Church Growth Through Cell Groups:
A Consideration of Four Books on Cell Church Methodology
The following is an adaptation of a work concerning the church growth movement
that was written to a specific audience in January of 1994. Much has happened
around this topic since then though this adapted work does not fully express
such. It is presumed that the reader has at least some knowledge of the church
growth movement both pro and con.
Though the notion of cell group churches is really not totally new, currently
there are several authors promoting what they call "a new move of God" in church
growth methodology. It is known by many names: Cell Church, Cell-Based Church,
Meta-Church, Open Church, etc.... For this discussion we will use the term Cell
Group Church. The Cell Group Church (CGC) is presented as a new paradigm
for the social architecture of the church. In this new organizational system the
cell group (up to 15 members) is the primary church; individual cells are
connected through several levels of leadership which are ultimately accountable
to the Senior Pastor; growth is realized as the cells divide, birthing new
cells. According to CGC author Ralph Neighbor Jr. most churches are "Program
Based Design" (P.B.D.) churches. A "P.B.D." church is one that is structured
around specific programs/offices e.g., Elder board, Trustee board, Sunday
school, V.B.S., Ladies Aid, etc... The CGC is not about simply adding small
groups to the existing P.B.D. church; one must read carefully to discern the
redefinition of terms.
We have carefully read the following: Prepare Your Church for the Future, Carl
F. George -- 20/20 Vision: How to Create a Successful Church with Lay Pastors
Groups, Dale E. Galloway -- Where Do We Go From Here?: A Guidebook for the CELL
GROUP CHURCH, Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. -- The Shepherd's Guidebook, Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr.. Hereafter referred to as PYC, 20/20, WDWG and SG respectively.
As discerning Christians, we feel constrained to voice our concerns. This
document, a critique of the principles taught by the authors of the books, is
our response as Lutheran Christians who have a high view of Scripture and are
committed to Biblical Truth.
For the sake of brevity we have narrowed our presentation to these five
- This new paradigm is presented as a restoration of the church to a NT form of
church life; current church organization is presented as carnal, ineffective and
even offensive to the Holy Spirit.
- It is claimed that this new paradigm empowers the laity by de-centralizing a
hierarchy that has crippled the church for 1700 years.
- Word Faith and Third Wave Theology, present in this new paradigm, is not
compatible with an orthodox confession of Christianity.
- This new paradigm promotes the de-emphasis of Theology expressed in church
doctrine, and emphasizes subjective experience and meeting "felt-needs".
- This new paradigm relies on humanistic philosophy, trends in the business
community and modern social science research, i.e., Marketing, Sociology,
At each point, in quoting from the books, we have included only a
small sample of those quotes which could be included. We encourage the reader to
examine our statements Cell Movement Critique
carefully to see that we have quoted the authors in context and have not
We will begin our discussion by stating those points expressed by the authors
which we concur.
Positive contributions of the authors
Many of the concerns the authors raise are truly valid. Though the following
not be exhaustive, we affirm:
- The discovery, and development of spiritual gifts and the need for a
Spirit-filled life of service and witness.
- The mobilization and motivation of the laity in order to share responsibility
work of the kingdom of God.
- The primary role of the pastor/leadership in equipping the saints.
- The importance of small groups as a place for accountability, and nurture. The
value of encouraging groups, as they grow in number to consider reorganizing
into smaller groups in order to maintain intimacy.
- The realization that the the church is not simply a building or a collection of
- The emphasis on the value and worth of children as a part of the church.
- The need to raise our awareness of the isolation that exists in our society.
- The need to discard evangelism methods which are unrelational and do not treat
the person as a person.
In an effort to deal with the above issues the authors promote their new
The CGC is said to be a "new move of God" which is occurring now because,
according to the authors, the Church has been lost in an institutionalized, clergy-dominated
which has rendered the church helplessly ineffective at dealing with people's
CGC system is not necessarily considered "new" by the authors. Rather it is
finally, God is restoring the Church to all her original New Testament glory.
Hence our first
This new paradigm is presented as a restoration of the church to amore Biblical NT form; current church organization is presented as carnal, ineffective and even offensive to the Holy Spirit.
In the fourth century Constantine established Christianity as a state religion.
suggested that this institutionalization resulted in a clergy-dominated church
the layperson to a passive recipient of, rather than an active participant in,
It's a brutal but true fact: most churches have become just one more of the
of this world. We shall not deny they have a proper theology, but their
ecclesiology violates the
Cell Movement Critique
clear teachings of our Lord, and Satan gleefully imprisons them in their own
WDWG p 130 (italics his)
Using Scriptures, like Acts 2:42-47; 20:20, the authors claim a biblical mandate
CGC. That believers met in houses and that the Church grew in the first century
denied, but it can not be shown that its growth was exponential, nor can it be
shown that the
key to its growth was the manner in which the people were organized. Rather it
the true key to the growth of the early Church was the Truth preached concerning
sinfulness of every human being and God's Grace in sending His only begotten Son
to die on
the cross and rise again so that God might reconcile fallen human beings to
15:1-11). Still, the CGC authors argue that the pattern or structure of the
church which God
originally intended had believers meeting in small house fellowships and then
together for large group celebrations. During and after the fourth century the
toward large group gatherings and small group gatherings were lost. There is
some truth to
this shift in emphasis, yet it is difficult to show how Constantine's action was
enough to support the authors' belief that the long lost, "True" NT church has
now returned in
the CGC model:
I return to the disturbing point that has been made before in this book and will
repeated again and again. The cell group church lifestyle is too New Testament
to be blended
into a P.B.D. structure. It causes endless conflicts for those who attempt it...
