Our Circuit is big. Really big. And we have a number of chapels in our Circuit with fewer than 10 regular attendees and a limited number of worship leaders and certified local preachers. Jesus says, where two or three are gathered, I am with you. But what happens when there are more than two or three gathered? Wonderful things happen.
In the Rea Valley area, for the past year and a half, we have been clustering our some of our chapels together for mutual worship and fellowship. Each Sunday several chapels travel to one another's house of prayer for worship. Each chapel takes it in turn to host worship. The results have been tremendous. At first this was met with some reservation but now we cannot imagine it any other way. When we started to cluster together we noticed a few things started to happen.
"Forgive us the poverty of our worship"- These are the words from our annual Covenant service. Our worship has become more vibrant, our prayer life enriched and our singing is more enlivened. We bring together four communities of faith and we grow together Sunday by Sunday.
"They gave all things up in common"-Our chapels have benefited with tithes being more regular and a bigger amount once per month. This has allowed us to slightly improve our financial situations and thus keeping chapels open and operational as much as possible. Think of it this way, if a chapel has four regular attendants who offer £10.00 each Sunday, that is £40.00 a Sunday for a total of £160.00 a month. If a chapel has 20 people in attendance once every four weeks and each one offers £10.00 a tithe, that is £200.00 a month. The chapel that worships weekly with fewer people have tithes of £1920.00 a year but the chapel that clusters will have tithes of £2400.00. That is a difference of nearly £500.00. This can get a bit tricky if people offer their tithes by BACS or standing order but that is a conversation to be had with the treasurer.
"Yours in fellowship"- by several communities of faith joining together weekly, we have been able to get to know one another better, have a stronger sense of connection to our other communities and learn what God given talents might be shared.
"Sent by the Lord am I" Clustering also enables worship leaders and congregations. By clustering, it usually means that there are fewer services held in one chapel but more frequent services being held in the area. This helps the worship plan tremendously. As staff, we often hear that there are many gaps on the worship plan. By clustering, it actually helps the plan a great deal, not just for local chapels but for the entire Circuit. It means more efficient use of the leadership we have.
"Feed my sheep" Clustering can show our communities that chapels are a place where Christians do actually get along. One of the number of reasons most people won't go to church is because of the 'politics' and 'Christians can't get along with each other'. Clustering shows communities that we can get along and get along well.
"If your eye be single, your whole being fills with light" If the focus is clear, the whole body fills with light. This is also true of chapels. If each chapel has a mutual respect and a spirit of sharing, the energy changes, and, for the better.
Interested in Clustering? Here is all that is needed.
Willingness and communication. It's that simple.
The only way this works is to have a willingness to move from ownership to partnership. This requires a willingness to travel, for hospitality, to receive not just give, to realise we are better together, to realise that the church is in transition and that chapels are not ours but entrusted to us. Jesus tells us to go out two by two, he doesn't tell us to invite people in. Our brothers the Wesleys travelled this glorious country side in the open air and sometimes within walls where they were invited. Living the Christian faith in the Methodist tradition invites us to many exciting Godly opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions about Clustering
What about visitors or new people not knowing when our worship services are?
Experience has shown that visitors or new people are likely to look on the website for service times rather than posters outside a chapel. With our new website all one needs to do is search by location or date. For instance, an elderly couple found one of our worship services online whilst they were in town for the weekend and another few found us online as well. I only mention the elderly people to illustrate that elderly folks use the internet as well! We still post our service times out front with the services offered at that chapel.
How does it work?
For our cluster it is quite simple. Four of our eight chapels have a service at the chapel once per month and rotate in a set pattern. The point is to create a pattern that works and keep to it as much as possible. Finding a pattern that works for your cluster may take a bit of time but is worth it.
What about those who don't drive?
We have several folks in our area who do not drive and are able to get to chapel in their local community by foot but travel with others to chapels outside their walking distance. Very few people are unable to find a way to chapel, even those with limited mobilities.
We don't have a minister so how might this affect us? If you don't have someone in paid accountable ministry, clustering together means that when a worship leader other than someone from your cluster leads worship, every chapel benefits from the leadership because you're all together. It also means there are less appointments required to fulfil and therefore you are more likely to get a worship leader because there won't be so many preaching appointments. Clustering means that worship offered by the congregation may be taken by the host chapel, or, a group from those clustered.
If you are interested in knowing more about how clustering has worked well in our area, please contact Revd. MacNeill Cooper.