The Church that Multiplies by Joel Comiskey – book review

The author begins the book by pointing out the apparent lack of effectiveness through the current model of church ministry in North America. He demonstrates this reality through statistical evidence provided by nationwide research. This is not new information for most who are acquainted with George Barna’s writings. This is also not new information for perceptive believers who attend local churches weekly. Comiskey is correct. Something is wrong. The church is not consistently or effectively reaching lost people. At various points throughout the book it is stated that the church is also not effectively discipling its people. This should garner the attention of anyone reading this book. Anyone familiar with the N.T. knows that evangelism and discipleship are two primary responsibilities of the church. When the church is failing at both it should cause us to reevaluate our approach and model of church ministry. This presentation of need motivates one to continue on in the book to see whether Comiskey presents a viable solution to these monumental problems.

The author presented an interesting list of the factors which aid the success of cell-driven church ministry in other cultures. He compared this with the factors which challenge cell-driven church ministry in North America. The obstacles Comiskey mentioned are so real: “the Sunday event”, the church as a building, American individualism, busyness, being task-oriented, and culture. These factors are great frustrations for anyone involved in vocational ministry. These are obstacles to biblical Christianity for those in vocational ministry who have never even heard of cell-driven ministry. In reading the comments on specific cell-driven ministries toward the end of the book, it appears that the aforementioned obstacles were the greatest challenge for those leaders who transitioned established churches to a cell-driven model. The leaders knew something was wrong but initially weren’t quite sure what to do about it. These obstacles did not prevent these leaders from seeking a solution. This search is widespread which resulted in the author referring to some of the recent books which have been written calling for a more simple model of ministry (Simple Church and Organic Church). Leaders in local churches are realizing that something is wrong, including myself.

Comiskey proposes that the solution for the spiritual defects of the current North American church is to transition to a cell-driven model of ministry. The church should be composed of cell groups composed of three to fifteen people which meet weekly for the purpose of the 4 W’s (welcome, worship, Word, and witness). The author repeatedly mentions that these cells should be emphasized as being equally important with the Sunday Celebration gathering (think “A.M. Worship service). New believers would also participate in a training track apart from their cells (a new believer’s discipleship class, upon completion the new believer would be baptized). In this new believer training track people are also equipped to know how to minister within the cell group. Comiskey strongly suggests that leaders view every person in the church as a potential cell leader. Potential cell leaders participate in a training track which prepares them to successfully lead their own cell group. At this point in the strategy there are already two levels of training: the new believer training track and the cell leader training track. This is strong evidence of the author’s claim that discipleship is the major feature of the cell-driven church. He repeatedly states that the goal of the cell-driven ministry is not to be a mega-church but to make disciples who make disciples (as Dr. Austin would say, “Reproducing reproducers”). Comiskey seems to have a strong case for what he is sharing.

The author states that evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, worship, and ministry occur best in the cell groups. Comiskey suggests relational evangelism as the means for the groups reaching the lost. Some cell-driven ministries utilized the Alpha Program as the primary tool to reach the lost. Members of the cells would meet with lost friends apart from the cell groups and then incorporate converts into cell groups. This seems to be a positive attribute of the cell-driven approach. Most people are not confrontational evangelists. The group setting and support, along with an evangelistic tool (i.e. Alpha), appears to enable evangelism to happen more naturally for the majority of people. Comiskey mentioned that the cell groups are not just “Bible studies” though they do study the Bible. The emphasis is on living the Christian life deeply together. Many ministries utilize a discussion study of the pastor’s sermon from the Celebration Service. This helps to reenforce and apply biblical truth.

A major feature of this approach is the acknowledgment of the priesthood of all believers. Every person is trained how to minister in a cell. Therefore every person is taught and encouraged to minister to the other members of their cell. This decentralizes ministry which is so refreshing. This is the biblical model of ministry. Every person is serving God by serving others through their gifts and abilities. This enables the pastor(s) to focus on training cell leaders, training new believers (eventually delegating this to others who have been trained to do so), and ultimately coaching cell leaders. This truly seems to be as close to the biblical model as I have seen (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:2). The members are being cared for through their cells. The cell leaders are being cared for through the coaching which the pastor(s) provide.

The cell groups are the focus of everything in the ministry. People are encouraged to be involved in the cells first. Those who are in the cells are encouraged to attend the Celebration Service. Therefore, the Celebration Service is a gathering of the cell groups. Comiskey describes it like this, the cells are the church and the church is the cells. This cell-driven approach strongly encourages every member to be a minister. Every believer is a priest and therefore should serve others in their group through their spiritual gifts and natural abilities for the glory of God and the edification of the church. This approach encourages every cell member to be involved in relational evangelism through the group (everything is done in a cell group context). This approach encourages discipleship through the new believer training track and the cell leader training track. This approach encourages fellowship because of the weekly cell meetings of a small number of people (3 to 15 people). This approach encourages worship because each week the group spends time singing worship songs to God (also emphasizing that worship is to happens more than just Sunday). This approach focuses on helping the believers to be the church. It encourages the believers to carry out the “one another” commands of the N.T.

Comiskey suggests that the cell-driven approach removes the expectation of the pastor being a “performer” on Sundays. He says that the current approach is a performance driven event. The pastor performs to entice people to return the next week to the Sunday service. This inevitably results in the belief that ministerial success is a large attendance in one service a week. This service has only a few who are actually ministering (pastor, song leader, musicians, etc…). It is impossible for more than a few to be involved in ministering in such an environment. Comiskey does not abandon the large group worship service. He titles this service the celebration service. He urges a cell-driven approach where the cells gather once a week for a large group worship service. This is fairly identical to a traditional worship service without the performance aspect or expectations. The focus instead is on the cells: multiplying believers, multiplying leaders, multiplying groups. All of this is to happen through the cell groups. The multiplying of cell groups should result in multiplying churches through church planting.

There is some content in the book that is obviously charismatic in Theology. This is something that I just filter and toss to the side. Apart from this issue, there is a lot that I find in this book that answers growing feelings of discontent which I have felt. I agree with the sentiment in this book that there must be more to the Christian life and church ministry than what we are experiencing. The values found in this book (the philosophy) have caused an “A-ha moment” for me. I have not seen or experienced a cell-driven ministry but I have longed for something like this. I have desired to be leading a church (or even just serving in) which is doing ministry like this, where every member is a minister. I think that the author is right that this is the only way to help every member to minister. I love the emphasis on discipleship through the training tracks. I believe that this philosophy will meld with the Training Timothy’s class I took from Dr. Austin. The churches which have a four level training track is very similar to what I have already formulated from this previous class. This book has given me hope. I do not know whether I will be able to transition the current church I am serving in to this cell-driven philosophy but I do know that someday in some ministry I will be utilizing this philosophy. I do believe that it is biblically based. It appears to be what I have been longing to see.

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