In The Beginning- Prayer Cells or Training Groups?

prayer cells

Many disciple makers hope to see God do something great among the unreached, but they follow a strategy that eases slowly into evangelism and discipleship. They start with beginning prayer cells.  People they meet are invited to attend a worship time of some sort and to receive prayer.  As God begins to answer their prayers, they are more interested and slowly they begin to believe.  This is not a bad model, but it is not the model to use if you want to see a Disciple Making Movement.

Why? You may ask.  It seems good.  People encounter the love and power of God.  This approach doesn’t scare off interested seekers.  “No one seems to persecute us if we are just praying for people in a new place,” you may say.

prayer cells
Prayer cells without evangelism do not bear fruit.

Why Prayer Cells Are Not Best

There are a few reasons why a prayer cell strategy is not the best approach if we want to develop the DNA that leads to movements.  A movement’s DNA refers to the values, systems and ways of doing things which are followed.  It is important to have the right kind of DNA in the very beginning if multiplication is a goal for your ministry.

1.Our goal is to make disciples, not gather seekers

Many prayer cells meet for months or even years, taking up the disciple maker’s time and energy without ever becoming a church that reproduces.  Seekers who feel comfortable receiving prayer but are not being challenged to make a decision tend to stay uncommitted.  Jesus didn’t do this.  Count the cost, leave all other loyalties and follow Me was His message.  He never told us to gather seekers.  He told us to make disciples.

It is natural for seekers to come when miracles happen.  When they do, we must clearly present the gospel and challenge them to make a decision to follow Christ.  If they believe, immediately begin to train them to make disciples of others.

2. Clear understanding of the cost of discipleship leads to greater  commitment in disciples

Moving toward faith in Christ is a process for many.  This is especially true for those who do not come from a biblical worldview.  It can be difficult to point to a particular point of conversion. It is not true that only people who pray a sinners prayer are “in”, and others who haven’t prayed that prayer are “out.”  There is no biblical basis for that.  At the same time, people usually come to a point of decision. Choosing to surrender their will to God, they shift their loyalty completely to Jesus.  That point is often when they decide to be baptized.

Whatever the process, until people are at that point of high commitment, its hard to expect them to reproduce more disciples. We don’t want people to stay seekers, comfortably attending prayer cells, coming to Jesus when they have a need, but failing to understand the commitment involved in following Him.

3. Training disciples to put their faith into practice causes maturity more rapidly than attending a group with no friendly accountability.

Church planters lead someone to faith, but then often don’t do much else.  They might  encourage them to attend the “prayer cell” for weeks, months or even years without expecting active steps of obedience.  This is a very, very slow way to make disciples!  As soon as someone believes in Christ and expresses faith in Him, begin to train them.  Don’t wait.  They are ready.

Start with a basic set of short-term discipleship lessons and then move into more long-term lessons or a story set.  Immediately encourage them to share their faith with others.   Get them involved in evangelism right away.  If they lead someone to faith, let them be the one who disciples that new believer.  This makes strong disciples very quickly!

Alternatives To Prayer Cells

There are some great alternatives to prayer cells when starting to work in a new place.  Two  options are widely used by Disciple Making Movement (DMM) and Church Planting Movement (CPM) practitioners.

1) One is to do abundant seed sowing until someone believes. You share testimonies, the Jesus story, and continue to share the good news with as many as possible.  Only when someone believes do you start a group. You immediately begin to disciple the new believer and form a group around them.  They learn to reach their family and friends.  Quickly they learn how to share their own testimony, and as you teach them simple discipleship lessons, they pass those on to others.

2) Alternatively, as you share good news and find interested people, you gather them into seeker groups where you teach a short series of evangelistic Bible studies or stories.  At the end of a few weeks you call for a commitment to follow Christ. You then continue to disciple those people, training them how to repeat the same with others.

More Than Prayer

In both scenarios above, prayer for those who come takes place. They encounter God’s goodness and may be healed, get a job, or see God work a miracle in a relationship.  You do more than pray for their needs, however, you share the gospel and call for them to make a commitment to Jesus.

Pray for the sick and for miracles.  That is great! Never stop there though.  Jesus is the pearl of great price, worth selling everything to receive.  Courageously make this truth known.  The result will be committed disciples who do the same.


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