Three Facts American Small Groups Can Learn From The Best Practices of Other Countries – Part 2: Guest Post by Ralph W. Neighbour

Yesterday, we began a three-part series by guest blogger, Dr. +Ralph NeighbourPlease see that post before reading this one. 



“As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you” (John 4:35).
The core values of overseas groups are:


  1. Every believer is a priest. A priest is a connecting link between Christ and a person who needs His presence.
  2. Every small group is a priesthood.
    They are to practice “prophesying” as defined in 1 Cor. 14:3 and 14:24, ff.
  3. Every small group has a special mission field that must be exposed to Christ.


I have observed that a universal contrast between American churches and overseas churches who have cell/small groups is their core values.
In America, small groups seem to exist as “holding tanks” for congregations who are not equipping, nor expecting, each member to be a priest empowered by Christ and to reveal Him in their communities. There is a fuzziness about the purpose of groups. Some are for “discipleship” or “Bible study” or to keep members “involved,” but few have an awareness that their primary task is to be used by Christ to harvest unbelievers.
Overseas, groups are formed on a conviction that all believers function as priests, that all groups contain Christ’s presence and power and that Christ dwells in His new body to draw all men to the Cross. He does this by energizing the body members to edify, exhort, and console one another. The observation of this by searching unbelievers reveals His presence, leading to repentance and salvation. Thus growth takes place as new believers are added to the groups.
There is a great sensitivity overseas to the responsibility of each believer to see his relatives and friends as a personal mission field, and the total of these persons connected to the group, as their “mission field.” Each group will list the total number of unbelievers and focus on how to jointly connect to them. Half nights of prayer for them are common. Group meetings will be planned to invite them as guests, where they are allowed to observe the members ministering spiritual gifts to one another. As the guests begin to share their own burdens, they are embraced in love as they surrender to Christ’s Lordship.
Thus, the stark contrast between American groups and overseas groups is the intentional ministry of the second group. They see themselves as vessels containing the Godhead, accepting the responsibility of exposing Him to guests by manifesting ministry gifts to one another.
Spending at least equal time being in the households of the unbelievers as spent in group meetings will take place in certain seasons of the group’s calendar, leading to a harvest point for the entire congregation. 
This is the third fact we shall discuss in Part 3, tomorrow.


Three Facts American Small Groups Can Learn From The Best Practices of Other Countries – Part 1: Guest Post by Ralph W. Neighbour

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to partner with this week’s guest blogger in many different ways. I edited his book, Christ’s Basic Bodies, written and led training seminars for the ministry he founded (TOUCH Outreach Ministries), and interviewed him for my blog and other writing projects. Neighbour is one of the pioneers of the groups movement in America and around the world. See my video interview with him here

Here’s what I love about this man: He will challenge you, if you let him, in your suppositions about small group ministry, community, discipleship, the church, and in many other areas. You may not agree with everything he says, but I encourage you to pay attention, because if you do, I believe you can become a better ambassador for God. 

May I challenge you over the next three days? Set aside any preconceived notions you may have about small group ministry. Just soak in what Dr. Neighbour has to say and learn from his experiences, especially those he has learned from the church in other countries around the world. 

GUEST POST by +Ralph Neighbour. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphNeighbour or on his blog at




For 45 years I have lived and traveled the nations of the world consulting for Cell Group churches. I have spent 8 years in Singapore and have spent considerable times in South Africa, Brazil, and the Ukraine. I have worked in Switzerland, England, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Korea, Russia, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Korea, China, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, and the Canary Islands.
I have been asked by Mike to share the three most important things American small groups can learn from what God is doing on our generation outside this nation. This is my parting shot to my fellow Americans. I confess to a total cynicism that it will have much impact. We are, as one lady from Pennsylvania said to me, “God’s Spoiled Brats.”
We have merchandised our faith so Mammon is equally worshiped along with our faith in God. Please understand my bias before reading further.
In place of the American focus on fellowship, the overseas movement focuses on followship. There is an awareness that Christ has been incarnated in His new body, one necessary for the present assignment of the Son. In the final prayer of Jesus before He was crucified, He discussed His new Body with His Father. He knew the body of Jesus limited his physical presence. It was sufficient for the first tasks assigned when He came to live among men. In Jesus’ body he could demonstrate the supernatural evidences of the Kingdom of God. It was expressed through miracles, not words. In that body He would become the Lamb slain for the sin of mankind. At the end, He could cry, “It is finished!”
But He knew there was a new task the Father had planned for him before time began. He defined it when He said “When I am lifted up, I will draw all the world to me.”
His new body would transport Him to small groups of people. Each new believer would attach him to a small group of relatives, friends, neighbors. As this group observed the believer’s new life, He would be their light, the light of the world
His new body would be formed by as few as two people (Matt. 18:20), He would be in their midst revealing Himself when they entered a household to spend time with the family (Luke 10). They would not reveal Him by doing good works but by manifesting His presence and power. They would heal, cleanse, deliver, comfort as He empowered them to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:3).  His new assignment was not for the group to study Him, or explain Him, but to reveal Him by being priests revealing His indwelling presence.
The body could be as small as a gathering of body members gathering as hands, feet, inward parts. We see them assembled in 1 Cor. 14:24ff.
To be continued tomorrow. Read Part 2: Overseas Bodies of Christ Have Harvest Fields.


Little Jerry … and his unhealthy effect on your group

A few years ago I was sick – really sick. I lost about 20 pounds, had stomach aches, constantly felt nauseous, and had a number of other symptoms you really don’t want to know about. The doctors ran lots of tests, and finally, after four weeks, discovered the problem. I had a parasite. Giardia intestinalis, to be precise, a microscopic single-celled parasite that makes it’s home in the intestines. I just called it “Little Jerry.”

It is somewhat unsettling to know you have something living inside of you, feeding on you, exploiting your body while contributing nothing in return. It’s amazing to see how microscopic organisms can affect the whole body. For weeks I was unable to function normally. I didn’t work. I couldn’t exercise. I nearly stopped functioning.

Something very similar happens when the Body of Christ gets infected with parasites. You know what I mean: people come into the church or your small group (which, by the way, is the church) only to take from it, not to give. Today we often call this “consumerism.” Regardless of what its called, it affects the whole Body, and if not cared for, can make it so sick it cannot function at all. These “parasites” pay no heed to Paul’s instructions in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippian church:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

Relationships in the Body of Christ are designed to be symbiotic, not parasitic. In symbiotic relationships, each part benefits the other, and both benefit the whole (synergy). This is a good definition for authentic Biblical community. 

In my next post, I’ll share a prescription for the Little Jerrys in your group.