Please see our update article on G12 for latest developments.
This is an issue that we have often been asked about in recent months. We are aware that many well-known figures in the Christian world are involved, but we still feel that we have something to say on the matter.
Please do not prejudged what is being said here but read the article and see that it holds some constructive comments, without simply rejecting the system out of hand. The researcher that undertook this piece speaks Spanish and so was able to read many documents in their original language.
The Christian Church has had many differing emphases over the years, and one of them is the emphasis on small groups.
Charles Wesley developed his cell group system called Bible Classes which in its day became extremely effective, some historians believe that it was an important factor in the success of Methodism and played its part in saving Britain from a bloody civil war.
Watchman Nee developed cell groups in the 1930's and 40's and maintained a witness in the China of Mao Tse-Tung during the years of intense Christian persecution.
Dr Yonggi Cho adopted the cell principal in South Korea and his success in establishing the largest church in history has effectively impacted Churches in most of the world.
The House Church movement in England, during the 70's and 80's, was very effective in terms of church growth and influenced many established churches to experiment with small groups. A number of different cell group models of church have been developed in recent years especially in the United States. The Jethro Model based on Jethro's advice to Moses in Exodus 18 is a major one.
The latest of these small group, or cell group, movements is called G12. Originally this stood for Groups of 12 but has changed to Government of 12. It is very much a third millennium movement, and because it is relatively new, not a lot is known about its long term fruit.
History of G12
MCI Bogotá Colombia
César Castellanos Dominguez the pastor of a church in Colombia felt that traditional methods of growing a church were not working, so he resigned from his pastorate and began to pray about a solution. In 1983 feeling that the Lord was giving him specific direction he formed the MCI [Misión Carismatica Internacional or International Charismatic Mission] with the aim of reaching 200 people within 6 months. Pastor Castellanos was encouraged to be able to reach his target in 3 months. In 1986 the opportunity came to visit Dr Yonggi Cho's church in Seoul Korea. He was so impressed by the cell church method that he returned to Colombia and adapted the Yonggi Cho cell church model for his own church.
The adoption of the cell church principle made a difference to Pastor Castellanos' church and by the end of 1991 there were 70 effective cells. Although confident that he was on the right lines Pastor Castellanos was not satisfied and felt he needed something which would accelerate growth. As he prayed about this he felt that God showed him the concept now called G12. César Castellanos writes,
"In 1991, the Lord removed the veil from my mind and gave me a deep revelation about the meaning of 12. I had asked myself why Jesus taught 12 and not 11 or 13. I also thought the larger the number, the faster the work would progress. Why did Jesus invest His effort in just 12 people? Then I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit deep in my heart. He said if I trained 12 people, reproducing in them the character of Christ in me, and each of them did the same with another 12 - the continuation of the process, with every group of 12 transferring what they receive, would lead to unprecedented growth in the church". - Successful leadership through Groups of 12, Pastor César Castellanos
Pastor Castellanos wrote in another place,
"I began to see Jesus' ministry with clarity. The multitudes followed, but He didn't train the multitudes. He only trained 12, and everything he did with the multitudes was to teach the 12. Then the Lord asked me another question: 'If Jesus trained 12, should you win more than 12 or less than 12?'
"1. Jesus chose 12 to reach the multitudes.
"2. He stayed with these 12 permanently, until they were trained and He released them, gave them authority and empowered them to disciple the nations.
"3. The call is to find the 12 and to reproduce Christ's character in them."
Pastor César and Pastora Claudia Castellanos
César Castellanos chose 12 and César Fajardo (his brother in law, and youth leader) did the same with the youth. There was an explosion of growth from 1991, when there were 70 cells, to 1999, when they had grown to 20,000 cells and 45,000 people were meeting regularly in celebrations. Each cell has between 6 and 25 people and the official MCI figures state there are currently around 28,000 cells.
For the sake of completeness it should be mentioned that both César and Claudia Castellanos were politicians within the Colombian State Government system before they moved to their present base in Miami Florida. From 1992 to 1994 Mrs Castellanos was a State Senator. There was a serious attempt to assassinate them both in May of 1997 when they were shot in their car and both were seriously injured. In 1998 Pastor César Castellanos was elected to the Colombian House of Representatives. (See Christianity Today Article)
In 1999, Kensington Temple Network's Spanish speaking church led by Pastor Edmundo Ravelo adopted the G12 system. They soon grew from 40 to 2,000 members, and now in 2003 there are near to 4,000.
