Book Summary: How to lead a great cell group meeting

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How to lead a great cell group meeting (Joel Comiskey, 2001)

Definition of cell group: A group of people (4-15), who meet regularly for the purpose of spiritual edification and evangelistic outreach (with the goal of multiplication), who are committed to participate in the functions of the local church.

Cells need: Upward focus (knowing God), Inward focus (knowing each other), Outward focus (reaching out to those who don’t know Jesus), Forward focus (raising up new leaders)


1. Prepare yourself

Cell leadership begins with heart preparation. A heart that is pure before God is the only foundation for leading a cell meeting. Without a heart for God, the meeting consists of only dry routines and rituals.

  • Stop preparing cell details at least ½ hour before the meeting starts in order to spend time with God.
  • Prioritise your daily devotional life in order to hear from God. Don’t let the urgent crowd out what is important. Spend time with God.
  • Depend on God more than techniques. Be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading.


2. How to structure a meeting

A proven small group strategy will help the cell leader gather people from the initial welcome time to the closing prayer. While the Holy Spirit might guide the cell meeting in unexpected ways, He expects the cell leader to have a plan.

  • Great cell meetings follow a predictable but not legalistic pattern:
    • Welcome (relationship building) 15 mins
      • Do an icebreaker
      • Get members more comfortable together
    • Worship (entering the presence of God) 20 mins
      • Make sure everyone has a song sheet
      • Pick the songs before the meeting
      • Mix praise and prayer
      • Don’t need instruments
    • Word (applying God’s Word to our lives) 40 mins
      • Can use materials for study, adjust it for your group
      • If using Scripture for Sunday, interact with God’s Word not the sermon
      • Use last 10 min to ask for specific prayer items and pray
    • Works (reaching out to others) 15 mins
      • Pray for non-Christians friends and family to invite
      • Decide on the next outreach event for the cell
      • Prepare a social project
      • Plan for future multiplication
    • Measure the meetings by:
      • Were the people edified (built up)?
      • Was Christ glorified?


3. Facilitating others

Cell group facilitation supports group members by empowering them to exercise their spiritual muscles, apply the Word of God to their lives, and minister to one another.

  • Facilitators refuse to preach and teach
    • It is not a mini-service where you preach a sermon
    • Leader talks only 30% of time, members 70%
  • Facilitators empower others
    • Encourage members to share
    • Listen actively
    • Summarise comments of group
  • Facilitators need coaching
    • Periodically meet with a pastor in charge for coaching
  • Facilitators learn while leading
    • You don’t need to know everything before you lead
    • If you don’t know the answer, say that you’ll look into it and get back.
  • Two essential qualities for facilitators are:
    • Sincere love for God
    • Sincere love for others


4. Practicing Transparency

Great cell leaders don’t hide their souls behind superiority and superficiality. They share honestly and intimately, starting a chain reaction among the members.

  • Model transparency in order for members to do the same
    • Leader can ask for prayer in an area of weakness or struggle
    • Leader can talk about their dreams and plans honestly
  • The Biblical mandate to confess our faults to one another often takes place in the cell
    • Maintain strict confidentiality in the group
    • Carry one another’s burdens
  • Aim for transformation rather than information
    • Transparency without transformation is superficial
    • Hold each other accountable in applying God’s Word
  • Guide the group into deeper levels of communication
    • Level one – small talk
    • Level two – information or facts
    • Level three – ideas and opinions
    • Level four – feelings (dreams, hopes, fear, failures)
    • Guide the group to deeper maturity by creating a safe climate
  • Find a mentor who will help you live honestly before God and others
    • Find 1 or 2 close friends with whom you can meet regularly to share your weaknesses and trials. Pray for each other.


5. Asking stimulating questions

A leader can prepare questions that draw out participation and stimulate lively discussion. Well-designed questions turn dry and boring meetings into creative interaction.

  • Open questions are preferable to closed questions
    • For observation and interpretation, can use closed questions
    • For application, use open questions
  • Apply the Bible through application questions
    • “Share your experience about…”
    • “How do you think God wants to use this in your life?”
    • For every two observe/interpret qn, have one application qn throughout not just at the end
  • Aim at transformation rather than information
    • Ask about last week’s application if anything significant happened
    • Wait for their response to show you’re serious about life change
  • Explain the passage clearly in order to apply it
    • Leader can start lesson with general context and explanation
  • Limit the number of questions to three to five
    • Don’t overload them, leave time for prayer
    • For ongoing open cell group, don’t use study guide since visitors can drop in anytime.
    • Better to use study guide for huddle meeting between supervisor and cell leaders


6. Listening ears

Great cell leaders prioritise listening to others, knowing that everyone has a story that needs to be heard. Go has given us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. The small group environment is perfectly suited for active listening to occur.

  • The member’s response takes priority over your own
  • Practice active listening (truly hearing what the person is saying)
    • Don’t think of a response while people speaking
  • Listen to what is not said (gestures, etc.)
    • When someone answers a qn, respond with a smile, nod or offer to help
    • Keep an open body posture, lean forward, nod and smile, eye contact with quiet person
  • Listen to feedback from the members about your leadership
    • Ask them how to improve
    • Learn how to paraphrase member’s answers to check understanding
  • Refuse to answer your own questions
    • Give members time to think and respond
    • Don’t be afraid of silence
  • Ask the group for additional responses after one person has shared
  • Limit advice giving in the group (instead practice empathetic listening)
    • Learn how to just listen and affirm person
    • Empathise with person, don’t jump to advice


7. An encouraging tongue

A small group leader must choose words that encourage (Prov 18:20)

