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
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
- 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;
- 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);
- Breaking of the Bread (share life together; Christ-centered, grace-based; weekly
refreshments as social setting; may include occasional meals together);
- 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
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.