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G12 Churches: cults or discipleship with a plan? Part III8 min read

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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.

img_0027I 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 ( G12 system has numerous strict standards. In order to be part of thevision, 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.