to reach out to non-Christian people. There is common agreement among the experts that a cell group must be small enough so that all the members can freely contribute and share personal needs. Hadaway writes,
…the principle of cell division and growth seems critical here to help avert the problem of exclusiveness. Cell division is not always experienced as a pleasant plan of action for members who have developed deep relationships in the home group meetings. However, the purpose of such action is designed to prevent the kind of exclusiveness and inwardness that can eventually undermine one of the most significant goals of cell groups---outreach and growth (1987:101).
Length of Time before Multiplication
In many of the most rapidly growing cell churches around the world, the time that it takes for the individual cells to multiply is approximately six months (Neighbour 1992: 32-35). Neighbour states,
Long years of experience with groups has verified that they stagnate after a certain period. People draw from one another for the first six months; after that, they tend to ‘coast’ along together. For that reason, each Shepherd Group will be expected to multiply naturally after six months of be restructured (1992: 113).
I recently even heard of a Baptist Church in Modesto, California which is multiplying their cell groups every four months (note 32). However, not all cells multiply in a matter of months. For some it’s a matter of years. Carl George gives this counsel,
The gestation period for healthy groups to grow and divide ranges from four to twenty-four months. The more frequently a group meets, the sooner it’s able to divide. If a group stays together for more than two years without becoming a parent, it stagnates. Bob Orr, of the Win Arn Church Growth, Inc., reports that groups that meet for a year without birthing a daughter cell only have a 50 percent chance of doing so. But every time a cell bears a child, the clock resets. Thus a small subgroup can remain together indefinitely and remain healthy and fresh by giving birth every few months (1991:101)
Bethany World Prayer Center, a true cell-based church, has adopted the policy that their cell groups must multiply within one year or be integrated into the existing structure. From my study thus far and from my practical experience of starting and directing a cell-based ministry, it seems to me that this time period is the most realistic.
In the pure cell church, there is normally uniformity in lesson material. All of the cell leaders cover the same lesson plan (note 33). In fact, the defining point of the Cho Model for Dr. Coleman is the fact that Cho uses his Sunday morning message as lesson material for the cell leaders (1993:4:9). Similar lesson material helps maintain the quality control.
In the pure cell church, there is strong administrative accountability. Everyone is monitored, pastored, and accountable—from the high level pastor of pastors to the cell intern (note 34). The philosophy behind this model is Jethro’s advice to Moses, (Jethro model). Jethro’s advice to Moses is straightforward and demands little explanation:
When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?…,’ ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear themselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone….You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people…and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (Exodus 18:14-23).
Everyone is Pastored
Taking Jethro’s advice seriously, the pure cell church is organized into groups of tens, fifties, five hundred, and several thousand. The fundamental unit is the cell leader over ten. Then there are the section leaders which are over five cell groups, for a total of fifty people. Next are the zone leaders who oversee five section leaders for a total of 250 (note 35). It is my understanding that the district pastor will oversee up to five zone pastors which make him responsible for a total of 2500 people (Neighbour 1990:195) (note 36).
Each leader of leaders is expected to visit, counsel, teach, exhort, evangelize and help the leaders or members under their care. The difference between the zone and district pastors is that they also perform marriages, funerals, preach, offer communion, baptize, and generally carry out the professional work of the pastor (note 37). In the pure cell church, the cells are categorized geographically into districts according to zip codes. These geographical districts will often act as congregations (Neighbour 1990:356) (note 38).
Administrative control also takes place through the required reporting from each cell group. From my understanding, these weekly statistical, prayer reports are not optional. They provide the administrative strength to the cell church. It is through these reports that the powerful Jethro organization takes place. A normal cell group report includes the weekly attendance in the cell group, the location of the next meeting, those who were saved, etc. (note 39)
For example, after Dr. McGavran had visited Cho’s church in 1976, he called it ‘the best organized church in the world’ (Hurston 1995:192). I heard Cho say in 1984 that even when he is in the United States., he can locate every person in his 500,000 member church (now much larger) through the cell system (note 40). He was able to say this because of the weekly reports that each cell group completes.
High priority is given to the ongoing training of leadership in the cell church. I personally do not know of a cell church that does not prioritize the continual required training of cell leadership. However, I have noticed that the amount of training and the flexibility of training schedules does vary (note 41).
It might be best to simply highlight the ongoing training model of the premier cell church in the world— Yoido Full Gospel Church. First, Pastor Cho offers pre-training for all potential leaders. These potential cell leaders must attend an eight-week leadership training course that is taught on Sunday afternoon in one of Yoido Full Gospel Churches’ small auditoriums (Hurston 1995:75). Topics covered in this eight-week course include: cell leader responsibilities, home cell-group growth, Bible lesson preparation, etc. (Hurston 1995:215).
From the beginning, Cho required that all cell leaders attend a weekly training session to prepare them for the next lesson and strengthen their ministry skills. However, due to the incredible growth of the cell groups, Cho discontinued that practice in 1988. Since that time, printed supplemental materials are available before and after the Wednesday night services (Hurston 1995:214).
At this time, the ongoing training in Cho’s church consists of semiannual cell leader conferences in which pastor Cho personally addresses the cell leaders. However, even in these semiannual conferences, the numbers are so large that half of the cell leaders attend the conference one day, while the other half attend the next day. Practical tips and vision casting seem to be the main agenda for these conferences (Hurston 1995: 75).
In Cho’s church the main means of ongoing training takes place through the pastoral oversight of each leader through the Jethro system. Personal help and training is most effective as (Hurston 1995:75):
- The district pastors minister to the needs of the zone pastors
- The zone pastors serve the section leaders
- The section leaders take care of the cell leaders
- The cell leaders meet the needs of the interns
The rapid multiplication of small groups in the pure cell church makes it imperative that new leaders be found, trained, and released. This rapid releasing of new leadership can only happen as the quality control of each cell group is maintained, as diligent administrative control is exercised (e.g., the Jethro system and the weekly reporting), and as these newly released leaders find help through a ongoing system of leadership training.
Again, Paul Cho is the best example. Even in a church of 750,000, Cho has been able to maintain an average of one lay leader to every ten to sixteen church members (Hurston 1995:68). For example, in 1988 alone, 10,000 new lay leaders were appointed for ministry (Hurston 1995:194). In fact, when Paul Cho was asked where he got his leadership for his sixty thousand cell groups, (note 42) without even hesitating he said, “We get them from our new Christians” (Galloway 1995:105). I don’t believe that Cho immediately places these new Christians into leadership, but it does mean that his major pool of leadership comes from this camp (note 43).
Since the Pure Cell Model promotes cells as the most important part of the church, all programs or activities must give way to the cells. There should be no competing programs. In other words, in the cell church, the program exists for the cells or better yet, the program is the cells (Neighbour 1990:68,69) . Neighbour is the most radical here. He declares,
We must actively abandon the hope that stagnant churches can be renewed by painful restructuring and the tacking on of Cell Group Church principles….The church cannot effectively mix traditional patterns of church life with Cell Group Patterns. There must be a deliberate transition. After devoting nearly a quarter of a century to attempt to help ‘renew the churches,’ I am totally skeptical that it can be done (1990:36,37).
He goes on to say,
I returned to the disturbing point that has been made before in this book and will be repeated again and again, The Cell Church lifestyle is too New Testament to be blended into a PBD [program based design] structure. It causes endless conflicts for those who attempt it (1990:55).
At the same time, I have discovered that even the pure cell churches usually have a few pet programs--although they might call them something different (note 44). Realistically, perhaps it’s best to say that in the cell church very few programs exist.
Most churches that are seeking to transition from a programmed-based church to a cell-church will have to wrestle with the issue of cells and programs. Should all programs be abolished? Can some remain? Which ones? As we wrestled with programs and cells in our cell-based church in Ecuador, we arrived at the conviction that the cell groups had to be the very heart of the church, but that did not mean removing all of the programs. However, it did mean that:
- Everyone in the church would participate in a cell group.
- Each pastor would have a significant role in the cell group ministry.
- There would be an intimate connection between the cell group ministry and the other ministries of the church.
Cells Take Care of Basic Church Duties
The ideal cell church does not need another layer of structure (program) to take care of the basic, routine necessities of the church (i.e., counseling, follow-up, ushering, children’s needs, etc.). In fact, little volunteer help is needed. Rather, these needs are met through the cell groups. The various districts (or in a smaller church, the sections) rotate from month to month. With this format, the burdens of a church program do not weigh down a few people in the church (note 45)
The active leadership of the head pastor in the direction of the cell ministry seems to be a clear, distinguishing mark in the pure cell church. Cho declares,
There is only one way that the home cell group system will be successful in a church, if that system is to be used as a tool of evangelism. The pastor must be the key person involved. Without the pastor, the system will not hold together. It is a system, and a system must have a control point. The controlling factor in home cell groups is the pastor (1981:107).
Cho intuitively and experientially understands that unless the head pastor is directly involved in the cell ministry, it will not succeed. Cho talks about one North American pastor who attended his cell seminar training in Korea. This pastor was excited about the idea of cell groups, but decided to delegate the responsibility for it to an associate pastor. According to the Cho, the cells soon failed (1981:108). Why? Cho says,
The congregation sees the cell groups as only one of many varied programs in this big church. They don’t see them as the key to revival or to evangelism; after all, there are so many programs aimed at those goals. The pastor isn’t actively involved, so the members feel that cell groups can’t be all that important (1981: 108,109).
In my research and experience in cell-based churches, I have also discovered that the role of the senior pastor is absolutely crucial to the long term success of the cell-based system. I don’t believe that the head pastor can delegate his visionary leadership to someone else and expect to have a successful cell church. Larry Stockstill of Bethany World Prayer Center demonstrated his leadership commitment to the cell model in three areas:
- He personally prepared the lessons for the leaders
- He understood the role of instilling vision in the cell leaders by speaking to them every Wednesday evening.
- He visited a different cell group every week
- He connected his vision for cell ministry with his Sunday morning sermon.
I have already mentioned the pastoral roles in the cell church under the subheading of administrative control. However, suffice it to say that in the cell church each pastor has a direct role in leading and pastoring the leaders of the cell ministry (Jethro system). It’s always better if the staff pastors were one time cell leaders.
Because cells form the basic building block of life in the cell church, it is expected that everyone participates. On the negative side, to refuse to participate in a cell group indicates that one is not truly in line with the vision of the church. My initial observations indicate that membership in the cell church signifies that one is a committed to the cell ministry of the church. However, in reality, there is no such thing as 100% participation, even in the purest of cell churches. Some talk about 90% participation, but 70% is closer to reality (note 46).
Comparison of the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model
In this section I will compare the Meta Model with the Pure Cell Model. I do understand that these are only general categories. A fair amount of gray area exists between these two models. In other words, some churches using the Meta Model embrace many pure cell church principles, and other churches who might see themselves in the pure cell church category embrace many of the meta principles (note 47). Having said that, it does seem these two models have sufficiently distinguished themselves to deserve careful analysis.
Although earlier in this study I had mentioned two other small group models (Covenant and Serendipity model), they do not seem to be the choice of enough growing churches to warrant a comparative analysis. In my opinion, the Meta and Pure Cell Models are by far the most widely used in the church today.
Comparison by Jim Egli of North Star Strategies
I will start by synthesizing the main points of an excellent comparative article by Jim Egli (1993:1-8). In this article, Jim is primarily comparing the Meta Model as described in George’s book, Prepare Your Church for the Future, with Ralph Neighbour’s Pure Cell Model, as described in his book, Where Do We Go From Here? (note 48). The following table represents the major differences between the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model according to Jim Egli:
KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO MODELS
(Adapted from Egli, 1993)
PURE CELL MODEL
Karen Hurtson is the daughter of John Hurtson, who as an Assembly of God missionary worked hand and hand with Paul Cho in establishing the Yoido Full Gospel Church. Karen’s latest book, Growing the World’s Largest Church, is a recent case study of Paul Cho’s church. In that book, Karen examines what she calls the incorporated system with the integrated system. What she calls the incorporated system has many similarities with the Meta Model. The integrated system which she describes is the Pure Cell Model (1994:199-205) (not49).
INCORPORATED MODEL AND INTEGRATED MODEL
(Taken from Hurston 1994:199-205)
The observations both by Jim Egli and Karen Hurtson shed light on some of the key differences between these two systems. In studying the Meta Model versus the Pure Cell Model, several key points stood out in my mind:
PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS OF TWO MODELS
PURE CELL CHURCH
TYPES OF SMALL GROUPS
SMALL GROUPS / CHURCH PROGRAM
Here I’d like to highlight some key distinctions and similarities between the two models. I will also partly critique some of the potential weaknesses.
- Both place a high priority on small group ministry.
- Both find support in the cell group success of Paul Cho.
- Both use the Jethro system to care for each leader.
- The elements of discipleship and evangelism are normally found in both models.
- Centrality in the Church
- Probably the major distinction between the Pure Cell Church and the Meta Model is the priority given to the small groups. The Pure Cell Model makes the cell ministry the central function in the church. Cells are seen as THE program instead of one of the programs. The concentrated effort of both leader and member hinges around what takes place in the weekly cell gathering.
- In contrast, the Meta Model tends to elevate the small group to the status of a very important program in the church. Because the seeker sensitive service is normally the major program in the church, the small groups seem to used as a supporting tool to the overall temple strategy of the church.
- Pastoral versus Evangelistic
- In the Pure Cell Model evangelism is a major priority in the small group. Cells are the net that draws in the harvest. In the Pure Cell Model, multiplication is not even an option. It’s part of the strategy. The Pure Cell Church positions the cells to fulfill the primary outreach of the church through the multiplication of each group.
- In contrast, the Meta Model utilizes the cells groups for more of a pastoral, networking purpose. The primary evangelism comes from the seeker sensitive service. Four of the five case study Meta churches in this tutorial depended on their seeker sensitive service to attract non-Christians. In these churches the cells are the way to close the back door, but not the primary means of evangelism. The one Meta church that depended on the cells to evangelize has recently been declining (New Hope Community).
- Similarity of Group Meeting Versus Various Group Structures
- In the Pure Cell Church, the same lesson and general format is used in all of the groups. The similarity of the small group gathering helps guarantee the quality control. Leaders and members know what to expect in a cell meeting and new leaders can be trained more rapidly. Cell leader training and multiplication of the cell group is more easily accomplished in the pure cell approach because all are trained in the same techniques, goals, and material.
- Due to the variety of small groups and material in the Meta Model, multiplication and ongoing training are more difficult to maintain. The needs of each leader is so unique and different that effective training and control usually breaks down.
- Tight Administrative Control Versus Flexibility of Structure
The Pure Cell System tends to emphasize tight administrative control. Weekly reports are a must. Oftentimes the cell leaders receive weekly or bimonthly training. The Jethro system is applied to a greater extend in the Pure Cell Model.
