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Cell – A New Way of Being Church? A Report following a period of sabbatical study leave into Cell Church issues with particular reference to the Anglican Church The Revd Stephen P Corbett


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Outline Introduction

3

1.

WHAT IS CELL CHURCH? A Snapshot

5

1.1

KEY FEATURES OF CELL CHURCH 1.1.1 A Church of – not with – small groups 1.1.2 Meeting in Cells – The 4Ws

5 5 8

1.2

HISTORY: A Sketch of Where it is Coming From 1.2.1 The New Testament 1.2.2 Examples From Church History 1.2.3 The Twentieth Century

9 10 11 12

1.3

GEOGRAPHY: Where is it Happening? 1.3.1 South Korea 1.3.2 Singapore

14 15 15

1.4

LEADERSHIP ISSUES 1.4.1 The Structure 1.4.2 Training and Support 1.4.3 A Real Life Example 1.4.4 Leadership Qualities

16 17 17 18 19

1.5

TRANSITIONING 1.5.1 “The Big Bang!” 1.5.2 The Prototype 1.5.3 How Long Does Transitioning Last?

20 20 21 22

1.6

CELL CHURCH PLANTING 1.6.1 The Geographical Cell Church Plant 1.6.2 The Network-Based Cell Church Plant 1.6.3 The Parallel Cell Church Plant 1.6.4 Cell Planting

22 23 24 24 25

1.7

HOW WIDELY IS IT BEING ADOPTED?

25

1.8

CELL CHURCH VARIANTS 1.8.1 Hyper Cell Church 1.8.2 Metachurch

26 27 28

1.9

CRITERIA FOR DEFINING A CELL CHURCH

29

2.

EVALUATION – A S.W.O.T. ANALYSIS

31

2.1

31 31 31 32 32 33 34 34 35

THE STRENGTHS OF CELL CHURCH 2.1.1 Genuine Every-Member Ministry 2.1.2 Leadership Development 2.1.3 Mission Orientation 2.1.4 Community and Pastoring 2.1.5 Discipling 2.1.6 Relevance to Youth and Children 2.1.7 A Growth Structure 2.1.8 Trinitarian Theology

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

3.

2.2

THE WEAKNESSES OF CELL CHURCH 2.2.1 It Does Not Work For Everyone! 2.2.2 It Does Not Work in Every Social Context 2.2.3 Limited by Traditional Leadership Models 2.2.4 “Just a Growth Strategy”

35 35 36 37 37

2.3

OPPORTUNITIES FOR CELL CHURCH 2.3.1 Cultural Openness 2.3.2 Emerging Missionary Emphasis

38 38 38

2.4

THREATS TO CELL CHURCH 2.4.1 Innate Conservatism 2.4.2 Preference for Pastoral Mode 2.4.3 Christians in the Ghetto

39 39 39 40

CELL CHURCH AND ANGLICANISM

41

3.1

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY ”ANGLICAN”?

41

3.2

ISSUES TO BE CONSIDERED 3.2.1 Leadership 3.2.2 Staffing Strategy 3.2.3 Network and Parish 3.2.4 Sacramental Ministry 3.2.5 Membership 3.2.6 A Missionary Culture

42 42 43 44 45 46 46

3.3

THE WAY AHEAD 3.3.1 Areas of Experimentation 3.3.2 Serious Consideration of Forms of “Emerging Church”

47 47 48

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Cell – A New Way of Being Church? Introduction This Report follows a period of sabbatical study leave, from the Diocese of Birmingham, from mid January to April 2000. The concept of Cell Church – which will be described more fully below – is a relatively recent phenomenon, which is attracting an increasing amount of attention across the world, and across Christian denominations (from traditional, denominational churches to the New Church networks). My personal interest in the concept began slowly. In 1997 I became aware of a number of conferences being convened, which were aimed at introducing the subject to the UK churches, and of increasing numbers of clergy colleagues showing interest. Initially, I was unappreciative of the difference between the idea of a church based on a network of small groups meeting in homes (Cell Church) and that of the, now familiar and established, practice of local churches having a midweek home group programme. In addition to this I felt a mild scepticism, which made me wonder whether this was not just the latest bandwagon among evangelical and charismatic churches (which appear to be the ones most readily considering the Cell approach). However, I gradually became aware of the fact that many – of sound mind and outlook! - appeared to be forming the view that, in spite of superficial similarities between Cells and home groups, there was a fundamental difference of approach. Moreover, claims were being made which suggested that the Cell Church model (or models, to be more accurate) might well be a means of salvation for many western churches in a state of gradual, but accelerating, overall numerical decline. Given the facts that in the UK (as in the West generally) it is increasingly accepted that we cannot remain indifferent towards the undeniable decline in overall church attendance; that in the various parishes in which I have worked over the past fifteen years we have at best seen modest growth; that, even where we observe the minority of apparently large and growing churches, this apparent success is but the proverbial “drop in the ocean” when we focus on the task that faces us; the claims of the Cell Church movement seemed worthy of further investigation during a period of sabbatical study leave. Accordingly, I began my personal investigation in the knowledge that by Easter 2000 I would either have discovered a fresh approach to ministry and mission for the future, or be in a position to safely discard Cell Church as an inappropriate model for ministry in the Church of England at the beginning st of the 21 century. Read on to find out on which side of this watershed I ended up.

Terms of Reference and Method Preparatory reading and conversations with others revealed that Cell Church is an emerging and wide-ranging subject, which could only be studied in part. I therefore decided to look at the subject with particular reference to the Anglican Church (although not excluding the experience of other Christian churches). Therefore, this report does not examine two related phenomena. First, it is generally recognised that there is a relationship between Cell Church and the Base Ecclesial Communities of the Roman Catholic Church in South America. This is a subject on its own, and time and resources did not permit an examination. Second, during the sabbatical I became aware of a variant approach to Cell Church, again from South America, known as the “Group of Twelve Model” (or G12), which is emerging among that Continent’s Protestant churches (and is being adopted by some UK churches). 3


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

By the time I had heard of this development, a thorough examination did not appear practicable. Thus, this paper focuses on what one might call a “mainline” Cell model. There were two obvious ways to approach the task (in addition to reading published and unpublished literature). One was to spend an extended period in an established cell church (or perhaps two). The other was to pay a series of shorter visits to a number of churches (and some conferences), gaining a series of “snapshots” of what is going on. Each had its pros and cons; I opted for the second approach. My approach was threefold: 1. To spend time reading published works on the subject (which seem to be growing by the month), as well as spending time at the Sheffield Centre (a research unit, based in the Church Army College in Sheffield, which focuses on church planting and associated new initiatives in church mission and development), where a number of unpublished studies were available from its Director, the Revd George Lings (who acted as a reference person for the project). 2. To visit a number of parishes implementing the Cell Church model. These were in varying social circumstances and at different stages of implementation. Each visit involved an interview with the Incumbent, or other appropriate staff member, as well as visiting cell activities, such as a cell group and/or the periodic leaders’ meeting, where possible. In those parishes where the visit included a Sunday, the congregational worship was also attended. 3. To attend an international conference on Cell Group Churches, held annually in Singapore, and hosted by Touch Ministries International, at Faith Community Baptist Church (the city’s largest Cell Group Church). This also afforded the opportunity to visit Singapore’s largest Anglican Cell Church, The Church of Our Saviour. In addition to this, the opportunities arose to attend two UK conferences; one held at the Sheffield Centre on Cell Church Planting, and another convened by The Church of Scotland, and addressed by Dr William Beckham, an acknowledged pioneer theorist on Cell Church.

The Scope of This Paper It will be apparent from the above remarks that this inquiry has its limitations. It is not exhaustive. That said, I will begin with an overview of Cell Church, attempting to highlight its key features. This will lead on to some personal evaluation of the model using the so-called SWOT analysis – ie an identification of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The third section will attempt to sketch out the relationship to, and implications for, the Anglican Church generally, and the Church of England particularly.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

1. WHAT IS CELL CHURCH? A Snapshot 1.1 KEY FEATURES OF CELL CHURCH 1.1.a A Church of – not with – Small Groups This is the essential difference. An Archdeacon once said to me that a Diocese, rightly understood, is a made up of its parishes; so we could also say that a cell church is made up of its cells. The following diagramme (fig. 1) illustrates the difference. The Congregation With Home Groups

‘Appendage Model” HG

HG

G

G CHURCH

HG

HG

Congregation

G

G

HG

HG

G

G

The Congregation Made Up Of Cell Groups

“Cell Church Model”

C

Combined Weekly Celebration

C

C

C

C

C C

C

Figure 1

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

It is clear from this illustration that the Cell Church model offers a more integrated and uniting way of being church. Often, home groups enjoy a kind of semi-autonomy, disconnected from any central and uniting vision and purpose, which is essential to the effective expression of local church. At this point I might address a fear sometimes articulated by clergy trained in the more traditional model of ministry. Given that cell is a micro-expression of church, is there not the danger that cells may become autonomous units given to an inappropriate independency, especially at odds with an Anglican ecclesiology? I confess to having entertained such a question myself. However, the evidence seems to be that Cell Church - properly understood and structured – is, in fact, a safeguard against such trends. The reasons for this observation are evident in the above model, and in what is covered elsewhere in this paper. In a cell church, the congregational gathering (normally on Sunday) is understood as the coming together of its constituent cells. This has implications for the central parish programme (and in a way, in the Anglican context, for the Diocesan agenda). The congregational programme is streamlined, to free up as much time and as many resources as possible for cell life. The criterion here is that, when a new initiative is proposed, the church’s leadership asks the questions, “Can this initiative best be achieved through our cell groups?” and, “How will this initiative further the development of church through its cells?” Activities that are deemed essential and can be achieved at cell level are delegated to the cells (via their leaders). Activities that are deemed essential but are clearly best achieved at a central, congregational level then form the congregational programme. Further clarification regarding the nature and purpose of Cell Church can be gained from the Table below. This compares and contrasts the traditional home group and the emerging cell group.

Home Group

Cell Group

Average membership of around 12

Average membership of around 12

Nurture only

Nurture and outreach

Integration of church members

Integration of enquirers

Less important than Sunday service

As important as Sunday service

Appended to congregational life

Essential to congregational life

An optional activity

An essential activity

Bible study

Bible application

Often “stuck in a rut”

Dynamic and evolving

Closed to those outside

Open to those outside

Normally meets in the same place

Normally meets in different places

Table 1: Home Groups and Cell Groups

Using the Table above, I will now briefly comment on each point, in order to draw out some key features of Cell Church principles (in some instances two points have been conflated). 6


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Size: From the Table it will be seen that a cell is intended to function with the same number of people as any other small group. However, even here there is a difference. From its inception, a cell group, as the term implies, will be aiming at multiplication (through outreach and evangelism). Once a cell has a stable participating membership of 12-16, it will multiply into two cells (the new cells being led by the original leader and the co-leader; this leadership issue will be described and discussed below). The maximum time normally allowed for this process (or cycle) is two years. If a cell has not multiplied itself within two years, it is unlikely to do so (in fact, by this time it is probably a cell in name, but a home group in reality). The cell is then disbanded, the members being sensitively referred to other (hopefully growing) cells. Nurture and Integration: In theory, home groups were always intended to be outward looking, with the aim of multiplication. But more than twenty years of experience of home group churches has taught me that this was rarely the reality. In practice, home groups tend to become inward looking, nurturing those who belong to them with varying degrees of effectiveness – some to a good standard and others not. While cell groups clearly place a high priority on pastoral care, their mission is also to be outward looking. Cells seek to grow, not merely by recruiting more members from the Sunday congregation, but also by reaching out to non-believers who are part of the relational network of the believing members (the 1 “oikos” group). The idea is that it is fine for a non-believer to belong to a cell group before he or she comes to believe; nor is he or she expected to take the daunting step of entering a church building on Sunday, to participate in something which to most secular people is incomprehensible – even in churches which regard themselves as “informal and relaxed”. The entry point for church life becomes a less-threatening, small group, based on relationship, where the newcomer knows at least one other person. Once this begins to happen, the group will extend nurture to all, regardless of their Christian commitment. Cell and Sunday: The point has already been made that the main focus of the average church, of any tradition or denomination, is its Sunday service(s). In addition to this, some churches run a midweek programme of small groups, which are attended by a minority of the Sunday attendance. In Cell thinking, what goes on in the small group is as significant as what goes on in the congregation. In a cell church, all will be encouraged to be part of both the congregation and a small group. The extent to which this is possible varies. Some UK cell parishes I visited claimed 100% cell participation. The majority claimed somewhere between 60% and 90%. Congregational Life: This is not to say that congregational life does not matter, but rather that the whole Congregation is not expected to fulfil functions which might be best achieved through the smaller group dynamic. Thus Cell and Congregation are viewed as equally important, complementary expressions of meeting together to be church. In this culture, small groups cease to become an optional extra for the ultra keen. Moreover, the purpose of the congregational “celebration” is to support the cell structure, and not vice versa. The Bible: The complementary roles of Cell and Congregation are perhaps nowhere better illustrated than through the role of the Bible. The Congregation is the best context in which to proclaim and expound biblical truth; but it is not the best place for believers to apply that truth. The Cell is the best place for such application, but a poor environment for exposition. In home group churches these two functions often become muddled, with group leaders feeling that in the Bible study part of the meeting they must emulate the preacher’s 1

In Cell theory the Greek word ‘oikos’ (= ‘household) is used as a metaphor for the network of friends, acquaintances, relatives, neighbours and colleagues that each person has. [The same approach is a key feature of the Alpha Course]. For a summary of this see Ralph Neighbour: “Where Do We Go From Here?” Touch Publications 1990. pp 249 – 253.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

knowledge and skill (or lack of it, as the case may be!) and deliver some sort of mini-sermon. In Cell Church the emphasis is upon Bible application – asking not: what does this mean in general?, but: what does this mean to me and/or us? Most Cell Churches link the Bible application to the previous Sunday morning’s sermon. Group Dynamics: While the conventional home group tends to become stuck in the proverbial rut, a healthy cell group will have a clear aim (multiplication within 24 months or re-evaluation) and will begin to work out a cycle for its life in order to achieve this aim. This will create a sense of purpose. This is not to say that cell groups cannot fall into the same traps as home groups. Indeed most, if not all, the clergy to whom I spoke admitted that some of their cell groups were in fact functioning as home groups under another name. However, they saw this as a challenge to be overcome. And, as one remarked, “Even if some of them do revert to home group mode, they are a better quality of home group that I 2 had before.” Moreover, when a group is consciously committed to engaging with those outside itself, that creates a difference in group culture. Venue: The sense of purpose, ideally experienced in a cell group, is reinforced by the fact that cells are usually encouraged not to meet in the same venue (normally a home) each week. As much as possible, a cell aims to meet in the various homes represented by its members, although, of course, this is not an absolute. Some members may not be in a position to host a group, even on an occasional basis. However, the general aim is emphasise that being a cell is about a network of small group relationships, and not just holding a meeting in a given place. 1.1.2 Meeting in Cells – The 4 Ws Cells, as the term implies, aim to be organisms rather than organisations. However, they do have a definite structure – a framework within which cell life can flourish. Before I explain the structure of a cell meeting (usually on a midweek evening), I should emphasise (as indicted above) that a Cell is intended to be a network of people in relationship. In good cells members will be in touch with each other informally, in all kinds of ways, throughout the week. The cell meeting is a focus, and membership of a cell implies commitment to it. If, for some unavoidable reason, a cell member cannot attend on a given evening, he or she is expected to communicate this to the group, normally via the leader. Underlying this is a key value of Cell Church – accountability in relationships. That said, we now turn to the structure of a cell meeting. It has four components, each with a specific relational focus. Table two below describes this. The structure is simple, and has a number of benefits. 1. It requires minimal preparation on the part of the leader. Even with the “Word” component, most of the work is already done by the previous Sunday’s preacher, who will, at least, have prepared a set of discussion questions, aimed at facilitating engagement with the passage(s). In some parishes I visited, additional background material and a summary of the sermon was provided for those who wanted it. 2. It frees the leader from having to think about “what to do at group next week”. Having a given structure, with content, enables a leader to give time to deeper group issues (eg the informal relational agenda).