Pastor Colin Dye the leader of the Kensington Temple Network of churches, seeing the growth as a result of the G12 method, took a team of leaders to Colombia to Pastor Castellanos' church in 2000 and as he reports "The team came back from Bogotá full of joy and ready for the public launch of Kensington Temple's own G12 vision - Discipleship Cell Explosion" This vision began to be implemented in September 2001.
Pastor Ken Gott of the Metro Church in Tyne and Wear orignally implemented the G12 system in his church in 2001, but as their new website shows they are now no longer active in this movement. Pastor Jimmie Dowds at The Vine Church in Dunfermline implemented the system in 1998. Other Churches in Britain are, or already have, made the transition.
A number of Pastors of large congregations around the world, such as Larry Stockstill Bethany World Prayer Centre Baker, Louisiana, USA and Lawrence Khong Faith Community Baptist Church Singapore joined what was a growing pyramid of leadership.
What is the G12 System?
The process operates around what is called the ladder of success:-
When a person is won for Christ, a process of consolidation begins for that person in the cell group which he or she is brought into. This consolidation process involves Bible teaching and incorporation into the G12 vision. The first stage is called pre-encounter. The cell group will be all male or all female and the goal of the group will be to increase to twelve by the evangelistic efforts of the members. Pre-encounter will consist of the cell leader giving time to the convert to prepare them for the encounter weekend which will be an intensive weekend of personal ministry involving, according to Colin Dye;
* Breaking of Curses.
* Inner Healing.
* Baptism with Water.
* Baptism with the Holy Spirit.
* The G12 Vision.
There is then a period of post-encounter help for the convert, through the cell meetings, supervised by the cell group leader and usually in the leader's home, and celebrations at the level of the wider fellowship; this is the discipleship process. When it is deemed right the convert will begin the leadership training programme. Before the third term of the leadership training programme each cell member is required to initiate and organise a new cell to perpetuate the system. This is the sending part of the process. This planting of a new cell is essential for the candidate to be able to continue with the training programme.
Factors of Growth
There are factors which impact on the ability of the system to create and sustain growth. Here are some of them:
In the light of this it seems rather presumptuous to question such an obviously effective fruitful movement, which is endorsed by so many men and women of stature, but we believe there are some legitimate questions which must be asked.
An important principle of hermeneutics is that we must be careful to differentiate between the clear teaching of the Bible, as understood by mainstream Evangelicals, and logical inferences drawn from it. I have no doubt that G12 has much to commend it as a method of church growth, but under the scrutiny of the Word of God some of the teaching in its support appears to be at best logical inference rather that clear biblical teaching.
This may not mean that we reject the whole movement but we believe it is the responsibility of leaders to at least check out these issues before embarking on this system in their church.
The Number Twelve
There is no doubt that the number 12 in scripture is a significant number and that it carries the meaning of government and authority among men. It figures largely in the genealogy of the Jewish nation; it has a large place in the prophetic sections of the Bible and Jesus certainly chose 12 apostles in the pre-Christian period before he instituted the Church. Pastor César Castellanos' claim that he has had special divine revelation concerning the use of 12 in the G12 movement is impossible to refute. How can it be established whether or not a man has heard from God? What must be firmly stated however is that there is neither teaching nor precedent for this use of 12 with regard to church government in the entire New Testament.
It is interesting to note that the risen Christ gave the great commission in MT 28:18-20 to eleven disciples and He made no reference to adding to their number, it was the early church that made up the twelve by casting lots. Apart from choosing 12 Apostles initially, Jesus neither taught nor practised the multiplication of 12 and the number was not taken up by the early church apart from choosing a successor to Judas. It is significant that Jesus also chose another 70 [Luke 10:1-12] and empowered them in the same way as the 12 to heal and preach, and there is no suggestion that this 70 were in any way organisationally connected with the 12, apart from the fact that they were engaged in the same pre Christian mission to heal and to preach. It would appear that the symbolism of twelve was maintained by Jesus and the early church leaders but the literal number was nowhere striven for in the way that the G12 movement teaches and preaches.
New Testament Models of Church
The rigid pyramid structure of 12 x 12 recurring is not the lively stones model of I Peter 2: 5, where Peter depicts the church as being made up of stones which are not made into the same shape, but are constantly changing. Nor is it the body model of 1 Cor 12ff where the church is depicted as being made up of different members each with their own distinctive strengths and capabilities, gifts and individuality. The G12 system on the contrary depends on everyone becoming a pastor and leader and not to be able to function as such constitutes failure.
