Church in Many Houses Read Through: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The Challenge of Thinking Differently

Summary: The cell-based church is not merely a church with a small group program. The cell-based church fundamentally sees itself in a different way and behaves appropriately.

“Most people, especially long-time church members, carry a mental picture of “church”. Just as a mosaic is made up of many small pieces of colored material which are artistically arranged to form an image, our picture of “church” is formed by a cluster of assumptions. Based on our experiences, we form assumptions about the nature of ministry, the role of leaders, basic expectations of members, and so on. We may not even be aware of our presuppositions, but they profoundly influence us anyway.” (Location: 692)

Note:We need to consider and confront this as we ask the question, “How many hurdles are we asking an unbeliever to jump over when we invite them into a study or service?”

“However, I also came to realize that at the core of the resistance was a conflict of assumptions. Cell ministry is not really about structure and method. It is about values. It is driven by a specific way of thinking about the church. Conflict arose because the assumptions upon which cell ministry are based are quite different than those of the program-based church of which all of us have been part.” (Location: 707)

Note:We are blind to our assumptions until we are confronted with them. In order to be confronted we have to ask, read, listen, imagine, and study to get a better view.

“The biggest difference between a program-based church and a cell-based church is not the existence of small groups. A church can have dozens of small groups and still be thoroughly program-based. The biggest difference between a program-based and a cell-based church lies in the understanding of ministry upon which the church is built.” (Location: 714)

Note:This is key!

“There are five essential philosophical shifts program-based churches need to make in order for the cell approach to succeed.   These are:  

1) From “growing deeper” to “reaching outward”

2) From membership to disciple-maker

3) From educating to equipping 

4) From programs to relationships

5) From a church with cells to a church that is cells.” (Location: 726)

Note:I think #2 has a differing view of “membership”. See Jonathan Leeman’s book on Church Membership. I look forward to reading how he defines it later in the book.

“As we prepare to take a fresh look at commonly-held assumptions, it might be helpful for you to pause and take a brief personal inventory of what you currently believe about topics such as:  

Church: When someone says the word “Church” – what image comes to your mind? Some may see a building. Others may picture a worship service, or possibly acts of service to the poor. What is your dominant image?   At your church, what does it mean to be “active”? Does it mean attending worship services? Volunteering in service in the church or community? Something else? What do you think of when someone says they “go to church”?  

Church Membership: When one is a member of a church, to what do they belong? An organization? A family? A mission?  

Ministry: What does it mean to be in ministry? What kinds of activities does it involve? Who does ministry? How are people prepared to do ministry?  

Spiritual Growth and Maturity: What exactly does it mean to grow spiritually? What does spiritual maturity look like?” (Location: 735)

Note:Ask these!

“Our society may be changing around us, but little has changed within us. Technology continues to advance at dizzying speeds, changing the way we work, play, communicate, and learn. Major political changes have altered world alliances and the balance of power. Nonetheless, all human beings still have a deep need to be in relationship with God and with others. The priorities of the cell church focus on meeting those deep, unchanging needs. In many ways, shifting to a cell ministry mindset does not spur the church to keep up with the times, they help the church become independent of them.” (Location: 757)

Note:This last sentence is especially poignant.

“Cell ministry can cut against the grain of our American radical individualism, entertainment orientation, and consumerism.” (Location: 766)

Note:We don’t want to admit this, but it is true in so many of us. I find it easier to come, listen, and leave than to prepare, participate, and grow.

“Instead, we can think of the church as a furnace. Any working furnace will produce heat, but some are more efficient than others. The point is not that the program-based church will not produce any heat (disciples). However, when it is working right, the cell-based church is the most efficient way of making disciples who make disciples. That is why the world’s largest churches are cell-based churches.” (Location: 775)

Note: “Don’t reject this idea merely because you feel like it is attacking what you have done all your life.”

Overall, I think the main takeaway to this chapter is that we need to reconsider our assumptions of what the church “looks like”.

Church in Many Houses Read-Through: Ch 3

Chapter 3: The Example of Jesus and Wesley

Summary: We can see the Cell approach in the ministries of Jesus and Wesley. This should give us pause if we think our schemes are better.

Quotes and Commentary:

“Humanly speaking, Jesus’ lasting impact came through the people he left behind. Jesus’ strategy for changing the world was to train disciples who could make disciples of others. It wasn’t Jesus himself who carried the message of the Gospel to Rome and beyond, it was his followers who did so.” (Location: 515)

Note:What would have happened if Jesus had decided to focus more on his public ministry with the miraculous healings, the feedings, and rebuking the religious leaders? What would have happened had he fashioned his ministry after the popular schemes today?

