A national study1 of pastoral leaders by Austin Presbyterian Seminary asked the questions: “Does participation in a pastoral leader peer group make a difference? And does participation in a pastoral leader peer group make a difference in congregations?”
The APS study found that in the last five years, 72 percent of the pastoral leaders polled participated regularly in a small group of peers for continuing education and support. Christian Standard’s survey showed that 76 percent of the 232 senior ministers surveyed participated regularly in a peer group last year. The APS study found that leaders in smaller congregations were slightly less likely to participate in peer groups. The same is true with the Christian Standard survey, as senior ministers of medium-sized churches had the lowest rate of participation in a peer group at 72 percent. Megachurch senior ministers had the highest rate of participation at 81 percent.
The APS study showed that participation in a peer group has a positive correlation to the growth of a congregation. It found that the longer a pastoral leader had participated in a peer group, the more likely his congregation had grown. Likewise, the 232 churches we surveyed showed the same connection between peer group participation and church growth, including more baptisms in churches whose ministers participate in such a group.
How Many, Who, and When
We spoke with eight ministers to get a better picture of how their peer groups worked and what they accomplished.
• They have participated in a peer group an average of six years.
• Their groups ranged in size from four to 25 ministers.
• Four of the eight groups met monthly, two met twice a month, one met weekly, and one met two to three times a year for three to four days at a time.
• Half of their groups were ethnically diverse, and 60 percent included persons of different denominations or faith traditions.
In Their Own Words
• “We Christians need to work together” said John Scott, senior minister with Community Christian Church (Hemet, California), who meets weekly in a diverse, areawide pastor’s prayer group. “I also need to be around other guys to pray and encourage each other. I feel I’m able to encourage some other guys who are struggling. We’re able to work together on valleywide projects (service days, outreach events) and develop a few friendships that really matter.”
• Arron Chambers, senior minister with Journey Christian Church (Greeley, Colorado), said he finds “fellowship, encouragement, and accountability” in his two peer groups.
• David Vaughan, senior minister with Whitewater Crossing Christian Church (Cleves, Ohio), who meets once a month with large church leaders, said it “helps me to know I’m not alone in ministry or life’s struggles.”
• Rod Nielson, senior minister with Agape Christian Church (La Porte, Indiana), who meets twice a month with a diverse group of ministers, said, “We pray for unity among our churches and revival in our city, and we organize events to promote both. We host joint worship services once or twice each year. We also share resources and encourage each other in dealing with the issues all ministers face.” Nielson added another benefit: “I learn about how believers from different traditions do things. This helps me remember that faith is much larger than my world.”
• Mike Tuttle, senior minister with Miamisburg (Ohio) Christian Church, participates in the local ministerial association in order to “to know and support the other pastors in town, as well as communicate with other congregations.” Tuttle also participates in a smaller group that includes Christian church ministers for “friendship, encouragement, and insight.”
• Mont Mitchell, senior minister with Westbrook Christian Church (Bolingbrook, Illinois), meets with five other Evangelical pastors from diverse churches in his town. He noted, “We all had a sense at the same time to earnestly begin working together.” Some of the personal and ministry benefits Mitchell has received from the group include “camaraderie, common focus and passion to reach our community, peer encouragement, and a desire for our churches to have similar spiritual formation paths.”
• More than eight years ago, Eddie Lowen, senior minister with West Side Christian Church (Springfield, Illinois), started meeting several times a year, for a few days each time, “to connect and fellowship” with four other leaders from similar-size churches. Lowen has continued meeting with this group “to prevent stagnation and isolation,” and the group has provided him with “fresh ideas for preaching and ministry, deep conversations, and leadership discussions.”
• Brian Jobe, senior minister with Harvester Christian Church (St. Charles, Missouri), meets with a group of five area ministers from various denominations. Jobe joined the group out of a “need to encourage and be encouraged. These men are leading large churches in our city of St. Louis, and all of us understand the pressure of the others. We all believe that by working together, serving together, and praying together (despite our doctrinal differences) we can do more for Jesus and promote healthy unity in our city.” Through his participation in the group, Jobe has found “encouragement, ideas, prayer support, and a bigger view of God’s work in the world and his church!”
1“Is the Treatment the Cure? A Study of the Effects of Participation in Pastoral Leader Peer Groups,” Austin Presbyterian Seminary, April 2010.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.