The Cell Church is a Praying Church


Dr. Ralph W Neighbour, Jr. has been a pioneering pastor, writer, researcher and teacher for over 50 years. He has personally tested his methods in many churches, including those in Houston and Singapore. He has written over 30 books that are used worldwide. He has held numerous teaching positions in seminaries and has consulted with churches on every continent. Currently, Dr. Neighbour continues to consult with churches and to develop useful materials to equip every member for ministry.

I was 32 years old when I experienced the Lord in a life-changing time of prayer. It was triggered by a time of great anguish. I was scheduled to go to Suffolk, Virginia, to preach for an evangelistic campaign. During a time when racial prejudices ran deep, this was to be the first city-wide meeting co-sponsored by white and black churches. Then, at the last minute, the leadership of the largest white church in town refused to allow their church or their pastor to participate. As a result, that pastor asked me to come and hold a meeting for his congregation alone.

The spirit of hate was strong in the Sunday services! The people resented my presence, which convicted them of their decision to kill the crusade. After the Sunday services, I asked the pastor to leave me undisturbed in my hotel room until I called for him. I explained I did not know how long it would take, but I could not return to that pulpit until God showed me what to do.

I threw the key under the bed of my room, stretched out on the floor, and began to pray. Sunday night, all day Monday, and into Tuesday, I continued to fast and pray, agonizing over the situation of that church. I confessed my powerlessness to bring about change in those church members, and cried out for God’s presence.

In the early hours of that second night, God came upon me. So heavy was His presence that I felt I could not catch my next breath! Waves and waves of His Spirit flowed into that room. When it was over, I felt totally exhausted, but I knew I had received His powerful presence and my preaching would never be the same.

Since the Monday night meeting had been cancelled, people came in great numbers on Tuesday night out of curiosity. I don’t think they knew that God was going to come in the power He did, but that packed auditorium met God in an encounter unforgettable. Repentance and confession of many forms of sin poured forth, and at 1 a.m. we were still meeting. I recall I was on my knees at the front row of pews with the pastor, and he whispered to me, “Ralph, I have never experienced anything like this! I am frightened. What should I do?” “Do nothing!” I whispered back, “God is bringing repentance, and we’re not needed.”

Little did I know back in those traditional church days that what we were experiencing then is what should be the norm for the Church. The manifestation of God’s power is the heart of the Church’s life. This means prayer should be the central focus of each cell group.

An examination of key cell churches in the world will demonstrate their common emphasis on prayer as the key to ministry.

When I attended David Yonggi Cho’s Cell Conference several years ago, he launched it from Prayer Mountain instead of the lovely facilities of the Central Church on Yoido Island. The pastor of the world’s largest church began his opening address by saying, “I have asked you to meet me here because I believe prayer is the most vital part of cell church life. This is my way of making that fact real to you.” With that, the delegates spent several hours praying with him.

In the hours that followed, I walked past the prayer grotto which is reserved for Pastor Cho. We were told how he goes there on a Friday evening, to pray all through the night and into the next day.

In another visit, I made an appointment to see him. As we chatted, his secretary entered the room to inform him it was time for his next appointment. I dismissed myself and sat in the waiting room outside his office to wait for a friend coming to meet me. Curious about who his next visitor would be, I observed his office door to see who would follow me. Fifteen minutes later, no one had entered that door. Tactfully, I said to his secretary, “Has Dr. Cho’s next appointment been delayed?” She smiled and said, “Oh, no. They are together now. You see, each day he uses this time to talk to the Lord.”

The secret of his church growth was revealed to me by this experience. Dr. Cho has learned to prioritize the “Listening Room” ibis life and ministry, to regularly be seated in the heavenlies to hear the Father’s voice.

Over two million visits per year are made to Prayer Mountain by the members of his church. I have listened there to the wails of a broken hearted mother, praying hour after hour for a wayward daughter. I have heard the screams of a demon possessed man as he was delivered in one of the prayer chapels. I have watched the long lines of Christians lined up to be assigned a space to pray, holding a jug of water and a bed roll. At one sitting, I observed nearly 10,000 of his people gathered to pray on the upper level of the building there shaped like Noah’s ark.

