Chapter 7: Cell-based Organizational Structure

Joel Comiskey’s Ph.D. Dissertation

I submitted this dissertation in March 1997 to the faculty at Fuller SWM. On May 02, 2000, I made some minor statistical chances to the dissertation, which will be reflected in RED.

The purpose of this chapter is to analyze the way these five cell-based churches are organized. After analyzing their cell structure, I will attempt to set forth principles derived from both the patterns of similarity as well as the distinct differences.

La Misión Carismática Internacional

Explosive growth is taking place in this church. Although many reasons for this growth could be listed, the one reason that was mentioned most often at MCI was the cell system.

Development of the Cell System

The cell group structure has been developing since the church began in 1983. The initial cell groups were much larger and at times became mini-congregations. In the mid-1980s the cell groups were divided into the twenty zones around Bogotá. Around 1990, three major changes took place. First, the church began to emphasize cell multiplication; second, the cell grouping changed from geographical to homogenous; third, the Lord gave César Castellanos the vision that each cell leader needed to raise up twelve more cell leaders.[1]

Cell Administration

As has been mentioned earlier, MCI is organized around the concept of the twelve. This is a new, creative version of the Jethro concept (Ex. 18; cf. Chapter 3). Even those higher level leaders over the thousands are still responsible for twelve. Figure 6 helps us understand the administrative structure:


In this model, the normal titles “district pastor”, “zone pastor”, and “supervisor” are not used. However, the principle of pastoral care for every leadership level is still very evident. In the above chart, the fifth level of leadership is called “disciple/cell leader”. The dual name represents the fact that the person meets with his discipler (in a group of twelve) as well as leads a cell group. Until a person finds his or her twelve disciples, that person continues to lead a normal cell group. After finding twelve disciples (who must be active cell leaders), the discipler primarily concentrates on supervising the twelve, although he or she might continue leading a normal cell group.[2]

Similarities to the Pure Cell Model

There are many aspects of the cell system at MCI that are similar to Pastor Cho’s cell model. In fact, Pastor Cho’s philosophy is regularly mentioned in the sermons and messages.[3] I noticed three aspects that were perhaps the most similar: first, the cell group focuses on discipleship and evangelism, although the major emphasis seems to be evangelism; second, the order of meeting is very similar to that used in Cho’s church;[4] and third, the cell lessons are based on the Sunday morning message.

Like Cho’s church, cell ministry at MCI is not an end in itself. Rather, the cells serve the purpose of pastoring the congregation, raising up new leadership, and evangelizing non-Christians. However, the goal is always to bring the person to the celebration service and to integrate that person into the life of the church.

Unique Characteristics of the Cell System

I noticed various aspects of the cell system that were unique to MCI. Table 19 helps clarify the differences between the cell system at MCI and the traditional organizational structure of the Pure Cell model.

The Concept of the Twelve

Pastor Caesar Castellanos received a vision from God that the cell system should be based on the concept of Christ and His disciples. Modeling Christ’s example, Pastor Castellanos hand picked twelve pastors, with whom he continues to meet every week. These twelve pastors have twelve under them and the process continues down to each member of the church. Each person remains with the twelve from which he or she began discipleship process. This relationship might last for years, unless there are unusual circumstances and permission is granted to change to a different group of twelve.[5]

LEADERSHIP TRAINING Potential leaders are trained within the cell and through seminars before beginning cell leadership. Potential leaders are trained in ongoing training classes that take place within the various homogenous minis­terial departments.
GEOGRAPHICAL DIVISION Cell groups are divided into geographical areas under district pastors, zone leaders, and section leaders. Cell groups are primarily divided by ministerial departments under which each leader has his or her twelve disciples.
JETHRO SYSTEM Top leadership is raised up to pastor cell leaders under them. There are normally cell leaders, section leaders, zone pastors, and district pastors. Every leader has twelve under his or her care–from the head pastor to individual cell leaders. The leader meets weekly with his or her twelve.
MULTIPLICATION Mother-daughter cell multiplication is the norm. The cell gives birth to another cell and the process continues. Cell planting is the norm. Mother-daughter multiplication is possible, but by far the majority of the new groups start by cell plants (i.e., new leadership forming their own groups).
EVANGELISM Evangelism is more of a group activity. Evangelism is more individual. The leader seeks to gather his own group.
CENTRAL PLANNING Cell group planning takes place on a centralized level in district offices. Cell group planning is primarily handled through the different departments.
CELL LEADER CARE Cell Leaders are cared for by district pastors, zone pastors, and supervisors. Leaders are cared for by leaders of twelve-from the lower levels all the way up to the twelve disciples of Pastor Castellanos.

It must be remembered that these are not static, ingrown disciples. Rather, to be called a disciple one must lead a cell group. The concept of the twelve is really a way to multiply groups more rapidly. Instead of waiting for an entire cell group to naturally give birth, this concept compels cell leaders to actively look for lay people to lead new cell groups, and thus become disciples in the process.

In this system, every cell member is a potential cell leader, but even more importantly, every cell member is a potential leader of cell leaders. The leader of a cell group that has raised up another leader immediately becomes an overseer. After raising up twelve disciples (leaders of cell groups), the discipler or mentor spends most of the time caring for that group of twelve (e.g., visiting, praying). This system does not require a lot of top level organization and seems to work well on a grass roots level.

Cells within the Departments

The cell groups are organized almost completely by ministerial departments at MCI.[6] Depending on the size and specificity of the ministry, there might be many cell groups or very few.[7] The larger ministries meet as a separate congregation at different times during the week.[8] The major departments always have an evangelistic emphasis in their congregational meeting, and altar calls are given.[9] The cell leaders under each of these ministries receive these newcomers, personally counsel them, call them within forty-eight hours, and make sure that they are involved in a cell group. Each ministry department has plenty of ministry openings and the natural link between cell group and ministry helps the newcomer to become involved with the church (in 1998, MCI decided to change their cell organization from departments to homogeneous groups: men, women, couples, young professionals, youth, adolescents, and children cells, women’s cells). One important distinction is that the cell group always meets in the home, whereas the large department meeting always takes place in the church.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Cell System

Probably the best way to discover effectiveness within a cell system is to analyze the strengths and weaknesses. Table 20 presents these strengths and weaknesses. Although one should not expect that Latin American churches enter into the debate that makes a clear distinction between cell-based churches and churches with cells, it would be helpful if MCI distinguished its position more clearly from an organizational standpoint.[10]

  • There is less hierarchy in this system.
  • There is a willingness to use each member in the church in cell leadership–including new Christians.
  • The head pastor and pastoral staff participate in the system in that each of them have their own group of twelve.
  • The leadership training reaches more potential leaders because it is going on all the time and more leaders are en­abled to teach it.
  • Leaders tend to have heavy schedules (multiple weekly meetings) and may be overloaded.[11]
  • Raising up a new group happens through personal evangelism-not group evangelism.
  • The groups are usually small in size.[12]
  • There is a lack of body life and participation.[13]
  • The quality control can falter as cell groups multiply at lower levels.
  • There is a lack of organizational structure and statistical information within the cell ministry.

