As a pastor, I've helped lead a church through transitioning to a cell church, and am now currently Sr. Pastor of a 13 year old church that has been a cell church almost from its inception. As a result, pastors who are either transitioning their churches or who are exploring the idea often contact me.
The one thing I tell them most often is that cells or small groups can NOT be just another in the list of options offered to your people! Cells can't simply line up alongside all the other ways for members to choose from as to how the people in your church are going to grow and mature in their walk with Christ.
The reason this is the case is because cells or small groups is an incredibly labor intensive approach! If you as a church are going to do cells right, you need to know how much time, leadership, and energy they require. Small groups are not merely something that runs on its own.
This is where pastors often err. Since small groups are decentralizing, they believe that means they can just let things happen. Not so! Cells are a New Testament approach of how to lead the church in such a way that believers are genuinely involved in one another's lives. This involvement results in maturing, spiritual growth, discipleship, evangelism, etc. The reason for making a move to being a cell church (or even a church of small groups) is not that it is easier, but because it will be more effective. In truth is it is NOT easier – Just think of all the times you've done things on your own because you knew it was easier to do it yourself than to explain and train someone else to do it!
When I was leading the church through transition to becoming a cell church we often used the phrase that we were "betting the farm on cells." By this, we knew that cells or small groups had to be THE way – not one of the ways we were presenting. In transitioning, we were constantly asking, "How could we do that through cells rather than the existing program?" in order to create more time, leadership, and energy. We had a hospital visitation program. We ended it and started systematizing visiting people in the hospital through cells. We had a greeter ministry. We phased it out and started assigning different cells to rotate caring for this task. We utilized a large group of deacons – mainly for caring for communion and other such tasks. We streamlined to a core of deacons who, instead of doing the ministry, were the ones contacting cell leaders and ensuring the ministry would be cared for by their cell members.
Each time we dispersed a ministry, we would challenge our people to get tied into a cell because that is how we were handling that ministry aspect now. Each time we released leadership from an existing program; we would challenge them with the constant need for leadership in cells, and encouraged them to begin the process of plugging in there.
In a perfect world where everybody had way too much time and energy and the church's biggest problem was knowing how to turn down so many able and willing leaders then small groups would be a great sub-ministry – stacked up along side all the other programs of the church. BUT if a church is truly going to make cells or small groups work in the real world, it is going to take choosing better over good, and most effective over "the ways we've always done it." Not everybody is ready or able to make the shift, but as somebody who has done so, I can tell you there is no better way! The gain is worth the pain! The result is seeing your people be genuinely in the ministry rather than watching it. It is seeing people ministered to, cared for, and growing in ways you only hoped for. It is seeing evangelism happen because everyone gets involved in the process of loving people into openness to Jesus. As someone who has been there, I could never go back!