Friday, January 7

What is the difference between a small group, cell church, and house churches?

In trying to understand house churches, one question that often comes up is, what is the difference between small groups meeting in homes, cell churches that meet in homes, and house churches (simple/organic) that meet in homes?

Rad Zdero, in his Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader does about as good a job as anyone in answering this question.
Many believers today participate in 'small groups', such as Bible study groups, prayer groups, accountability groups, affinity groups, etc. However, 'small groups' are often utilized differently in various types of...traditional churches, cell churches, and house church networks. Small groups in all three styles of churches usually meet in homes and encourage the participation of believers. But, that's where the similarities end. While we must clearly recognize and celebrate the hand of God in all manner of churches, there are important differences between traditional churches, cell churches, and house churches that should be understood.

On one end of the spectrum, for instance, is the traditional church...[that] uses small groups (often misnamed 'cell groups')--this can be described as a 'church WITH small groups.'

Further along the spectrum is the cell church that places an equal or greater emphasis on its mission-minded small groups (properly called 'cell groups') compared to its weekly large group services--this can be described as a 'church OF small groups.'

However, the house church network sees each house church as a fully fledged, autonomous, church in itself--'church IS small groups'.


5 comments:

Cristian said...

As someone whose studied and planted at least one cell church, I disagree entirely with the depiction of the cell church. I think any cell church proponent would object to this drawing. A more accurate depiction of cell church would be the very same drawing for the house church with the addition of one giant transparent circle surrounding the interconnected cell groups which would represent the church.

Furthermore, the house church "network" drawing that shows the interconnectedness of the house churches goes against every example I've ever seen regarding how house churches of the past live (ie. almost totally independent of any relationship with others).

GuyMuse said...

Cristian,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this post. It would seem what you are describing for the cell church model is precisely what Rad has tried to depict in his graphic. Is not a cell church one church made up of many cells?

On the other hand, house churches are not 'cells' they are each churches that interrelate with other house churches.

I admit that the depiction of the house church model is overly optimistic in that this doesn't always occur as depicted. You are right in your observation that many house churches are very independent from each other,and choose to not relate with others.

In our context here in Ecuador it is something we are constantly working to achieve, but even here, we have problems along these lines of networking. Anyway, I enjoyed your comment and would be interested in hearing any further comments you might like to share.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christian,
Thanks for your comment on the diagram and the description in my book. A few brief responses from me.

First, you are correct that some house churches are islands and do not wish to work with others. But the same can also be said of some cell churches and some traditional churches. In my book, I am not encouraging of those types of groups and, in fact, critique them.

Second, my diagram is meant to broadly represent various stages along a spectrum, knowing that there is certainly overlap between the three models. It is meant to oversimplify the analysis for the sake of discussion, not to be a definitive description that describes every possible variation.

Third, cell churches as very commonly practiced still do not fully allow each of the cells to function with full autonomy and there is always someone at the top of a leadersip pyramid that needs to be consulted or followed. Any self-described "cell churches" that do give their "cells" full autonomy and yet work together cohesively, are functioning like the house church networks I describe. And I encourage that. In this case, it is a matter of semantics.

Thanks for your comments. And may the Lord multiply your life and ministry.

Rad Zdero
http://www.scribd.com.rzdero

norma j hill said...

Thanks for sharing this. I find it really helps to define these terms more clearly. I would agree with Cristian that a circle around (or possibly connecting) the outer "cells" might be more accurate - or at least more idealistic :-)

One other point in relation to this. I suspect that a church planted as a "cell church" is more likely to aim toward Cristian's description, than a traditional church trying to transform itself into a cell church.

I think the "cell church" diagram better illustrates the latter situation ... as it seems to be very difficult for that strong central core in traditional-church-turned-into-cell-churches to loosen itself enough to truly become a cell church.

GuyMuse said...

Cristian and Norma,

Rad himself wrote an email which I reproduce below responding to your comments. I hope this helps...

Hi Christian,

Thanks for your comment on the diagram and the description in my book. A few brief responses from me.

First, you are correct that some house churches are islands and do not wish to work with others. But the same can also be said of some cell churches and some traditional churches. In my book, I am not encouraging of those types of groups and, in fact, critique them.

Second, my diagram is meant to broadly represent various stages along a spectrum, knowing that there is certainly overlap between the three models. It is meant to oversimplify the analysis for the sake of discussion, not to be a definitive description that describes every possible variation.

Third, cell churches as very commonly practiced still do not fully allow each of the cells to function with full autonomy and there is always someone at the top of a leadersip pyramid that needs to be consulted or followed. Any self-described "cell churches" that do give their "cells" full autonomy and yet work together cohesively, are functioning like the house church networks I describe. And I encourage that. In this case, it is a matter of semantics.

Thanks for your comments. And may the Lord multiply your life and ministry.

Rad Zdero
http://www.scribd.com.rzdero