Adapting and Improving in Times of Crisis

by Joel Comiskey, Spring 2020

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, “There is nothing permanent except change.” Life never stands still. It’s always changing. And that change is taking place very quickly. The apostle James reminds us that our life is a vapor, rapidly changing until it is swallowed up in eternity (James 4:14).

Covid-19 forced radical changes on everyone, including Christ’s church–and more specifically, those involved in cell-based ministry. So what are some of the lessons we can learn?

Positive, Constructive Lessons
I’ll start with some of the helpful, future adaptations that we can take away from the Covid-19 trial:

Adapting coaching leaders online
I think that cell churches can creatively adapt to doing more coaching of their leaders online in the future. While face-to-face coaching might be preferable, online video coaching (e.g., zoom, teams, etc.) is quite close to the real thing. I have been doing one-on-one coaching via zoom for many years. I have found that it works very well, and I can even record the meetings to better prepare for the next coaching time–something I wouldn’t do if I was meeting personally with the coachee.

Flexible equipping online
I have always taught that churches should have one equipping track and many ways to teach that equipping. Online equipping is one of those methods to equip people. I can envision, for example, churches posting their equipping online (Facebook, zoom, etc.), asking the trainees to listen to the recordings, fill out the equipping questions, and then someone could facilitate the discussion before the cell group or before/after the Sunday service. The Elim Church in San Salvador has already placed Mario Vega’s equipping on the radio!

Enhanced online giving options and recording services online
Some churches already have a clear way for members to give online and are recording their Sunday worship services via Facebook and other channels. For many other churches, Covid-19 has positively forced them to make these changes. When Covid-19 passes, I believe churches will continue to skillfully manage these online options.

Negative Lessons
I also see a dark side to the Covid-19 crisis. Back in 2002, I spoke at a seminar in Switzerland, along with another Argentinian evangelist who was living in the U.S. He asked me about starting an online church in Argentina, complete with online cells and some kind of celebration. He considered pastoring the church remotely. I spoke against this idea, telling him that a key part of cell ministry is face to face community. I encouraged him to train pastors in Argentina to pastor the church and start cells over there.

Fast-forward to 2020. Covid-19 has forced most churches to worship online and do their cell groups via zoom. My own cell group has met every week on Zoom. God has used this medium to hold us accountable. We practice the Welcome, Worship, Word, and Witness each week online. We follow the pastor’s online sermon and apply the message to our lives. I thank God for this medium. But it’s not the same as face to face ministry!

I’ve been talking with some who are now promoting permanent online cell groups. In other words, they are promoting internet cells on the same level as face-to-face cell groups. I strongly disagree! My deep concern is that after Covid-19, churches will start making zoom cell groups the new norm, on the same level as face-to-face groups. I urge pastors and leaders not to do this. Yes, it’s far more costly to meet in person with regard to time and energy. But it’s also richer and far more qualitative.

The cell is the heart of the cell church. Let’s not mess with it and water down its purpose and quality. Over the years, I’ve witnessed the tendency of U.S. churches to re-engineer and re-define the cell into anything that is small and a group. The cell becomes so watered down that people stop caring. And even more importantly, watered-down cell groups do not produce healthy, reproducing disciples.

What about Sunday celebration? Some will now argue that online Facebook worship is just as valid and sufficient as showing up for Sunday worship. “Just stay home, watch the sermon online, give, and come back to the same living room couch next week.” This might sound far-fetched, but many are already practicing this reality. Let’s remember that the Bible is filled with one-another passages that need to be practiced in person. Covid-19 has made this impossible, but let’s not allow the exception to become the new rule.