On the other hand, in the Meta Model, flexibility and variety are important values. The administrative control is often loose and flexible. The freedom that the Meta Model offers is very appealing in a North American culture which is very individualistic and likes to have many choices. In other cultures, these traits are not so highly esteemed.
In his Fuller doctoral dissertation on cell ministry David Tan states,
For the Meta-Church any type of groups within the church constitutes the cells. All these groups may have different agendas and purposes. The main principle is to involve as many members as possible in groups. Since it is impossible to enroll everyone and the agenda of every group cannot be identical, the goal of the Meta-Church is accommodation (Tan 1994:18).
As was mentioned earlier, in the Meta Model there are groups for everyone: children, ushers, parking lot attendants, greeters, staging, lighting, drama, vocal groups, orchestra, Vietnam Veterans, blended families, etc. (Galloway 1995:18). The concern that I have in labeling all of these activities as cell groups is that the emphasis subtly shifts from the components of small group life to a more generalized concept of anything small equals a small group.
This is a very subtle distinction, but I have noticed that this concept seems to have an adverse affect on the cell-based structure. It has the potential of cheapening the small group vision by saying that a small group usher’s meeting in the church is the same as a home based small group. In fact, the two are worlds apart, due to the setting and the purpose. I have a suspicion that the lack of quality control in this smorgasbord approach might eventually weaken the entire system.
For example, in Ecuador, our head pastor strongly insisted every week, that everyone attend a weekly cell group, so that they might receive personal care and might be able to reach their neighbors. What the people did not receive in the main worship service, we knew that they could receive through the pastoral care in the small groups. We also knew that the cell groups in the church would be open to receive the people that heard that announcement on Sunday morning.
Yet, how could our people in Ecuador receive this type of care by joining a ‘sports team’ which meets for a season, or by attending a ‘Sunday School class’ which meets for a semester and studies an academic subject, or by being on a ‘committee’ which might meet for a month. It’s not that such gatherings are not important, it’s simply that they do not fulfill the purposes of a cell group. By joining such a group, the person would not truly be pastored and in many cases would not be comfortable in inviting his or her friend. As pastors, we could not be assured that God’s purposes were being fulfilled in the life of our members.
By calling all small gatherings ‘cell groups’, I believe that a certain confusion is created (note 50). In summary, I believe that the focus needs to be on the elements that make up a small group and not the fact that it is a gathering and it is small (note 51).
Chapter 4: U.S. Case Studies of the Meta Model
Of the five churches that I have chosen, four of them overtly declare that they are part of the Meta Model. Saddleback Church is the only one which does not outwardly identify with that model. Nevertheless, what Saddleback actually does in their small group system is almost identical to the Meta Model, so I have taken the liberty to categorize it under that framework.
Many churches are experimenting with the Meta Model throughout the United States. In Carl George’s most recent book, The Coming Church Revolution, he provides vignettes about forty churches that are currently using the Meta Model (1994: 9,10). Because I could not study all of those churches, I had to make a deliberate choice among the possibilities. The ones that I did choose are:
ATTENDANCE OF CASE STUDY CHURCHES
Willow Creek Community Church
attendance: approx.- 16,000
attendance: approx.- 11,000
New Hope Community Church
attendance: approx.- 4,000
attendance: approx.- 3,500
Fairhaven Alliance Church
attendance: approx.- 1,500
Probably the main criterion for choosing these particular churches was the question of prominence. In other words, these churches are well-known throughout the United States, (Note 52) both because of their numerical growth as well of their effective small group ministry.
These case studies are not intended to be in-depth (note 53). My purpose is to give a brief summary of the church and their small group ministry. I conducted two of the case studies through personal visits (Cincinnati Vineyard and Fairhaven Alliance). For the other three I relied on books, pamphlets, seminars, and personal interviews by phone or during a seminar
Lyman Coleman refers to Dale Galloway’s church as the major advocate of the Cho model in the U.S (Coleman 1993: 5:19) (note 54) However, I believe it is more accurate to describe the New Hope Community Church as the first prototype Meta Model of small group ministry. It was this church that was Carl George’s primary U.S. case study before he wrote the book, Prepare Your Church for the Future (note 55). George Hunter calls Dale Galloway, ‘a significant pioneer in small groups ministries today’ (1996: 85). His church is based on a wide assortment of small groups (note 56). His most recent work (1995) summarizes his years of experience in cell-based ministry.
The small groups at New Hope Community Church can be divided into three distinct types: 1. Nurture groups 2. Support groups 3. Task groups. The nurture groups provide most of the pastoral care in the church. The support groups are instruments of healing, while the task groups gather together people performing diverse types of service (ushering, etc.). There is even an entire district of groups involved in the church’s music ministry (Hunter 1996:88). Along with the nurture groups, the task groups meet together for sharing, prayer, and Bible application. According to George Hunter, “…every group has an empty chair, as a symbol of the group’s mission to reach at least one new person every six months (1996:87).
The training of small group leaders is very important in this model. Galloway says it well, “The most important job of the pastor and the pastoral staff is leadership development, training lay leaders who will build small groups. Leadership development is essential, and it must be top priority. It cannot be left to chance” (1995:118). Galloway offers a Superbowl event three times a year in which any cell member is welcome to attend. From the superbowl future leaders emerge who face the challenge of raising up their own group Once the group is formed, the leaders are required to attend a weekly training event where they are given the notes to the pastors and discussion questions for Bible application (Coleman 1993: 5:19).
How effective is New Community Church today? Does this church continue to be a leading model of cell- based ministry? At this point, the answer appears to be no. Dale Galloway has recently resigned from the church and entered the world of seminary education (Note 57). From my understanding, even before he left, the church was experiencing problems. I first became aware of those problems during a brief conversation with Rick Warren during one of his Purpose Driven Seminars (Note 58). I asked Rick about the state of small group ministries in the church today. He responded by pointing out the apparent failure of the Meta Model in Dale Galloway’s church. At that time Rick mentioned that Galloway’s church had dropped from 6000 in attendance to 1000 in attendance (Note 59).
Italked with one of the pastors who has been at New Hope Community Church for some 16 years (note 60). Pastor Bev told me that the church has dropped from 6000 in attendance to the present 3000. The number of small groups has also dropped. From the 625 small groups reported by George Hunter (1996: 85), there are now 350. According to Bev, out of the 3000 people attending the church, there might be about 1000 people in the weekly small groups (note 61). She made it quite clear that even before Dale Galloway resigned, the church had begun to lose steam. People stopped attending the Tender Loving Care Groups. The cell leadership began to show signs of weakness.
During my conversation with Pastor Bev, I readily detected that she tended to interpret the present difficulties at New Community in a spiritual light. She was quick to point out the positive aspects of what God was presently doing in their midst (it’s natural that a person on staff is not going to spill all of the ‘inner workings’ of the church with a stranger over the telephone) (note 62). She did mention that the new pastor, Rev. Cotton, was giving the church a new focus and direction. Interestingly, she said that this new direction involved evangelism as a chief focus—but not necessarily small group ministry.
What has really gone wrong at New Hope Community Church? Is it that the Meta Model doesn’t work in the U.S.? No, I don’t think so. However, I would like to offer two observations concerning the Meta Model at New Hope Community Church. First, it appears that pastor Galloway might have become overly occupied with his seminar ministry and outside speaking.
This observation originated from one who understands cell ministry and the situation at Galloway’s church. His name is David Tan (note 63) David told me that pastor Galloway’s outside speaking schedule became so hectic that he would arrive on the weekend to preach at New Hope Community and leave Monday morning to begin an intense seminar schedule. Such outside activity might have contributed to the difficulties at New Hope.
My second observation that might have contributed to the cracks in the wall at New Hope has to do with the categorization of small groups at New Hope. The fact that there was such a plethora of small groups might have contributed to the break down of training, vision, administration, and overall effectiveness (note 64).
Probably the most well-known church in the United States at this time is Willow Creek Community Church. It is being promoted as the church of the future—the new way to reach a secularized culture for Jesus Christ. George Hunter calls it, ‘the most visible apostolic experiment in the U.S. today’ (1996:14).
In 1975, Bill Hybels started this church with a vision to plant a church for the unchurched. However, Bill was not alone. A group of young adults who were all graduates of an innovative youth ministry accompanied Bill in the founding of Willow Creek Community Church. The goal was to plant a church for those who couldn’t handle traditional religion (Hunter 1996:14).
Like a sprinter racing from the blocks, this church has not looked back. Starting from scratch in 1975, the church now has a huge facility that can seat 4,500 people and as of June, 1996 was averaging 15,000 to 16,000 people in their three seeker-sensitive services (note 65). The church also has 1400 small groups to care for the needs of their growing congregation (note 66).
From my research on Willow Creek Community Church, three core values stood out:
- Commitment to reach the unchurched
The philosophy of the church is built around how to reached ‘unchurched Harry’, This fictitious person who represents the secular man or woman today who could care less about traditional religion. Everything that is done in their weekly seeker-sensitive services has the unchurched person in mind (note 67).
- Commitment to Small Groups
Although from the beginning small groups were important, it wasn’t until 1990 that small groups became a priority (Hunter 1996: 93). The church found that the only way to disciple those who had come to Christ was through a small group ministry. Bill Hybels says, “…virtually every significant decision and step of growth I’ve made in the last decade of ministry have come in the context of community,…That’s why we want Willow Creek not to be a church that offers small groups but to become a church of small groups” (1995:178).
Jim Dethmer, the leading small group pastor at Willow Creek says it this way, “Our goal is to make average, ordinary lay person extra-ordinarily successful in shepherding the six to ten people entrusted to their care” (George 1994:59).
- Commitment to Excellence
Those who have made their pilgrimage to one of the many seminars at Willow Creek come back with this thought on their lips---Willow Creek is committed to excellence (note 68). Everything they do is first class. The phrases ‘high powered’ and ‘perfectly orchestrated’ aptly describe this ministry. Jim Egli of Touch Ministries reminded me that Willow Creek is located in a very wealthy area and thus has the resources to do a first class job (note 69).
I could say much more about the Willow Creek Model. Loads of material has been written about their innovative seeker sensitive services. However, when studying Willow Creek, my main concern was how they conduct their small group ministry.
Willow Creek openly declares that they have espoused the Meta Model of small group ministry. The characteristics of the Meta Model are clearly seen:
Variety Of Groups
There are four basic types of groups at Willow Creek Community Church:
- Discipleship Groups
- These are curriculum oriented small groups (six unit course) which runs on a two year life cycle. For the most part, they are considered closed groups (except in special circumstances). This type of small group can meet anywhere.
- Service groups
- These groups are made up of volunteer people. They are task oriented groups. The groups are built around the particular program. For example, when the drama group meets together for practice, they would pray, have a lesson, etc. Wayne, the staff person responsible for information in the church, told me that the bread and butter groups at Willow Creek are now these service groups. He said that previously, the discipleship groups were the most important groups.
- Seeker small groups
- These small groups are made up of six to eight people. The goals of these groups is to reach non-Christians.
- Community groups
- These are larger groups of up to fifteen people. They meet in a community near the church. According to Wayne, these groups are a ‘holding place’ or a ‘beginning place’ for those who haven’t yet found a service group. In other words, it’s sort of a fishing pool for the service groups. These groups normally meet once per month.
All groups can choose whatever curriculum that they want. The only criteria is that it’s sold in the Willow Creek bookstore.
Many of the groups meet in the church. I was told that the group might arrive 1 ½ hours before their regular scheduled activity takes place. There are many rooms in the church’s huge building where these small gatherings can meet.
The church follows the Jethro Model. They have coaches who are over five small group leaders. They have a division leaders over five coaches. Right now, there are twenty five division leaders on staff in the church. Under each division leader is ten to fifteen coaches. The information flows down from the division leader to the coach to the leader. The coaches and the division leaders are supposed to visit, council and generally pastor those under their care.
There are leadership training sessions for small group leaders every year (note 71). There are training sessions for coaches (over 5 cell leaders) every month or every other month. Due to the fact that there are no regular cell leader training session, a lot depends on the visitation and care of the coaches and division leaders.
According to Wayne, there is no time set for multiplication. The multiplication takes place naturally as the group members invite friends and family. Although Wayne gave me the impression that there was no pressure to multiply, the Willow Creek Small Group Leadership Handbook talks about reproduction as an important goal. It says,
Success in leadership of a small group is ultimately seen in the viability of daughter groups….The new group can only be considered viable if it eventually births a new group itself. In this model, a ‘Senior Leader’ is someone who’s birthed at least three groups, which in turn have birthed new groups---in other words, a leader with at least three small group’ grandchildren (p. 3 in Hunter 1996:96).
Willow Creek is truly a work of the Almighty God. It embodies the motivation of Paul, the apostle, who sought to become all things to all men (I Cor. 9: 19-23). This general principle of using ‘bait’ that will attract men and women for Jesus Christ is a needed emphasis in the church today.
However, as in any model that God has greatly blessed, there is the danger of copying it verbatim, without analyzing the contextual factors. It seems to me that this danger is especially present in the Willow Creek Church because of the high financial and cultural level of the church. In other words, the type of high tech program at Willow Creek demands large resources and talent that many churches simply do not have.
Concerning the small group system used at Willow Creek, several questions arise in my mind:
- I wonder how many of the task or service groups can reach non-Christians for Jesus Christ. If in fact the service groups are centered around a ministry task, It seems unlikely that a non-Christian is going to join that particular ministry function (most of these groups meet before or after their particular task).
- Because the task groups are central at Willow Creek, I wonder about the dynamics and the components of small group life at Willow Creek. Are the groups simply scaled down programs that support the larger machinery of the church? How much of the life of the true church is manifest in many of these gatherings? Can a group meeting 1 ½ hours before their church task, experience the vital life of a home cell group? Without a further, more in-depth study, these questions cannot be fully answered, but my initial observations cause me to raise these questions.
Saddleback Community Church
Saddleback Church is Southern California version of the Willow Creek model. Instead of unchurched Harry (Willow Creek), this church is after ‘Saddleback Sam’ (Seminar 1995:18). Rick Warren founded the church in 1980 with only his family, his trailer, and a big vision (note 72). Today the church has grown to over 10,000 people in attendance with 6300 members.
After moving seventy-nine different times, the church is finally constructing their own building (Seminar 1995). They are located on 127 acres of property and they’re using 75 acres right now. In 1997, the church had planted some twenty-six daughter churches (note 73).
- Commitment to Reaching the Lost
This seems to be the key foundation upon which the church is built. Before starting public services, Pastor Rick did a neighborhood survey to discover why the Saddleback Community were not attending church. Based on their responses, he designed his methodology. One of the key principles at Saddleback is to ‘let the target audience determine the approach’ (Seminar 1995: 25). Carefully designed seeker-sensitive services attract non-Christians who would never enter a traditional church.
