Cluster Model – Church Planting in Oregon
The Cluster Model
A Church Planting Plan
Evergreen Presbyterian Church
Prepared by Nathan E. Lewis in May 2009
The need for new congregations is of such critical proportions in North America that a variety of models is tactical as the church proclaims the gospel, establishing congregations in the present post-Christian era. The conventional model of a “parachute” planter or team working apart from a local congregation is needed but continues to present the following challenges: exorbitant costs; isolation; 50% survival rate. These risks are worth it as we instrumentally expand the kingdom of God through church planting. The multi-site model addresses these three challenges by
reducing costs, providing local fellowship and oversight, offering a realistic unfolding and developing of the mission without the pressure of financial solvency and critical mass. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the multi-site model is its mobilizing a congregation to develop a
local, geographic strategy to multiply congregations. The opening of a new congregation attracts unbelievers along with people who have drifted from regular participation in the church. The result is an increase of professions of faith in Christ and a surge of formerly inactive individuals participating in ministry. The cluster model is the final logical step to a multi-site model, slashing costs and creating an energized center for the church in any community.
The multi-site model is one congregation, with one session, one
diaconate, and one treasury serving more than one worship site. Depending upon the physical distance between the sites, this model may also supply one minister of the gospel for all of the sites. Worship sites develop into particular congregations who collectively participate with its sister congregations in the ministries of the church. In time each worship site particularizes by forming its own session, diaconate, treasury, pastoral staff and membership. The dream is that the connections between such congregations would remain strong and productive through this natural development. The solution to the large scale division of the one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ will only be realized through
long-term plans of planting the church with organic and local connections experienced by the members of related congregations sharing the same vision, mission, and confessional foundations.
The cluster model is one congregation, with one session, one diaconate, and one treasury serving more than one worshipping community meeting at the same physical site. With the cluster model, one minister of the gospel becomes easier to supply and costs are significantly reduced, especially when additional staff is shared on site. The cluster model utilizes the “imprint” phenomenon while also allowing for a plurality of
ministers encouraging the priesthood of all believers. It also positively utilizes the stylistic differences and cultural nuances yet elevating the importance of confessional unity. It also promotes and establishes the fellowship of the saints.
Firstly, we consider the “imprint” phenomenon that is nearly inescapable in most, if not all of western cultures. In most groups/organization of human beings, one leader emerges, even in a system providing the plurality of leaders. A leader of leaders over the whole group is what most usually occurs in most groups. To begin with leaders are in the
minority. Among those called to pastoral ministries, a sub-set prove to be effective leaders. Among this sub-set, there is a smaller group that possesses a skill-set (or maybe it is some chemical emission) and gifting of the Holy Spirit making them effective at gathering people. We say of a certain person, “He has a charismatic personality and so people flock to him.” There is an equally small group of another kind of leader who
possesses the ability to create a system attractive to people. Stereotypically, these two statistically small groups of leaders make effective church planters. The one often overlooked factor, which mitigates a man’s lack of either of these two abilities, is perseverance. The longer a leader is able to chip away at a project, faithfully executing
his call, the less of these two abilities he needs. In any case, those who gather bond with the leader and thus the “imprint” phenomenon occur. It is not uncommon for masses outside a particular group to say, “I don’t see why those people follow that man.” Not everyone is drawn to the same kind of personality or kind of leader.
In the cluster model, a leader of leaders, with a track record of perseverance in call, the experience of preaching, pastoring, and gathering, along with the “pheromones” causing the imprint phenomenon, is key. Equally key is this leader placing other ordained
ministers on equal ground, providing mentoring, and sharing the visible duties through which imprinting occurs. This leader addresses the “Paul vs. Apollos” fiasco that emerged not only in Corinth but also in most occidental communities. The building of a team of ministers who share their duties encourages the priesthood of all believers, evaporating he notion that one man does all of the truly important work. The leader of
leaders, because of his primary position, experience and abilities manages the whole cluster, while the other leaders would be each more closely connected to one emerging congregation in the cluster.
Ministers who serve under the leader of leaders must check their egos and ambitions realizing that they can be fruitful and content in their call. The “big man” syndrome is powerfully present in our culture but it can be removed toward effective and biblical polity of a plurality of leaders. The team of leaders must regularly work against the tendency to rise up and breakaway inventing trumped up reasons for division. Members of any group, including the church, will say to an assistant or associate, “you
the man!” Some of these people do so insidiously while others do so merely because of the imprint phenomenon. Therefore, all of the leaders must publicly address the phenomenon and positively present the cluster model requiring a leader of leaders working with qualified colleagues.