Christian Community Agua Viva

The pastor and founder of this church, Juan Capuro, told me that when AGV began the cell group ministry in 1990, there were few of its kind in Latin America. Now many churches in Perú are following the cell ministry at AGV. Cell groups are called “Christian Communities” at AGV.

Early Development of the Cell Structure

Pastor Capuro has been heavily influenced by David Yonggi Cho, both as an inspiration for church growth as well as a model for his own cell ministry. Upon initiating the cell ministry in 1990, the cells spread rapidly without much need to organize them. However, as the growth continued, zone leaders, and supervisors were raised up to care for the various zones around the city.[14] The initial leaders were top quality and the cell groups grew from 121 in 1992 to 300 in 1993.

In the beginning, each cell group held two meetings. The first meeting focused on planning, and only believers were present. The second one was evangelistic. There were also various training meetings throughout the week, and each leader was required to hand in weekly statistical reports. Pastor Capuro confessed to me that the administrative concerns and requirements to run a traditional cell system became more of a burden than a blessing.[15] He felt that it was unnatural to require that a person find a cell group according to strict geographical areas.[16]

Transition From a Pure Cell Model to the MCI Model

For these reasons, AGV has reorganized itself according to the cell system that is used at MCI (concept of the twelve). Since there is a close affinity between the two churches, the transition has been natural. The process of transition had begun only several months previous to my visit in October 1996. Figure 7 outlines the new administrative structure (note the twelve leaders under each level).


Pastor Capuro is using his existing zone leaders as his initial “twelve disciples.”[17] Each zone leader also meets with his twelve, formed mainly from the existing supervisors under the old system. The twelve under each supervisor are now forming their communities, made up of both past cell leaders and new cell leaders. As of this writing, the new system had not reached down to the cell leaders. However, in the future, when someone starts a new cell group, he or she will remain under the supervision of the original cell leader.[18] Like the cell system at MCI, each cell leader will look for his or her twelve. AGV has decided to follow the G-12 model from the International Charismatic Mission 100%.

GEOGRAPHICAL DIVISION Cell groups are no longer divided by geography so people can freely attend any group, regardless of where it is located.
LESS LEADERSHIP MEETINGS Pastor Capuro meets with all of the leaders only once per month. It is during this monthly meeting that the cell lessons are distributed and the statistics are reviewed. Each leader (zone, supervisor) meets weekly with those under his care, but the meetings are less pressurized
MULTIPLICATION New groups start by new leadership forming their own groups from among friends and family. Mother-daughter multiplication is not a priority. Rather every member of the cell should seek to plant a brand new group.
DECENTRALIZED PLANNING Leaders of twelve only require monthly statistical forms, instead of weekly forms. These statistics are categorized by the administrative staff.[19]

Principal Features of the New Organization

It is important to remember that AGV is “under construction.” They are in the initial stages of their restructuring, and therefore the present cell organization and features are a mixture of the old and new. Table 21 describes the new direction of the cell structure at AGV.

Follow-Up through the Cell Ministry

The follow-up at AGV is systematic and seems to be effective. Although this system was developed under the old cell model, and it will clearly undergo change through the restructuring, at present, it still functions in this manner and is worth noting. Perhaps, it can best be described in table format (Table 22).



  • Counselors help new converts in the church.
  • Cards are filled out with addresses.


  • Between Sunday and Tuesday the information is placed in the computer.
  • Cards are sorted by zones and categorized under the various zone leader.


  • On Tuesday, Pastor Capuro gives the cards to the zone leaders.
  • Zone leaders distribute cards to supervisors in their weekly meeting.


  • Supervisors give the cards to the cell leaders in their weekly meeting.
  • The cell leaders call or visit the new convert, inviting him or her to the cell group.


  • The cell leaders report to the supervisors whether or not the person has begun attending the cell meeting.


  • The supervisors fill out a bimonthly report to the church concerning whether or not the person is attending the cell group.

Cell Groups

The change of the cell system at AGV has not drastically affected the cell groups themselves. The “Christian Communities” at AGV have maintained the same structure and social mixture during this transitional period.

Cell Characteristics

Because cell groups have not been organized by departments, there is normally a variety of social dynamics in each group (e.g., age and social status distinctions). I was told that the average size of the cell group is ten people. The required cell reports that are turned in each month reveal some interesting facts about the cell characteristics.

First, there are no children’s cell groups. Only those who are over thirteen years of age are counted as cell members, although younger children may be present. They believe that home cell groups are for adults and that the Sunday School is for children. Second, the cell leaders are authorized to baptize and the cell group often goes on a baptismal retreat.[20] Third, every group has a treasurer who, along with the cell leader signs the weekly report when the offering is taken. Fourth, cell groups are free to rotate among houses.

Cell Meetings

The cell meeting consists of initial greetings and prayer, worship, application, prayer for individual needs (e.g., baptism of the spirit, healing), offering, refreshment, announcements and final prayer. The meeting follows a “Cho” model with the emphasis on the leader teaching the Bible study. The study is based on the pastor’s sermon. During each sermon, Pastor Juan has designated a person to take notes and to give his sermon a different angle or slant. Usually, two cell lessons can be derived from one Sunday morning sermon. The atmosphere of the groups vary, seemingly according to the leader’s style. Some are very traditional with little member participation, while others can be quite emotional and filled with ministry the Spirit (e.g., tongues, interpretation, prayer for healing).

