THE FIELDS ARE WHITE
HOW CAN CELL CHURCHES BRING PEOPLE TO CHRIST AND ENFOLD THEM IN HIS FAMILY?
BY JIM EGLI
First-time observers of the cell church movement are often amazed at the growth rate of cell churches, but a closer look reveals something even more remarkable about their growth. Cell churches grow primarily through conversions. This stands in sharp contrast to growing program-based churches in North America that grow overwhelmingly through transfer growth.
How do cell churches do evangelism? Why do they succeed where traditional churches fail? How do they bring people to Christ and enfold them in his body?
As I have researched cell churches around the world, I have seen several factors at work in church after church. These factors are
passion, training, teamwork, and special events. I want to explain each one of these and then draw some practical conclusions for those just beginning to implement cell church principles.
Effective outreach doesn’t begin with techniques. It begins when we ask God to give us His heart for the lost. God’s compassion moved Him to sacrifice even to the point of the death of His Son. Outreach is costly. We want it to be costless and comfortable. That’s impossible. It will cost us our lives as we sacrifice our time, our agendas and ourselves. This kind of sacrifice comes only when we let God plant his heart for the lost in our own hearts.
In a number of surveys, the American Institute for Church Growth asked over 14,000 people the question, “Who or what was responsible for your coming to Christ and the church?” More than four out of five of these people said that they were influenced to receive Christ by a friend or relative. Extensive research in this area points to one simple truth: most people are brought to Christ by ordinary people who loved them and made Jesus real to them. Cell churches maximize this simple principle by training each believer in caring, relational outreach.
Different churches use different materials and training settings. In the “equipping track” developed by Ralph Neighbour, within six months after coming to Christ, new believers are given confidence to share their faith through The Touching Hearts Guidebook. Typically this training occurs in a one-on-one relationship within the cell or through a weekend seminar. This illustrates an important factor: people should be equipped to share their faith as soon as possible after receiving Christ because this is when they have the broadest network of non-Christian friends.
New Christians make great evangelists. In fact, pre-Christians sometimes are really good at evangelism. I remember a young woman in one of our cells who came for several months before she made a commitment to Christ. However, she was so excited about the love that she found there that she was weekly bringing friends and relatives, even before she was a Christian herself.
In the past we waited to equip people in evangelism until they were more “mature.” Unfortunately, when we wait a year or more, they have often lost contact with their unbelieving friends and the relational bridges needed for the gospel to travel across are gone.
Evangelism equipping materials must have a deliberate plan for equipping the body that trains believers in the basics of loving others to Christ: relational outreach, prayer for the lost, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, how to share their testimony and how to share the good news of Jesus. Whether you use Ralph Neighbour’s materials or others, you must think through and strategize how this training takes place in the flow of cell church life.
Jesus said, “One sows, another reaps” (John 4:37). The implication is, evangelism takes more than one of us; it takes teamwork.
I like the way Win Am put this in his Master’s Plan for Making Disciples. “A non-Christian friend can see Jesus in me, but not in a
complete way. The more Christians I introduce him to, the more completely he can see Christ.” I have seen this truth repeated in my own outreach, and its reality is seen in cell churches around the world. Effective evangelism takes teamwork, and the most effective evangelism team is the cell.
When we introduce non-Christians to cell members, they see Him reflected in Christians’ lives and in the relationships that we have with each other. Broken relationships fill the world around us, and when they see caring relationships, it grabs their attention. The Apostle John puts it this way, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). In other words, the way God is going to become real to others is through our practical love for one another. Cells can work at team evangelism in lots of ways:
• Pray weekly for the lost. Support each other in personal outreach;
• Plan social events every month or two that they can invite unbelievers to;
• Focus special care and prayer on two or three especially receptive unbelievers;
• Include one another in personal activities and events with non-Christian friends.
• Start sub-groups out of the cell geared toward unbelievers, such as interest groups or investigative Bible studies.
This sense of teamwork in cells is consistent. It is a part of their weekly agenda as they pray for outreach and encourage each other. It is deliberate as the cells plan events and sub-groups for outreach. The events are often parties or outings with the purpose of building relationships with non-Christians and introducing them to cell members. Special groups are also formed to appeal to the felt needs of those around them. For example, it’s November as I write this. My cell is now planning a Christmas party in December where we will invite non-Christian friends. My wife and I also recently completed a parenting class that we led in our neighborhood for young parents. Only one couple from the cell was in the group of six couples, but another couple from the cell baby-sat for the class and everyone else prayed for the group. It was exciting and fun and now we are following through on the relationships formed there.
Cell churches around the world have “harvest events.” Although these may be called different things in different locations, the same principles are at work. Several times a year there are high quality events where believers can easily invite non-Christians. These may by drama events, special Christmas services, crusades, musicals, or healing services.
At the rural church in which I pastored, we used these same principles in annual Invite-A-Friend Sundays and candlelight Christmas Eve services. We would print invitations for these events and soak them in prayer. Our attendance would typically jump 70% for these events.
At Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore, they have a big musical every year called “Come, Celebrate Christmas!” Last year it drew a total attendance of 40,000 and the church recorded thousands of decisions for Christ that were followed up by the cell groups.
The name and shape of harvest events vary from place to place. But the principles remain the same. They are exciting, appealing events, soaked in prayer, that believers can enthusiastically invite friends to knowing that they’ll have a great time and hear a dear and compelling presentation of the gospel.
Getting Serious About Outreach
If you are just now beginning your cell journey, where do you start? I’ve got three “D’s” for you. Do it, design it, and discern it.
The starting point is you. Are you personally reaching out to the lost?
Is relational outreach a high priority in your own weekly schedule?
Pastors, staff members and cell leaders must live relational outreach if it is to take root throughout the church.
There are different tools for getting serious. Even if you don’t have cells in place yet, start using an evangelism tool in existing classes or programs to put the values in place that will make the cells effective. Watch out, though, it may change your lives! Excellent resources include: The Master’s Plan by Win Am, The Touching Hearts Guidebook by Ralph Neighbour, and Living Proof by Jim Petersen. Realize that the curriculum isn’t the biggest factor, though. The real issue is asking God to give you a new heart and a new lifestyle.
Have you designed a plan for equipping your church in relational outreach? If not, how are you going to do it? We are encouraged in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Do people know how to share their testimony and a simple presentation of the gospel? Do they know how to be sensitive to people and to the Holy Spirit so that it is done in a caring, respectful way? Are they forming friendships with unbelievers, so that people even ask about the hope within your cell members’ lives?
Once the leadership begins to live relational outreach, the next step is to design a plan to equip as many as possible. You will often need two plans, one for the transition phase where you are shaping new values and another for equipping people within the emerging cell system once it is established.
Listen to God. What specific plans does He have for you as a church? Is there a certain target group that he is calling you to target such as singles, young families or a particular ethnic group? Are there harvest events that He wants you to try? Pray! Consider fasting. What is God saying to you as you submit to him? The goal is not to get God running with your plan, but to get yourself running with God’s plan!
As you move forward in outreach, understand that the cell system is like an extension cord. It has no power in and of itself. But if you plug it into God on one end and unbelievers on the other, life changing power can flow. Put the pieces of your cell strategy in place. That’s essential. But even more essential is to plug it in. Connect to God and to the hurting world around you, then let Christ’s life and power flow through you. Jesus has made His intentions clear: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you…. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:4,8)
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY TOUCH OUTREACH MINISTRIES, 2000, “CELLEBRATING” CELLCHURCH MAGAZINE, PAGES 227-232.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.