Making the transition to cell church - a first-hand account
Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
Howard Astin is the vicar of St John's Church, Bowling, Bradford, and it's a church that has seen significant changes and growth over the last decade.
Body and Cell is the story of how St John's made the transition from traditional church structures to become a cell church. I approached this book with some scepticism: I've been involved with housegroups, been there, done that. But this isn't about housegroups tacked onto an existing church strategy - this is scrapping the strategy and starting over, a radical restructuring that challenges the way many of us have become used to doing church.
Astin's account is personal. He doesn't pretend that the changes faced at St John's have been easy but he does contend, strongly, that they have been worthwhile. Through the intimacy of the cell group structure, relationships have been strengthened and people have been transformed from passive pewfillers to active members, keen to bring others into the church family and eager to grow spiritually themselves.
The book includes a number of helpful charts and diagrams that summarise Astin's approach, building on ideas imported from Yonggi Cho's phenomenally successful Korean cell church alongside structures suggested by Ralph Neighbour, Jnr, in the book 'Where Do We go From Here?'. Astin looks to the Bible for his primary pattern, however, and takes care to spell out why, in his view, the cell church structure is closer to a New Testament model.
The setting for this particular church is evangelical-charismatic, which isn't necessarily everyone's idea of heaven on earth, but the key principles of shared leadership using small groups as the primary focus should be transferable. If your church seems to have become stuck in a rut, you could do far worse than buy a copy of this book for your minister (or several copies for the leadership team). But be warned: if followed through, many folk who've become comfortable with church in its present format will find things disorientating. If you'd rather not face a challenge, steer well clear.
Phil Groom, March 2002
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.
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