Inspired by the Pioneers of Cell Church History

By Joel Comiskey, check out: 2000 Years of Small Groups

On a Sunday evening in the summer of 1964, Yonggi Cho, a young Korean pastor, collapsed on the platform of his church. The then twenty-seven years old Cho had reached a point of utter physical exhaustion. The physical exhaustion of his ministry was too much for him to bear. His doctors told him he would have to stop preaching and would be confined to his bed. So he laid in bed and while reading the Bible, looked for ministry alternatives. He rediscovered accounts of the ancient New Testament house churches in the book of Acts as well as the organizational structure given to Moses from his father-in-law, Jethro, in Exodus chapter eighteen.

From this revelation came the founding of what is now called the cell church or the cell-based church. David Cho’s crisis of faith and the resulting transformation of his church has resulted in a worldwide movement of churches that put small groups at the center of life and ministry.

Of course this new movement wasn’t really new at all. There were simply progressive waves of the movement appearing and disappearing over time. It started with the early church, moved through Monasticism, and continued in an ever-increasing vibrancy to the modern day cell movement.

Some of the movements that tried to reform the state church, like the Waldensians, Lollards, Hussites, Anabaptists, and Pietists, emphasized homes as meeting places for believers, but the state church continued to be the norm for most believers. Yet beginning with the Moravians, John Wesley, the house church movement, and now the modern day cell church movement, small group ministry has become the new norm in many places around the world.

The reality is that God has used small group ministry throughout church history to disciple, revive, consolidate, and evangelize. Although small groups played an important role in the Old Testament (Exodus 18), Jesus took small group ministry to a new level by creating his own band of followers and then sending them to start house churches. We know that the early church was a movement of networked house churches that spread over the world and triumphed over the sword.

Some speculate that the cell movement that began at the end of the twentieth century is the beginning of a second reformation that will ultimately transform the church on a scale similar to the reformation that began in the sixteenth century.

If you’re reading this blog, most likely it’s because you have a deep interest in small groups. My prayer is that you’ll grow in your appreciation and understanding of key small group principles from those pioneers who have paved the way and gone before us. I hope you will value in a new way those movers and shakers who faced far greater odds to implement small groups than the difficulties confronted today. I also hope you will gain new confidence to press on in the face of obstacles as you view your current experience within a larger context.

For more information, check out: 2000 Years of Small Groups