I did not include a section on the strengths and weaknesses, since the present system is not yet in place and therefore difficult to evaluate. The old system obviously had many weaknesses, and for this reason AGV has reorganized its cell system.

La Misión Cristiana Elim

After traveling to Korea to analyze David Yonggi Cho’s church, Pastor Sergio Solórzano transformed his church into a Pure Cell church. Although MCE generally follows the organizational structure of David Cho’s church in Korea, it has also adapted its structure according to the Latin American context.

Development of the Cell Structure

When the system first began in 1985, the mother MCE church immediately closed twenty-five affiliated MCE churches in order to create one cell church in San Salvador. Since that time the organizational structure has been developing according to the needs.

Cell Administration

The system of cell administration at Elim is patterned after the Jethro model used in most “Pure Cell churches” around the world. It is geographically based on districts and zones. The cell groups must multiply within those areas and newcomers are assigned groups according to where they live rather than homogeneity (Figure 8).


As of November 1996, there were eight district pastors and fifty-seven zone pastors at MCE. Each district pastor had approximately 675 groups under his care (about 14,500 people). The zone pastor oversees the fifteen to thirty supervisors under his care. It is not uncommon for a zone pastor to be responsible for one hundred groups and between 1,000 to 1,500 people. It is truly a full time job.

Unique Characteristics of the Cell System

MCE has practically set the standard for the Pure Cell model in Latin America.[21] The organization of every aspect of church life is accomplished through the cells. The only way for a person to be involved in any type of service ministry is to faithfully be involved in a cell group.[22] Some of the key organizational points are discussed below:

Penetration Strategy

One of the major purposes of their cell groups is to penetrate non-Christian territory and prepare the ground for non-Christians to belong to the church. The goal is always to have a number of people in the “pipeline” that are potential church members.[23]

One Hundred Percent Growth Goal

MCE has maintained the goal of doubling the cell groups and cell membership each year. One of the reasons all cell groups have the same goal is so that the leadership is on the same statistical level. The other reason is to provide an ambitious goal which motivates the cell leadership.[24]

Competition among Cell Leadership

All leaders (e.g., cell leaders, supervisors, zone leaders, and district leaders) are ranked according to how close they came to annually doubling the number of cell groups, cell attendance, cell conversions, and cell baptisms.[25] Each leader is placed on a list that compares his percentage growth to that of his co-leaders.[26] The purpose of these comparisons is to stimulate growth and create a “healthy competition.”[27]



  • Cell leaders or cell secretaries must complete this form after each meeting on Saturday night and give it to the secretary by Sunday morning.
  • The form consists of cell code, place and hour of meeting, attendance in cell, attendance in church, conversions, reconciliations, baptism in water and Spirit, offering (church and bus), and place for two signatures (leader and host).


  • On Sunday, the supervisors must complete one general form that synthesizes the information from the cell forms and present it to the zone pastor.


  • On Monday, the zone pastors must synthesize the information from each supervisor’s form and put it into the computer (one computer in each district office).


  • On Monday, the district pastor gives a synthesis of the results of his zone pastors. He hands those results to the administration.
  • The administration hands a summary of all of the weekly statistics to the head pastor by Tuesday morning.
Orderly Statistical Administration

Latin Americans are often labeled as not being particularly organized or statistically oriented. This is certainly not true at MCE. They have developed a highly efficient system of statistical tracking that is entirely indigenous.[28] Table 23 illustrates the process of tracking statistical data.

Emphasis on Team Leadership

This is a very positive point about the cell system at MCE. The church strongly emphasizes team leadership in the cell group. Besides the leader, each group is encouraged to have an assistant, host, treasurer, secretary, instructor of children, and members at large. It is the goal of the cell leader to form the core team, so that there can successful multiplication.

Planning Meetings on Different Night

Perhaps this aspect of having two separate cell meetings (one for planning and one for outreach) is the major distinction between the system at MCE and other cell systems. MCE requires that the cell teams meet on Thursday night for edification and planning. The purpose of the Thursday night planning meeting is to set the goals and receive the vision for Saturday night.[29]

Rotation among Hosts

Although there is an official host of the group in whose house the group will start, people are encouraged to rotate the meeting place of the cell group. The specific goal of this strategy is to provide better opportunities for each member to invite relatives and non-Christians to their own home.[30]

Bus Ministry

MCE is a city-wide church. Their goal is to reach the two million inhabitants of San Salvador. Because most people do not have cars and the church is on the outskirts of the city, transportation is a major factor. MCE deals with this problem by hiring over 600 buses to transport the 30,000 plus people to the celebration service. The cell groups themselves take offerings to charter these city buses.[31]

Study Guides

I was very impressed with the prepared cell lessons that MCE produces. These guides provide three months of cell material. These lessons follow the expository preaching schedule of the midweek service at MCE in order to provide continuity.[32]

Effective Children’s Ministry

MCE ministers to over 55,000 children every week in cell groups. The children’s groups meet at the same time as the adult cells, in another room of the house. Normally, either one member of the planning team will sense a calling to teach the children or there might be a rotation among the planning team members. No set curriculum is used. Rather, the instructor is free to choose.

Cell Group Structure

The foundation of the cell system is the small group itself, which is simply called a “cell” at MCE. There are several unique aspects of the cell group at MCE.


The atmosphere of a cell group at MCE is like a “mini-service.” The leader preaches the weekly message with all of the fervor of a Sunday morning sermon. I heard “amens” and fervent pleas to accept the message.[33] The cell leader often gives an altar call at the end of his message for those who want to receive Jesus Christ or receive reconciliation. Prayer is offered for those who respond. The service closes with an offering.


The cell group normally lasts for one hour. Although there is some flexibility, it is normally conducted according to Table 24.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Cell System

MCE is an example of success in cell evangelism, statistical control, team ministry, and pastoral care through the cell ministry. Although the cell system at MCE is truly exemplary, I felt that there were some points of weakness. I was concerned about the lack of cell participation for the members, the low percentage of celebration attendance from the cells, and the lack of female participation in cell ministry. Table 25 highlights some of those strengths and weaknesses.






