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By Dr. Randy L. Rowland

We are beginning to dream and talk about ministry clusters within the CRCNA. Perhaps it is good to take some time and space to define what we mean when we say "cluster." I would offer a working definition stating that

"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."

In addition to a working definition, it is essential to define some of the terms used in order to create clarity and focus. Here are 12 terms that must be clarified.

1. Localized — the sociological law of propinquity states that “nearness” is a critical factor in the success of any social movement. Like logs on a fire, entities that are closer together create more energy and thrive. Like a log on a fire, move it away from the others and it will grow cold enough to handle in only a few minutes. Denominations, Regions, and Classes are great organizational structures, but local churches in close proximity to one another are the fuel of any type of church multiplication movement. The goal would be to get all CRCNA pastors and ministry leaders involved. This may be possible. In some cases, certain leaders will opt out. There is no way around this reality, so you must work with who you have, not who you don’t have.

2. Gathering —  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a relational story. It is a story about God reaching out to us, connecting us to him and to each other in Jesus. The Spirit of a cluster is expressed through a loving fellowship with deep interpersonal, loving relationships. A cluster must look much more like the Acts 2 church than a corporate business gathering hoping to start franchises. Good relationships are founded on geographic nearness and regularity of contact. That means that clusters must be intentional and regularly scheduled gatherings. The best option here is probably once per month for 3-4 hours.

3. Church and Ministry Leaders — wherever possible, it is good to grow clusters to include campus ministry, military chaplains, educators, elders and business people who can contribute to a “kingdom-minded” goal. While it is probably a good idea to begin a cluster with senior ministers, it will only help give more energy to the movement as other key leaders are embraced and included.

4. Common Vision — It is really important from the earliest stages that a cluster begin to pray and dream about their geographic area. What is God leading us toward? What is truly needed here? Some sort of a vision statement should emerge with some ambitious goals, such as plant one new church each year and begin one shared social ministry in which all the church represented can be involved.

5. Common Strategy — Dreams and vision and even mutual commitments aren’t enough to “get it done.” The cluster team, or a designated subset of the team must develop a time-dependent, goal-specific strategy that all cluster members can be on board with. For instance, one cluster in the Pacific Northwest has said our desire is to plant 20 new churches and a campus ministry by 2015. Each of the churches planted also wishes to have a strong community organizing and community development component in their ministry.

6. Common Resources — It is very important to clarify what time and monetary resources each ministry can and will bring to the cluster. Who will function as a convener? Who will mentor young leaders? Whose churches will be a parent churches in the movement? The more sacrificial and mutual the resource sharing becomes, the deeper the interpersonal relationships go, the number of new leaders that want to participate rises and the heat and velocity of the movement increases.

7. Common System —  A little organization goes a long way. It is important to attempt to have a common system for how things get done. Do individual churches call planters and parent new works while the cluster celebrates and supports? Or, is a new plant a cluster decision and process? This is not the most important issue about a cluster, but as things grow, it is an important factor.

8. Developing Leadership —  Bill Hybels once noted that the church is the hope of the world and that leadership is the hope of the church, so if we don’t develop new and effective leaders, the world is in real trouble. One key issue facing every cluster is how to recruit, assess, train, mentor and deploy new leadership into the movement. New leaders are like new wood on a fire. They are necessary to keep energy and missional edge strong. New leaders also tend to be younger, bringing youth to our aging existing leadership. Considering a Leadership Development Network as a part of a cluster is a wise idea. CRHM has a good bit of literature on LDN’s and there are several good models in operation across Canada and the USA.

9. Planting new Churches and Ministries — Clusters exist to extend the missional edge of the church. The foundation of loving relationships rooted in Christ must also be attached to the risky discipleship of multiplying through the birth of new churches. New churches and ministries reach more lost people than existing churches. More de-churched people return to the life and fellowship of the church through new church plants. 

10. Health and Vitality of Existing Churches — We are also finding that new church plants inspire and renew existing churches. Many examples of this exist around the CRCNA. Clusters engaging with other agencies such as World Renew or Communities First Association also open windows of opportunity for existing churches to better engage their communities.

11. Synergistic —  The research on synergy is legion. When individuals (people, churches, businesses, etc.) band together for a common purpose the results are exponentially higher than when on entity tries to “do it all” on their own. God’s Spirit meets us in our unified, kingdom-minded efforts and makes more of us then we could ever think, dream or even imagine. Synergy is an important thing to share with worried church councils who feel that their minister participating in a cluster might take too much of her or him away from the local church. In the end, that is not true. We will all be more because we shared the time.

12. Gospel — The Gospel is a whole person presentation of Good News that includes God’s saving work in Jesus Christ for all who receive him as well as God’s action to renew and reconcile all of this ruined Creation back into the Shalom God intends. Therefore, it is important to conceive of church multiplication movements embodying both a proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel to the whole person and whole community.

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