WDWG p 55,56
Straight ahead lies yesterday! The first century church has returned to us in a
straightforward format. It's composed of deeply committed people who form cell
They are where we go from here.
WDWG p 55 (italics his)
Cell churches are the only way that true community can be experienced by all
Christians. It is not a 'purist's dream' to suggest the church should structure
itself around this
truth. Rather it is a return to a life style which has been bastardized by
centuries of unbiblical,
crusted traditions. The cell group is not just a portion of church life, to be
clustered with a
dozen other organizations. It is church life; and when it properly exists, all
structures are neither needed nor valid.
WDWG p 112 (italics his)
We do not believe that an emphasis on Christian community and house to house
ministry has been lost for 1700 years. Holding fast to such a view is both
arrogant. It also takes a dim view of the power of God and the effectiveness of
Spirit to guide the church. It is true that throughout church history certain
waxed and waned, but to say that they have been lost and only now been
absurd. There is no "golden age" to which the Church should return.
Though always in need of reformation and revival, it is our contention that
Jesus Christ the Church is perfect and beautiful in God's eyes even though
imperfect in her
own eyes and the eyes of the world. For Christ's sake God accepts His people as
To assert that a structural/organizational solution, i.e. "systems of small
(cell) groups," will
make God's people more acceptable/pleasing to God or will bring about some kind
spiritual renewal is obviously ridiculous, as if people will in some way be
in a different organizational structure! One may change the current
of the church and as a result see behavioral changes in people, but these
changes will not
necessarily be true Christian spiritual renewal. That social constraints can and
human behavior does not mean that the development and implementation of such
constraints is morally or Biblically acceptable. There are many successful
and cults whose membership continues to grow in spite of their lack of Biblical
The CGC is a new ecclesiology, a new understanding of church order, form and
function. The authors claim that the CGC system decentralizes the power
hierarchy of the
church and thus empowers every believer to be an active participant in ministry.
surface this sounds wonderful and may appear to be true, yet a closer
examination reveals a
new power hierarchy that actually imposes a centralized power structure on the
structure which only allows laypersons the power to serve the "vision" of their
"vision" of one man at the top, casting his "vision" down the chain of command.
This leads to
our second concern.
It is claimed that this new paradigm de-centralizes an age old, man-centered
power hierarchy that has crippled the church for 1700 years.
The proponents of this "new church" claim that they wish to mobilize the laity
reduce the burden carried by the clergy. This would be positive. This is one of
which flowed out of the Reformation teaching concerning the Priesthood of all
the doctrine of calling (vocation). However, upon closer inspection, it appears
that the CGC
system actually centralizes power and authority. It is a highly structured
which places the leading, preaching, and teaching function in the hands of a
mainly one, "anointed leader"--the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor casts his
then the people are to embrace that "vision" and work to fulfill it.
Though these books give the appearance of affirming lay involvement, in
appears that only loyalty and progress reports go from the bottom up. Leaders
highest echelons are not encouraged to exercise gifts of teaching or biblical
rather are to exercise care-giving and shepherding gifts; we quote:
The Senior Pastor guides the Church... The clear direction set for the church by
pastor is a mandate for the congregation to focus on one thing alone. As one
cell group pastor
said to me, 'This one thing we do!'... Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho goes to Prayer
Mountain once a
year to fast and pray, seeking God's mandate for the church's life for the next
When he returns from that time with the Lord, the goals which are given to him
are printed and
framed. These framed statements are then hung on every wall of every church
worker on the
staff. All is in perfect focus, and everything done by every person is directed
WDWG p 76
The Shepherd's (leaders of the individual cells) assignment can be reduced to
simple statement: encourage flock members to be totally responsible for properly
their spiritual gifts.
WDWG p 219 (italics his)
They (members of shepherd groups) should understand they are under authority, a
of a greater vision.
WDWG p 210
Always, always, the measuring stick for the health of a cell should not be how
they pray or study the Bible, but how much they minister. In the case of the
Dion Robert's Zone Pastors do not permit more than a two week period of
they step in and ask the Shepherd, 'What's wrong in your group?' Yonggi Cho told
does the same thing with Zone Pastors. If a zone does not show conversions for a
weeks, he says to the pastor in charge, 'You go up to Prayer Mountain and fast
and pray until
God shows you your problem. Something is wrong spiritually, or the cells would
out!' With such a spirit, the cell group churches can grow at a rate which far
traditional churches can expect. Wearing the 'full armor of God' is intended for
WDWG p 171 (italics his)
The Senior Pastor is over the entire home cell system. He is continually giving
vision and motivating the District Pastors, Sectional Pastors, and Lay Pastors
Through sermons and communications he is actively recruiting lay people into
sees that they are given the proper training and supervision to be successful.
Pastor's heart must be in the home cell ministry if it is to be effective. This
is one ministry that
cannot be handed over to someone else and forgotten.
20/20 p 128
Every Friday the Senior Pastor receives a detailed report of attendance, number
visitors, converts, contacts made, and how the district is doing on its goals
from each of the
District Pastors. The District Pastor makes up his report from the sum totals of
all the reports
that come in from the TLC group meetings. On Friday as Senior Pastor I know
many people attended a TLC group meeting for the week. I pay close attention to
which let me know how we're doing on the reaching of our goals for the year.
20/20 p 149
In their weekly report sheets, our TLC leaders are required to tell us how much
has been spent in each of these three activities (Sharing, Conversational
Application of Bible). We monitor this to see that our groups are kept balanced.
