Fewer pastors now want to quit but younger leaders still challenged: Barna

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Fewer pastors are now reporting dissatisfaction with their job or doubt in their calling, but that rebound isn’t as noticeable among younger or female pastors, according to a new report from Barna.

Recently published data from the Evangelical Christian polling firm’s latest report, The State of Pastors, Volume 2 — created in partnership with World Vision, Brotherhood Mutual, RightNow Media and World Impact — show the rebounding confidence and security pastors now have in their jobs compared to the burnout they said they were experiencing as they emerged from the ravages of the COVID-19 lockdowns in recent years.

While many pastors previously considered leaving their jobs, data collected by Barna from 523 online interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. from Aug. 28- Sept. 18, 2023, showed they are feeling much better.

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In 2022, just 35% of pastors said they were “more confident” in their calling than they had been when they started in ministry, previous Barna data show. In 2023, the share of pastors who say they are now “more confident” in their calling than when they started ministry increased to 51%. Another 39% said they are “just as confident.” The share of pastors who said they were “less confident” in their calling fell from 14% in 2022 to 9% in 2023.

More than half of male pastors, 51%, and female pastors, 53%, as well as pastors over 45, 52%, reported being confident in their role. Some 50% of pastors younger than 45 felt the same. The share of pastors who said they're “very satisfied” also jumped 7 percentage points between 2022 and 2023 from 52% to 59%.

There was also a similar uptick in satisfaction among pastors with their current church. Some 47% of pastors reported they were “very satisfied” with the ministry in 2023 compared with 38% who said the same in 2022.

Only a minority of younger pastors, 38%, and female pastors, 32%, felt this way, while 50% of older pastors and 49% of male pastors reported being “very satisfied” with their current ministry.

“Age and gender discrepancies have long lingered within job satisfaction among pastors, and it seems the recent rebound has done little to narrow these gaps,” researchers noted.

Barna previously noted that as American pastors continue to skew older, with an average age of 52, a majority said it had become increasingly difficult to find younger replacements willing to do their jobs as they prepare to retire.

Researchers in that report found that some 75% of the pastors in the study at least somewhat agree with the statement: "It is becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to be pastors." 

About a third of respondents "strongly agreed" that it's becoming harder to find young Christians to be pastors, up from 24% in 2015. 

An October 2021 Barna survey also showed that nearly four out of 10 pastors (38%) said they were "seriously considering" leaving full-time ministry, which was a significant increase from the 29% of pastors who reported feeling this way several months earlier in January 2021.

As the world was still reeling from the pandemic in 2022, some Christian denominations, such as the progressive, LGBT-affirming Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, reported that they were already in the throes of a succession crisis with a national shortage of "at least 600" pastors.

The recent data on pastors thinking of leaving full-time ministry has also changed.

“These positive jumps in pastoral confidence and satisfaction go hand in hand with the shift in the number of pastors who have contemplated leaving full-time ministry in the past year,” researchers wrote.

“As of March 2022, this number sat at 42%. In late 2023, the numbers of pastors who had considered this dropped to 33%. Today’s pastors are finding their footing after a prolonged period of destabilization.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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