Treat your cell groups like precious bodies of Christ... because they are!

This week I was visiting with a pastor who had a grand plan to use some excellent materials to "bring my congregation up to speed with cell groups (he calls them small groups, but they're really cell groups in my book!) so I can get them all in a group this spring."

If you've ever learned how to make gravy, you know that it's a process that requires some patience and a solid understanding of food science. Stick with me on this because it will make lots of sense concerning the topic at hand when I'm done...

First, you begin with some hot grease or warmed butter in a pan. Then you sprinkle flour across the surface of the protein-laden grease and cook the pasty taste out of the flour.

Then, you take just a little warm milk or warmed broth of some sort and add it to the pan. When this happens, there's a chemical reaction and the now protein-laden flour reacts to the liquid and it lumps up when you stir it.

If you put in all the liquid at once, you get watery gravy with lumps in it. The secret is to put just a little liquid in and let the greasy cooked flour absorb it. Then add more and add more and add more and voila! you have a nice gravy that just needs some salt and pepper.

{sauce making lesson is now over}

The same thing holds true for your fledgling cell groups. Let's say you've worked hard to start healthy cell groups and you have three groups up and going and the members of those groups are being the church, not attending it. They're sharing their faith with unchurched friends and you're even seeing conversion growth in the groups.

You want everyone in the church to be in one of these groups! I get that.

The problem is that if you multiply these groups to 6 or even 12 groups and then flood them with traditionally minded or consumer minded church members, the groups will fail. The healthy DNA of the original groups could only handle a few members being introduced to keep the strain healthy.

In conclusion, let me say this to you pastors who want a transition to happen quickly: stop that! You'll mess up your gravy, I mean cell groups! They're precious and quite sensitive and relationships need to be cultivated carefully so you don't lose momentum.

Advice: Just invite a handful of faithful congregational believers who are dissatisfied with church as usual to become part of a group being prepared for group life. Challenge the groups you have to reach friends for Christ and start discipling them in the midst of their group relationships. Put one or two couples from your preparation group in each group when you think everyone is ready and see if they're absorbed properly.

Oh yeah... you gotta keep stirring. That applies to group members and leaders and making gravy!

Free online self-assessment tool to launch discipleship!

TOUCH Outreach is proud to let you know we've created a mobile friendly version of our best-selling self-assessment tool, The Journey Guide for New Christians by Ralph Neighbour.

Please share this link with every pastor you know!

It has been said that if you don't know where you are, you can't go anywhere. That seems to be the case with discipleship as well. To that end, we've invested some ministry money and time to put this incredibly revealing and insightful tool online for anyone and everyone to use. Benefits include:

  • Helps the new believer see the need for discipleship and gives them some personal responsibility to become a self-feeder and move from infant to a child of Christ.
  • Gives the group leader a better understanding of how to minister to the new believer in his or her group.
  • Gives the mentor key insights into how the person they're discipling learns, what they're struggling with, and their current level of basic Bible knowledge.
So my question for you is this: why are you still reading this instead of taking the assessment yourself to see how helpful it will be in your ministry? :)

God bless, and get busy discipling!


An expose on the culture in which we find ourselves.

Etna and I have enjoyed watching the summer series show Suits on AMC in its first seasons. The acting is excellent and the storylines are intriguing. This season the writers—and ultimately the AMC network—have pushed the boundaries yet again with foul language on the show using one particular phrase repeatedly that feels like a punch in my gut every time I hear it.

This morning we watched this week’s episode. Between the recap from last week and this week’s airing, I counted at least six uses of the Lord’s name used in vain (the "GD" phrase).

That’s the offensive phrase. Just about every other unsavory word doesn’t seem to bother me (right or wrong), but hearing "GD" pains me greatly. Why?

It’s offensive because of my respect and love for my compassionate Creator and his incredible and sacrificial love for mankind (you, me, and every other soul on this planet throughout time… even mass murders, rapists, and self-proclaimed haters of God).

It’s also offensive to God. Really offensive. In fact, it’s the third of the Ten Commandments (shared a couple of commandments before “Thall shall not kill” if that helps you see the seriousness of it, even though I don’t think God puts any of the commandments above the others). Using “GD” proclaims that God damns people (meaning he desires that certain people to go to hell and is purposely sending them there with prejudice and malice, two ungodly attributes he does not possess).

God has never “damned” anyone. He created man in His own image for heaven’s sake (pun intended), and even sent His Son Christ to die for us to make a relational connection to him while we were still sitting in a self-created and separating cesspool of sin.

Interestingly, I cannot recall an actor on broadcast TV (movies, yes, but not TV) using the N word or a slur for a homosexual and probably never will. And this exposes the root of the issue. Read the next three paragraphs slowly and ponder the much broader implication before you scroll down to the next post.

When a culture chooses to elevate its respect of man and thumb its nose at the Creator of man, God gives that culture what it wants… independence from Him. And then culture falls apart and nobody is happy with the results (if they're still around to be unhappy as history proves). A Man powered Godless culture has no foundation or stability on which to operate. It’s a house built on shifting sand.

