Does peer group involvement makes a difference among pastoral leaders? Yes, according to a major study of several thousand clergy. In particular, how does it affects the congregations that these clergy serve? The findings are amazing, drawn from a nationally-representative sample that studied several thousand pastors in 2008. It asked if pastoral leader participated regularly in a small group of peers for continuing education and support during the last 5 years, and then compared those who said “yes” with those who said “no.”
In academic language: pastoral leaders in peer groups reflect and shape congregations that are participatory, missional, and support their continuing education. Such leaders are also active in their self-development and self-care and are self-differentiated.
Translated: Congregations with pastoral leaders who participated in peer groups . . .
– Were significantly more likely to promote a “culture of involvement” in their churches. This means they have greater participation in their newcomers classes, in worship, in community service, and in service to the congregation. They also report more rotation of people and roles (compared to “the same people tend to serve in the same roles”).
– Support an active youth ministry that also is integrated into the life of the church.
– Tend to devote time and effort to community service and positive community change. If pastoral leaders are in a peer group, then their congregation is significantly more likely to see itself as a change agent in the community and to emphasize community service.
Is there a relationship between a pastoral leader’s peer group participation and the growth of their congregation? Yes, clearly.
Simply being in a peer group is not enough, however. Two specific characteristics of a pastoral leader’s participation in a peer group were found to be strongly related to numerical growth in congregations: the length of time clergy have participated in peer groups (see chart) and a particular kind of leadership and structure, especially: (1) A pastoral leader with a history of peer group involvement, (2) A congregational culture that is perceived as exciting, spiritually vital, and has a clear mission, and with little or no congregational conflict, (3) A pastoral leader whose peer group has a trained facilitator and/or a curriculum.
Average meeting length was 2-3 hours, and the pastor attended 11-12 times a year. In about 90% of the groups, members themselves make the decisions about who belongs and/or what the groups does for its learning. Most said their meeting included “sharing ideas and resources for ministry,” “sharing personal concerns,” “enjoying fellowship,” “getting feedback on ministry,” “praying for one another” and “discussing a common topic.” An amazing 97% say they have attended a majority or all group meetings!
The full 61-page report, released April 2010, is titled “Is the Treatment the Cure? A Study of the Effects of Participation in Pastoral Leader Peer Groups” and is available for free download at www.austinseminary.edu/cpl.