St. Thomas' Church, Sheffield, England

The Organic Church On-Line Tour
featuring the insights of Bob Whitesel

“Our story is really the story of a missional church with a clustered structure,” explains Mike Breen, former rector of St. Thomas’ Church and co-author (with Walt Kallestad, Senior Pastor of Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz.) of several books that have grown out of the St. Thomas’ discipleship training, A Passionate Life, and The Passionate Church: The Art of Life-Changing Discipleship.

Innovation #1: Clustering Small Groups

While most European and Anglican churches do not grow to over 1,000 attendees, St. Thomas’ has over 1700 people (most under 40) attending. The growth came through the normal mega-church model, but the maintenance of their size came through a strange turn of events. St. Thomas’ branched out and began meeting in a large disco in town, the Roxy, featuring contemporary worship that would attract a young crowd (the stately old St. Tom’s continued to offer a standard Anglican service as well as a more contemporary one). This sounds very much like any other mega-church growth story, with all its trappings: “We filled the Roxy but were really just like most mega-churches with brittleness and disconnection,” recalls Paul Maconochie, who is now the team leader at St Thomas' Philadelphia campus.

When the lease ran out at the Roxy, it forced the leadership to think creatively. They had already established small groups of 7-12 people, so their idea was to “cluster” small groups together into missional communities. These “clusters” combined 2-7 small groups together based on demographics and similar interests (for a total of about 25 to 85 people) so that they could do several things: (1) Instead of a large impersonal congregation that meets in a large venue like the Roxy, the church now meets at 17+ locations throughout the city. St. Thomas’ now looks more like a network of small churches meeting all over Sheffield. (2) These clusters provided just the right size for service to the community – Mick Woodhead, current rector (having just took over for Mike Breen) says, “Clusters are adaptable in the times they meet, the places they meet, and the ministries they undertake. And clusters are small enough to share a common vision, yet large enough to do something about it. If a small group undertakes community service, some people won’t show up and the group will be shorthanded. Soon, the small group gets burned out. But clusters of small groups can staff and maintain community ministry longer because of their size.” (Read more about clusters here.)

Innovation #2: Using Symbols for Retention and Comprehension for Discipleship Concepts

Breen and Kallestad have developed a discipleship plan that uses simple geometric shapes to train people in discipleship (See the shapes here). The thinking is that in an “icon-driven” society, young adults can latch onto these shapes and remember the implications and requirements of discipleship. The Lifeshapes© discipleship methodology has now been published for other churches to implement into their churches.

Innovation #3: Allow for Diversity of Sub-Congregations, While Maintaining Cohesiveness

Organic Churches, according to Bob Whitesel, embrace the idea of having multiple sub-congregations in order to carry out mission to the sub-populations in their community. What many modern churches seem to do is identify themselves by a particular style of ministry, limiting the number of people they can reach. The clustering format of St. Thomas’ Church allows for several different styles of churches to meet under the unified banner of St. Thomas’ Church. “Outreach thus trumps comfort.”

In order to keep cohesiveness, they schedule multiple pan-congregational unity gatherings (including a weekly Sunday evening worship event).

See Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations by Bob Whitesel (Abingdon, 2006)

technorati: ,


Ted Gossard said...


I appreciate this emphasis of St. Thomas, on small groups. Sometimes lip service is given to small groups, without the corresponding commitment made or followed through so this dynamic can take root and bear fruit.


Never Again said...

I know Bob Whitesel all too well. He hurt my family and me, causing us great pain at the Jesus People Church in Minneapolis. Please read the Minneapolis Star and Tribune article posted below. Perhaps you may reconsider Bob Whitesel as a source of any spiritual truth.

Minneapolis Star and Tribune
Suit says pastor of defunct church coerced two women into having sex
By Kevin Diaz
Staff Writer
Mpls Star Tribune

Two women, former members of the now defunct Jesus People Church in Minneapolis, have alleged that they were coerced into sexual relationships with a pastor of the church, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The women, now married and in their 20's, allege that were "forced and coerced" into sex with the Rev. Robert Barry Whitesel, now pastor of Vineyard of the Lake Church in Wayzata.

The alleged sexual encounters were reported to have started in 1981 and continued until 1986, after the Jesus People Church broke up and Whitesel moved to his Wayzata church. James Kerr, Minneapolis attorney representing the two women, said they were 15 and 18 years old when the sexual encounters began.

