Starting with a Pilot Group Helps Lay a Quality Foundation

By Joel Comiskey, How to Lead a Great Small Group Meeting

In September 2005 I spoke at a cell conference at Freddy Noble’s church in Manhattan, New York. Afterward, Freddy took me on a tour of the Twin Towers, the very spot of the 9-11 attack. The city of New York had begun to rebuild right after the September 11, 2001 attack as a statement that America would not cower in defeat. However, four years later, they were still laying the foundations for the new buildings.

Those who successfully transition to cell church ministry begin right. They carefully lay the foundations. Yes, this involves preaching biblical values and principles, as various bloggers have written about in the past 1.5 months. Yet, a strong foundation also involves starting small and then growing from a place of quality. I’m referring to starting with a pilot group.

It’s very easy to start lots of groups at the same time—like starting groups after reading a book that highlights a seven-week small-group experience. Sadly, those massive group launches normally end in massive group closures and the few that remain have a difficult time figuring out how to lead a weekly cell group from a seven-week book study.

Starting with a model pilot group of chosen leaders who will multiply into new groups is the best way to start well and lay a strong foundation. Mistakes made in the pilot group can be corrected before they become problems that infiltrate the entire cell system.

In 2019 we started with a pilot group at Nuevo Amanecer. We met together for about nine months, rotating into the homes of the future leaders monthly. Here were some problems we noticed and corrected: 

  • Hosts not arranging seats in a circle or people trying to sit behind other people
  • One leader standing up to give the lesson, rather than sitting like the rest of the members
  • Icebreakers which were Bible quizzes that made some people feel like they didn’t know anything
  • Worship time without words on a screen or hand-outs
  • Lack of transparency in sharing
  • Not starting on time

Like a normal cell group, the pilot group lasted for 1.5 hours. Afterward, we would then take about .15 minutes to debrief  (encouragement followed by suggestions). Over the course of nine months, we were able to weed out most of the problems and make key improvements. Someone, for example, suggested having a moment of silence before answering each of the three questions and that suggestion worked very well.  

After nine months of the pilot group, we multiplied into five healthy groups which are doing very well and have multiplied into new healthy groups.  

Remember that cell church ministry should continue until Jesus comes. Why not take the necessary time to get it right the first time, rather than needing to double back and undo past mistakes?  

These two videos might help you organize your initial pilot group: 

  1. Order of a Cell Meeting
  2. Three Powerful Cell Lesson Questions