January 12, 2007

Cell Church

I found this article on the up and coming Cell/Home Church movement. It is in my hometown newspaper (and written by a guy I went to high school with). My friend Eric Hilliard is also in the initial stages of planting a church that will be a cluster of home church groups. (See Eric's thoughts here, here, and here; he also has an initial website up for the church here.)

I have not read Barna's book so I cannot comment appropriately on what Barna has to say. Eric and I were able to talk about this topic a little bit on this topic while attending a church planting conference together.

The Cell/Home Church movement does meet a need that an organized church cannot. It offers an opportunity for collaborative reflection on the Scripture, there is no political wrangling due to a lack of a hierarchical leadership structure, and there is little overhead (no building, programs, etc). Money given can go directly to a cause our outreach.

As I think about this form of church there are several questions that I have:

1. What about leadership? Should anyone be allowed to lead a church? Without some form of Bible training? As the group grows, how will new leaders be trained, empowered and sent out to build other groups?

2. What about outreach and evangelism? If a church is reaching out to the lost and, expanding the Kingdom of God, people will be saved and will start coming to the group. What plan is there to develop new leadership and to fight the "us-four-no-more" mindset that already influences so many churches?

3. What about accountability? As the leaders develop new groups, how will those groups be kept "on vision" with the intent of the church? How will "rogue" groups be handled? (It is tough enough to handle these in a church as it is.) There is a danger for an "I'll do it my way" without accountability. Not that the traditional church structure has this completely figured out, but how is orthodoxy maintained with so many "voices" having a say?

4. How do these groups relate to the church as a whole? As is the danger in all new forms of church, there is the tendency to look at all other forms of church as "non-biblical" and at the bare minimum as deficient in some ways. For example: Contemporary churches look at Liturgical churches (and vice versa) as deficient and possibly unfaithful to the Gospel because they are doing church in a certain way. When the truth is that each has its place in the Kingdom, can be expanding the Kingdom, and does speak the Gospel to certain people and personality types.

What do you think?


  1. Okay I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater but I have known a large contingency of people who have been parts of house churches. I have been parts of countless debates (think Boars Head). It is unending.

    The primary concerns and problems I have are these:

    1) Humans are flawed and prideful. Eventually you are going to have to discipline someone, and house churches tend to be so small and so cliquish that nobody wants to be the bad guy.

    2) Lack of resources. Granted the arguement here is we don't need many resources. Well, what if everyone in your house church all works for the same company or supporting companies and it goes out of business. What happens to your church now? You don't have the resources to support your own family, let alone help your brothers and sisters. The church would die. No biggie, it isn't like you have overhead right? (sarcasm)

    3) Lack of training. Everyone is a self appointed expert in something (just ask me..). Unfortunately not every house church can have a biblically trained minister at it's helm. I do believe God can use those who are untrained, but I also see the difference in those who have not been through the training, versus those who have. I personally would rather shovel potatoes (just for you Steve) with those who have, because they have studied those who have shoveled before them. Despite the "you learn by doing" them so prevalent, you really CAN learn by other peoples mistakes and successes.

    4) Unorganized churches tend to bring in those who buck authority, refuse direction, and are unteachable. A church full of this behavior will have a hard time with unity. There would be constant power struggles. People who have these issues need healing and NEED an organized body to help them (trust me I know...).

    5) Accountability. Anyone in leadership must be accountable to someone. Even Jesus was accountable to the Father. A leader can never become a leader without knowing what it means to be accountable. In small groups, accountability tends to not happen or be very lax. The one small "house church" that I was licensed by eventually became an established church... but it lead to abuse.. why? No accountability. They had no spiritual head over them and no governing body to hold them to any set standards.

    I personally like the model our church has. I think there are a few things that could be improved upon, but the small groups within a larger group is fantastic. There is a sense of family within the smaller groups, and within the larger organism, resources for the many varied complexities families have. If 20 families lost their jobs and everythign right now, we have the resources to help them. I don't have to worry about my pastor abusing people because he is accountable to those over him and around him. Because of it being larger than 20 people, he (and other staff) are also watched by more people so that holds them to a higher standard than if they had the ability to hide within a small group of friends.

    House churches in my opinion... great idea... but flawed.

  2. Response to Ronni:

    1) Not wanting to appear the "bad guy" is more of a leadership deficiency, than it is a problem with a particular model. Sure the size is smaller, but there are people in larger settings that have the same fear, and it's just as bad, but that is an issue with them and not a model.

    2) While resources are great, and I would gladly accept more of them, the Bible is full of God doing more with less (i.e. - 300 troops vs. the army of the Midianites, five loaves and two fish, 12 uneducated guys, etc, etc).

    3) I agree, more training would be great, but unfortunately in many cases not possible. I've seen the other side of the coin also however, where a person uses their education to intimidate and control. The basis of submission comes not from Godly character but from their credentials as an "academician and a scholar" (their words).

