The Ten Commandments of Transitioning


Jim Egli and his wife Vicki serve as Small Group Pastors at the Champaign (IL) Vineyard overseeing a growing system of over 50 cell groups and target groups. He serves as a Trainer and Curriculum Consultant with TOUCH spearheading the Encounter God initiative. Jim is also the Director of Research for Missions International. He is completing a Ph.D. in Communication at Regent University. He and his wife Vicki have three young adult sons and a nine-year old daughter.

Have you caught the cell church vision? Traditional churches that have embraced the cell structure are successfully transitioning to the cell model. However, in their initial attempts, some flourish while others often struggle to survive. What makes the difference? In researching their successes and mistakes, I offer this advice to churches in the challenge of transitioning …

I. Check Your Motives

Why do you really want to become a cell church? Are you simply jumping on the cell bandwagon or desire a growing, effective church? There is only one valid reason to pursue the cell model – obedience. You must have a burning vision from God for expanding evangelism and body life. You must be so completely convinced of the vision that when you utterly fail, you will get up and try again. If your motive is anything other than obedience, don’t do it.

You will inevitably face obstacles and setbacks. If you are in this for self-advancement, you will eventually quit. This new model demands personal sacrifice and reorientation. The implementation of the cell model is a costly and involved process. Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea claims 800,000 members in cells, but learning and establishing the cell model was a big struggle for them from their initial implementation in 1964. It took ten years before a majority of their membership were in cells.

If you really want to become a cell church, first examine your heart and check your motives.

II. Let God Change You

Are you reaching out, loving and sharing Christ with the lost? Are you praying regularly?

The cell model involves more than structural change. It requires a repentant heart. It needs concerted prayer and lifestyle evangelism. If you are a leader, don’t expect your church to live these values unless you live them yourself.

How much time do you spend in prayer everyday? If you spend twenty minutes or less a day in prayer, you are living a “subnormal” Christian life. Start living a normal Christian life and take generous amounts of time with God. I do not suggest a legalistic monitoring of the time you spend in prayer. What I am challenging you to is a prayer-based life. This is a life where you love to spend time with God, interceding and hearing His voice.

“Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9) Remember this … no prayer = no power; little prayer = little power; much prayer = much power.

Forget transforming your church if you don’t want to be transformed yourself. Get serious with God. Repent. Pray. Be Jesus to sinners. Let God change your life.

III. Preach Values Before Vision

Many leaders make the error of “over-preaching” the cell vision. God places a new vision in their hearts for evangelism and the New Testament body life expressed in cells. As they catch this vision, they impulsively share their excitement by preaching and teaching about the impressiveness of the cell model, disregarding their early stages of the cell journey. However, there are no cells for people to join! In fact, it may be years until people can respond to their enthusiasm by joining a cell. This can be compared to software companies that announce fantastic new products that aren’t anywhere close to being released. The result is frustration.

Don’t preach about anything people can’t grasp. Teach the values first, not the vision. The values of a cell church boil down to three essentials: prayer (loving God), body life (loving each other), and evangelism (loving the lost). These are basic New Testament principles, so don’t preach “cells”; preach the Bible!

Start equipping your leaders and your members in relational evangelism prior to cell involvement. Preach on body life and the power of prayer. The foundation of a cell church is its values not its structure. Lay this foundation well.

IV Start Small

A Chinese proverb declares: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Jesus emphasized the power of small beginnings. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32).

Start small before you launch the entire church into cells. Experience the cell life yourself by beginning a proto-type group with a core of leaders and their spouses. Too many churches try to transition into a cell model by hastily training leaders and starting as many groups as possible. This doesn’t work! This will not speed the process but slow it down.

Car makers prototype a new model before they mass produce. This enables the makers to work out the bugs, to improve the different components and see how they fit together. If a car is not protoyped, expect numerous factory recalls. Churches that rush into the cell model by skipping this phase and going directly to mass production will experience numerous recalls as they discover training gaps and other missing components.

You have a lot to learn. A cell group is more than a meeting. It involves community building, equipping, relational evangelism and
raising leaders. Expect and pray for the difficulties in the initial groups. This is the purpose of prototyping – to discover and learn how to resolve problems.

V. Multiply Leadership

As you learn how cells work, incorporate your future leaders into the start-up groups to experience cell life for themselves. Throughout and beyond the transition process, you must constantly identify and equip leaders. The cell model is not a small group strategy; it is a leadership strategy. The focus is not to start home groups but to equip an expanding number of caring leaders. If you succeed at this, your church will flourish.

