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In our changing world how do Christians come together in non-traditional ways? An expert takes a look at some of the most significant gospel-advancing movements and trends to take place in the latter twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the United States. New Christian groups examined include: the Church Growth Movement, Missional Church Movement, Multisite Movement, the rise of church planting networks, the House Church Movement, and the Emerging Church Movement. Readers are introduced to each expression, ...
In our changing world how do Christians come together in non-traditional ways? An expert takes a look at some of the most significant gospel-advancing movements and trends to take place in the latter twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the United States. New Christian groups examined include: the Church Growth Movement, Missional Church Movement, Multisite Movement, the rise of church planting networks, the House Church Movement, and the Emerging Church Movement. Readers are introduced to each expression, along with important definitions, history, convictions, and influential leaders.
Most churches have some type of small group structure in which Bible study, fellowship, and other activities take place in small groups outside of the larger worship structure. While such gatherings are believed to be very important, most churches would place a higher priority on the corporate worship gathering. If these churches had to choose between having small groups or a large-group worship gathering, they would place priority on the latter. Cell churches, however, have a different philosophy whenever it comes to small groups. While they highly value the corporate worship gathering, they prioritize the small group meeting. Cell churches describe themselves as churches of small groups.
Many of the largest churches in the world today are cell churches. Author Ralph W. Neighbour Jr. noted that nineteen out of the twenty largest churches in the world are cell churches, and the Cell Church Movement has caught the attention of media sources such as the Wall Street Journal and the Economist.
Cell churches are not affiliated with any one particular denomination or theological perspective and are found across denominational lines. What makes them different is that they hold that the cell is the heart of the church. Pastor Jim Egli provides the following definition of them:
The definition of a cell church is simple. It is a church that not only meets in a large Sunday gathering but also meets in small groups in homes during the week. The purpose of these cells or home groups is to build up believers in their relationship with Christ and also to reach out and bring others to Christian faith. There is also a goal to raise up future group leaders with the group so that new groups can be formed either by multiplying the initial group into two groups or by planting new groups out of the cell.
Proponents of cell churches often cite New Testament passages as examples throughout history for the origins of this model. The modern-day resurgence can be traced back to Korea during the 1960s. Paul Yonggi Cho led his church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, to become a cell church out of desperation. After several years of ministry, Cho arrived at a point of physical exhaustion resulting in hospitalization and a long recuperation process. He did not want to leave his church without a leader during this time. After much time in prayer, studying the Scriptures, and consultation with others, he began to empower and release small group leaders for the ministry.
Cho's model eventually became influential on an inter national scale. Amor Viviente in Central America began using a home cell paradigm in 1974 followed by Don Robert in the Ivory Coast of Africa in the mid-1970s and Larry Kreider with the Pennsylvanian DOVE Christian Fellowship in the early 1980s.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ralph Neighbour planted a cell church in Houston, Texas. Neighbour would go on to become the strongest advocate of the cell church in the United States. He has trained numerous church leaders from across the globe in cell church methodology, published one of the most significant books on cell churches (Where Do We Go from Here? A Guidebook for the Cell Group Church), launched CellChurch magazine in 1991, and begun a publishing and training ministry for the cell church model (TOUCH Outreach Ministries).
Bethany World Prayer Center (Baker, Louisiana) became one of the most influential cell churches in the United States by the end of the twentieth century, with more than eight hundred cells and eight thousand people attending Sunday gatherings. Pastor Larry Stockstill of Bethany was influenced by the cell church model of César Castellanos of the International Charismatic Mission (Bogotá, Colombia). Bethany started hosting annual cell church training conferences, and the church has been instrumental in training thousands of pastors in the cell church model.
Within the past few years, several books have been published on cell churches by Joel Comiskey, president and founder of Joel Comiskey Group, a resource ministry for cell churches. These titles include Myths and Truths of the Cell Church (2011), Planting Churches That Reproduce: Starting a Network of Simple Churches (2008), and The Church That Multiplies: Growing a Healthy Cell Church in North America (2007).
Most of the largest churches in the world are cell churches. In 2000, Joel Comiskey published a list of the ten largest cell churches in the free world (see next page). Within the same article, Comiskey provided a separate list of the three largest "satellite" (i.e., multisite) cell churches. Though many large cell churches exist in the United States, the record for size belongs to those in other nations. One nation, Korea, has the top four largest cell churches in the world.
The typical cell church is comprised of two main components, the cell and the celebration service. The cell is most important. There is no definite size to a cell group: they may range from five to fifteen people, or the number that can comfortably gather in the group's small meeting location. Each cell is semiautonomous: the cell often has much freedom in its practices and it does not recognize itself as an individual church but rather a part of the local church. All of the cells together comprise the local church, which is one of the distinctions between a cell church and a house church (see chapter 6). While a house church may be the same size as a cell group—and carry out similar practices—the cell would not define its existence apart from the one local church.
