Concerns about the G12 Movement
by Joel Comiskey – Fall 2002

I greatly respect Steve Irvin ’s discernment on the G12 movement (to obtain Irvin’s analysis, write Steve Irvin at LosIrvin@cs.comor The Irvins moved to Bogotá, Colombia before ICM even started—and they’ve lived there ever since. Steve understands church life and Colombian culture far better than I do, and he’s had the opportunity to observe the International Charismatic Mission up close for many years. Steve is also a strong proponent of the cell church movement, having planted a growing cell church in Bogotá , Colombia .
My understanding of ICM comes from visiting ICM each year from 1996-2000 in order to write my two books: Groups of Twelve (Touch Publications, 1999) and From Twelve to Three (Touch Publications, 2002).
Both Steve and I are deeply troubled by what we are observing in the G12 movement today. The concerns I share with you fall into three categories:

Three Concerns : Spiritualization of the Number Twelve in the Bible
I listened to the entire audio cassette series of ICM’s 2002 cell church conference in preparation for my book From Twelve to Three. I was aghast by the spiritualization of the text (eisegesis) to justify the primacy of the number twelve.
We’re told that Elijah would not have chosen Elisha if he had been plowing with eleven instead of twelve oxen and that the number twelve was the key to the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost.[1] We’re told that the twelve stones that Elijah used to build Jehovah’s sacrifice resulted in God answering his prayer [2] and that “the model of the twelve restores the altar of God that is in ruins.”[3]
I freely admit that the number twelve is an important number in the Bible, but it’s not the only number that carries great weight in the Bible. There were three disciples who had special intimacy with Jesus, Jesus was raised up on the third day, and there were three crosses at Calvary . God created the heavens and earth in seven days, the sabbatical year occurred every seven years. The day of Atonement occurred in the seventh month. Seven signified fulfillment and perfection. The number ten signifies completeness, as illustrated in the Ten Commandments. Forty is associated with God’s mighty acts in the history of Israel and the church.
On top of this, the New Testament provides no evidence that the apostles or other church leaders attached any significance to a specific number of disciples chosen in a church. In Acts, the New Testament history book, you won’t find the apostles diligently looking for twelve disciples in order to follow Jesus’ pattern of twelve disciples. In order to apply theological significance to a particular number of disciples in the church today, it is necessary for the entire bible to give witness to this practice. I find no substantiation for the idealization of the number twelve or any other number in Acts or the Epistles. In addition, it is absent in the rest of church history and 2000 years of theological development.

Franchising of the G12 model
Franchising is the new talk circling around the G12 world. You have to follow the entire G12 model, just as a McDonalds franchise has to follow exact standards. Granted, some church programs on the market also require that you follow the exact methodology (e.g., marriage encounter, E.E., etc.). But following a distinct, specific program is quite different from following an entire church structure. It’s like asking all C&MA churches to look exactly alike!! (if you want to receive a special anointing, of course).
This wasn’t always true. When I first studied the ICM G12 strategy back in 1996-1997, I observed a carefree excitement and open sharing of information. Yet in 1998 and beyond, I’ve noticed a certain exclusivity that has progressively become more iron-clad and closed minded. This exclusive thinking is reflected in the quote by José Rivas, senior pastor of IPETRI, an independent Pentecostal Church that represents ICM in Chile, “One of the first things we learned in the vision was: you must adopt; not adapt. We must not forget this premise. To adapt the vision reveals pride, vanity, and self-sufficiency. Pastor Castellanos says this: ‘why should we try to re-invent the wheel, when it’s already been invented.’ He is right.”[4]

The division this model is causing
In a very real way, the G12 movement has separated themselves from the cell church movement, claiming to be God’s new wineskin for the last days. Listen to Ralph Neighbour ’s appeal in a paper he submitted to the Cell Church Missions Network in November 2002, “The concept of building a multilevel marketing structure that peaks in the authority of a special Global Apostle with his hand-pi cked assistants has now come into existence. Bedazzled by the promise of fast tra ck growth for their congregations, pastors are kneeling to kiss the gold rings worn by the Apostles. At the same time, they are severing relationships with fellow cell church workers who are not among the devotees. In many parts of the world, painful reports are coming about pastors who one or two years ago were very intimately involved in helping each other and working together in the cell movements in their cities but who now shun fellowship with others who did not bow before the Apostle’s strategy.”
I hesitate, for example, to freely send pastors to iron-clad G12 churches because instead of receiving an open-ended cell church message based on principles, they’ll receive a one-way model that is either accepted or rejected. I’m greatly saddened by the cleavage this is causing.