Will I write AMC and request they avoid the use of this phrase in future episodes of Suits and other shows they air? You bet. Will I send a letter to the FCC asking why they were permitted to get away with this? Absolutely.

AMC writer's flagrant use of "GD" is the fruit. I’ll attempt to pick it off the tree with written letters. But it’s the root of that tree that motivated me to write this and share it with you in hopes you will stop and think about it for a moment. Some how, some way, our culture now thinks using a racial slur is worse than a God slur. They’re both wrong and offensive to God. Let’s work toward not denigrating one another OR our Creator.

[If you’re reading this and you agree, please stop and pray for mankind and yourself while you’re at it.]

Seven Signs We Are Worshipping the Family (by Jason Helopoulos, not me!)

Sometimes I read a pastor's blog and think, "Wow. I soooo agree! This belongs on my blog too."

Obviously, so did this pastor. He has a guest blogger who wrote a nice short to-the-point blog entry about family and how you know yours is not focused on Christ. Well, here's some indicators that fit not only your immediate earthly family, but your spiritual family (your cell group or small group)…

"What you draw them in with is what they'll be committed to" ... So true!

In Organic Church, Neil Cole writes, "What you draw them with is what they'll be committed to."

Wow. Truer words have never been written, even if the sentence structure isn't the best!

I see this truth play out over and over across the USA in small group ministries. Church leaders become fatigued with the fact that the consumer Christians in their congregations aren't interested in participating in Christ-centered groups (where the members are challenged to lay down their agendas for the cause of Christ). So, they retool their small group ministry and sell the sizzle of "Designer small groups" where the drawing topic can be anything from emergency preparedness to scrapbooking to dealing with cancer.

My dad pioneered the use of these kinds of groups for evangelism years ago, because "Type B" unbelievers (furthest away from trusting Christ on the Engel scale) aren't drawn to the message or the messenger, but to a secular interest. He called them Interest Groups or Share Groups.

However, there were a number of differences between Dad's Interest/Share Groups and what's going on in today's small group ministries:
  • Interest/Share Groups were subsets of a Christ-centered group and run parallel to the mother group. 3-4 mature believers in a group would form an interest group and report back each week as to how it was going and how to pray for the spiritual condition of each person in the interest group.
  • Interest/Share Groups were 8-12 weeks in length, which was the amount of time necessary for deepening friendships to form.
  • The goal of Interest/Share Groups was to relationally bridge the unbelievers to the members of the Christ-centered group... during the weeks of the interest group gathering, the unbelievers were invited to meals in the home of one of the leaders of the Interest/Share Group and members of the Christ-Centered group would also be at that meal.
  • After 8-12 weeks in an Interest/Share Group, the unbeliever would learn that Christians aren't what they initially thought they were like. A paradigm shift was the goal.
  • After the Interest/Share Group concluded, it often created an empty place in the weekly calendar and a relational void for the unbeliever. This was very good because they had made friends with the Interest/Share Group leaders and the members of the Christ-centered group, and would be far more open to visiting the Christ-centered group.
Now let's contrast this with Designer Small Groups:
  • The goal is to get church members to meet around a topic of interest off church property between corporate gatherings. Big church meetings aren't relational, and this fills that sociological void.
  • Congregational members are far more likely to sign up to lead a Designer Group because they get to choose the focus of the meetings. They're motivated to market their idea and fill their group!
  • Church leadership usually require that prayer requests are taken and prayer or worship is present in the group to legitimize it a bit with a spiritual element.
  • The hope that God will move powerfully among the members as a result is certainly present, and I have no doubt that it does happen. But one could argue that it's not strategically intentional for the members of these groups. Most don't know it's anything more than a church sponsored Designer Small Group.
The church that my wife and I were a part of for nearly ten years abandoned Christ-centered groups a while back for Designer Groups. Due to a number of problems in the Christ-centered groups (no discipleship pathway, lax relationship-driven leadership development, and the groups were not the missional thrust of the church, etc.) they decided to give this a try to battle group member fatigue.

And the members of the groups were indeed fatigued. As a member, if you're not growing spiritually toward group leadership and beyond AND seeing personal transformation in yourself and others in the group and some success with evangelism and one-on-one disciple making, fatigue will set in fast!

After six months of designer group participation, I've not seen a lot of fruit from this diversion at the church. More people are in groups, but walking into a garage doesn't make you a mechanic, just a guy standing in a garage. Neil Cole was not wrong. It may not be easy, but drawing people into a small group whose sole focus is Christ makes for a powerful group experience when the members of the group shed their agendas and Christ's presence, power, and purposes are experienced.

So tell me, dear blog readers... what has been your experience with Designer Groups long term? Have the members of the church seen lots of spiritual fruit from it? Has it transformed the minds and hearts of those who have participated?