Secondly, the cluster model positively utilizes the stylistic differences and cultural nuances while it elevates the importance of confessional unity. The church tends to idolize the nonessential elements of its activity (music style preferences being the largest idol of our day). The church at the same time demotes confessional unity (as the emergent movement says, “doctrine divides.”) Some of us cringe when we pass a church
marquee offering “Contemporary Worship at 9:00 and Traditional Worship at 11:00,” as if the stylistic difference is the big deal. The cluster model demands confessional unity while at the same time offering a variety of stylistic differences as each congregation develops its own unique expressions in the nonessential categories. Thus the cluster
model breaks down the idols of stylistic preference. After all, if one organization at one site develops a cluster of congregations identical in confession yet varied in style, then confession must be essential and style non-essential. This is not as clear in other present models, for example in a regional presbytery comprised of particular congregations. The
presbytery manages the confessional unity, but each congregation is left to develop its own styles in a context in which individual members most usually think, “The way we do music here is the right and only way.” The cluster model forces the issue, keeping leaders honest and members informed. Several clusters in any presbytery can be good for the whole, smashing the idols we have constructed out of the good gifts from God’s hand. The leaders of a cluster model must publicly address the distinction between essential confessional unity and nonessential stylistic preferences so that individuals do not hop back and forth between clustered congregations diminishing their responsible participation in the fellowship of one congregation. One person might choose to attend
the congregation that meets at 9:00 a.m. simply because the time is right for his personal schedule. There is nothing wrong with such a choice as long as we are teaching everyone in our cluster that personal choice and schedule is not the primary or supreme factor in our decision-making. This same person may occasionally attend the 11:00 a.m. congregation as his schedule varies. As he does so he could encourage the unity between the clustered congregations and so, he should be regularly reminded that such encouraging of unity should be the greater purpose over and against his personal schedule’s variation. The reason this is important to address is that our larger community regardless of the cluster model is making these decisions regularly, treating their church
attendance like they would their cinema attendance. The cluster model allows for this problem to be addressed as it brings the problem to one site where the individuals of distinct congregations are related to one another. An individual may choose to worship in the congregation meeting at 9:00 a.m. simply because the music style is folk, while another person chooses to worship at 11:00 a.m. because the music is “Old Timey.” Rather than upbraid individuals for making important choices regarding the church on the basis of stylistic differences, we should address these issues in our preaching, teaching, and discussions presenting the primacy of the gospel, confessional unity, fellowship, prayer and praise. Style is important; it is not as important as confessional unity. Style should arise from the people gathered as they
begin to participate more and more in the worship and life of the congregation. (The cluster model providing a variety of styles is preferable to one congregation blending styles and thus offending everyone’s preferences. Any congregation who maintains that
there is one and only one stylistic preference that is proper or even biblical promotes idolatry.)
Thirdly, the cluster model promotes and establishes the fellowship of the saints. The cluster model provides for smaller, more intimate congregations to join together to create the critical mass ideal for outreach ministries, site management, and community presence. In a congregation of 150-200 the members know each other and can actually
fellowship. The vast majority of American Christians merely attend a worship meeting as they would a movie. They enter the cinema, go to their seats, never speaking to anyone as they enter and exit. Such anonymity and lack of interaction is indeed attractive to a significant number of us but it is not the church. The cluster model says in concert with 21st Century sociology that “small is good.” Small is good as it aids in building fellowship. Small is also good if each small group is connected to a larger organization just as it is best for an individual to be connected to a group, individual persons and family units desperately need to be associated with others in the fellowship of the church. Not only is the group good for the individual member, but also each individual member is good for the group. In any model of the church we must help members think beyond the most popular reason for going to church – to get
something personally out of it. We need to help one another go to church for the good of others. The cluster model allows this to happen with more ease in smaller congregations. But the cluster model also aids this in providing a central administration for the cluster,providing the systems needed to “plug in” each and every member to perform meaningful
service. A small congregation, left to itself, struggles to provide plenty of meaningful service, tasks, and missions for its small number of members. In such settings the fellowship tends to become ingrown, eventually counterproductive. In the cluster model, a smaller congregation worships and enjoys fellowship in an intimate context but joins other congregations in other ventures – a facility work day; a short term mission team; a youth camp; a community picnic…. An independent and small congregation oppresses its people mustering and rallying them to get 100% attendance at all of these events. Without this pressure, a group of 70 would render a mere 10 pair of hands for the church
workday. But a cluster of four congregations at 70 each would render 40. More significantly, the members of the cluster model would be able to make worship a priority without the oppressive pressure of obligation to every single event sponsored by the congregation. (One of the main reasons people leave their small congregations to join mega-churches is that they are burned out.) And so, small is good if the small is connected to a larger organization. This paper is in no way comprehensive but merely an introduction to the cluster model as it is unfolding at Evergreen Presbyterian Church in Beaverton. We are in the initial stages of building this model and so we have an insubstantial track record. The Beaverton site has been home to Evergreen for 8 years (a congregation planted 16 years ago and organized 12 years ago.) For the past year it has also been home to Reconciliation (working hard to muster 40 souls to a meeting). We are planning to open Ascension five months from this writing. Our multi-site model is still in place and so we are connected as one congregation to Chehalem Valley at the Newberg site, 16 miles
away, and to Hoodland Chapel, 60 miles away on the slopes of Mt. Hood. It is possible that in the near future, Chehalem Valley and Hoodland Chapel would particularize with their own sessions, diaconates, and treasuries, thus becoming a distinct congregation free of our multi-site model. Indeed we pray and hope this will occur. It is also possible that
Reconciliation, Ascension, or Evergreen could move to a new location. We have agreed that Ascension would not do so for at least five years, for a number of prudent reasons, including our desire to work out the cluster model. When such a change in physical location happens for any of our clustered congregations, then we would morph into the multi-site model again, or simply give birth to a particularized congregation. The end
result in time will be the establishment of many PCA congregations in Oregon. We believe that the larger church and the entire community would be well served were we successful in doing so.