Interview: Chinese Pastor Elaborates on Transforming From Church With Small Groups to Cell Church

A cell group gathers talking about something.
A cell group gathers talking about something. (photo:
By Steve Sun August 22nd, 2022

In the post-pandemic era, the situation of the Chinese church has become increasingly difficult, especially for in-person church gatherings and how believers get sustained pastoral care.

A few days ago, the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, interviewed Pastor Z of a church in South China about his experience in transforming small groups into a cell church.

His mother church has several gathering points, and he is in charge of one of them. Pastor Z has worked with the pastors of the mother church to successfully transform its small groups into a church mainly consisting of small groups. Consequently, their cell church can adapt to environmental changes more flexibly, and they can get together with families and communities as a unit. 

First of all, he clarified, “The significance of the small group in the church is different from that of the cell church. Small groups in church are group fellowship gatherings based on the gathering structure of the church. But his cell church serves to enable the group to realize the basic functions of the church: preaching the truth, worshiping, serving, officiating the holy communion, and so forth. Meanwhile, they also adopt the 5G group course promoted by Pastor James Shia (a famous American Chinese pastor), which advocates the cell church.”

The pastor continued, “Every group activity starts with five steps: cohesion, glory, growth, departure, and acceleration. Then they begin to divide into different church groups. The characteristics of a healthy church and the development model of a micro-church are then shared to strengthen the transformed cell church.”

“A church group is just a group. It is still committed to the structure of the mother church. Now the cell church we do is decentralized. What we emphasize is to be a simple cell church, rich in networking, and expect the cell church to spread like a network. For those who want to be cell church leaders, they will provide the corresponding pastoral information in the form of the central kitchen with the resources they need for pastoral care, so that the retention rate of staff will be improved.” Pastor Z adds.

Meanwhile, he also believes that the mode of cell church will be harder for pastors. They have to tour and visit each different cell church more than before, participate in it and listen to the members, and then give feedback and meetings to the group leader. He promotes an interactive method in classroom instruction. He encourages the group leader to take seekers, who have been discipled and taught in basic courses, to the church, and Pastor Z will apply the “finishing touch”. So, he will show the group leader how to lead people to believe in the Lord Jesus.

On pastoral care, he advocates slowing down. He said, “It takes three to three and a half years to lead a person to believe in the Lord and grow into a group leader. I agree that slow is fast, and less is more. These three years are actually a process of giving him a drill. Three years is a stage and a cycle.”

Pastor Z bluntly confessed, “To transform into a cell church, it is necessary to design the top-level settings. He believes that it is very important for the three core co-workers to have the same vision, methods, and strategies. While helping the three core co-workers, he also builds mutual trust, and then lets them differentiate, be the parish head and team leader under the church and establish the same vision and mission view.”

Now he does not need to rely on many teaching materials but emphasizes simple teaching materials with a high degree of initiative and the combination of learning and doing to train the members’ faith to grow. They tried many different kinds of teaching materials before, but the effect was not good, because of the lack of practicality. Later, they adopted simple teaching materials, increased interaction and scheduling of group members’ initiatives, and the actual effect was much better.

Pastor Z, as the person in charge, is responsible for three parishes, each with four to five groups. He will give priority to training parish heads and group leaders. His help is not only conceptual guidance, but also field visits to group gatherings, and he will hear the voices of the believers. He personally visits each group every day. Each small church has its own characteristics and differences, but he is more concerned about implementation. He insists on caring for the group leader and team members with fatherhood. He is not their teacher, but their guide and coach.

There are different gathering points under this church, one of which leader wanted to leave the city, but the heads and leaders of this church became arrogant, and they began to hold an enclosed group and did not listen to the pastor’s advice. Some believers reported that the parish head and group leader under this church began to prefer to lead the cell church with the concepts of successful theology and commercialization of the workplace and to pursue the increase of eloquence and knowledge. The sermon was just like a workplace speech and also like a sales promotion speech of an insurance company.

Pastor Z said, “This is not a sermon. Although it attracts believers at the moment, they don’t learn a thing after that. Moreover, if this goes on, they will start to ignore elderly believers and lose the basic principles and testimony of their faith.”

“A pastor can’t quickly establish a young man with great ability in the workplace as the leader of a cell church because the foundation behind him is not well established and he does great harm.” The person who may lead is endowed with great gifts. But if his heart becomes proud, he won’t listen to other people’s opinions, and the subsequent problems will be serious.”

“The remedy for the problematic church is that I will recall some mature believers who have good spiritual life to balance the spiritual atmosphere. Because that church is almost all young working people. It has already rejected the elderly and has its own proud thoughts in it, but it is not covered by the older pastors,” he added. 

Pastor Z concluded, “When these young people are excellent in the workplace, they forget that the church needs to have the gospel passed on, and the church needs to be covered spiritually and fed by teachers and disciples. Pastors can’t trust young people too much and set them up as group leaders. As a result, they neglect the ministry of preaching, helping, and leading. If they teach and set up too quickly, it will be very dangerous. If the system is understood as hardware and spiritual life as software, I think both of them need to be established so that the cell church can be healthy and stable. The teaching materials and methodology of the group are not the most important. The most important thing is to establish the life foundation of the church owner, parish head and group leader.”

- Translated by Charlie Li


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