In the Ivory Coast of Africa, another significant cell church has grown to over 40,000. Pastor Dion Robert’s schedule would cripple many men. He retires about 11 p.m., to awaken at 1 or 2 a.m. While the world around him is sleeping, he takes time to commune with his Master. His ability to hear the voice of the Lord in those night hours has guided his church since 1975.

With only eight hours’ notice, Pastor Dion can assemble over 10,000 of his members for an all night prayer meeting. In preparation for their annual Easter harvest, 500 of his members lived in a stadium to fast and pray for ten days prior to the launch.

These two examples of cell church pastors reveal that prayer is the secret of the spiritual power in their churches. The anointing and harvest are results of their prayer lives. Prayer has produced the vision and passion that is seen in their cell groups.

My own experience within the cell church movement has revealed several levels of prayer activity taking place. These include:

1. Personal listening Room” Experience

In The Arrival Kit, cell members are trained to daily enter the “Listening Room,” their time of prayer. They are encouraged to keep a journal to record impressions and thoughts which flow from His throne during those times. It is in the Listening Room that cell members first learn to hear from God and receive His guidance. Not only is his or her inner life strengthened by these experiences, but edification of other cell members begins with hearing from God about ministry to them.

The Listening Room experience differs from the traditional “Quiet Time.” The awareness of the community, the cell, must be present in these intercessory times. The cell member’s time with~ God is not a private event. He or she carries the needs of those in the basic Christian community to the throne of God, returning with spiritual gifts which can be released to meet the needs of others.

I recall an attorney in Fort Worth, Texas, who said to me, “I begin to prepare to edify the other members of my cell on the way home from each meeting. Through the week, the needs present in their lives is a vital part of my Listening Room times. By the time of the next meeting, I often have a special word from the Lord to build up a brother or a sister.”

Further, the cell member becomes an intercessor for the unsaved. The Share The Vision times which conclude each cell meeting provide information about unbelievers who are being cultivated by cell members. Knowing that satan has sent the spirits of deception to blind and deafen the ears of all unbelievers, prayer for their release from this bondage is crucial. Cell members return to their homes with the information required to pray against the strongholds in the lives of unbelievers. It is because of these times of daily intercession that powerful grace begins to operate in the life of unbelievers. The needs within unbelievers is a daily issue for the cell member’s prayer times.

2. Vital Cell Group Prayer Life

In the cell group meeting, prayer becomes a vital part of the worship and praise times. There may often be special moments as the group acknowledges the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is also a lovely experience to observe prayer in the Edification Time, as a group surrounds one of its members in a cell meeting, praying for physical healing or ministering to a serious problem.

Realizing that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this
dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12), cell members must include prayer warfare as a vital part of their ministries. The domains of satan are penetrated by the prayers of believers, creating an atmosphere where spiritual freedom can exist.

Prayer walking is taught to cell members, and becomes a consistent practice for the group. For example, at Faith Community Baptist Church a special seminar was held to train all the cells to ‘enter a geographical territory in prayer before entering it with share groups or interest groups. In Singapore, Faith Community Baptist Church sponsors zone prayer walks for its cells. Sometimes a cell will walk through the passages of the Housing Development Board flats, praying before each door. Most are marked by pagan symbols, including incense cans, images of gods, or mirrors to frighten away demons when the door is opened. With awareness of specific strongholds in the people living in each flat, prayer warfare can then precede each visitation.

3. Zone or District Prayer Journey

Zones or districts in some cell churches gather together on a regular basis (perhaps every six weeks) for a half night of prayer. The
sessions begin with worship, testimonies from cells or members about what God has done through prayers for healings, deliverances, etc. After exhortation from the Pastor in charge, the groups may be given maps to designate areas for prayer warfare. In cars or on foot, clusters of cells will spend the evening, often past the hour of midnight, praying over the territory of the zones.

