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Half of pastors wanted to ditch pulpit since 2020

A shortage of pastors for American churches may be looming. More than half have seriously considered leaving the ministry since 2020 for various reasons, a new study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research suggests. “The further we are from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the more we observe larger percentages of clergy pondering alternatives to their present congregation, vocation or both,” the report said.

The data suggest that as of fall 2023, 53 percent of religious leaders have seriously considered leaving pastoral ministry at least once since 2020. This share is significantly higher than the 37 percent of pastors who reported in 2021 that they had similar thoughts since 2020. About 44 percent of pastors also said they seriously considered leaving their congregations at least once since 2020. This is more than double the 21 percent of pastors who reported this sentiment in 2021.

“While there is some overlap in these two thoughts, it is not entirely the same group of leaders considering leaving both their current congregation and the ministry profession altogether,” researchers said. “About a third of leaders report having both thoughts, a third have considered one or the other and the final third have never considered leaving either,” researchers explained.

The growing discontent among pastors was described in the report as a “disconcerting” reality that implies “clergy are in the midst of a challenging time.” The average pastor was described as a 59-year-old leader who had served in their position for a median of seven years and was 80 percent more likely to be white and male. Some 75 percent were employed full-time, and 60 percent of them served solo rather than as part of a team of leaders.

READ: Pastors still hurting in wake of pandemic

Researchers found that the changing religious landscape in America, sped up by the pandemic, has led to the challenging times that pastors now face, causing more of them to think of changing churches or leaving the profession altogether.

“Fewer people from younger generations now participate,” the report said. “Vitality measures are down, and greater numbers of attendees increasingly concentrate in the larger churches. Any post-pandemic rebound that happened did not rectify this situation, far from it. Less than half of congregations have recovered to or surpassed their pre-pandemic reality across several key measurements, such as attendance numbers or financial health.”

–Alan  Goforth | Metro Voice

Photo by Matthew Ball on Unsplash

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