Clusters

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On a flight home from Classis, I had an idea. At the time, I was serving one of six Christian Reformed Churches in Maritime Canada. These churches were separated from the rest of our classis by the province of Quebec. This meant we got to fly to classis meetings and flying gives a person a lot of time to think. While flying home from two days of travel and meetings, I wondered why our six churches couldn’t meet as a sub-classis once a year or so. We had geography, ministry context and a sense of isolation from the rest of the denomination in common. Surely that would give us something to talk about. The idea, however, remained little more than an idea. I never pushed it and nothing came of it.

After moving to Ontario I discovered that others have had similar ideas. The rules of my new classis state that “for the purpose of training and fellowship, classis may be arranged in clusters as “Families of Churches.” Here too, however, this is little more than an idea. To the best of my knowledge classis meetings have never been arranged in this fashion. The option is there, but it has never been implemented.

This might be because much of what happens at any one meeting of classis concerns all the churches of classis. The adoption of budgets, the supervision of campus and other ministries, and the selection of delegates to synod cannot easily be relegated to a sub section of classis. Furthermore Synodical rules say that decisions requiring the concurrence of Synodical Deputies should be made in the presence of delegates of all the churches (2000). Lately meetings that do not require the presence of synodical deputies seem few and far between. These factors all work against the idea of regional meetings, but I think the idea still has some merit.

I’ve already mentioned that some classes have a sub-section of churches that share a geography and ministry context that is distinct from the rest of the classis. Meeting as a “family of churches” could help these churches explore the challenges and opportunities this gives them. Meeting as regions within a classis could also help address our crowded meetings and provide spaces where delegates are more likely to speak and be heard. Smaller meetings also might be a venue for improved accountability between churches. Church visitors and regional pastors could plan events that focus on the health of churches in their regions. In classes with a rural / urban mix, cluster meetings could be a venue for exploring home missions opportunities in these different environments.

I believe the idea also has merit beyond the bounds of classis. The Christian Reformed Church’s ongoing discussion of bi-nationality sometimes overlooks the fact that we are not just one denomination in two countries; we are a denomination that is scattered across many regions of a large continent. Churches on the Pacific Rim probably have more in common with each other than they do with churches of other regions of North America. The same could be said of Great Plains churches or of churches on the Atlantic Seaboard. These churches could benefit from clustering as “families of classes.” Historically the provision for this is regional synods, another idea that remains an idea.

The ideas are there. Regional synods get mentioned from time to time and I’ve see “cluster” or “families of churches” idea reflected in the documents of a number of classes. Perhaps some have implemented the idea. If so, I’d like to hear about it.

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When I served with an RCA church in South Dakota, the classis was so large that they had smaller "clusters." That is, churches in specific regions that would meet on a regular basis. our cluster of just pastors met roughly once a month and then we had a leadership training event once to twice a year in our cluster. Good thoughts. Keep them coming and doing.