Introducing the G-12.3 Structure

Cell Coaching

Summer 2010 (Taken from Chapter 3 of From Twelve to Three)

by Joel Comiskey

After working through the problems we faced and combining the two foundational principles we discovered, I developed the G-12.3 concept. G-12.3 is not a fixed model that needs to be followed in a rigid, non-flexible manner. It is built upon principles which are adaptable to different situations.

In the G-12.3 structure, a full-time pastor oversees twelve cell leaders, while a lay leader envisions caring for three daughter cell leaders and continues to lead an open cell group. The number three is a more realistic and manageable number that gives lay volunteers a feasible goal: multiply the original cell three times and care for each one of those leaders while continuing to lead the original cell.

The G-12.3 continues to use all of the principles from the G-12 model (i.e., multiplication without division, every member a cell leader, every leader a supervisor, etc.). It simply reduces the load on lay leaders to three.

Several churches have come to the similar conclusions independently of ours at the Republic Church. David Brandon, pastor of Newmarket Alliance Church in Ontario, Canada, said, “As far as the application of G-12 has gone—we have adjusted our approach to what we would call G-3” (note 1) Steven L. Ogne, church planter and coaching consultant, says,

Most of the ideal systems you see described in small group seminars these days say the ratio should be one to five or even one to ten. I’ll tell you what, in my experience in our busy society, coaches are much more effective when they’re coaching one to three group leaders. It really does allow them to visit the groups. It really does allow them to have enough time to build relationship, and it reduces the stress on them. . . Go for the connections that work, not the pretty organizational chart (note 2).

Is Three a Sacred Number?

Although the number three is important in the Bible (e.g., Trinity, resurrection, etc.), gathering three cell leaders into a G-3 does not unlock the door to special blessing. Pastors might, in fact, decide to ask lay leaders to care for five cell leaders. Or they might feel led to develop a G-10.5 system (staff pastors care for ten cell leaders while lay leaders care for five multiplication leaders). The G-12.3 structure is principle based, built upon observations of a realistic span of care between lay leaders and multiplication leaders.

At the Republic Church, we chose three because it was a feasible number of groups for a volunteer leader to oversee. We discovered that lay people could immediately get their hands on it. We also discovered that lay people in training to become cell leaders can grasp the vision of multiplying a cell three times and caring for those three leaders much better than multiplying a cell twelve times. –

Can the Group Go Beyond Three?

What if a lay person wants to care for more than three? My response to this question is, “What a blessed problem!” If a lay leader wants to continue to lead his own cell and continue multiplying leaders beyond three, encourage him to, “Go for it!” If a lay leader says, “I’ve already multiplied my cell three times and am caring for those leaders, but I plan on multiplying my cell again and want to supervise him too,” encourage him.

Starting with a goal of three enables lay leaders to grasp the vision with firm purpose, without feeling overwhelmed. They can expand beyond three because they are in a leadership cell above them that provides guidance and support when they need it.

The number three simply reduces the coaching goal to reasonable proportions. It is not intended to be a legalistic straightjacket on a fruitful cell leader. On the contrary, it is intended to give practical hope that it is perhaps possible to fulfill the goal of multiplying three times and someday even surpass that.

Help the Three Find Their Own Three

True success occurs when a mother cell leader has multiplied three times, is leading his or her own cell group, AND is helping the daughter cell leaders find their daughter cell groups. Paul said to his spiritual son Timothy, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). The person who is leading a cell group, caring for the daughter cell leaders, and also helping the daughter cell leaders multiply their own groups has truly entered fully into this vision.

The goal, therefore, of a G-12.3 leader is to help his disciples find their disciples while leading a healthy open cell group too. An effective G-12.3 leader won’t be satisfied until those in her immediate group have spotted, developed, and released their own disciples.

Who Cares for the Fourth Cell Leader?

By fourth cell leader, I mean a cell leader developed by a mother cell after that cell leader has formed his G-12.3.The fourth cell leader should be cared for by one of the parent cell leader’s three disciples (daughter cell leaders). In other words, the fourth daughter cell leader would continue to stay in the family, but would not be cared for directly by the parent cell leader. This would put the fourth cell leader in the position of a granddaughter to the parent cell leader.