2

The Revd Clive Collier, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Hazelmere, High Wycombe. Probably the Church of England’s largest Cell Church, meeting in 6 Congregations and 45 cells.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Component Relational Dimension Member to member Welcome

Worship

Group to God

Word

God to Group

Witness (or Works)

Group to world

Content A simple “ice breaker” exercise, aimed at helping the group “gel” for the evening A simple worship time led by a group member Bible application, normally unpacking teaching from the previous congregational meeting Includes prayer for those outside the group. As time goes by it will include prayerful planning of outreach initiatives

Approximate Timing 10-15 minutes

15 minutes 30 minutes

30 minutes

Table 2: The 4 Ws – Structure of a Cell Meeting

3. Cell members have the confidence of knowing (more or less) what they are coming to, and, more importantly, what they may be inviting a non-believing friend to come to. 4. The relational sequence of the meeting, assuming it is ably led, prevents it becoming bogged down, by leading members through from settling down in comfort with one another, via relating to God in the Spirit through worship and the Word, to the point of looking outward beyond their immediate concerns. 5. The outward-looking aspect of the meeting provides the group with a clear focus and aim, which prevents it from becoming a ministry to itself. Obviously, there is more to the cell model than this; but I hope what has been said so far is sufficient as an introduction to the basic concept. However, a key aspect, requiring further explanation, is the issue of leadership, which is addressed below (1.4); but before addressing this issue, I will give some historical (1.2) and geographical (1.3) background.

1.2 HISTORY: A SKETCH OF WHERE IT IS COMING FROM Small groups, of course, are nothing new. They are a familiar feature of post-war Christianity in the West. There is now nothing unusual about small groups of Christians belonging to a given congregation meeting midweek to share in worship, study the Bible, pray together, and support one another in common discipleship. However, as we enter the 21st century at the close of a Decade of Evangelism or Evangelisation, there appears to be a growing awareness that, whatever their intrinsic value, homegroups have had their day. Robert Warren, the Church of England’s principal officer for mission, has spoken of the need to move beyond home groups, if we are to build missionary congregations. Ewen Souter sums this up in an unpublished paper on the subject. Speaking of the reasons why Cell Church should be seriously considered, he cites as one: “Disillusionment with traditional homegroups which have often lost their effectiveness as a means of nurturing mature Christian disciples, coupled with the recognition that church renewal in the past has been heavily small group based.”3 3

Ewan Souter. The Cell Church Movement in the Anglican Context. Unpublished MA Dissertation. Bristol 1997. p.7

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

This dissatisfaction with the limitations of our present structure – ie a Sunday congregation with a variety of small groups appended – is causing people to look at alternative models. This soon involves a look into the past. Most writing on the subject comes from the Evangelical wing of the church. It is, therefore, with the New Testament itself that the search begins for many. 1.2.1 The New Testament As with anything else, there are particular key texts that we must be careful to interpret within the context of the whole Canon. That noted, it is generally recognised that Acts 2:42ff is a key scriptural pointer: “They (the first Christians) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…..Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Foundational to Cell Church thinking is the conviction that small group life is necessary for healthy church. The pattern post-Pentecost was one of two modes of meeting together running in parallel; the congregational meeting initially in the Temple Courts, as well as the small group network meeting in homes. At this point, it is necessary to refer to one key image in Cell Church thinking that has been promoted by William Beckham. He speaks of the two-winged church, a simple picture used to illustrate this key theme of Cell Church. “The Creator once created a church with two wings; one wing was for large group celebration, the other wing was for small group community. Using both wings, the church could soar high into the heavens, entering into His presence and doing His will over all the 4 earth.” The basic point of Beckham, and others, is that, just as a bird cannot fly with only one wing, so the church must rediscover its “small group wing” in order to learn to fly again; that is, to fulfil its mission more effectively. Having said this, the early church in Acts is not the only scriptural reference point. Beckham and others look back into the ministry of Jesus to detect the origins of the two-winged approach. Accepting that Jesus’ ministry as presented in the Gospels is not merely described, but is also in some sense prescriptive, or programmatic, it becomes clear that Jesus operated in two parallel modes. He called around him what could be described as a cell; he had twelve close disciples. Within this group he clearly had a core group of three – Peter, James and John (eg Mark 9:2), of whom John appears to have been closest to him (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7; 21:20). Beyond this group of twelve were others, including women, who, at least sometimes, travelled with Jesus (eg Luke 8:2), and the seventy-two disciples, whom he also commissioned for ministry (Luke 10:1ff). Beyond these groups of committed disciples, Jesus also taught “the crowds”. By the end of his three year ministry, Jesus himself appears to have established what we might call a “congregation” (that is: a committed following) in Jerusalem, which numbered at least 120 - the believers gathered together prior to Pentecost (Acts 1:15). There may well have been more.

4

William A Beckham. “The Second Reformation”. Touch Publications 1995. pp 25-26

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Turning briefly – and admittedly superficially – to the rest of the New Testament evidence, it is generally accepted among New Testament scholars that the early church was a homebased church (eg Rom 16:5). (This is alluded to in the New Testament documents, rather than explicitly spelled out as a strategy.) However, though the details are unclear, it is also true that, as the church expanded and developed, moving out from Jerusalem into the wider Gentile world of the first century, it found ways of coming together in congregational sized groupings, bringing together the networks of house churches. The account of Paul delivering a long sermon to the church in Troas seems to indicate a coming together of more than one house church in a larger meeting room (Acts 20:7ff). The above comments are, of course, sketchy and limited; but they illustrate the point that Cell Church is earthed in a fresh examination of the scriptures from which we can recover the two-winged principle upon which church life should be based. Of course, most church life is currently focused mainly on the Sunday congregation; but this fact might invite us to rediscover the small group’s role in building church – a church made up of small groups, rather than a church with small groups. It should also be noted that various New Testament references tell us that small groups were an integral part of the early church, although it tells us no more than that about them. This invites us to rediscover, in our own day, the power and purpose of small groups; but it will be st for the church of the 21 century to discover, under the leading of the Spirit, how best to structure small groups in our own context. 1.2.2 Examples From Church History With the development of an early Catholicism from the second century, which led on to the establishment of Christianity under Constantine and the rise of Christendom, the church, perhaps inevitably, became focused on the congregation. This gained pace when the acquisition of church buildings became commonplace. However, the rise of monasticism can be interpreted as, among other things, a search for a lost small group community. In a study of the monastic movement, John Finney draws parallels between the Roman and Celtic monastic missions of the first millennium and modern day initiatives in mission – 5 particularly church planting. Although monasteries became static institutions (as we now know them), their origins lay in small cells of missionaries aiming to bring the Gospel to a pagan culture. As Christendom fades and we face a resurgence of paganism in the West, there may well be lessons to be learnt from their model. Although the post-Constantinian era was undoubtedly dominated by the cathedral and emerging parish church model, we can, nevertheless, trace the cell model in the background. That said, it is following the Enlightenment and Reformation that the more obvious antecedents of Cell Church become apparent. Luther might not be thought an obvious candidate for a exponent of the Cell principle. His passion for reform was not simply directed at theology but also at ecclesiology – initially, at least. In his preface to The German Mass and Order of Service, Luther identified three kinds of worship. One was the Latin Mass and the second the German Mass, which he commended for public use in parish churches. However, he went on to identify a third model: “The third kind of service should be a truly evangelical order and should not be held in a public place for all sorts of people. But those who want to be Christians in earnest and who profess the gospel with hand and mouth should sign their names and meet alone in a house

5

J. Finney: “Recovering the Past – Celtic & Roman Mission” DLT. 1996

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

somewhere to pray, to read, to baptise, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian 6 works.” Luther never went on to implement this model. Possibly, he was ahead of his time, but the above remarks illustrate that the reformation of theology gave rise, at least in principle, to an implied reformation of structure. What he describes above is in effect a New Testament Cell th Church (16 century style). Luther appears to have dreamed, and then opted for a retention of the established cathedral model for local church; others, however, as time went by, developed small groups. The 17th century Pietist movement under Philip Spener is often cited as an earlier example of a small group approach to church life.7 However, it is generally agreed that the most notable precursor of Cell Church was devised in the 18th century by an Anglican. John Wesley, an evangelist through and through, required a strategy and a structure for the nurture of large numbers of new converts to Christianity. Necessity being the father of invention, Wesley devised his class system. The story of this is well and numerously 8 documented elsewhere, so there is no need to repeat it here. The point, for the purpose of this paper, is that, in the early Methodist class model, we have what is essentially a Cell structure. The primary point of belonging to Methodism as a movement lay not in membership of a Methodist society, but in membership of a class meeting. The Societies (ie congregations) were understood as being the sum total of the classes that met in a neighbourhood on a weeknight for mutual support, accountable relationships, prayer and thanksgiving, and Bible reading. 1.2.3 The Twentieth Century There does not appear to be anything of great note to report from the first half of the twentieth century regarding cell-type church developments. The major initiative during this period was the emergence worldwide of Pentecostalism, following the Los Angeles and South Wales revivals around the turn of the century. Interestingly, this new force in Western Christianity was for years essentially a congregational movement, paying little, or no, interest to small group church life. However, it is also interesting to note that, since the emergence of the present Cell Church movement, congregations from mainline Pentecostal denominations are among those beginning to experiment with the Cell Church approach. The main developments in twentieth century small group life are post war. I refer here to two major movements, one Latin American Roman Catholic and one Western Protestant9. First the Base (or Basic) Ecclesial Communities of Central and South America. These are now well known and have been written about extensively. They are often explained in terms of their being a solution to the lack of ordained priests in the communities in which they have emerged. However, the most cursory study of their nature reveals them as being something more than this. As well as being a pragmatic solution to the limitations of third world Roman Catholic clericalism – in that lay people lead and sustain small communities in ways relevant to the people who comprise their membership – they are a grass roots response to the realities of disempowerment, injustice and poverty. Peter Price describes them as follows: 6

Martin Luther. Luther’s Works Vol. 53. Ed. H T Lehman. Fortress Press 1965. p65 See Beckham. Op Cit p. 117f 8 For example see Howard Snyder. The Radical Wesley: Patterns of Church Renewal. IVP 1980. 9 Reference was also made to a third phenomenon, the Group of Twelve (G12) model. This is so new that comment would be premature at this stage. Essentially it is a variant of the Cell Church Model. 7

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

“The Basic Ecclesial Communities of Latin America provide us with a present-day example of the Church taking root among the poor in the struggle for justice….(These Communities) live their lives among the poor….The word “base” or “basic” defines the status of such people. They are “at the bottom”. In case this should be thought of as a pejorative phrase – 10 the word “grassroots” is perhaps the best English equivalent.” This movement has provided inspiration to more western initiatives, of which two spring to mind. One is the work of the Sojourners Communities in North America, under the 11 leadership of James Wallis. The model has also inspired ecumenical cell initiatives since the 1970s in Northern Ireland, which have maintained a quiet, yet faithful, alternative witness, against the backdrop of the idolatries of Nationalism and Loyalism in the Province. Base Community life lay beyond my sphere of investigation. However, it became apparent that it constituted a significant strand in the recent historical background to what is becoming known as the Cell Church movement. The other post-war development leads me to end this section where it began. The development of home groups in the UK and elsewhere was largely a fuelled by the charismatic movement since the 1960s.12 At best, these have been expressions of small group community life, able to support their members and provide a forum in which lay ministry can grow and develop. However, it is becoming recognised that this model is passing its “sell-by-date”. “The common experience of house groups in many contemporary British churches is of a programme of ministry which is in “maintenance mode” with poor vision and inadequate oversight….The consequent lack of authenticity and appropriate pastoral support within such groups often means that members have reduced motivation to attend the group and attendance levels are at best sporadic and at worst diminish towards the point where the group has to face the inevitable consequence of merging with another group or finishing 13 altogether.” The problem has been identified, for example, by Paul Simmonds (Adviser in Mission for the Diocese of Coventry): “House groups in many British churches have become established as an essential element of the maintenance structure of the church… The church in Britain functioned in maintenance mode with groups who had a largely pastoral role, maintaining the faith and 14 fellowship of the committed.” (My emphasis) For at least two decades The Church of England has been waking up to the fact that its parish churches are, by and large, caught in this culture of maintenance. We need also to recognise that the small groups within these parishes are very much part of this culture. It is a basic conviction of this paper that the transformation of small group life into missionary mode could be a key (if not the key) to unlocking this situation. Moving on, it is also a generally acknowledged reality that, in churches with home groups, the majority of congregational members do not belong to them. Average attendance at home groups is recognised to be around 30% of members of a given congregation. There 10

Peter Price. The Church As The Kingdom. Marshall Pickering 1987. p 60. See, for example, Jim Wallis. The New Radical. Lion 1983. The Call to Conversion. Lion 1981. 12 Churches across a spectrum of traditions have a history of occasional group programmes (especially at key season such as Lent). But I here concentrate upon the more continuous year-round small group programme. 13 Souter. Op Cit. pp13-14. 14 Paul Simmonds [Ed]: “A Future For House Groups?” Grove Pastoral Series, No. 66. pp. 3-4 11

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

are churches which manage to achieve much higher levels of home group participation, but they are not the norm. At one point, at my present parish of St Christopher’s, Springfield, Birmingham, we achieved around 70%. However, I have to admit that this did not last, and actual attendance began to drift towards the national average. Positively, it might be said that home groups have been found to be beneficial to some, though not the majority. Moreover, thirty years of homegroups in UK churches have no doubt laid a foundation upon which Cell Church can be developed. Visits to numerous parishes revealed that it is where there has been a history of home groups that Cell Church finds a welcome.

