Missions: Down-Shifting into a New Great Commission Paradigm


Mike Cegielski is a cell-based church planter in Russia.

Does your missions view need an overhaul to go along with your second reformation-style church? Here’s one practical plan of action for cross-cultural cell missions.

“If it doesn’t look broken, don’t mess with it.” If you agree with this philosophy, put this magazine down. I understand completely if your are overwhelmed with the transition your church is making to cells – just do faith missions as you have been doing all along. Find a missionary, support him, let him preach on Sunday when he visits, buy his kids new clothes and be a blessing to him! Faith missions have been the most successful worldwide evangelistic tool for almost two hundred years, and its success will not stop suddenly.

“If if jams, force it; if it breaks, it needed replacing anyway.” Does this Tim Allen approach better describe you? Then join me in a
practical look at a plan to fulfill the Great Commission with “more power” than current trends in missions.

Imagine this scene. My wife calls me from a pay phone from the local grocery store during a spring rainstorm. She informs me that the car has a flat tire and she needs a strong man to help a lady in distress. Desiring to stay dry and finish watching the ball game, I send my strapping young son to change the tire.

Who is the hero? Me, or my rain-drenched lad? The 16 year old who got the extra piece of pie at dinner will give you the correct answer!

Get the point?

While honoring the incredible job faith mission organizations have done in the past, we must step out into the storm and take local responsibility for world evangelism. When cell churches have “equipped the saints,” they are going to be jammed with leaders ready to answer the call of missions. Will your church have a dynamic plan to support them in true second reformation fashion?

Why Shift To Cell Missions?

Indulgences and Committees

When the church begins to feel guilty because it chose a building program over a church planting program, a Christian ocean cruise over a short-term missions project or a new computer network over missions training, they call in the missions friar. He shows up and sells missions indulgences. Forgiveness for all their mission sin is offered at a fracture of what it would have cost to plant their own cross-cultural church. He tells them they have made a pleasing sacrifice unto the Lord – even though no one but a grandmother on welfare had to give up a dinner for their donation.

My wife and I were some of the first missionaries sent out from cell churches. We wanted deep relationships with the cell members in our supporting churches. Instead, we built walls called committees which managed our well-being. These dedicated folks quickly separated us from community with our fellow believers. The better the committee, the more we felt alone and disjointed from the body.

Then we thought, “If everything is supposed to be done in the cells, why can’t we do missions in the cells? Our cell groups should be participating with the church planting teams which they support!”

Now that I have your undivided attention, let’s discuss a new plan of action.

Three Changes, and You’re There

To effectively reach unreached people groups and start national churches, we have to redesign the missions structure. After five years of missions under church leaders, I see three changes cell churches must make from a church planter’s view.

The first change is responsibility and accountability – who is accountable to God for the church plant? Second, resources and
opportunities – who is to provide the training and resources to send the missionary out? And finally, relationship – who is to maintain the missionary in body life? With radical shifts in these three areas, a cell church will be able to effectively and efficiently plant cross-cultural cell churches.

When a church decides to support mission organizations and not plant its own cross-cultural churches, is it passing on the responsibility God has given it? Who is ultimately responsible for ensuring success or extra money for medical supplies? With an average of twenty-nine supporters, a missionary feels like everyone is responsible and no one is truly accountable. It’s easier to defer to God’s grace, give the missionary a few dollars and tell him, “Jesus will meet your needs.”

Where is your church? If a member of your church comes to you stating God has called him into cross-cultural work, could you offer him an opportunity to become a missionary? Would you send him off to a missions organization with a symbolic $200 a month, hoping they could do something with him? With cross-cultural, cell-based missions, you could tell him you’ve been praying for missionaries to be raised up in the church and you already have a plan to train and send them.

When a missions program is delegated to a missions committee, relationships fade and a program is left as a remnant. If missions are rooted at cell level, a grass-roots commitment to the missionary will flourish. I found when I had “professional” relationships with pastors or leaders in a supporting church, they were not personally driven to communicate with me. In stark contrast, my cell leader and the two cells in which I fellowshipped pursued a relationship with my wife and I even though we never formalized their support of us on the mission field.