Opening Prayer



Songs (two or three) from song sheets

Leader of Member of Team








Pray for the various needs

Leader and designated persons



Member of team



Member of team


Questions about the study



Take the statistical data






Final prayer


  • Very well organized and administered system
  • Excellent statistical control
  • Excellent planning through the Thursday night system
  • Great effort to get the people to church through the bus ministry
  • All of the pastors are personally involved in visiting cell groups
  • Huge time requirement for both leaders and supervisors (five meetings per week)
  • Little member participation in the cell groups
  • The role of women is extremely limited
  • Half of the adults in the cell groups do not attend the Sunday celebration
  • The distance to the mother church is very far for many people

El Centro Cristiano de Guayaquil

The cell system that is used at CCG looks very much like other cell churches around the world. In particular, it looks like the cell system of MCE.

Development of the Cell Structure

Pastor Jerry Smith caught the cell vision in 1992. Since that time, the church has been learning and experimenting with cell strategy. This cell structure is a mixture of concepts from Carl George (the terms “Ls” and “Xs”), Ralph Neighbour (cell order), David Yonggi Cho (inspiration), and MCE (statistical/organizational control). Every ministry of the church is funneled through the cell structure.[34]

Cell Administration

The system of cell administration is exactly like MCE although not as large (Figure 9). Districts, zones, and neighborhoods are divided up throughout the city of Guayaquil and cell leadership is placed over these geographical areas. CCG has changed their organization to reflect the G-12 model. They now have decided to follow the International Charismatic Mission 100%.


As of October 1996, there were an average of eight zone pastors in each of the three districts. Six of these twenty-three zone pastors were women. On an average, each zone leader oversees some ten supervisors, while each supervisor had an average of four cell groups.

Various Characteristics of the Organizational Structure

Following the pattern of the Pure Cell model, there are no competing programs at CCG. The church might be described by the following characteristics.

Cell/Celebration Distinction

The CCG manual defines a cell group in this way, “Small groups consist of members and friends of the church that meet in different places in the city for personal edification and growth and with the goal of practicing Christian discipleship” (1995:43). The manual makes it clear that cell groups are not: mini-churches, Bible studies, prayer groups, or family reunions (1995:42). Pastor Jerry Smith says, “A cell group leader is permitted to do the same things that a normal pastor does except administer the sacraments (baptism and Lord’s supper), dedicate children, and preach in the Sunday celebration services” (Smith 1995:21). The cell group, therefore, at CCG does not perform all of the regular functions of the church and is not complete without the celebration element.

Statistical Administration of Cell Structure

The cell structure at CCG runs like a highly organized business. This system requires a great deal of statistical reporting from all levels of leadership.[35] After the pattern of MCE, there is statistical information generated every three months which reveals how close, percentage-wise, each zone leader is to reaching his goal for number of cell groups, attendance in each cell group, conversions, and baptisms.[36] Table 26 illustrates some of the administrative facets that I noticed.

Unique Aspects of CCG Cell Organization

Although the zone structure is carefully followed at CCG, within each zone there are specific types of ministry. I found these distinctions to be creative and helpful.



  • Pastor Smith oversees district pastors
  • District pastors oversee zone pastors
  • Zone pastors oversee supervisors
  • Supervisors oversee cell leaders


  • Three large district offices
  • Each zone pastor has his or her own office
  • Separate offices for information processing


  • Weekly statistics made available in bulletin every Sunday
  • Bulletin statistics include: total attendance for each Sunday service, Sunday school, cell group attendance, weekly baptisms, weekly salvation, new cell groups, visitors, and prayer meeting attendance.


  • Required weekly forms for cell leaders, zone pastors, district pastors
  • Totals and averages are prepared weekly


  • Huge maps of Guayaquil in each district office
  • Sections of Guayaquil are broken down into map size for zone pastors and district pastors. These maps are colored and decorated to show cell groups


  • All of the information is computerized and broken down into tables and averages
  • Pastors receive these weekly reports
Children’s Ministries

Each district has a pastor for children. These pastors report directly to their district pastor like other zone pastors. Although each children’s pastor ministers within one of the three districts, they are not limited by zones, but rather by the children’s cell groups within each zone.[37]

Youth Ministries

Within each district there is one pastor for youth.[38] This pastor focuses upon the adolescents from twelve years to eighteen years of age within the district. Young people over eighteen are considered adults and attend the adult cells. For the most part, the youth cells constitute the youth program for CCG. However, every three months the adolescent cell groups meet together for a celebration event.

Educational Ministry

One of the requirements for parents who attend the school (grades one through twelve) at CCG is that they also attend a cell group on Friday night (as well as the CCG celebration service on Saturday night).[39] On Friday night, about eight hundred adults gather in more than one hundred of these required small groups.[40]

Cell Group Meeting

Small groups at CCG are simply called “cells.” The cell focus at CCG is very participatory. The leaders have been trained to draw out the other cell members and not to preach. The cell group material is based on the previous Sunday morning sermon. The cell focus, therefore, is the application of what was preached the previous Sunday. The lessons are question oriented with the goal of stimulating participation.[41] The cell group order at CCG follows the pattern established by Ralph Neighbour. Table 27 illustrates those dynamics.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Cell System

One great need at CCG is to raise up strong leadership more rapidly. As of October 1996, there was a ratio of one leader for two cell groups. It seems to me that CCG needs to place more emphasis on leadership emergence, development, and empowerment. Table 28 sums up some of the key areas of strength and weakness.

No Activity Time Description of Activity
1. Icebreaker 15-30 minutes
  • Light time of sharing
  • Based on interesting questions
2. Worship 15-30 minutes
  • Worship choruses
  • With or without guitar
3. Ministry Time 20 minutes
  • Based on application questions
  • Participation is encouraged
4. Vision Casting 10 minutes
  • How to invite more non-Christians
  • When to multiply the cell group
5. Offering[42]
  • Taken and counted before the cell members
  • A clear vision that CCG is a cell church
  • Very well organized and administered system.
  • All ministry takes place through the cell structure which provides strength to the church.
  • Excellent program of visitation through the zone pastors.
  • Large gap between attendance in the cell group and attendance in the mother church.
  • Few groups seemed to experience a mother-daughter multiplication. Most start from scratch.
  • Not enough cell leaders raised up; On an average each leader directs two cell groups.

