G12 Churches: cults or discipleship with a plan? Part III

NOTE: This post is part of a Series on the G12 Model

In Part I, I discussed what I’d heard about the G12 model, and the possible cult-like abuses that may or may not be occurring in G12 churches.  In Part II, I outlined our very positive experience visiting Mercy Church, a G12 church in SLO.

In this part, I discuss the G12 model in detail, discussing the various roles and stages that a person can progress through in the G12 system.

Most of what I have documented below is from The Ladder of Success, written by G12 founder Cesar Castellanos.

As you will see, the G12 model is a complex, well-developed and thoughtful model on how to create and reproduce mature believers.  But there may be a dark side.

I have diagrammed the entire model in the image to the right (click to enlarge).

At the highest level, there are four main progressive phases:

  • Win - win someone to Christ
  • Consolidate - help the new convert solidify their decision and join a cell group
  • Disciple - help an attendee develop into a mature follower of Christ
  • Send - help the Disciple become a Leader and Discipler of others

Sounds pretty good, although the term ‘consolidate’ might make you pause, eh?

A. The progress and stages of the person across the G12 process

It took me a while to determine the various stages and roles in the model, and I may still have some questions, but here’s my best guess.

  1. Newborn - a person who attends the Sunday meeting, an event, or a cell group, and asks Christ into their life (that is, they have completed Phase 1: Win)
  2. Cell Member - as the first part of the Consolidation phase (Phase 2),a Consolidator follows up with new converts, and supports them in starting their new life, which includes getting them into the fellowship of a cell group.
  3. Cell Leader - during a member’s first year, they are encouraged to take the next step in Consolidation, which includes attending a weekend retreat, and following that, participating in the School of Leaders, which prepares them to be spiritual mentors and cell group facilitators.  Half way through the School, they can facilitate a cell group.
  4. Consolidator - once you are a cell leader, you have the opportunity to get trained as a Consolidator, who follows up with new converts, helping them, befriending them, and getting them to join a cell group on a regular basis.  This requires some low-level pastoral skills, including kindness, patience, and persistence, as well as the ability to answer basic doctrinal questions.  This step is not required as part of the progression, and can be done any time between becoming a Cell Leader and becoming a G12 Leader.
  5. Disciple - when a person is ready to move from being a Cell Leader to a part of the G12 Vision (reaching the lost through the ‘Government of 12′), they become someone’s Disciple.  This entails completing the School of Leaders and committing to be one of a G12 Leader’s “12″.  I have a feeling that, once you start the SOL and become a Cell Leader, the pressure or influence to continue on to being a G12 Disciple (“finishing what you started”) may be present, and perhaps formidable.
  6. G12 Leader - Being a G12 Disciple means that you have bought into the G12 Vision, and so, having so committed, you are probably irreversibly on the path to not only being discipled, but beginning the process of gathering your own 12 Disciples.  Once you are 2/3 through the School of Ministry (the next phase of schooling), you are prepared to start selecting your 12.  This may take time, and is not a ‘choose all at once’ process.  You start with a couple and take your time learning to love, serve, and care for your 12.
  7. 144 Teacher - Once your 12 Disciples have 12 of their own Disciples, you have 144 people under you following Jesus with all of their hearts – or that’s the idea.  NOW, you can attend the School of Teachers, and learn to do things like Visioneering, Pastoring, and leading many of the program’s retreats like the Encounter weekends.

Before I move on to the G12 Process and Training, some observations about the above roles.

  • Cell Member - I suspect that many people could just stay at this level, attending cell group and Sunday church, and never enter into the ‘Vision.’  My understanding is that the content for the Cell Group Bible studies is NOT indoctrination into the G12 system, but plain old bible studies, and there may be plenty of freedom in what these groups study. The Ladder of Success suggests one of Castellano’s books, but also mentions that you could use the week’s Sunday sermon (also not G12 oriented, but just plain bible teaching), or any other thing that interests your ‘homogenous’ group.  More on that later.  A synonym to help us understand ‘homogenous’ might be ‘affinity’ group.  Members with similar interests or demographics.
  • Disciple - at this point, you are still part of a small group, and perhaps leading one.  And you are attending the School.  And perhaps meeting with your G12 Leader’s Leader.  And attending Sunday church.  And maybe even volunteering in one of the Church’s “Departments” (child care, worship, etc.).  That could be VERY time consuming.  As one critic wrote (letusreason.org)The G12 system has numerous strict standards. In order to be part of the

    vision, you are expected to be dedicated, attend your cell group once a week, go to retreats, go out to evangelize, go the Sunday morning service and also attend special meetings with your leader’s leader. Each week is surrounded by these church things to do, as your social activities are contained within your cell group. Your week is taken up with these meetings to attend as they make you a more serious disciple.

  • G12 Leader - As I mentioned above if you become a Disciple, you have bought into the vision, and are pretty much committing to becoming at least a G12 Disciple.  You don’t have to go on to become a 144 Teacher, even if your 12 Disciples all get their own 12 (thereby getting you the 144 ‘downlines’ required as part of the 144 Teacher requirement). However, if one of your 12 goes on to become a G12, and then a 144, I suspect that they might no longer be one of your 12, but a Pastor in their own right, and so you would have to find a new Disciple.  That’s my guess, anyway.
  • 144 Teacher – the main advantage here is that you are now equipped to teach the critical events that move people along the pathway that you have trod – Encounters, Post-Encounters, Schools of Leaders and Ministry.  Basically, they have created the self-duplicating unit.  I suspect that somewhere along the line between G12 Leader and 144 Teacher, you have to go into ministry full time.  But I’m not sure.