“Jesus’ goal was not to gather followers. Jesus’ goal was to train twelve people to carry out his mission. Jesus was not upset or worried when the crowds started to desert him. His only question was whether or not his twelve would turn aside. In John 6:66-67 we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.” Though the crowds left Jesus, he knew his 12 could eventually reach them again. But if the 12 turned away there would have been no one equipped to carry on Jesus’ mission once he left the earth.”(Location: 520)

Note:An interesting observation.

“The eight steps Coleman identified are: 1. Selection. 2. Association. 3. Consecration. 4. Impartation. 5. Demonstration. 6. Delegation. 7. Supervision. 8. Reproduction.” (Location: 551)

Note: These are pretty standard and have been assimilated by many strategies.

“As he was preparing to ascend to heaven, Jesus gave his followers this Great Commission; “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) How did Jesus’ followers know how to go make disciples? They knew because Jesus had just made disciples of them! They could replicate the process Jesus had used with them.” (Location: 554)

Note:Here I think we find the reason why leaders struggle so much when they try to encourage others to disciple others. The oft heard phrase is, “They just don’t know how!” I think this is the case because church members 1) are making excuses because of a heart issue, 2) they haven’t taken enough time to think about their own past and how they have been discipled, or 3) because they have never been discipled themselves.

“Clearly, the point of the class was not the acquiring of information, but rather mutual encouragement in living out the faith.” (Location: 630)

Note:This strategy was assimilated by Wesley because of his view of sanctification. Just because someone doesn’t hold to a Wesleyan view of sanctification does not mean the cell concept is moot. I think a better option would be to insert one-to-one Bible reading here when the individuals have a good concept of application.

“All local churches are to be God’s instruments for changing the world by making disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Location: 656)

Note:It is pretty difficult to get around the concept of the church making disciples in the New Testament. But often times we become complacent when we keep the believers who are “already in” happy.

“If you are looking for a way to keep church members happy, then I would not advise you to adopt the cell based approach.” (Location: 660)

Note: Because it can be uncomfortable. Sitting and listening to someone speak is easy. No one needs to know what you think, no one can even ask. You can nod in approval and look good for doing it. But sitting down and talking about Scripture with someone else can be difficult.

Overall, there is a false sense of security for us when we feel as though we have accomplished our duty by hearing someone preach. If we want transformed lives and if we want to see other lives transformed, it has to become personal and relational.

Church in Many Houses Read-Through: Ch 2

Chapter 2: What Happened when Martha Went to Church

Quotes and Commentary:

Summary: The cell group model enables a smooth transition for individuals to enter into a body of believers, be discipled, and begin to disciple others.

“I was now officially the pastor of a church that had no members…” (Location: 285).

Note: What?! How can you have a covenanting body of believers without the believers?

“The mission of each church is to reach unreached people and to lead them to become disciples of Jesus” (Location: 296).

Note: That is the mission of every disciple, it is the congregated membership to which they come once they become believers.

“At Crossroads, we describe the process of disciple-making in terms of four basic steps: 1) reach, 2) connect, 3) equip, and 4) send” (Location: 375).

Note: The author uses “reach” to denote what happens when they invite someone into the cell group, however according to his story, and also regular experience, the reaching takes place while building the relationship which would enable someone to invite another into a Bible study. I think in this area the book, “The Trellis and the Vine” has a much better scheme.

“At its essence, a cell group is a set of Christ-centered relationships which is focused primarily on evangelism and discipleship” (Location: 395).

Note: The best way to do this is using one to one Bible reading. I like the idea of using the questions from the sermon, however, I think the one to one and the sermon questions could be merged.

“Cell groups meet outside the church building. Most often they gather in homes, but they could also meet in restaurants, parks, or work places. Their location significantly influences the group dynamics. A group that meets in the church building inevitably takes on a classroom or an “institutional” feel which can hinder personal transparency and warmth. Also, pre-Christians are not as comfortable entering a church building as they are going to a home or a restaurant. Since evangelism is one of the main functions of a cell group, the meeting place should help, not hinder, outreach. Meeting in homes also locates ministry in the midst of multiple neighborhoods, spreading the Gospel across an area instead of stockpiling believers in a central building” (Location: 399).

Note: Absolutely!

“One of the most common meeting formats used in cell-based churches is that of the “4 W’s”. They are: 1. Welcome – getting acquainted. 2. Worship – exalting God through song or other means. 3. Word – study of the scripture. 4. Works –ministering to one another and planning group activities” (Location: 407).

Note: This is easy to remember, but probably not necessary to follow if the group is used to one to one Bible reading.

“Applying the Scripture: the group discusses questions designed to apply the Bible text which was taught in the weekend message. The group leader does not teach a lesson, but rather facilitates discussion of a set of questions which have been provided by the church for that week”(Location: 414).