El Amor Viviente

The structure at Amor Viviente has been developing since 1974 when Edward King first initiated the church in a home. Since then, the structure has gone through some significant changes.

Development of the Cell Structure

In the early days, the cell leaders were called “pastors.” The head pastor, René Peñalba, would gather these leaders together every week and teach them a message that they in turn would be imparted to each group. Some groups grew as large as one hundred people. In the mid 1980s two major changes took place. First, the cell multiplication was given a new focus, and second, there was a reorganization of the cell system to include geographical zones and the Jethro hierarchy.[43] More recently, the cell structure has begun to multiply more rapidly. By early 1997, the goal is to have 1,000 cell groups. The official name for the cell groups at AMV are “growth groups.”

Cell Administration

Cell administration at AMV has been progressing according to need. In 1992, the ministry was organized into eleven zones with leaders over each zone. However, they soon realized that some zones were far too large with some fifty-five cell groups per zone. Therefore, the role of area supervisor was created. In 1995, AMV organized the cell ministry into districts with a pastor over each district. The following figure gives an accurate picture of their present system.


As of November 1996 there were four districts. In each district there was an average of seven zone leaders overseeing the approximately 200 groups. Each zone is further broken down into areas overseen by area supervisors. All of the cell activity (e.g., multiplication, follow-up) takes place within geographical parameters.

Common Pure Cell Features

The cell structure at AMV follows many characteristics that are common in the cell church. These include: cell group evangelism with the goal of giving birth to daughter groups and cell group planning on a centralized level in district offices. Monthly forms are also required of the cell leaders.[44]

Unique Characteristics of Organizational Structure

All twenty-five of the AMV churches follow identical structures. Their methodology comes from over twenty years of experience in cell ministry.[45]

Required Attendance in Cell Ministry

One cannot serve in the ministry of worship, counseling, discipleship, children’s ministry, or any other ministry without regularly attending a cell group. This is the connecting point that binds all of the various ministries to the cell emphasis. Nor is there formal membership at AMV. Rather, membership is defined by those who regularly attend a cell group.

Intimate Link Between Cell and Celebration

Each of the four districts is given a designated hour to attend the celebration service. Members are discouraged from going to the celebration service at random times. It is not uncommon to hear a zone or district leader refer to a particular celebration meeting as the hour when “his congregation” meets. After each celebration service in the church, the supervisors and cell teams (leader, assistant, treasurer, and mem­bers at large) meet together in designated locations to pray, plan, and dream together.[46]

Buses Transport Cell Members to Church

AMV believes in the concept of one cell church per city. It does not establish satellite churches around the city. Rather, like MCE, the cell ministry penetrates the distant areas. Buses are rented to transport cell members to the celebration service. I was told that some cell groups are so far away that it takes one and one half hours to reach the mother church. In a poor country like Honduras, many cannot afford the cost of trans­portation.[47]

Team Structure

A very refreshing and innovative requirement at AMV is that each cell group has a team consisting of leader, assistant, treasurer, and two members at large. Ninety percent of the growth groups have an assistant leader and treasurer. The team meets at least once per month on Monday night to plan and strategize for the rest of the week.

Programmed Meeting Times

AMV is very systematic in its cell ministry. The growth groups meet only on Wednesday night. They are not allowed to meet any other night of the week. This prevents the supervisors, zone pastors, and district pastors from having to be available every night of the week.[48]

One Ministry at a Time

At AMV, one cannot hold more than a single ministry at a time. If one is on the leadership team in a cell group, he or she cannot be involved in such ministries as discipleship, leading worship, or teaching children. Conversely, if one is a children’s teacher, he or she cannot be involved in cell leadership. In this way, there is no conflict of interest regarding ministry time and commitment. Yet, even if a person has another ministry, the one binding link to the cell group is the required cell attendance.

Cell-Based Church or Church with Cells?

I found myself constantly probing key cell leaders and persons with whom I talked as to whether or not AMV was truly a cell-based church. There were four reasons for this doubt (Table 29).



  • The organizational chart at AMV places the head pastor at the top, the two co-pastors underneath, and the various directors on the same level underneath the pastors. In other words, the cell director is on the same level as the director of worship, counseling, and children’s ministry.


  • One could not tell from the office space that AMV is a cell church. Until recently, all of the cell activities were carried out in one large office.
  • In the early months of 1996, the four district pastors were each assigned an office. However, when I was there in November, 1996 the cell offices did not compare to the offices of the counseling ministry, the radio ministry, nor the printing ministry.


  • As of November 1996 there was only one full-time director for the cell ministry.
  • The district pastors and the zone pastors all have full-time jobs.


  • Pastor René, the senior pastor, is not directly involved in the cell ministry. Although René, like all of the other workers at one time, led a cell group, at this point he has tried to remove himself from the cell ministry.
  • He supports the cell ministry though approving the goals and encouraging growth, but he does not have direct weekly involvement.

René Peñalba told me that AMV was a cell church with specific programs.[49] Pastor Peñalba is not in agreement with those who say cell groups must be the only program of the church. He believes that cell churches that do away with all of these ministries run the risk of not meeting the needs of the people. For that reason, AMV has tried to walk the fine line of being a cell-based church with certain programs. Practically speaking, there are many signs that point to this fact (Table 30).



  • AMV has the highest ratio of cell attendance to church attendance that I have witnessed. Eighty-six percent of those who attend the cell groups also attend the church. A recent statistical study confirmed that 4,300 cell members attended the worship services in September 1996. Since 5,000 total adults attended the celebration service during that same period, it means only 700 adults out of the 5,000 adults were not consistently attending a growth group.


  • AMV has the most highly developed system of cell group multiplication that I have witnessed.
  • Cells multiply rapidly and with strong quality. One thousand cell groups are projected for early 1997.


  • Cell groups are the primary place where one receives practical teaching, ministry training, development of ministry skills, and fellowship.


  • Attendance at a cell group is the only requirement that is foundational to all other ministries.


  • The cell structure is highly developed and extends all over the city.
  • There is constant interaction between the various levels of leadership, and the Jethro system functions very well.


  • The fact that each district occupies an entire service points out that cells are indeed the base of the church.
  • The fact that all cell leadership unite after each celebration service speaks of the high account­ability required in this cell system.