1.3 GEOGRAPHY: WHERE IS IT HAPPENING? The Cell Church movement has its roots, at least in part, in the theory and practice of the Church Growth School which grew up in the 1970s. This has been a largely North American phenomenon, under the leadership of people such as Peter Wagner and Donald McGavran, but the movement has also influenced church life in other English-speaking countries, including the UK. Foundational to Church Growth theory was the importance of the “Three Cs” as vital components for church life. These were (and are): Cell, Congregation and Celebration. This concept was commended in the UK in the early charismatic renewal by such leaders as 15 the late David Watson. However, it has to be said that the nature of cell as expounded by leaders like Watson was a creature of its time, and therefore more akin to what we can now call the traditional home group. Contemporary Cell Church theory is, in my view, a development and a refinement continuous with earlier Church Growth thinking. It is an explicit recognition of the cell level of church life as essential rather than optional, and as being foundational to the other levels in line with the New Testament. Cell Church is therefore beginning to find a welcome in those places where Church Growth theory has been previously entertained. It is interesting to note that a number of large North American churches which had pioneered Church Growth principles are now transitioning to Cell Church mode. One example is the famous Willow Creek Church in Chicago. It pioneered a form of church growth based on the concept of the Seekers’ Service (which cannot be fully described here). The church having grown large, its leadership has found it necessary to adopt a Cell model in order to cope with continued growth and development, and to avoid stagnation.

15

See, for example, David Watson. I believe in The Church. Hodder & Stoughton 1978.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

1.3.1 South Korea From a different culture, one of the pioneers of Cell Church is recognised to be Dr David Yongi-Cho. Cho founded the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea in 1960, since when it has seen exponential growth. It now numbers several hundred thousand members. It is a not a new charismatic church. Many have heard of the church, but few are aware that it is a mainline Presbyterian church with, I am told, a fairly set and traditional approach to congregational worship which is entirely built upon Cell Church principles. It might seem expedient to dismiss such a success story as a one-off. However, as Ralph Neighbour observes in his seminal book on Cell Church: “If this were the only cell group congregation showing such growth in Seoul, it might be ignored as the fruit of a dynamic pastor’s personality, but this is not the case. There are dozens of other churches that use the cell group pattern, and all are growing at an amazing rate. Today, the world’s two largest Presbyterian churches, along with the largest Methodist 16 church, are cell group congregations in Seoul.” 1.3.2 Singapore My study has left me in no doubt that the cutting edge of church mission is no longer in the West. It is beyond question that the churches of the regions to which we once took the Gospel are now the torchbearers from whom we must learn in humility. I was probably aware of this in theory prior to visiting Singapore. However, my time there quickly caused this truth to sink in. Singapore, consistent with its history, is a global meeting point. Its tourist board advertises it as the place where East meets West. There is a very real sense in which the two strands of Cell Church theory and practice mentioned above (ie North American and Far Eastern) have come together. This is why it is a useful place in which to get a “feel” of Cell Church in a global perspective. Moreover, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that, because it is situated in the East, it is of no relevance to us. On the contrary; Singapore has been described as the modern day “Antioch of the East”. By this is implied that it is a base from which the Gospel can penetrate the surrounding cultures of the Far East (as is happening). However, this could be developed further. In the Acts of the Apostles Antioch was a city through which a major paradigm shift occurred (namely, the initiation and extension of the mission to the Gentiles). If the churches of the West need to make a major paradigm shift in order to recover a dynamic sense of mission, it may be from such an “Antioch” that we need to take our cue. Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) numbers some 10,000 members meeting in 10 congregations and 800 cells. It has become a place that has pioneered Cell Church and models it to the churches of both East and West. Each year for the past decade, it has hosted an International Conference on Cell Group Churches, which is attended by church leaders and members from around the world. I even met a handful of British Anglicans at the Conference. However, although it is the largest and best known Cell Church on the island, it is not alone. There are others which are coming together across denominational boundaries to develop Cell Church, not simply as a means of growing churches ad infinitum, but also as a means of proclaiming the Gospel to a whole city, as well as pioneering imaginative projects for social welfare (ie mission in its broader sense). Another significant Singaporean cell church is Anglican. The Church of Our Saviour (COOS) began its journey towards Cell Church from a congregational base of about 70 in 1976, when its present Incumbent took charge. It operated on the traditional congregational model until 1982, by which time it had grown to around 800 members. In the UK this would 16

Ralph Neighbour. Where Do We Go From Here? Touch Publications 1990. p.24.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

be regarded as something of a success story. However, the church’s leadership sensed that a new model would be needed if the church were to develop further. In 1982 its Vicar, Canon Derek Hong, caught the vision from Dr Yongi-Cho’s church in Seoul and began to implement Cell Church principles. This is what interested me about this church. Since its foundation as a mission church in the 1950s [it became a parish in 1980] in what was then a British colony, it operated (as many continue to do) on the traditional Anglican 17 congregational model. However, having reached the limits of effectiveness of the model, it made the transition to a model borrowed from the Far East – or more accurately an adapted 18 In passing, it is worth noting at this point that it is those churches (of any form of it. denomination) in Singapore which continue with the Western model that are not seeing growth. My point here is that it is all too easy for us in the West to dismiss new models from other global regions. But Singapore, because of its history and culture, does have something to say to us, because its church culture is effectively Western in origin. By 1985 the transition phase (explained later) was complete, and COOS had almost doubled to around 1,500 members. Today, it has an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 3,200 of (not with) 200 English-speaking cell groups plus a related network of Chinese speaking cells. Of this ASA 60% belong to cell groups. The remaining 40% are the responsibility of the cell groups, in terms of pastoral care.

1.4 LEADERSHIP ISSUES From the brief description of some of today’s cell churches in the previous section, it is clear that one essential factor in “making it happen” is the quality of the overall leader and the leadership team he is able to gather around him. Leadership from the “top” – or the “centre” might be a more appropriate term in our more egalitarian culture – is a must. However, there is another essential factor. Alongside the paid, professional leadership team there needs to be a growing pool of lay leaders. Some describe this as the essential “second tier” of leadership. Without it the best efforts of “first tier” leadership, however gifted and able, will be of limited effect. Growing churches – including cell churches – grow these leaders. One of the shortcomings of the home group approach to church life - which after 30 years of experience we are now able to identify - is that, once home group leaders had been identified and groups formed, they were largely “left to get on with it”. I readily confess to having made this mistake myself. Many clergy assume that all is well, so long as no major problems have emerged. The cell model makes no such assumptions. The identification, training, authorisation and on-going support of cell leaders is the key focus for the central church programme, and its leadership team. Indeed, being “a leader of leaders” will become the main role of the church leader – the Incumbent in the Church of England.

17

By ‘congregational’ I do not mean that it was in any way congregationalist. The term as used in this paper simply implies the familiar Anglican model – a parish church focused mainly on its Sunday congregational services with an appended midweek programme of pastoral care and mission. 18 The Pastoral Staff at COOS were careful to emphasise to me that they remain loyally Anglican. Their form of Cell Church has different nuances from, for example, FCBC (with whom they enjoy a good relationship). Peter Koh, who oversees the Cell network at COOS, was keen to tell me that in their experience certain fine-tuning is required to implement Cell in an Anglican context.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

1.4.1 The Structure The leadership structure in a cell church may have certain variations. essentially the same and is illustrated in Figure 2 below.

However, it is

The diagramme below takes as an example a cell church of 500 members. It can be easily adapted for the larger or smaller church context. The numbers should not be taken over literally. For example, a cell might begin with less than 10 members, and grow beyond 10 before multiplying. The basic point is that there is a clearly organised structure, not only for leadership but also for pastoral care. Anyone with a scant knowledge of military structure will instantly see the similarity. However, the model is not to be understood in terms of a chain of command; it is primarily a structure for ministry and mission in a local church. When the proportion of church members belonging to a cell is high, the structure also provides a vehicle for effective communication. D Da

L La

L La

L La

L La

L La

X Xa

X Xa

X Xa

X Xa

X Xa

L La

X Xa

L La

L La

L La

L La

X Xa

X Xa

X Xa

X Xa

D = Leader of 500 Congregational Leader (or Zone Pastor in larger church) L = Leader of 50 Zone Supervisor X = Leader of 10 Cell Leader a = Assistant Leader (at whatever level) Figure 2: An example of the Cell Leadership Structure in a church of 500

1.4.2 Training and Support Within the Cell Church there is, as far as I could discern, a fourfold ongoing process for leadership: Identification, initial training, authorisation, and ongoing support. Identification: In the initial stages of the transition to Cell Church this will be one of the natural tasks of the leader. In a church with an established home group programme, there will be decisions to make about whether some, or all, existing home group leaders might become cell leaders, about how many new people to encourage into leadership, etc. As the Cell Church model is adopted it may be leaders at the supervisory level (paid or unpaid) begin to identify new leaders, as they emerge in the context of the cell system. Initial Training: In effective Cell Churches there is a central church programme. However, its aim is to resource and equip cells, especially their leaders. Potential cell leaders go through a programme of basic training. In the transition phase, this will be prior to cells being formed. Post-transition, new leaders will be trained “on the job”, as it were, as well as 17


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

following the central programme. Materials for this are available from networks such as Touch Ministries (based in Singapore and the USA). UK churches have found the basic structure useful but the content “too American”. A number of churches produce their own material based on the model. I detected a growing desire for some appropriate UK material to be published. Organisations such as CPAS are beginning to look at this, and I would anticipate something being marketed before too long. Authorisation: Cell leading is a commitment. Clearly cell leaders need to be authorised by the church leadership. In one parish I visited, each cell leader signed a covenant of commitment (which in some ways read a little like a job description). It did occur to me that this could also act in the Anglican context as a form of “licence” which might be signed by the leader, the Incumbent and perhaps even the Diocesan Bishop. However this might be developed, in the Anglican context it is clearly the role of the Incumbent to authorise those who lead, given that it is he or she who is delegating a measure of responsibility for the ministry and mission of the church as a whole. He or she also needs to retain the right to withdraw such authorisation, should circumstances so require. On-going Support: As I said earlier, this is where many of us have “lost the plot” in the past. Leaving people to “get on with it” simply leads to burnout and disillusionment in the medium to long term. Where Cell Church is working – or beginning to work – there is a regular programme of leader support. Essentially, this is two-fold. First, as the cell network develops, a tier of (normally) lay leadership between cell leaders and congregational leaders needs to be developed. This role has a variety of titles. Some of those contained in the American manuals (eg Zone Supervisor) may not be appropriate to the UK church. One parish designates this role “Pastoral Co-ordinator”. However, what is important is the function – the L in Figure 2. This person oversees a cluster of cells (about 5) with an assistant (who will eventually exercise the role for other clusters as cells multiply). On a week-by-week basis, cell leaders and their assistants receive ongoing support from their coordinator. Second, there is a regular leaders’ meeting, normally led by the church leader(s). In most Cell Churches this happens monthly, although I found examples where it was more, or less, frequent. This is the opportunity for “in-service” training and support to be given by the professional ministry. 1.4.3 A Real Life Example: St John’s, Bowling At this point, a snapshot of an ordinary parish church operating on the cell model might help 19 illustrate the theory. St John’s is a part UPA inner-city parish of 5,500 in Bradford. It is mainly working class (though I detected an obvious middle class element in the congregation). The parish is racially mixed, with a moderate other faiths presence (ie. 20% South Asian, mostly Islamic) in part of the parish. Most householders are owner-occupiers. The average Sunday attendance is 160 adults plus up to 90 children and young people. The church meets in two Sunday morning congregations made up of 18 adult and 15 youth/children’s cells. St John’s is the first Anglican Church in the UK known to have transitioned into a Cell Church. The transition began in 1993. The story is well recounted by the Vicar, Howard Astin, in his book “Body & Cell”20. The cell model is now established in this parish – 99% of church members belong to a cell group - and therefore serves as a good example of how the leadership structure functions. 19

