Seven Barriers to Growth


Ships sailing into unexplored waters are endangered by unseen barriers below the water’s surface. Known and seen obstacles can be avoided; the dangerous ones are those who strike without warning. Many times the obstacles listed in this article are unseen until after the damage is done.

Consider these seven dangerous barriers to cell growth …

1. A Vision Not Caught by Every Cell Member

Church leaders transitioning a church must be sure the vision statement is in the hearts of all cell members. Traditional church members entering cell life may have existed for years without a vision statement. They often resist when goals and objectives are set to implement a dear vision.

The Mission Charismatica Internacional in Bogota, Colombia celebrated their fourteenth year with 10,465 cell groups. Their goal for January, 1998 is 30,000 cells. The only place left in the city that can house all the members is the 20,000 seat el Cam pin de Bogota, which they have leased Sundays for the next five years. The striking thing about this church is how the vision was imparted to every cell member.

Pastor Cesar Castellanos has shared a vision of planting cells in every area of Bogota and every community in Colombia. Cell leaders repeat the vision statement verbatim to all the members. As visitors gather outside the auditorium on Sundays, cell members nearby speak passionately about their part in making the vision come true. The level of commitment to the vision is as strong among ` the recently converted as in the heart of the pastor. It is a universal passion among all who belong to the church.

Church members who have not adopted the vision and participate with a self-seeking attitude become serious hidden barriers. There is a special bonding which takes place when a cell church has completely absorbed the vision of the set goals. Someone said, “I’d rather shoot at a goal and miss it than to shoot at nothing and hit it!” The vision must be simple enough to be accepted and implemented by every member of the body, or there will be no growth.

How to Break this Barrier

When we seek God for His vision and receive it, it must be declared boldly. Too often the vision of the church is not clearly stated and repeated for everyone to embrace. Here is an example of a well written vision statement:

Our Vision
• To establish integrated cell groups for outreach, discipleship and service which encompass the whole of our city.
• To be a church that equips every cell member, guiding each person to harvest the unreached.
• To establish cell group churches in other cities of our nation and overseas, sending out teams to reach neglected or responsive people groups.

Such a Vision Statement must be printed in every bulletin, hung on every wall of the church facility and be written by each person from memory as a prerequisite for church membership. One South African pastor actually framed the Vision Statement and had families hang it on the wall in their homes.

2. Lack of Leadership

Pastor Castellanos often tells his people: “Our goal is not to recruit cell members, but to train leaders!” He begins a cell group with one person and encourages that cell leader to enlist twelve who will in turn be encouraged to form a cell of their own. His vision-casting is not just for his people to belong to a cell but to lead one. After only three months in cell life, every member is encouraged to attend a weekly cell leader’s training class for three months. Thus, after only four to five months in a cell, 60% of the members are sponsoring a newly formed cell. They continue to attend the original cell, but are now called leaders instead of members. The multiplication is so rapid that this church multiplies three times in one year.

How to Break this Barrier
Consider each cell member a potential leader and draw them into the vision. In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Dion Robert develops three to four leaders out of every cell. In America, even the first generation of cells should multiply in seven to eight months. This means that every incoming cell member must be evaluated and mentored to lead a cell from the day they join.

Cells should live with a multiplication date set and declared to the group at its first meeting. Everyone should have a clear objective for the growth of the group through winning the lost to Christ. It will then be obvious that many cell members must accept the challenge to lead new cells.

3. Lock of Prayer

Pastor David Yonggi Cho has the largest cell church in the world, built upon an intensive prayer focus. Over two million visits are logged annually at the church’s Prayer Mountain. On one occasion, Pastor Cho dismissed my interview in his office by saying, “I have an important appointment now. Thank you for coming.” While I waited outside his office for a friend to pick me up, I saw no one enter for his next appointment. I finally asked Lydia Swain, his secretary, “Did Dr. Cho’s appointment not arrive?” She smiled and said, “Each day at this time he goes to prayer. His appointment was with the Lord!”

This spirit of prayer must flow from the Senior Pastor to the entire church! Trite moments of prayer in a cell group are incapable of breaking the spirit of lethargy in a cell. Often growth is stifled because the presence and power of Christ does not overwhelm the group. It must always be remembered that each separate cell is the Body of Christ. Times of intensive communion with Him, with His Spirit manifested in the midst, will bring a new dimension to a cell. There is a heaven and earth difference in a cell that has experienced a wipe-out as He comes in all His glory during seasons’ of prayer!

How to Break this Barrier

Many of the largest cell churches in the world begin the weekday schedule with prayer meetings. Members arrive at five or six o’clock in the morning to pray before going to their work. It is also common for a cell church to have a weekly half night of prayer, usually on a Friday evening. This may include intense prayer times for the church, the community, the nation and whatever else the Holy Spirit places in the hearts of the people.