So, no real problems yet, except that such a highly structured program should make you nervous if you have any experience with highly organized spiritual organizations, including cults like Scientology.

Even the scary ‘Consolidator’ is a clearly necessary role – traditionally, we just call it someone to ‘follow up’ with a new believer.  Instead of saying we are becoming somone’s “Disciple,” we could just say that we are setting up a formal mentoring program and finding a mentor.

What gives all of these things some scariness is that we know that behind all of this structure is not just the desire to help people become the best they can be, but the desire to have them adopt the G12 Vision.  And what happens if you don’t want to do that?

Well, that’s Part IV.

This article has 26 comments

  1. man, i worked hard on that diagram – no comments yet? Guess I gotta wait for google to bring in the small group of people interested in G12…

  2. Sorry, I'm reading and very intrigued. I've not run into G12 except on this blog, so I'm just waiting to see the total work.
    Seems good so far. I wonder, have you invited anyone from G12 to comment? Might be neat to have an inside perspective.

  3. Being a pastor in a G12-modeled church, I am looking forward to your conclusions. I think the tone of your articles are "cautiously-balanced," which is fine.
    I would remind you that not all churches are the same. There are many churches who follow the Colombian church in lockstep; there are many more who have vetted the best parts of the vision and customized them to suit their needs.
    Most of the articles you cited in the first part are very one-sided, both ways. It would be intersting to see what you think of an encounter weekend.

  4. MIKE, I have a question.
    How are the “Departments” of the church run? Music ministry, stuff like that? How do people get involved? Are they part of the G12 system?
    Have I represented it correctly so far? Thanks.
    Also, I’d love to hear how your implemented the G12 process, what led you to do that, and what perils or weaknesses this model might have.
    All models have weaknesses, but the ones whose strengths are in the right places are worth pursuing.

  5. Daniel,
    I think what you've written is a fair representation of the "official" G12 model. I have visited many churches based on this model, and few follow it as precicely as the church you visited.
    We do use the four-step approach; Win, Disciple, Consolidate, Send. We do work toward developing each believer in Christ as a leader, though do not consider them a failure if they are noy led to cell leadership. We do have a School of Leaders, although we no longer use the G12 materials.
    Our church has been cell-based since its inception 27 years agao. About 5 years ago one of our cell leaders was invited by a friend to an encounter weekend at another G12 church. After some investigation, several of our leaders decided to go, including our senior pastor. We began to incorporate the G12 model into our church life. It was not easy at first, and we've made some adjustments to the basic model, but it has been working well for us.
    As far as our "departments" go – we have a strong worship ministry which draws members from the various cells. There are some church-wide ministries (the financial board, the missions committee, the deacon's board…) but most of "church life" is done in cells. Our youth ministry is actually its own cell network, with its own pastor, as is our children's ministry.
    As far as weaknesses go, I would say the biggest one is the ability to lose sight of the people in persuit of the vision. G12 should be a framework, not an absolute. There is a tendency to focus more on the structure than on what it can do.
    Successful G12 churches have taken the best parts of the model and customized it to their own congregations.
    Also, please note, that with anything there is the potential for abuse. I've heard horror stories regarding churches that have abused the G12 model. But that kind of abuse can rear its head in ANY church model.

  6. Is G12 largely a charismatic or pentacostal movement?
    Not trying to put them in a box, but I've read recently that the majority of growth in in South and Central america fits into that broad category, and I'm wondering if G12 is a piece of that. (Read that in Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity, just picked it up and am enjoying it several chapters in…)

  7. I would say it's more Pentecostal than charismatic, but yes, there is certainly a stress on the spiritual. Encounters focus on both spiritual warfare, as well as Spiritual gifts.
    I would imagine that someone raised in a cessasionist tradition would be a little uncomfortable.
    Many of the "churches" in Central America particularly have corrupted the process and turned it into a means to fleece unsuspecting and desparate people. When I was down there doing mission work several years ago, a mention of the word "encounter" in a legitimate church would get you tossed out in a hurry.

  8. Mike, please pardon my many questions, I appreciate any time you have to answer.
    >> MIKE: I would say it's more Pentecostal than charismatic
    LOL, I wonder what you think those differences are. To me, the only real difference seems to be with regard to music – Pentecostal is more old-fashioned, and dislikes casual dress on Sundays ;)
    >> MIKE: We do work toward developing each believer in Christ as a leader, though do not consider them a failure if they are noy led to cell leadership.
    Good, that was one of my concerns. What happens to people who don't want to 'get with the program'?
    >> MIKE: We do have a School of Leaders, although we no longer use the G12 materials.
    Interesting. Why not? What do you like better? Have you read From 12 to 3, which talks about applying G12 principles but not in 'lockstep'?
    >> MIKE: There are many churches who follow the Colombian church in lockstep;
    That is something I want to learn more about. How did the first G12 churches that left do so? Did it cause a rift? Did Castellanos talk about being betrayed? Were there concerns about over-control in the organization?
    >> MIKE: there are many more who have vetted the best parts of the vision and customized them to suit their needs.
    How could I find out what they did? Have they published?
    >> MIKE: It would be intersting to see what you think of an encounter weekend.
    Absolutely. Having been party to some bad religion, though, I am not easily manipulated. I was part of a charismatic organization that practiced and abused some things like inner healing and deliverance, and definitely practiced Baptism in teh Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking on tongues.
    I am no stranger to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in services, and do love it. Interestingly, I think the strongest I ever experienced was at a Francis McNutt rally – but that's another stream of xianity altogether (Charismatic Catholic).
    I have also been part of some other intense weekend workshops, so I am no stranger to them – things like Rapport Intl's "Leadership Breakthrough" (awesome), as well as a 10 day silent Vipassina retreat (Buddhist, and also awesome).
    Thanks again Mike. I am mulling over what kind of structures my own church should have, and the G12 model does address some of weaknesses of how we do modern church very directly.
    ONE MORE THING
    I really wonder about how much variation you can have in cell groups. Can they become 'Mission Groups' of their own, studying any topic that the cell leader and members would like to explore? Things like Christianity and the Arts, or Alleviating Poverty? Do they have to be Bible Studies? Just wondering.

