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Applications Open–New Pastor Affinity Groups

Emma R. Whiteford

Those connected with the Center for Rural Ministry (CRM) have front row seats to witness the unfolding of many promising new endeavors in this season of transition as the Center builds on and expands the work of the Project on Rural Ministry. One exciting shift that is currently underway is the pivot from regional cohorts to affinity groups. In the CRM, affinity groups build on the success of the original regional cohorts while also benefiting from the work and knowledge gleaned over the past five years.

Meeting six to eight times annually for up to two years, the CRM Affinity groups, led by Grove City College faculty and/or ministry-specific experts, allow pastors and ministry leaders to step into a hospitable space where they can build relationships with others facing similar contexts and challenges and be equipped with the tools and teaching needed to deepen and further their ministries.

New Avenues for Resourcing, Conversation, and Partnership

The three affinity groups launching in 2024 open the door to having deeper conversations more often for longer lengths of time.  When asked what vision inspired the pivot from cohorts to affinity groups, Executive Director, Dr. Charlie Cotherman, remarked, “we learned that the regional cohorts were too spread out and there was too much diversity” in order for the PRM to serve the needs of each pastor well. And so, the CRM set the goal of diving deeper into specific areas of need and, from this, flowed the vision for Affinity Groups.

Working towards deeper engagement and stronger relationships, the affinity groups offer participants what Dr. Cotherman describes as, “a great opportunity to be in the conversation of what’s happening at a really exciting point for the CRM and to get involved with students, faculty, and peers.”  Furthermore, Dr. Cotherman shared that this season for the CRM serves as an “opportunity to think collectively and creatively about how to resource pastors with specific interests and for contextual realities.” The pastors who join the affinity groups are not simply clients, they are partners, and their ideas, experiences, and reflections have the exciting potential to shape what the CRM becomes.

For the past four years the Project on Rural Ministry has brought pastors together for mutual learning and encouragement. As the PRM transitions to the Center for Rural Ministry (CRM), members of the CRM team plan to expand this work in new ways geared to the contextual realities of pastors and church leaders.

For the Church in Our Region

This pivot also allows the CRM to expand its reach. That means that pastors and ministry leaders whose congregations might not fall into the category of small and rural are still invited to partner with the CRM and get plugged into an affinity group. The CRM is not abandoning its emphasis on partnering with small and rural congregations, but it is expanding its potential for enriching partnerships. “We want to be for the church in our region” Dr. Cotherman expressed, and that means being “for churches of all sizes in our region.”

Three Affinity Groups to Launch in 2024

The first of three groups to launch will be the youth ministry affinity group on January 30, 2024. The other two groups with 2024 launch dates will be small-church affinity groups located in the southern and northern regions of Pennsylvania. South, led by CRM Pastor Liaison Bill Sukolsky, will be launching in the Spring, and North, led by CRM Executive Director Charlie Cotherman, will be launching in the Fall. These small-church affinity groups will focus on pastoral health and resourcing for contextualized ministry. These discussions will help pastors better practice self-stewardship spiritually, emotionally, relationally so that they, in turn, are equipped to nurture healthy churches and congregations.  As Sukolsky reflected, the connection between the health of the pastor and the health of the congregation “is a symbiotic relationship.”

A Lifetime of Youth Ministry Experience on Offer in Youth Ministry Affinity Group

The youth ministry group will be led by Dr. David (Duffy) Robbins. Robbins has been leading and teaching in the field of youth ministry for over 40 years, has authored multiple well-respected books, and is currently a professor at Grove City College.

Robbins will draw on a lifetime of youth ministry experience as he leads the initial youth ministry affinity group.

Through interactions with Young Life during his freshman year of college, Robbins became a Christian and almost immediately felt the Lord calling him to dedicate his life to ministry. Robbins began his work as a youth minister in Barrington Rhode Island and “to my surprise,” Robbins remarked, “I really loved it. I loved being deeply involved in a local church.”

In expressing his hopes for this affinity group, Robbins articulated a vision for gatherings that continually plant seeds of collaboration and instruction that are watered and fostered by a rich ministry of encouragement.  Reflecting on the impactful work of the CRM in resourcing small, rural churches, Robbins commented “most youth ministry around the world gets done by these people.”

With a passion for equipping faithful youth pastors and leaders to do ministry well in spite of a lack of funds and volunteers, Robbins paints a picture of a discussion-driven environment that dives deep into topics like developing a philosophy of programming, targeted ministry, effective communication, practically doing relational ministry, and much more. Because the youth of today are the adults of tomorrow, this affinity group seeks to sustain youth ministries and cultivate the health of the future church by investing in and encouraging youth pastors.

Partner with the CRM by Applying Today

The door to partnership with the CRM is open wide.  Apply here to join an affinity group and engage in opportunities that will strengthen the bonds between the College, Church, and Community, encourage ministry workers, and enrich the work of ministry.

Emma Ruby, raised in central PA, is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior studying English, Christian Ministries, and Redemptive Entrepreneurship with the hope of spending a lifetime doing vocational ministry.