There first goal is to reach the uninitiated through an attractive service or other programmed events that will attract non-Christian people. They try to attract the crow at first. We were told that they have a core value of making it very easy for people to come to church.
They are also into campaigns. They recently had a “love-campaign for 50 days. Out of that campaign, they asked people to commit to 8-week group life, hoping they’ll continue longer in small groups.
- Commitment to a well-defined purpose based on the Bible
I, along with over 1000 pastors, recently crammed into a Baptist Church in Ohio to attend one of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church seminars. In a nutshell, the seminar emphasized the need to have a clear Biblical purpose for ministry, as opposed to being led by church tradition or even new, successful methodology. In his most recent book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick delineates his clear cut philosophy of ministry. One of the pithy slogans that he uses to describe his philosophy is: A GREAT COMMITMENT TO THE GREAT COMMANDMENT AND THE GREAT COMMISSION WILL GROW A GREAT CHURCH. The church’s mission statement reads, “To bring people to Jesus and membership in his family, develop them to Christlike maturity, and equip them for their ministry in the church and their life mission in the world, in order to magnify God’s name (Seminar 1995:10).
The five purposes explained to me were:
The glue that holds these purposes together is balance. There is no real order. The key is balance. Yet Mark Carver admitted that are ebbs and flows in this whole area of balance.
- Commitment to lay involvement
Pastor Rick is committed to allowing the laity to minister. He makes a strong point that ministry placement is a top priority at Saddleback (Seminar 1995:43). The four pillars of the church in this area are:
- Every believer is a minister
- Every ministry is important
- We are dependent on each other
- Ministry is an expression of my spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and expenses.
More than half (56%) of the 6300 members attend one of the 250 small groups at Saddleback Church. Pastor Rick’s commitment to small groups can be seen by the following statement,
“One of the biggest fears members have about growth is how to maintain that ‘small church’ feeling or fellowship as their church grows. The antidote to this fear is to develop small groups within your church…. Our church must always be growing larger and smaller at the same time…. you can’t share personal prayer requests in the crowd. Small affinity groups, on the other hand, are perfect for creating a sense of intimacy and close fellowship. It’s there that everybody knows your name. When you are absent, people notice” (1995:325,326).
I have classified this church under the Meta Model due to the characteristics of Saddleback’s small group ministry. However, the church does not officially line up with any particular model.
The emphasis in the small groups at Saddleback church is more pastoral than outreach oriented. Rick Warren doubts that in today’s society, non-Christians can be effectively won to Christ in a small group environment. Rather, he feels that non-Christians are more likely to be reached in a large gathering (note 74). Therefore, the small groups at Saddleback function to integrate the new believers and old time members into the life of the church. Rick says, “Small groups are the most effective way of closing the back door of your church. We never worry about losing people who are connected to a small group. We know that those people have been effectively assimilated” (1995:327).
Variety Of Groups
Variety is a key buzz word at Saddleback. It seems that any type of group is acceptable. The leaders are free to pick the group of their choice. All they have to do is come to the office with a purpose statement which details their focus, their plans, and what they expect that their groups will look like. In other words, they can design the group as they please. Some of these designs are more general while others are very specific (empty nesters, teens, 21 years or more groups, single women over 35 who have never gotten married, etc.). Most groups come under one of four categories:
- Maturity groups
- These are discipleship groups that use a particular curriculum. They meet on a given night in the church to go over questions that are presented in the didactic materials. These groups are closed and meet for the purpose of promoting Christian maturity. There are thirty five of these groups at Saddleback.
- Ministry groups
- Mission Groups
- These groups meet every Wednesday night. Actually, they are sub groups from the larger congregational gathering. They focus group is new believers. The new believer will attend the first part of the Wednesday night meeting and then will go into a particular classroom to receive instruction. These groups meet for nine to ten weeks. There are twenty five such mission groups
- Home groups
- The home groups are for anyone in the church. The focus is fellowship and nurture. There are 150 such groups in the church at this time. To their credit, they now have some 700 groups meeting off campus. When I asked how often those groups meet, Pastor Steve Gladen seemed unsure (I think the statistical tracking is lacking). He guessed that 40% met bimonthly while 60% met each week.
Purpose Driven Home Groups
I did appreciate the fact that they’ve tried to make each home group more purpose driven. They try to get each person in the cell to crawl, walk, and run.
Rick Warren also has made a big change in this area. For a long time, he was focused on the purpose driven church, but more and more he’s been focused on the purpose driven life (a new book coming out soon). Supposedly, this helped him focus more on small groups in the church.
Yet, we were told by Mark Carver that the main purpose of the small group is discipleship and fellowship. In other words, people come to Christ in the big group and then receive fellowship in the smaller group. Small groups are primarily there to get people connected. The idea is:
- Come to a weekend
- Get connected
Yet, there are both primary groups and secondary groups. Primary groups fulfill all the five purposes, whereas the secondary groups only fulfill some of them.
We were also given mixed signals about whether off-campus cells are more promoted than on-campus cells. In fact, an illustration was given of Steve Gladen’s wife who brought a non-Christian to a 22-week doctrine class that broke up into a small group during the class.
They want everyone at Saddleback is growing in Christ. They don’t have Sunday school because of space. They have a traditional home group. They have growth in the classroom. This is a value of the church here.
I was told that apart from promotion on Sunday morning, Rick Warren is not intimately involved in the small group leadership (note 76). Other staff people, under Rick, handle these responsibilities. From what I understand, the administrative system is not very complex at Saddleback. They emphasize the role of distict lay pastor (20 of these district lay pastors at this time)
These lay volunteer people are assigned to oversee six to eight small groups per quarter. The ministry assignment of these volunteer lay pastors is diverse. For example, I was told that a lay pastor might be asked to serve communion to a small group. To be a lay pastor, one must take the training session taught by pastor Rick and pastor John, as well as pass through a personal interview conducted by the top leadership of the church.
- The cell leaders do not turn in a report every week; rather, the lay pastors call the cell leader to ask about the average attendance in the small group during the month. In comparison with other small group models, the administrative structure at Saddleback is very is very loose.
- It’s interesting how Saddleback advertises the availability of the small groups. From what I understand, when a group reaches twelve to fourteen people, it will no longer be advertised by the church. Only those groups which are smaller are made available for the general congregation.
If there was one value that underlies the small group ministry at Saddleback, it’s flexibility. The small group ministry at Saddleback is flexible with regard to:
Groups are encouraged to multiply but not required (some have been going for fifteen years)
Groups meet when they want, as much as they want, and break when they want
Small groups are encouraged to have an assistant, but not required.
- Leadership training
When I asked about ongoing leadership training, again, that word ‘flexibility’ was mentioned. They have tried different things such as quarterly meeting, Saturday training, etc. It seems that they are still trying to decide what pattern to follow.
The small group leaders pick their own materials. When they talk with pastor John, they discuss the type of material they will study.
Saddleback church is doing something right. Any Evangelical, Bible preaching church that can attract more than 10,000 people Sunday after Sunday deserves to be applauded. The strengths of Saddleback include the innovative techniques for reaching secular people, a clear, concise philosophy of ministry, strong pastoral leadership, and definite, visionary goals (note 78).
However, I was not impressed by their small group ministry. Here are some of the reasons for that statement:
- Low Participation: Only about one third of those who attend the church are in a small group. This fact alone tells me that small groups at Saddleback are one program among many and are not at the very heart of the church. I believe Saddleback now has 50% participation in home small groups.
- Lack of Direction: There seems to be a lack of clear cut goals and plans for the small group ministry at Saddleback. I almost sensed that the goal was ‘flexibility’ (not to have much of a system). I interpret a lot of this flexibility as actually being a hindrance to greater effectiveness in their small group ministry.
- Little Quality Control: Since each leader decides on the materials, the target group, etc., it seems to me that a potential leader would need to be very creative and gifted to maintain a successful group. Their system isn’t conducive to produce multiplying cell groups.
- Lack of Clear Small Group Driven Focus:
The plethora of ministries mixed in with small groups tell me that there is no clear direction in the church.
For example, they invite non-Christians to serve in the traffic ministry and these ministries serve as functional ministry groups. The choir is considered a fellowship group. They have some 150 ministries in the church. How these all fit together, I don’t know. In fact, from outside the celebration area, the plethora of “ministry booths” spoke to me about variety being the key option.
Cincinnati Vineyard is certainly a unique church. It has been widely reported that members from that church do unheard of things- like offering cold drinks to commuters who are stalled in the midst of traffic on a burning hot afternoon. Actually, the term
‘servant evangelism’ originated in the mind of Steve Sjogren, the senior pastor of this church.
This church is part of the larger Vineyard movement which started in a small Bible study in 1974. John Wimber soon became the recognized head or apostle of this movement (note 79). Before coming to Cincinnati Vineyard, Steve Sjogren spent two years in West Los Angeles to receive training from John Wimber and to help pioneer works in Oslo, Norway and Annapolis. It was in November of 1983 that Steve and his wife Janie moved to Cincinnati to begin the new work.
Between 2500 and 3000 attend the four services (one Saturday p.m. and three Sunday a.m.). There are an additional 1000-15000 which call the Cincinnati Vineyard their home church. When I visited the church in November, 1995 they were averaging 20 first time decisions for Jesus Christ every week. The sixteen full time pastors have their hands full. The future vision for the church is great. When I was there, they were just about to purchase forty-eight acres of land.
From reading their literature and having an in-depth interview with one of their staff pastors, I identified three core values of the church:
This church has been made famous for commitment to serve people, anywhere and in anyway. I was told that 15% of the church’s finances are used for kindness ministries: Purchasing and changing light bulbs for people, raking leaves, giving away free cokes, etc. They make it clear that there are no strings attached and the act of kindness is apart from any gospel presentation. However, they do distribute cards with information about the church (note 80).
Four times a year the church sponsors an event called ‘Serve Cincinnati’. About 500 people from the church participate in these events. They also have what they call ‘Matthew’s Party’. They simply throw a big party and invite all the poor and needy that they can find.
Seeker Sensitive Services
Pastor David Stiles explained to me that there are two types of Vineyards: The renewal type and the seeker sensitive type. He made it clear to me that Cincinnati Vineyard is the seeker sensitive type. They value the new person. They do not want to make it scary for the new person. Hunter describes the church’s vision a bit differently, “In contrast to the reputation (deserved or undeserved) of the national Vineyard movement, the Cincinnati church targets unchurched pre-Christians rather than churched Christians!” (1996:16).
Their two main services on Sunday morning (not the earliest one) are very user friendly. No one comes forward to receive Jesus Christ; the new converts simply look up. Afterwards, they are invited to receive material. The new converts are directed to a cell group as well as the verse by verse study on Wednesday night (about 400 attend that gathering).
Due to the great name that their servant evangelism ministry has given them and their seeker sensitive services, many new people find their way to this church. Right now, my analysis is that the church is part of the Willow Creek mentality. The main philosophy is attracting people through the large temple approach. Servant Evangelism is a new and creative way to do that.
Small Group Involvement
Like other Vineyards, the small group emphasis is important in this church. Displayed on every wall of their foyer is every conceivable type of small group. Their creatively made bulletin boards enable a newcomer to take a brochure (with photo of leader, purpose of group, and specific information) of any of the small groups. I had the distinct impression (from word of mouth as well as being there) that this particular Vineyard was very committed to small group ministry.
There are 250 groups all together (note 81). This number of small groups is significant for a congregation of 3500 people. If ten people attended each group, (note 82) it would mean that 2500 people attended the small group ministry which is a very high percentage.
The Cincinnati Vineyard openly espouses the Meta Model. Carl George has spoken several times at the church, and they are listed in George’s book, The Coming Church Revolution (p.183).
Variety Of Groups
According to George small groups at Cincinnati Vineyard range from “…pool playing and motorcycle riding to Bible studies and prayer groups” (1994:183). I picked up information describing groups called: ‘Buster’s Reading Group’, ‘Vineyard Web Page Group’, ‘Never Let Them See the Back of Your Head Group’, ‘Database Design Group’, ‘Writer’s Fellowship’, ‘Horse Rider’s Fellowship’, ‘Step Aerobics Group’, ‘Shooter’s Club Group’, ‘Homebuilders Group’, ‘Thanks Serving Bus Run Group’, ‘PreSeason Softball Practice Group, etc.
The general categories of small groups include:
- Kindness Outreaches
- Mercy Ministries
- Computer Groups
- Interest Groups
- Sports Groups
- Prayer Groups
- Recovery Groups
- Bible Study Groups
- Kinship Groups
- Marriage Enrichment Groups
- Men’s Growth Groups
- Singles Groups
- Teen Groups
- Twenty Something Groups
- Women’s Groups
The brochure for each group is a different color in order to identify the purpose of that particular group. Some groups are open while others are closed. Some groups are small while others are larger than fifteen. The visitor’s packet says, “Most groups range from 8 to 12 people and meet twice a month” (p.17).
Purpose Of The Groups
The titles ‘primary care’ and ‘secondary care’ help classify such a dizzying variety of small groups. The primary care groups (147 under this category) include such groups as women’s groups, singles, kinship groups, etc. Members receive more pastoral care in these group. The secondary care groups are less vulnerable and more impersonal (computer group, horse riding group, etc.).
The word ‘care’ in both categories help explain the primary purpose of small group at Cincinnati Vineyard. Like most churches using the Meta Model, small group ministry is a means to close the back door and ‘hook’ the people into the church. The visitor’s packet explains this focus, “Though people come to a church for many reasons, they generally stay for only one…relationship” (p.17). Small groups provide an opportunity for that type of relationship.
Pastor David mentioned to me that he didn’t feel that the small groups were very effective in evangelizing new people. This function took place through the seeker sensitive services (note 83). However, to their credit, Cincinnati Vineyard encourages that, “Each group engages in periodic outreach, every four to six weeks, to pre-Christian people” (Hunter 1996:116) (note 84).
Pastor Steve and five other main pastors take on the district pastor function with teams under them. They do have coaches over five to ten group. Since the leaders are not required to turn in any reports, I wasn’t sure how the coaches and district pastors really know what is happening in each group.
Each month they hold the leadership community meeting (patterned after George’s VHS). According to Pastor Stiles, 65% of the leaders attend (150-200 leaders) this session. Although they have wholeheartedly espoused George’s Meta Church philosophy, Pastor Stiles admitted to me that some of George’s stuff simply doesn’t work for them. For example, George recommends that at each VHS, the top leadership offers some kind of skill training for the cell leaders. They have found that this just doesn’t work with such a wide variety of groups. For example, the skill training for a sport’s team leader is 100% different that the training needed for a recovery group leader.
