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Shaping church clusters is topic of upcoming Conference Table

Shaping church clusters is topic of upcoming Conference Table

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Shaping church clusters is topic of upcoming Conference Table

Feb. 13, 2005    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0248}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham**

ORLANDO — Clusters can make “huge differences in our conference culture and how we relate to one another that can really impact the bottom line of our effectiveness in ministry in the local church level.”

That’s just one benefit the Rev. Jeff Stiggins says he sees from the work of church clusters, which will become part of the life of the conference later this year.

The details of how those clusters will be formed and function is the focus of the Conference Table event Feb. 26 at University Carillon United Methodist Church here.

Stiggins is superintendent of the Orlando District and has been coordinating the effort to better define clusters and how they’ll work. He brought together an advisory team of laity and clergy to work with the Florida Conference Cabinet in developing a proposal detailing the nature and function of church clusters. Participants attending the 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Conference Table will spend their time reviewing and discussing that proposal.

Stiggins says the Conference Table will be a real working meeting where attendees have the opportunity to shape the cluster initiative. “This isn’t just telling people what’s going to happen,” he said. “This is not the finished product, but a step inviting people to be in dialogue.”

Forming church clusters was approved by members at last year’s annual conference event. It was part of the cabinet’s Connecting for Transformation proposal, which also called for the reduction of the conference’s districts from 14 to nine. That change will take effect this July.

Stiggins said the Conference Table will begin with worship and Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker sharing his vision for church clusters, followed by an overview of what the advisory team has developed so far. Attendees will then be able to ask questions to clarify elements of the proposal and join small group discussions around three questions related to what was presented.

“Out of that dialogue we hope to identify key issues to be discussed in the afternoon (after lunch),” Stiggins said.

Stiggins said he anticipates several points of discussion will emerge, including the purpose of clusters and the role each cluster team’s leader will play.

The proposal recommends that each district form clusters of four to seven churches each. The clusters are ideally designed to be a natural association of churches developed around a common disciple-making mission or shared ministry experience.

Members of each congregation are part of the cluster, but each cluster will be led by a team of clergy serving those churches and an equal number of laity approved by the congregations’ administrative councils. Each cluster team will have a leader, and the teams will meet a minimum of six times a year.

The proposal suggests churches begin thinking now about which clusters they should form, letting their district superintendents (of the nine new districts) know their preferences by sometime in May. Each district’s leadership council will have final authority in putting the clusters together to help ensure every church is part of a cluster. Clusters should be finalized by Sept. 30, with the first team meetings taking place by Nov. 15.

“Some people feel they’re going to be assigned to clusters,” Stiggins said. “That’s not going to be the norm at all. In most cases churches will have a lot of say-so about the clusters they’re in.”

Some districts held charge conferences last year that included groupings, or clusters of churches. Stiggins said those groupings will not be the basis of the new clusters.

The proposed purpose of clusters is three-fold: to provide a place where congregations can share their ministry experiences and learn from each other, discern together God’s will for each congregation, and be intentional about finding ways to “touch our world” — to make disciples, meet needs, eliminate suffering. The ultimate goal is to help churches be as effective as possible in their ministries, as measured by the conference’s vision and mission statements.

Stiggins said clusters are not intended to be “another level of hierarchy, like a sub-district.”

“I think the groups will be places were they (churches) hold high goals of what it means to be healthy congregations and hold each other accountable,” he said. “It’s a way in which people link arms beyond themselves with other congregations.”

That linking will take different forms — exchanging ideas, sharing resources, encouraging each other, short-term shared ministries. Stiggins said what’s right for one cluster may not be right for another. “How things are done from district to district will reflect the peculiarities of doing ministry in those districts,” he said.

The leaders of each cluster team will help guide the process. Their role is to help the group develop community among team members and discern “the fresh movement of the Holy Spirit.”

“Cluster leaders are coaches,” Stiggins said. “They are the shepherd of the group process. ... We clearly do not see them as administrative to the D.S. (district superintendent) or involved in making appointments.”

Stiggins says the relationship that’s formed between cluster teams and district superintendents will help superintendents keep in touch with what’s happening in the districts. That information will, in turn, help superintendents better guide churches in being more effective in their ministries. Stiggins says Whitaker would like to see the role of district superintendent become more a missional leader and less a maintenance or managerial position.

Stiggins says elders will serve as cluster team leaders in most cases, but there may be a few instances when laity assume the role. Stiggins anticipates that and other issues related to cluster team leaders will be part of the discussion at the Conference Table.

Overall, Stiggins believes the relationships formed through the clusters will help churches “see a healthier example of ministry than they’ve ever experienced. ... Clusters are a corporate spiritual discipline that opens us up to what God might want to do in us.”
To register or for more information about the Conference Table go to This Conference Table event will be recorded and available for on-demand viewing beginning March 1. This will give individuals not able to attend the event the opportunity to learn more about clusters and how they will work within the Florida Conference.


This article relates to Conference Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Parham is editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.