CLUSTERS & Why One Growing Church Pastor Believes Most Conversions Take Place There

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/22/15.

To lead an organization you must begin by analyzing how the organization behaves.  It is like a child, you adjust your parenting as they grow and behave differently.  So, to lead a church effectively you must first step back and watch how the organization behaves.

The first step in doing so is to look at how the church is made up of many smaller groupings.  Some of these groupings are small groups (around 12 people, but they can get larger), clusters (groups of 20-75 with an extended family focus) and sub-congregations (group of 30-150, notice the overlap) that function as tribal group focusing (usually) around celebrations.

Students often notice that in small to mid-sized churches (with long histories) the church “clusters” can often be focused around an extended family dynasty in the church.  Here is what student said:

“(Our) adult clusters are comprised of large families, including the Thomas family, Morris Family, Smith Family and a few smaller families (names changed). Each family has either a matriarch or patriarch that has led their family to the ministry.  Membership has grown on the basis of the family head, leading their extended family to the house of God.”

Now that certainly is a cluster.  In fact, Mike Breen (former rector of St. Tom’s Church in Sheffield England where cluster terminology developed) told me in a personal conversation that “Clusters are like the movie: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  That is because the cluster is made up of many nuclear families, which we call small groups, and this network of nuclear families creates an extended family feel – that’s what we call a cluster” (personal conversation, Peak District, UK, May 2005).

In Mike’s mind you could think of the small groups as each a circular grape, and when you get a bunch of small groups together you got a “cluster” (often sized 30-75).  So, a cluster is a network of small groups linked by a tribal or extended family identity.

But, Mike and his colleague Bob Hopkins felt the key to healthy clusters, is to “missionalize” these clusters is by addressing three elements. Let me explain.

Online you can find the book by Bob Hopkins and Mike Breen titled “Clusters: creating midsized missional communities” ( and Alderway Publishing). In that book you will find that a healthy cluster needs four elements. The following is from page 43.


If some of you have existing adult family clusters, then analyze how you think your family clusters are doing at each:

“#1 A place of identity, belonging and ownership… Containing elements of wholeness and maturity.

#2 A point of gathering… In fact a gathering together a small groups in a wider community.

#3 A context of training… The opportunity for all to raise to their capacity beyond the small group.

#4 And lastly embryos… embryo church plants though by no means all will be or should be. This is still intrinsic to the vision.”


Do you have family dynasties in your church?

So, how are your family groups doing in these four areas?

In which are they weak and what will you do about it?

And tell three (3) things you will do to change this.

You see, I believe God has put family dynasties into our churches to give us health and longevity. And I have seen many of these dear saints go to extra ordinary lengths for Christ and His cause. But, I also believe over time they can stray from God’s call and strategies into protectionism (for good reasons of course). Thus, the job of a leader is to gently and slowly restore these families into fellowship, community and mission.