Forming a Cluster

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By Dr. Randy Rowland

If you read the history of the early church from the Apostles to the Fathers to the Monastic Movements, you see the power of ministry clusters emerging in and out of close geographic proximities. It is encouraging to see this clustering approach to the missional extension of the church re-emerge across the world in the early 21st Century. Clusters can be multi-denominational or they may represent a grouping of churches within a particular denomination, such as the CRCNA.

A working definition of a cluster is:

“A cluster is a localized gathering of church and ministry leaders sharing a common vision, strategy, resources and system for developing leadership, planting new churches and ministries as well as adding to the health and vitality of existing churches. This synergistic effort is undertaken for the sake of the Gospel."

Many individuals and groups are asking how to get a ministry cluster going. This paper will offer a step-by-step approach, with this proviso: This is a basic template, not a blueprint. There is no need to copy this in total. Each cluster will have its own unique character, or DNA. Yet, what you will read here is a common methodology that appears to be working.

Step 1: Pray a lot. Is the Spirit calling the churches in your area to form a cluster? Seek God’s discernment on what your particular role should be in the process of forming a cluster if the leading is there.

Step 2: Meet with a few other key leaders to talk about the idea of a ministry multiplication cluster in your area. Set aside several hours and enjoy a meal together so that you can really dream.

Step 3: Determine the radius of your cluster. For instance, in the Pacific Northwest, one classis is the state of Alaska plus Western Washington. Within the Classis, a number of kingdom-building, ministry multiplication clusters are at different stages of forming. There is the Anchorage Cluster, The Whatcom County Cluster in Northwest Washington, the Skagit Ministry Cluster in Western Washington and the Seattle Ministry Cluster. In each of these cases each cluster’s member churches are within about a 30 minute drive of each other. It is important to keep the circle pretty tight, even if that means more clusters.

Step 4: Organize a 4 hour meeting at a central point in the geography of your cluster and invite all of the senior ministers of the churches in that area to join for prayer, discussion and a meal. Move in the direction of committing to a monthly meeting for a cluster and make a set date for the meetings. Also, commit to reach out and try to include anyone that did not make this meeting. And, if needed, volunteer to go to partner churches and meet with key council members or the entire council to ensure that the pastors are freed up to do the kingdom work of a cluster. When you meet, try to divide your time by the acrostic: LEAD

  • L= Learn. Read something together, watch a DVD from a ministry leader or have a guest speaker in to help everyone learn more about church multiplication movements. New thought patterns and increased knowledge open up new vistas for effective ministry.
  • E= Encourage. Use the old egg-time check in method to let everyone get a few minutes to check in and say how they are doing and build deeper relationships with one another. There will be times when it is necessary to spend much time with one person’s need. That’s just fine to do as long as everyone gets a couple of minutes. Remember that all Christian mission is rooted in loving relationship with God and others for the purpose of proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel.
  • A=Achieve. Make plans and execute them. Evaluate them. Stick with them. A cluster is a missional action group, not a ministers’ support group. What did we say we were going to do? Did we do it? Taking action and achieving gives a great sense of reward and fulfillment for the group.
  • D= Dream. Even though you have a vision, plan, and covenant moving into place, take time every month to dream about what could be and where. In Seattle, they are dreaming about educational ministry at two key universities in the area, as well some share community development programs. Always dare to dream. This is where the energy comes from.

Step 5: Meet monthly and work steadily toward a shared vision, goals and a written covenant for your cluster. Feel free to give your cluster a name if you wish. As a part of your goal setting, dream big. What does God want to see us do here together that we could not do alone?

a. Support each other and our churches in ministry

b. Share in some ministry together as churches and get to know one another

c. Start x number of new churches per year over the next 5-10 years, totaling ____

d. Start educational and social/community development ministries totaling ____ in 5-10 years

e. Have each church commit $x,000 per year to help resource the movement

f. Start a Leadership Development Network to recruit and train emerging leaders for the work of the kingdom

Get all of this down on paper. Sign it as a covenant pledge. Make sure it gets to each church’s council for review, feedback and adoption. This may take a year. But, it is worth the time, particularly if you make doing a cooperative church plant a priority along with the longer range plan. Planting together is a great way to learn by doing.

Step 6: You will find that the resources are “in the harvest”. As the church multiplies itself, more and more people will step up to help with time, talents and financial treasures. At this point, it may be important to have one or more people employed part-time by the cluster to ensure that the wheels keep turning smoothly and quickly.

Step 7: Involve additional key leaders including elders, laypersons, teachers, worship, children and youth ministry specialists to help give energy and imagination to the cause.

Step 8: Invest yourselves in helping other clusters form, or perhaps splitting your own cluster. The Seattle cluster could become Seattle, North Seattle and Bellevue (Eastside). It’s great to know that we are not just growing a movement, but spawning and helping grow multiple movements to participate in the Great Harvest of God.

A final reminder: All groups go through a continual cycle of forming, storming, norming and performing. It’s always fun to get things going, but there is hard work to be done to attain an excellent working cluster. Expect some level of conflict over what a cluster is and does as you go along your way. Storming is good. Revisiting the vision and renewing covenant commitments to the cluster is all a part of norming. Don’t be afraid to do the tedious work of re-framing. And, of course, enjoy the performing as you bring glory to God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - by participating in the mission of God wherever you are.

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