In cells, intercession and warfare for the unconverted must become personal. During the Share the Vision time, the leader should display a large poster with the names of all unsaved oikos contacts. As this list is discussed, the Holy Spirit will create a prayer burden for those who have blind eyes and deaf ears. I have experienced cells that have prayed earnestly for these lost persons, or who have scheduled a special half-night of prayer to intercede for those on the list. During these times, the Spirit often shows the cell new ways to witness to these unbelievers. Many churches have also broken the barrier of barrenness by having cell groups prayer walk their neighborhoods.

4. Lack of Equipping

Tragically, the traditional church has not developed a systematic boot camp to prepare each Christian for ministry in God’s army. The church staff members recruit appropriate people to operate the programs they supervise, but little thought is given to the urgent need to equip every believer for the work of ministry.

Cell churches must take seriously the need to equip every incoming cell member. Cell members will stagnate who are simply invited to attend cells, without clear equipping for service. In these cells, a tendency to navel gaze soon occurs, and members become obsessed with their own needs. They never learn to reach out to the lost. The Year of Equipping enables pastors and cell leaders to train and equip new members. My equipping track assists each cell member to examine and adopt a biblical values for their new lifestyle of evangelism and servanthood.

How to Break this Barrier

Every cell member must be launched into The Year of Equipping by the second visit to a cell. Fastidious records of progress must be kept by the cell leader and the zone or church office. The accomplishments of those completing major portions of this boot camp training should be recognized by the whole Body at Sunday Celebrations.

After the basic training, further courses and seminars should be offered to develop skills for evangelizing, equipping and edifying. A cell church that grows trains within the life of the body rather than sending its members to study at a faraway school. A classic example of this is found in the Cornerstone Church in Virginia, pastored by Gerald Martin, where a full seminary structure has been added to their leadership training programs.

5. Lack of Deliverance

Incoming cell members may know they have a Heavenly Father and that their sins are forgiven, but they may enter the Kingdom with many strongholds. Areas of sins, bad habits, bitterness and unforgiveness often remain unchallenged for months or even years, because they do not understand the need for new believers to learn about satan, the accuser of the brethren, who goes about seeking whom he may devour.

The first priority for every new cell member must be deliverance. As Dion Robert says, “You Westerners doubt that a Christian can have a demon. I want you to know a Christian can have anything he wants to have!” Setting captives free is vital in a cell church. If this barrier is left in place, there will be many surprises as shipwrecked people and marriages unexpectedly appear.”

How to Break this Barrier

It is strongly recommended that soul care be provided through personal counseling and spiritual warfare retreats within one or two months of joining a cell group. When new members discover inner victory, God’s refining fire will burn away lethargy in the meetings and inspire outreach to those controlled by satan. Eglise Protestante Baptist Oeuvres et Mission in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and the Mission Charismatica Internacional in Bogota, Colombia are examples of churches which have developed deliverance ministries for incoming cell members. Jim Egli has developed the Encounter God materials to o help your church develop this ministry.

6. Lack of Community

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:21 that one part of the body cannot say to another part, “I don’t need you.” Philippians 2:4 reminds us that we should not look only to our own interests but also to the interests of the others. If cell members are limited to interacting with each other only once a week in a cell meeting, no bonding will occur. In such a group, the presence of Christ will not be evident, for this is not enough contact to create community and unity in heart and spirit. Living in community is the very essence of the Body of Christ. We must be responsible to and for each other. Belonging to a basic Christian community is infinitely more than a weekly meeting. We are ligaments in Christ’s body – responsible to support one another. It is imperative that a cell church have a regular schedule of retreats for cells and leadership, evangelism events and other activities that will establish community.

How to Break this Barrier

Strong cell churches have retreats for cells and zones. Pastor Cesar Castellanos is currently building seven separate retreat centers around the edges of Bogota for the important weekends used for deliverance, soul care and cell leadership training events.

Cell leaders must be careful to create opportunities for cell members to have quality time together apart from the weekly meeting. This might involve a retreat every eight weeks, special evenings to celebrate someone’s birthday or wedding anniversary or having a cookout on a Saturday night, etc. Using the DISC profiles can be a tremendous tool to create sensitivity for one another. We must remember that the major ingredient required for developing community is time spent together.

7. Lack of Passion for the Lost

A cell group must see itself as a military platoon whose primary task is to kick down the gates of hell and snatch the lost from burning. A cell that is not leading the lost to Christ will fossilize! It isinconceivable that the Body of Christ does not have His heart and compassion for the lost.

Often, cell members ignore Jesus’ command to share their faith with their oikos contacts. Cells should regularly see at least one new convert for every three members within six months. If there is no appeal for cell members to reach out and if the cell does not
deliberately sponsor events to mix with the lost, there will be no harvest.

How to Break this Barrier

The cell is a net that is cast into a sea of lost people. Body life evangelism represents the total cell community sharing in projects
which involve unbelievers. Share groups and interest groups are excellent means of accomplishing this. Sometimes a need in an
unbeliever’s life can make it possible for the entire cell to witness. One example of this is a cell group in Houston who discovered one of their members had a leaky roof on his old house and had no funds to fix it. The cell group purchased shingles and roofed the entire house in one day. A great impact was made on the neighbors who saw this group of twelve swarming all over that roof and the front yard that a new cell was developed in that area.