20/20 p 112
In Dale Galloway's 20/20 Vision plan, the only power a lay person is truly
the power to serve the vision. Loyalty to leadership, fellowship in the "vision"
toward the established goals are the characteristics of those serving in a CGC.
For more on
this read pages 125-138 in Mr. Galloway's book. Also read Leadership Principle
No. 2 found
on pp.88-89: in spite of including an emphasis on the need to be a cohesive
loves people, the weight of the principle comes down on the side of the strong
must be proclaimed, pursued and seen to completion no matter the cost.
It is clear that the "successful" churches used as model examples, (e.g., Dale
Galloway's, Paul (David) Yonggi Cho's), are strictly guided by the Senior
Pastor. It is their
"vision" which must be realized; anyone who questions the "vision" or authority
of the Senior
Pastor is released; anyone who fails to live up to the conditions required for
service on staff,
paid or not, is disciplined and soon released if not brought into compliance.
that the "vision" of the leadership could be in error and appropriately
confronted by the laity is
never considered. It seems that loyalty to leadership is the real glue that
holds the CGC
Remember that we are fallen people; social order does not come naturally to us.
reasonable person ought to see the severe danger inherent in the CGC system.
people accountable is difficult work and often leads to manipulation, guilt,
peer pressure and
even mind control. One may build a Church, but it will not be Christ's Church.
The Senior Pastors of the churches referred to in these books could teach just
anything they want and not be accountable because it is their "vision"; God
it to them while in prayer, reading the Scripture, or listening to the Holy
Spirit. The fact that
the teachings of these men range from questionable to outright heretical should
considered since the theological content of the message they preach and teach
have more to do with the "success" of their churches than the CGC system itself.
Our third concern will address the Word-Faith (Positive Confession) and "Third
(Signs and Wonders) elements present in the CGC philosophy.
Word Faith and Third Wave Theology, present in this new paradigm, is
not compatible with an orthodox confession of Christianity.
It can be argued that the Word Faith and Third Wave movements present the most
serious concerns to the true Christian Church today (MacArthur, 1992; Hanegraaff,
Unlike other aberrant movements, these are residing within the popular
community. The intricacies of Word Faith and Third Wave theology call for an
thorough presentation. Regretfully, we cannot give this concern the attention it
it would require more than is feasible for this document. We encourage the
reader to explore
the bibliography provided as well as the references cited. There the reader will
who speak more exhaustively to both the specific details of each movement as
well as the
underlying social realities which have served to bring these movements to
assert that these materials should be carefully read alongside the CGC books.
That each of the CGC authors endorse and even promote both Word Faith and Third
Wave theology is not at all difficult to see. Each of the authors praise the
Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul Korea which is pastored by Paul (David)
Yonggi Cho--noted Word Faith teacher. Dale Galloway is heavily influenced by
both Robert Schuller and Paul (David) Yonggi Cho; Carl George calls C. Peter
Wagner--father of Third Wave--his mentor. These relationships go beyond any
charge of "guilt by association."
There are many aspects to each of the movements, ranging from mildly aberrant to
outright heretical. Here we simply offer brief definitions and treatment of
which we feel are particularly relevant to the CGC paradigm.
Word Faith (Positive Confession)
The Word Faith movement deifies the human person and lowers God to the human
level by claiming that God Himself is a faith being who is subject to universal
laws of faith.
Dale Galloway reveals this Word Faith conviction when he says:
Since I have been learning to flow with the Spirit, many times when I preach, no
what I preach on, when I come to the end of the message and speak the words of
stand up and receive Christ's salvation flow. Flowing in the Spirit, I begin to
speak the Lord's
faith, and healings take place. Flowing in the Spirit, I've seen marvelous
church growth taking
place in our fellowship.
20/20 p.56. (italics ours)
In Word Faith theology, faith is a force and words are the containers which
force. It is taught that through words, spoken in faith, one can speak into
which is not. In its extreme forms believers are told that they are little gods
God's creative ability. In connection with this, many Word Faith teachers insist
should be healthy as well as materially wealthy and that to pray "Thy will be
done" is a sign
of weak or non-existent faith. It is in this Word Faith context that the word
"vision" is used by
God wants to work through the function of our minds called VISUALIZATION to
accomplish His work on this earth.
20/20 p.30 (caps his)
Before a vision can become a reality it must begin to be verbalized in spoken
faith. Visions verbalized in words of faith release the creative powers of God
to work through
our lives, to bring into existence that which was not.
Carl George says that a senior pastor's major influence comes through vision
His/her greatest resource is to cast the vision at worship services, staff
specific training sessions called, in Mr. George's model, Vision, Huddle, Skill
order to grow and maintain a large Church, he says, the pastor must assume the
role of a
CEO. He says that the CEO's major influence comes through vision casting (PYC
"The top layer or function signifies Vision, with the storytelling that is
vision casting;... What does the pastor need to say? 'Go for it! Make it happen!
Lord for great things!' Armed with exhortations from Scripture and inspiring
pastor casts a vision that God will use to stimulate ministry."
PYC p 135-7
(Carl George quoting Pastor Dethmer:) "I consider my twenty-to thirty-minute
opportunities for vision casting to be my central speaking engagement - more
than my Sunday-morning preaching!"
PYC p 211
Ralph Neighbour Jr. echoes the emphasis on vision casting when he says:
An effective cell group church must be a team effort. In nearly all of them I
visited, they have another important ingredient: a truly anointed leader. Many
pastors are good
administrators and preachers, but they don't have an anointing, a God-given
vision that causes
others to catch fire and burn for Christ in a special way.
