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RPC Small Group Cluster Manual

We live in a postmodern, broken, dysfunctional world that cries out for truth, trust and touch. The small group is the ideal framework in which the Holy Spirit disciples, counsels and equips through ministry of His Word in the context of community, exercising and expressing the one another dynamic evidenced in His Word. This dynamic looks to help others with whom we enter into close relationship to apply the biblical teachings basic to discipleship. In an atmosphere of trust and commitment, believers invest in one another for the long haul. The group becomes a haven of familiarity and support, and a place of encouragement and refreshment for fellow pilgrims in a dry and weary land. Since the image of the Vine and the branches from John 15 serves as the backdrop to the RPC vision, these small groups are called "Clusters" and look to gain, grow in and give life found in Jesus Christ.

Purpose: The purpose of Clusters, RPC's basic small groups, includes assimilation, edification, and shepherding care. Clusters are a means to cultivate health and vitality in becoming a branch growing deeply in the Vine of life, filling West Chester with the hope of life.

Cluster involvement is basic to Christian discipleship in building community, cultivating caring, encouraging commitment and enhancing communication for helping believers to grow in love for God, for one another and for neighbor. These small groups provide for the protection (Heb. 3:12-14.) and direction (Heb. 10:23-25) of the sheep, as mandated in Acts 20:28-32. Mercy-mindedness will be cultivated in caring for one another in the group and for others outside the group, both inside and outside the church, believers and unbelievers.

Clusters are also one means by which elders can carry out their God-ordained shepherding role through direct, personal involvement in the groups and by ensuring the sheep are plugged in to God's means of growth.

Clusters will provide a point of connection and a forum for communication and ministry. Each Cluster could have its own e-mail and/or telephone prayer chain, which could be part of the prayer network for the church as a whole.

Relationships among Cluster members can be built inside and outside the Cluster meeting times through social interaction, prayer chains, and mutual ministry involving all or some of the group members. One dimension of the early church included sensitivity to mercy ministry and interaction with the outside world for the sake of the gospel. (see Acts 2:44-47). While the primary role of the Cluster is to cultivate "Finding life in Christ," the group should be sensitive to "Bringing life to others." This could be reflected in areas such as prayer, periodic projects, openness to guests, and support of a missionary or ministry cause.

Formation: Current RPC small groups will be renamed and will need to review their structure and purpose to conform to the new Cluster focus and format. New groups will be formed by request (e.g., via written sign-up, e-mail, web registration, call). Those wanting to be part of a Cluster can either plug into an existing group or request to be part of a newly organized group.

Being part of a Cluster is considered second in priority only to attendance in Sunday morning activities of SBS and worship. Every RPC member will be invited and encouraged to be part of a Cluster, although participation is strictly voluntary. Enlistment will be encouraged at the RPC Orientation Class, and various other ways of promotion (RPC brochure, sharing in service, shepherding, etc.). Various factors such as geographical location or expressed preferences (e.g., time/day availability, age, geography, inclusion of children) will be taken into consideration in new Cluster formation.

Note: Beginning September 2008, each Cluster will be self-forming, will decide its own meeting schedule, and will decide its own curriculum from offerings suggested or approved by the Session.

Make-up: There is great benefit to variety in small group involvement with one another, such as variety of age or spiritual maturity. The older can be a blessing to the younger and vise versa. However, there is also benefit in being able to deal with common concerns associated with station in life, such as being newly married or the challenges associated with being a seasoned saint. For this reason, Clusters may reflect heterogeneous diversity or homogeneous commonality.

Clusters will have the latitude to receive others into the group or to invite others to visit a meeting. The heart of the Cluster will likely be a committed core who have signed the Cluster Covenant, with others involved to a certain degree for a certain period of time according to opportunity and interest. This core will be able to carry out the Cluster covenant commitment and pursue the purpose as stated above.