Doctrine of the Movement
The doctrinal stand of the movement as can easily be observed belongs in the word of faith school, this is a quote from Pastor Castellanos:
"Once you know the miracle you want and can see it clearly, you only have to give the word of authority for it to be revealed exactly as you dreamt. Then what we conquer in the spiritual realm can be brought by faith to the natural realm. And so in this way the Lord can transform the chaotic in something beautiful. He had only to decide and then speak in order to see the miracle of creation fulfilled. And we are participants in this divine nature." - Effective Leadership.
In other words we visualise the miracle which we want; which then only requires our word of authority; which is the same authority as Christ's, to make it happen.
The logical conclusion of the current direction of G12, is that there will be one exclusive international church with Pastor Castellanos as the head. Although there is a denial of heavy shepherding, this is a quotation from Ken Gott in his address to the 2002 conference in London.
"I am in Pastor César's international team, my wife is with Pastor Claudia, been part of that team for over a year and count it a great privilege and honour, and I do honour him today, and also for giving me the privilege of addressing you also because when I am speaking to you I am well and truly under his authority I want to make it known that I am not under his authority in the vision alone, he is my spiritual father and he is my mentor and any part of my life he is allowed to speak into and frequently does" later on in his address he says this "I don't have the mind set that I had before...If Pastor César said- "Ken & Lois I'm sending you to Miami; God will look after the church, God will raise up somebody else"- I want to tell you I would go. The problem with the western mind set is we say I'll pray about it."
The G12 movement itself considers that the vision is only effective if the complete system is deployed, in other words it must be adopted whole, without adaptation, as a franchise. Pastor Gott says in his address to the 2002 Conference in London.
"This vision is Gods vision He has instructed me in the values of His house I'm not ready to adapt this vision, I'm not calling it G7 or G5 if its G12 its G12. If Pastor César Castellanos says we need 12 for government then hey guys we get 12. If the ladder of success is win consolidate disciple send, then let's get this ladder in place. If we need encounters and if we need school of leaders then lets get encounters lets get school of leaders. Let's give the Lord a clean piece of paper that he can start to write upon".
There is a testimony which shows how the transition to G12 of an English church caused some considerable spiritual harm. Although the views expressed are rather emphatic, it does highlight some dangers and should be read in full to see that not everyone is happy with G12. The writer sums up her experience by talking about whether in the end trust is put in man or God, we read,
"Do not put your trust in man
As a young Christian in the faith, you tend to trust man, thinking that he is appointed by God - which he may be - but the tragedy of it all is that we neglect putting the Word of God in practice, that is: to diligently heed the Lord's warnings concerning false teachers, etc. In such churches, we are not encouraged to study the Scriptures for ourselves but have our minds kept very busy with the preacher's "revelations" and "teachings" received from, apparently, the Holy Spirit - using Scriptures out of context -.I find that the hierarchy in G12 is a return to Old Testament priesthood under the Law.
I believe that some are seduced through their own ignorance of Scriptures, taking whatever information they received for granted, without going to the Lord in prayer and studying the Scriptures for themselves, whereas others are plainly there for greed, power and some sort of success."
Joel Comiskey who has written a number of books about cell church, two of which were supportive of G12 expresses concerns in an article entitled "Concerns about the G12 Movement". The article should be read in full but in summary Comiskey's 3 concerns are:
Spiritualization of the Number Twelve in the Bible
Franchising of the G12 model
And The division this model is causing
This article also shows that Steve Irvin a missionary in Bogotá, Colombia who has been obliged to pick up some of the pieces of the International Charismatic Mission shares Joel Comiskey's reservations and there are a number of other cell church leaders in the States who are becoming increasingly critical of this system.
We, who care about the lost, are under much pressure to find a system which grows the Church at a fast enough rate to reach everyone with the message of the gospel during this generation. No traditional method tried to date is even breaking even. It is a temptation to find a system, which takes advantage of high pressure methods and it must be said that G12 is producing results beyond expectation. In the end we must ask ourselves if church growth methods, which deal in this way with the Word of God, will ever produce, in the long term, something which is God pleasing and Christ honouring.
The Assemblies of God churches in Portugal, who are indeed concerned about Church growth, have checked out the beliefs and practices of the G12 movement and have rejected it, as this Portuguese document shows.
We have had many reactions to, and responses from, this article already (June 2005) and I am sure there will be others. We have therefore started a companion G12 Experiences article. Here we will put testimonies and experiences, both positive to G12 and negative, in the sense of not working out in your experience. Please email your experiences and we will update the web page over the next months. The experiences can be anonymous on the site should you wish (please make this clear when you email) as long as we have all the details on file.
Further related articles can be found here.