Note: It is crucial for these groups to understand that teaching in this setting does not look like a classroom session. While that is easier in many respects, that is not immediately reproducible nor help everyone look for the answers themselves.

“Newcomers Class: Not all cell churches would include this component in their strategy, but it is an important one at Crossroads. The Newcomers Class provides a practical first step for people who are new to the church. Participants learn about the vision and values of the church, and if they have not already done so, they are given the opportunity to make a commitment to follow Christ” (Location: 441).

Note: This would be an excellent opportunity to teach through the Big Story of the Bible and presenting a full view of the gospel.

“The apprentice role is a transitional role, not a permanent one” (Location: 462).

Note: If the overarching idea is to multiply, this is crucial. Some might be thinking that it is necessary to lower our expectations of the leader, but in reality we must raise them to accomplish this. Anyone can stand and give a lesson, but it takes a greater effort to mentor someone else to lead a group in studying the Bible together.

“At Crossroads, coaches are always “player-coaches”; that is, they not only minister to leaders, they also lead cell groups themselves” (Location: 471).

Note: No matter what terminology we may use, when the leadership is separated from the interaction of the flock, that disconnect will be multiplied over time.

“This structure is often called the “Jethro principle”, named after Moses’ father-in-law. Exodus 18 recounts that Jethro saw Moses being consumed with the demands of managing the problems of the entire nation. So Jethro encouraged Moses to divide the people into manageable groups, then delegate the leadership responsibilities for each among capable individuals. When adapted to a church’s cell group context, the essential principle is that every leader in the church provides and receives ministry to a limited number of people” (Location: 473).

Note: This idea is a direct blow to the ego of those of us who think we can do everything. We cannot.

Overall, in order to best disciple and instruct individuals in the whole council of God, we need to be intentional about giving them a place to learn, share, and grow in their own abilities to disciple others.

Church In Many Houses Read-Through: Ch. 1

Chapter one: Signs of Hope

Summary: The cell based model has numbers to demonstrate its effectiveness in reaching a group of people with the gospel.

Quotes and Commentary:

“But the effectiveness of these dynamic cell churches demonstrates that a local church can significantly penetrate a region with the light of the Gospel” (Loc. 178).

Note: Models can be effective even if the founding principles are not biblical. And models can be ineffective even if the founding principles are biblical. We have to strive to see both.

“God has chosen to make his Church the instrument through which He will extend His kingdom. When the Church reaches the unreached by demonstrating and proclaiming the Gospel, God’s kingdom advances.”

Note: This wording used here of “Kingdom advancing” is often thrown around without a proper understanding of the theology of the Kingdom.

“Noted cell church researcher Joel Comiskey offers this simple and clear definition of a cell church: “a church that has placed evangelistic small groups at the core of its ministry” (Loc. 215).

Note: While a “cell group” is “a group of 3-15 people that meets weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community, and discipleship with the goal of multiplication” (loc 236).

“One way cell groups differ from other small groups is that they are fundamentally outward focused“ (Loc. 240).

Note: While not a strict distinction, I think the concept built into cell groups is distinct from most small groups, at least in practice.

“The goal of the cell-based church is to help equip Christians for the ministry of making disciples who make disciples” (Loc. 245).

Note: Again, this is in contrast with many small group models which attempt “to keep” people a part of the body. It can do both, but when we focus on “keeping people in” I think we forget to focus on “bringing people in.” You can have the “keeping” without the “bringing”, but I don’t think you will see the “bringing” without getting the “keeping” tossed in.

“We can see the early church’s rhythm of ‘cell and celebration’ in these passages from the book of Acts: ‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts’ (Acts 2:46) ‘Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.’ (Acts 5:42)” (Loc. 249).

Note: This is very true. So much so that I think we could handle a lot more development of the New Testament texts here.

Overall, relying on numbers and “effectiveness” can be misleading. Models can be effective even if the founding principles are not. And models can be ineffective numerically even if the foundational principles are biblical. The point is to be faithful in doing what is biblical. So this chapter could use a whole lot more biblical basis, which would be easy since the concept of small groups meeting together to study the Word and inviting pre-believers in is biblical.

What if the COVID reality could strengthen our churches?

What if it could? That is a big question. I am sure that you have seen some strengthening of your church, maybe through your online engagement, maybe through more people “watching services”, maybe through other means. But I am thinking of something different. What if people were actually more engaged in evangelism and discipleship during the COVID reality than then were before it? Could it happen?

In thinking about this question I remembered a book I read back in 2012. While I had disagreements with the author and some of his ideas, it was the book which got me thinking along these lines. I am posting my review from the first time I read it, and then will be posting quotes, notes, and summaries of each chapter over the coming weeks. Would you be willing to pick it up and read along? Maybe some of the quotes will get you thinking or enable you to share some of what you think about the issue.