  9. >>DANIEL: LOL, I wonder what you think those differences are. To me, the only real difference seems to be with regard to music – Pentecostal is more old-fashioned, and dislikes casual dress on Sundays ;)
    I admit it! I wear a tie!! Seriously, my definition of the difference is Charismatics are more "experience" based, and Pentacostals are more biblically grounded. I suppose the two terms (and meovements) have been muddled a bit of late, but I still equate "charismatic" with a following of man.
    >>> DANIEL: Good, that was one of my concerns. What happens to people who don't want to 'get with the program'?
    Depends on them. Most belong to a cell and come to church on Sunday like anyone else. Some have decided that they prefer a more traditional church model and have moved on, but that's the exception.
    >>> DANIEL: Interesting. Why not? What do you like better? Have you read From 12 to 3, which talks about applying G12 principles but not in 'lockstep'?
    Our biggest issue with much of the G12 material is practical. They were written in Spanish and translated into English. Some of the translations are terrible. Also, the books were written with Latin American churches in mind, and some of those ideas do not come over to the American mindset well.
    We've found some excellent resources (I foget who just now) that was written specifically for the American church.
    >>> DANIEL: That is something I want to learn more about. How did the first G12 churches that left do so? Did it cause a rift? Did Castellanos talk about being betrayed? Were there concerns about over-control in the organization?
    I have no idea. We were never an offical part of their network.
    >>> DANIEL: How could I find out what they did? Have they published?
    I imagine some have. One of the better resources is Bethany Cell Church Network in Louisiana. They put a lot of stuff out there, and most of it is very good. We use some of their resources.
    >>> Daniel: I really wonder about how much variation you can have in cell groups. Can they become 'Mission Groups' of their own, studying any topic that the cell leader and members would like to explore? Things like Christianity and the Arts, or Alleviating Poverty? Do they have to be Bible Studies? Just wondering.
    I can only speak for the way we do things. Our cell leaders are free to develop whatever teachings they feel led to. Some have done systematic, expository bible studies, others are broader, more topical teachings. In the cell group I lead, which is children 10-12, we did topical studies most of last year, and have been doing an exposition of John for the last couple of months. I've done lessons that are not "bible studies" per se, but they are always grounded in scripture.
    >>> DANIEL: I was part of a charismatic organization that practiced and abused some things like inner healing and deliverance…
    That's a delicate tightope. On the one hand, those things are quite real and effective. On the other, done wrong, they can be more damaging than healing. I have confidence that we do well in this area. No one has ever walked out of any of our encounters and complained about them being overboard or abusive, and we've done over a dozen of them now.

  10. WOW! As a member of MercyChurch, and having been personally called many things by many different people from "your a cult" to "you guys are crazy for Jesus", its really nice to read a reviews that is balanced and measured.
    Thank You.
    I gotta ask…what was your advise or conclusion that you presented your friend with? Is MercyChurch a cult? :)

  11. >> SPK: I gotta ask…what was your advise or conclusion that you presented your friend with? Is MercyChurch a cult? :)
    The problem I have is that I am so busy I never seem to be able to complete the series that I start. I'll try to get back to this. Before I render a conclusion, I want to cover the risks I see in the Encounter model – that is, abuses of deliverance ministry and baptism in the holy spirit with evidence of tongues. I am not against these, but they can be ministered in a controlling, abusive way.

  12. not bad. There are some minor details that could be changed/clarified…but the real thing about the G12 vision is that the diagram isn't what its about. Its really about the heart of Christ to see the lost saved.