  • Great communication encourages others to participate
    • Never totally reject an idea but affirm the person even if you don’t agree. Explore the good in it.
    • For wrong answer, you can rephrase question or ask others what they think
  • Don’t allow certain people to dominate the meeting. Learn how to deal with those who talk too much.
    • Sit next to talker to give less eye contact
    • Call on other people to give their opinions
    • Redirect conversation away from talker when they pause
    • Talk directly to the person about the purpose of small group. If problem persists, talk to your supervisor.
    • Ask talker to help make the meeting more participatory
    • Clarify the rule that no one is allowed to speak a second time until everyone has a chance to speak for the first time
  • Conflict is normal and natural in a small group. Learn how to deal with it.
    • Welcome differences of opinion as it can improve your understanding each other’s views
  • Communication tips
    • Start showing care the moment member enters the room
    • Respond enthusiastically to people throughout the meeting
    • Pray for your members during the week and tell them you’re praying
    • Ask questions about their personal life
    • Be aware of any physical needs and seek to meet them
    • Share part of your own life with them
    • Contact them outside of cell group


8. Reaching out to non-Christians

Cell leaders need hands that reach out and point others to Jesus. Such hands help cell members reach out together and warmly welcome the hurting and disillusioned into the group.

  • Effective evangelism cultivates the natural friendships and relationships that God has placed in our lives
    • 70-90% follow Jesus by relational evangelism
    • Intentionally become friends with non-Christians and develop relationships. Best is to meet a need before discussing spiritual issues
    • Often non-Christian rather join a cell group than church service
    • Keep inviting your friends. On average, person needs to hear the Gospel 7 times before he responds
  • Cell evangelism is team-oriented rather than individual-oriented
    • Each member identifies one non-Christian contact and seeks to build relationship with them.
    • Invite contact in their life first then the cell group.
    • Keep praying as a group and create a harvest event to invite contact
    • Talk about the benefits of the group and re-invite your friend again to group
  • Non-Christians are attracted to special cell events (e.g. cell dinner, video, picnic etc.)
  • Transparent sharing within the cell often wins others to Christ
    • When non-Christians come, do cell meeting the same way so they will witness the reality of true relationship with Jesus.
  • Prayer is the most effective tool to win non-Christians to Christ
    • Leave one empty chair during group meeting to represent lost friend. Gather round chair and pray for that person in their life.
    • Pair up as group members to pray daily for each other’s lost friends
    • Walk in pairs through targeted community, praying for salvation to come to each home as you walk


9. Moving through the stages of life

Knowing which steps to take will help the small group leader chart the journey, knowing that a predictable road lies ahead.

  • Small groups normally pass through four stages
  • The initial forming stage is a time to get to know members of the group
    • Strategy: To clarify purpose, direction and goals. Above all, the leader must model transparency by sharing openly and honestly
    • Activities: Icebreakers, vision casting and social times (e.g. refreshment, picnic) Goal is relationship building not bible study or missions
  • The storming stage is characterised by conflict as the members form deeper relationships
    • Strategy: To display empathy, understanding, openness, flexibility. To model ministry, while preparing members for greater involvement
    • Activities: Dynamic worship, in-depth sharing during lesson time, fervent prayer. Goal is for group ownership
  • During the performing stage, the solidified group is better prepared to reach out to others
    • Strategy: To release others to minister. Leader must spot, train, or make sure potential leaders receive training and release future leaders. Leader directs the group less during this stage, encouraging others to lead parts of the group
    • Activities: Outreach events which might include evangelistic dinners, videos, picnics. Works time is given more attention. A group that doesn’t reach out dies a painful death.
  • The reforming stage is a time to give birth to another group and start the process over again
    • Strategy: To make final preparations for a new leader to guide the daughter group. The leader must allow the new facilitator to guide the entire cell group in preparation for leading his own group.
    • Activities: Leader talks to the group frequently about the importance of new birth. Fervent prayer is offered in the Works time for the new cell group. Hold a celebration party in the parent cell group right before the birth of the daughter cell.
    • Involve the whole group in decision process to multiply. When will the new group begin, who will lead the new group, who will leave existing group to become core members of new group?
    • When you have a trained leader, you can multiply your cell group already. Take 1-3 people to form new group.


10. Eyes that see the details

Cell leaders see the smaller details (refreshments, temperature etc.) as well as the larger issues (cell lesson, multiplication, etc) To really see the details requires thoughtful reflection before and after the meeting.

  • The home atmosphere plays an important role in attracting and maintaining cell members
    • God will bless the home where you meet (2 Sam 6:10-12)
    • Make sure it is clean, tidy and remove distractions.
  • Arrange the seating in a circle
    • Everyone must see each other’s face.
    • Leader is part of the circle and not a separate level.
    • Sit in a close circle together for intimacy and closeness
  • Make sure there’s sufficient light in the room
  • Provide song sheets for everyone in the group
  • Have simple refreshments
    • Usually meeting from 7.30-9pm, fellowship till 9.30pm.
    • Leader use fellowship time for personal chats and greet visitors
  • Children are an essential part of the cell group and must receive ministry
    • Allow children to stay for icebreaker and worship. Then have a personalized bible lesson for kids by one of the members who rotate in teaching.
    • If several children, pray for an adult of teenage to lead a children’s cell group at the same time in another room.
  • Prevent distractions by preparing for them
    • Switch off TV, radio, phone etc.
  • Start on time and close on time
    • Agree on expectations about starting on time.
    • Begin on time regardless of latecomers. Sends signal that every part of the meeting is important and using the time well. Leader must set example.
    • Meetings should not last longer than 1.5 hours


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