WDWG p 207 (italics
Paul (David) Yonggi Cho teaches that through visualization, whatever one
incubated into existence in, what he calls, the fourth dimension. There are
wherein talking about vision is appropriate. The difference here is the true
source of one's
vision; that is, who originates, initiates and fulfills the vision. Though all
of these authors will
concede that one must know the will of God concerning one's vision(s), it is
evident that their
"vision" originates within their own creative consciousness, is initiated by
their own casting of
the vision before God, and finally is fulfilled via their cooperation with the
Holy Spirit. Again,
we quote Dale Galloway:
What you need to understand is that there is an incubation period... Spend time
your vision in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, clarifying, crystallizing that
...within your creative imagination is the marvelous ability to picture what has
happened. When this happens, creativity is released and goes to work.
As I fellowship with the Holy Spirit my creativity comes alive and God's ideas
released into my mind. Through fellowship with the Holy Spirit came my vision to
church of 15,000 by 1990.
20/20 p 51
For a long time I have had the desire in my heart for a three-piece black silk
custom made to fit. So I started talking to my heavenly Father about this very
request. One of the details was that it had to be at a price I could afford...
one year later I am
still enjoying the beautiful custom black suit that is my answer to prayer...
But you have not
because you ask not in detail.
... Right now I am continuing to take a number of requests to the Lord on a
daily basis... it is
clarified and broken down into manageable steps. The Lord and I are working
fulfilling the requests... (we are to be) thinking positive, expecting thoughts
about the request.
20/20 p 68,69
A God who is a partner in faith, a kind of cosmic bell hop who is empowered to
our prayers might sound appealing to a self-obsessed society, but such a God is
not to be
found in an orthodox confession of Christianity.
Third Wave (Signs and Wonders)
The Third Wave (signs and wonders) movement is relatively new to the evangelical
community. The term "Third Wave" was coined by C. Peter Wagner in 1983 (Burgess
McGee (Eds.), 1988). Peter Wagner identifies the First Wave as the rise of
Pentecostalism in the early part of this century and the Second Wave as the
movement of the 1960's. The Third Wave is essentially a variation of the first
Third Wave advocates seek to avoid controversy by avoiding labels, like
carry negative weight and by trying to avoid some of the excesses of the other
Yet actual differences, if any, boil down to a change in terminology, not in
To support their claims, Third Wave teachers point to the experience of
signs and wonders. "Signs and wonders" ("power" healings, deliverance from
words of knowledge, etc...) are said to be necessary in order to authenticate
Ralph Neighbor Jr. affirms the Third Wave when he says that it is unfortunate
association between cell group churches and the Third Wave movement causes
downgrade the significance of his cell-group system. He says that those who do
so have a
limited vision of what is needed to bring the unreached to saving faith; we
For those whose church life is formed around meeting in church buildings, there
to be a limited vision of what is needed to bring the unreached to saving faith.
Many who scoff
at manifestations of the power of God, manifested to set men free in our day, do
unchurched friends. The more one leaves the insulation of the church office, the
the churched, the more the need for the power of God to do the work of God is
Physical, emotional, and spiritual healing is constantly experienced by those
who live together
in the cell group church. Building up one another through using spiritual gifts
is their lifestyle.
Without the real power of God, a ministry to the abused, the abandoned, and the
a farce. Cell group churches are not to be seen as Pentecostal or charismatic,
but as Biblical.
I submit we should confess that the traditional church has little need for the
when assaulting the gates of hell. However, when cells begin to invade Satan's
discover that evil forces are real!" (He goes on to quote C.Peter Wagner).
(italics his); see also pp.35-37, 162-4, 420)
The traditional church is a farce? If one questions these so called
power", one simply must not have any unchurched friends? One must have these
"manifestations of power" in order to truly bring people to Christ? Mr.
reveal the lengths he is willing to go to vilify God's work throughout the
history of the church.
Like Word Faith, once again it is evident that the Third Wave exalts the human
treats God like a cosmic bell-hop whom one must cooperate with in order to
power. It appears that Mr. Neighbor's lust for spiritual power has led him to
God's true power, which is found in weakness, and to turn to impersonal forces
by the self in some form of mystic quest.
Ralph Neighbor Jr. says in chapter 11 (WDWG) that every Christian must have a
where they can hear God speak. It is in the Listening Room that
receive words of knowledge so important to Third Wave adherents. His words
mystic quest for ongoing extrabiblical revelation:
I confess that where I am going to take you in this chapter is a model of cell
I have never fully experienced myself. There have been times, though, when it
without being anticipated. In those precious, unforgettable serendipities where
gifts flowed and
edification took place, I felt as though I were caught up, as Paul, into the
heavens--not as far
as the third one, but much higher than the first one! And I also confess that
Before I die, I want to know the full reality of body life as described in
scripture. Of this I am
certain: for those who won't settle for less, all we shall describe is possible.
WDWG p 172,
Chapter 14 of the Shepherd's Guidebook
is titled: Leading the flock to
. Strangely enough, throughout the entire chapter God is not mentioned. It is
that cell leaders are to facilitate the group so that members are led to share
their personal life
experiences. It seems that instead of experiencing God, what members are
experiencing is each other and each other's experiences. It is clear that Mr.
considers supernatural experience the primary goal for cell group meetings; his
speak clearly (notice the separation between intellect and experience):
I chided myself for believing that their many meetings spent intellectualizing
scripture had caused them to know each other on a spiritual level... Then the
Spirit came. A
word of knowledge was given. Quietly, the pastor said, 'I sense in my heart the
Lord is telling
me your problem... The Lord had invaded His Body, and the gateway into the
world had been crossed by us all.