  13. I am hoping that you do get back to this. I agree with spkldbrd that your take on it has been fair so far.
    Incidentally, I'll be helping facilite a men's encounter in a few weeks! :)

  14. "Daniel son" I think your being recruited by Michael Mahoney

  15. >>MIKE: I have no idea. We were never an offical part of their network.
    So Mike Mahoney's church was never in the G12 network…their experience is with what they have gathered for themselves from what is available. My point is, I wouldn't say his represents the majority of actual G12 churches connected to the network – being overseen/discipled by someone from MCI in Colombia.
    >>DANIEL: Did Castellanos talk about being betrayed?
    If you are part of the G12 network or go to the conferences there is talk of being betrayed and division…when the youth pastor (Cesar Fajardo) at MCI left the movement and others left at the same time. Many who left were referred to as rebellious, disloyal to the pastor or disloyal to God.
    >>> DANIEL: Good, that was one of my concerns. What happens to people who don't want to 'get with the program'?
    There really isn't a place for such people in a true G12 church. The reason being that the focus is so driven on "being fruitful" which to G12 means running a cell group/getting 12 then 144 etc. Those who attend without starting a cell will consistently hear the messages aimed at getting them to start a cell, and will frequently be told that they need to start a cell. If a leader decides that the person is a "lost cause" and is not going to start a cell or become part of their 12, that leader may decide just to meet with that person less frequently or not at all.
    Therefore, most people that won't start a cell or have tried and failed end up leaving the G12 churches. Also because typically in order to lead/participate in the other ministries with the church (children's ministry, praise & worship, media/arts, etc.) the person has to be a cell leader.
    >> MIKE: It would be intersting {sic} to see what you think of an encounter weekend.
    Well, I think you would have a different experience depending on which churches Encounter you attend. From what I have seen online regarding peoples Encounter experiences/testimonies, some churches had crazy weird things they were doing and others had miraculous moments of healing etc.
    >>> Daniel: I really wonder about how much variation you can have in cell groups.
    If it is a G12 church connected to Colombia, the cell groups are pretty structured. The open cell meeting has the goal of winning the lost. It is an hour long. It usually has a set teaching that all cells will do on the same week. Those teachings probably come from a G12 book…or the sermon or some other book, really whatever the pastor says.
    The closed cell is the cell of the 12 and is invitation only (hence it is called closed). The cell leader is forming those people into mature disciples. The pastor usually has a team of 12 and that is a different cell – the Principle 12.

  16. Hi I currently attend Mercy Church in San Luis Obispo and this article has been really interesting and well-balanced as one person already commented. The outside perspective is very helpful to read and I appreciate the time put into crafting such a well thought out article.
    I have been someone who many times has critically examined the G12 model and asked myself, “How do i really feel about this teaching?” or “Can i fully embrace this idea?” I definitely think that pastor Ceasar in Columbia is onto something great in terms of helping people have a strategy for winning the lost but it is true that it’s important for every individual church to use the model and the teachings in a way that cares for and benefits the unique members of each congregation.
    However, i have been involved in a handful of churches during my decade of being a Christian and have seen how obviously every church has its weaknesses and areas that need to continue to always be changing and developing.
    During college I was involved in an amazing nondenominational Christian church that was composed of mostly college students (like Mercy Church) and then a handful of young families and a few older folks (like Mercy Church). The church was in a town with two universities and the church had a reputation for being “artsy and folksy” in worship which seemed to attract the younger crowds. Anyway, I attended this church for over two years but often felt frusterated because i was unable to really get involved or make any lasting friendships. there were small group meetings held throughout the week in that church that certain “star Christians” had started. Oftentimes in churches where leadership isn’t emphasized or encouraged to everyone it is seen that the masses are just followers or the “average people” and only those who are super zealous and born leaders leaders take on any kind of responsibility in the church.
    So i attended that church for two years without really getting involved, without anyone really prompting me to give of myself and time to serve the church, without really investing anything…i just went sundays to hear a sermon. and this wasn’t all bad- i had a good experience and learned a lot.
    My point though is that that church’s weakness was that it failed to bring about a cohesion that is necessary to make people feel included and involved and empowered – people go to church to grow with God but also to find fellowship, friendship and companionship with other people who value the same things. everyone wants to be a part of something great. I think the structure of Mercy Church allows people to feel a part of something and gives people tangible ways to get involved and not just be a “receiver” at church but also a “giver”.
    Now obviously controlling people isn’t the answer. Using guilt and manipulation is always a wrong motivator so if people have felt that used against them then that’s not okay. At times during my involvement at Mercy Church i have felt pressure to do certain things and take on certain responsibilites – but i know in my heart that no one is making me do it, and i know that if i don’t speak up about my concerns i’m at fault. I’m free to follow the Lord and i know its my responsibility to keep my heart in check to make sure i’m serving God and not man.
    Many people who have in recent months left Mercy Church have said that they have been labeled rebellious and bad and off limits from church leadership. However, I personally do not respect the way that many of those people have left the church. If someone is leaving a group of people that they have invested with, built friendships with, lived life with then there is a responsibility to give an explanation of why they have decided to move on (even if they find that uncomfortable or difficult), tie up loose ends and relationships and then move on. If certain people disagree or don’t understand then that’s okay but the people leaving are the ones who are responsible for “how” they leave a church. And they should feel confident in their decision.
    However, many people who have left Mercy Church seem to have an agenda- they didn’t leave in a positive way where everyone could support them in it: they made accusations, cut off relationships, and then have not really moved on. They seem to have an agenda to convince other people why Mercy Church is a “cult”.
    Therefore, maybe they left for very legitimate reasons and have some criticism that could have been helpful for our church but they were “rebellious” because they left in a very immature way that hurt many people. This is not a G12 thing it is a human relationship thing. For example, if you think the organization you work for is full of corruption and needs to change then if you just hold it in, get fed up and angry inside, and then one day just walk out of the office saying “this place is messed up, i’m done!” and never come back then you are not helping anybody. You are not helping solve the problems at your organization and you are at fault for not tring to work something out in a proper manner that is about problem solving, not just criticism.
    This is a lengthy post but i am passionate about this because I am not a brainwashed soul who’s stuck at Mercy Church. I have my own mind. I struggle with things – i regularly evaluate whether my life looks how God would want it to look- i struggle with usually being obedient enough to the Lord: i don’t think i’ve ever felt like i’ve been too committed to the things of God or that maybe i should chill out and be less obedient. Sometimes God asks me to rest, so i rest. But I’m a sinful person so my flesh usually wants me to escape responsibility and just take the easy road. So i’m happy im in a church that regularly emphasizes the importance of actually doing something with my life that’s not all about me.
    And because of the whole “situation” of people leaving and such, Mercy Church leadership has used it as a great opportunity to evaluate our methods, our tactics, our heart as a church and some wonderful changes have already been made. That is how I know it’s not a creepy cult: the leadership is willing to change and evolve and take the hard criticism to make our church the best it can be.
    Some current changes include changing to 9am service to something more traditional without the lights and dancers and more traditional music. This way a more conservative audience could enjoy the service and feel comfortable. This may also help us grow in our age demographic as a church and have more diversity in our congregation. Also, people can now choose to attend either the 9am or 11am service and not just go to whatever service their cell group is assigned to.
    Also, it was decided that people should not be challenged or required to attend the School of Leaders. Becoming a leader and carrying responsibility is a personal choice for someone and nobody can make that choice for someone else.
    Lastly, cell leaders have been encouraged to help people to simply take the next step with God where ever they are at. If someone isn’t ready to go on Encounter then that’s okay, just help them move forward with God in some way – just let them hang out where they are comfortable until they decide they’re ready for somethign more. Encourage people and help them but let the Holy SPirit lead them. THe pressure to get people to certain events or things has been dissolving and cell leaders are being encouraged to just love people where they are at rather than produce a certain result as it has been in the past.
    Anyway, those are my thoughts! I’m thankful that there are many different kinds of churches in San Luis Obispo where people can find a place to worship God that they enjoy. :)