What a Deal!
A shift to cell-based missions will allow you to take back responsibility. You can train up your own people and send them out to places where the Lord is calling your church to plant a new work. Finally, you can have meaningful relationships with missionaries on the field because you have a deep, established foundation. Get the picture? The cell church can become fertile soil for growing its own missionaries and planting cross-cultural churches.

Moving Into Cell Missions

One Church, One Baptism, One Mission at a Time

I understood cell missions at 4 years of age. My mom said, “You have to put that toy away before you can play with another.” The reality of cell missions will come from a deliberate choice to do one thing well instead of jumping from project to project.

Make a strategy to plant one cross-cultural cell church and see it through. Your vision will be so specific that some members may not like its rigidness, especially those who have been called elsewhere. The church doesn’t support missions, it is a mission! The vision to plant a cross-cultural cell church in a particular region will replace a policy that designates missionary support.

The strategic goal of cell missions is not just to plant a church in the 10-40 window, but to become a church mobilized for missions. How? By forming two training tracks – one for individuals to become missionaries and one to train the church at large. They are launched in tandem and are insufferably codependant. That’s why it works.

Making a Missionary

The secret to cell churches is that everyone is really being trained to be a missionary! Whether for a season or a lifetime, the principles and practices of the cell are culturally-acceptable worldwide; that means anyone trained in a cell church has a place on the mission field. Imagine the potential! Along with your church’s standard training track from cell intern to zone pastor, a few additional requirements should be added to make someone missions-mobile. The training should be available to all members so a large pool of qualified people exists when missions needs and opportunities arise. Here’s the process by which someone could rise in the ranks from cell member to cell church missionary. (I refer to the cell member as “he” only for the sake of writing simplicity. With fields “white for harvest”, men and women must be trained for the task!)

Candidate Missionary

This person thinks he might be called to be a missionary, or at least he wants some missions awareness. To become a recognized candidate missionary, he must complete the church’s requirements asa cell intern, and take a short missions course (such as the
Perspectives video course, Moody Missions correspondence course, or Emmaus Road’s 3-day Intro to Missions in Tijuana). On the practical side, the student should go on a 2-6 week cross-cultural trip, preferably to a cell church. Finally, they would have to be an assistant sponsor for one the church’s missionaries, communicating and supporting them from the home base.

Apprentice Missionary

The person seeking to become an apprentice missionary will have fulfilled the requirements for candidate missionary and have operated as a cell leader with one successful multiplication. His previous experience in missions will have confirmed a deeper calling into cross-cultural work. Upon confirmation, your church will prepare him as their future missionary.

To become an apprentice missionary, the person must complete a second missions course and attend a one or two week course on cross-cultural missions. On the practical side, he would spend two-four months helping a cross-cultural cell church, and be a missionary sponsor for six months, helping cell groups take care of their missionary. By the time a person was a qualified apprentice missionary, your church leaders must be willing to fully support the person to plant cross-cultural cell churches, as part of a team project.


A person would qualify as a fully-trained missionary after he had attended a twelve-week missions course like Emmaus Road ACTS 29 course, spent two-three years on the field in a cross-cultural cell church, and studied one-year equivalent of a foreign language and have achieved conversational fluency.

Senior Missionary

A senior missionary will have completed all your church’s training for a zone pastor. He would also have a BA, MA, or certificate in missiology. He would be fluent in a second language, and have spent four years in cross-cultural church planting, and have successfully planted a cell church in a different culture. This senior missionary is qualified to take teams out on the field.

As your church adopts this missionary training track and teams up for church plant projects, you might send out your missionaries under other churches’ senior missionaries. The vision, however, would be that a church would eventually have its own fully-trained missionaries and teams on the field.

This type of training program also allows a church to raise up its own missionaries without a major burden on the church or the potential missionary. During his training, the future missionary grows deep in relationship with your church. However, to successfully move into cell missions, your whole church must make the missions paradigm shift and commit their resources accordingly.