Two Rebuttal Arguments :
The “I want to be just like César Castellanos” argument
Castellanos took Cho’s cell system and totally adapted it to fit his circumstances. If Castellanos had the liberty to change and adapt at will, we should take the same liberty. Let’s follow Castellano’s example and never lock ourselves into one closed system!!
Furthermore, what makes us think that ICM has now arrived at THE model, when the church has been continually revising its model ever since it adapted Cho’s model in 1986.
I believe, in fact, that we must keep innovating in order to stay relevant. If we copy someone else’s model in its entirety, there is the danger of always being several steps behind, which will force us to play “catch-up.”
For example, if you try to copy ICM’s model, what will you do when they change? Will you have to go back to ICM and re-learn their new adjustments? (and in this situation it’s even more difficult since they speak a different language and come from a different culture).

The “one-meal menu” argument
When I go to a restaurant I want to choose from a variety of food on the menu. Granted, some restaurants only let you pick the one lunch special or one dinner special. Yet having only one item on the menu is not a positive sign.
When I go to a cell church conference, I like to see a creative model because it shows me the senior pastor and staff have done their homework and paid the price to discern what works for them. Yet, I want to take from the conference principles that I can then apply to my distinct cultural context and situation.
John Wesley is a great example of adapting small group concepts to establish his own cell church system (the method of the Methodists) over 250 years ago. We’re told that Wesley had an “…an unusual capacity to accept suggestions and to adopt and adapt methods from various quarters” (Latourette 1975:1026). George Hunter says, “He learned from exposure to the home groups that the Lutheran Pietist leader Philip Jacob Spener developed to fuel renewal and outreach, and Wesley learned particularly from the Moravians. Wesley also learned from Anabaptist groups and from the occasional ‘societies’ with the church of England, so his group movement was eclectic Protestant” (1996:84).

George Lucas’s recent Star War’s movie, The Attack of the Clones is relevant to what we’re seeing in the modern day G12 movement. We need to resist this cloning by magnifying God’s wondrous creativity through the application of the principles behind the cell church strategy.
One of those principles that we hold dearly to in the cell church movement is that the cell is just as important as the celebration and that both of them must be equally emphasized. We find this principle in the New Testament church. The early church celebrated together in large temple gatherings and then met from house to house (Acts 2:42 -46; 5:42 ; 20:20 ).
But let us humbly admit that none of the current cell church models are perfect. I wouldn’t promote Yongii Cho ( Seoul , Korea ),Ralph Neighbour ( Houston , TX ), Mario Vega ( San Salvador , El Salvador ), Larry Stockstill (Baker, LA), Dion Robert ( Abijan , Ivory Coast), Billy Joe Daugherty ( Tulsa , OK ), or César Castellanos ( Bogota , Colombia ) as having the only true biblical cell church model. The pattern, or principle, is cell-celebration. The application of the cell church for today is varied and changes from culture to culture and church to church.
God is using the cell church throughout the world. The cell church strategy will constantly need refinement and adaptation to improve its overall quality and effectiveness. G-12 principles help us refine the cell church strategy—not replace it.

[1] Claudia and Cesar Castellanos, The Vision Of Multiplication, Audio Cassette. Bethany World Prayer Center : International Cell Conference, 2001.
[2] Claudia & César Castellanos, Audio cassette. How to Influence Others ( Como influir en Otros) January 2002 conference in Bogota .
[3] César Castellanos, The Ladder of Success ( London : Dovewell Pblications, 2001), p. 25.
[4] José Rivas, Carta Pastoral, in the bochure for the Convención Celular (March 2002), p. 23.


• Question: “What is the G12 vision / movement?”