Since each leader is free to choose his or her own material and since the training for each leader is so vastly different, I got the sense that the leadership training meeting was more visionary in nature. In fact, Pastor Stiles told me that they were reviewing their leadership requirements in order to bring them more in line with reality.
This church has the reputation of being a pioneer and pace setter for many. Servant Evangelism has now become popular in many circles. The caring, healing ministry that this church has demonstrated is well-known and respected .
Their small group ministry is exceedingly creative and has encompassed a large percentage of those who attend the church. For this reason, there is much room for commendation. If I were comparing this church from among the other Meta Model churches, I would say it is second to none.
Yet, my concerns include:
- A one sided focus of the small groups
- That is, the groups are primarily care groups, but they are not engaging in active evangelism. Multiplication is not a priority.
- Lack of pastoral care in many of the groups
- Not only is evangelism not the priority in the majority of the groups, but many of the groups lack pastoral care. For example, it’s hard to picture the Web Page Group, the Writer’s Fellowship, or the Horse Back Riding Group offering much pastoral care.
- Lack of administrative control and training
With such a wide variety of groups, the administrative and training function begin to break down. This was the case at Cincinnati Vineyard.
- Lack of Clarity With Regard to the Length of the Group
From what I understand of the Meta Model, the small groups do not have a planned termination point. Carl George says,
Meta-Church cells aren’t calendared to terminate. If someone wants to get away from a fellow member with whom there’s a personality conflict, and both parties can’t work it out on spiritual grounds, then one of these people can be part of a daughter cell commissioned off from the group. Tensions and discontent can be motivational devices for birthing (1992:101).
In the Cincinnati Vineyard, I got the impression that there weren’t many guidelines in this area. Because the groups are primarily providing pastoral care for the church, there is a natural tendency for the church leaders to want them to continue. Yet, small groups that go on indefinitely without multiplying have a tendency to stagnate and actually weigh down the church.
Although this church does not have the same national recognition that the first four churches enjoy, among Christian and Missionary Alliance people, Fairhaven Alliance Church is a flagship church (note 85). With 1250 people attending the two morning worship services each Sunday, this is one of the largest churches U.S. Alliance (note 86).
Since the 1980’s this church was involved in home Bible study groups. There were about twenty five of these so called Covenant Groups meeting at Fairhaven throughout the 1980’s.
In 1990 there was a radical switch to the Meta Model. The attempt was made to convert all of the old small groups into the new paradigm, but it didn’t work out so smoothly. Actually, I learned from Pastor Jim Futrell, the small group pastor, that the first two years of transition were very painful and discouraging. They envisioned doubling the church membership and that one out of ten members would be cell leaders. It didn’t work out the way that way. The so called spontaneous combustion just didn’t happen.
In fact, Pastor Jim Futrell was quite critical of Carl George. He told me that he longed to say to Carl George, ‘Show me one church that is doing it your way and that is working?’ The pastors at Fairhaven had followed George’s advice, but they felt that the program didn’t fly as it was suppose to.
The small group system is almost identical to that of Cincinnati Vineyard. In fact, they copied Cincinnati Vineyard’s bulletin board with colored coded brochures for each type of small group. The church still officially follows the Meta Model, although they have had to adapt George’s counsel and teaching. Along side of the Meta Model is a heavy dose of Serendipity. The previous small group pastor at Fairhaven, Jim Cortrell, was a teacher -trainer with Serendipity (note 86).
When I had an in-depth interview with Pastor Jim in October, 1995, he told me that there were:
- Twenty five cell groups with 300 in attendance
- A number of covenant groups with an attendance of sixty-eighty people.
- A variety of task groups with about 150 people attending
- A total of seventy-five small group leaders
From my count of the above figures, there were 530 people attending the small groups which means that less than one half of the congregations was presently involved in a small group.
Variety Of Groups
Following the lead of Cincinnati Vineyard, there are a variety of task groups (e.g., Social Care Committee, Asia Regional Team). special interest groups (e.g., Weigh Down Workshop), Bible Study groups, and cell groups which focus both on evangelism and discipleship. There are some stipulations concerning what constitutes a small group at Fairhaven Alliance Church. One of those stipulations is that you meet at least once per month. Another one is that if you want your group to be on the bulletin board in the foyer, it must be an open group.
Ongoing Leadership Training
Following the Meta Model, there is a VHS (vision, huddle, skill training) leadership meeting on a regular basis. Previously, they had held the VHS meeting twice per month, but they found that the small group leadership grew weary under such a heavy commitment load. Now they have the VHS once each month. The cell group leaders must come to the VHS, but it is optional to those who lead a Task Group, Special Interest Group, or Covenant Group.
During the first several years of using the Meta Model, Fairhaven followed the Jethro principle according to the book. Now they have relaxed some of those old standards and rely on a more personal, casual accountability structure. For example, they no longer require that the leaders turn in a report form. Pastor Jim Futrell told me that such accountability simply doesn’t work anymore in the United States.
I sensed that Fairhaven Alliance Church was committed to the overall vision and purpose of small groups. They seemed to grasp the potential and power of small groups in the church, and for that reason, were continuing their small group experiment.
Yet, I got the impression that Fairhaven was wrestling with unfulfilled expectations in their small group ministry. I sensed a disappointment that many of the promised dreams and goals of the Meta Model had not been realized. Because of this, at the time of my visit, there was a lack of clear focus with regard to their small group vision. The great variety of small groups was making it hard to provide similar ongoing leadership training and across the board requirements for leadership. There was discouragement that nearly half of the adults in the church were not involved in the small group ministry.
Pastor Futrell was very honest in telling me that the growth of the Fairhaven Alliance Church was coming from their temple ministry and not primarily from the small groups. Like so many churches experimenting with the Meta Model, the small groups primarily acted as a hook for those who were attracted to the Sunday morning worship service.
Chapter 5: U.S. Case Studies of the Pure Cell Model
Before doing an in-depth case study of Bethany World Prayer Center, I will briefly describe two more pure cell churches here in the U.S.
This church, located in the heart of California’s agricultural community, was officially organized in 1880. The church now owns property in a four block area, which includes a sanctuary that can seat 1600 people. Due to the excellent ministry of Pastor William Yaeger (1967ff), the church grew to four thousand members. However, since 1985 the church has been plateaued. In 1991, in a planned, professional manner, the baton was officially handed to Reverend Wade Estes, who became the new pastor. Rev. Wade, along with his brand new staff, has made the decision to become a pure cell church. Since 1993, the church has been transitioning into the pure cell model. The goal is to reach full transition into the pure cell model by the year 2000.
The experiment is working quite well. At the present time, 80% to 90% of the adults in the church are in cell groups. David Tan, the high school district pastor writes, “The strategy for transition into the Cell Church has only just begun, but we are already reaping some fruits. In the last few months, people who are joining the church for the first time are coming from the Home Groups: (1994:155).
The church is organized in the classical pure cell pattern, although they use titles which are more appropriate for the North American culture. At the very heart of the structure is the home group shepherd. Then there is the coach who oversees five cell leaders. The head coach oversees five coaches and finally the district pastor oversees five head coaches. At this present time, this church has five full-time district pastors.
During the first phase of transition, they were able to multiply their cell groups in three to six months. However, most of the growth came by assimilating existing members into the cell structure. During the present phase the cell growth is coming through community outreach. During this phase, the groups have one year to multiply—or be integrated into the existing cell groups.
The church is committed to cell multiplication. Pastor Tan emphatically said to me in a recent conversation over the telephone,
“Everything that has life has a cycle. As you study the cell, it must give life. If you keep a cell that is not multiplying, it will die. The choice is life and death. You must choose life or death. There is a similar 9-12 month period for the cell to multiply” (note 88)
First Baptist Church of Modesto plans to model the vital life of cell multiplication and through this strategy reach Modesto for Jesus Christ in the years to come.
Pastor Larry Kreider never intended to start a church. He tried as long as possible to integrate the van loads of young people who he had won to Christ into the existing church structures. Yet, for some reason unbeknown to him at the time, the new wine kept bursting the old, existing wineskins. Finally, Larry yielded to God’s call on his life and in 1980 started Dove Christian Fellowship.
From small, humble beginnings the church grew to over 2000 people in a ten year time period. Larry’s congregation was spread out across a seven county area of Pennsylvania. Larry describes his experiment this way,
These believers met in more than 100 cell groups during the week and on Sunday mornings met in clusters of cells (congregations) in five different locations….Our goal was to multiply the cells and celebrations beginning new Sunday morning celebrations and new cell groups in other areas as God gave the increase….During these years, churches were planted in Scotland, Brazil, and Kenya. These overseas churches were built on Jesus Christ and on these same underground house-to-house principles (1995:7).
Larry believes that multiplication and reproduction most clearly demonstrate God’s heartbeat for a lost and dying world. If we are going to be in tune with God, we must be willing and committed to rapid multiplication (note 89). Today, Dove Christian Fellowship totals 5000 believers who worship in five distinct congregation (note 90). The cell groups are the heart and base of the church. Larry describes his commitment to the pure cell paradigm of ministry in his 1995 book entitled, House To House.
In my opinion, Bethany World Prayer Center is the most successful example of the pure cell model in the United States at this time. Many other pastors believe the same. There were 1800 pastors who attended their biannual cell seminar this past June, 1996 (note 91). Bethany is following the pure cell model for ministry that is bearing fruit all over the world. Yet, many have concluded that this model does not work in the United States. Those who think such things should take look at what is happening at Bethany World Prayer Center.
To understand the growth of any church, it’s important to analyze the context. Bethany World Prayer Center is no exception.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Located right on the banks of the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge continues to draw its very sustenance from that great river. Baton Rouge was explored and developed by the French, but by the middle of the eighteenth century a number of exiled Acadians from Novia Scotia had begun to settle in the region. The culture and influence of these Acadians are still felt today (Visitor's Guide 1996:5).
There are some 450,000 in greater Baton Rouge today. Baker, a beautiful town just about 15 minutes away from Baton Rouge is consider part of greater Baton Rouge (note 92). Baton Rouge is a civil war city. War Monuments are common. The city is particularly proud to note that the longest battle of the Civil War was fought in downtown, Baton Rouge.
The people of Baton Rouge are very friendly. I personally experienced their southern warmth and hospitality. Because politeness and hospitality is still a very important virtue, neighborhood interaction and friendliness is common. One cell leader told me that while he lived in California for fifteen years he didn't even know his neighbors. Now he knows many of them.
The Christian Context
In 1989, Jimmy Swaggart used to bring more business to this town than any other business in all of Baton Rouge (note 93). In fact, in the minds of millions, Baton Rouge is associated with Jimmy Swaggart. Surely the affects of his fall has been devastating on the psyche of many in Baton Rouge.
Yet, it seemed to me that Jimmy’s brand of Pentecostalism still seems to be very much alive. I could sense some of Jimmy in the Bethany World Prayer Center. The songs had sort of a country twinge. The people rocked, shouted, and jumped in a pleasant southern fashion.
History of Bethany World Prayer Center
The background study of Bethany ‘s history helped me to understand that there was a strong foundational structure before initiating the present cell ministry. Ministires Today Magazines notes, “For many years Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana, has been know as a church strong on prayer, evangelism and missions” (1996:37). God in His sovereignty had long ago been preparing Bethany for their present , powerful ministry.
Roy Stockstill and Early Mission Vision
Roy Stockstill founded Bethany in 1963. Only two years earlier Roy, a Baptist pastor, was baptized in the Holy Spirit after hearing Dennis Bennett. He soon met John Osteen, a fellow Spirit-filled Baptist, and John instilled in Roy a love for missions (Stockstill 1992:17). Missions has been at the heartbeat of Bethany from the beginning. Every year they hold an inspiring missions conference. During the conference, the missionaries supported by Bethany are encouraged to attend and be refreshed by the Holy Spirit.
The commitment to missions at Bethany is not just surface level. It reaches down deep into the purse strings of the church. In 1963, the first money contribution from the church went to missions. Roy son, Larry, writes, "This check was to become a philosophical statement that missions giving would be the first in priority, with the belief that God would provide for the needs of the local congregation" (1992:18). Pastor Larry said, "Show me the checkbook of a church and I will show you its convictions. Just as the checkbook of a family reflects its priorities and patterns, the checkbook of a church shows where it is really willing to invest not just agree" (1992:57). Bethany World Prayer Center has been increasing its mission's giving every hear. Ministries Today states, “The church’s missions budget was $600,000 in 1985 and has increased $100,000 every year since then. This year the church will give $1.8 million to missions” (July, 1996:37). They currently give more than one-third of their budget to world-wide mission (Church Visitor’s Guide: 1996:16).
The mission priority is not only seen by the church giving but also by the structure of leadership salary. Every pastor is paid exactly the same amount—from the zone pastors to the senior pastor (note 94). Pastor Larry made it clear that the missionary philosophy of Bethany had influenced their staff salary structure.
Bethany believes in raising up home grown missionaries. Any person considering this calling must first attend the MTI school, which was formerly a three year Bible School in Louisiana that eventually moved on to Bethany's property (Stockstill 1992:29). At the present time, there is an additional requirement: Any potential missionary must first have been successful in multiplying a cell group and serving in an upper level cell leadership position (i.e., section leader, zone leader, district pastor) (note 95). Bethany currently supports more than 90 of their own missionaries who serve on more than 24 countries around the world (Church Visitor’s Guide 1996:16).
An interesting spin off from the intense mission vision at Bethany is their openness to other cultures and peoples. Bethany is located in the deep south where prejudice still resides in many people. Yet, this is not the case at Bethany.
The congregation has a mixture of about 70% white and 30% black (note 96). This might not seem revolutionary, even in the south. However, when I analyzed the social makeup of the cell leadership, I was truly amazed. Counting the cell leaders, section leaders, zone leaders, and district pastors, I discovered that 41% of these leaders were black. It’s one thing to have members of a different race sitting in the congregation, it’s quite another thing when they are in top positions of leadership in the church!
When I questioned District Pastor Bill Satterwhite about this racial mix, he made it clear to me that Roy Stockstill had always wanted to be a missionary in Africa. When he realized that he was not called to go personally, he made it one of Bethany’s early goals to reach the African American community of Baton Rouge.
Bethany World Prayer Center is located on a huge piece of property that comprises 140 acres. This land was not bought all at once. Rather, as the church caught the vision of what God wanted to do through them on a worldwide scale, more land was purchased. Located in Baker, a lovely suburb of Baton Rouge, this piece of property is laced with beautiful trees and open fields.