WDWG p 162-3 (italics his)
Once a cell group has stepped into the supernatural world, it can't ever be the
again... A holy boldness invades a group after it has seen the power of
spiritual gifts working in
its midst. They become aware that their battle is not against flesh and blood,
principalities and powers of the air. Every experience of knowing God's mighty
of just reading about it in the scriptures, moves the group into deeper warfare
WDWG p. 164
We know from scripture that deceiving spirits and false prophets are present in
world and that we must test them (I Jn 4:1); therefore, we must be careful never
automatically equate the supernatural with the divine. We, as people of a book,
be wary of any teaching which would lead us to remove intellect from experience.
warns us of last days manifestations of supernatural power in Matthew 24:
For false Christ's and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and
so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in
And again in Luke 11:29 Jesus says, "This generation is a wicked generation; it
for a sign*, and yet no sign* shall be given to it but the sign* of Jonah." *
Or, attesting miracle
The Third Wave focus on subjective experience and extrabiblical revelation can
readily lead to undesirable conclusions. Perhaps the most serious of such
conclusions is the
tendency to de-emphasize the need for academic study and training in Theology.
CGC system, the objective study and teaching of sound doctrine is secondary to
"felt needs" and the subjective experience of exercising spiritual gifts in
Referring to what he sees as the church of the future, Carl George says:
First, however, let me summarize the underlying assumptions on which the Meta-Church capitalizes:... # 3.
Churches will be known primarily as caring places
rather than as
teaching associations. These churches of the future realize that God measures
more by their obedience than by their knowledge of Bible facts. Therefore,
they've shifted their
priorities from teaching to caring, from understanding to application.
PYC p 154
In evaluating traditional church Bible studies, Mr. Neighbour says:
The most effective "Bible study" groups I have observed are the pseudo-Bible
cells. These don't really focus on the Bible; they use their group as an excuse
to get together
and share deeply. Usually these groups will begin with the reading of scripture,
but the evening
is spent in sharing.
WDWG p 66
De-emphasizing the careful study and teaching of sound doctrine is the concern
will address next. What happens when intuition replaces sound reason?
This new paradigm de-emphasizes both Theology as it is expressed in
church doctrine, and objective learning through cognitive interaction with
Biblical Truth; it emphasizes subjective experience, meeting "felt-needs"
and learning through practical application of Biblical principles.
What are some of the consequences of putting church growth and "felt needs"
the careful teaching/preaching of God's Word? In this section we will discuss
(1) the CGC
emphasis on spiritual experience as more important than knowledge of objective,
truth; and (2) the long-term implications of de-emphasizing doctrinal teaching.
Each of the CGC authors make it a point to say that teaching sound doctrine is
important. A critical question to ask at this point is how do these authors
doctrine? Furthermore, where exactly does the teaching of sound doctrine take
After a careful reading of the four books it seems that the authors' appeal for
is nothing more than a shallow disclaimer. Here we quote Dale Galloway:
People in our world who are perishing from a variety of diseases of mind, body
soul--do not give two hoots about cold doctrine. Don't get me wrong, it's
important to have
sound doctrine but at New Hope we do not go around showing our bone structure to
people. Our calling is first to heal hurts and build dreams and at the right
time and the right
place we will instruct people in basic doctrines of the church.
20/20 p 16
The right time and place must be especially arbitrary since, at New Hope Church
people receive salvation and become Christians no matter what the content of
Galloway's message! He states his conviction quite plainly when he says:
Visions verbalized in words of faith release the creative powers of God to work
our lives, to bring into existence that which was not... Once I began to grasp
this spiritual truth
in cooperation with the Holy Spirit I started speaking the words of salvation at
the conclusion of
my message. Now, week after week, no matter what I preach on there is a flow of
Large numbers of people stand, pray the sinner's prayer and commit their lives
to Jesus Christ.
Mr. Neighbour says that the cell group is not the place for Bible study. Bible
needs are to be fulfilled at a different level of church life. Please read
paragraphs in WDWG ch. 13 which follow this statement:
While it (cell group) will use the Bible freely in its lifestyle, it is not a
place for Bible
Study. These needs are fulfilled at a different level in the life of the Church,
as we shall see in
the paragraphs which follow.
WDWG pp. 198
It is difficult to find what we were supposed to see in the paragraphs which
the above quote. At best we find "felt-need" focused teaching which comes
during, what Mr.
Neighbor considers, less significant Congregational (regional groups of cells,
than 175 people) and Celebration (gathering of regional congregations) level
which are more concerned with creating a festive, non-threatening seeker
De-emphasizing sound doctrine by placing it second to both meeting felt needs
producing a loosely defined spiritual experience turns the focus of the
Christian life away
from God as God and towards the self. The focus becomes what God can do for
rather than what God has done on their behalf in sending His only begotten Son
to bear the
punishment for their Sin. This opens the door for people to trust partly in
themselves, in their
decision to follow Christ and to adhere to certain principles. The kind of
here is not historical, Biblical spirituality but rather a kind of pagan
spirituality littered with
superstition. This can be said because the role of the human person is exalted
subjective experience is considered more important than the objective, written
Word of God.
The line here may appear to be a fine one, but upon closer examination the long
consequences are serious.
In his book Faith Misguided, Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism,
Perhaps the greatest danger for evangelical Christians lies in the way they
approach the Scriptures. In their hunger for immediate subjective effects,
believers are in peril of treating the Bible merely as a
tool for applicational impact, while bypassing
This danger is evident in Neighbor's agenda for a shepherd group meeting:
While scripture is a vital part of this (Edification Stage), it must be stressed
focus is on using the Bible as a tool, not the focal point. The people present
are the focal
point. The manifestation of spiritual gifts which build up the members present
is vital, as is
WDWG p 225 (italics his)
The Bible's primary purpose, according to the CGC authors, is found in its
application to everyday life:
No matter how wonderful a theological position may seem, the heart of changing
values is not theology but the practical application of it in experience.