UPA = Urban Priority Area. The term originated with the ‘Faith in the City’ Report in 1980. UPAs have an above average level of social deprivation (measured according to a number of criteria). A ‘part UPA’ parish means that the parish as a whole does not qualify as a UPA but part of it taken alone would. 20 Howard Astin: “Body & Cell”. Monarch 1998.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Leaders begin as assistant leaders in a cell group, with the understanding that, when the group multiplies (normally within two years), they will lead a new group. They are given the initial training centrally. Cells are organised into clusters overseen by a Pastoral Coordinator (the Vicar functions as one of these, as well as being the congregational leader), to whom the cell leaders may refer. Each month a leadership meeting is convened by the Vicar, at which necessary in-service training and support is given. On an annual basis, there is a weekend away for all leaders (including assistants), which enables more extended input to be given, and provides a focus for the renewal of the overall vision. This model is typical of the churches I visited, although some varied in minor ways. For example, one parish held its leaders’ meeting every seven weeks. Another held it twice a month, once centrally and once in smaller clusters. It will be immediately obvious that this on-going training and supporting programme is a key role for the professional staff of a Cell Church, be it the Vicar working alone, or the staff team in a larger parish. 1.4.4 Leadership Qualities In common with many other clergy looking at Cell Church, I became instantly aware of the model’s leader-hungry nature! The average UK church has an average Sunday attendance of around 70 people, most in largely passive mode. Many clergy I have spoken to complain (or comment) about the shortage of lay leadership (potential and actual) in their churches. Years of the traditional congregational model have reduced many (even most) churchgoers to the state of consumers of “professional” ministry. To be fair, the last two or three decades have seen the tide begin to turn. However, one can be forgiven for thinking that in the Church of England this turn has a more to do with reduced numbers of clergy rather than a conviction that lay ministry and leadership is right per se. Others see a reasonable number of potential leaders, but then encounter the modern curse of our age – lack of time (possibly more perceived than real) – preventing able people from taking on leadership roles; this latter is the present situation in my own parish. Adopting Cell Church principles in such situations can seem daunting. Even in larger, more affluent, parishes these difficulties may still persist, although to a lesser degree. However, before giving up before trying, a real difference between the home group style of leadership and cell leadership must be appreciated. The two are not interchangeable. A number of clergy remarked to me that some longstanding and established home group leaders have not made very good cell leaders; conversely, some who would never have led a home group have shone as cell leaders. Home groups tended to be led by people who, with varying degrees of effectiveness, managed to deliver a Bible study as the central aspect of the meeting; this was often a kind of mini-sermon, which appeared to require a level of Bible knowledge on the part of the leader beyond the possession of the average church member. Accordingly, it is not surprising that those lacking the educational skills necessary for such an approach, or those with the skills but not the time for an evening’s prior preparation, feel reluctant. It may be that Cell Church, rightly understood, offers a way through these difficulties. The skills and aptitudes necessary for cell leadership are different. The “Bible bit” of a cell rd meeting (“Word” – the 3 W) is not a Bible study requiring hours of preparation. The work will (or should) have been done by the previous Sunday’s preacher, who will have supplied all cell leaders with necessary notes and, more importantly, a set of questions aimed at helping the group apply what has already been communicated. The key skill of the leader is to ask the questions and keep the ensuing discussion to the point. Although this too is a skill not possessed by all, it is probably true that it is one possessed by many, and not dependent on formal education. Moreover, preparation time should be minimal. Essentially, we are looking for those with people skills, rather than formal academic training. 19


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

In conclusion on leadership issues, it is beyond question that the development of cell leadership is a key feature of the model. Before embarking on the Cell Church model, clergy and other pastoral staff should be clear about this, and have a strategy for it.

1.5 TRANSITIONING Obviously, any church moving towards a Cell Church model will need not only to have a strategy for cell leadership, but also a strategy for how to make the change. In Cell Church theory there are two ways of doing this; each will have advantages and disadvantages. I will briefly describe each with an example of a parish which used each method. 1.5.1 “The Big Bang!” This term does not have much finesse about it, but it does adequately describe the approach. As it implies, this is a sudden conversion from whatever went before - be it congregation with a home group programme or whatever - to what lies ahead – an emerging Cell Church. I say “emerging” because, whichever approach is adopted, nothing becomes established overnight. It will take several years before the transition is complete. Precisely how long will be determined by the speed at which the congregation as a whole makes what is often referred to as “the paradigm shift” from a congregational to a small group mentality. Even reasonably forward-looking Christians may struggle here. Ironically, it is a sound observation that it is new converts from largely unchurched backgrounds that take to the cell model most readily. They lack the ecclesiastical baggage that the rest of us need to drop. That is why a number of experiments in Cell Church planting – as distinct from transitioning – are beginning to happen; more of this in the next section. I have already mentioned a little of the story of St John’s, Bowling in Bradford. When they began transitioning in 1993 it was the “Big Bang!” for which they opted. My observation is that this was probably to do with the personality of the Vicar and the nature of the congregation. Therefore, it was the right way forward for them. The process is described in 21 Astin’s book . Briefly, it went like this. From 1992, he and his church leadership were aware of their need for a more effective means to provide pastoral care, and to reach out in mission. Early in 1993, he and a number of his leadership team were able to attend the International Cell Group Churches Conference in Singapore. They returned convinced that this was the way ahead for them. Consultation then followed within the congregation, which led to the disbanding of all existing home groups followed by a period of initial training for cell leaders. In Astin’s words the outcome was as follows: “The groups were finally launched in October 1993. We began with twelve adult groups, two youth groups, three for those aged between five and nine, and one for under fives…It had 22 taken fifteen months to launch St John’s as a cell group church.” As St John’s was possibly the first UK church – and certainly the first Anglican Church – to adopt a cell model, it inevitably took fifteen months. Churches initiating the transition phase now need not take so long, as the model is becoming more widely known. The St John’s story is a fairly typical of the “Big Bang” approach to beginning the transition.

21 22

Howard Astin: “Body and Cell”. Monarch 1998. Chapter 2. Astin: Op Cit. pp 39-40

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

1.5.2 The Prototype As the name suggests, this involves beginning small and gradually expanding. The leader gathers together a group of potential leaders, who meet as a prototype cell, and to whom the relevant initial Cell Church training is given. Eventually, this group multiplies out with pairs of leaders (ie one leader and an assistant – the X and Xa in figure 2), forming cell groups with other members of the congregation who wish to participate. These groups then aim to multiply along the usual Cell Church lines. This approach is suitable where there needs to be a more gradual changeover. The disadvantage is that the Vicar, and any other staff, find themselves running two models at once for a time. I will describe this approach with another example from a Yorkshire church – but a different diocese. Christ Church, South Ossett is part of “The Missionary Diocese of Wakefield”. The Vicar, John Harris, told me that Wakefield adopted this missionary emphasis after the Bishop, Nigel McCulloch, realised that, if present trends continued, his diocese would not st exist by the middle of the 21 century. Consequently, new initiatives and experiments in ministry and mission are encouraged. It so happened that I arrived in the parish just as the prototype phase was concluding, and the launch of cell groups beginning. Christ Church is one of three parishes in the quiet market town of Ossett, just west of Wakefield. The population of 6,000 is largely white and socio-economically mixed. There are no extremes – “People are all fairly average”. The congregation tends to reflect the more middle class elements in the wider community. The parish has an average Sunday attendance of 220, and would be viewed as something of a “going concern” – although the 20-35 age group is not well represented in the congregation (a worrying trend in many Anglican congregations). Christ Church began its move towards a cell model as recently as May 1999. Prior to this, the Vicar described the church as having a congregation with “four dying home groups” and “a desire for a new sense of direction”. The Vicar and Curate identified people from the congregation to form a prototype cell group, which the Vicar led, giving basic initial training. By the autumn of 1999 this had developed into a second phase of eight prototype groups. By the end of 1999 the prototypes were ready to multiply into a larger number of cell groups open to the whole congregation. The church began the new millennium with 12 adult cell groups and four youth cells. I was able to attend the first meeting of one of the new cells – and I found it a very positive evening. Approximately 50% of the congregation now belong to a cell group. The next phase is to expand this congregational involvement. Christ Church still has the traditional Anglican “fringe” (with a reasonably large number of occasional offices), and the leadership see the cell model as a means of encouraging a more committed faith among “fringe” members; and, in fact, although the change to a cell model is recent, the Vicar already sees signs of this happening. Some of the new cell leaders are people who previously had a relatively low level of congregational involvement. More generally, it is often observed that it is those long standing prominent church-goers, who gain their sense of worth from what they do and the position they hold in the church, that find the change to Cell most difficult. 1.5.3 How Long Does Transitioning Last? This can vary considerably, but the general consensus is that it is around five years. It needs to be emphasised that the method by which a Cell Church structure is implemented (ie either “Big Bang” or Prototype) is only the first step in transitioning. Once that is 21


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

accomplished, there is the longer, more informal process of changing the overall culture of the church as a whole, as people become used to thinking about “being church” in different terms. This will obviously vary according to local conditions. Some might take a shorter time, others longer. Of our two current examples – St John’s and Christ Church – one sees itself as having come though the transition phase, and the other as being part way into it. Obviously, it is St John’s, which has been working with the model for the best part of a decade, that is through the transition. Howard Astin sees his church as a full Cell Church. Having said that, he was careful to point out that even after all that has been accomplished, the underlying values of Cell Church still need to sink into the minds of some of his members. The largest UK Anglican Cell Church that I was able to visit was Holy Trinity, Hazelmere in the Diocese of Oxford. Prior to beginning the transition to Cell mode in 1995, the church was already undergoing change in terms of reorganising itself on what the Vicar, Clive Collier, described as “a congregationally based pastoral model”. By that he meant that they were subdividing a large congregation of several hundred into smaller congregational units of between 100 and 150. Conscious of “the bankruptcy of the home group system” and “a need to develop outreach and pastoral care”, the leadership team decided to continue their adopted strategy along Cell Church lines. The congregational units (six at the time of writing) are now comprised of networks of cell groups. The ongoing strategy is to form new congregations around the parish as Cell Church plants. 85% of an overall average Sunday attendance of 750 belong to cell groups. The church has a generally confident feel to it. In common with Astin, Collier readily admits that, even after several years, not everyone has effectively grasped the new model; but they are steadily getting there. What is interesting is that, in many ways, this church has the feel of having become fully Cell Church. However, the Vicar would say that they are still in the transition phase. This was not untypical of the parishes I visited. There does not appear to be a defining moment at which it can be said that the transition is complete. It takes time, and I would say that, the larger the church at the time of initial transition, the longer it is likely to take. It may be fair to say that it is a question of “group dynamics”, but what is clear is that, with vision and perseverance, there comes a time when one is aware that the transition has been made, and the benefits are ample reward for the hard work involved.

1.6 CELL CHURCH PLANTING Everything that has been said so far has been about transitioning existing, established congregations – be they small, medium or large – into cell mode. However, there is another way to do it, and it is beginning to be done in and beyond the Church of England. Church planters – who are now “a part of the furniture” – are adopting Cell Church as a way of planting new churches. As small groups are nothing new, neither is church planting. From chapels of ease, to daughter churches, to latter day church planting, the concept of new congregations taking root is nothing unusual in the Church of England. The common thread through these earlier models of Anglican Church planting is its territorial model. In an immobile society chapels of ease were established to serve communities too far flung from the Parish Church. Daughter Churches became the means of responding to the rapid urban growth in Britain’s towns and cities, during and since the industrial revolution; many, if not most, of them later became parishes in their own right. Contemporary church planting has arisen as a means of attempting to reach communities which are unreached by their local Parish Church (for 22


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

example, the new housing development on the outer edges of an established parish, or a part of a parish for years untouched because of some social or geographical divide). However, what these models share in common is their territoriality – an underlying assumption in most Anglican thinking - meaning that to be Anglican something must have some lines (even if only dotted ones) drawn on a map. Unfortunately reality is calling this assumption into question. This reality is the fact that modern society – in urban and suburban areas especially - is becoming increasingly network-based. Many people live in one place; work, or go to school or college, in another; have family in still others; and go to church in yet another. Cell Church can be seen as a means of responding to this reality. In this confusing world, what people often lack is a sense of relationship. Cells are intended to be relational. In the modern world, relationship is not as territorially based as it once was. Relationship for most people is largely network-based. Cell Church planting attempts to work with this growing reality. There are three ways of Cell Church planting which will be described briefly before this section concludes with a word about a related development – cell planting (as distinct from Cell Church planting). 1.6.1 The Geographical Cell Church Plant This model has the most in common with what might be called traditional church planting. With traditional church planting the usual practice is for a group to be sent from an established congregation, to begin a new congregation in another part of a parish, often in a school hall or another public building. The aim – explicit or implicit – is to get a viable congregational meeting up and running as soon as possible. This congregation may then develop the usual small group programme as an appendage to congregational life. Cell Church planting will eventually establish a congregation; and it will have a geographical target area. But it will come at the project the other way around. It will begin with one, or more, small groups – cells – which will begin to meet along the cell lines described above. This small network of cells will seek to evangelise and multiply. When a congregational meeting becomes a necessity, only then will it emerge. A good example of this approach is a new Cell Church plant on the Hillhall Estate in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. The story of it development since its inception in 1997 is told in booklet by 23 George Lings. This community is part of the parish of Lisburn Cathedral, but historically having little to do with Cathedral congregation. In 1997 a Church Army Captain, Martin Garner, was licensed to plant a new Cell Church on the estate which continues to grow and develop. Interestingly they have used the inter-generational cell model to minister in this 24 community. The point here is that it works within a defined geographical area – a district of an existing parish. 1.6.2 The Network Based Cell Plant This is an innovative development for Anglicanism. There is a small number of experiments proceeding (with Diocesan approval). These cell plants – which again begin with cells and move to congregation later – have no parish. They seek to grow through network-based evangelism across an area of a city or a whole town.

23

George Lings: “Has Church Reached Its Cell Buy Date?” Encounters On the Edge No.3. Church Army 1999 Inter-generational cells, as the name implies, involves building cells of all ages, including children. The cell meeting is conducted with all ages present but the children normally have their own separate session during the Word section. I have not included much about this practice because most UK cell churches are not intergenerational; they tend to run adult cells plus children’s and youth cells.

