Cell Church, House Church, Small Groups: Changing the Church or Growing the Church?

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Joel Comiskey recently asked whether the cell church movement in the US is serving as a church growth strategy or more as a reformation within the church. Comiskey is of the opinion that the focus on relational fellowship groups in the North American church is challenging our understanding of the nature of the church. Further, he suggests that effective small groups programs also challenge the individualism of our culture. The triune God exists in community, loves community, planned for community in the Creator-created relationship, and desires that his church live in community, experiencing love and unity. Cells, home meetings, and small groups promote this purpose of God.

Comiskey, a leader in cell church theory and activity, suggests that we must begin to ask about obeying the teachings of Scripture concerning community rather than merely focusing on whether cells, home meetings, and small groups "work". This change in focus seeks to make a distinction between our commitment to Scripture and our desire to do those things that "work" in church growth.

While North American culture historically glorifies the "Lone Ranger" and the person who pulls himself up independently, God desires that his people live in unity with other Christians. Unity and love, demonstrated in a world of conflict, are the church's best testimony to an unbelieving world. A united church declares that God sent Jesus and that God loves them and that God sent Jesus (John 17: 6-23). The New Testament clearly teaches "one another" Christianity, oneness, agreement, and unity. This contradicts the individualistic spirit that demands rights and wants its own way.

In the North American church, individualism is still glorified. We admire those who "can do" what needs to be done, independent of the faith community. We despise accountability and often rebel against commitment. Genuine group ministry brings people together in transparency, living out and dealing with conflict, loving one another, and reaching out to a world in need of Jesus. Effective group ministry in an individualistic culture can reform and transform the church, but establishing an effective group ministry requires hard work. Because relationally-oriented cultures (such as those in Latin America, Asia, and some other regions of the world) appreciate group ministry, various forms of spiritual group activities have grown in popularity within those cultures and countries.

The caveat for churches that wish to explore the possibilities of small groups as a ministry tool to help the local church fulfill God's purpose is that small group loyalties and activities must not be allowed to replace the biblical truth that the early church assembled, often in rather large groups.

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Last updated March 9, 2011