Nowadays when people come to church activities, they expect their problems to be
addressed... they're willing to get involved but only if doing so will help
answer their personal
cries for help.
PYC p 16
The cells of Christ must never be viewed as social gatherings or cognitive
which simply share emotional needs with some form of Bible study. They must
function on the
level of the Spirit, and that means they must operate through the activity of
WDWG p.140 (italics his)
In the CGC, it is the needs of the individual that define the work of ministry.
does Biblical Theology, expressed in doctrine, define Christian ministry because
"cold" and Theology is irrelevant to people with "real" needs. Furthermore,
teaching is not
considered edifying to the body, only the experience of shared spiritual gifts
question: is cognitive interaction with God's Word not edifying? The answer:
experience flows from responding, by faith alone, to the objective, written Word
Lutheran Theology declares that the Word of God is a means of Grace. That is,
the Word of
God is in itself efficacious in creating faith in Christ, thus justifying and
sanctifying the soul.
In the short-term, it may be that the need-meeting discovery and free expression
spiritual gifts sounds refreshing compared to the hard work of cognitively
as He reveals Himself to us in His Word. Long-term, the prospects do not look so
What are the long-term implications of de-emphasizing doctrinal teaching?
The true long-term consequence of following after an experience-based
that the end product will be no Christianity at all; rather it will be just
another superstition filled
pagan spirituality with a human-centered god. The end product will be no
at all because, once again, the role of the human person is exalted and
is considered superior to the written Word. It is normal for corrupt human
nature to turn
aside to serve gods who promise to meet immediate needs and provide insight and
which defy objective reason. God calls people to meet and experience Him where
promised to be found: In Word and Sacrament.
The CGC authors place a strong emphasis on change and seeking new ways of
thinking ("paradigm shift"). This is more akin to a secularized modern world
view that reeks of subjective moral, cultural, and spiritual relativity than it
is to a historic Reformation Christianity. Yet change is the catch-word of the
day. The business world is currently going through massive changes in the face
of an increasingly competitive global economy. In order to achieve and maintain
a competitive edge businesses are focusing on catching up with and utilizing the
latest technology, meeting customer needs by emphasizing change through new
marketing techniques, organizational restructuring, down-sizing/right-sizing,
paradigm shifting, preparing for the future, etc.... It is all too clear that
CGC authors have taken the social science research employed in both the helping
professions and the business world and are seeking to bring the church "up to
The CGC movement is simply an extension of the larger Church Growth movement.
Our final concern deals with the reliance on humanistic philosophy and social
This new paradigm relies on humanistic philosophy, trends in the
business community and modern social science research, i.e.,
Marketing, Sociology, Psychology.
Christianity and social science are not incompatible. In the past, Reformation
Christianity provided Theological presuppositions which formed a basis for the
science. In fact, it can be said that were it not for Christianity, modern
science might not be
at the advanced level it is today. Of course, there remains the question of
whether or not
certain social sciences are truly "scientific." Many psychological theories have
a great deal
of explanatory power (e.g., Freudian psychotherapy) but no predictive power;
theoretical systems are based on subjective interpretations reached through
rather than objective, falsifiable evidence. The issue Christians must contend
with today is
the non-Christian base from which modern social sciences receive their
Pragmatism, Sociology, and Psychology have come to carry more weight than the
Bible in deciding what is true in practice, what is true in society and what is
true about individual persons. Pragmatism is an American-bred philosophy which
basically says, "if it works, it is true." The consequence of this
presupposition in church growth is that practitioners become more concerned with
whether or not some new method works than with how faithful it is to Biblical
Truth. It is as if to say, one thinks first if one "can," without considering
whether or not one "should."
Professional Sociology and Psychology are respectable fields whose research can
teach us a great deal about what can be observed in both society and the
individual. But we
must remember that theirs is a search for statistical significance and
statistical significance is
not to be equated with Biblical Truth. Humanistic presuppositions like the
notion that people
are basically good, that the human will is always free and that individuals have
potential to affect change in determining their own destinies are plainly
contrary to an
orthodox Christian confession. The fact that modern Evangelicalism is shaping
such presuppositions has been argued by several authors (Horton, 1992, 1993 &
Wells, 1993; Senkbeil, 1989). The fact that the CGC authors have also bent to
centered presuppositions in formulating their strategies for church growth is
George speaks most clearly at this point; we quote:
Ultimately, whether or not a church demonstrates the care and love of Christ
down to its vision and structure. Know what you believe God wants you to do,
organizational framework so it can happen, and some amazing things will result.
the business community operates. If they can do it, why aren't we? We have God,
have the dollar; surely God is a more durable and compelling motivation than the
All church leaders could profit by likewise asking themselves, How would a
expert describe the fundamental motivations of the people of our parish? The
then be used to shape each congregation's ministry and structure. The result
will be more
effective and widespread ministry.
PYC p. 17 (italics his).
In an interview with modernReformation,
a publication of Christians United for
Reformation (CURE) , J. I. Packer says:
The kind of evangelical religion which doesn't challenge this self-centered,
standpoint, but rather, reinforces it by making one's religious experience the
important thing in the world, or God's gift of personal happiness, joy, good
feelings, or that kind
of thing is simply echoing the tenants [sic] of modern humanism.