24

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

An example is Harvest New Anglican Church, Margate, Kent. Unusually, this new church, which meets in a school hall, is led by the Vicar of the church out if which it emerged. Kerry Thorpe was initially the Vicar of Margate Parish Church, a town centre church with a civic role and traditional style. Over time Thorpe came to the conclusion that it would not be possible to transition the Parish Church into cell mode – for which he had a strong personal vision. After discussion with his Bishop and others, it was agreed that he would stand down as Incumbent in order to lead a network-based Cell Church plant aimed at reaching unchurched people across the town. Those from the Parish Church (around 50) who shared the vision moved with their former incumbent to form Harvest New Anglican Church. In a way, they were fortunate, in that these 50 people gave them an initial six cell groups, and a congregational meeting was therefore established sooner rather than later in this case. This innovative initiative is very recent, and it is therefore far too early for any meaningful evaluation. That will no doubt come later. If it succeeds, someone will probably write a book about it! However, it - together with one or two similar initiatives elsewhere in the country – stands as a signpost towards the new models that Anglicanism will need to embrace if it is to remain relevant to the network-based culture. A final word on this looks beyond the Church of England. Some of the so-called New Churches – for example New Frontiers International and Ichthus Network - are now adopting the cell model as the basis for their new church plants (while transitioning at least some of their existing congregations). In the past, Anglicanism has been slow to respond to the pace these churches set – whatever criticisms we might want to make about some of their methods. Consequently, much of the haemorrhaging we have experienced (especially among teenagers and young adults) has been in the direction of these churches. In order not to make the same mistake again, the Church of England will need to actively encourage the kind of new approach being modelled by Harvest New Anglican Church by affirming network based, non-geographical church planting as one valid model among others. 1.6.3 The Parallel Cell Church Plant This approach, as the term might imply, involves planting a new congregation of cells in an existing parish meeting in the parish church. This approach accepts the reality that some Anglican congregations are never going to be able to make the transition – or only do so after an inordinately long time. However, planting a new Cell Church elsewhere in a parish, or launching a network based Cell Church, may be neither practical nor desirable in the circumstances. In such circumstances, some clergy, having connected with the Cell Church vision, are simply starting a new cell based church, meeting at a different time (on Sunday or even another day of the week) in the parish church. Again, there is nothing particularly new to Anglicanism about this. For years we have been functioning with the multi-congregational model, where different congregations meet in a variety of services of differing styles. An example of this, was outlined at a recent Cell Church planting conference in Sheffield. Paul Bayes, Vicar of Totton in the Diocese of Winchester has adopted this model. His largely traditional congregation continues. Parallel to this is an emerging cell congregation, meeting at a different time on Sunday. The advantage of this approach is that church-goers who really cannot, or will not, make the paradigm shift required, continue to be ministered to in ways appropriate to their needs, while at the same time the new model is able to emerge and proceed apace. The two become complementary expressions of church. The disadvantage is that clergy (especially those working alone) find themselves juggling two different models of being church. This model will, therefore, require leadership of above average versatility. 1.6.4 Cell Planting 24


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

This is a development I came across in Singapore, where Cell Church has a much longer history than the UK. Singapore has a number of large cell churches. They are now finding that growth is slowing or even stagnating. The reason for this is that, having worked with the cell model for a number of years, the oikos groups of the members have effectively been evangelised. In Cell Church theory the kind of people most easily reached are those who have some connection, however tenuous, with the Christian faith. These are termed “Type A non-believers”; in “UK-speak”, we might describe such people as “the de-churched”. However, beyond these networks of “de-churched” people lie others. These are those who have no connection whatsoever with Christianity; there is nothing in their personal stories with which the Christian message might meaningfully connect. These are described as ‘Type B non-believers’; or, again in “UK-speak”, we might describe them as the “unchurched”. The “un-churched” are unlikely to be reached with the Gospel in the normal processes of cell development. The Singaporean churches are therefore developing cell planting as a means of connecting with Type B non-believers. “Cell planting involves intentionally seeking to plant a new cell in a new environment. This environment could be a new cell location, or a new target consisting of a specific kind of people sharing common needs and functions…Cell-planting teams of two or three persons from each cell seek the Lord as to both the location and target group of outreach… Within four months (of adopting this strategy at FCBC), some 115 new cells were planted, with another 114 active cell-planting efforts in progress.” 25 The difference with this model is that growth results not from natural cell multiplication, but by active cell planting, normally across a social or cultural barrier.

1.7 HOW WIDELY IS CELL CHURCH BEING ADOPTED? In the UK Cell Church is a new phenomenon. The picture outside the Church of England is difficult to gauge. I have already mentioned two of the major New Church networks – New Frontiers Intl. and Ichthus – which are encouraging the adoption of the model. The Church of Scotland recently convened its first conference to explore Cell Church, and a small number of their parishes have begun to implement the model. The picture among the older denominational Churches in England was beyond the scope of my inquiry. I was able to gain a snapshot of the situation in the Church of England as of January 2000. However, I am conscious that, as a write (in April), this situation is almost certain to have changed. Two points need to be made. First, there has been a lot of interest in Cell Church. Early conferences were over-subscribed, and those currently being convened by various organisations tend to be full to capacity. Clearly, some are “looking and not buying”. Second, Anglican Church Planting Initiatives (ACPI), based in Sheffield, have attempted to build a database of Church of England cell churches – or rather those parishes beginning implementation. ACPI gathered the details from a number of conferences and events. They then mailed a questionnaire to the Anglican churches represented. Of the returns received, 53 Anglican churches were at some stage of implementation. Of these, 12 had been working with the model for more than two years. No doubt, there are others working at implementation who did not return the questionnaire. 25

Lawrence Khong: “The Apostolic Cell Church”. Touch Publications 2000. pp. 139-140

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

From this survey it is clear that Cell Church in the Anglican context is being much talked about with a great deal of interest being shown. Actual practice is in its infancy; but I would estimate that the numbers of congregations entering the transition phase, together with Cell Church planting initiatives, will continue to grow, slowly but surely. Moreover, as examples of good practice become established, standing the test of time, the rate of adoption could well begin to accelerate. Cell Church continues to be very much a new initiative.

1.8 CELL CHURCH VARIANTS: HYPER CELL CHURCH AND “METACHURCH” So far, anyone reading this paper could be forgiven for thinking that, as far as small group life is concerned, it is a choice between congregational church with homegroups and Cell Church. However, as with so many things, it is not quite a simple as that. Cell Church theory and practice has produced a “third way”, which is often referred to as “Metachurch”. This term was coined by Carl George and expounded in two books which have been 26 Essentially, Metachurch is about placing much more emphasis increasing in circulation. upon the importance of small group life, while not necessarily going the whole way down the Cell Church road. In the course of my travels, I came across two parishes which were functioning on this model; one will serve as an example below. In order to understand the nuances, let me introduce the following Table illustrating the broad options open to us for small group church life. I will then look at an example of what I call “Hyper Cell Church”, and then focus on the Metachurch model, using a parish as an example.

26

See Carl George: “Prepare Your Church For the Future” Revell 1991 & “The Coming Church Revolution” Revell 1994.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

Traditional Church

Home Group Church

Meta church

Cell Church

Hyper-Cell Church

Sunday congregation(s); no midweek groups

Sunday congregation(s) with optional, lowprofile home groups

Sunday congregation(s) with strong participation in high profile home/cell groups

Sunday congregation(s) made up of cell groups

Main priority Cell groups, which occasionally meet as congregation(s)

1

2

3

4

5

Table 3: Options for Small Group Church Life

1.8.1 Hyper Cell Church Options 1 to 4 are all represented in the Church of England (and most other denominational churches). Options 1, 2, and 4 have been discussed (or at least referred to) above; we will turn to option 3 shortly. Option 5 is not much in evidence in the UK (although doubtless it exists outside of the Church of England). Looking back, some of the early independent “House Churches” of the early charismatic renewal in the 1960s and 1970s functioned in this mode for a while, but their initial success in “pulling the crowds” (mainly out of the older denominational churches) soon meant that they became congregational churches with house groups appended. However, I did come across an established example of this “hyper-cell church” possibility in Sydney, Australia. Ruah Neighbourhood Churches is a citywide network of cell churches led by a former Church Army Captain, Ian Freestone.27 This network had its origin in an Anglican parish, All Saints, Balgowlah where Freestone served on the staff as the Parish Evangelist. To cut the story short, the Parish experienced a move towards Cell Church, and Cell Church principles began to be implemented with success among some elements of the congregation. However, as this proceeded, it was clear that Freestone’s desire to relate the Gospel to largely unchurched (rather than dechurched) people was leading him towards a model where small cell groups become even more important than congregational gathering. Moreover, what was developing at Balgowlah made waves beyond the parish boundaries – a development not entirely welcomed by many of the clergy in the Diocese of Sydney. In time, Freestone left the Australian Anglican church to continue his work independently (as did the Incumbent of the Parish, at a later stage). Let me say at this point, lest anyone reading this should think that by describing option 5 I am endorsing it, that my personal ecclesiological convictions lead me question it as a valid expression of church, biblically understood, although I should add that I would also have to similarly question our inherited church mode (option 1). Neither seems an adequate expression of what it is to be church; both seem to me to suffer from ecclesiological irregularity. That said, we do need to understand why hyper-cell church appears here and there.

27

See Ian Freestone: “A New Way of Being Church”. Tooley Printing 1995.

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I had the opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding all of this with Ian Freestone. He is a warm and engaging character – not at all angular; a classic “baby-boomer” – someone for whom people matter infinitely more than structures. It was apparent that, in the context of the Sydney Diocese in the early 1990s, for him this was the right way ahead; he is clearly the kind of evangelist whose vision tests the limits of ecclesiastical structures, and his decision to move on was not born out of negativity. I could not help wondering, however, whether, had he encountered in Sydney the kind of diocesan flexibility that led to the formation of Harvest New Anglican Church in Canterbury Diocese, he would have felt the need to move beyond Anglicanism. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that Anglicanism generally must continue to learn a flexible and tolerant attitude towards the visionary entrepreneurs that the Holy Spirit raises up here and there, and now and again, to prompt it to engage more effectively with a fastchanging, post-modern and post-Christian culture. 1.8.2 Metachurch Returning to the “third way” described by Carl George, Ian Freestone – who continues to study Cell Churches generally - has described it as follows: “A metachurch is a church in transition or change towards having greater involvement and small group life…There is a lot to be learnt from what has been written on metachurch, but as Carl George himself says, “The pure cell church is, in most cases, a bulls eye on the 28 target; the metachurch is a perception of how churches are moving towards that goal.” My own definition would be: Metachurch is a church with the potential to become a cell church; it differs from a cell church in one important aspect. While in a cell church the central church programme – including the main Sunday celebration - is shaped with the single aim of resourcing and equipping its cell life, in a metachurch this is only partly the case (even if there is high priority placed on small groups and a high level of participation in them). A metachurch may, or may not, realise its potential to become a fully-fledged cell church. So to our example of a metachurch: St Margaret’s, Wolston is a semi-rural parish just outside Coventry in the West Midlands. It has an electoral role of 150 and an ASA of 100 (plus 30-50 children). It has 13 midweek cell groups. The Parish is socio-economically mixed with a balanced age profile, features which are more or less reflected in the make-up of the congregation. The Parish was just coming to the end of an interregnum when I visited. However, for a number of years the midweek small group programme has been (and continues to be) the responsibility of a senior Associate Minister, Paul Simmonds, who works part-time in the parish and part-time for the Diocese of Coventry as the Bishop’s Adviser for Mission. St Margaret’s did not have much experience of small groups prior to Paul arriving in the parish. As part of its evangelistic development the Parish adopted the principles of Willow Creek Church (the seeker-friendly approach). When in 1994 Willow Creek transitioned to Cell Church, Wolston decided to follow suit. Since 1994 groups have managed to multiply, leaders have emerged and a fortnightly leaders’ training meeting is held (using a structure known as VAT – Vision-Action-Training). Approximately 80% of church members are part of a cell group. In many ways this church sounds and looks like a cell church. But Simmonds describes it thus far as “a church partly in cell mode” – ie a metachurch.

28

Ian Freestone: Op Cit p.39.

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th

There are two reasons for this. First, for whatever reason the 4 W has not exactly taken off. The outward-looking, evangelistic component to cell life is not really working in most groups. However, he did remark that those groups made up of mainly newer Christians were more outward-looking – a comment often made by many clergy with whom I met. Second, although he himself has a vision for fully-fledged cell church, Simmonds rightly felt that, as Associate Minister, it was not for him to press the vision forward beyond where the Incumbent wished to go. This illustrates the need for the overall church leader to own a vision and hold it before a church. One would hope that the way metachurch has been discussed here does not appear in anyway negative. It is a positive and valid way of being church. However, the point must also be borne in mind that it is a step away from ”full Cell Church”. Furthermore, there may be real and genuine reasons why cannot work in some situations. The metachurch approach serves as a valid alternative in such situations where a vibrant small group church life is desirable.

1.9 CRITERIA FOR DEFINING A CELL CHURCH By way of conclusion to this overview of Cell Church, I will attempt a list of criteria which might be used to define a cell church. 1. Visionary Leadership: While this is essential for church growth and development within any framework, it is absolutely vital for becoming a cell church. The leader, or leadership team, must have a clear vision of where they are going and how they are going to get there. Moreover, they must hold it before the congregation. 2. Cell as important as congregation: This is one of the key values of Cell Church. There will be a growing understanding that to be part of the church an individual will be committed to both a weekly congregation and a cell group. 3. Accountability: Membership of a cell implies accountability towards one another. For example, a cell member will see participation (not just attendance) as a high priority. “Not turning up” will not be an option. 4. Relationship: Cell Church is not about another programme of meetings. The cell and congregational meetings are foci. Cell members will understand themselves as being a network of Christian disciples seven days a week. 5. Multiplication: There will be an outward-looking culture. Multiplication of cells will be a reality, not simply an aspiration. 6. Structure: The church will be structured along the Cell Church lines outlined in the relevant literature, while allowing for necessary local adaptation. 7. An enabling central programme: The principal thrust of the central church structure and programme will be to resource and enable the life if its cell groups. (If this is not so, it is a metachurch rather than a cell church). 8. Training and equipping: There will be commitment to training and equipping every member for ministry and mission, especially the development of new leadership.

