Cell Ministry Structure


In a cell church, the cell groups are not totally independent entities left to their own, but are overseen in a careful structure to ensure that every person receives pastoral care and equipping. I am a Small Group Leader with people in my group. As a Small Group Leader, I also belong in a group of Small Group Leaders led by a Small Group Coordinator. This group, as well as the Small Groups we lead, is what we call a Subzone. My Coordinator is, in turn, in a group led by a Zone Pastor. (The Zone Pastor is the first level of leadership that is a full-time position.) And my Zone Pastor is in a group with the other pastors, led by the Senior Pastor.

Small Group meetings are held every week; Subzone meetings are held every other week. The job of each level of leadership is to nurture the people in their immediate group and to oversee the small groups. The Coordinators are expected to spend time during the week with their Small Group Leaders, and to go to one Small Group meeting a week. The Zone Pastors are expected to spend time during the week with their Coordinators, and to go to a couple Subzone or Small Group meetings a week. There is also a quarterly meeting where the whole Leadership Team (Small Group Leaders, Small Group Coordinators, and pastors) gathers to re-focus the vision, share testimonies, get training, form strategies, and pray.

Also, every week I fill out a Small Group report. This report includes:

who was at the meeting
what contact I had during the week with each member
any significant outreach to non-Christians
evaluation of the Small Group meeting
comments, questions, testimonies, and problems

The form is carbonless triplicate form, with one copy going to my Coordinator one for my Zone Pastor, and I keep one for myself. The Coordinators and Zone Pastors also fill out similar weekly reports about their Sub-Zones and Zones.

For the most part, I am given guidance on leadership by my leaders, trusted to do my best, and regularly report how things are going. But there have been times when my wife & I have encountered problems which overwhelmed us. At such times, we call our Small Group Coordinator, day or night, and ask for help. It is a tremendous relief to know that help (in prayer, counsel, just having someone to unload on, and intervention if need be) is always there. And if my Coordinator doesn’t know what to do, we go to our Zone Pastor.

Some may criticize this kind of church setup for leading to abuses of authority and heavy-handed, cult-like control. This is where it is crucial to see that structure alone is not enough; we must also adopt Jesus’ teachings on leadership (cf. Mark+10:42-45; Mark 10:42-45).

As soon as you think of this kind of church setup as a hierarchy or pyramid, then it doesn’t work because those two words have strong connotations of “control.” As our Senior Pastor puts it, it’s not like a normal hierarchy because it’s upside-down: the Small Group members are the ones we are trying to serve and empower for ministry, and succeeding levels of leadership demand more service, with the Senior Pastor as the servant of all. This notion of leadership as servanthood is vital for cell churches.

Changing structure is easily accomplished; we have spent a year focusing on the more fundamental problem of changing our values and lifestyles. The cell church paradigm is successful insofar as it capitalizes on the importance of interpersonal relationships. You can’t just say, “Here, let’s organize ourselves in such-and-such a way,” and expect it to work. It requires a change of values, shedding our religiousity, and opening our lives and homes to each other and to the lost.

Values drive structures, not the other way around. Simply adopting a certain structure cannot make a church into a cell church. We need God to infuse our hearts with a passion for himself, for his Church, and for the lost — a passion that expresses itself in close relationships, giving, loving, serving.

This is not to say that the cell church structure is unimportant. I think it’s a vital strategy that enables:

pastoral care for each person
shepherding by pastors and elders
equipping everyone as ministers
efficient penetration of the community
rapid growth

But let’s not get the cart before the horse. Structure is secondary; it is much more important to go to God and ask, “Lord, how do you want us to live? What kind of Body do you want us to be?” And then, “How should our church change in order to accomplish
that? How do our values and lifestyles need to change?”