Answer: The G12 vision / movement is a cell-church discipleship strategy pioneered by Cesar Castellanos at International Charismatic Mission of Bogota, Colombia, where he was a pastor. Castellanos believed that God spoke to him in a vision, laying out what He desired the Church do in response to the end times. This vision was the “government of 12” principle, a hierarchal pyramid scheme of discipleship and authority. He proposed that because Israel had 12 tribes, and Christ had 12 disciples, the Church needed to base their structure on this governmental model and become a cell-church.
The G12 model works this way: a pastor trains 12 people to be cell leaders. These cell leaders are each responsible for discipling 12 others in a cell group, usually with a minimum number coming from the community and not from within the church they attend. After a specified time, and after certain strict requirements are met, these cell members then become leaders themselves, and start their own cells. Thus, the membership of the church is multiplied, and the message of the Gospel is taken into the community.
Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong with this cell model. Churches worldwide are constantly seeking to discover the right balance of model and ministry to be effective in their communities, and this is yet another method they can use. However, the teachings that often accompany this model are what need to be questioned.
Consider Cesar Castellanos himself. Castellanos is part of the charismatic New Apostolic Reformation, which is doctrinally unsound. This movement believes that God has raised up present-day apostles to continue the work of the original apostles of Scripture and that these present-day apostles are in charge of overseeing the work of the Church on earth. They are associated with phrases such as “name it and claim it,” the “Toronto blessing,” “word faith,” “signs and wonders,” and “health and prosperity,” all unbiblical teachings. Castellanos borders on believing that God gives them post-canonical revelation, including the G12 vision.
Leaders of the G12 movement have also made a number of questionable statements, such as, “The model of ministry based on 12 is the most effective means of obeying the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to win disciples and of growing the Church” (from a brochure for a G12 conference being held in India in 2003). Also implied by G12 leaders is that Government of 12 is what God is doing now, and that if you’re not on board with G12 you are opposing God. None of this, however, can be supported by Scripture. Dividing a church into cells of 12 cannot even be supported by Scripture. What we do find in Scripture is that the Church is likened unto a body—many parts make up the whole, each part just as necessary as another (1 Corinthians 12). The Church is led by elders, served by deacons, and filled with believers. How each individual church is to govern and organize itself is left open to interpretation and supposition by Scripture.
The G12 vision / movement simply isn’t found within the pages of the Bible, nor are many teachings its proponents espouse. This is where the true danger lies. As a church-growth model, G12 seems to have worked for many churches, but its association with doctrinally corrupt teachings leave much to be desired for those intent on retaining Scripture, and not man’s teachings, as the sole measure for one’s life (2 Timothy 3:15-16). (

Question: “Should a church be seeker sensitive?”