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9. Participation and ownership: The vision and model will be owned, and participated in, by a growing majority of the congregation. After the initial period of transition, if these features are in evidence in a local church, it can be said to have become a cell church – a church of (not with) small groups.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

2. EVALUATION A S.W.O.T. Analysis Having described the Cell Church model we now turn to an evaluation of it using the familiar S.W.O.T. analysis. In turn I will try to identify the model’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

2.1 THE STRENGTHS OF CELL CHURCH “Going cell church” – as the phrase goes – is not a soft option. Those churches which are some way down the road tell stories of the upheaval experienced, the difficulties encountered, as well as the benefits received. For the purposes of this part of the discussion, let us imagine those churches where the transition, has been initiated, worked through and the model established. The criteria enumerated above (1.9) can all be ticked off. These are cell churches. What are the strengths – the benefits to the church locally and more widely? The following points by way of an answer are gained from the literature I have read, the churches I have visited and the people (clergy and lay) I have spoken to. 2.1.1 Genuine Every-Member Ministry Across the spectrum of churchmanship in the Church of England (and elsewhere), there is a genuine consensus that the biblical ideal of “every-member ministry” is a good thing, something to be aspired to. The motivations for this may vary, but by and large it is something we all seem to want. Unfortunately, few churches seem to achieve it – even the evangelical and charismatic ones, which perhaps believe in it most strongly. An Anglican writer and practitioner of Cell Church puts it like this: “Around one fifth of church members are at full stretch sustaining programmes for the other 29 four-fifths to attend or stay away from!” Without exception the parishes visited (whether cell or metachurch) reported without reservation an increase in every-member ministry through the adoption of Cell Church principles. If this is so – and I have no reason to doubt it – then, if only for this reason, the Cell model should be seriously entertained. 2.1.2 Leadership Development If churches are to grow – in maturity, confidence and numbers – what I have referred to elsewhere as “second-tier leadership” is vital. However gifted, anointed, charismatic, personable, etc… a church leader is, he or she is not the only key to growth. This second level of leadership will be equally vital. Whatever their shortcomings from an Anglican perspective, the New Churches have got something right: they make the development of lay leadership a key value and priority. However, this lesson is being learnt in those sections of the Anglican Church that are sometimes said to be on the “cutting edge.” Rather than being limited to a model of 29

Steve Croft: “A Future For House Groups” [Ed. Simmonds]. Grove Pastoral Series No.66. p. 6.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

leadership to which relatively few can aspire – like Readership, which requires an inordinately long period of preparation, or traditional home group leadership, which requires an aptitude possessed by the minority – cell leadership is more accessible. Tim Barlow puts it like this: “These leaders do not bear the title “teacher” or any other gift-related label. They are facilitators who know how to make a group happen, who possess the skills to promote acceptance, friendship and non-threatening inter-personal vulnerability, mostly by modelling. The leader’s underlying purpose is to see that participants use their gifts from the Holy Spirit 30 to care for and encourage one another in spiritual nurture.” This kind of leadership will still not be attainable by all, but it should be attainable by more. Whether this potential of Cell Church is realised in a given situation will depend on the overall leader – the Incumbent. If the local Vicar is secure enough not to be threatened by the prospect of others exercising meaningful leadership, and if he is prepared to devote much of his own time and energy to their encouragement and training, then the model can, in time, release the vital “second-tier” leadership. 2.1.3 Mission Orientation Christianity is the first of the world’s two major missionary faiths, Islam being the other. Let me say here that the basic understanding of the term “mission” in this paper is a two-fold one – ie evangelism and social concern. Generally speaking, evangelism will be best accomplished through cell groups, given that it is clear to most that the majority of people who come to faith do so through a personal contact (even if a centrally organised event or programme plays a part in the process). On the other hand, social concern will be best accomplished through a central programme, given that a community project, for example, will require the formal structure available through it. When we talk of mission, therefore, in the context of cell groups we have an evangelistic inclination; but that does not mean that in a cell church the social dimension of mission can be disregarded. So in a cell church… “Growth comes through the life of the cells and is not dependent on what Ralph Neighbour calls, “the celestial funnel of scintillating music and unique preaching”. Evangelism goes beyond the traditional, cognitive presentation of the plan of salvation and includes a powerful 31 witness of Christ working within the body.” A functioning cell church will be one where growth becomes a normal “part of the furniture”, not something to be pleasantly surprised about – as it so often is in the UK church! 2.1.4 Community & Pastoring In answer to the question, “Why Cell Church?” Tim Barlow succinctly says: “The focus of cell church is mission – with effective network evangelism. The effect of cell church is community – with effective pastoring. The result of cell church is discipling – it 32 stops the leaks!” So, it is claimed, cells are small communities in which effective pastoral care can happen. Let us be clear, however, that what we are talking about here is normal, every-day pastoral care. There will always be those whose needs, for whatever reason, require specialised 30

Tim Barlow: “New Wineskins”. Unpublished Resource Paper, St Chad’s Romiley. P. 7. Tim Barlow: Op cit. p. 4 32 Tim Barlow: Op cit. p. 4 31

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

care. No one is claiming that a cell group can accomplish that. But for the 99% who do not require the services of a trained counsellor, therapist or psychiatrist, cell groups can deliver effective care. Once a congregation rises above about 30 – 40 members, pastoral care will become diluted. A small group, with an average membership of about 12, will, on the other hand, have the potential for the degree of intimacy required for the task. Ironically, this can be illustrated with a somewhat “cold” mathematical formula:

N x N (-N) = CL Here N = Number in Group & CL = Communication lines

Therefore, in a group of 12: 12 x 12 (-12) = 132 And in a congregation of, say, 100: 100 x 100 (-100) = 9,900 Figure 3: Mathematical Example of Group Dynamics

If proof were ever needed that small groups are required to ensure a reasonable standard of pastoral care and community well-being, surely this simple piece of mathematics suffices. That point made, it has to be emphasised that a certain degree of care will need to be taken in the make-up of cell groups. Too many people requiring “extra care” (ie the unfortunate folk who tend to have a draining effect on any group, and in some cases whole congregations) will have a destabilising effect. Therefore, “ECRs” (“Extra Care Required”) need to be limited to no more than one per group. 2.1.5 Discipling Many years ago an Archdeacon said to a group I attended that Christians developed and matured as week by week, year by year, they sat in church and, like the sea washing over pebbles on the shore, the Christian message washed over and formed them. I do not implicitly dismiss what he said, by quoting the venerable gentleman as some kind of “aunt Sally” to be pelted with stones. The fact that I recall what he said means that it communicated something to me. There is a certain amount of truth in this. The problem for st us in the 2000s (or what we call the opening decade of the 21 century) is that people are no longer culturally conditioned to sit in church week after week, let alone year after year, unless they can fairly quickly perceive the relevance in doing so. Jesus commissioned the Apostles not to encourage people to attend church, but to “make disciples”. Interestingly, he seemed to have called and developed his 12 key disciples in a small group, albeit an itinerant one. Here, I might be tempted to rest the case for cell groups as being the best model for discipleship; but a few more comments might be in order. The structure of the cell meeting, especially the “Word” component, provides a forum in which the Word preached can become the Word elucidated. Each member has the opportunity to ask questions, hear from the experience of others and, most importantly, to apply God’s truths to their own experiences. 33


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

2.1.6 Relevance to Youth and Children Unfortunately, it is among young people that the church is experiencing accelerated decline. I was told, in the course of researching Cell Church, that among the over 50’s there is a 33 slight increase in church attendance, according the latest church attendance survey. However, welcome as this good news is, a moment’s reflection suggests that what this reveals is that elements of a late middle-aged dechurched generation are looking afresh at Christian possibilities. By all means let us encourage and nurture this trend. But this 50+ generation does possess deposits of Christianity, which act as a kind of compass in this later-in-life quest – ie seeds planted in childhood and during a more Christian-friendly time. Alas, today’s youth currently receive no such deposit from the surrounding culture, upon which to draw in later life. Accordingly, they must continue to be a priority for our attention and resources. Cell groups are most culturally relevant to children and young people. They love being part of groups and have an obvious desire for relationship – so long as their parents are not around! I am the father of four children, and I can assure any sceptic that this is so. Furthermore, they are far from averse to the suggestion that they bring their friends along. Let me illustrate the potential among youth for cell church. While visiting Sydney, my hosts asked me to accompany them to a Saturday lunchtime meeting (which they clearly felt obliged to attend!) laid on by the youth department of the church they and their three teenage sons attend. The church was a large free church (membership 1,500) in an affluent suburb of the city. As I listened to the youth leaders outline their vision and strategy to the parents, and having come two days previously from Singapore, I instantly and unexpectedly recognised a Cell Church approach to their youth groups. After the meeting I talked with the Youth Pastor, who readily agreed that his vision for pastoring and reaching out to youth was a Cell Church strategy, although the “adult” church was not cell church. (A visit there on Sunday revealed a successful, slick, but congregational, model). This part of my itinerary was not planned; but I was grateful for it – because it showed me that the Cell Church model – in the hands of able youth leaders (paid and voluntary) – could well be a way (possibly the way) of re-engaging youth with the Christian Gospel. In spite of the “youthish” aspiration to non-conformity, we all know that they are the most conformist of the generations; they simply choose to try not to conform to what they think their parents’ generation want them to conform to. 2.1.7 A Growth Structure We do not really have a church growth culture in England – and especially in the Church of England. We seem to regard those larger churches - either favourably or unfavourably (depending on our theological presuppositions) - as exceptions to the rule. Of course, it is nice to know they are there, because of their contributions to the Diocesan Common Fund. However, beyond that we do not seem to want to learn from them. Having said that, the picture is complicated by the fact that even most of our “large” churches do not have a growth culture - which begs the question as to whether they feel they have anything to teach! They are, in reality, engaged in maintenance – just a bigger maintenance job than the small, or average, church. Without further opening this can of whatever, let me say that it is clear that, scripturally, the church is meant to grow. If we are not growing, we are not being as effective as we should be in our mission. Assuming that this is true, the question for the purposes of this discussion 33

Peter Brierly: “The Tide is Running Out – What the English Church Attendance Survey Reveals”. Christian Research 2000

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is whether the Cell Church model provides a framework for growth. The answer to this question is “yes”. It was said earlier in this paper that Cell Church is a logical progression from the Church Growth School. Church growth theory was clear that there were certain barriers – be they 100, 250, 500 or whatever – that churches might experience to further growth. Cell Church theory maintains that it is possible to continue growing without 34 becoming stuck at these numerical barriers. 2.1.8 Trinitarian Theology Finally, a major strength of Cell Church is not so much practical as theological. As well as being a structure for mission, Cell Church is an attempt to rediscover a deeper dimension to relationship and community. Many writers on the subject rightly earth this conviction in the nature of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Properly understood, the doctrine of the Trinity is not some kind of mathematical equation. Rather, it is an attempt to explain something of the relational nature of God, albeit through the imperfections of human thought and language. Most of the published literature about Cell Church tends to focus on the technique and practicalities. Theological reflection tends to be more in evidence in the unpublished papers (perhaps there is a need for some of this to be published). For example, John Eldridge traces the biblical and theological basis for Cell Church from the perfect divine community at Creation, to community in the Old 35 Testament and through to the New Testament concept of community. “In today’s world, we seem to have lost much of this (biblical) corporate identity. We prize individuality, and everyone is encouraged to establish their own identity. The world can then become a very lonely place, full of isolated individuals.” 36 Cell Church is strong, not simply because it provides us with a practical strategy for mission in this world, but also because it is earthed in the revelation of God in scripture.

2.2 THE WEAKNESSES OF CELL CHURCH The strengths identified above suggest that as a model Cell Church is worthy of serious consideration by Western European churches, including the Church of England. However, we should also be clear about possible weaknesses, although my personal conclusion is that any perceived weaknesses are outweighed by the strengths. 2.2.1 It Does Not Work For Everyone I put the question to a number of cell practitioners: “Are there groups for whom Cell Church does not appear to work?” The overall picture I gained was that it can work for most, but not all. Older generations seem to find the model difficult. Broadly speaking, we have three distinct generational groups in British society at the moment. Social commentators categorise them as: (1) “The Pre-Boomers” – the generation born before 1945, which tends to display a preference for structure and order; (2) “The Baby-Boomers” – born between 1945 and 1965, tending to prefer a more contemporary, informal culture; and (3) “The BabyBusters” – born after 1965, tending to display a preference for community and issues. The table below illustrates the characteristics of these three broad generational groups. 34

However, we will see in the next section that the staffing requirements for continuous growth are one of the weaknesses – in Anglican terms – and therefore one of the threats to Cell Church. 35 John Eldridge: “Using Small Groups to Transform Small Churches”. MA Thesis. Fuller Theological Seminary. 1996. 36 Eldridge: Op Cit. p. 3

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Pre-Boomers born before 1945 Commitment to Christ = commitment to Church Programme-oriented Loyalty to denomination Stress on in-depth Bible study and prayer Be formal Like expository sermons Like hymns Prefer organ/piano Low audience participation

Baby-Boomers born 1945-1965 Commitment to Christ = commitment to relationships People-oriented Loyalty to people Stress on fellowship and support groups Be relational Like “How to” sermons Like praise songs Prefer guitars, drums etc. High audience participation

Baby-Busters born after 1965 Commitment to Christ = commitment to community Community-oriented Loyalty to causes Stress on studies about issues Be spontaneous Like issue-oriented sermons Like praise songs Prefer jazz ensemble Low audience participation

Table 4: Generational Profiles

Obviously, this rough-and-ready guide to the generations should not be used to overcategorise people. We could all think of individuals who do not fit their particular profile. However, it does provide us with a reasonable insight into how people in churches “tick”. If it is generally accurate, it is obvious that the Cell Church model is more suited to the post war generations. Any church moving in a Cell direction will need to consider how it ministers to the pre-boomer generation. 2.2.2 It Does Not Work in Every Social Context Like any small group approach, Cell Church assumes that, in a given community, people are willing to enter one another’s homes. I have not come across any published research on this, but I did read an interesting exchange of views in some unpublished papers. Some clergy find themselves in parishes where people tend to allow only family and very close friends into their homes – and perhaps the Vicar! Although I have no personal experience of such communities, there are apparently places where deeply ingrained social attitudes militate against any home-based network of small groups, even before it has been attempted. For example, in the north of England (and possibly elsewhere) there are traditional, working-class communities where such attitudes prevail. Moreover, there are also parishes where there may not be any strong reservations about meeting in homes, but a predominant style of housing in an area – streets of small terraced housing, for example – places considerable physical and practical restrictions on home meetings. Cell Church may work extremely well in relatively well-off, middle class parishes, where more-or-less everyone has a reasonable-sized living room able to comfortably accommodate a growing cell group. The model does appear to assume this as the norm. A third social constraint is that there are communities where potential leadership is in short supply. These are the kind of places where any one with any “get up and go” has long since got up and gone. There may be a few leaders around (often coming back from outside the immediate area), but these often become somewhat worn down by the effort of leading groups which will be comprised of above average numbers of people with acute social needs. Even the different, more people-oriented kind of leaders required for the Cell model can be thin on the ground. I had the opportunity to visit one such parish on a deprived housing estate in the north of England. Cell Church was happening, but, talking to the leaders (the majority of whom appeared to live outside the parish), I was conscious that the task, in that community, was becoming a bit of a strain for them. Leaders need to receive from their groups, as well as giving to them. 36