Seven pastors and their families live on the property, including pastor Larry and his family. Along with their parsonages, there are various building located on the property. These include:
- A huge 6000 seat sanctuary
- A missionary prayer center
- The Missionary Training Institution (MTI)
- A large Christian school (grades K-12)
- A smaller sanctuary
The Baton Passed to Larry Stockstill
Larry was saved at age sixteen. From what I understand, he was ‘messing around’ on the bleachers during one of Bethany’s evangelistic campaigns, but ended up being so convicted by the powerful preaching that night that he came running forward to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
During his studies at Oral Robert’s University he became an associate chaplain and key mission leader. He played a strategic part in sending short term missionaries around the world. In 1976, one year after graduating from ORU, Larry and his family went to Ghana, West Africa as missionaries.
However, God had his hand on Larry for even a more strategic role in missions. God wanted Larry to take over the pastorate from his father Roy Stockstill at Bethany World Prayer Center. In his new role Larry would have a direct impact on missions by raising up, training, and sending out multitudes of missionaries. Larry is now forty three years old (as of 1996) as has been at the helm of Bethany for thirteen years.
Bethany does not keep a record of how many people attend the Sunday morning worship. In fact, I caught a subtle undercurrent that such record keeping might be a bit carnal. For example, during his panel presentation at the Post-Denominational Conference, Pastor Larry made the comment that his church wasn't in the book of Numbers (counting heads), but rather was now living in the book of Acts (note 97)
From my initial observations, in just 3 ½ years since initiating their cell ministry, the church has grown from 3000 (note 98) people in attendance to some 7000 people (note 99). One of the secretaries at Bethany told me about a man who was doing a dissertation about Bethany in the year 1991. This man concluded that in 1991 there were 2400 people attending the morning worship services.
The cell ministry officially began on April, 1993 with 52 groups (made up of the warriors from the prayer ministry). By June, 1996, there were 312 cell groups, in which 70% of the adults at Bethany were attending. The official percentage concerning how the initiation of cell groups has caused the church to grow was 43%. In other words, Bethany has grown by 43% as a result of the cell group ministry. It is estimated that 1500 families have been added in the last three years and that between 25 to 30 people receive Christ every week in the cell groups (note 100).
Concerning multiplication, it took the initial 52 groups only three months to multiply. The next multiplication time frame was six months. Now the cells multiply in approximately one year (note 101).
CELL MULTIPLICATION AT BETHANY
From July, 1993 to July, 1994: 85 cells to 256, 1995
(An addition of 171 groups in thirteen months)
JULY, 1993 CELL REPORT TOTAL: 85
FEBRUARY, 94 CELL TOTAL: 177
SEPTEMBER, 1993 CELL TOTAL: 104
MARCH, 94 CELL TOTAL: 200
OCTOBER, 93 CELL TOTAL: 141
APRIL, 94 CELL TOTAL: 226
NOVEMBER, 93 CELL TOTAL: 142
MAY, 94 CELL TOTAL: 233
DECEMBER, 1993 CELL TOTAL: 147
JUNE, 94 CELL TOTAL: 243
JANUARY, 1994 CELL TOTAL: 171
JULY, 94 CELL TOTAL: 256
From August, 1994 to June, 1996: 258 to 312
(An addition of 54 groups in 22 months)
AUGUST, 94 CELL TOTAL: 258
MAY CELL TOTAL: 297
SEPTEMBER, 94 CELL TOTAL: 266
JUNE CELL TOTAL: 295
OCTOBER, 94 CELL TOTAL: 282
JULY, 95 CELL TOTAL: 300
NOVEMBER, 94 CELL TOTAL: 290
AUGUST, 95 CELL TOTAL: 304
DECEMBER, 94 CELL TOTAL: 284
SEPTEMBER, 95 CELL TOTAL: 307
JANUARY,1995 CELL TOTAL: 282
OCTOBER, 95 CELL TOTAL: 305
FEBRUARY, 95 CELL TOTAL: 286
NOVEMBER, 95 CELL TOTAL: 307
MARCH, 95 CELL TOTAL: 293
DECEMBER, 1995 CELL TOTAL: 302
APRIL, 95 CELL TOTAL: 293
JUNE, 1996 CELL TOTAL:312
From the above tables, it is apparent that the cell multiplication has slowed down. Pastor Larry justifies the slow down as a needed quality check. They were simply not reproducing trained, top quality leadership. However, they are making corrections. In the last twenty-two months, the church has also closed many groups that had not multiplied.
Bethany does keep very good records when it comes to financial contributions. In the Appendix there are several graphs that illustrate the increase in financial giving since the implementation of cell group ministry. It seems that there has been significant financial increase since the cells started.
Since Bethany World Prayer Center is an independent work, Pastor Larry has placed himself directly accountable to three presbyters who are godly pastors outside of the church. These men serve in distinct church roles, are over fifty years old, and have been in the ministry for many years. In the case of moral failure or ethical problems, these men would have complete authority to take over the work of Bethany World Prayer Center until another suitable leader was chosen (note 102).
Although there is not an elected church board in the church, there is a committee which functions much like a decision making board. This committee consists of three staff people and three deacons (note 103).
Most of Bethany’s doctrine is quite evangelical. All of the basic Christian are there (Church Visitor’s Guide 1996:6). There is nothing out of the ordinary. However, with regard to the Holy Spirit, Bethany clearly takes its stand in the Pentecostal tradition.
The doctrinal statement reads, “Every believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence (Church Visitor’s Guide 1996:6). Although I heard this doctrine only mentioned once in my five days at Bethany, I discovered that speaking in tongues is a requirement for every cell leader, from intern to district pastor. Although Pentecostal, they do not embrace the health and wealth gospel teaching (note 104).
Someone asked the question about the training of the cell leaders. Larry responded by saying that the leaders practically receive too much training. He then mentioned his verse by verse Wednesday night meeting, his Sunday morning preaching, and the Wednesday night training. However, there is no Sunday School training or TEE training. They do have a ministerial training center on the property, but this institute is for those who are called into full-time ministry. This is clearly spelled out in the entrance requirements, "Only those who are actually going into the ministry attend" (Stockstill 1992:92).
Bethany is a church that prioritizes the living out of the Scriptures in daily life. No where could this be seen more clearly than in their generous spirit. This church was the most generous church that I have ever witnessed. First, the conference was totally free. There was free food, free tapes, free handouts, and just a general generous spirit in each church member and minister (note 107). They would literally bend over backward to meet our needs.
Bethany has long had a policy of no offerings on Sunday mornings. The people simply place their tithes and offerings in boxes on the way out of the sanctuary. There is no pressure whatsoever. No one could accuse this church of begging for money.
There was a very definite church culture that prevailed at Bethany World Prayer Center. I noticed this phenomenon by the unique language at the church. Words such as 'anointing', 'Holy Ghost' (instead of Holy Spirit), and 'broken wings' (people experiencing difficulties) were just a few of the more common expressions. Everyone is called brother or sister.
At Bethany the King James Version is still the Bible of choice. Whenever a Bible verse was projected on the overhead screen, it was the KJV version. Pastor Larry read and preached from the KJV and thus modeled to the rest of the flock the priority of that version. The KJV vocabulary was evident in the repeated use of such phrases as Holy Ghost and anointing.
There is definitely a gift attraction at Bethany. The staff act very much like their pastor, Larry Stockstill. I noticed this in their humor, preaching style, and mannerisms. All of them continually ask the audience to shout a louder amen, repeat something to their neighbor, or raise their hands to heaven. Since, many of the current staff ministers were converted at Bethany, they have probably not known any other style. They all have that charismatic edge.
Bethany has taken meticulous notes about their cell history (some 35 pages). I have included here only the a few excerpts that I felt were important.
Early Influences On Larry
It was in 1992 that the original idea for Cells was introduced to Bro. Larry by Victor and Ruth Ann Martinez, who direct the Faith, Hope and Love Center in El Carmen, Mexico. They had begun a Cell Ministry in their church based on the concept used in El Salvador by Pastor Sergio Solarzano.
Bill Clinton was elected President in November, 1992. On election night the Lord spoke to Bro. Larry that He was about to move Bethany into something new. At the end of November , Larry read Dr. Ralph W. Neighbour's book, Where Do We Go From Here?. It was this book that solidified his direction. He was convinced that God had spoken to him regarding a Cell Group Church. His next step, in December 1992, was to discuss his convictions with Bethany Staff Pastors. Most saw the benefits and this conviction found strong approval among them.
Training Of Early Cell Leaders
In February , 1993 Bro. Larry began training the 500 members of the Gideon's Army prayer group for 10 weeks on his vision, the implementation of cell ministry, personal responsibility of each leader, and the church commitment to this new cell concept. The Gideon's Army formed the original group of Cell members and leaders.
In the first year of cell ministry, great care was taken to train and care for the initial leadership. Here are some from the early history of cell ministry at Bethany:
- On May 5, 1993, Pastor Billy Hornsby began Cell Group Leadership Training on Wednesday evenings for over 300 Leaders and Interns. This 13-week training
course was designed to help prepare potential leaders to fill the slots of leadership that would be created by the multiplication of the cells.
- On May 5, through July 28, 1993, there was a Wednesday Prayer Cell Leadership Training, taught by Pastor Billy Hornsby. Subjects covered were:
1. OLD WINE SKINS -AND PARADIGMS 05-05-93
2. WHY BECOME A CELL-BASED CHURCH 05-12-93
3. HOW DOES THE CELL GROUP CHURCH FUNCTION? 05-19-93
4. LIFE CYCLE OF A CELL 05-26-93
5. OIKOSES: L RECOGNIZE L PENETRATE L BUILD 06-02-93
6. HANDLING PROBLEM SITUATIONS (DEALING WITH THE "ANTAGONIST") 06-09-93
7. THE HEALTHY CELL 06-16-93
8. THE SHEPHERD'S LIFESTYLE 06-23-93
9. HEALING THE HURTING 06-30-93
10. THE CHRISTIAN'S RELATIONSHIP TO THE WORLD 07-07-93
11. CHARACTERISTICS OF LEADERSHIP 07-14-93
PLUS - TECHNIQUES OF GROUP LEADERSHIP
12. REVIEW/FACILITATION/VISITATION 07-21-93
13. SHARE GROUPS & LIFELINE 07-28-93
- On January 22, 1994 there was the first all-day Saturday Cell Intern Training class.
Trips To Cell Churches
Throughout the history of cell involvement at Bethany, I noticed one reoccurring theme. The church was willing to learn from those churches already involved in cell ministry. Here are some excerpts:
- From March 1-7, 1993 Pastor Larry Stockstill and four key staff members went to Singapore for the International Conference on Cell Group Churches hosted by the Faith Community Baptist Church. During this time Bro. Billy Hornsby (‘second in command’ under pastor Larry) had lunch with Dr. Ralph Neighbour.
- On March 7-10, 1993 Pastors Larry Stockstill and Mike Ware travel to Seoul, Korea to visit Dr. David Yonggi Cho's church. While there they traveled to Prayer Mountain on the border of N. and S. Korea.
- On April 18, 1993 Dr. David Yonggi Cho speaks at Bethany World Prayer Center during the Sunday morning worship service.
- On June 5, 1993, Pastor Sergio Solarzano, pastor of the largest cell church in Latin Ameica-120,000 people (5000 cells), speaks at Bethany during the 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services.
- On June 27, 1994 Bro. Billy Hornsby travels to Portland, Oregon to Pastor Dale Gallaway's church.
- From December 1-7, 1993 Karen Hurston gives a three day seminar on cells (note 108). She spoke to the congregation on Sunday morning.
- On April 27, 1995, eight pastors travel to El Salvador to learn from the cell-based church there.
The main initial obstacle to the church accepting the cell concept was the paradigm shift from a program-based ministry to the Cell Group Church ministry. The idea that Cell Groups would be the basic unit of the church instead of just an addendum to the existing church was a foreign concept to most of the congregation.
Initiation Of Cells
On April 11, 1993 the church initiates the cell groups. There were 518 total attendance in a total of 53 groups. There were 5 people saved and 1 water-baptized.
Immediately the church was divided into four districts.
- District 1 , Central, Greenwell Springs, Baker an area north of Baton Rouge to the state
- line, and east to the Amite River was pastored by Bro. Ted Long, with Jonathon Samuel and Gordon Atwell assisting as Zone Pastors. District 1 had a total of 22 Cell groups with an attendance of 182 members and 46 visitors.
- District 2 , Pastored by Ken Ellis encompassed the area south of Baker, Scotlandville, Zion City, Southern University to Airline Hwy. They began with 8 cell groups with 39 members and 21 visitors.
- District 3 , Pastored by Jake Benton included the areas of downtown Baton Rouge to Airline Hwy. and I-10. They began with 10 groups, with 68 members and 21 visitors.
- District 4 , Pastored by Cell Coordinator Billy Hornsby included all southern areas below I-10, and Florida Blvd. to Airline; it also stretched across the Mississippi River north to New Roads and east to Denham Springs. Rick Bezet, Rick Zachary and Ron Kairdolf assisted as Zone Pastors. They began with a total of 13 groups which included 116 members and 25 visitors.
Various principles were discovered and added to make the cell ministry more effective. These included:
- "Spiritual Mapping" materials were distributed to the cells. "Prayer walks" in the neighborhoods begin.
- Cell Leader mailboxes installed in the District Offices.
- District Pastors reports formatted.
- Cell Leader Application forms made.
- Need for a Coordinator's Office Report form discussed. This would be a form that would combine all the statistics that the different Districts accumulated each week to provide an over-all picture of numbers and growth.
- Cell Group Weekly Report forms ordered.
On June, 1993, only two months after initiating the cell ministry, clear, bold goals were made for cell group multiplication until the year 2000. Here are the goals of district 4 under the care of Bro. Billy Horsby:
- 30 Cells by Oct. 1,993
- 50 Cells by Apr. 1,994
- 80 Cells by Oct. 1,994
- 100 Cells by Apr. 1,995
- 135 Cells by Oct. 1,995
- 175 Cells by Apr. 1,996
- 200 Cells by Oct. 1,996
- 550 Cells by Apr. 2,000
Initial Cell Conference at Bethany
In June, 1994, just a little over one year after initiating the cell ministry, Bethany held their first cell conference called, The Cell Church in America. There were 568 registered from all parts of the USA (including a few from Mexico and one from Holland). On January 18, 1995 Bethany held their second conference with over 800 pastors present.
From the beginning, Bethany has intimately connected prayer with the cell ministry. Here are a few examples:
- On May 18, 1993, just one month after the cell ministry began, Bethany ’s missionaries were assigned to each Cell group for active prayer duty.
- On September 10, 1994 Touch groups [the name for their cells] pray for Baton Rouge area churches. They are encouraged to call the two churches assigned to their group to find out prayer needs and let them know that prayer will be focused on their congregations.
- On September 17, 1994 the Touch groups pray for unreached people groups, missionaries and nations assigned to them on a permanent basis by the Missions Office. The names of the people groups were obtained from Dr. Peter Wagner.