Whitesel issued a statement last night denying the allegations, at least in part: "As I stand before God, the charges that it was nonconsensual or that it took place in in a counseling situation, or that anyone underage was involved, are blatantly untrue. I can only guess they are fabricated to insure them a greater settlement in a lawsuit."

Whitesel, who is married with children, also said he had been disciplined and received counseling stemming from the affair. "The board of our (Wayzata) church, in consultation with my psychologist, unanimously voted to restore me to the ministry, after a time of discipline," he said. He declined to say when he was disciplined, and for how long.

"We, my family and I, can tolerate tribulations, difficulties and hardships," he said. "It's the untruths that bring us great grief."

The women's allegations are attached to a suit filed by the insurer of the Jesus People Church, the Indiana-based American States Insurance Co., which seeks to escape financial liability in the case. The suit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, also names Vineyard of the Lake Church as a defendant.

The women and their husbands, all identified only by their initials, contend that they suffered emotional and marital difficulties as a result of the women's past sexual relationships with Whitesel.

The women are described in their formal complaint as having been "young, professed born-again Christians, who were extremely devoted to the church and to (Whitesel)."

Their suit contends that Whitesel, who served as youth pastor and choir director at the Jesus People Church , counseled the women and controlled their social lives to the point of dictating whom they could date.

They allege that he influenced them to have sex with him in both the Jesus People Church and Vineyard of the Lake, and that in every instance the sexual activity was accompanied by prayer, reinforcing his status as an authority figure.

Kerry said that the women's allegations were brought to the police and Hennepin County authorities in the last year but the statute of limitations had already expired for any criminal charges.

The Jesus People Church, a charismatic religious organization on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis known for its ministry to young people, particularly teenagers down on their luck, folded in November 1985.

In its suit, American States insurance is contesting its liability under a $500,000 policy with the Jesus People Church. However, the women's cases have not yet been heard in court.

Anonymous said...

I'll concur with "never again" even though I did know about his transgressions, I attended a HS school church camp with Bob Whitesel and as young Christian I knew back then that Bob Whitesel should not be in a leadership role.
30 yrs later, I'm still a Christian and my little voice (the Holy Spirit) has never let me down and it was no different with Bob Whitesel. He should find another occupation, and not be the stumbling block he is to Christians that unfortunately put there trust in this man.

Anonymous said...

Never Again, get your facts straight. you aren't even talking about the same Bob Whitesel

Anonymous said...

Nope, it's him. Google Bob to find out who is accurate.

Anonymous said...

"Never again"--Notice that the article never mentions who won the case and that Bob Whitesel was not found guilty. These were money-hungry women who were trying to make their own affairs look better by placing the blame on him. Stop spreading false information. If you call yourself a Christian, look at the facts and understand that our Creator is the only one who should make judgments.

good said...

The time has come for everyone to forgive and move on. We seem to forget we all are sinners. What ever happened or did not happen it is time to move on and leave this up to God to Deal with. I also was there, I went to both churches. Its time to move on. Hope everyone is doing fine.

Anonymous said...

I agreed with good on this. Never Again...you have been charging after Bob for many many years. When you don't let someone move on...you both stay in prison forever. The other person who accuses the women in question. Those ladies, I love them both, and nothing could be further from the truth about them. They have gone on to do amazing things with their lives and for the communities they are involved with...even helping my best friend get her life back. They have touched many lives had wonderful families...they have healed. Bob needs the opportunity to heal and all who know him and have worked with him...know he does have a gift...but we all...ALL need to drop the stones. Many of us need to look in the mirror and ask why are we pushing hate? Forgive yourself. Forgive others. LOVE is the only way...it is the only truth. No matter what book you follow, what beliefs you cling to, our time is precious little to be wasted away in hate and darkness.

Love unconditionally. Forgive quickly. Realize what is important. All of the hatred, violence and trying to get revenge is just a distraction because what we are dealing with FEEDS on hate.


Anonymous said...

Yes it is true...he raped many girls...how can you say move on to a child who was raped. All rapists do is move on to another younger victim...and more and more. He is nothing more than a satanic child rapists...oh and greedy. Knew him well...should be in prison,,,,sure as day he is raping kids now.

Anonymous said...

Once a pedophile always a pedophile