Do you Need to Use Cell to Describe Your Small Groups?

Cell Basics

by Joel Comiskey

Summer 2008

Lately I’ve been pondering the name cell group. Should we continue to use the word cell?

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Ralph Neighbour’s book, Christ’s Basic Bodies. Neighbour, the guru of cell church ministry, believes that it’s time to change the name cell to “Christ’s Basic Body.” Neighbour is concerned that the word cell has lost its meaning and that those who use it fail to grasp Christ’s indwelling presence in the group.

About the same time, Eric Glover, the pastor at our church, Wellspring, reached out to his neighbor and invited him to come to one of our cells. The person reacted negatively because he thought it was a terrorist organization. We met together as a pastoral team to reflect on the term cell. What was the best word to use?

Some use “holistic small groups” to define their cells. Rob Campbell, pastor and founder of Cypress Creek Church, uses HEART GROUPS (Home, Encouragement, Accountability, Relationships, Teaching).

As we pondered what to call our groups, we at Wellspring chose to use the term LIFE GROUPS (Living in Fellowship to Evangelize).

As you can tell, I’m not married to the word cell. I am committed, however, to the definition of a cell. I believe a CELL is a “group of 3-15 that meets weekly outside the church building for the purpose of evangelism, community, and spiritual growth with the goal of making disciples who make disciples which results in multiplication.”

My conviction is that we should be flexible about what name we use to describe our groups, while standing strongly behind the meaning or definition.

As I travel worldwide, however, I find that most churches continue to use the word cell to describe their small groups. It’s hard to escape the influence of David Cho, the modern day founder of the cell church movement. He coined the term cell to describe his groups back in the 70s. By using cell, Cho was illustrating the relationship between the human cell and the connection to the entire body, much like a small group in the church to the local church. The worldwide cell church movement still uses this title.

While there’s a lot of liberty in naming groups, I do advise against using a name that only emphasizes one characteristic of the group. For example, fellowship groups, care groups, community groups, or even evangelism groups only describe one aspect of the group–thus the name itself can confuse people.

I recommend choosing a name that grasps the full dynamic of the group (e.g., touch groups, life groups, heart groups, etc.).