- On September 24, 1994 the Touch groups pray for government leaders, specifically the President, Vice President, Governor and two names each from a list of Louisiana government officials.
Cell Groups Perform Church Tasks
From early on there was a vision to involve the cell groups in the tasks and ministries of the church. For example:
- On September 1, 1993 the Cell Leaders begin to minister during altar calls. They prepare by using Bro. Jake Benton's Training Material for Altar Workers.
- On January 1, 1995 Bethany services begin to be staffed by TOUCH Ministry members. From the nursery to the ushers, greeters to the parking lot attendants, each District and Zone send volunteers to man the different areas of service on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Principles Derived from Bethany ’s Cell History
Here are a few key principles that can be learned from Bethany’s history:
- The leadership studied other cell models around the world before initiating their own model. Several of these experts were invited to the church to teach about cell ministry (note 109).
- The cell leaders were well-trained before beginning the cell system and then they were trained on an ongoing basis.
- The church was committed to the pure cell system from the very beginning (e.g., districts were set up, mail boxes for cell leaders, multiplication emphasized, etc.)
- The system was fine tuned as needs were discovered.
- Prayer was a very important factor in the cell system from the very beginning
- The cells became more involved in the various ministry tasks of the church
- Goals were established for cell growth.
This section reveals the very heart of Bethany’s cell structure. It covers the most important core principles of the cell ministry. There is a fine line between the cell philosophy and the cell system. Under this heading, I will try to cover the broader concepts that steer the more practical rules of the cell system.
Three Major Components or Purposes
At Bethany, the reasons why cells meet together are clearly stated. They are:
- To get to know God
- To get to know each other
- To multiply
These three aspects might seem simple, but at Bethany, they form the very reason for the cell group’s existence.
Emphasis on the Components of Cell Life
Unlike the Meta Model that defines the small group by its size, the emphasis at Bethany is on the three major purposes or components of the cell. If these elements or purposes are not actively present in the group, then it is not a cell group. At Bethany, each group is defined by these three principles. Said in a different way, the components of the cell groups are:
- Pastoral care in each group
- Evangelism as a team (net versus hook)
- Exercise of the gifts in the cell group
At Bethany, the cells are a microcosm of the church.
Means to Accomplish the Purpose of the Cell Group
If the components of getting to know God, each other, and multiplication, define what a cell group is and what it does, there are also three key ways to fulfill those components:
- Partnership : The group is a team, not a group of spectators. From the beginning the cell group realizes that they are called to fulfill a goal that is greater than themselves—the goal of reaching the lost for Jesus Christ. This goal drives them on as a unit and unites them under one purpose. As the cell group walks toward that united purpose of cell multiplication, they will get to know each other in a more intimate way.
- Prayer : Prayer invades every part of the cell group. Prayer to God through worship is the starting point. Then there is prayer for missionaries, unreached people groups, and especially family and friends.
- Penetration : Dr. Neighbour has popularized the Greek word oikos which means household (1992:60-65). . The goal of each cell is to penetrate society through reaching out to friends, family, and loved ones.
Importance of Terminology
There is an emphasis at Bethany on using the proper phrases. For example, the word ‘division’ is avoided. There is already a natural tendency to become ingrown instead of outreach oriented. The last thing that cell members (who are already having second thoughts about starting a new group) need to hear about is their upcoming ‘division.’ Speaking of this negative terminology, Ric Lehman, says, “You ‘divide’ people with barriers like the Berlin Wall or the Iron Curtain. Because of the…negative connotations, we exchanged these words for more life-giving words or phrases like releasing a new leader, multiplication, and birthing (1994:8).
Bethany also emphasizes the importance of naming the group. Their counsel is not to call the cell group a care group. By doing so, the purpose of outreach and penetration very subtly takes a back seat. They call their groups, TOUCH groups because their purpose is to touch the lives of the community around them.
Every Person a Potential Cell Leader
As was note earlier, after multiplying so rapidly in the beginning, Bethany ran out of leaders. They have learned in a new way that:
- Every new person is a potential leader.
- Start your leadership discipleship track from day one.
- Be willing to equip potential leaders immediately. Paul didn't take long period of time to equip leadership.
The Cells Must be the Key Program in the Church
We assigned all competing programs an attrition life span so they could be phased out as the cells were able to take over their functions. Within two years, we no longer needed a separate follow-up ministry, ministry to the bereaved, altar ministry and so on. All of those functions were handled by the cells (July, 1996, 38).
Several key principles that Pastor Larry has discovered include:
- You can't have your cake and eat it too. In other words, you can’t expect to administer all of the normal programs in the church and have an effective cell ministry
- You must focus on the cells and not anything else.
- Any event that the pastor sponsors takes away from the cell church. There is a certain train that takes place when other programs are allowed to enter. An event can be like an infection. It could drain the church.
- They keep events to a minimum. They only prioritize their yearly missions conference. Wedding, funerals, etc. are done by the zone and district pastors.
- All programs must be replaced by the ministry in the cell groups (note 111)
- It's the same vision. No one competes for the budget in the staff meeting. It's a powerful concept when everyone is on the same page.
Perhaps it’s best to view programs and cells like DOS and WINDOWS 95. Bill Gates took software that did not relate to each other and gave them a common window. Larry says,
Under the Windows operating system, the programs are still there, but they are little icons inside a new environment. In the same way, cells are not a separate program, but an all-encompassing environment….As you look on the ‘screen’ of your church, you can still see a youth ministry, singles ministry or follow-up ministry, but they are now there as cells. The ministry functions are still being served, but with relationship-based cells instead of volunteer based programs and activities. Best of all, there is a common ministry environment that each cell shares with the rest of the church ( Ministries Today July, 1996:39).
Predictability and Similarity
The groups at Bethany are similar, predictable, and repeatable. Quality control is the issue here. During one session the point was made how that McDonald’s hamburgers are the same. They don’t allow every franchise to make an individualized hamburger. McDonald’s guards the quality by requiring each hamburger to be identical. According to Bethany, each cell group needs to be teach the same thing, have the same vision, and follow a similar (not identical) format. The purpose is to pass down a similar recipe to the intern, so that he will know exactly what to do.
Sharing, Encouraging, Producing and Protection
One important illustration at Bethany that is heard often among the cell leaders is the illustration of the flock of geese:
The first reason that a flock of geese fly as a flock is because they can rotate leadership. The first goose has to get the major impact of the wind. But they can change roles. The point: Cells take the burden from a few people and spread it to many.
The second reason is to honk at each other. They honk because they can encourage each other. That's why they honk. The point: We need to meet together to encourage each other.
The third reason is that geese fly 71% faster when they are in a flock than when they are alone. The point: We are more productive in a cell than by ourselves.
The fourth thing, if a goose is shot, two geese escort that goose until it recovers or dies. If it recovers they join the next flock that flies by. The point: Pastoral care takes place within the cell.
Lack of Pressure
When Bethany began transitioning into the cell model some three years ago, no one was pressured to join a cell group. The pastors never insisted that all of the members had to be in a group or they were ‘second class members’. Larry states, “A common pitfall is for enthusiastic leaders to force cell groups on the congregation, rather than starting something successful and letting it gradually replace the existing programs and structures” ( Ministries Today July, 1996:38). He goes on to say,
We consistently focus our attention on new converts and visitors: the ‘growing edge’ of the church where the least resistance to relationships is found. Gradually, many of the ‘late adopters’ have seen the benefits of a cell relationship and are becoming involved. Now about 65 percent of the congregation attend a cell each week. At the beginning of the transition, we informed the congregation that no one was second-class Christian if they were not in a cell. We do require our staff to be in cells, strictly for the increased accountability they need in leadership. However, a rank-and-file member feels no direct pressure to join a group ( Ministries Today July, 1996:38).
In the previous section I tried to set forth some of the key reasons for cell-based ministry that I heard and saw at Bethany World Prayer Center during my five day stay with them. Now I will cover some of the nuts and bolts of the cell ministry at Bethany.
Senior Pastor Involvement
An assistant pastor cannot inspire the people like the senior pastor. In order to truly lead the cell ministry, Pastor Larry does the following:
- Prepares the cells lesson each week
- Participates in a different cell group each week
Pastor Larry doesn’t let them know beforehand if he is coming or not. He just drops in on them. Oftentimes it’s the best way to see firsthand whether or not his ideas (cell lessons) really work. It's going from the ivory tower to the real thing.
He has learned from going to these events. He went to one group and the lady happened to be using a white board in the lesson and prayer time. Larry was so impressed that he ordered 300 boards for the cell groups. At another meeting he noticed that the worship songs cassette tape that the church had prepared was not user friendly. He immediately had that tape redone.
- He ties the cell ministry into his Sunday morning message
- He encourages with fresh vision all of the cell leaders every Wednesday night
According to Larry supervision is just that—super vision. On Wednesday he tries to pump them up with an understanding of the importance of their role.
- When there is a cell multiplication, Pastor Larry introduces the new cell before the entire church.
- It is Larry’s role to guard the church against subtle programs creeping in.
- He is the main speaker during the cell seminar at Bethany World Prayer Center
- He meets with his cell staff each week
Accountability to Leadership and Authority
They require that each leader fill out a report form each week. In this way, the top leadership know what is happening in the cell groups and each leader is held responsible.
Writing the Lesson
Pastor Larry took over the responsibility of making the questions because he felt that those done by the cell leaders were oftentimes done too quickly. Larry now writes the lesson, but then he gives the lesson to a team of people. This team fire the questions at each other to determine their effectiveness. Through this process the questions are often edited and reedited. In the end, they come up with four questions that will really make the small group relevant and powerful
At Bethany, they believe that the cell groups must be family oriented. The family is already fragmented enough in society, so the reasoning is that the cells should help bring the family together. Therefore, Bethany does not allow women's or men's groups to meet by themselves. However, if certain people within a normal family oriented cell groups wants to meet on another night, that is acceptable.
Normally, the children stay in the cell group for the praise and worship time. Then they will go to a room in the house where they are taught a lesson, shown a video, color, or play. The cell members rotate as teachers of the children. There are some 1000 children in cell groups each week.
Format of the Cell
Normally the cell format uses the following order:
- 15 minutes of icebreaker
- 40 minutes of lesson (topical and always has a text)
- 15 minutes of application time
One of the great strengths of the cell system is the training that takes place within the group. New converts are assigned a mentor who takes him or her through the Leadership Development Training (LDT). The training system takes on the following order:
- New convert receives individual follow up by member of the cell group
- New convert takes new believer’s class on Wednesday night
- New convert receives more hands on training within the cell group with the intention of making that person a cell leader apprentice and eventually a cell leader.
Bethany has designed their own music tapes for each group. One of the cell groups that I visited was using this tape with effectiveness.
Follow Up Of New Converts And Visitors
The process up follow-up for first time visitors goes something like this:
- Visitors fill out a card
- The card is funneled to a cell leader according to zip code.
- The cell leader then goes to the home of that person with a loaf of bread to give to the person as a gift. All of this takes place within 24 hours. The person might pray for the visitor
- The cell leader invites the person to attend the cell group and church
Becoming Fishers of Men/Prayer Triplets
Each member of the cell group is encouraged to reach out to friends and neighbors. For example:
- Cell members are asked to spend one hour per week with non-Christians
- Cell members are encouraged to invite friends and family versus strangers. The goal is simply to ask people to meet a group of your friends. You don't catch a fish by telling them what you're doing
- Cell members are instructed that their bait is helpfulness. Everybody can be helpful. If someone will just be helpful to those who are lost and hurting, there will be fruit.
One of the marvelous things that I noticed at Bethany was how the cell ministry brought a unity of vision and purpose to the church.
Pastors Secretaries, Leaders, and Members Doing the Same Thing
This is the stated goal of the church. Before the cell system took root at Bethany, there was a constant battle to interrelate programs. According to Billy Hornsby, there was such difficulty trying to divide the pulpit time, the budget, the pastor's attention, etc. He mentioned how that the pastors were constantly competing with one another.
However, now the cell groups are everyone's department. When everyone is working toward the same thing, there is no competition. The cell groups bring synergy.
According to Pastor Hornsby, the cell group concept gives the church a better understanding of what the body of Christ is doing. When the church moves, it moves in unison. Pastor Larry says,
Our staff is broken down into five geographical districts and twelve zones. The 20 pastors do nothing but pastor, motivate and evangelize through the 15 to 25 groups each is responsible for. In staff meetings we now have nothing else to discuss but cells. With everyone on the same page in our approach to ministry, cells have become our common environment of church life ( Ministries Today July, 1996:40)
The administration system is very much like all of the cell churches around the world. The basic building block is the cell leader and his intern. Over the cell leader is a section leader. The section leader can have up to five cell leaders under his or her care. However, I heard from one zone pastor that its best to have three cell leaders under the care of the section leader.
Over the section leader is the zone pastor. The zone pastor might have eight sections under his care. I believe that the maximum is ten for one zone leader. Over the zone leaders are the district pastors. There are between five and eight district pastors at Bethany. These district and zone pastors serve five districts and fourteen zones. Each district has approximately three zones (although this varies). The youth and college and career function like districts but they are not included among the five. The reason for this is to keep them more homogenous rather than by geographical location. The five districts are divided geographically. When a new visitor comes to church or someone is saved, that person is assigned to a cell group according to the person’s zip code.
The districts are congregations within themselves. Each district might have 250-350 active cell participants. The district pastor and the zone pastors perform weddings, funerals, visits, counseling, etc. for the members of their district.
There is also a coordinator who serves directly under Pastor Larry. This coordinator blends the focus of the distinct districts into a unified whole.
Equal Opportunity to be on Staff
How does one become a section leader, zone leader, or a district pastor? First, everyone must start as a cell leaders. Everyone has equal opportunity. The key is fruitfulness in ministry. If the person is successful in multiplying his or her cell group, there is immediate recognition of God's hand upon his or her life. Obviously, the call of God also plays a role, but that call must be seen by the fruit.
Many times during the seminar did I hear the importance of evangelism in the cell groups. Larry made the comment that fellowship comes naturally for a cell group; it’s outreach that must be encouraged and maintained.
With regard to evangelism, Bethany copies the example of the 100,000+ cell-based Misión Elim in El Salvador. They instill vision in their leadership by constantly repeating these principles:
- I have a purpose
- My purpose is winning souls
- I fulfill my purpose best in a group
- I will never be satisfied until I fulfill my purpose
- I have no promise of tomorrow
From what I understand, they actually shout these principles to one another.
