In late 2001, 200 Alban Institute members responded to a poll asking them to share their insights on the state of leadership in American congregations. Eighty-three percent of the respondents were clergy, with both an average and median of 20 years in ministry. While this represents a “straw poll” only, the responses were revealing.

When asked to rate the current state of ordained and lay leadership in congregations, most people gave an “adequate” rating to both ordained and lay leaders, although more ordained than lay leaders were rated as “strong”:

Ordained Leadership

Lay Leadership










When asked “what three abilities are most important for effective, transformative leadership?”

  • 81% included “vision/direction/decision making” in their responses;
  • 46% included “spirituality/spiritual presence”; and
  • 42% included “communicating well.”

When asked “what are the three key challenges of congregations you know best?”

  • 62% included “sense of mission/vision” in their answers;
  • 53% included “training and nurturing strong leaders”; and
  • 31% included “developing a sense of spirituality.”

Poll participants were then asked to name two key lessons they have learned about leadership:

  • 44% said it was important to equip and support leaders, particularly lay leaders.
  • 30% emphasized good communication skills, especially listening.
  • 19% spoke about the value of a strong vision and sense of mission.
  • 16% replied that spiritual presence and a healthy spirituality are key.
  • 13% said that conflict is inevitable and that it’s important to manage conflict well.

They were also asked what they believed was the most important change that could be made in the preparation of congregational leaders:

  • 29% emphasized well-structured training and mentoring for both clergy and laity.
  • 15% encouraged a strong focus on spiritual growth and formation.
  • 8% focused on mission/vision and developing a sense of purpose.

From these results, we can infer that many congregational leaders place a high value on mission and vision, leadership training and support, the ability to communicate well, a vibrant spirituality, and conflict management.