Answer: In recent years a new movement within the evangelical church has come into vogue, commonly referred to as “seeker sensitive.” Generally, this movement has seen a great deal of growth. Many “seeker” churches are now mega-churches with well-known pastors who are riding a wave of popularity in the evangelical world. The seeker-sensitive movement claims millions of conversions, commands vast resources, continues to gain popularity, and seems to be attracting millions of un-churched people into its fold.
So, what is this movement all about? Where does it come from? And, most importantly, is it biblical? Basically, the seeker-sensitive church tries to reach out to the unsaved person by making the church experience as comfortable, inviting, and non-threatening to him as possible. The hope is that the person will believe in the gospel. The idea behind the concept is to get as many unsaved people through the door as possible, and the church leadership are willing to use nearly any means to accomplish that goal. Theatrics and musical entertainment are the norm in the church service to keep the unsaved person from getting bored as he does with traditional churches. State-of-the-art technology in lighting and sound are common components of the seeker-sensitive churches, especially the larger ones.
Expertly run nurseries, day care, adult day care, community programs such as ESL (English as a Second Language), and much more are common fixtures in the larger seeker churches. Short sermons (typically 20 minutes at most) are usually focused on self-improvement. Supporters of this movement will say that the single reason behind all the expense, state-of-the-art tech gear, and theatrics is to reach the unsaved with the gospel; however, rarely are sin, hell, or repentance spoken of, and Jesus Christ as the exclusive way to heaven is rarely mentioned. Such doctrines are considered “divisive.”
The seeker-sensitive church movement has pioneered a new method for founding churches involving demographics studies and community surveys that ask the unsaved what they want in a church. This is a kind of “if you build it they will come” mentality. The reasoning is that if you give the unsaved better entertainment than they can receive elsewhere, or “do church” in a non-threatening way, then they will come, and hopefully, they will accept the gospel. The mindset is to hook the un-churched person with great entertainment, give him a message he can digest, and provide second-to-none services. The focus of the seeker church then is not Christ-centered, but man-centered. The main purpose of the seeker church’s existence is to give people what they want or meet their felt needs.
Further, the seeker-friendly gospel presentation is based on the idea that if you will believe in Jesus, He will make your life better. Relationships with your wife or husband, coworkers, children, etc., will be better. The message the seeker church sometimes passes on to the unsaved person is that God is a great cosmic genie, and if you stroke Him the right way, you will get what you want. In other words, if you profess to believe in Jesus, God will give you a better life, better relationships and purpose in life. So, for all intents and purposes, the seeker-sensitive movement is a type of system based on giving unbelievers whatever they want. What too often happens in such a system is that people make a profession of faith, but when the circumstances of their lives don’t immediately change for their material good, they forsake Christ, believing He has failed them.
How are people responding to the “seeker” movement? Many people have responded and begun attending seeker-sensitive churches. Many people, indeed, have come to faith in Christ as a result of a seeker-sensitive church. But the bigger question is, “What does God have to say about all this?” Is it possible for a movement to be successful from a human perspective, but be unacceptable to God?
The basic premise in the seeker-sensitive movement is that there are many people out there who are seeking God and want to know Him, but the concept of the traditional church scares them away from faith in Christ. But is it true that people are truly seeking God? Actually, Scripture teaches the exact opposite! The apostle Paul tells us that “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). This means there is no such thing as an unbeliever who is truly seeking for God on his own. Furthermore, man is dead in his sin (Ephesians 2:1), and he can’t seek God because he doesn’t recognize his need for Him, which is why Paul says that there is no one who understands. Romans 1:20-23 teaches us that all unbelievers reject the true God. They then go on to form a god that is what they want (a god in their image or the image of something else). This is a god they can tame and control. Romans 1:18-20 says they knowingly suppress what they know about God through His creation and that they are subject to God’s wrath, another doctrine studiously avoided by the seeker churches.
God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in creation, but unbelievers take that clear knowledge and revelation God has graciously provided and flatly reject it. This leads to Paul’s statement in Romans 1:20 that they are “without excuse.” What man finds when he seeks on his own is nothing more than a god of his own creation. Man does not seek for God; it is God who seeks for man. Jesus said that plainly in John 15:16; and John 6:44. The idea of thousands or even millions of unbelievers really searching for the true God is an utterly unbiblical notion. Thus, this movement is based on an unbiblical concept of the nature of the unsaved person, which is spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person does not seek God, nor can he. Therefore, there is no such thing as a seeking unbeliever. He does not understand the things of God until he is made alive by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Until the Father draws him (John 6:44) and the Spirit awakens the heart so he can believe and receive the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), an unsaved person cannot believe. Salvation is completely the act of God whereby He draws and empowers the dead sinner with what is necessary to believe (John 6:37, 39-40). What part do we play in the salvation of others? God has commanded that we are the instrumentality through which the gospel is proclaimed. We share the gospel, but it is not our responsibility to make people believe, or even to try to be persuasive or manipulate them into believing. God has given us the message of the gospel; we are to share it with gentleness and reverence, but we are to share it, offensive parts and all. Nobody believes the gospel because a speaker is persuasive. People believe because of the work of God in their hearts.
God has not been vague on what His church is to be like. He didn’t leave us guessing. He has given us direction on how men are to lead His church (Acts 6:1-6; 14:23; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Ephesians 4:11), the ordinances of the church (1 Corinthians 11, Matthew 28:19), and the worship in the church—it is to be on the “Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7), and is to consist of preaching and teaching, prayer, fellowship (Acts 2:42) and the taking of an offering (Colossians 3:16). Here, the seeker movement has missed the mark completely with its man-centered focus. When an unsaved person enters church, should our goal be to make him feel as comfortable as possible? When it comes to issues like our kindness, speaking respectfully, or even physical comfort, all who enter the church should be treated well. But the unsaved person should never feel “at home” in church, which is the body of Christ. The preaching and teaching of truth should make him feel very uncomfortable as he, hopefully, realizes the state of his soul, comes to know the existence of hell, and recognizes his need for the Savior. This discomfort is what brings people to Christ, and those who attempt to circumvent discomfort are not being loving. In fact, just the opposite is true. If we love someone, we want him to know the truth about sin, death, and salvation so we can help him avoid an eternity in hell. According to Paul, when an unbeliever enters the church and the Word of God is preached expositionally (taught directly from the Scriptures), he will be convicted and called into account for his sin. The secrets of his heart are disclosed as he confesses and repents of his sin; this leads him to humble himself and worship the God who has provided the sacrifice for his salvation.
If we apply the standards of the seeker-sensitive movement to evaluate Jesus’ ministry, we get some interesting results. At one time, Jesus was preaching to thousands, and He clearly offends nearly all of those who heard Him. They desert Him, and “from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). The Greek words in this verse mean they left and never came back. Jesus warned us that, far from healing our relationships with others, Christians will experience rifts in their closest relationships because of Him (Matthew 10:34-37). It is true that once we are saved life is better because we are reconciled to God and have a right relationship with Him. This provides the deepest peace that can be known. However, the rest of our lives will almost certainly be more difficult than before. God has said that we will experience persecution (Matthew 10:25), the rest of the world will look upon us as fools (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23), and we may even experience deep divisions in our own families all because of Christ (Luke 12:53). Jesus never intended for us to be popular with unbelievers, saying instead that He came to bring not peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
The basic philosophy, theology, purpose, and end of the seeker-sensitive movement are entirely man-centered. However, some would say that regardless of the purpose, motive, and outcome of the movement being wrong, we can’t argue with the principle of getting the unsaved through the doors to hear the gospel. Certainly, any exposure we can give the unsaved to the gospel is a great thing. However, the seeker-sensitive movement sometimes doesn’t have the real gospel. Rather, it is a shell of the truth; it is hollow and void of the truths of sin, hell, and the holiness of God.
How is the rest of the body of Christ to respond to the seeker-sensitive movement? We are to “contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We are to be all the more vigilant to model our churches after the instruction of Scripture. Eventually, this movement, like all others which have come and gone over the years, will run its course and fizzle out. The seeker movement is large and well accepted, but it will eventually give way to the next fad, and in some ways that has already happened with the Emerging Church movement. Oddities within the church come and go, but the biblical church, like her Lord, endures forever.