The second component of the cell church is the celebration service. This is the typical weekly corporate worship gathering. During this time all of the cell groups (sometimes in separate worship services) gather for a time of singing, teaching, fellowship, prayer, and other church practices.
Some extremely large cell churches will add a third structure known as the congregation. The congregation is a gathering of several regional cell groups. In some churches the congregations will meet in different regions with their cells for weekly worship gatherings. These churches may limit their congregation service to special times of prayer, teaching, or other out-of-the-ordinary meetings.
The life of the cell church is found in the cell. It is here that accountability, encouragement, and all of the purposes of the church are carried out.
There is no standard set of practices found among cell churches; however, most cell groups will center their weekly activities around biblical teachings, fellowship, prayer, pastoral care, and evangelism. It is common for cells to have a weekly meal together as a part of their gathering and for cell groups to spend time discussing the application of that week's sermon to each member's life. Some cells include worship with songs, communion, and baptisms. Cell groups are known to carry out local community ministries and organize mission trips to other countries. As cells grow, they typically begin other cells by hiving off members for the new groups.
Most cells will have at least one person functioning as the shepherd who provides oversight and care to the group, sometimes with an apprentice who may one day become the leader of a new cell.
The leaders of a cell do not understand themselves to be the pastors over the church as a whole. Some churches will designate this person as "pastor," but in many cases the individual is understood to be a cell group leader without a pastoral title. Regardless of the appellation used, the cell church has a typical pyramid-leadership model in place. In addition to leaders found within each cell there are other leaders who oversee several cell group leaders, and additional leaders can be found overseeing the ministry of those leaders just above the cell leaders. At the top of the pyramid is the senior pastor providing oversight to the church. (See diagram on next page.)
This leadership structure is the second significant distinction between cell churches and house churches (see chapter 6).
The people who have been involved in championing the cell church model in the United States have been few in number, but significant in reach. Though many cell churches exist today, and many new churches are embracing cell structures, the number of outspoken advocates for cell churches remains small. Early pioneers from outside the country include David Yonggi Cho from Korea, César Castellanos from Colombia, and Lawrence Khong from Singapore. Some of the significant voices for cell churches from the United States include Ralph W. Neighbour Jr., Joel Comiskey, Carl George, Larry Stockstill, and Larry Kreider.
The origins of the contemporary Church Growth Movement date back to 1955 with the publication of the book The Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions by Donald Anderson McGavran. In this book McGavran argued biblically and historically that the primary way the church has grown has been through people movements—the evangelization and congregationalizing of sizable numbers within a community—as opposed to reaching individuals and extracting them from their communities. He argued that God allowed social networks to develop among the people of the nations of the world (i.e., bridges of God) for the gospel to travel across. And unlike the highly individualized Western contexts, he noted, most of the world's people make significant decisions in light of what their friends and relatives are deciding. To reach individuals without attempting to reach households, tribes, or villages often hindered the advancement of the gospel among a people as un believing relatives saw their loved ones being extracted and segregated from the family and friends by the missionaries and their methods.
With the penning of this work, McGavran was soon given the appellation of the father of the movement. Having served as a missionary for many years in India, McGavran was curious as to why some churches grew through the conversion of adults, and other churches did not. McGavran's ideas began to catch on in evangelical circles. He began to conduct research and write about the principles and methods by which churches grow. Interest in McGavran's work became widespread as he began to develop academic courses in church growth and started publishing a periodical on the topic. His writings became widespread, and he became a popular speaker. Over time, more and more church leaders began to desire training in this new discipline known as church growth.
The writings and influence of men such as William Carey, Kenneth Scott Latourette, Roland Allen, and J. Waskom Pickett shaped McGavran's missiology. The movement continued to blossom and develop as he began to use theological, anthropological, and statistical research in answering his question regarding the growth of local churches. In 1965 McGavran was invited to become the founding dean of the School of World Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, and as a result of his research and Fuller's educational platform, the influence of the Church Growth Movement continued to spread across the globe. By the early 1970s American pastors were seeking McGavran's guidance for the application of church growth principles to their own missiology. In the United States the movement continued to grow throughout the 1970s until the 1990s, eventually spinning off other evangelical expressions, such as the Cell Church Movement, Missional Church Movement, and the Spiritual Warfare Movement, which are detailed in this book.
The North American Society for Church Growth (currently known as Great Commission Research Network) provides the following as a formal definition of church growth:
Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, expansion, planting, multiplication, function, and health of Christian churches as they relate to the effective implementation of God's commission to "make disciples of all peoples" (Matt. 28:18–20). Students of church growth strive to integrate the eternal theological principles of God's word concerning the expansion of the church with the best insights of contemporary social and behavioral sciences, employing as the initial frame of reference the foundational work done by Donald McGavran.