S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

No doubt, imaginative leaders may be able to find solutions to these possible social obstacles; but they do need to be thought through first. 2.2.3 Limitations of Traditional Leadership Models This is not so much a weakness of the Cell Church model per se. Rather, it is an observation that the model requires a style of leadership from the paid professionals for which most have not been trained. In Anglican terms, Cell Church requires clergy (often working alone) to be trainers and equippers. Happily, a growing number of clergy are clearly able to function in this role; most of these have had to find ways of effectively retraining themselves along the lines of a more facilitating leadership style. Referring to UK cell church experiments which have not worked, Joy Osgood identifies this failure on the part of the clergy to provide initial and on-going equipping to cell leaders: “It is this “lack of equipping” which is the principal reason previous cell-church experiments in 37 the UK have not broken through to significant growth.” Where there is this requisite facilitating leadership style, well and good. Cell Church does seem to assume that it is widely available. Is this a wise assumption? 2.2.4 Just a Growth Strategy? One of my continuing concerns with Cell Church is that it is vulnerable – because of the way in which it is often presented - to being seen primarily as a growth strategy. Indeed, I am conscious that my own description of Cell Church in section 1 may have contributed to this perception. Cell Church, because it is about being a missionary church, is in part about numerical growth. Lawrence Khong (Senior Pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, Singapore) rightly says that, if the church is not growing numerically, it is not functioning as a 38 New Testament Church. However, he would go on to say that the primary motivation for adopting a Cell model is not church growth. Nevertheless, that will be the effect of Cell Church. In a climate of stagnating and declining congregations, it is understandable that churches, especially their leaders, are looking for some kind of “quick fix” which will turn the situation around. However, on a number of occasions I heard it said at Cell Church conferences that, if we are interested in the model simply to make the church grow, it will not work. The strategy, properly understood, is about something deeper than church growth. It is about a rediscovery of the New Testament call to relationship in community – a way of being church which will in due course have the effect of growing church. Again, this is not so much a weakness in the strategy itself. But it is a possible “Archille’s heel” – a point of vulnerability - arising from the expectations generated by a superficial understanding. It could be that there will be a growing number of examples of parishes (together with churches of other denominations) adopting the model mainly in the expectation of numerical growth. If, and when, that fails to materialise quickly, disillusionment will ensue, and Cell Church may become sidelined as another bandwagon that did not go anywhere.

37

Joy Osgood: “Growing Churches: Implementing a Cell Church Model in a Traditional Anglican Setting” MA Thesis, Nottingham University. 1998. p.41 38 Conference address at the 9th International Conference on Cell Group Churches, Singapore, February 2000.

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2.3 OPPORTUNITIES FOR CELL CHURCH We now turn to a consideration of the opportunities for the Cell Church model. What has it going in its favour? 2.3.1 Cultural Openness In an interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme in 1999, The Times commentator, Simon Jenkins, remarked that in the next decade there is likely to be a social reaction against the increasing anonymity of modern society – of which the present Information Technology revolution is a cause. He said that people will eventually become tired of staring at TV and computer screens, and begin to seek renewed ways of finding community in small groups. On hearing this, it struck me as a kind of secular “prophecy”. If he is right, and my guess is that he is, churches which have put in place a small group structure for being church will be well placed to reach the culture again with the Gospel. Many people – particularly from the “baby-buster” generation – are, rightly or wrongly, suspicious of organised religion. In the UK, the large congregational North American “mega church” has not happened. The signs are that, if the churches are to reverse the decline and grow larger again, they must also become “smaller”. By putting in place Cell Church structures now, we prepare ourselves for the emerging culture. 2.3.2 The Emerging Missionary Emphasis Talk about moving from maintenance to mission is now commonplace. Actually, doing it is taking time, and there appears to be much reluctance. After centuries dominated by a pastoral model, the churches are having difficulty changing to a mission emphasis. That said, there is an emerging mission emphasis which, although it may well have a long way still to go, provides an opportunity for Cell Church. In fact, because it is both a pastoral and a missionary model, Cell could be an ideal model for implementation in many parishes. Robert Warren highlights the need for such models in the emerging church. Noting the obvious points of competition and conflict between the pastoral and missionary modes, he says: “Are we then shut up to these competing alternatives, the local church in pastoral mode and the non-local organisation in mission mode? There is a way through… It is that we are not to abandon the pastoral in the search for the missionary, but rather we are to marry it to the 39 missionary. Equally we need to root the missionary in the pastoral.” Some would, no doubt, dismiss such talk as trying to have it both ways. Well, perhaps that is the way God wants us to have it! The New Testament will certainly stand a reading along the lines of the first Christian communities being primarily missionary, while not ignoring pastoral realities. Where there is this genuine desire to be primarily missionary without losing sight of the pastoral, the Cell Church model has the opportunity of becoming one means – not the only one – of achieving this aim.

39

Robert Warren: “Being Human, Being Church.” Marshall Pickering 1995. p. 62.

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2.4 THREATS TO CELL CHURCH Turning to those things that might be obstacles to the emerging Cell Church, I have a specifically Anglican culture in mind. However, these reflections will not be irrelevant to other churches. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that “threats” are two-way; we have in mind how the church in inherited mode threatens Cell, and vice-versa. 2.4.1 Innate Conservatism Conservatism takes a number of forms. Anglicanism is an inherently conservative force, naturally suspicious, initially anyway, of new ways. That said, it is not impervious to the power of persuasion either. This conservatism is basically two-fold. Congregations - of whatever shade of churchmanship – accustomed to a particular way of doing things, will naturally look at new initiatives with a certain degree of scepticism. Obviously, there will be those who welcome change readily and those who oppose it as a point of principle. Most are somewhere in the middle. The overall effect is that change is introduced into a generally conservative climate. Then there is the wider church, the Diocese in Anglican terms. The introduction of Cell Church will be enabled, or frustrated, by the way it fits into, or is at odds with, the diocesan agenda. For example, issues of control can come into play. As I have said above, the Cell Church structure provides for increased accountability and control at the local level; but it may not appear that way from further afield. This is, of course, not insurmountable. With good will and communication, difficulties can be worked through or, better still, avoided. But again, for the would-be cell church, it is a matter of being aware. 2.4.2 The Preference for Pastoral Mode The issue of pastoral and missionary mode was discussed above (2.3.2). However, it is a reality that, no matter how outward looking a group of Christians intend to be, pastoral issues, because they are always more immediate, will have a tendency to become a group’s primary concern. Mission, social or evangelistic, will always have to wait – something we intend to get round to “next time”. It becomes something that we do “Manyana”. Robert Warren draws attention to this tendency by reference to Methodism (cited above as an early antecedent of Cell Church): “(Methodism) began as a missionary thrust from within the Anglican Church… However, such “commitment” was so foreign to Anglicanism that this organ transplant (giving the Church of England a “missionary heart”) was just not possible. Rejection set in and the new organ was removed. Moreover, when this new organ became and organization, Methodism, a sure and steady shift from mission to pastoral structures set in. Today most Methodists would acknowledge that their church is no more “missionary” than any other denomination.” 40

There is no easy solution to this. It is something that leadership, at every level, must be sensitive to and confident enough to address – regularly. Reminding people that it is in giving that they ultimately receive is a key leadership task. The so-called process of institutionalisation is an ever-present reality.

40

Robert Warren: Op Cit. p. 62

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2.4.3 Christians in the Ghetto It has already been said that the multiplication of cells is largely dependent upon the “oikos” principle – ordinary Christians naturally reaching out with the Gospel in appropriate ways to their personal networks of friends, colleagues, relations and neighbours. A problem is that the longer people have been Christians the smaller this network seems to become. The worst offenders at this point are usually clergy. They spend virtually all of their time in church related activities, with the effect that they seldom have time or opportunity to relate meaningfully to anyone outside the church. I may say this, for I am one of them; in the cell group to which I currently belong I have the smallest “oikos” group! Again, this is not an insurmountable hurdle; but a real hurdle it is. In the development of a cell group, there comes that time when evangelistic mission becomes a must. This is the critical moment when the group becomes a cell either in reality or in name only, beyond which it either grows or dies. As such, it is a risky strategy, and it is perfectly understandable that churches either do not adopt the Cell model, or adopt it but fall at this hurdle. Again, each level of leadership in the Cell Church needs to be aware of the issue, and working towards an essential change of culture, which generates the confidence to break out of the ghetto, and into the surrounding non-believing culture. The solution to this lies with the office of the Evangelist. He, or she, is not someone who does the evangelism for everyone else. The Evangelist also draws out the evangelistic gifting latent in the congregation as a whole. Alas, not that many clergy are evangelists; but if ways can be found of releasing more of them into parish ministry, the hurdle can be cleared.

CONCLUSION It is fair to conclude that Cell Church, as far as the UK is concerned, is relatively new. Therefore the so-called “Gamaliel” principle needs to be applied. Let us give it time and space. Let us experiment. Weakness and threats there are. No doubt, others will identify those I have failed to notice. But on balance the strengths and opportunities have, at the moment at least, the upper hand.

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3. CELL CHURCH AND ANGLICANISM Several decades ago a well-known Bishop, John Robinson, made the following observation: “There are two mistakes we can make in our thinking (about house churches)…both of which are derived from an untheological attitude of mind. The first is to think of the House Church as a purely temporary expedient; a makeshift arrangement characteristic of the earliest church in Jerusalem or in any other mission area, an organisation which serves until the parish Church can be constituted. (This line of thinking very soon betrays the insidious identification of the parish Church with a building of brick and mortar!) And the second error is to think of the House Church simply as an evangelistic weapon, a technique for getting at those on the frontier not yet ready to accept the full Christianity of the parish Church. It is, as it were, a half way house for the semi-converted – taking Christianity to the home or factory, through which later to pass men on to the full sacramental life of the Church.” 41 The thrust of Robinson’s words here is in tune with a key value of Cell Church, that the cell group is as valid an expression of church as the more familiar congregational church gathering. It should not be viewed as a second-rate expedient, nor simply a tool of mission. Anglicanism as a whole does not really have much of a history of small group life. Many Anglican Christians’ experience of groups is confined to a set of confirmation classes which they attended years ago and, possibly, the occasional series of Lent groups which disband at Easter. This can mean two things for Cell Church. On the one hand, it might be felt that in the Anglican context the model has the advantage of starting with a “blank piece of paper”. On the other, it may to many seem something of a cuckoo in the nest – something at odds with received polity.

3.1 WHAT DO WE MEAN BY “ANGLICAN?” The purpose of this Paper is not to present a study of Anglicanism; and so I am not going to attempt a detailed definition. Ask the average person in the pew to define the word, and he or she is likely to be in some difficulty. This is not because such a person does not know what it means; it is simply that it is not easy to express. The issue here is that Anglicanism is a more fluid concept which tends to defy tidy description. Paul Avis puts it this way: “The words “Anglican” and “Anglicanism” present what the theological polemic of past centuries used to call “a nose of wax”, in other words, something that could be shaped to suit one’s requirements. Certainly the concept of “Anglicanism” offers a field day for tendentious 42 interpretations and definitions.” Furthermore, in today’s culture, people do not tend to identify themselves denominationally in the way that they once did. Of the broad generational groups identified above, it is perhaps the “pre-boomer” generations to whom denominational affiliation matters most. For the post war generations it is not really an issue. As one clergyman said to me in answer to my question about how he saw Cell Church fitting with Anglicanism, “Why is that an important question?”

41 42

J.A.T. Robinson: “On Being the Church in the World”. P. 103 Paul Avis: “What is Anglicanism?” in “The Study of Anglicanism” [Eds. Sykes & Booty]. SPCK 1988. p.406

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It may well not be an important question in the sense of it being of primary significance; but those who belong to the Anglican Church will want to know how something is going to fit in – or not, as the case may be. This is because – going back to the average person in the pew – although people are hard-put to define the word Anglican, they instinctively know when something is not Anglican. Perhaps it is that Anglicanism for many is one of those things that is better defined apothatically – ie by reference to what it is not, rather than what it is. The question then is, when we look at a relatively new development like Cell Church, “Is there anything about this model and practice which looks and feels essentially un-Anglican?” My conclusion is that there is not. Avis identifies something clear about Anglicanism when he says: “The Anglican vocation is to create the climate of spiritual liberty in which individuals may bear witness to the truth as they see it, submitting themselves to the criticism of their peers without fear of ecclesiastical censure or censorship, the only condition being their continued voluntary participation in the worshipping life of the Church and the outward profession of the fundamental baptismal faith. On this interpretation the distinctive identity of Anglicanism is understood in theological, rather than liturgical, pastoral, devotional, hierarchical, or 43 gubernatorial terms.” On this understanding, Cell Church is in no way fundamentally at odds with Anglicanism in general, and the Church of England in particular. Indeed, it could be argued that the model provides an ideal framework in which to bear such witness to the truth. In particular, the idea of submitting oneself to the criticism of peers is a key value for cell church life – the theorists simply call it “accountability”.

3.2 ISSUES TO BE CONSIDERED Having begun from the premise that Cell Church is not un-Anglican, it would be silly to leave it there and think that there are no points at which the model is presenting a challenge to the Anglican Church – and vice versa. Cell Church requires a paradigm shift in any church culture. Therefore I will now go on to highlight the points at which I think Cell Church poses a challenge to modern day Church of England thinking and practice. 3.2.1 Leadership For all the talk of lay ministry and leadership, progress remains slow. The extent to which Anglican clergy are genuinely functioning as equippers and trainers, as leaders of the leaders, is unclear. In common with other emerging models for being church, Cell Church requires a firm, but facilitating, leadership style. It is sometimes said that the Church of England’s selection procedures tend to recruit ministerial candidates best suited to pastoral ministry. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the pastoral calling; but it is not the only gifting we need to see represented within the professional ministry. Alas, “pastors” are not normally natural “leaders”. Commenting on the style of leadership necessary in the emerging church, Robert Warren says: “Leadership is a strong element in the development of emerging churches. Perhaps this is so not least because new ventures often need visionaries to get them launched… One of the criticisms of much training for the ordained ministry is that it does not equip clergy to lead.

