Let The Little Children Come… (To My Cell?)


Lorna Jenkins is an international speaker and consultant with TOUCH Ministries International on the subject of Intergenerational Cell Groups. She has worked with Dr. Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. in the United States and at Faith Community Baptist Church, Singapore. Born in New Zealand, she is a pastor’s wife. She has three grown children and several grandchildren. She holds the degree of Doctor of Ministry from Columbia International University. She has written various books and children’s resource materials.

When George phoned me again, I could tell he was excited. “Lorna, our pastor is curious about that idea you threw out at the end of our last conversation. Remember? You were talking about involving children in adult cell groups. I have to say I am still struggling with the idea, but our pastor says he has been thinking along those lines for some time. He wants you to come and visit with the leadership team.”

Well, of course, I agreed. Two days later I was sitting with four church leaders in George’s office.

Jeff, the senior pastor, began the conversation: “Lorna, George has been telling me some of the things you’ve been sharing with him, and we, as a church, are genuinely interested. We’ve been trying to incorporate our children into the cell church concept, but so far our efforts have been less than fruitful. In fact, my daughter tells me that it still seems much like Sunday School. Also, I was reading about a group in Canada where the children and the adults were in family groups, and it seemed to be working fine for them. But I’m not sure if it would work here.”

“Well let’s take a look at the concept,” I said. “Several churches are experimenting with children’s cells, and they certainly aren’t bound to one particular format. I know of a church that included children as full members in its regular cell group meetings. They met together for about 30 minutes, and then separated for about 45 minutes to an hour. At the end, the two groups would come back together.”

Ella broke in. “What age of children would come to such a group?” she asked. “I think the little ones would find it very hard to sit still.”

I smiled. “Little ones always find it hard to sit still. They’re not built that way. But that doesn’t mean they should be excluded. A cell group is like a family. If a young child is present, he can wander around to visit members of the group, sit by different people or get busy on an appropriate activity. The group will develop a tolerance for children they know and love. Small children can sleep in another room when they get tired. Of course if a child is distressed, he will tend to run to his parents.”

“Who looks after the children when they separate off into another room?” asked George. Would a trained person from the children’s ministry do this, or would the parents take turns?

“It defeats the purpose if you call in someone else outside the group to care for the children. The children read that as ‘babysitting.’ To be part of the cell group, they need to get to know the adults. But the adults don’t want to miss the closeness developing amongst their peers. Therefore rotating the leadership of the sub-group is effective because no one is excluded from the adult group every time. This arrangement also blesses the children. They not only share time with all the adults in praise and worship, they get to know them individually as well.”

“Some people just don’t handle children well. In fact, I have to admit, I’m one of them,” confessed Tim. “I don’t even know what to say to a child. Would everyone have to take a turn?”

“You’re right, Tim,” I answered. “I find many people are very nervous about relating to children. Some of them absolutely back off, while others look forward to this interaction and even feel especially called to minister to children. No one should ‘have to take a turn.’ But, if given the chance, I’ve found that people who are inexperienced with children are surprised to discover how much they enjoy their company and friendship.”

“What exactly do you do with the children in the cell groups?” asked Jeff. “We’ve got our cell groups running smoothly, and I wouldn’t want to upset that by introducing the children. However, I do see advantages from a family point of view.”

“That’s a valid fear, Jeff,” I said. “Children really don’t change the nature of a cell group. They just broaden the concept. The basic
elements still exit. The icebreaker, praise and worship, mutual prayer and ministry, vision casting, food and fellowship can all be done with the children present.”

“While in separate groups, children can discuss the week’s events from their younger point of view. Take, for example the message from Sunday’s teaching. The children may have heard a different message than the adults, and they will have a different set of problems because they live in a different world. They need to talk these things through at their level and discover what God is saying to them. If God reveals areas needing growth, the group can pray for an effective plan of action and then remain accountable to one another as God begins to produce fruit within them.”

“So you’re saying that the children share their needs with their smaller group and join in ministry with the whole group as well.”
George was nodding.

