One of the first people I met who is actually doing house/cell church ministry locally is Julie Jacobs, so I’m pleased to have her as my first profile for the 100 Cups of Coffee thread on my blog. I was introduced to her by John Mayer who publishes the Cityview Report, a comprehensive summary of religious demographics and trends in the Twin Cities, MN.
Julie leads a small network of cell churches called Frontier Fellowship Church based primarily in the East Metro area, with monthly celebration meetings on the East side of Saint Paul. She and her husband Robb are graduates of Christ for the Nations, and she is an ordained minister who also serves as a Presbyter in their Fellowship of Ministers and Churches. The two of them are partners in a variety of ministries dealing with audio/visual technology, global missions, worship music, and homelessness prevention through their organization Rivertown Christian Ministries International. She has traveled internationally to train pastors in cell-based ministry, most recently in 2004. She also works bi-vocationally as a manager in the health care industry.
About the Network
Frontier Fellowship Church is comprised of five main cells, one of which has a daughter cell and another in development. There are roughly 10 people in each of the main cells so the overall network involves about 50 people. Of these, Julie estimates that about 35 see their cell as their primary faith community. The others look to conventional congregations as their primary community and participate in Frontier cells in addition to that. The network emerged around 2004-2005 out of several groups that Julie had been working with, including an initial cell group of pastors she formed in 2001.
About the Cells
Each cell is distinct in the group it serves: one is a neighborhood group, another is made up of couples, and others are made up of men or women only and so on. Meeting frequency varies from weekly to monthly. Julie does not lead the cells herself. Some of the cells she visits rarely, others more often, especially the newer ones so she can help to “imprint” them with the values of the overall network. The cells are formed with growth and multiplication as a stated goal from the outset. Conversions and baptisms are taking place in the cells through the relationships there, rather than through people attending the large group gatherings. About 20% of the members currently in the cells were baptized through the ministry of Frontier, with about half of these being new conversions. It bears pointing out that if you were to translate that to a conventional congregation, it would correspond to having 10% of your members as adult converts who came to faith through your ministry.
Julie refers to the groups as cells intentionally. In the cell model, each group is fully Church and not just a part or segment of the larger, “real” church/congregation. This is in contrast to the way that conventional congregations typically segment their life into separate groups that are responsible for fellowship, evangelism, education, care and so on. This also applies to sacramental life which is not limited to the large group gatherings, again in contrast to the norm for small groups in conventional congregations. In practice, Julie reports that the cells in her network tend to invite her to join them when they are celebrating a baptism or Communion.
Large Group Gatherings
All of the cells have been gathering together monthly for a “First Sunday” celebration service which Julie leads. A second monthly large group gathering is just now being added. Part of the impetus for that is coming from the members who are not also involved in conventional congregations and want to gather more frequently. This second gathering will have a greater focus on ongoing training of the cell group leaders. It will probably be modeled after a typical cell gathering rather than just a second monthly Celebration-type service.
Julie uses a well laid-out process for discipleship that extends from conversion and baptism to leading your own cell group. Along the way are various lessons, retreats, spiritual gift discovery and so on. An outline of the whole process is available on the RCMI website. They use materials from a variety of sources such as Bethany, Dove, Global Leadership Network and the G12 model. In her experience, it takes about a year to help a member grow to the point that they are ready to lead a cell and disciple others. When people have become involved in one of her groups, she always encourages them to retain whatever ties they had to existing congregations. However, some of her leaders have progressed in their training and now are feeling drawn to lead their own churches and even seek licensing.
In Her Own Words
Julie has agreed to spend some time with us on the blog and answer a few questions! I've got three that I'm going to ask. Here's the first:
How did you come to be involved in cell-based ministry and what fuels your passion for this work?