Echoing the tenets of modern humanism is not a practice that is in line with
Reformation Christianity. Martin Luther took his stand against the alliance that
made with the humanistic elements of his day. Luther wrote, perhaps his greatest
Bondage of the Will
, in response to Erasmus' assertion of the freedom of the
Humanistic presuppositions appeal to the heart, emphasizing the need to heal the
hurts of the world, emphasizing the goodness of all people, emphasizing all that
emotionally appealing to a world full of fear, pain and loneliness. But human
hurts are not
the final word--Jesus is the final Word. The pain we see in our world today is
not to dictate
the purpose, form and function of Christian ministry. This is not to say that
expression of faith in the Word of God can overlook or underscore the importance
addressing the felt-needs of our world. It is simply to say that the Word of God
is the only
authority to which Christians are bound. It is the knowledge of the truth that
free. In a society where fewer and fewer people have a solid Christian heritage
upon, it is especially important that the Church concern herself with content
experience. People who do not have a solid Christian heritage need doctrine
Long-term, what is likely to occur if "felt-needs" define Christian ministry?
that will dictate the purpose, form and ultimate expression of Christian
ministry will not be the
Bible or the historical confessions and creeds; it will rather be the
"felt-needs" of those
"unchurched" who know the least about its history and doctrinal foundations. Is
direction that the CGC is moving?** Is this where the Church should go from
(Please see the Sept 13, 1993 issue of
Christianity Today p. 81.
Call the number given (1-800-297-OPEN) and ask to receive a free audio cassette
entitled Christianity in an New Key. With this tape you will
receive a brochure in which you will find all of the authors critiqued in this
document supporting what is called the Open Church.)
Since, according to Ralph Neighbor, most (all) churches are traditional or
Based Design" churches, it is obvious that the CGC authors would have them
complete restructuring. For many churches, this might necessitate changing more
structure; Lutheran and Reformed churches may also have to reconsider their
distinctives. It is important to consider what this might mean since the CGC
authors are not
talking about simply adopting cell groups into the life of the P.B.D. church:
The CGC authors assert that this new paradigm can not be effectively blended
withtraditional/current church structure, rather a complete transition from the old
to the new must
So then, here we are. Ralph Neighbour Jr. asks, "Where do we go from here?" His
answer is that we move away from the old, "impotent," "carnal" brand of church
now and open our eyes to see what God is doing through the Cell Group Church:
There is a more effective pattern in our world today than planting traditional
The Holy Spirit is the author of this pattern, and it has sprouted up like
mushrooms all over the
globe. It is called the 'cell group church.'... A worldwide movement has been
launched by the
Holy Spirit, and He is paying no attention to denominational lines... (cell
group churches) are
not only the new wine, but the new wineskins.
WDWG, p 20,21
Christ is among all His churches, not just some of them. In Revelation, He stood
among the Laodiceans and the Thyatirians, and He is among all the problemed
as well. But he has moved on to develop a younger Bride that is far more
beautiful. There's a
definite movement to report... a movement which will be significant through the
end of this
WDWG p 89 (italics his)
Christ has two brides? One young and beautiful, and the other.....? Mr. Neighbor
clearly asserts that the cell church cannot be effectively blended with existing
We must actively abandon the hope that stagnant churches can be renewed by
restructuring and the tacking on of cell group church principles. According to
Jesus, it's not
possible to put new wine in old wineskins! The plan for the stagnant church must
begin with the
wineskin, not the new wine. A church cannot effectively mix traditional patterns
of church life
with cell group patterns. There must be a deliberate transition. After devoting
nearly a quarter
of a century to the attempt to help 'renew the churches,' I am a total skeptic
that it can be done.
The only hope for old wineskins is to pour out the wine they contain into new
ones and throw
the leaky things away!
WDWG p 36 (italics his)
Finally, in 1985 ... I began to ask myself a serious question: can new wine be
old skins? The answer is 'No!' Attempts at a renewal don't work for one reason:
our Lord told
us over 2,000 years ago it could not be done.... While I was trying to renew, He
something brand new. That's what the rest of this book is about."
WDWG p 92
See also bottom of p.68 "One of the greatest..."
When Mr. Neighbour says that the old wineskins should be thrown away, he speaks
from many years of experience; he has tried to bring this "new life" to the
P.B.D. church and
failed. Mr. Neighbour is not alone in this judgment, he simply speaks with
Both Carl George and Dale Galloway express the same conviction, only perhaps in
subtle, palatable way:
The first step, the focus of this chapter, is to present the big picture: how
Meta-Church philosophy differs from traditional paradigms of ministry. In the
process you'll learn why it is
difficult to incorporate portions of Meta-Church methodology into an existing
church in the same
eclectic manner you assimilate other church programs. Such adaptation meets with
frustration and produces only marginal results.
PYC, p 58
A shift in paradigm must occur first in the heads of church leadership. Then it
translated into a new framework of church organization.
PYC, p 69
Most North American churches function so differently that their leaders cannot visualize
this new way of thinking. Rather, they tend to follow a departmental approach:
good idea. Let's form some small groups.'... the structure of most churches
isn't conducive to
PYC, p 88
Pastor Dale Galloway ... started out to blend the cell group church with the
structure he had used to begin the work. Slowly, he realized he was trying to
mix oil and water.
He called in his staff and informed them their titles would change from
'Minister of Education'
and 'Minister of Music' to 'Zone Ministers.' He rightly realized that is not
possible to have a
church built around programs and build people at the same time!