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  1. Norberto S. Saranilla says:

    It gives me more information about this group. Thanks and God bless.

  2. christian says:

    hey bro,do you have any idea regarding the Polity of G12 movement?

  3. Martin M says:

    The reason for G12 is getting new people and keeping the fruit while trying to reach your full potential. That is why the cell model is there ( we call ours Lifegroups just saying) this video is cool too

  4. anne says:

    i suggest that you check your heart as you make this write- ups against the G12 vision. our main business as Christians is to witness the salvation that we have received, and not criticizing the works of our fellows. i believe God is using this movement to save more lives. it is never a bad thing to reach out more people. G12 doesn’t share its name, but it shares deeper and a more intimate relationship with God.
    let us not be closed minded, let us always check our hearts

    • Mark says:

      the truth” will always be the Truth” no matter what happen.. (Jesus Christ is the truth)…
      im not a fan of G12, and im not against it, in fact i personally sees it as a very nice system to evangelized. I really find this article very knowledgeable and fool of fact and for me, We as christians in this modern generation must be aware of 😀

      lets work together to give Glory to God.
      and to God alone through Christ Jesus our Lord 🙂

  5. Rick says:

    Excellent and balanced article. I like the way you approach the topic without getting hostile. To Anne, I advise that you do not assume that someone someone who disagrees with your opinion has something wrong with their heart and are closed minded. We should always compare everything to scripture and discern it according to the Spirit of God. The author did not bash G-12 and say that nothing good is coming from it, but rather he observes a distinct imbalance in it’s methods. We cannot automatically assume that any method that a church applies that brings salvation to souls is proper and perfect. Take the history of the Philippines for example and consider how the Spanish converted the Filipinos to Catholicism. There was good fruit that came of it but not every tactic employed was the best course of action to take. As a minister of the gospel I have looked back at past ways of ministering and observe that while certain actions ultimately resulted in good fruit, there was a more effective way to accomplish it. I have witnessed G-12 first hand and applaud the positive fruit that is being produced, but I have also observed the leaders becoming so puffed up over the good fruit that they completely overlook some serious drawbacks. Yes there are drawbacks to G-12. If I were to write about them here, then it would be longer than the article of this author.

  6. Pingback: From United Methodist Church of Davao Concerning G12 | hazelcrizaldo

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