April 9, 2010
I am eager to see a new report based upon the experience that Peer Learning Groups have shared over the last 7 years. Here are some elements about and from this report:
A recent research project by Penny Marler focused on the evaluation of several hundred pastoral leader peer groups has shed light on the issue of change and its relationship to congregational growth and clergy renewal. This study, initiated by the Lilly Endowment, Inc.’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) initiative, shows that a pastor’s regular involvement with a small group of clergy for continuing education and support is an important predictor of congregational vitality. Penny Marler is the principal researcher for this project, and the final report is currently in process. So this news is actually “new.”
A personal history of participation in a group is a strong predictor of numerical growth in a pastor’s congregation. This conclusion is based on two separate surveys, one of over 2,000 pastoral leaders involved in a range of small groups for up to five years, and the other of over 3,000 pastoral leaders in a nationally-representative sample of American congregations. A peer group that is intentionally-structured to maximize peer learning is an especially strong predictor. Longer tenure in a peer group also is related to lower levels of congregational conflict. Further, a pastoral leader’s participation in a peer group (of any kind) is significantly related to a culture of involvement among laity both in their current congregation and to positive impact on the local community. Participation in a peer group that is racially or denominationally diverse is especially powerful for a pastoral leader’s own spiritual growth.
It makes intuitive sense that the ongoing social, spiritual, and practical support provided by a peer group is a key to dynamic and innovative ministry. Now there is documentation that the time investment has real payoff. Stay tuned.