The Church In Many Houses: Reaching your Community through Cell-Based Ministry

by Steve Cordle

Point: The cell-based understanding of the church facilitates and stimulates personal growth and community outreach.

Path:The book is divided into three sections: 1) The emerging cell movement (background and general principles) 2) Laying the foundations (what it looks like) 3) Strategic Issues (moving forward and answers for difficulties).

Sources: Cordle relies on personal experience, statistical data, Methodist methodology, and Biblical principles.


The overarching principle is right on – we are not a church “with” cells (or small groups), we are a church “of” cells. Whether we admit it or not, the local church functions at a relational base. If there is no relationship going on, what are we considering the “church”?

He uses the terminology “pre-Christian friend” instead of “unbeliever.” I loved that!

Everyone is involved.

There is a focus on prayer.

Multiplication is the purpose.

This is not a program.


His view of the worship service, or celebration, is geared toward unbelievers.

He uses numbers all the time to prove points, but numbers are not what Jesus focused on.

I have questions about his view of woman in leadership. I don’t think that woman should be relegated to the back seat, but he has them in pastoral roles.

He sees spiritual gifts as things to be discovered and stressed.

Personal App: Am I seeking to reach outward and multiply disciples? If so, how am I implementing that?

Favorite Quote: “Meeting in homes also locates ministry in the midst of multiple neighborhoods, spreading the gospel across an area instead of stockpiling believers in a central building” (34).

Stars: 4 out of 5

The concept gets a 5, but I had to let a lot of terminology, specific application, etc. slide through.

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it.


It is because of the church’s diversity that the followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch. You could not call them Jews or Gentiles, for both were in the church. You could not label them wealthy or poor, intellectuals or idiots, because the church was made up from all categories of humanity. The only thing that all these diverse people had in common was Christ, and therefore that was the only title you could give them: Christians.

Leonard, Get Real

One small step

If we call upon the average church member to take up arms as a gospel minister or a disciple-maker or an evangelist, then (rightly or wrongly) many will feel sufficiently threatened to run in the opposite direction. But what if we were to say the following instead? “Why don’t you pray for the person next to you (wherever that might be), and see if by your word and example you can encourage them to take one step—even one small step—to the right?”

  • Vine Project

The Vine Project

Book: Payne, Tony, and Colin Marshall. The Vine Project: Shaping Your Ministry Culture around Disciple-Making. Matthias Media, 2016.

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Point: Making and maturing disciples is not something that a church does, it is something a disciple does. Here is a workbook on how to pursue disciple making in all of church life.

Path: The authors lay out five phases to work through, making sure that everyone understands that this is not as much of a how-to-manual, but rather a workbook. They lay a biblical foundation, explain logical truths, and give practical examples. This isn’t a book to just read, but to work through with others.

Sources: Based on their previous book and the interactions they have had since then, the authors do a great job at walking the reader through both biblical truth and e


veryday experience.

Agreement: Top shelf book. I am so thankful how they presented these truths not as a “five steps to your best church now” but “take time to think through these principles with others and you will change”.

Personal App: Am I seeing every relationship as an opportunity to encourage the other individual to take one step toward Christ?

Favorite Quote: Engaging unbelievers on Sunday is ”like taking in a gues


t at your house for Christmas dinner. This often happens in our part of the world. If there’s someone at church who doesn’t have any family to share Christmas with, then you invite them to join your family for Christmas lunch. Now in doing so, you don’t change who you are or what your family does in any significant way at all. But you make very sure that your guest is looked after. You warmly welcome them, and introduce them around. You explain what is going on at different points— why Uncle Fred always has to sit in that chair, what the background is to your funny family games or rituals, how to play, and so on. You put yourself out to make your guest feel at home and part of the family, even though it’s not their home or their family. Likewise in church— outsiders are not part of our church family. We don’t stop being who we are, or pursuing God’s purposes, just because we have guests present. But we do welcome our guests, who, like the ‘outsiders’ in 1 Corinthians 14, turn up and (God-willing) come to know and worship the living God in our midst.” (Kindle loc. 2967).


Stars:  5 out of 5

It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:

  • is planting a church
  • is leading a church
  • is
    serving in a church

Other books along this theme would be:

Anyabwile, Thabiti M. What Is a Healthy Church Member? 9Marks. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Expanded. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004.

Marshall, Colin, Tony Payne, and Matthias Media. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything. Kingsford, N.S.W.: Matthias Media, 2009.

Rainer, Thom S., and Eric Geiger. Simple Church. B&H Publishing Group, 2010.