Thu. Mar 4th, 2021

WHY AMERICAN CELL CHURCHES FAIL
BY RANDALL PARR

Whether you call them cell groups, care groups or home fellowships, most Christians are familiar with the concept of small-group ministry. To some, these group systems have been a blessing (they are often credited as the building blocks of mega-churches). To many more, however, the very mention of “cell groups” brings on a mega-headache. Small group systems set up with much planning and great enthusiasm-yet organized the wrong way-have “nuked” many a fine little church before its time. The famous cell ministry of David Yonggi Cho in Seoul, Korea, has been the model by which most contemporary small group systems are measured. Thousands of ministers flock to Korea every year for Church Growth International’s (CGI) conference on cell ministry
development. They come from around the world with notepads in hand, seeking, to obtain the success secrets of Cho’s amazing system. And amazing it is.

When I first attended the CGI conference in 1984 (the 100th anniversary of Christianity in Korea), Cho’s Yoido Full Gospel Church was approaching an active membership of 500,000 people. They were operating through 21,000 home cell groups that were systematically adding I 0,000 new members each month. Pretty impressive for a ministry that started 34 years ago in a U.S. Army surplus tent with five of Cho’s family members! Every pastor in attendance was awed by the immensity of the Yoido cell system, each earnestly desiring to take some piece of this “miracle” home with them. Typically, however, the miracle refused to come along.

In hundreds of personal interviews I’ve conducted with pastors around the country, over 90 percent agree that, though Cho’s system may work great in Korea, cell groups are largely unsuccessful in America. Noble American attempts have been made to imitate the Korean program, but few have scratched the surface of its impact. Ambiguous cultural mysteries tend to take the blame.

Yet the same question continues to haunt those leaders who long for American revival: Can U.S. churches ever achieve the same evangelistic impact on their cities as Yoido Full Gospel Church has in Seoul? Is this kind of church growth possible in our nation? Is the Korean phenomenon some kind of socio-religious fluke?

Like advice, speculation is free and plentiful. Why do American cell group systems struggle and fail? Here are five reasons-and what Christian leaders can do to beat them:

1. American cell group systems fail because they are methodologically designed to do so. Listening to Cho lecture on home-cell ministry development, I was struck by one crucial statement. “In America,” Cho said, “cell groups are always built around the church. In Korea, the church is built around the cell groups.”

How revolutionary! Growing up, my concept of the church was one of a classic red-bricked, stained-glass building with a white steeple on top. Most Americans are comfortable with that image because it is tangible, representing the core around which programs and ministries revolve. Cho, however, emphasizes the biblical principle that people, not buildings, are the church.

Cho has put action behind his philosophy by developing the Yoido cell program into a medium through which the entire ministry agenda can be managed without geographical restraint. The Yoido Full Gospel Church is actually a huge cell group system that consolidates each weekend for corporate worship and prayer services.

Throughout the week, some groups meet in the morning; others gather at noon or at night. Some meet in homes; others meet in offices, factories and schools. Church life exists almost totally through cell oriented special events, meetings and social gatherings where everybody is somebody. Through a superb combination of systematic design and intensive leadership training, the proverbial “back door” of the church is essentially shut, resulting in qualitative growth based upon personal relationships.

The main point is this: Successful cell ministry cannot survive as a mere ancillary “program,” as happens so often in American churches. It must become the way we do business.

2. American cell group systems fail because they lack sufficient pastoral commitment. Cho believes that pastoral commitment to the control of the cell system is essential. “Every system has a point of control,” Cho says, “and in cell ministry, that point of control is the pastor.” American pastors can improve group ministry control by enhancing their awareness in at least three areas:

Personal knowledge. Here are three good rules: Don’t play with electricity if you are not an electrician; don’t fly an airliner if you
are not a pilot; and don’t mess with cell groups if you don’t know what you’re doing. Besides, it is difficult to get motivated to implement an effective cell ministry if you do not fully understand its potential. Take the time to get well-acquainted with small-group dynamics. Study how small groups are employed in other countries such as England and China, where such systems are frequently the primary avenue of evangelism and Christian life.

Personal interest. An effective small-group system will demand the lion’s share of your attention. In order to experience optimum
congregational participation in the cell system, members must see that this “non-traditional” method of ministry holds top priority with the pastor. Whether it be through regular verbal affirmation from the pulpit, in promotional videos, in the church newsletter or at fellowship meetings, the people must be convinced that their spiritual leader believes in the cell ministry. How else can they be expected to believe in it themselves?

Personal leadership. All too often, cell systems have been prematurely “delegated” to faithful assistants who really have no idea what a cell group is, much less know how to manage an entire network of them. If vision, integrity and quality control are to be maintained, cell ministry leadership and management must remain, ultimately, in the hands of the pastor. Eventual system delegation is fine if stabilization has been achieved and the associate is as informed and excited as the pastor about the subject matter. Until that time, however, the pastor should stay enthusiastically in charge.

3. American cell group systems fail because they have not discerned the needs of their communities. Marketing research analyst George Barna defines “user-friendly churches” as those “in touch with the needs of those they want to serve.” Gone are the days when traditional youth, singles, young adult ministries and the like can fit every bill. Alarming increases in broken homes, dysfunctional families, AIDS, alcohol and drug addiction, and sexual and physical abuse demand creative methods of outreach to hurting people-people who will never come to our churches on their own.