Cell Groups

AMV defines a cell group in this manner,

Cell groups are small groups of members of the church that meet in different places of the city for the fundamental purpose of promoting the growth of each member through the fulfillment of three objectives: first, the Christian edification of the members; second, reaching the lost for Jesus Christ; third, the financial strengthening of the work (Peñalba and Bernhard 1995:7).

With this definition in mind, it is not surprising that AMV does not consider children’s groups to be part of the cell structure. The main ministry for children is a highly developed Sunday School class that takes place every Sunday.[50]


A growth group at AMV will include the following elements: welcome, announcements, worship, testimonies, prayer, teaching of the Word, offering, and refreshments. The meeting lasts for two hours (including refreshments and fellowship). The order of the meeting is supposed to be flexible. The manual says, “The order of the meeting can vary so that the group does not fall into a routine” (Peñalba and Bernhard 1995:24). At the same time, the leadership team plans each meeting very carefully beforehand.


The lessons follow the pastor’s sermon on a monthly basis. The director of the cell ministry receives outlines of the pastor’ sermons for the following month. He develops those themes into a participatory, small group format. After receiving corrections from the pastoral staff, copies are made for the entire cell group and distributed at the monthly leadership meeting.

Various Aspects of Cell Meeting

There were various aspects to the cell meeting that were distinct at AMV. First, everyone in the meeting receives a copy of the lesson. Second, there is flexibility in the order of the meeting. Third, anyone of the five team members can lead the lesson. Fourth, the house is fixed and does not change from week to week.


For a person visiting the church for the first time, a four-week training course is offered.[51] A member of the cell group, normally the person geographically closest to the newcomer, disciples the newcomer using this training course. After the newcomer begins to attend the cell group on a regular basis, the cell leader (as opposed to the cell member) takes responsibility to disciple the new convert for the first year.[52]

  • Successful multiplication. Each new group has a leadership team ready to reproduce.
  • Excellent organization within the cell group.
  • Perfect implementation of the Jethro system.
  • Very high percentage between those who attend the church and those who attend the cells.
  • The organizational chart does not give sufficient place to the cell ministry.
  • The cell offices are not sufficient for such an important ministry.
  • There are not enough full time pastors involved in the cell ministry (only one).
  • There is not enough personal involvement of the head pastor.
  • Upper level leadership do not visit cell groups.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Cell System

AMV has developed a strong, innovative cell structure. Their success in multiplication, the high ratio between cell and celebration attendance, and the cell structure itself are exemplary. However, as noted there are several areas of weakness that should be noted (Table 31).

Summary of the Five Churches

There are various organizational similarities and differences among these five churches. After analyzing their cell structure several key issues stood out.

Cell Organizational Patterns

The points common among all five of the case study churches included the following characteristics:

  1. Dependence on Jethro System
  2. Cell Ministry viewed as the backbone of the church
  3. Cell attendance expected of everyone in the church
  4. Cells in homes; training in church
  5. Sacraments administered in the celebration service
  6. Cell lessons based on pastor’s message
  7. Offering taken in cell meeting
  8. Follow-up through cell ministry
Dependence on Jethro System

These churches would not have grown so large had it not been for the intimate care of each leader. All of these churches relied on a pastoral leadership plan to care for everyone in cell leadership. These churches relieved the burden of the head pastor by providing a hierarchical structure of leadership that cared for the people groupings of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Ex. 18).

Cell Ministry Viewed as the Backbone of the Church

The one phrase that I heard over and over again in these churches was that the cell ministry was the columna vertebral (backbone) of the church. The vision passed down from leaders to members was that in order to receive any type of pastoral care, one must belong to a cell group.

Cell Attendance Expected of Everyone in the Church

The one thread that knit all of these churches together was the expectation cell attendance. Membership in the church meant participation in a cell group. The rock bottom requirement for ministry in these churches was regular attendance in a cell. These churches believed that celebration and cell attendance were two sides of the same coins–one was not sufficient without the other. In each church, at least sixty-five percent of those who attended the celebration service also attended a cell group.

Cells in the Home, Training in the Church

All of these churches used the home as the primary meeting place for the cell groups. On the other hand, training took place in the temple. The church building was utilized its maximum potential in order to prepare leadership to minister in the home.[53]

Sacraments Administered in the Celebration Service

None of the case study churches permitted their leaders to administer the Lord’s supper within the cell. Baptism also took place within the celebration service, with the sole exception of AGV.[54] The fact that sacraments took place within the celebration meeting served to clarify that cell groups were not to function as “mini-churches.” Rather, the cells fulfilled a complimentary role to the celebration service by allowing the members to experience the body of Christ and to become the people of God.

Cell Lessons Based on Pastor’s Message

The five churches based their cell group lesson on the Biblical message that the pastor covered during the week.[55] Although each church used a different style or format for creating the lesson, without exception, the pastor’s message was always the foundation.

Offerings Taken in Every Cell Meeting

Each cell group had a treasurer and collected a weekly offering. The common features included: two signatures for the counted money, church envelopes for the money, and delivery of money to the church on the following Sunday. All of the churches considered that the cell offering belonged to the church, although in the two cell churches special offerings were taken for bus expenses.

Follow-Up through Cell Groups

In all of these churches the cells discipled the visitors and new converts. New visitor cards were collected in the church and then distributed to the various cell groups who in turn discipled the newcomers. These churches provided some kind of organizational system through which results of the cell visits could be checked to discover whether or not the new person was actually attending the cell group.

Organizational Differences among the Case Study Churches

These five cell churches followed many of the same general organizational patterns, but I also noticed some key differences:

  1. Degree of cell administration
  2. Same night cell meeting verses varied meeting times
  3. Degree of statistical reporting
  4. Place of children’s ministry
  5. Place of participation in cell meeting
Degree of Cell Administration

There was a great deal of difference with regard to the level of cell-based administration. MCI was the least organized and the most confusing to follow, while MCE and CCG were extremely organized according to the traditional Pure Cell format.[56] Although AMV followed the same Pure Cell model, their organizational chart parted from that model.

Degree of Statistical Reporting

Although all the churches required statistical reporting, there was a huge gap in the amount required. Although CCG was very organized and statistically up to date, MCE is the premier example of statistical control within a Latin church. Approximately 120,000 people are tracked with precision every week.[57] On the other hand, the other three cell churches expressed concern and doubt about burdening the membership with weekly statistical reporting.

