Cell Churches: a.k.a. home groups,
cell groups, house fellowships...
"...how I kept back nothing that was
profitable [unto you], but have shewed you, and have taught you publicly, and
from house to house." Acts 20:20
Most local churches in the United States and Canada are "program based."
They have a church building which is headquarters for one or more clergypersons, perhaps
with paid supportive staff. Committees made up largely of volunteers assist in the church
operation. Programs are run to match the interests of different age groups and
lifestyles. Many local
churches also organize small, intimate groups, which meet in each other's homes for Bible
study. The main focus remains on the membership as a whole, and on the church's large
communal worship services.
Although many local churches are growing in numbers, it is
often by migration of Christians from other churches, not by conversion of non-Christians.
They tend to have so many activities (choir practice, Sunday school, Sunday and Wednesday
evening services, youth programs, Bible study, committees, etc.) that there is little time
or energy left for evangelical activities to bring in new members. As a result, the
percentage of adults who consider themselves Christians in the United States is slowly
dropping; Christianity is losing its market share. The percentage of adults who attend
weekly religious services is also in decline.
With cell churches, the emphasis is reversed. Global Resource Ministries, Inc
define the cells (the small groups meeting in homes) as "the basic building
blocks of church life." 1 The cell is
the church. Each cell usually meets weekly in the homes or apartments of its members. The
larger organization of clergy, staff, committees, and building structure in essence
becomes a federation of cell churches. "Evangelism, discipleship, and ministry
all take place in and through the cell." Celebration Christian Church
explains that "Our 'Cells' are not primarily bible studies,
(even though we highly value bible study) but rather discussion and sharing groups in
which we discuss" the previous meeting's message and share spiritual
understandings. The Sunday service takes a secondary role in the life of the
member. The central church usually has relatively few programs available; most of the
energy is directed to promoting the health and welfare of the cells. Because of their
emphasis on outreach to non-Christians and nominal-Christians, cell churches often have
phenomenal growth rates.
Cell churches bear many similarities to "The Church with
No Name," (a.k.a. The Truth, The Way, Cooneyites, etc.) who first
organized cell groups in the very early 20th century. Rather than being satellite groups
affiliated with a central church, they are largely isolated groups who meet together only
at area conventions. Cell church organization is also similar to Wiccan
covens, except the latter are rarely associated with any larger group, and follow an
entirely different religion.
The vast majority of cell churches are affiliated with conservative Christian
denominations. One source list 14 mainline and liberal cell churches (Episcopal, Lutheran,
Presbyterian and United Methodist) and hundreds of Charismatic, Fundamentalist and other
Evangelical churches. Many cell groups lay a heavy emphasis on fasting, prayer and
evangelizing non-Christians. In one group, certain leaders "will have undertaken
three 40-day fasts and be praying 8 hours a day." 7
In many ways, cell churches represent a return
to the organizational structures of the early Christian movement, when
Christians generally met in each other's homes.
A brief comparison of program based and cell churches:
||"Program Based" Churches
|Main meeting location
||The congregation and its programs
||The cell groups
|Main individual responsibility
||Support others within the cell
||Weekly cell meetings; frequent contacts between meetings
||Dozens to thousands
||Under a defined limit (12 - 15 adults typical)
|Heavy commitment accepted
||By perhaps 5% of the congregation
||By perhaps 95% of membership of each cell
||Trained, lay members
|Commitment to evangelism
Terminology and Organization Structure:
There is little standardization of terms among cell churches. Cells are sometimes
called small group churches, "home groups, cell groups, house fellowships, Bible
study groups, prayer groups, etc." 3
Each cell usually has one or more interns in training to be a leader. When a given cell
reaches a certain maximum membership level (typically 12 to 15 adults plus their
children), it divides in two. The original cell's leader will handle one of the new cells;
one of the interns typically leads the other. The process repeats, gradually increasing
the number of cells and members. Churches involving thousands of cells have been
successfully organized and maintained.
A typical group meeting might include some of the following elements: a time of sharing
their experiences, mutual support, discussion, worshipping, prayer, a communal meal, etc.
In many churches, "unsaved" individuals are not invited to cell meetings. The
meetings are not intended to be vehicles for conversion of unbelievers. Rather, cell
members are expected to visit non-Christian friends and relatives, develop caring
relationships with them and "lead them to Jesus personally." They then
introduce the new Christians to the cell group. This is the major source for the
recruitment new members.
Crosspoint Community Church of Reno NV is a cell church which uses a
typical hierarchical organizational model with 4 levels:
||Lay shepherds each lead a cell group of 5 to 15 individual members.
||Each zone shepherd oversees up to 5 lay shepherds.
||A district pastor oversees up to lay 10 zone shepherds, and is indirectly is responsible
for up to 750 members.
||A senior pastor guides the entire church, and oversees 1 or more district
Again, there is little standardization of terms. A zone shepherd may be called a
supervisor in another location. A lay shepherd may be called a cell group servant, or
group leader. Groups of cells are sometimes called subzones or congregations.
Reference Books on Cell Churches:
One source 3 recommends the following books:
||Paul Yonggi Cho, "Successful Home Cell Groups," Bridge Publishing,
||Ralph Neighbour Jr., "Where Do We Go From Here?," TOUCH Outreach
||Larry Kreider, "House to House," House to House Publications, (1995)
||William A. Beckham, "The Second Reformation," TOUCH Outreach
||David Fennell, "Life in His Body," TOUCH Outreach Ministries, (1995)
||Lorna Jenkins, "Feed My Lambs," TOUCH Outreach Ministries, (1995)
"What is a Cell church," (Crosspoint Community Church; a
Southern Baptist Cell-Church Fellowship) at: http://www.crosspoint.org/
"Our Mission," Crosspoint Community Church at: http://www.crosspoint.org/
Peter Hartgeink, "What is a Cell-Based Church?" (1997) at: http://www.cccc.ca/
Anon, "Superintendent learns power of cell church," (1996) at: http://www.spectra.net/
"The Cell Church FAQ" at: http://www.dumc.com.my/
Celebration Christian Church at: http://www.pcisys.net/
Alan Creech, "Cell Church," at: http://www.cell-church.org/
He has a mailing list which can be subscribed to at: http://www.cell-church.org/
The list is "a discussion group for Christians who are interested in the cell
church model to build up and encourage each other by sharing vision, questions, problems,
experiences, testimonies, and practical tips."
"Welcome to Touch Online," TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc., at: http://www.touchusa.org/
TOUCH is an acronym for "Transforming Others Under Christ's Hand." They
have a search function to find a cell church in your area/denomination.