Then there is another group of wounded, non-church-attending folks who will not approach our doors: those of our own camps who’ve been incapacitated by “friendly fire” and discarded. A proactive network of homogeneous small groups offers an outstanding way to help bind up the brokenhearted and demonstrate the love of Jesus.

Homogeneous means “like in nature or kind,” referring in this case to small groups designed for individuals who have particular common interests. For example, a homogeneous cell consisting of former alcoholics can provide loving, understanding support for those now suffering or recovering from the effects of that illness; healed victims of abuse or disease, single parents and others can offer much to those who share in their unique circumstances.

Concerned pastors can begin by carefully identifying community needs. By matching them with the talents and desires of group leader candidates, homogeneous groups can be planted wherever people are hurting. Although homogeneous groups are only one type of cell that may be utilized (“geographical” being another), they are perhaps the most powerful medium of organized church response to the often silent pains of those around us.

4. American cell group systems fail because they are guided with little or no vision. Most Christian congregations in America have less than 100 people in attendance on any single day of worship. But according to Cho, American churches stay small because they think small. When once addressing an audience of young pastors, Cho challenged, “Show me your vision, and I will show you your future!” It is certainly no revelation that leaders restrict themselves to the confines of past experience. In fact, one major (and swiftly shrinking) denomination I know of still boldly reminds its pastors that “we were called to be faithful, not successful.”

American cell systems suffer from these same limitations. When planning a small group program, start small-but think big. Cho
believes “the No. I requirement for having real church growth-unlimited church growth-is to set goals.” Prayerfully plan a program marked with clear, measurable objectives so that progress can be accurately charted. Map out the number, types and locations of prospective cell groups over the next six, 12, 18 months and so on. Prepare the groups with care and manage system progress methodically (as in any business). Keep detailed records on everyone and everything involved. Take it slow, stick closely to the plan, and don’t quit. God’s people perish where there is no vision, and cell systems are not exempt.

5. American cell group systems fail because of inadequate leadership selection and training. Poorly selected and trained group leader candidates are usually the primary causes of cell system disintegration in our country. Pastors can remedy this problem up front approaching prospects they know personally that are loyal, caring individuals of sound character and exemplary Christian lifestyle. Can dates must have a heart for small-group ministry and be willing to “contract” 10 hours per week to the program for one year.

Gender should not factor into leadership selection. In fact, one of Cho’s creative approaches to cell leadership selection has been his frequent choice of women. Of the 21,000 cell group leaders serving the Yoido Church during my initial visit in 1984, 19,000 were females. With over 50,000 groups today, that ratio remains the same.

Pastors must recognize that their cell group leaders will be living, functional extensions of themselves. As faithful caregivers, cell
group leaders will be pastors’ lifelines to the congregation and, as such, must be carefully trained by them.

Leadership training should include such subjects as cell ministry dynamics, counseling, pastoral care and small-group evangelism. Specially designed training events should be provided periodically to keep group leaders fresh, motivated and thinking creatively. This practice will help ensure their personal growth, as well as a healthy relationship with their pastor.

Can cell groups succeed in America today? The answer lies in the willingness of Christian leaders to adopt cell group ministry as the ” church” of the future. Wise pastors will seek to discover the dynamics of this powerful ministry medium and harness it effectively-not only to minister to their flock, but to take their cities for God.

Randall Parr, a Navy chaplain and Church growth consultant, says he invested ten years of his life and “a small fortune” trying to
determine why most American cell group systems struggle-and how they can succeed. He heads the Randall Parr organization (RPO), which provides consulting and seminars on cell churches, church growth and development. For information, contact RPO at: P.0, Box 671099, Dallas, Texas 75367. Phone: (800) 489-7277, can remedy this problem up front by approaching prospects they know personally that are loyal, caring individuals of sound character and exemplary Christian lifestyle. Candidates must have a heart for small-group ministry and be willing to “contract” 10 hours per week to the program for one year.

Gender should not factor into leadership selection. In fact, one of Cho’s creative approaches to cell leadership selection has been his frequent choice of women. Of the 21,000 cell group leaders serving the Yoido Church during my initial visit in 1984, 19,000 were females. With over 50,000 groups today, that ratio remains the same.

Pastors must recognize that their cell group leaders will be living, functional extensions of themselves. As faithful caregivers, cell group leaders will be pastors’ lifelines to the congregation and, as such, must be carefully trained by them.

Leadership training should include such subjects as cell ministry dynamics, counseling, pastoral care and small-group evangelism. Specially designed training events should be provided periodically to keep group leaders fresh, motivated and thinking creatively. This practice will help ensure their personal growth, as well as a healthy relationship with their pastor.

Can cell groups succeed in America today? The answer lies in the willingness of Christian leaders to adopt cell group ministry as the ” church” of the future. Wise pastors will seek to discover the dynamics of this powerful ministry medium and harness it effectively-not only to minister to their flock, but to take their cities for God.

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THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY MINISTRIES TODAY, MAY/JUNE 1993, PAGES, 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49.

THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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