43

Avis: Op Cit. p. 422

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However, the leadership style clearly evident in emerging churches is one that is 44 empowering rather than disabling. “Collaborative” is its key characteristic.” In common with most, if not all, of my contemporaries, I can identify with this. During my formal theological training, I cannot recall a single lecture or seminar – let alone a course module – devoted to the leadership skills required for this style of ministry. Upon ordination, we were therefore left with a choice; either to adopt the style of ministry associated with what Warren calls “the inherited mode” – ie the “one-man-band” – or to begin gaining the necessary leadership skills after “training”. Things may have now changed; although I have my doubts. Ephesians 4:11ff speaks of the variety of leadership ministries needed for the emerging every-member-ministry church – including cell churches. These gifts do not reside in one person; but they can be evident in a team. My observation is that Cell Church was operating most effectively where the variety of leadership gifts were evident among the leadership team. 3.2.2 Staffing Strategy Following on from this, there are obvious implications. Staffing strategy in the Church of England is geared to maintaining the parish system. With decreasing financial resources, the numbers of “paid professionals” has continued to decline. Accordingly, these have been spread ever more thinly, especially in rural areas. If Cell Church, along with other emerging models, is to work, it would appear that this strategy would need to be reviewed. Obviously, this is beyond the remit of a paper like this; but it needs to be pointed out. An alternative strategy might be along the Roman Catholic model. They tend to have geographically larger parishes with larger staff teams. [I am aware in saying this that the Roman Catholic Church has its own difficulties; but theirs appear to be more to do with an inability to foster sufficient vocations, not the model itself.] The model being pioneered at Holy Trinity, Hazelmere – a large and growing church made up of six congregations, each, in turn, made up of cell groups – is an example. There the whole system is resourced by a team of five full-time staff (three ordained and two lay) plus a full time youth leader and administrative staff. This allows for the necessary diversity of gifting, essential to the equipping of the whole people of God and the growth of the church. The implications of this kind of thinking are enormous, and can only be pointed to here. What is clear is that Cell Church is not a scheme for the reduction of stipendiary ministry (ordained or lay). If anything, in common with other growth strategies, it requires increased staffing. At the end of the day, able lay leaders have a strictly limited amount of time and energy to devote to the work of the church. Some rethinking will be needed. Years ago, the 45 then Chief Secretary of the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry published a report which began to ask the right questions and give pointers. It called for bold and imaginative rethinking. Little was done, but perhaps it needs revisiting.

44 45

R. Warren: Op Cit. p. 94 John Tiller: “A Strategy For The Church’s Ministry”. CIO 1983.

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3.2.3 Network and Parish It is now generally accepted that people live and have their being not so much in one geographical place, but within a network – in urban societies, anyway. They live in one place, work in another, have a range of friends and acquaintances spread far and wide, pursue leisure activities wherever they are to be found, and even attend church where the style they desire is on offer. While this is not true of absolutely everyone, the caricature represents an increasing reality. While, for formal pastoral and administrative purposes, the Church of England will probably retain the parish system for a long time to come, it now finds itself having to come to terms with the fact that modern life is much more network based. The parish as an absolute framework for ministry and mission is no longer a possibility. While retaining the essentials of the parish system, it will have to sit light to it. Small groups – including cell groups – will be made up of people with diverse networks (“oikos groups”). Therefore, their outreach and evangelism cannot necessarily be expected to be confined to a parish. Clergy will need to become more flexible in their understanding of their relationship with their parishes. In fact the phrase “their parishes” highlights the issue. Were parishes ever intended to be a piece of geographical territory, over which clergy were intended to exercise some kind of spiritual ownership? Or did they evolve in a pre-mobile society as pastoral units for which clergy exercised a responsibility? Though the distinction between a sense of ownership and a sense of responsibility may not be immediately obvious to all, it nevertheless exists. The former will lead to rigidity, the latter to the flexibility of attitude required in the network-based cultures of today. I would stress that, in saying this, I am not calling for abandonment of the parish system. Merely, that a more relaxed approach to it is necessary for emerging forms of church – including cell church – to develop. To illustrate this, let us imagine an Anglican Cell Church in any town or city. Some of its congregation live within the parish; but, more than likely, at least a significant minority do not. These people relate to, and therefore attend, this particular congregation for whole variety of reasons, which we do not need to go into. In this, far from untypical, fictitious example, some of its cell groups will meet outside the parish (either some or all of the time). There is nothing new in this. For years we have had home groups meeting beyond parish boundaries. However, with the Cell Church emphasis on being Christian community – a micro expression of church – in a small group with an outward-looking mission, it may well be that, in time, its presence is felt outside of its congregation’s parish boundaries, as outreach begins to happen among the network of friendships and acquaintances of those who constitute the cell. In this kind of situation, it is not unusual for neighbouring clergy to feel threatened by, or at least uncomfortable with, active cell groups, which form part of another parish, meeting in theirs. Without labouring this unduly, what is required is for these clergy to take a more relaxed attitude to such developments. After all, what matters is the overall mission of the church and the coming of God’s Kingdom, not the territorial sensitivities of particular clergy, and perhaps their congregations. Conversely, clergy leading cell churches may need to be prepared, when a neighbouring parish also transitions towards a cell model, to consider releasing a cell, which normally meets in that neighbouring parish, to begin relating to that parish’s congregation. I did meet one incumbent who had a policy of offering his “extra parochial cells” to other Anglican parishes, if they too were becoming cell churches. 44


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3.2.4 Sacramental Ministry This is one issue much talked about in Anglican circles. The ministry of the sacraments is a particular Anglican sensibility. The conversation centres not so much on Baptism but on Holy Communion. If Cell is rightly understood to be a recovery of the New Testament house church model, there is no dodging the fact that the first Christians broke bread in their homes. Sooner or later, there will be a desire on the part of a growing cell group to cement and deepen their relational dynamic by sharing bread and wine – not as an alternative to the congregational celebration of the Eucharist, but as a complement to it. In a congregational church there is no problem. Anglicans feel more uncomfortable. George Lings identifies a number of possible understandings of this problem, none of which he views as entirely satisfactory: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Group self-denial – ie no sharing of Communion under any circumstances; Extended Communion – from the Parish Eucharist; Clergy visit cells occasionally to preside; Occasional informal sharing of Communion – eg Termly; The “Agape” – often including a meal; 46 Illegal Communion.

Certainly a layperson leading a cell group could only be said to have acted “illegally”, if he or she presumed to preside over an official Anglican liturgical text. I know of no example of this having happened, but doubtless someone may have done it somewhere. That said, all of the above approaches have their pros and cons, and the issue will not go away without some movement in a progressive direction. What is clear is that the Lord’s Supper originally belonged in the home – usually in the context of a shared meal - long before it became the ritualised act that we know in the parish church. That is not to say that the two are in contention. As Lings observes: “Many British Christians have experienced not only the splendour of a well thought through diocesan cathedral eucharist but known too the memorable intimacy and integrity of a house 47 group communion. Here is two wing eucharistic understanding under our very noses.” Above and beyond cell church issues, the question of lay presidency in any context remains unresolved on the Church of England’s agenda. Views differ; I have heard at least one diocesan bishop argue in favour of it, and met lay people passionately against it. In time, the emergence of Cell Church may be the catalyst which causes the Church to move in the direction of greater official experimentation. In a parish where the number of groups is small, there may be no difficulty with an ordained minister visiting to preside; but as groups grow and develop, this will soon become impractical. Something has to change. A preferred option might be for the House of Bishops to take counsel, and to issue guidelines together with a simple liturgy, for a lay-led small group celebration of the sharing of bread and wine – a complement to the parish eucharist.

3.2.5 Membership A brief word should be added here about membership. Talking to some Anglican clergy, I detected some unease with regard to the understanding of membership in the Cell Church 46 47

G Lings. “Cell Church & Anglicanism” Unpublished Paper, The Sheffield Centre 1999. p.5 Lings. Op Cit p.4

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

culture. Some cell churches – such as the Ichthus Christian Fellowships – equate membership of their church with membership of a cell group. It is not difficult to see why this does not sit easily with Anglican thought. Many in the Church of England will be uncomfortable with identifying a perceived inner core of membership (those who are committed to cell groups) and the rest (those who do not go to a cell group). As one Anglican minister said to me many years ago, “Actually, there is no such thing as “church membership” in the Church of England”. Some would agree with this, and others would dispute the point. It depends where one draws a line – at Baptism, Confirmation, regular reception of Communion, the electoral roll. But this in itself brings us to the nub of the issue. The Anglican understanding of membership – in the Church of England, anyway – is not so much non-existent as confused! With its various definite emphases, Cell Church may appear too hard-edged for some. This is a pity, because one of the underlying intentions of Cell is to make it easier for those on the outside to make the journey into the church. Speaking personally, I wonder if this problem is more imagined than real. Whatever one’s churchmanship and model, most congregations – of whatever denomination - in reality function with a committed core (small, medium or large), with fringes of various complexion around it. What is clear, however, is that any parish transitioning towards a Cell Church model will need to address this issue at some point, and find an understanding with which it is comfortable.

3.2.6 A Missionary Culture Issues like leadership, staffing, parish boundaries, sacraments and membership are important – from an Anglican perspective, anyway. However, in another sense they are details. The fundamental issue is one of culture. Cell Church – along with other emerging forms of church life – challenges Anglicanism to develop a missionary culture. There is nothing original in this. This call has become increasingly loud in the post World War 2 world. It might well be argued that the recent emergence of Cell Church is one piece of evidence that this transition is at last underway. If so, well and good; but the model also challenges us to become more of a missionary, rather than a predominantly pastoral, church. Moreover, it poses this challenge not simply to clergy and others in leadership. The challenge is one posed to all believers. Many clergy are, in fact, convinced of the priority of mission in all its dimensions. The difficulty they perceive is one of motivating the average person in the pew to actually be a missionary. As I have sat in a number of cell groups in a variety of situations, it has become clear to me that this way of being church does pose the challenge to all, and, when responded to positively, allows them to reach out with the Gospel. The expectation that cells will, over a two year cycle, grow and multiply, through the gradual incorporation of others from the notyet-believing networks of the group’s members, challenges inertia and the temptation to remain inward-looking. It is too early to determine the extent to which Cell Church will change the Church of England into more of a missionary church. Indeed, some would question whether it will at all, but it certainly has the potential to do so and should be welcomed as a serious contributor to the overall effort.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

So, where do we go from here? How might the churches of the UK – and the Church of England in particular – respond to the Cell Church Movement? As I have noted, the very recentness of the model renders dogmatic assertions unwise. In such circumstances the socalled “Gamaliel Principle” will help; let us give it time and space, to see whether this is a movement of the Holy Spirit – bringing, not simply more new experience, but also a new structure – or a passing trend. It will be obvious by now that my personal conviction is that it is the former, but that does not imply that our view should be one of uncritical admiration. We need to value the Cell Church movement’s strengths, understand the weaknesses, take the opportunities and be aware of the threats. Even when a new movement is from God, it is perfectly possible for the forces of conservatism – whatever form they may take – to conspire to strangle the fledgling almost at birth. This does appear to me to be a very real possibility in Western churches. However, hope causes me to believe that our church can, and should, receive Cell Church – or rather some appropriate form of it – as part of our future. In conclusion, a few “map references” are pointed out.

3.3.1 Areas of Experimentation A denomination still as substantial as the Church of England, with its thousands of parishes and worshippers, can afford to experiment. There is nothing to be lost by each diocese – presumably through its Diocesan Missioner (or whatever title he or she holds) and with episcopal agreement – identifying a number of parishes, or clusters of parishes, in which the principles of Cell Church might be implemented over, say, a five-year period. Such experiments could be conducted in a variety of obvious situations – inner-urban, urban, suburban, outer estate, county town, semi-rural and rural. Moreover, a desire for ascomplete-as-possible comprehensiveness would also lead to a few non-geographical – ie network-based – experiments being included in an overall programme. I would want to suggest, moreover, that any diocesan programme not be confined to “failing parishes” – where “there is nothing to be lost anyway”. Although, as we call them in the Birmingham Diocese, “parishes in need of review” certainly do need to look at Cell Church as a possible road back from the prospect of imminent closure, the model is not a magic wand to be tried when all else has failed. Apparently successful parishes should be included. It might be remembered that the Church of our Saviour, Singapore had seen rapid numerical growth to an average Sunday attendance of 800 before it felt the need to transition to Cell Church mode. So long as such initiatives are not set up so as to inevitably fail, and are given diocesan encouragement, it may well be that the Cell Church model turns out to be something that plays a constructive role in turning the Church of England from maintenance to mission and growth.

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S P Corbett. Cell – A New Way of Being Church?

3.3.2 Serious Consideration of Forms of “Emerging Church” The comments in the section above need to be appreciated in a wider context. There have been consultations “at the edges” about emerging forms of church for the past decade or so. For example, I came across a slender paper produced by the Church of England’s Board for 48 Mission following a small “Cell Church Consultation” in 1996. A key sentence in their paper is: “We discovered that such relationally–based groups are emerging at the margins of institutional church life, in a vast variety of contexts – rural, UPA, work networks, etc – working out of different theologies, and different ecclesiologies, yet with so much in common.” It is clear that something is going on, and the experience of my period of sabbatical study would suggest that this “something” is worthy of substantial further investigation. It does have something to say to the Church of England. Let me conclude with the following words gleaned from another unpublished paper: “The significance of all this (ie the various emerging small group models of being church) is that here at last we may be seeing God’s preferred way for us to represent Him in this and the next generation. And, if so, the question is: How can we encourage something which is apparently so spontaneous and unstructured? Or maybe we should ask: How can we stop standing in God’s way?” 49 Let us experiment, and in so doing perhaps we may learn how to “stop standing in God’s way”.

48 49

‘Small Church Communities’. Unpublished Board for Mission Paper 1996. John Cole, Diocesan Missioner in Lincoln: “What sort of Church are we called to be?” Unpublished Paper.

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Corbett Steve~A new way of being Church?