Duration: Participants will ordinarily make a one-year, renewable commitment to a particular Cluster. While it would be ideal for Cluster members to get to know other RPC members not part of their Cluster for the purpose of building broader RPC community and to avoid becoming ingrown, stale or cliquish, mandatory reshuffling of groups can be counterproductive. Building of relationships within the group, commitment to one another and group cohesiveness often develop over time. For this reason, one-year Cluster covenants can be renewed. Each Cluster will have an expected two-year duration, which can be continued, with approval of the Session. The act of annual renewal, however, does allow for individual members to opt out of a particular Cluster group.

Meeting frequency: Clusters will ordinarily meet weekly from September through May. Church history has shown the weekly meeting best serves the goals of building community, fostering commitment, and cultivating growth. This decision, however, will be made by each group itself. Each Cluster will also have the latitude to decide if it will meet weekly during the summer or adopt a different schedule (e.g., once a month).

Meeting length: The Cluster meeting will ordinarily be 90 minutes in length, starting and stopping punctually to allow for participants to plan their schedules, arrange for childcare and accommodate other personal variables.

Meeting day: The particular day and time on which a Cluster gathers will be left to the discretion of the group. There may be times when Clusters will be asked not to meet in order to accommodate church meetings, such as on Wednesdays, which currently is the designated time for Session and Diaconate meetings.

Meeting place: Ordinarily Clusters will gather in the warm confines of homes, yet the church building could be used if desired. A single host home could be used or the group could alternate between or among various host homes, on a weekly or monthly rotating basis.

Cluster size: The optimal size of a Cluster to allow for openness, establish a solid core and fit comfortably in most homes is 7 to 12 adults.

Format: The format of the Cluster meeting will follow the pattern of the early church expressed in Acts 2:42. This format will not only include the various elements below, but will disciple participants in the elements. For example, in addition to engaging in prayer, they will learn how to pray, how to be varied in prayer, how to pray for needs deeper than remedy of a trouble, and to be personally open in prayer. These elements are:

  1. Apostles' teaching (Bible study [topical or textual, directed dialogical rather than lecture], possible sermon discussion). Ordinarily, all groups will be studying the same materials concurrently, in an effort to foster common direction for the church as a whole;
  2. Fellowship (being together as believers, interaction as believers, dynamic of "one another" passages in and outside the confines of the meeting, all to live out the common bond in Christ);
  3. Breaking of the Bread (share life together; Christ-centered, grace-based; weekly refreshments as social setting; may include occasional meals together);
  4. Prayer (corporate communion with God, support of one another, tool for Kingdom work, varied [praise, thanks, confession, intercession], conversational).

The order in which the elements of the Cluster meeting occur can vary, particularly so as not to give short shrift to ministry of prayer or the Word. Often, the element that occurs first can occupy the lion's share of the time.

Leadership: Teachers may be elders or others approved by Session. Cluster Coordinators, who will not necessarily be the teachers of the Cluster, will manage the groups. Ordinarily, Cluster Coordinators will not be elders but will be men and women or couples trained in leading and who receive continuing oversight and support. The primary role of the Cluster Coordinator is to facilitate the group meeting (getting the meeting started, seeing that it ends on time, and that a proper balance of ministry of prayer and the Word is maintained), to coordinate general logistics (e.g. teaching responsibilities, study materials, who brings dessert, list of meeting places, etc.), and to serve as the contact for group communication. All Cluster Coordinators will meet on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly) for encouragement, edification and communication.

Oversight: At the time being, the Session will have direct oversight of Clusters, rather than having oversight through one of the standing committees of the church. The rationale is that Clusters are primarily concerned with shepherding. Oversight will include care of the groups as well as approval of all curriculum and teachers.

Relation to Elder Shepherding Groups: Ideally, every member of RPC would be involved in a Cluster, and Shepherding Groups would be comprised of groups of Clusters with no remainder. However, with the fluidity and incompleteness of Cluster involvement, it is best for Shepherding Groups to remain distinct from Clusters, maintaining their own rosters. Elders, however, will encourage Cluster alignment and participation by those in their Shepherding Groups as a vehicle to discipleship and growth in the Vine of Life.