Seeker Sensitive Night in the Cell Group
Another important concept of evangelism that Bethany has learned from La Misión Elim in El Salvador is alternating the emphasis of the group meeting from edification to evangelism on a regular basis. In other words, one week, the groups will be seeker sensitive and directed to non-Christians. The following week, the cell will focus on the believers. The week that the cell is seeker focused or seeker sensitive, the leadership will plan a variety of activities. For example, at Bethany:
- Sometimes they will have a service oriented week
- Sometimes they will have a video night
- Sometimes they will have a Mother's Day outreach, or Father's Day outreach, or Vietnam Veteran outreach.
Missions through the Cells
Bethany has not lost their zeal for missions. That zeal is simply redirected through the cells groups. This summer (1996), they will send six teams of cell leaders for three week, on site visits to their unreached people groups ( Ministries Today July, 1996: 38). At Bethany’s conference I heard about one cell church in Singapore which is sending 140 cell groups (with all of their cell members) to unreached people groups. According to pastor Larry, all growing churches around the world emphasize prayer, cells, and missions. The ultimate goal of Bethany is to send cell so plant churches among unreached people groups.
The pastors at Bethany make it very clear to the cell leaders, “Don't allow your people to think that they are going to stay together forever.” Rather, cell multiplication is taught as the most natural thing for a cell to do. The pastors teach that God places in everything the ability to reproduce. In every seed there is the ability to reproduce itself; Cells are a living organism that have the capacity to reproduce. God's first words to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply. The district pastor tell their people to reproduce themselves. They teach that this is the true foundation of the cells.
Why some groups multiply and others do not is one of the key questions in my Ph.D. research. I asked some of these same questions at Bethany.
Reasons behind Cell Multiplication
What is the key behind cell group multiplication? I asked five people why some cells multiply and why others do not.
- The first man had multiplied his group six times. His name is Carl Everett. He is now Zone Pastor of District 5. Even though he’s extremely shy, he had been very successful as a cell leader. I asked Carl the secret to his success. He said, “It’s simple: prayer, prayer, and more prayer.” Carl would fast the day of his cell group and would not eat until the refreshment time afterwards. This type of Spirit-led openness was common at Bethany.
- I talked with another cell leader who also mentioned prayer as the chief reason behind cell multiplication
- I talked with a zone pastor (on staff) who told me that he believes that the difference is one word: commitment. He felt that those cell leaders who have a higher rate of multiplication understand the ramifications of multiplication. They understand what they are doing and they know it will cost a lot of time and energy.
- I talked to a section leader during the night when a group under his care was about to multiply. There must have been 30 people at the meeting. This section leader felt that the key difference was the love and friendliness of the leader. He felt that a leader must reach out and meet people if they hope for their groups to multiply.
- I talked to another section leader who also led a group and had multiplied his group. He felt that there were a number of variables. It was hard for him to pinpoint one.
Possible Reasons for Stagnation
I was in one cell group at Bethany which had not multiplied, although they had been together for more than one year. There was one particular female member (studying law) who had previously been part of several cell groups that had all multiplied. I asked her to analyze the difference between her previous cell groups and her current cell group which had not multiplied.
She told me that they had invited several people to the present group, but those people had not stayed. However, when I asked her if all the people from her previous groups stayed, she said no. She did notice, however, that in the previous groups, there were more visitors. In other words, they had tried more times until they found success.
This suspicion was somewhat confirmed when I participated on Friday night in another group which was celebrating the birth of a new group (multiplication). The section leader testified how that when they only had six people and were earnestly trying all of the 'right things' to do, nothing was happening. Yet, they kept on trying. They kept on praying. They kept on inviting. Suddenly, it gelled. Some key people were added who reached out to others. The mix came together. In that group I met about four people who had come to Christ within the last four months. For at least three of them, they had come to know Christ in the cell group.
Homogeneity of The Group Contributes to Success
One aspect of cell multiplication which I would like to analyze more is homogeneity. For example, on Friday, the group that was multiplying was thoroughly homogeneous. On Thursday, the group we visited had not grown. It was frustrated. I also noticed that this particular group was heterogeneous. I noticed that the two black people in the group talked quite a bit, while the others were more apt to listen.
My theory (and only a theory) is that the reason that the heterogeneous group did not grow is because the visitors were not attracted to come back due to the lack of similarity among the members. In other words, like attracts like. As McGavran said, “Men like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic, or class barriers,” (1990: 223). The heart of this principle is summed up by Rainer, “First, rapid evangelization takes place best when people of a culture share their faith in Jesus Christ with others within their own culture. Second, Christians must not insist that a person abandon his or her culture in order to become a Christian. Such is the essence of the homogeneous unit principle” (1993:260,261)
It seems to me that the lack of cultural attraction is one important factor behind the slow growth in the Thursday night group and the rapid growth in the Friday night group.
This possibility was strengthened when Pastor Larry presented four groups on Sunday morning who had given birth to four new groups. Each one of the groups was homogeneous. Two were completely white and two were completely black. Here, I’m simply making an observation, not promoting a principle. I for one believe that the today’s racial reconciliation movement is sorely needed. However, when a cell naturally reaches out along similar cultural lines, it does seem to grow more rapidly and naturally.
Five Stages of Cell Development and Multiplication
These five stages are regularly taught to the cell leaders at Bethany. These stages of the cell which leads to reproduction are the following:
1. The Learning Stage:
The cell starts as a blob of protoplasm. It just starts with new people looking at each other. The first stage of a cell in the human body is like that. During this stage it’s important to emphasize the ice-breaker. The time frame of the learning stage is approximately one month.
2. The Loving Stage
The chromosomes in a cell begin to pair. They look like tiny xxs throughout the cell. In the church cell group, this stage might be called the conflict stage. In the second month of the small group’s life cycle, the mask starts coming off. When the person forgets the potato chips, everyone else has to love that person. If you don't know that there will be conflict, people are going to be very discouraged. The loving stage also takes about one month.
3. Linking Stage
In a human cell, the chromosomes that are freely floating around suddenly begin to link in a north and south formation. In the same way, the people in the cell group begin to find their role about the third month. Someone is good with the new converts, others can lead worship, others are great at visiting others, bringing refreshments, etc. This is a good time to train people in evangelism. This linking stage takes about one month.
4. Launching Stage
The cells begin to move to an east, west position. They are getting ready to launch. In the same way, in the church cell, at this point, the people are ready to evangelize. They are ready to reach out. They have left the other three stages behind them. The launching stage takes place during the fourth, fifth, sixth, and maybe, even to the seventh month.
This is the fifth stage of all development. During this stage, the cell must multiply. In fact, at Bethany, they doesn't allow a cell to live more than one year. Something is wrong with a cell that does not multiply after one year. As Pastor Larry said, “Usually, a group that only has four people sitting around looking at each other after one year are quite happy to leave get out of there!” The leaving stage lasts up to one year.
Dissolving a Cell that has not Multiplied
Everyone knows at Bethany that if the cell has not multiplied within one year, it will be integrated into the existing cell groups. For the integration to take place as naturally as possible, certain points should be emphasized:
- There must be clear communication with the cell leader.
- The group itself does not need to feel that it has done something wrong. It hasn’t.
- The section leader and zone leader need to graft the group that has not multiplied into a healthy group in order to give it an excellent opportunity to experience multiplication.
Various Ways to Multiply
Bethany has developed various principles that help in the multiplication process:
- The part of the cell that is going to form a new group begins to meet in the same home, but in different rooms. This helps the two groups to experience what it will be like when they actually do give birth.
- The cells are multiplied along relational lines. That is, those people who have formed natural links to each other usually share the new group together. If someone has invited a visitor, he or she will go with their invitee.
- Cell multiplication should be festive events. At Bethany, they celebrate cell multiplication like parties. They might go to a park and have a big barbecue. They will celebrate with a birthday cake.
- They avoid terminology like divide.
- The old and new group are presented on Sunday morning with prayer and celebration.
At Bethany, the wilderness church is the best example concerning how to pastor a church. They are shepherding people exactly like Moses did. Pastor Larry remembers the poor altar call card that had to pass through so many loops before Bethany implemented cell groups. It was truly a miracle if the card didn’t get lost. Today, everything is different. For example:
- Immediately the cell leaders are there for the new convert
- The cell leaders are praying in back throughout the altar call
- The cell leaders hear when the altar call is taking place. They then stand behind the new believers
- Within 24 hours of the person accepting Christ a zone pastor and the cell pastor visit the new convert.
- Discipleship training starts the first time that the new Christian enters the cell group
- If and when they complete that LDT six week course, they can then enter the class on Wednesday night.
- The goal is for them to eventually become cell leaders.
One thing that greatly impressed me about Bethany was the racial mix between leaders and members. These are not strictly homogeneous groups according to racial and cultural backgrounds. There is a mixture of black and white leadership and a mixture of black and white cell membership. No attempt is made by the church to make the groups more homogeneous, although I believe in practice they probably are. However, they do direct people to a cell group according to geographical location and not according to racial mix.
I went around to the various district offices at Bethany. There are five. I counted the number of cell groups and section leaders. I came up with 363 of these leaders. I then counted the number of black leaders among these 363 cell leaders and section leaders. I counted and zone pastors. My goal was determine the race mix among the cell leaders. 149 out of the 363 cell and section leaders were black (41%) Really, 149 is not high enough because some 20 of the cards did not have their photos. Therefore, it would be more correct to say that 155 out of the 363 principle leaders are black. This is in a church where 70% of those who attend are white! I also counted 22 district pastors and zone pastors. Out of those 22, six of them were black.
This statistics are highly significant to me. It means that half of the cell and section leaders are black. Could this be the reason why the cells group are growing so rapidly. Generally speaking, black culture is more friendly and family oriented than white culture. It is also true that the blacks oftentimes live in the poorer sections of the city. Generally speaking, in these areas, there is a greater openness to accept an invitation to come to a special event or to receive a free hand out (note 113).
There is always a foundation class taking place. However, to enter that class, you must be in a cell group and must have completed the six week LDT beginning course. They are working on three more modules to complete the training of the new Christian. Several points were made about leadership:
- Originally, they just tried to get the best people
- Everyone now is on a level playing field. Everyone starts with a cell group
- A race has an automatic sifting affect.
- You never know what someone can do until you put a bat in his hand.
- Sometimes people talk a good walk but do not walk a good talk. On the other hand, there are those who are very effective, but might be passed over due to personality, etc. The cell system places everyone on the same playing field.
- One carpenter multiplied a group six times in one year. He soon became a full time
- staff person at Bethany. Bethany has now hired some 12 people who were sitting in
- the pews before the cells started. When they got into cells, the cells started
- multiplying; Now they are section leaders or district leaders. According to pastor
- Larry, the cell system has finally given this church the ability to decide which leaders
- are truly effective.
- They don't even send missionaries until they're at district pastor level.
- They have various levels:
- Apprentice (little jobs)
- Intern (there are 10 factors; The cell is not ready until the intern is ready). When the intern is ready and there are enough people, then the cells will multiply.
- The leader then can lead a group.
Evaluation of Bethany
I believe that Bethany is the church to watch in the future. They have bold plans. Larry states, “At Bethany we fully intend to be ready with 1,000 cell groups by the year 2000. That will enable us to assimilate and disciple 1,000 new converts per month” ( Ministries Today July, 1996:40).
I have only positive comments to make about Bethany. They have made their cells the top priority and the result is an outstanding pastoral care system, a powerful evangelistic outreach, and an administrative system that is second to none. I only hope that more churches will follow their example.
In this tutorial I have endeavored to analyze the major strategies of cell-based ministry today. I have concluded that there are two major models today: the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model. Both models stress the virtues of small group ministry in the church today. However, the Meta Model is an adaptation of cell principles for the North American church while the Pure Cell Model has more of a world wide following.
This tutorial has pointed out that the Pure Cell Model is an all encompassing system of pastoral care, church administration, evangelism, and leadership training. The Pure Cell Model places the cell at the heart of the church , and makes it the key program. Those churches that are based on cells possess many similar characteristics. For this reason, is quite easy to categorize and analyze these similar patterns and characteristics.
On the other hand, the Meta Model tends to be less clear. Variety and flexibility are key values, and therefore it’s harder to identify one particular type of Meta Church. In the Meta Church, the cell is not the driving force behind the church. Normally, the seeker-sensitive church services are the major tools for evangelistic outreach. The cell groups are seen as a way to care for hose who have already come to Christ through the church services.
Further study is needed to determine the place that culture plays in the Pure Cell Model and whether or not it can be effective in every cultural setting.
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- One of my tutorials will be dedicated strictly to how culture affects cell-based ministry. Specifically from a Latin American perspective, but also looking at how North American and Korean culture has influenced small group ministry.
- In these three countries, there are well-known cell seminars conducted from the major cell churches.
- Writer’s such as Carl George, Dale Galloway, and Ralph Neighbour use Paul Cho’s church as their primary example of success.
- This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 largest churches claims that there are 320,000 people attending Cho’s church each week with an additional 280,000 meeting in satellite locations. However, Karen Hurtson’s recent case study analysis ( Growing the World’s Largest Church, 1995) declares that there are 720,000 members at the Yoido Full Gospel Church (17).
- During his 1984 church growth lectures at Fuller Seminary, Cho oftentimes mentioned that the cell group ministry has been the key to the amazing growth that they have experienced.
- This number includes Catholics. The Protestant church stands at eight percent.
- This information comes from Jim Egli of Touch Ministry, Ralph Neighbour’s organization. He told me by telephone (week of June 24, 1996) that about 50 of the 6000 people who attend the cell seminar at the Faith Community Baptist Church are from North America.
- Dr. Ralph Neighbour mentioned this statistic in his presentation at the Post-Denominational Seminar on May 22, 1996.
- The 10,000 member Faith, Love, and Peace Church in Mexico sends their staff to the Elim Church for training.
- She has become very well known for her expertise in small group ministry in general and in particular for being the spokesperson for this model. She received her doctorate from Fuller Seminary and was also a professor there. Now she is the president of Eastern Seminary.
- I’m referring to the 1993 Serendipity manual that is geared for the upper leadership in small groups. In this manual Coleman distinguishes between the various types of small group ministry. In his earlier manual, Coleman simply goes through the six sessions of pre-training for small group leaders.
- I’m referring here to Coleman’s emphasis on a programmed beginning and end to the cell group; graduation to the next group.
- Every conceivable type of small group is mentioned by Dr. Coleman: Board meetings, choir groups, usher groups, care groups, sports groups, etc.
- As mentioned earlier, according to John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 largest churches, 24 are cell-based.
- I will be describing this church more fully later on in the tutorial.
- I talked to Dale at his seminar in the Brethren Church in Columbus, Ohio in October, 1995.
- Chapter six called, “Identify Your Mice” promotes the identification of any type of small group in the church. This is unique from most cell-based churches. However, very little is mentioned about this philosophy in Prepare Your Church for the Future.