  17. One last thing: For the past few decades it seems like many authors, pastors, and Christians have written about how the American Evangelical church is in desperate need of revival because many Christians seem to live exactly the same as non-Christian (maybe worse sometimes)…how Christian culture allows people to hang out in church and just take take take. Contrasts have been made between countries that have been experiencing great Christian revivial in the past few decades like South Korea and China and it has been said that American Christians need to get serious about following their God or they are going to end up like Europe…a once Christian nation now spritually dead and apathetic to faith in God.
    Again, i'm not for controlling churches. But maybe the surge in churches with more structure and push on people is a response to get the American Christian church to actually BE and LOOK like Christians- you know, give up your whole life for the sake of the gospel. Be different.
    And maybe some churches have gone too far and made it TOO controlling or TOO extreme in an attempt to get Christians to get excited about God and his Kingdom. Maybe they've pressured people too much to committ. Maybe they've pushed the envelope and become too extreme in their thinking…
    Maybe in the next few years we'll all find the middle balance…
    …but with criticsm of churches that are maybe "too much", you have to acknowledge that the heart behind many (probably not all, but many) of them is that the "too much" extremes comes from years of being in church and seeing "not enough".
    So don't put lables of "CULT" on a church unless it really is a cult where the leader is manipulating and controlling and brainwashing people, abusing the weak, and asking them to do harmful things in order to gain power. Most groups labeled cults in the past were the KKK or religious sects that lead people to commit mass suicides or cut themselves off entirely from family members and pledge allegiance only to their group and leader that claimed he was chosen by God and therefore everything he said was literally God speaking.
    Mercy Church may have done things that have made people uncomfortable or feel hurt because the performance standard was too high. So the church needs to change. But please be careful when labeling churches, AKA: the Bride of Christ and what Jesus came to establish and save and set apart- a cult.
    Unless it's really a cult, hurt Christians should not use that word as a weapon against churches in order to lash out or back at someone. It only causes problems within the body of beleivers that drives nonChristians even farther away from wanting to be a part of any kind of organizated religion and hurts people within the church that really just want to see the Kingdom of God make its way into our world more and more everyday.
    If a church is too extreme for you or you feel uncomfortable, simple: don't go to it and find a place that works for you.
    my official statement: Pastor Terry is a passionate guy who really wants to inspire people to love and know God in a real kind of way. I truly don't think he wants to harm anyone spiritually, emotionally, physically or socially. Him and his wife often talk about the importance of family restoration and that God wants to restore family relationships so that people can experience healthy dymanics within family relationships. (this is something found in G12 literature as well) He talks about how to find healing in God so that we can live as redeemed people and not stay broken or in bitterness or depresssion. He talks about being a blessing to our community and world. Anyway, his teachings and the church he established has helped me in my life a lot and since being there i have experienced God do a lot in my life. I experienced God in my life too before Mercy Church but the people i've met and being in a church where i'm known and involved has really helped my relationship with God.

