Last updated on 2003-09-01
What are Clusters?
All you ever wanted to know about clusters but didn't know who to ask is revealed below:
Many churches have small group (or cell) metings - often informal Bible-studies led by lay people - and whole-church meetings - within the Church of England, at least, most often based on the very formal experience of cathedral worship and led by the clergy. At St Thomas' we have sought to re-discover the congregation-sized expression of being and doing church: a lay-led community of believers engaging in mission to the wider community in which they live, supported by more experienced church leaders (several, though not all, of whom are ordained clergy).
Clusters are composed of small groups that share the same or very similar vision. Often, they have resulted from the multiplication of a single orginal small group. Two or three small groups together would usually be considered an 'emerging' cluster, and by the time small groups were multiplying from four to six or eight the cluster itself would usually multiply into two new clusters.
It would appear that God has made people in such a way that we naturally gather in three different sizes of group. Biblical examples would include the family, clan and tribe (Old Testament); home, synagogue and temple (Gospels); and, within Jesus' own disciples, the twelve, seventy-(two) and one-hundred-and-twenty.
At St Thomas' these groups are expressed as small group, cluster and celebration. Intimacy of relationship increases as we move from the larger to the smaller sized group; while quality of presentation (in worship, teaching, children's groups) increases as we move from the smaller to the larger sized group. For some people it will be easier to enter the church in the anonymity of a celebration, while others will need the relationship of the small group, or the opportunity of involvement that clusters provide.
Cluster allows us to do certain things that are not possible in either the small group or the celebration. Clusters provide a greater context for encouraging every-member ministry than small group alone. In particular, they provide the bridge between these two other groups that allows members to grow in their giftings and ministry - it's a big gap between leading worship for or teaching ten people to doing that for three hundred! Clusters also provide the structure for church growth through mission across the whole city, not only by raising up leaders but also by increasing the 'surface area' - through which people can enter - of the church.
Our strategy is one of scattering and gathering. Clusters meet scattered across the city, most commonly weekly and on a Sunday; but also come together with the other clusters in their celebration, most commonly once a month, instead of meeting as a cluster that week.
How a cluster expresses church is broadly defined by our common values of Up (our relationship with God; e.g. including worship and prayer), In (our relationship with each other; e.g. practical pastoral support), and Out (our relationship with those who do not yet know Jesus; e.g. the 'person of peace' principle, Matthew 10:11-14). Successful clusters do not try to replicate the celebration experience on the smaller scale (e.g. by having a large worship team) - inappropriate scale really doesn't work, and has been one significant factor in the decline of church membership nationally over the last decades. What they do instead, whether in their formal meetings or in chosing outreach strategies, is largely determined by what is appropriate for their particular mission focus. While we share common values, these are not expressed in a one-size-(or, one style)-fits-all manner. Diversity in unity is key.
Clusters meet in several areas of the city - though mostly in the south-west, west and city-centre - and in a wide variety of venues - schools, community centres, cafe bars, restaurants, pubs, a museum, and a double garage, to name a few! Location is defined by the primary mission focus of the cluster: a cluster aiming to reach a suburban neighbourhood might meet in the local school; another reaching a more deprived neighbourhood in the function room of a pub...
We want people to be involved in that part of the church where they truly belong, and would see that as defined by factors such as:
a group whose vision the individual shares;
a place where their own experience of life is addressed from a godly perspective (e.g. if you aren't a student, facing issues that students face, it would be inappropriate for you to be part of a student cluster - though it may be appropriate for you to be mentoring some of them...);
a place where you are most able to serve others, and to be served by others yourself.
We would encourage people to find the place where they belong, recognising that this might take some time and involve 'trying out' a number of different possibilities. If you would like help in this process, fill out a 'Welcome Form' at the Information Desk at Crookes or the Philadelphia worship centre, or contact a Celebration leader.
Clusters are generally led by lay members of the church (though sometimes started by a member of church staff who then trains up leaders to hand it on to). Many of these leaders have full-time jobs, and are supported in their role by their celebration leader. Most have experienced leadership as small group leaders first, and grown into cluster leadership as they have multiplied small groups out. Several lead as part of a team.
We would encourage every member of the church to be part of a small group, cluster and celebration. It's not about a multiplication of meetings to attend, but about as full an expression of what it means to be the church as is possible. There is a role for everyone in the body of Christ. We trust that God would show you what your role is, who He has called you to serve alongside, and that you would grow in that calling.
For more information about specific clusters at St Thomas, see the cluster pages, located within their celebrations.
Read more about Celebrations