What is a Cell-Church?


Where is the Church going?  Part 2 What is a Cell-Church? In his excellent book “The Second Reformation”, William A. Beckham provides an overview of what is a cell-church. As I am sure that I cannot improve upon his work, the following outline is drawn largely from his book. He accurately describes the post Constantine Church as:
  • People go to a building (cathedral)
  • on a special day of the week (Sunday)
  • and someone (a priest, or today, a pastor)
  • does something to them (teaching, preaching, absolution or healing)
  • or for them (a ritual or entertainment)
  • for a price (offerings)
This sort of church, although common today, is clearly far from the New Testament ideal. The CeIl Church Movement describe their vision of the New Testament Church as a “Cell Church”, that is, a Church where the basic unit is a small cell group of believers. In his book William Beckham describes the New Testament Church as conforming to seven tests:
  1. The institutional test. Is the church a living organism or an organization? If you were to do away with the building and the Sunday morning meeting, could the church survive? If the church would survive without a building and Sunday morning meetings, it passes the first test for a New Testament cell church.
  2. The cell test. Is a small group (referred to in this book as a cell) considered the church in nature, purpose and power? Does the church see Vie small group as the basic Christian community and the essential unit of the church? If leaders and people would cringe at referring to the small group as the church, then that church is not a New Testament cell church. Paul himself had no problem calling groups in the homes churches.
  3. The photocopy test. - When the model is reproduced, is the new church as clear and bright as the original? Will the model transfer? If the church replicates itself with only dimmer versions of itself, then it is not a New Testament cell church. This is not a numerical test but a test of nature and life. Does it consistently reproduce the dynamic of the original?
  4. The simplicity test. Is the church fragmented and complex? As it grows Iarger, does it get more complex or less complex? Does it take a CEO to make it work? A cell church will continue to operate through its simple cell leadership structure even if the governing administrative framework disappears. Even with the presence of large numbers of members and leaders, the cell church will have a simplicity about how it operates.
  5. The multiplication test. - Does the church show hope of multiplying? Is a structure in place through which dynamic growth could happen? Or is the strategy based on addition of new members a cell church can systematically multiply because the point of growth takes place at the integrated cell level, not through compartmentalized multiple programs.
  6. The adult test. Does the church reach new adult converts, or is the church sustained by transfer growth from other churches and biological growth, by baptizing its own children? An operating cell church will reach new adult converts.
  7. The persecution test. Will the church survive if it is forced underground? Could the kind of small groups attached to our church programs survive persecution without the institutional cushion? The cell church will survive through its New Testament cells no matter what happens politically, socially, economically or internally.”
I do not necessarily agree with all of these tests, as I feel that some are based upon false assumptions rather than on the word of God. Later in the book the author indicates a number of signs of a cell church:
  • “The cell church Jesus designed operates as the church not only on Sunday, but on the other six days of the week as well.
  • The cell church may have a building, but the building is functional and not sacred.
  • The growth of the church doesn’t depend on how much square footage can be financed and provided. The building formula of the cell church is grow and then build.
  • Cells or small groups of Christians meet in homes during the week and are the basic unit of the church.
  • These cells act as the “delivery system” of the church through which cell members live out the gospel in the world.
  • Every member of the church receives equipping for the work of the ministry in these small groups.
  • Celebration worship on Sunday overflows from the body life, taking place during the week in the lives of members.
  • Members are accountable to each other.
  • The cell church produces large numbers of servant leaders who enable the work of ministry to take place at the basic: cell level.
  • In the small groups, members take off their masks and receive edification and healing. Real New Testament fellowship takes place.
  • The “one another” passages found in the New Testament have a context in which they can be experienced.
  • The church centered in home cells is designed to survive persecution.
  • The lost are reached through cell friendship evangelism.
  • Spiritual (Gifts essential for edification, equipping and evangelism are released in the natural setting of the cells.
  • Full-time leaders are set aside for prayer and to seek (God’s face for the body.
  • MuItiplication of cells, converts, disciples and leaders constantly occurs.
  • Operating cell churches have a dramatic impact upon the society. Their small groups touch the hurts and needs in the world around them.
  • Leaders and pastors provide oversight, vision, and accountability for leaders of the cell groups.
  • More money is available for ministry and missions as each member matures in their understanding of stewardship as a lifestyle.
  • The Community of cells is a place of healing for the individual and the family.
  • The administration of the church is simplified around the basic cell unit.   This significantly reduces the multiple programs necessary to run a traditional church,
  • Primary care for members is provided at the cell level Instead of the professional Staff level.
  • Ephesians 4:12 works! Leaders “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
  Many within the cell church movement seek to draw links between their movement and the base communities common in some parts of South America, and growing out of liberation theology. In his book, Mr. Beckham quotes the Brazilian theologian, J. B. Libanio. “They are not a movement, an association or a religious congregation ... They are not a method (or the only method) of building up the church: they are the church itself. They are not a miraculous recipe for all the ills of society and the church. They are the church renewing itself . . . They are not a utopia; they are a sign of the kingdom, though they are not the kingdom They are not messianic, but they can be prophetic and produce prophets like the church should. They are not a natural ... community ... identified with a race, language, people, family . . . They are the church They are not a protest group, although their life is a protest against the mediocrity, sloth and inauthenticity of many... They are not special groups for special people. They are the church committed to the ordinary man, to the poor, to those who suffer injustice ... They are not closed: they are open to dialogue with all. They are not a reform of anything in pastoral work: they are a decisive pastoral option, made in order to construct a new image of the church.” Although there are clear similarities between the two sorts of group there are also clear differences, the base communities coming much closer to the ideal of the organic church as they avoiding every way the rigid structuralization of the cell church. Lets us move on to see this rigidity that causes the cell churches to fail... next time we will talk about the stresses of the cell church structure In part 3  we  examine the stresses that cause these churches to fail (taken from Organic House Churches and Healing Communities by Keith W. Smith.  For a complete copy please contact the author)   © 2000 Prof. Keith W. Smith Reprint by written permission only