  18. >> WENDY: Oftentimes in churches where leadership isn’t emphasized or encouraged to everyone it is seen that the masses are just followers or the “average people” and only those who are super zealous and born leaders leaders take on any kind of responsibility in the church.
    That is a really interesting observation. I definitely think we need to be training people to lead and shepherd others, and the G12 model directly addresses this. I guess the danger is when that becomes the ‘system’ or the ‘machine’ behind the church, and people get crushed or left behind for not ‘keeping up.’
    >> WENDY: I think the structure of Mercy Church allows people to feel a part of something and gives people tangible ways to get involved and not just be a “receiver” at church but also a “giver”.
    And do you think that better, more real friendships are developed in this type of system/culture?
    What about people who feel it is ‘not for them’ because it is too pushy, agressive, demanding, or ‘cookie cutter,’ in that it only has ‘one way’ of getting people involved? I am not criticizing, just thinking of what critics might ask.
    >> WENDY: At times during my involvement at Mercy Church i have felt pressure to do certain things and take on certain responsibilites – but i know in my heart that no one is making me do it, and i know that if i don’t speak up about my concerns i’m at fault. I’m free to follow the Lord and i know its my responsibility to keep my heart in check to make sure i’m serving God and not man.
    This is where it gets dangerous. If a person has enough maturity to know that requests for help aren’t demands, and so they don’t feel guilty and are not marginalized by the church when they can’t or don’t contribute at some higher level of time/money, then all’s well.
    But if they are marginalized, that’s bad. In addition, if the leadership is authoritarian, and people DON’T feel they can say no, but do anyway, they may choose to ‘blame’ themselves for not being mature or ready enough. Even your respons above gives me a little pause – victims of religious manipulation routinely b lame themselves and not the leadership.
    >> WENDY: Many people who have in recent months left Mercy Church have said that they have been labeled rebellious and bad and off limits from church leadership.
    If they have, that’s a real red flag – the accusation of rebellion is typical for authoritarian and spiritually abusing churches. Here’s the thing – everyone is rebellious to some extent, but it’s the grace-filled, holy-spirit dependent leader that knows he is running a volunteer organization, not an army.
    >> WENDY: However, I personally do not respect the way that many of those people have left the church. If someone is leaving a group of people that they have invested with, built friendships with, lived life with then there is a responsibility to give an explanation of why they have decided to move on (even if they find that uncomfortable or difficult), tie up loose ends and relationships and then move on.
    While I agree with you, I would put more blame on the shepherds than the sheep. If they were not mature enough to leave maturely, it’s likely that (a) the leadership never taught them how to mature, and what that looks like, and (b) failed to inspire them.
    There IS something to be said about Jesus’ hard words for his disciples, and he did drive many away when he saw they were just there for the food. So some fallout is to be expected in a church that calls people to true discipleship.
    As leaders, if we are treading the ‘higher comittment’ road with our discipleship, need to be constantly watchful that we are leading and not beating the sheep, we need to have more of a heart for people than the work, and not excuse ourselves from improving our heart and methos by saying ‘they left because they were rebellious.’
    >> WENDY: They seem to have an agenda to convince other people why Mercy Church is a “cult”.
    And these accusations should not be taken lightly by either the leaders or the members. Controlling organizations often deflect criticism when it is due, often as ‘the devil’s attack.’
    >> WENDY: if you think the organization you work for is full of corruption and needs to change then if you just hold it in, get fed up and angry inside, and then one day just walk out of the office saying “this place is messed up, i’m done!” and never come back then you are not helping anybody.
    That really depends. In most cases, people that leave with this attitude have no influence with the leadership, which is where the change needs to happen. Trying to turn the Titanic could take years of blood sweat and tears that most people do not care to invest.
    And in my experience, controlling organizations eventually implode and return to small membership if they don’t change. If I got into one again, I would try to influence the leadership (now that I am a pastor), to help the sheep. But if it continued, I would break fellowship and move on, shaking the dust off my feet. Phariseeism and legalism are poison. And I would let the sheep know why I was leaving in no uncertain terms.
    >> WENDY: This is a lengthy post but i am passionate about this because I am not a brainwashed soul who’s stuck at Mercy Church. I have my own mind. I struggle with things – i regularly evaluate whether my life looks how God would want it to look- i struggle with usually being obedient enough to the Lord: i don’t think i’ve ever felt like i’ve been too committed to the things of God or that maybe i should chill out and be less obedient.
    That is great to hear.
    >> WENDY: But I’m a sinful person so my flesh usually wants me to escape responsibility and just take the easy road. So i’m happy im in a church that regularly emphasizes the importance of actually doing something with my life that’s not all about me.
    I have mixed feelings about the phrase “it’s not about me.” This smacks of a one-sided gospel which I addressed in the podcast sermon Finding God’s Call III – A Biblical view of self-love. Give it a listen and tell me what you think.
    >> WENDY: That is how I know it’s not a creepy cult: the leadership is willing to change and evolve and take the hard criticism to make our church the best it can be….Also, it was decided that people should not be challenged or required to attend the School of Leaders. Becoming a leader and carrying responsibility is a personal choice for someone and nobody can make that choice for someone else.
    Excellent, that sounds good. Actually, that sounds great!
    >> WENDY: Lastly, cell leaders have been encouraged to help people to simply take the next step with God where ever they are at. If someone isn’t ready to go on Encounter then that’s okay, just help them move forward with God in some way – just let them hang out where they are comfortable until they decide they’re ready for somethign more.