Mobilizing Cells Into Missions

For the new or small transitioning cell church (2-30 cells), the mobilization process will take about six years, unless trained people already reside in the church and are ready to be sent out. The three phases to missions-mobilization are: preparation, leadership development, and team projects.


In this first phase, your church must develop a missions training track, restructure the missions budget, and select an on-going cross-cultural work in which to participate. After one of your leaders or your pastor visits a potential mission site, an invitation is put forth to begin training for upcoming missions projects. Your potential missionaries are put into training and prepared to go. Meanwhile, your traditional missions committee is dissolved and a plan is written to phase out all random missions support over the next two years. As a substitute for the missions committee, a missions mobilizer is selected who will help a group of 3-5 cells participate in cross-cultural church planting. When the field site is selected, the field missionary will coordinate the sending of short-term workers, plans are arranged with the field missionary to send 2-3 short-term teams during the next two to four years. The group of cells also make plans to send their potential long-term missionaries for 3 month terms. During this two year period of partnership with a missionary on the field, your missions fervor will grow as most of your church has participated in helping the new church plant. Now your church is ready to move into the next phase.

Leadership Development

During the two years your church works with a missionary, you should be looking for a new church plant location and for other cell churches who want to team up. From your cells’ experiences on the field, look for the person who has risen up and is ready to go out as your first missionary. It will take almost all the church’s resources to send out the missionary. Your cells have planned pastoral visits, short-term missionaries, and prayer and worship teams.

This team project has been planned for four years, and during that time many people will have the opportunity to gain experience in missions. The short-term teams sent out will become the foundation for a team project later. At the end of the four year project your church must raise up one senior missionary, one or two trained missionaries, along with many apprentices and candidates. Meanwhile, your membership has grown in confidence and understanding of cross-cultural cell church planting. You are now ready to plant another church!

Team Projects

Six years have passed and your ten cells have grown to 40 cells in four districts. Each district is prepared to sponsor one of the four team members on your church plant team – a senior missionary, a missionary, and two apprentices. A younger cell church asks to send their first missionary out with your team for mentoring, and you readily agree. A missions organization has provided the cover to get your team in place, as well as contacts to help the team get established.

In time, your church will plant an indigenous church, but more so, you will have a fully-mobilized cell church in operation back in America. This process to missions mobilization demands great and focused commitment.

In the Preparation phase, your church sent out short-term teams to help one mission. Next, in the Leadership Development phase, the primary emphasis is on a single missionary. Finally, in Team Projects, the church is sending out groups of people to plant one church. Disciplined execution of the vision has allowed the cell church to become fully mobilized.

Can It Really Happen?

This three-tiered plan will take commitment and effort to achieve success. Your church must develop the more practical parts of this plan, but the key is changing to cells planting cells instead of church supporting mission organizations. A group of committed cells will be needed to hold the missions “reins” and keep the buggy on the road. They will take ownership of the missions vision and patiently ride it out, avoiding rabbit trails and side trips. You can become a missions mobilized cell church!

Accepting The Call

I have an Australian Shepherd named Shadow. As a puppy, she would instinctively try to herd things – cats, kids, tennis balls, with no idea what she was doing – it was just instinctive play for her. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the ability or desire to train Shadow to use her God-given ability to shepherd other animals.

We have a whole pack of “missions puppies” in our cells who have the instincts for missions but need training. God wants to use them to fulfill His Great Commission. Unfortunately, most of them are running in circles, chasing their tails when it comes to missions.

Most churches have no serious desire or ability to mobilize their people into cross-cultural missions. Now is the time to accept our
responsibility to evangelize our generation worldwide! When we look to closure of the Great Commission, it becomes clear that the Church has yet to mobilize itself. A new model for missions is needed to help churches mobilize; traditional missions structures fall short.

The traditional policy of churches supporting mission organizations is very limiting. Rather, we should mobilize our cell groups through a tightly-focused plan like the one describes here because it optimizes the raising up of a church’s own missionaries. May your cell group boldly go to the “edge” where no Christian has gone before and bring Jesus to a dying world!