“Yes, but sometimes the adults will have needs they do not want to share before the children, and the children may have some needs they do not want to express to the whole group. It’s good for children and adults to understand each other’s lives and problems, but there are some things which are too personal for the open group. … By the way, if you include the children in the cell group, they will be subject to the same group agreement as all the other members of the group.”

“You mean in the area of keeping confidences? Can you really trust children no to talk about what they hear?” asked Jeff.

“Not always,” I sighed. “About to the level that you can trust adults. Remember not to laugh at them or scold them. The adults must assure the children that they are trustworthy listeners as well.”

“I suppose when you put it that way, the risk is about even,” replied Jeff. “The cell leader has to use discretion about what to discuss and when the children should leave.”

“You know I’ve been a school teacher for a number of years long before I started working for the church,” began Ella, “and I’m a bit worried that this whole approach with children may be too advanced for them. Are we expecting them to act like little adults? Children don’t want to be too serious. They like to have fun.”

“It’s true that children do not like being solemn all the time, but they do like for adults to take them seriously. Once convicted by the Holy Spirit of their need for Jesus, I find that children are serious about following Him. They pursue answers to their problems very seriously. They are serious about developing relationships in their lives. And amazingly, as their understanding of praise and worship grows, they become serious about this as well.

“But the intergenerational cell group is not always supposed to be serious. Children provide a breath of fresh air, and they remind us of the trusting life God has called us to live. Then as the children spend time together, they share creative activities, initiate service projects, and most importantly, learn to pray for their friends, family, and the world.”

“I can see real merit in having the children in the group during social activities,” offered Tim. “At present, if we have a group picnic, the children feel shy and isolated because they barely know the adults in the group.”

“True Tim,” I answered. “Also, you might plan one night just to have fun together. You could create a drama, put together a music group, or just play some games. You hear a lot from children in such a casual atmosphere, and it’s a wonderful time for them to bring their friends.”

“Don’t you think every once in a while an adult night would be appropriate?” asked Ella. “I’m thinking it would be good, especially
for those members of the group who do not have children.”

“You could certainly do that,” I said. “Children do not necessarily expect to be included in everything. However, you may be surprised how quickly the singles learn to enjoy the children. Often the children look up to an adult friend as a role model, thus both the singles and children are crucial to the group. Also you should tap into the resource of skills within the group. Someone might be able to help a child with his math when his parents lack that ability. Another may be a football expert. Children readily identify with older people who possess interests or skills which they are trying to develop.

“You know, children are also a powerful catalyst for evangelism. As they bring their friends to cell activities, the adults can befriend the new children’s parents. The open arms of the group can win the entire family to the Lord. When a whole family enters a cell, the growth potential is tremendous.”

“Well, just thinking structurally for a moment, how many children would you include in an intergenerational cell group, Lorna?” The pastor was jotting notes on a pad.

“If a cell group has up to fifteen adults, I would like to see no more than 8-10 children between the ages of 4-13 years in one cell group. Babies and toddlers are in a different category, though I wouldn’t want the group to be dominated by the babies. Of course when the cell group multiplies, the children would go to the same new cell group as their parents.”

“What about teens?” continued the pastor.

“Technically they should be part of an intergenerational cell group too,” I answered. “However I’ve found that teens need to establish themselves amongst their own peers, and some churches create cell groups just for this purpose. Teens appreciate the freedom to grow without the looming shadow of their parents. On the other hand, youth have much to give and receive in an intergenerational setting. You can decide which arrangement best meets your particular needs.”

“Lorna, we’re going to be doing some serious planning and praying here about our children’s ministry,” said Jeff. “We’d like to be able to call on you as a resource person.”

“Certainly. I’ll be glad to help. Jeff, I believe that children’s ministry is at the forefront of the spiritual battle in the world
today. If we lose that battle, we could lose the next generation. But I don’t believe we’re going to lose this fight, for ‘the battle belongs to the Lord.’ He is raising up churches just like yours, who are placing children where they belong, right in the center of the Kingdom of God.”