    That sounds like a much more graceful method, it sounds very good. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  19. I have been attending a G12 church for the past 5 years. I always considered myself a christian but i never really knew who Jesus was. As a matter of fact I remember my heart getting offended when the church I attend to now would talk about worshiping Jesus and that He is God. I thought to myself He isnt God… God is God. I stayed though and working through my muddled vision of what actually being a Christian means.. I came to know the real Jesus. Out of all those times of celebrating easter and Christmas as a little girl the truth was never fully presented to me. What I love about my church is that I literally have had my eyes open. I faced alot of persecution. My mom grounded me a month from church I submitted. It was the worst ever. I suffered from verbal and sometimes physical abuse and I felt that going to cell group and church was my safe haven. It was a way that I could focus on all the things that truly mattered in life. My family rejected me. They found reason to make accusations about me and to be mad at me. In all this time… my mom, her boyfriend, and my sister all were suffering demonic oppression (something i wouldn’t be able to recognize if i didnt go to my church) first my moms boyfriend wanted to commit suicide… he later left our house… which i think was a devine appointment because He moved right next to a church and they invited him. He later on gave his life to God and got baptised. My mom also suffered from thoughts of suicide. She neglected me- She would leave before i woke up and wouldnt be home by the time i went to sleep. Nights i worried if she was ok. She wouldnt by food for the house and it wasnt the hunger that made me sad it was looking at the empty fridge knowing that she eats at resturaunts with her boyfriend and i was at home alone and she didnt care to make sure i had something to eat. she tried to send me away two times. All the while i tried my hardest to get good grades…keep the house clean… i even would try to give her breakfast in bed when she was home. Anything i could because i wanted to have a good relationship with my mom. I felt like i could never do anything right. she stoped coming to my track meets and when i got phnemonia she didnt even take me to the hospital. One day i woke with a horrible pain and i felt something was really wrong but she was at work.. in pain i cried to God to heal me- i had couldnt even walk to the bathroom so i knew i had no way of getting to the hospital- God did a miracle. It wasnt til 2 years later that i was faced with the same pain and had resources to go to the hospital that it was apendicitis. That stuff doesnt just go away… it was a miracle. She tried to send me away again in a subtle way and long story short kicked me out a day b4 my birthday. She is convinced my church “kidnapped” me because it was a day before my 18th birthday. Later on i tried to reconcile with her and she confessed she was contemplating suicide. Also during the time my sister was trying to get me to move out with her states away- i felt God called me to remain where i was- i prayed and fasted- and God confirmed. My mom moved over to be with my sister and i found out she had had an abortion and wanting to commit suicide. I was broken. I blamed myself for awhile. I cried out to God. I thought why is all this happening? I seemed to be the only one emotionally and mentally healthy yet i kept on getting attacked. My moms friends were accusing me of being on drugs… people thought i was brain washed… my family held resentments against me for making my own decisions. I look at my family and see in them the generational curses. They are all over weight and becoming obese… they have kids without a father figure… there are so many health problems… they work hard and get money and then lose it all… its just one thing after another. I notice by the influences around me that i was able to over come some of the things that they struggle with. I would tell myself when they finally see everything that God is going to do in my life… because i committed to Him and chose be faithful… He is going to use me to show them His love. People freak out when there is a complete change in a person. I was never really stereo typed as bad but in my transformation I started reading my Bible…and praying… and seeking to teach people what I had learned. I asked people if i could pray from them and you know what? God did miracles! People were healed. I was healed. I was heled at gun point and almost Kidnapped and God led me to a house… just so happend that the only door that opened to me was a girl i knew at church. I didnt even know she lived there! We are not fighting against flesh and blood but against pricipalities of darkness. I was thinking the same thing wendy was saying. We want revival but we have become so deaf to hearing Gods voice we arent even going in the direction God wants to lead us too! I dont agree with everything my church does of course. No church is perfect because people arent prefect. I actually had a highschool friend who i went to church with once. she told me later on it was g12 and i thought WHAT!? I actually was going to bring her to my church before i found out she was christian. Her life style didnt match up. Her parents listened to really bad music… she ended up leaving the house with a boyfriend and she got pregnant before marriage. Im not condemning anyone all i am saying is… salvation and relationship with God is personal. My church’s main goal is to do the will of God and grow with God. Annointing flows through us when we take the stand to accept the purpose God has for us and we choose to submit our lives to God-as Jesus said “not my will but your will Lord” we often find that when are cup is full of something really hard to accept we want to deny it. Not because its not in the will of God but because its hard! It wasnt easy for Jesus to die on the cross, to be rejected by all, to be forsaken by His own father, to be mocked, spat on, beaten…etc. Jesus promised persecution. He tells us to pick up our cross. Jesus was acused by the pharisees of being possessed… being a blasphemer… Jesus talked about if even the son of God is persecuted what makes us think we wont be. One thing that is important is to consider the source. Everyone that persecuted me… where were they in their walk with God? Their relationship was practiacally non-existent. They did the very thing the Bible says that God hates… they lived adulterously, they course jested, and spoke Gods name in vain, they beared false witness (told lies about me and gossiped), and they werent able to appreciate the very thing God himself gave them… their life! They wanted to kill themselves. It breaks my heart how easily Satan can cause distraction in the body of Christ. If people read their Bible and would give thanks to God they would have more conviction of the words that they speak and things they do. We will give account to every word spoken. God opened my eyes to see that what Jesus said is really profound. Love others as you love yourself and pray for those who persecute you. My families lives were being put at stake…people are dieing and going to Hell everyday its unfortunate that crooked people try to munipulate others… but thats what happens in a sinful world. We as individuals must use discernment in all things. Like the bible says- “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” This debate could go forever because their are people that have been offended but the Bible does say in proverbs that a wise man over looks and insult. I use this scripture all the time. Of course i get offended. People say things they shouldnt, they dont always make the right decisions…we are sinners.. but Jesus says to forgive others 7 that 70. We have to have forgiveness in order to have a healthy relationship with God. Judge not lest ye be judged. I can think of sooooo many more sciptures that is continuously backing up how we should behave. If something goes blantantly against the Bible then its a cult… but if not… just like the religious leader in the Gospel spoke of- perhaps you will find that you are fighting against God himself? God is a loving and understanding God… He says that people are wicked… are righteousness is like filthy wrags. Why are we surprised when Gods word is true? I laugh because at the end of the day… its all about Jesus. Read your word, pray, asked the Holy spirit to bring conviction to you, examine truthfully your motives… and then all should be ok. In the end its not by our might or by our strength but by the spirit of the Lord.