In the cell model, every leader at every level must constantly observe how to multiply itself. Think, pray, and plan “leadership.”

VI. Pray, Pray, Pray!

Many pastors and leaders justify being too busy to pray. Their ministry pattern runs completely counter to the model of Jesus Christ. He too was busy, but He set time aside to seek the face of God the Father. Many people and needs were clamoring for His attention, but “Jesus xxxoften withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

This life of prayer demonstrated by Jesus was captured by the early church. As the early believers constantly joined together in prayer, the Holy Spirit came with power. In the book of Acts, we read that miracles happened when God’s people prayed. Salvation, the empowering by the Spirit, release of prisoners, appearance of angels, direction, visions, signs and wonders were continually given in response to prayer.

I have often said that the cell system is like an extension cord. If you plug it into God’s power on one end and the needs of the world on the other, you will see an amazing flow of power. Unplugged, it is worthless.

Don’t get serious about cells unless you are willing to get serious about seeking God in prayer.

VII. Desire to Learn

Successful cell pastors have an eager desire to learn. They are constantly looking for new insights on how to improve ministry and cell life. They are humble and acknowledge that they have a lot to learn. They don’t mind learning from people in other denominations, other countries or from younger leaders.

Successful leaders go to great lengths to learn. They travel to other churches, read books voraciously and attend conferences. They personify the exhortation in Proverbs 2:4 to seek for wisdom “as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure.”

Wisdom is imperative to radically alter the way you and your church do ministry. How impassioned is your search for wisdom? How eager are you to learn? Embrace an insatiable desire to learn.

VIII. Increase Training

If you are moving to the cell model you must allocate more human and financial resources to equip leaders. Equipping leaders consumes more attention in a cell-based church that in traditional churches. As you mobilize more leaders, training intensifies. A careful examination of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark conveys that He spent 49 percent of His time in leadership training – interacting, teaching and mentoring the inner circle of twelve disciples.

Leadership training in a cell church is more comprehensive than offering classes. It begins in the cell with one-on-one equipping of each member. As persons are involved in ministry, the cell leaders and their coaches are constantly looking for caring and responsible members with leadership potential. Invite potential leaders (and their spouses if married) to a Cell Leader-Intern weekend. In this retreat setting, the expectations for training and shepherding a cell are surveyed. Those that continue are equipped in an intern class, while they become more involved in the ministry by their own cell leader.

A combination of modeling and instruction prepares leaders for the expanding ministry at all levels of the cell church. Do not look for shortcuts in your training and support system. The strength of the church will depend on the number and strength of the leaders, which will rely on the strength of your training.

IX. Eliminate the Competition

Churches flounder in implementing cells because they want cells along with everything else they have been doing. Larry Stockstill, pastor of Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana, (a successfully-transitioned church) says it well. “It is hard to be on a diet and eat your regular meals too.” You can’t do cells along with everything else a church normally does.

Yonggi Cho, pastor of Yoido, echoes the same truth. “You must change the basic structure of your church. Many churches are failing in their cell ministry because they have not changed the basic church structure, for instance: Sunday School, Women’s Department, etc. You can’t graft the cell system into the old, traditional church ministry. This structure must be changed. This change is very difficult. If you don’t change the basic structure, then the cell system will only be an added ministry to your church which will soon fizzle away.”

Why are these cell pastors so adamant about eliminating the competition to cells? If you have extensive programming besides cells, these programs will contend against the cell system for time, leadership and prayer. If you deplete your leadership pool with other programs, your cells will get too big and won’t be able to multiply. They will stagnate.

Eliminating those existing programs must be done carefully and prayerfully. If it is not done, your cells will fail.

X. Love People More Than the Vision

One of the biggest mistakes leaders of transitioning churches make is loving the vision more than the people. Sometimes the vision becomes so important to them that people are seen as a means to its end.

The Pharisees exalted God’s law to a lofty position. They thought people existed merely to serve the law. Jesus had the reverse mind set. He declared, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28) The same can be said for vision. The vision is made for people, not people for the vision!

As you dream big dreams, let God expand your capacity to care. Follow these commandments, but don’t forget the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor (and members) as yourself. If you really want a cell church, you’ll love and hate the process. It is stretching, frustrating, disappointing – but exciting! The bottom line of the cell model is releasing people to minister, to edify one another and to reach the lost. If God tells you to do it, do it! Obedience is the key to Godly success.