- According to George its a way of analyzing your church by placing all of the ministries into various categories.
- Dale Galloway mentioned the same thing to me at his cell conference in Columbus, Ohio (Oct., 1995) He felt that the Meta Globe idea was the worst part of George’s book. I have found that the more George talks about this concept, the more confusing it becomes. It seems that he takes a simple idea (categorizing your ministries) and makes a complex process out of it (trying to place all of your ministries on a globe with different colors, etc.).
- Neal F. McBride in his book How to Build a Small Group Ministry. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1995), 11-30 & Paul Meier, Gene A. Getz, Richard A. Meier, and Allen R. Doran in Filling the Holes in Our Souls: Caring Groups that Build Lasting Relationships. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) , pp. 75ff.
- Warren Bird wrote both Prepare Your Church for the Future and The Coming Church Revolution.
- Willow Creek, Cincinnati Vineyard, and Fairhaven Alliance openly acknowledges that they are following the Meta Model. New Hope Community Church often uses the term ‘meta’ in describing their ministry.
- Cincinnati Vineyard is one of those. They list any and every conceivable small group on their bulletin boards.
- Linda has been on working at Saddleback in small group ministries for the past four years.
- The staff person who gave me this information is Wayne (847-765-0070 ext. 358) His title is: . Membership Service Manager. From what I understand, it’s his job to provide information about Willow Creek for those interested
- Up until a few years ago, he was the church planting professor at Columbia International University and under Dr. Neighbour one could obtain a doctorate degree by studying the worldwide cell model of ministry.
- Practically, it’s very difficult to specifically target musical people in evangelism. Larry Stockstill made this comment during the cell seminar at Bethany World Prayer Center in June, 1996.
- On June 27 I had a telephone conversation with Dr. Tan. He is now a district pastor in a pure cell church in Modesto (First Baptist).
- A quotation from Larry Stockstill’s two page handout during the Post-Denominational Seminar (May 22, 1996)
- This number has been disputed recently. For example, John Vaughn’s most recent list of the world’s 50 claims that there are 320,000 people attending Cho’s church each week with an additional 280,000 meeting in satellite locations. However, Karen Hurtson’s recent case study analysis Cho’s church, points to 720,000 members (17).
- In the small group movement in general, one of the major themes is born to die. Richard Peace made this clear both in private conversations that I had with him and in his small group evangelism class. Great emphasis is placed on the major stages of the small group with the last stage being termination. The group might decide to multiply, but it is completely optional.
- This information comes from a personal conversation that I had with Dr. Ralph Neighbour in May, 1996. I do know that Dr. Neighbour works closely with this church.
- The lesson might be a summary of the Sunday message (Cho’s church) or the lesson might be four carefully designed application questions that follow the Sunday morning message (Stockstill’s church).
- I believe that there are obvious cultural implications here. The cell movement began in Korea, where strict lines of authority are followed. It might be argued that these cultural norms have greatly helped the cell model to flourish in Korea. It’s also true that in other Asian, Latin American, African, and Chinese cultures, there is a stronger authoritarian emphasis. The cell church has done very well in these countries as well. Will the cell church philosophy work in America where individualism is promoted? One of my tutorials will examine the cultural implications of the cell model—specifically in the Latin American context.
- In Larry Stockstill’s church the zone leaders are on staff.
- In practically all pure cell churches, the district pastor is on staff. In Cho’s church there are pastors of district pastors and the Jethro model continues to reach up to the very top.
- Although in some cell churches, the cell leader baptizes and serves communion to those under his or her care.
- At Bethany World Prayer Center, the district pastors would hold congregational Sunday p.m. services once per month. One of the district pastors would preach.
- Some cell reports go into great detail. The reports at Bethany World Prayer Center include the activities of the cell leader during the week—number of visits, time spent in preparation, etc.
- Cho said this during the Church Growth Lectures at Fuller Semiary in 1984
- David Tam reported to me that at First Baptist of Modesto (a pure cell church) they have changed their training schedule (less requirements) to meet the demands of the cell leaders. Another example is Ralph Neighbour. He promotes that most of the training should take place within the cell groups.
- This figure 60,000 is used by Galloway in his 1995 book called The Small Group Book. It’s interesting to note that the difference in time between the publishing of this book and Cho’s 1993 interview with Carl George in which Cho said that he had 50,000 cell groups.
- At Bethany World Prayer Center, every new Christian is a potential leader. These new Christians are immediately discipled by a group member. After this six week personal discipleship, the new converts are asked to attend a training class in the church. This training continues until the new convert is ready to lead a cell group.
- At Bethany World Prayer Center they still had a children’s Sunday School, Worship team practice, Saturday morning prayer meeting, youth night and college and career night. Even if a church is pure cell, there will probably always be certain essential programs that are necessary in order to keep the church functioning properly.
- This aspect of pure cell church ministry was most vividly demonstrated at Bethany World Prayer Center. Every month, a different district provides all of the volunteer work in the church. Ralph Neighbour promotes similar principles.
- Of course, I’m referring to adults here. Larry Stockstill has mobilized 70% of the adults to attend a regular weekly cell group. In Ecuador, we reached 75% adult participation before I left. I’ve heard David Tan talk about 90%, but I have yet to see such participation.
- In another tutorial I developed a third model called the pragmatic or church growth approach. This approach embraces much of the pure cell approach but rejects the exclusivity of Neighbour and even allows various programs to exist.
- It’s important to note that Jim Egli is committed to the Pure Cell Model. He works for Dr. Ralph Neighbour. However, he was previously involved in a Meta Model that eventually transitioned into the Pure Cell Model structure (Vineyard Champaign).
- She also compares the appendage system (where I would categorize the covenant model and the serendipity model).
- I knew of one C&MA church in Guayaquil, Ecuador that promoted many types of small groups. They gloried in their diversity, but the congregation never caught on to a cell group vision because, in my opinion, it wasn’t distinct enough. The idea was foggy because many of the so called small groups had very few of the key small group elements present.
- I’m thinking specifically of the chief characteristics of spiritual fellowship and effective outreach. For example, I hesitate calling the worship team practice a cell group because it meets for a particular purpose and outsiders are not welcome. The same is true for the board. Concerning a sports team, I wonder where the face to face spiritual communion is going to take place.
- with the exception of Fairhaven Alliance Church, which is well-known among C&MA circles.
- The only in-depth case study in this tutorial is from Bethany World Prayer Center which is a model of the Pure Cell Approach.
- For a more in-depth understanding of Galloway’s system of training, read pages .93-110 in Galloway’s most recent book entitled, The Small Group Book (1995).
- This statement is based on three main factors: 1. A conversation with Dale Galloway in which he confirmed this reality 2. George’s Meta Model follows the structure of New Hope Community Church very closely, so as to confirm the truth in Galloway’s statement 3. Dale Galloway has been promoting Meta principles through his small group seminars for the past fifteen years (on page 9 of the seminar manual, Galloway identifies his system with the Meta Model).
- It’s hard to say just how many small groups there are. In his 1996 book, Hunter says that there are 625 small groups (1996:85). During one of Dale Galloway’s seminars in November, 1995, Dale said that he had some 550 small groups. However, since, Dale left the church in 1995, it appears that the number of small groups has significantly dwindled.
- Dale is now very involved in the Beeson Pastor Program which is connected to Asbury Seminary.
- This seminar took place in Dayton, Ohio in late October, 1995. I talked with Rick during a break.
- I remember that he even mentioned that he had preached at Galloway’s church since Dale had resigned.
- Her name is Pastor Bev. I spoke with her by phone (503-659-5683) on Wednesday, June 26, 1996. Pastor Bev is the Compassionate Care pastor. She is over the district called Grief, Recovery and Loss.
- This is in contrast to the claim in Galloway’s small group seminar manual that there are 5000+ in small groups every week (1995:10). That number is also confirmed in Hunter’s book, Church for the Unchurched (1996: 14). Although Pastor Bev’s figures might not be 100% accurate, it is clear that the church has greatly declined in the past few years.
- My conversation with Pastor Bev should be taken with some caution. She didn’t seem to want to reveal the hard facts surrounding the current situation. However, one thing was clear. There have been problems with the small groups at New Hope, loss of attendance in general, and the pastoral staff is reassessing their vision and priorities.
- David Tan received his doctor of ministry degree from Fuller Seminary. His dissertation was written about cell-based ministry. He is currently a district pastor of a cell church in Modesto, California
- I covered this more under my summary of the comparison between the Meta Model and the Pure Cell Model. Jim Elgi’s excellent article (1993) is very helpful in describing this potential problem in the Meta Model.
- The staff person who gave me this information is Wayne (847-765-0070 ext. 358) His title is: . Membership Service Manager. From what I understand, it’s his job to provide information about Willow Creek for those interested. Wayne is the one who answered most of my questions about small groups.
- True to the Meta Model philosophy, the 1400 groups include Sunday School and every conceivable type of small group gathering in the church.
- Peter Jenning recently did an excellent documentary entitled ‘In the Name of God’. Willow Creek Community Church was one of the featured churches. The documentary clearly described the commitment at Willow Creek to make the Bible message relevant to the unchurched mind.
- Don Moi, a C&MA pastor in Anaheim, makes a yearly trip to Willow Creek with certain staff members. The first thing that Don told me about Willow Creek is that they do everything with excellence.
- Jim mentioned this during a phone conversation in June, 1996.
- The Jethro Model used at Willow Creek conforms very closely to the pattern set forth in George’s book, Prepare Your Church for the Future.
- It is my understanding that the number of these training sessions vary according to the needs present.
- I’ve heard Rick give his testimony many different times ( Fuller classes and various seminars). Before starting the church, he read about 100 books on church growth. He committed himself from the beginning to stay in one spot for the rest of his life and to plant many, many churches.
- Figure given at the Purpose Driven Seminar that I attended in October, 1995.
- Pastor Rick made this comment to me personally at his seminar, but it was also confirmed by a staff person named Linda.
- Pastor Rick made some critical comments to me about the Meta Model. He felt that it had not worked anywhere, and that it was not effective in reaching non-Christians. He even told me that he was the first to try the Meta Model, and that it was a failure. He told met that his small groups were more geared toward pastoral care.
- I appreciated their honesty about the closeness of these groups. The Meta Model generally declares that practically all groups are ‘open’, but it seems to be ‘wishful thinking’ to expect non-Christians to attend many of these task groups (how could non-Christians sing in the choir, usher, count money, lead worship)
- Again, Linda on staff in small group ministries, was my key resource here.
- Every since the inception of the church, Pastor Rick had a vision to reach 20,000 people.
- I’m not sure if John defines his position as that of apostle. However, in my opinion, he certainly fulfills the role of apostle to the other Vineyard churches.
- Most of my information comes from a direct information with Pastor David stiles, one of sixteen pastors on staff at the church. We spent about 1 ½ hours over coffee.
- This is a large number of groups when one thinks that Saddleback also has 250 groups, although three times as many people attend the Sunday a.m. services at Saddleback than at Cincinnati Vineyard.
- Although I don’t have this information
- At the same time, he also mentioned that they expect their groups not to turn inward. He mentioned that each group is expected to do some kind of outreach.
- I believe that he’s referring to the servant evangelism emphasis.
- This church has special significance to me since I’m a missionary with the C&MA to Ecuador
- Located in Dayton Ohio, I’ve heard that this is the largest C&MA church east of the Mississippi River.
- Their manual reflects the Serendipity paradigm. The leaders are encouraged to use the Serendipity study Bible when preparing questions for the study.
- I talked with Pastor David Tan by telephone during the week of June24, 1996.
- Larry is talking about both rapid cell multiplication and church multiplication (i.e., church planting). He made this statement on May 22 during the panel discussion at the Post-Denominational seminar.
- Larry made this comment during his presentation on May 22, at the Post Denominational seminar .
- I also attended this cell seminar conference. It was held from June 12-14, 1996.
- Bethany World Prayer Center is located in Baker.
- This information came from a taxi driver/tour guide in Baton Rouge who knew first hand the crowds that packed the hotels to attend Swaggart’s famous camp meetings.
- Pastor Larry commented that, although he didn’t know for sure, the salary plus housing benefits probably equals in the neighborhood of $50,000 for each pastor.
- Pastor Larry made these comments during his senior pastor’s luncheon at the June, 1996 cell conference. However, as far as I know, these requirements have not been ‘fleshed out’ practically at this time. I get the feeling that It might be more of an ideal than a strict reality at the present time since the pure cell system is still only four years old.
- This was not only my personal observation but also confirmed by two of the district pastors.
- He made this statement at the Post Denominational Conference in mid-June, 1996.
- I arrived at 3000 on my own. It should be verified by others.
- Bethany World Prayer Center does not count church attendance. I arrived at these figures by own calculations of seating capacity, number of people in service, and talking with about five ushers.
- Larry’s quote in Ministries Today (July, 1996, 39). Those ‘saved’ is one category in the required weekly cell report forms.
- If the cells groups do not multiply within one year, they are integrated into existing cell groups.
- Taken from Pastor Larry’s comments to the senior pastors during the lunch time meal.
- Very little detail was given concerning how this committee is chosen, what type of rotation is present, and the exact authority given to it.
- District Pastor Bill Satterwhite made this clear to me.
- At various times there were comments concerning how we must ‘hang up’ (do away with) our minds, if we are really going go deeper with the Spirit.
- This is not to say that the diligent study of Scripture is not encouraged, nor that certain pastors on staff do not pursue deeper studies. I’m speaking in general terms.
- They did charge me for my syllabus on the first day of the conference, but that was the only charge.
- Karen Hurtson, now Dr. Karen Hurtson, is well-known for her work with Paul Cho. Her latest book, Growing the World’s Largest Church, gives many insights into cell-based ministry.
- Experts who spoke at the church include: Ralph Neighbour, Paul Cho, Sergio Solarzano, Cesar Castellanos, Karen Hurtson, and others.
- During the Post-Denominational Seminar in front of a multitude of leaders from various denominations, he openly declared that he has been liberated by getting rid of all of his programs and concentrating on the cell.
- Although Pastor Larry and others talk openly about ‘getting rid’ of programs in the church and making cells the only program, I noticed that there are other programs in the church. For example, there is still the Sunday School for children, the Saturday morning prayer group, the Wednesday night high school activity, the Sunday night college and career activity, the worship ministries, the tape ministries, pro-life ministries, missions ministries, alcohol and drug support ministry, and the Christian School ministry. Larry does admit that they’re in transition, but I believe that often the word ‘program’ is redefined to appear like there are no programs when in fact there are.
- I must reiterate that I'm only speaking in generalities. Some black businessmen work longer and harder than some white businessmen. Since I have not attempted to do a statistical study on this, I'm simply speaking in a very broad fashion.
- Bethany often ministers to the community by passing out school supplies, food,