    4) Again I agree, but I'm not sure that you can label house and or cell churches as unorganized necessarily. I will say that for the most part they are as you say, but there are those that are highly organized. Take Paul Cho's church for example. They are a cell church and have over 1 million members. Granted they have their problems, but they deal with them and they are highly organized. The whole buck against authority thing is indeed a problem in many house church enviornments, which is why strong leadership is a must and a willingness to protect others from toxic attitudes.

    5) Again I agree that accountability must be in place, but you speak as though there are no cell churchs that have an established authority over them. This is absolutely essential for any church to survive long term, which is why it was our first goal as my wife and I stepped out to plant.

    In Response to Eric:

    1) Biblical training is indeed a must, and I have been puting some serious thought into training. I'm actually thinking that training nights in a classroom setting for leaders on particular evenings may be the best route, but am still playing with the idea.

    2) Most of the "us-four-no-more" syndrome I see is typically among established Christians who have been believers for a long time, and they usually aren't to concerned with outreach. I think that you have to really make evangelism and outreach a priority in the lives of young believers. If their living the value early on, it will continue to replicate itself.

    3) I think that was one of the greatest advantages of going through Regent Universitys cell church track, was that a lot of this was covered. There are a few different leadership and accountability structures that can be utilized for this. My personal favorite is what is known as the "5 by 5 matrix." Basically for every 5 cell groups, you have a coach who goes from group to group and follows up with the leaders. Having the small group leader report forms that can be completed online with also help with the base line group accountability. Every 5 coaches (25 cell groups) has a zone pastor overseeing them. This is typically a paid staff position, and usually someone who has come through the ranks. 5 zones (125 cell groups) have a congregational pastor overseeing them. This is typcially the point where a second congregation is birthed, and so on and so forth. That's a pretty basic explination, and there are other models of cell church out there as well.

    5) I agree with this danger, and it is really a danger no matter the church structure. It seems we as humans have this natural elitest mindset that emerges as we see something succeed. Our way is the best way is our battle cry as we tout our methods and ways of going about things. Perhaps the best way around this is to continue to cry the opposite, "Our way isn't the best way, but it's working for us and it takes all kinds to see the kingdom advance." Also, by working closely with other churches we can hopefully show that this is what we belive. My wife just finished reading "The Way It Was" by Carol Wimber. There was an interesting story in there about a church John was on staff at that had seen huge success in evangelism and was looking to do a building program. He argued against it saying that the Methodist, and Baptist churches in town were only filled a third of the way and had plenty of room for converts. He finally won them over, but it wasn't an easy battle. If only everyone had this mindset eh?

  3. Eric, I think you pointed out. These are not issues that are reserved only for the Cell/House church...they are everywhere no matter the size. In big churches the problem is bigger; for small churches they are more damaging.

    I think the 5x5 structure is a great idea. It also offers you training opportunities on the upward matrix. Each leader is expected to be in a small group where they are learning as well.

    Good thoughts.

  4. Response to Eric (not Wright),

    I do understand that it is a leadership deficiency, the issue is that in a larger body, with correct accountability, if one person is not willing, there is always another that can pick up the slack if necessary.

    I also agree that less can be more, but there is always balance needed. Too little can be as unhealthy as too much. I am grateful for a church that values people over stuff, and values balance.

    Training is always possible. Read a book. Find a mentor. I am not talking about people with Master's degrees here (sorry Eric W.)... that can be too much at times, finding someone with character and education and training is hard. I prefer character if I have to choose, because they can always be trained (again, read!).

    A leader that doesn't read and constantly try to better themselves gets stale.

    Again, I may have lumped too many into a sentence. Not all house churches ARE unorganized, but then again, I have a large number of friends in house churches in the very area this article was about. I have attended a few and led worship in one. I found that there were leaders... and organization on paper, but when it came down to the daily stuff, people still didn't know what was going on. Those who tried to institute order where seen as controlling, and those saw authority being used, hollered abuse. It was a hard situation.

    I like the model you are speaking of and I will definitely look into it further. Again, I am no expert on this but I have been in the middle of it a few times. ;)

  5. I'm not saying that your concerns aren't vailid, I think they are, and things can indeed be "messy" at times in house churches, and they can be "messy" in larger churches.

    There is a church here in my town that just went through a huge split. It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest church in town, and now half of the people meet in a barn out in the country and just hired their own pastor. All of this over children's curriculum and sermon writing.

    The question is which model do you want to risk on -- the house church or the traditional church. Either way you look at it, risk is involved, and there is no getting around it.

  6. There seems to be this faulty assumption that there is a church out there that is ORGANIZED ;) I have yet to see it.

    I think it boils down to the intentions of why people are part of the cell church. Are they there because they are mad at another church? Want to do their own thing?

    Or, are they there because they are able to better serve and worship God through the unique opportunities for growth and ministry provided by a house church?

    I almost think it takes a stronger leader to lead a cell church because the groups are so small and and the intentions so varied. On the larger scaled church, there is the "controlling," maybe "stabilizing" is a better word, factor of the gathered worship environment. The leader in the traditional format church has all the varied opinions, but the people have interaction with him on a regular basis through the Sunday worship.

    Just thinking out loud...