WDWG, p 34
Since all three authors agree that the CGC system cannot be effectively blended
traditional church systems, any church considering CGC methodology should
the fact that the CGC claims to be an all or nothing proposition. Churches
carefully consider the way in which potential opposition is described by the
appears that those who reject it are simply considered "laggards" who are too
a “carnal” form of Christianity. This message is subtle but clear; we quote:
Can you envision such a collaboration of the Holy Spirit and human leadership?
foreign to our Western minds because we're used to a carnal form of
PYC p 81
Is it really possible for this particular group of people to change? Should I
There are thousands of churches who should simply be left alone. They are unable
and the attempt is a futile one. People gain their personal significance from
their positions and
power bases in church life as readily as they do in business life. To change the
system is to
threaten their worth and self-esteem, often developed at a great price of time
invested by them
during years of devotions and sacrifice to a church program. Unless a spiritual
occurs in their lives, they won't change. There are truly devoted pastors who
cling to the
security of the salary provided by a congregation. Should he risk all for a new
church life? That's a question for the Listening Room! He will invest years
trying to bring
change into that church. At the end, he may be no farther along than when he
started - and
stands a good chance of being sacked for his effort! Sometimes it's better to
just start over.
Sometimes it's easier to take a 'remnant'... should the committed live in
frustration because of
the traditionalists who hinder the ministry, or should the uncommitted face a
new future apart
WDWG p 406 (italics his).
When at least 50% of your membership are committed to the cell group church
there will be a dissatisfaction with the many conflicts with the programs that
are still running.
Drop your organizations, one by one... I really enjoy hearing Dale Galloway tell
about the way
he finally called in his staff and reassigned them to serve as Zone Pastors!
What a day that
must have been--the final clod of dirt had been dropped on the old coffin.
Ralph Neighbor Jr. claims that there are, in any church, five distinct types of
Here he describes the Laggard:
The Laggards: Traditional to the core, this 16% are the last to adopt (new
possess almost no 'world vision,' and live in a tiny bubble of structured
activity... When the
'pillars' of the church contain a majority of Laggards, there's little or no
hope of that church body
being changed. This trend builds up over years, and it may require many funerals
group loses control.
WDWG p 412
Churches must understand that the CGC model is not simply neutral “methodology;
is borne out of a theological system which is contrary to an orthodox confession
Christianity and therefore calls for necessary controversy. Any pastor or church
tries to move his/her church in the CGC direction should be challenged
course if a church does not have a clearly articulated confession of faith then
the CGC will
probably raise no questions at all.
Now, at last, we will conclude with a summary statement of our concerns.
The CGC authors assert that the church today is bound in a carnal, impotent,
unbiblical structure which cripples its ability to fulfill the great commission.
The new church
structure they propose is such that it can not be effectively blended with
structure; rather, a complete transition must take place. This transition is
said to represent
the Holy Spirit's leading in restoring the church back to a NT form of church
life. This form is
said to set people free to minister to the needs of all people--both churched
It claims to do this by decentralizing the man-centered power hierarchy which is
said to be
currently dominating and oppressing the church.
We have seen the alliances each of the authors has made with aspects of the Word
Faith and Third Wave movements. We have also suggested that perhaps Third Wave
Word Faith theology are part and parcel of CGC philosophy. Also, it is apparent
Pragmatism determines acceptable methods and that the reliance on trends in the
community, modern Pop-Psychology and Sociology have led CGC advocates to place
meeting "felt-needs" above the mandate to preach the Word and teach sound
have argued that making the practical application of Biblical principles the
use for Scripture fundamentally alters the true Gospel message. The message is
that people are directed to be primarily concerned with what God will do for
them if they
adhere to certain principles/formulas, instead of being directed toward the
reality of what
Christ has done on their behalf because the only thing they can do of themselves
is incur the
wrath of God.
It is to the lack of doctrinal conviction in our day that the CGC appeals.
Woodward speaks directly to this issue when he states:
The mainline denominations may be dying because they lost their Theological
integrity. The only thing worse, perhaps, would be the rise of a new Protestant
that succeeds because it never had any.
Newsweek: August 9, 1993
The Gospel according to the CGC authors is not the Gospel that an orthodox
Christian confession articulates. Their Gospel de-emphasizes the need for
Theological scholarship and training in Biblical doctrines; their Gospel
subjectivism and emotionalism and discourages objective, cognitive disciplines;
establishes new laws in order to hold people accountable; and perhaps worst of
Gospel paves the way for fragmentation of the church through a subtle yet
The place where the CGC authors would like to take the Church may not be where
God would have it to go. We have written “in order to preserve the pure doctrine
maintain a thorough, lasting, God pleasing concord within the church.” We
believe that what
churches could do in order to bring strength to their areas of weakness and to
Christians into a more intimate outreaching community of faith is quite simple.
Word," Paul said to Timothy:
be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great
instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but wanting to
have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in
accordance with their
own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to
(II Tim 4:2-4) (NASB)
Paul said this because he meant what he wrote in Romans 1:16 & 17:
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to
one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the
righteousness of God is
revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL
The true, God-honoring church is wherever the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments are properly administered. The primary purpose of the church is not
to grow but
rather to deliver to all people as of first importance that Word which the
church has received
(I Cor 15). The duty of delivering to all people as of first importance the Word
church has received is our privilege because what people truly need is God's
Word of salvation, the righteousness that, by His Grace, He imputes to those
who, by faith
alone, trust not partly in themselves, but in Christ alone (Eph 2:8,9). In
Christ we have
something to offer this world we live in, this world of pain and confusion. The
distinctives of an historic orthodox confession of Christianity are worth
passing on. This is
where we should go from here.
Written by Kevin Fenster
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For more information about the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (formerly
known as Christians United for Reformation (CURE)), go to