This is the result of a trade-off between the ideal (the mother directly caring for the daughter) and the practical (the mother does not have the time or energy). However, everyone belonging to the mother cell leader’s network would come together periodically for summit meetings and the mother cell leader will continue to care for the one who is caring for the grandchild.

Four to five years down the road, if everyone has multiplied their cells yearly, it may be necessary to reevaluate who supervises the original mother’s new groups. Maybe at that time, the original mother cell leader might be mature enough to extend her own network to G-4, G-5, or even G-12! Better yet, this is the time to think seriously about asking this fruitful multiplication leader to join the full-time staff.

How Large can a Network Become under One Pastor?

We know that in the G-12 care structure (or an adaptation of it) degeneration occurs at lower levels. The farther away a disciple is from the original discipler, the higher the degree of degeneration. The original twelve understand the vision. The farther away a disciple is from the original discipler, the more the purity and intensity of the vision fades.

Experience has shown that a network of cells begins to decline in quality once it exceeds seventy-five cell groups (remember that each full-time pastor ultimately has twelve leaders under his care, as opposed to three). This number comes from practical, common sense experience, as opposed to hard scientific data. Billy Hornsby, former staff pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center, suggests a lower number:

In our own experience at Bethany, we first committed to add zone pastors as the number of cell groups grew at a 25/1 ratio. We have since discovered that with the principle of twelve, that ratio can be as much as one pastor for 50 cell groups or even more. You will know when it is necessary to add pastoral staff by the workload on the existing staff. The Senior Pastor should develop his “Twelve” and only add staff as he needs to (note 3).

Degeneration typically arises not by someone leaving his post, but rather by offering lower-quality care due to an overburdened load. In such cases, the senior pastor must step in to assure continued quality or risk future failure at the lower cell levels because pastors cannot continue providing care to so many cell leaders.

Who Will Lead the New Network?

By now, you have probably noticed that I believe in maintaining relationships between mother cell leader and daughter cell leader. This is one of the core values behind the G12.3 care system.

When one network under one pastor grows too large, intimate care and discipleship will suffer. I believe, therefore, that when one network reaches around seventy-five cells, it’s time to multiply it.

Where will you find the new pastor to care for half of the network? I would recommend choosing a qualified, successful cell leader from within the network. Raise that person up to a full-time staff position. Doing so will maintain relationships, continuity, and authority. It is also a testimony to everyone else that higher-level leadership is an attainable goal.

Instilling the Vision of Three Early

One of the most exciting churches I’ve worked with thus far is a church called The Light in Quito, Ecuador. The senior pastor, David Jaramillo, has a clear cell vision and knows how to raise up leaders. What I like about Pastor David is the way he is able to grasp the different aspects of the cell vision without losing his focus.

Pastor David became convinced of the G-12.3 strategy and actively promoted it, but then he went one step beyond. Pastor David decided to instill the vision of leading a cell and multiplying it three times in the Encounter Retreat (a two-day spiritual retreat that is part of the equipping track and gives new believers victory from past bondages).

Even the new believers in the Encounter Retreat would hear the goal of raising up three leaders. “God is going to free you and bless you. He wants to use you mightily. After you pass through the training track which will take about nine months, you’ll begin to lead your own cell group. But that isn’t everything. You’ll also go on to multiply your cell group at least three times and you’ll care for those three new leaders!! You’ll not only lead a cell group, but you’ll also be a coach of future cell leaders.”

We began to instill in the new cell leaders the hope of one day leading a cell group and multiplying it. In fact, the vision-casting time was the culmination of the Encounter Retreat. Each new believer left the retreat with the vision of multiplication.

The number three is feasible. It is too easy to talk about “the twelve” when the majority of the people have not even considered “the one” (leading a cell group). It is saddening to hear example after example of cell leaders who started their G-12 treks only to stagnate along the way. Don’t let this happen to you. In fact, determine that it won’t happen. Start by setting feasible and realistic goals for your church members and the new believers they will reach through the dynamic power of the cell church!


  1. Personal e-mail received from David Brandon on Monday, January 21, 2002.
  2. Steven L. Ogne. Audio tape. Empowering Leaders through Coaching (ChurchSmart Resources, 1995).
  3. Billy Hornsby, The Cell-Driven Church: Bringing in the Harvest (Mansfield, PA: Fire Wind: 2000), p. 79.