Special attention is given to areas to be targeted for the establishing of new cells. This joint effort increases the vision of the cell members to the district or zone as they pray. Special needs of the area are observed. In one such Prayer Journey in Singapore, kerosene lamps were observed burning inside large buildings under construction. An investigation revealed that there were several dozen indentured laborers from Bangladesh living in the space they were building. Out of this, a ministry has been generated to make contact with these workers and establish cell groups among them.

4. Church-Wide Prayer Life

Gathering together all the cells from the church for prayer is also vital to their work for the Lord. For example, every Friday night the facilities of the Central Church on Yoido Island in Seoul are packed and jammed with members coming for the half night of prayer. Twenty-five thousand or more gather for a meeting that begins at 8 p.m. and continues nonstop until 2 a.m. Singing and Bible teaching times are interspersed with the prayer times. Simultaneously, all the people pray aloud with great fervor. These prayer sessions may continue for 30 or 40 minutes before the leader rings a bell to call the audience to attention.

Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore devotes a full hour of prayer in their worship services about once every three months. Everyone prays aloud at the same time. The pattern used for this 60 minutes includes ten minutes each for worship, prayer for the nation, prayer for the church, prayer for one’s family needs, prayer for the unsaved, and prayer for one’s own needs. This continual repeating of hour-long prayer times by the entire church is a powerful way to train cell members to pray for one hour.

When special events are forthcoming, church wide prayer vigils are held. For example, in December of each year Faith Community Baptist Church conducts an evangelistic harvest event called “Come Celebrate Christmas.” In 1993, there were 48,000 people who attended this event. In September, at a prayer vigil people began to pray for one hour for every seat in the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Reports were received weekly from the cells of the number of hours the individual members had invested in prayer for this event. Thus, when the activity was held, every person sat down in a seat that had been prayed over for one full hour. The atmosphere of the event, from the first minute the auditorium was occupied, was charged with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It makes a difference when prayer is a focal point of a church! When Peter Wagner came to speak for the Touch Equipping Stations classes, he remarked after his first three-hour session, “Speaking in this auditorium is amazing! Seldom have I experienced such freedom in my teaching. The atmosphere here is charged with God’s presence as a result of your prayer lives.”

5. Church Staff Prayer We

Sadly, I have participated in religious organizations all my life, beginning with my early post-college years with Billy Graham and including denominational jobs and serving as pastor or staff member of Program Base Design churches. Not once was I exposed to the life of prayer as thoroughly inserted into a church staff as I have experienced during the past four years at Faith Community Baptist Church! Each staff member is given three days of prayer leave every three months. A small stipend is given toward the rental of a hotel room, and staff go in pairs for this time of quiet meditation and prayer. While most of the time is spent alone, there are seasons of prayer and sharing between the two during meals.

The first Tuesday of each month, the 173 employees of the church begin a prayer season which goes from 8 a.m.. to 1 or 2 p.m. Part of this time is spent praying individually, another part as an office staff event, and finally all the staff gathers for praise and prayer warfare which occupies the last hours.

The rest of the Tuesdays include a prayer meeting for everyone from 11 a.m. to 1 or 1:30 p.m. We often wrestle with problems the church is facing, and always pray for our cell church planters who have gone out from us to labor in Vladivostok, Alma Ata, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, and among the restricted nations.

Each day begins with an hour of prayer within each department. Thus, the staff is saturated with prayer events that are done on “company time.” It is my feeling that the reason we have gone for seven years without a serious problem between staff members is because of the prayer bonding that takes place on a regular basis.

Like a machine needs oil, so does a ministry or church need prayer. We must pray for God to anoint what we do. We should pray for God to touch every area of our ministries with His anointing. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I don’t know what anointing is, but I know when it is not there.” Do people sense this “anointing” in our lives, in our ministries and churches? Let us ask God anew for His help in not only our personal prayer lives, but also the prayer lives of those we minister to in the cell church.