Same Night Cell Meeting Verses Varied Meeting Times

Certain case study churches allowed the cells more flexibility concerning the time of meeting. For example, at AMV and MCE all cell activities are on the same days of the week (including cell meetings, cell team planning meetings, and zone leadership meetings). For these churches the uniformity brings clarity and makes the job easier for the top leadership. On the other hand, MCI emphasizes flexibility and decentralization. At CCG and AGV the cells meet at various times during the week, but the training sessions are held on the same evening.

Place of Children’s Ministry

In this area, I discovered great differences. MCE promotes separate children’s groups in the same house and on the same night that the cell meets. The children are never present in the adult meeting (with over 56,000 children attending their cell groups every week, MCE speaks the most authoritatively about cell ministry to children). On the other hand, both AMV and AGV lacked an effective children’s ministry through the cell groups.

At MCI, an entirely separate ministry department encompasses the weekly children’s cell groups (similar to Bible clubs) along with the children’s congregational meeting. CCG has planted hundreds of children’s cell groups all over Guayaquil, Ecuador, but also has a separate children’s Sunday School program.

Place of Participation in Cell Meeting

The amount of participation in the cell meeting is a key area of difference. MCI, MCE, and AGV all follow Cho’s example of Bible study/preaching in the cell group. The cell leader teaches or in the case of MCE, preaches the lesson. AMV tries to find a balance between leadership direction in the study, while at the same time allowing greater participation among the cell members. CCG was the only case study cell church that encouraged complete cell member participation during the cell meeting.


In this chapter I have described the cell-based organizational structure of the five case study churches. I have noted that some more closely followed a Pure Cell model, while others exercised more flexibility and creativity. I also tried to point out the key organizational similarities and differences in these churches. In the next two chapters I will focus more specifically on leadership patterns (Chapter 8) and multiplication factors (Chapter 9) of cell-based ministry.


[1] The official name for the cells at MCI is “C.A.F.E.” (Family Cells for Training and Evangelism).

[2] When I revisited MCI in March 1997 the new thrust was for each discipler of twelve to also maintain a normal evangelistic cell group.

[3] Between Sunday and Monday, I must have heard Cho’s name mentioned twenty times.

[4] Preliminary activity (five minutes); Introduction (ten minutes); Mini-sermon (thirty minutes); Application (five minutes); Final activity (five minutes);Offering; Fill out the report

[5] Pastor Alfonzo Ortiz, ex-secretary to César Castellanos, told me that this can become a problem, since a member of one group might feel attracted to another, but might find it difficult to change groups.

[6] The departments include: young people, professionals, worship, spiritual warfare, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, counseling, ushers, counseling, follow-up, social action, pastoral care, accounting, video, sound, bookstore, etc.

[7] A ministerial department like sound, social action, or accounting would have fewer cell groups than the larger ministries such as young people, worship, men’s ministry, or women’s ministry. However, the leaders of these smaller ministries must have their twelve disciples who in turn have cell groups.

[8] In the main sanctuary, the larger departments hold their weekly congregational meetings. In October 1996 the departments that met in the sanctuary were: Men, Spiritual Warfare, Healing and Miracles, Worship, Couples, Women, and Young People. I was encouraged to see cells for adolescents and small children. Both of these departments use the same cell structure. For example, in October 1996 the junior high department had 171 cell groups that met during the week in various homes. They also had their congregational meeting and met again on Sunday morning.

The cell groups for children might be best described as home Bible clubs which are led by adults. However, the goal is to encourage the children to make their own disciples and to take more individual responsibility in leading the group. The children also have their congregational meeting during the week.

[9] Normally, between twenty and 500 people respond to the invitation.

[10] During my visit in October 1996 I noticed that “Cell Ministry” was listed in the church directory simply as one of the thirty plus ministries (including ushers, social action, worship, etc.). Out of one office most of the cell administration takes place. Since all of the ministries are based in home cell groups, it seems reasonable to expect an organizational diagram to reflect that structure. From the organizational chart, it appears that MCI is a church with cells, but from a practical standpoint, it is my conviction that the cell group ministry at MCI is the very heart or motor of the church

[11] The leaders under the worship department were encouraged to lead three cell groups per week, attend the Thursday worship time, the Sunday service, etc. I attended one cell leadership training class in which it was announced that only those who were leading three cell groups would have the privilege to attend a special retreat. Although one might lead three cell groups per week, the goal is always to train others to take your place (and then supervise according to the concept of the twelve).

[12] Oftentimes, groups seem to be simple visitation times in someone’s home between the leader, the person who lives at the house, and maybe one or two more.

[13] The cell leader is trained to preach or teach a message and then take an offering. Since the group time is limited to one hour, there does not seem to be a lot of participation from other members. Nor were the group leaders specifically trained in how to draw out more participation in the group.

[14] The zone leaders and supervisors at AGV are not part of the paid staff. Only the three main pastors and administrative help are on salary.

[15] He and his pastors were constantly pressuring others to fulfill the requirements. They discovered that it was simply not worth all of the effort.

[16] For example, if a group was ready to give birth and a new leader lived in a different zone, he or she would be forced to come under the supervision of another zone leader. He also told me that the process of multiplication often left one cell group languishing while giving birth to another. He discovered that multiplication seem to work against the grain of the people.

[17] Actually, Pastor Capuro presently has fourteen zone leaders (in the chart I represent thirteen of those fourteen) which form part of this “twelve.” Pastor Capuro told me that the number “twelve” was not as important as the actual concept. Rather, the goal is that each leader seeks to become a leader of leaders

[18] There seemed to be some confusion concerning how the cell leader would supervise his new leaders. Daniel, a successful cell leader, told me that the new leader would continue to meet with the mother cell group in order to receive supervision. He explained that in this way there would not be any pain of separation.

[19] AGV has delegated the reporting and statistical gathering to the secretaries. The top leadership structure only knows once per month about the cell statistics.

[20] At the same time, the cell leaders are not authorized to administer the Lord’s supper.

[21] I have noticed many aspects that other cell churches have copied from MCE.

[22] For example, all ushers were first recommended through the cell groups at MCE.

