Outside the Church Building

by Joel Comiskey, summer 2019

I’m not against church buildings. Really. Some of the largest and best cell churches in the world have their own building. Church buildings can make it easier to hold weekend celebration services, equip God’s people, coach leaders, and minister to the community. I believe buildings have their proper place. 

But I have noticed that buildings and building programs can snuff out the life of cell groups. I remember ministering to a church in Baltimore that entered into a huge building fund-raising campaign. The pastor confessed that cell ministry was on the backburner because his entire focus was raising funds for the building. And since this church only asked for offerings in the gathered celebration meetings, the pastor and team lost their cell focus.

Some pastors and leaders feel they have to use their building for cell groups, especially if they’ve paid  enormous amounts for their building. The reasoning goes like this, “We paid lots of money for our building. Why not have our life groups meet there.  After all, we have plenty of space and many rooms.” I’ve seen many churches succumb to this temptation.

Church structures do play an important role, but I implore you not to use your buildings for cell group meetings. Why?

The Radical nature of cell groups. I enjoy going to zoos, but I feel sorry for the animals because they are not in their own environments. On the other hand, safaris are great because animals live in their own natural environment. Celyce and I went to a safari in South Africa and witnessed the animals roaming freely in their natural setting. Cell groups become tame and neutered when they meet in the building, just like the zoo animals. They lose their radical penetration nature.

Atmosphere and Setting. Buildings and classrooms promote study and academics. Many of the same people who will be joining the cell have sat in those church classrooms to receive a Sunday school meeting or another lecture. It’s much harder to switch mental gears for a life-giving group that builds the saints and should be penetrating the community. 

Penetration evangelism. Cell groups are evangelistic and salty. They should be positioned to thrive where people live and work. Rather than a come-and-see strategy, it’s a go-and-do strategy, as Gerardo Campos blogged about last Thursday. My own cell group would often rotate from homes to a restaurant which had a few outside tables.  On more than one occasion we ministered to needy people  walking by. One time we noticed an employee who was often taking his break on the next table and listening to us. We invited him to join us, and he received Jesus that evening. He also began attending the group. Like Lydia in the book of acts, God opened his heart. Penetration evangelism is a key part of cell ministry. 

I’ve listed a few reasons why it’s better for groups to meet outside the church building. The two-winged church has two functions: celebrating together and scattering all over the community to reach people for Jesus. Don’t lose the power of penetrating cells by caging your groups in the building. Unleash them and let them roam in the wild where they can have a greater impact.