At the heart of the discipline was the Great Commission to make disciples of the nations. While some writers over the years accused church growth advocates of only being concerned with the numerical growth of local churches, such was not the case. Thom S. Rainer notes, "The heart of church growth is to see those new Christians develop into fruit-bearing disciples of Jesus Christ."
Church growth developed into a field of study alongside other academic disciplines. Scholars accepted it as a legitimate and valuable topic deserving thought, study, and teaching. Bible colleges and seminaries added church growth courses to their catalogs, as well as lectureships in church growth, and professorships. Numerous conferences, books, and seminars developed around the topic as well.
The discipline wed theological and biblical teaching with social sciences and statistics. While these latter two disciplines were not given priority over the theological and biblical foundations, church growth proponents recognized that truth about church health and growth could also be found by applying certain aspects of sociology, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, statistics, and so on when researching how churches are planted, grow, and decline.
McGavran was the leading voice of the movement for almost forty years. As a missionary and missiologist, he was able to develop a foundation for this new discipline that brought together the practical elements of ministry with the academic concepts developed by researchers.
In an attempt to define the movement, Thom S. Rainer offers the following helpful definition: "The Church Growth Movement includes all the resources of people, institutions, and publications dedicated to expounding the concepts and practicing the principles of church growth, beginning with the foundational work of Donald McGavran in 1955."
The Church Growth Movement was born outside of the Western world as a result of McGavran's missionary activities in India. During a time when few evangelicals were asking questions regarding the effectiveness of their methods, he began to apply principles of the social sciences to his understanding of missions. His merging of biblical, theological, and social studies resulted in the development of church growth principles that, when applied to the mission field, would serve to plant and grow healthy churches and fulfill the Great Commission. In fact, McGavran argued that "today's paramount task, opportunity, and imperative in missions is to multiply churches in the increasing numbers of receptive peoples of the earth."
After returning to the States in 1961, McGavran opened the Institute of Church Growth at Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon, with the purpose of researching church growth, developing case studies, and teaching church growth to others. In 1965 McGavran moved the institute to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he became the founding dean of the School of World Mission. McGavran did not begin teaching church growth classes to North American church leaders until 1972, instead concentrating his attention on those serving in other countries of the world.
There were at least seven major developments in the history of the movement that resulted in Americans learning and applying church growth principles to their context in the United States. The first important milestone was in 1972 when McGavran and C. Peter Wagner co-taught a course in church growth for American church leaders in California. Though this was a pilot class, it made a significant impact on the students. Second was the development of the Institute for American Church Growth. One of the students enrolled in the course, Win Arn, founded this institute in 1972 with four operating purposes:
To encourage evangelism and church growth in America
To enable churches to develop strategies and bold plans for growth
To help churches understand their growth problems and apply principles of church growth to their situations
To serve as a resource to churches
Through the institute, Arn also developed films and videos, published several books, and taught seminars and workshops related to applying church growth theory to American churches.
Third, in 1973 Arn and McGavran wrote How to Grow a Church to introduce Americans to church growth theory and principles. Fourth, in 1976 one of the most influential books related to the spread of church growth in the United States, Your Church Can Grow: Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Church by C. Peter Wagner, was published. In this book Wagner offered readers a biblical perspective on church growth and how they could diagnose their church's health, learn methods of growth from the fastest growing U. S. congregations, and avoid many growth-related mistakes made by churches.
Fifth, through the leadership of John Wimber and later Carl George, the Charles E. Fuller Institute for Evangelism and Church Growth was initiated. Under Wimber's leadership, the institute became a consulting firm providing expertise in the area of church growth. Sixth, Fuller Theological Seminary developed a doctor of ministry program related to church growth studies. Numerous students completed the program, with many venturing out to develop and lead ministries related to church growth teaching, training, consulting, and resources.
Seventh, the discipline of church growth gained academic and professional credibility. An endowed chair in church growth, the Donald A. McGavran Chair of Church Growth, was provided to Fuller Theologial Seminary in 1984, and C. Peter Wagner was installed as the first incumbent. The development of the American Society for Church Growth and its Journal of the American Society for Church Growth provided a professional organization dedicated to networking church growth professors and practitioners. Its annual meetings and journal articles continue to serve as a catalyst for the dissemination of church growth thinking across the United States.
It was McGavran's research in India in the 1950s that led him to ask a simple yet movement-producing question, "Why do some churches grow and others do not?" This basic question resulted in a movement to discern the barriers to church growth, to devise strategies to overcome such barriers, and to learn from churches that were growing well.
Excerpted from Kingdom Expressions by J. D. Payne Copyright © 2012 by J. D. Payne. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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