A Personal Reflection on Cell-Group Church

The choir of Dalian Xishan Church led the congregation to worship God on May 20, 2018.
The choir of Dalian Xishan Church led the congregation to worship God on May 20, 2018. (photo: Provided by Wu Zhongyi)
By CCD contributor: Pin Ran October 22nd, 2019

Over the years church cell groups have been unusually prevalent, springing up.My Church also has small groups and I am a member of one. I initially didn't understand the idea of small groups. Even after I participated in a group for a while as my church was also promoting it, I was still new to the matter. However, after several years of group life, I think it's time to reflect on the cell-group idea.

Why cell groups?

One reason churches choose the cell-group model of operation is because groups are small and easy to organize. I disagree. As a group co-worker, I find that a group that is fully functional can be painstaking, laborious, and expensive to run. It is not easier to oversee because of its small size. So why do churches choose this model?

1. The development of traditional churches shows signs of stagnation.

How many people there are in the Chinese church is a mystery. However, no matter how many, the past two hundred years has seen a rapid increase in numbers, especially after the founding of the new China. We see this as God's special grace to the church. In the 30-year reform and opening-up period, the development of the church has been able to keep pace with that of China's economy. However, in recent years, church growth has been relatively slow. The spiritual tradition of the church has been relatively dispersed and the church's management has been rather poor. They have not been as strong as they seemed to have appeared to be. The church cannot internally be revived spiritually, while externally gradually erecting high walls of self-entertainment within its walls. A mature believer would conclude that the church has no passion for God, for the congregation, or for the Gospel. This is a sign that the development of the church has stalled. As a result, many church workers have started reflecting on this and have found some small groups to be able to provide revival.

2. Emerging church development needs elements for growth.

Today many people cannot tolerate the traditional form of church, which to them seems antiquated and lacking in vitality. Many people in the church are not sure of what the church is, what its responsibilities are, what it needs to do, who the Lord is, how it should be built, or what the ultimate concern of the church is. Therefore, the church should be run as any other organization. Consequently, the secularization of the church is becoming more and more a serious problem, and it is gradually losing members. This leads some to come forward and develop their own form of church, something that is an emerging trend. The church simply begins with a small number of people with many ideas and no established tradition or denomination. Therefore many in these so-called emerging churches adopt a cell-group model which is easy to manage and easy to grow.

3. The church needs management.

The more people a church has, the more diverse is its base of knowledge. However, the problems are also more. It is far from enough for a church to rely on one or two organisers to cope with managing it. A church requires a large number of sub-managers who divide the church community into smaller parts making it easier to manage. Therefore, I think that a church chooses the cell-group model as the way of operation because of today's stagnant development of the traditional church, the development needs of the new church, and the contemporary needs of church management.

Characteristics of the cell-group church

The development of the cell-group church is immediate and quick and has special characteristics. These characteristics can be divided into two groups: those with advantages and those with disadvantages.

1. Being small

"Small" refers to the number of participants in each group. Theoretically, the group stipulates that the optimal membership number is from 6 to 12. Once the number is greater, it is recommended that the group divides. It is not conducive to managing, communicating with or pastorally ministering to larger numbers of people. Moreover, the group gathering will lose its original quality. A group of 6 to 12 people will be very rare for large churches, but are easy to operate and are adaptable for these emerging churches. The threshold for establishing a group of 6 to 12 is not high, and 6 to 12 people indicates that the number is stable.

2. Relationship

Because the size is small, good relationships can be established between members. In a larger church, the needs of everyone are too many to take into account. Even during the apostolic age where problems of supply were caused by the rapid increase in members, the church had to specifically select professionals to handle meals to solve that issue. Thus, the church divided the congregation in small groups so that the group members could take into account each other's needs and build relationships with each other. I think this is a very good practice.

3. Being replicable

The reason why the cell-group church is growing so fast is because of it is replicable. In theory, the group can develop in a healthier way by having its members complement one another.

4. Fast developmental cycle

Because of its smaller size it is easier to reach its maximum numberl. Once that number is reached, the group will be divide. Each new group is the start of a new cycle. A healthy group has many attractions so that membership will grow very quickly. The rate of division will therefor also be high.

5.Multiple bottleneck periods

On the surface, the cell group has many advantages, but because the group is small, even collecting all of its strengths together has limits. This results in a premature decline due to its size. For the same reason, there are many problems and therefore periods of stagnation can come relatively quickly as compared to the larger Church.

A reflection on the cell-group church

The cell-group is a good model, but it cannot be a substitute for the nature of the Church. Studying and developing this model is good, but it cannot outweigh the pursuit of God Himself. I think that, first of all, the pastor of a church should have a deep understanding of church theory. As a member of the church, if the theory is not clear, the leadership will be leading the church as if blind.

The revival of the church cannot be learned. The key to the revival lies in the way of God not in the number of people. Calvin believed that the true church lay in the preaching of the Holy way and the administering of the sacrament. Today the church struggles to achieve growth in its membership, even at the expense of reducing the quality of its teaching. It is as if the Gospel is preached to attract attention rather than to satisfy God. The Gospel is not just as we would wish. In fact, it is only through the church holding up the way of God that can we truly have the church remain the church forever.

In building cell groups, churches should not follow this trend without doing it homework. After praying, think twice. What is the purpose of a church's cell groups? How does a church build such groups? How does a church deal with its traditions and ministry when working as groups requires in-depth discussion?

The revival of the church needs to be adapted to the local conditions, the differences in persons, and cannot be done in a one-way-applies-to-all approach. All in all, we must understand that what really attracts people to the church is not its pattern, but rather Jesus Christ. If Christians understand who Christ is and know Him personally, their testimony will attract millions of people to come to faith in God - this is an unchanging grace.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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