[23] For this reason, there are over 60,000 adults and 56,000 children in the cell groups as compared to 30,000 adults and 3,000 children in the church on Sunday morning.

[24] Although in the past few years, this goal has not even come close to being fulfilled, I was told that Latin leadership will normally only reach for what is expected. To lower the goal to fifty percent would cause them to reach for less.

[25] A certain weight is given to each category: new cell group growth is given thirty percent; cell adult attendance growth–twenty-five percent; cell children attendance growth–five percent; cell conversion growth–twenty percent; cell baptismal growth–twenty percent. It should be noted that there are not percentage points given for success in bringing the group to church. In my opinion, this lowers the priority of promoting celebration attendance in the cell group.

[26] District pastors are compared to district pastors, zone pastors are compared within each district and also among all fifty-seven. Supervisors are compared within their zone. It must be remembered that all of these lists are updated on a weekly basis!

[27] No one wants to be at the bottom of the list. I was told that in this way, everything is out in the open and no one can hide.

[28] This reveals to me that Latin Americans can indeed work effectively in a highly organized statistical environment, without being overly pressured.

[29] One important function of the Thursday meeting is to encourage team members to visit those who were not present at the previous Saturday night cell group meeting. Core team members are assigned to visit these absent members.

[30] The host must belong to the church and be converted. It is also required that the meeting take place in the same area, zone, and district in which the group is located. If a member who lives in another district wants to have the meeting in his home, that meeting would come under the jurisdiction of another district, and therefore this type of changing is not recommended.

[31] The buses wait at church until the service is over and transport the people home again.

[32] The guides reminded me of a devotional guide such as Daily Bread. Each lesson covers three pages. There is a Scriptural passage, a central theme, an introduction, body of message, and application. On Tuesday night the zone pastor meets with the supervisors, cell leaders, and cell assistants to teach them how to communicate the following lessons. In my opinion, the greatest weakness of these study guides is that there are no questions provided. In other words, it is a non-participative Bible study.

[33] One immediately senses the fire and zeal of these leaders. This was true in all five of the Saturday night cell groups that I visited.

[34] The exception might possibly be the Sunday School. From what I understand, there is no district rotation with regard to teaching the children’s Sunday school. This seems to be a ministry for anyone in the church.

[35] I did an in-depth case study of Bethany World Prayer Center in June 1996. In my opinion, the statistical flow of information at CCG is far more developed than Bethany World Prayer Center, the premier cell church in the US. I did an in-depth case study of Bethany World Prayer Center in June, 1996.

[36] These percentage points are based on the leaders’ own personal goals; not a general one hundred percent doubling goal (like MCE).

[37] These children’s cell groups follow the adult cell format with the exception of di­recting the lesson to the needs of children. The order of a children’s group might have the following pattern: singing, lesson, games and coloring, prayer, offering, and refreshment.

[38] In the future, there might be a need for more than one.

[39] If the parent does not attend these sessions the child will not be able to attend the school the following year. Several people commented that the obligatory nature of these meetings has caused resistance and even resentment in some parents.

[40] They meet in the same classroom in which their children meet and are directed by the same teacher that instructs their children. For each teacher who leads these groups, it is part of his or her job description. It is just as obligatory for the teacher as it is for the parents who attend. The teacher uses the cell group material that all of the other cell leaders receive.

[41] Each month the cell leaders receive four or five cell lessons which serve as a preview of the upcoming Sunday sermons. Each Tuesday night, during the leader training session, the cell lessons are reviewed.

[42] According to my calculations, each cell group contributes approximately one dollar in the weekly offering. With some 1,600 cell groups, this amount adds up. However, it should also be noted that on an average, three hundred of the 1,600 groups do not have their meeting for one reason or another. Fifty percent of the offerings generated by the cell groups go directly to the church budget. The other fifty percent are used in the cell district from which they were received.

[43] From that time until the present, the cell system has been taking on more of an administrative structure.

[44] The cell ministry at AMV used to require weekly forms from all cell leadership. However, they sensed that this requirement brought on too much pressure. Now only monthly forms are required.

[45] I am referring to the basic principles concerning how the ministry functions (e.g., meetings on Wednesday evening, same discipleship program). Obviously, not every city would need to contract buses in exactly the same way. However, for the most part the structure is surprisingly similar in all the churches.

[46] The supervisor takes attendance of his or her leadership team, the zone leader takes attendance of the supervisors present, and the district pastor takes attendance of those zone leaders who are at each service. A great deal of accountability takes place through the cell ministry. Yet, I did not sense that this accountability system was overdone. Individual freedom and concerns are also respected.

[47] For this reason, the cells bind together to provide public transportation. For exam­ple, a group of cells in a particular area will pool their resources to contract a bus for the Saturday worship. The bus not only picks up the group but also waits at church and takes them home again. The church allows those cell groups living far away to take the first and third week offerings (in the cell group) to provide for transportation.

[48] This is very important since all of the district, zone, and area leadership positions are voluntary (non-paid).

[49] Peñalba believes that a church needs some specific programs to meet the needs of the people (e.g., counseling, radio, children’s ministry, and discipleship).

[50] However, the groups can ask the children’s ministry department to help them develop a group for children at the same time as the cell meeting (or a different time). As of November, 1996, there were some twenty-two children’s groups working alongside the cell groups. However, they are still not considered official cell groups.

[51] Since 1994 more than 4,000 new people have visited the church. Of these 4,000 only fifteen percent actually completed the four lessons. However, from January 1996 to September 1996 the rate of lesson completion was fifty-two percent

[52] This follow-up within the cell is not highly organized. Rather, it is more of a watchfulness and pastoral care that each cell leader offers to the newcomers.

[53] MCI, MCE, and CCG even used the home to hold cell groups for children and all of the churches held youth and adolescent ministries within the home.

[54] AGV permitted the cell leaders to baptize those in the cell group.

[55] In four of the cell churches, the lesson was based on the Sunday morning message, while at MCE the cell lesson was based on the mid-week teaching.

[56] Every leader had his place in the organizational chart and the system was very easy to follow due to the clear role of each person.

[57] When MCE declares that over 116,000 people attended their cell groups “last week” they have counted every one of them. The leadership seems to respond without complaining. However, the leadership at CCG did verbalize some resistance.