Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

How important is it for pastors to engage in a clergy peer group (aka, covenant group, learning group, or pastors cluster)? According to two recent studies it's extremely important. The difference between pastors engaged in a group and those not involved shows up in their churches. In our Region we call them Leadership Learning Communities (LLCs). Here's a summary of what was discovered:

Those who participate in a covenant group are more likely to create a culture of involvement within their congregations. What's that mean? It means pastors were more likely to involve their people in leadership and ministry. There was more participation by laypeople in each of these areas: 1) New member's classes 2) Communion 3) Worship leadership 4) Church ministries and 5) Rotation through leadership roles.

Pastors involved in a covenant group have churches with an organized presence and involvement of youth. This included the greater likelihood of a youth minister on staff. Additionally there were higher incidences of the following: 1) A youth program including conferences and camps 2) Congregational events planned and led by youth 3) Youth serving on congregational committees and boards.

There was more intentional involvement in the community including a vision of the congregation as a community change agent. Pastors engaged in a group led their churches with a strong emphasis on community service. There was an expectation within the church that the pastor would be out in the community representing the congregation.

Furthermore, pastors who were involved in a group enjoyed more congregational support for continuing education. Their churches committed more dollars to finance the ongoing retooling of the pastor. There were congregational expectations and requirements for the pastor to do continuing education.

These factors alone are enough to build a solid case for life-long engagement in a clergy learning group. But, there's even more reason for pastors to be a part of a LLC. The study also investigated whether there was any correlation between congregational growth and peer group involvement. The resounding answer was "yes." Participation in a group correlated with congregational growth.

There were two caveats, however. First, longevity in group involvement was a factor. The longer the pastoral leader participated in a group the more likely it was that his or her congregation would experience growth. The most productive years seemed to be in the fourth year of participation and beyond.

Second caveat, the peer group had to have structure, usually marked by a trained facilitator and an established curriculum.

The researchers discovered a strong relationship between congregational health as marked by growth and peer group involvement. Much stronger than they anticipated. This factor was as important as other, more obvious predictors of church growth. For the record, the other predictors of church growth, according to their research, included a youthful congregation, broad hands-on participation in ministry by the laity, little or no congregational conflict, spiritual vibrancy and clear mission.

The researchers noted a consistent thread in their findings: Pastors involved in structured peer groups tend to be missional leaders and are personally involved in their communities. Growth is one predictable result.

Based on their study the researchers also identified the following factors that make for effective peer groups:

  • A high level of contact between group members (including meetings but especially emails/phone calls)
  • A leader/facilitator who inspires confidence
  • A group that provides accountability and practical help with some attention to intellectual challenge & spiritual refueling
  • A group that is cohesive, "like a family"
  • A group whose practices focus on ministry improvement through exploring innovative ideas & resources as well as sharing/getting feedback about personal and ministry problems.

They summarized these characteristics with this comment: "peer groups that renew their members' ministries provide a stimulating mix of the practical, the intellectual, and the spiritual along with a certain amount of 'holding each others feet to the fire' in terms of accountability."

The results of this study impressed upon me that ABCNW is on the right track in providing Leadership Learning Communities for our pastors. LLCs are a great resource and they are working for us. I encourage every pastor to be an active participant in one. The next step for us in this journey with leadership clusters is the extension of their benefits to lay leaders. Concepts for doing this are being considered. So, stay tuned.

Thanks to Joe Kutter with ABC Ministers Council for directing me to this information. If you are interested in digging deeper into these findings go to Austin Presbyterian Seminary College of Pastoral Leaders.

2010 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest
[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog, www.missionnorthwest.blogspot.com]