  20. one more thing…my mom went to my church one time what she accuses my church of being a cult is from outside resources and the fact that i was going alot not because she was an actual member… she is doing much better though. I love her very much and God has helped strengthen our relationship and she is now currently going to another church (she wasnt going to one at all before) She still has negative remarks once in awhile but i know she suffers from alot of things from her past. My sister is also doing much better. One day i was mad about something i didnt agree with and I told God I dont trust anyone! He told me… its ok… you dont have to trust them… all you have to do is trust me. I try apply that principle now in everything… Seek the kindom of heaven and the rest shall follow.

  21. well, i’m back. after many years at this church, i left. its interesting to see all the recent comments…and here are a couple more for you all :)

    is the church a cult? first we need to quickly define ‘cult’.

    mercy church does not fall into the classic view of:

    groups that follow other writings or give authority to something other than the bible.

    but they do fall into another, even more dangerous category:

    groups that twist the bible, changing it to fit whatever they fancy.

    how can i say this?

    with statements like these found in teachings:

    “if you don’t have 12, you will be washed away like the sand”

    “in order to be a real christian you must have 12″

    “you will be asked by god to present your 12 when you are judged”

    these are just 3 of dozens of teachings i could outline to show how the bible has been twisted and lies are given as truth to be followed.

    I recently had a friend visit the church who went home crying. the message was clearly about people who were not fruitful according to the g12 model and how they would be cut off and burned in the fire. my friend doesn’t even go to this church and could see how this scripture was twisted to slander people who had left the church.

    was mercy church always like this? no

    think of thin slice of pie…one line point straight up, one pointing just off straight up. they used to go straight up…follow the bible…then g12 came along and things got off to the right a little. so little that you don’t even notice until you are so far off from the truth that you can’t see your way back. (yep, talking about myself)

    a friend who goes to mercy church recently said to me:

    “gosh, i’ve been reading my bible, and g12 doesn’t really line up with what god says does it?”

    this was from a baby christian who decided to find out for himself what the bible said about being fruitful.

    i’ll make this final statement:

    mercy church uses fear, lies, false teachings and emotional manipulation to keep people submitted to the g12 model. its hard to see when you in it. it took me along time (years). i’m mad at myself for staying there, and sad that it continues, but glad that there are places to let the truth be known.

    question everything, read your bible, know the truth.

  22. Did you ever finish this series? This blog post was written in 2009 and it’s now 2013. I am doing research on G12/Encounter because our church is researching the possibility of making it our main ministry approach. My husband has attended 1 Encounter retreat and is currently in a cell group. The leader, who is also our senior minister, is expecting him to become a cell group leader this fall, and my husband is very reluctant because of all the secrecy. We were apart of a church that was once affiliated with Maranatha, then it joined Sovereign Grace Ministries, which we believe to be a cult. We left 5 years ago. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a similar “heavy shepherding” ministry, which we are about to leave to avoid further indoctrination. So, I ask you to please publish the remaining blog posts in this series, if you already have them written. If not, please write them. It’s important for more questions to be asked and more debate about this ministry model, which seems fishy to many. Thanks and God bless you.

  23. Jack,

    I never finished the series, but here’s the remainder and conclusions in a nutshell.

    1. The pastor adopted G12 because his church was only growing by adding existing christians, not reaching and discipling new ones.

    2. I think there are two ways to do G12 – in lock step with the mother church in Columbia, which I think is poisoned with control issues. The other is to adopt it, perhaps modified, without being part of their prophetic network. There is at least one book out there about how to do G12 principles without opting into the whole network and system. I would recommend that.

    3. In my view, there are a few places where G12 can go awry and end up hurting people, and you need to watch yourself in those areas. They are:

    a. In the consolidation weekend, if people are manipulated into committment, or are forced to speak in tongues (directly or indirectly) as evidence of the Baptism in the HS, I think you could do more harm than good.

    b. Any place that ‘deliverance ministry’ is used is a risk, I’ve seen it do as much harm as good. So take your chances there.

    c. Decide how you are going to gently handle those who are too injured, or just busy with their current phase of life (like having young children) to go along with the program and its timetables. You need to provide systems for them that are less time-aggressive or time consuming, and realize that an army who does not care for its wounded sucks. We are also shepherds with sheep. We are growing people, not the organization.

    People want to participate, but if you are too hard on them, you’ll lose them.

    Hope that helps, and keep me in the loop, I’d love to know more about your motives and decision process, struggles and results!