Survey: Megachurch Leaders See Themselves as Teachers, Not Pastors

Megachurch pastors are not likely to see themselves as that – pastors. They're more likely to view their role as preacher or teacher, according to a new survey.

In newly released findings from the Leadership Network's Large-Church Senior Pastor Survey, 81 percent of senior leaders in churches with more than 2,000 attendees view their role as "preacher/teacher" while only 16 percent see themselves as a "pastor, shepherd or spiritual guide."

Fifty-one percent chose the term "directional leader" and 33 percent described themselves as a "visionary."

The majority of megachurch pastors say they are strongest in preaching (79 percent) and thinking about and promoting a vision and goals for the congregation's future (77 percent). Around a third say teaching people about the faith and training people for ministry and mission are tasks they do best. And only 10 percent say they are strongest in pastoral counseling and spiritual direction.

Those who see themselves more as a preacher/teacher say they're best at promoting a vision while those who call themselves a pastor say they do "preaching/teaching" better than promoting a vision.

The survey found that self-described "pastors" are less satisfied with the evangelistic emphasis of their church, indicate that a lower percent of their newest members came to faith in Christ through the ministry of their church, are less likely to lead a multi-site church, lead slightly smaller churches, and preach slightly more weekends a year.

Megachurch pastors on average preach at three services each weekend and 39 weeks a year.

More than half (51 percent) of megachurch leaders look to conferences as part of their continuing education, 43 percent say in-person relationships is most helpful in their continuing education, 31 percent point to magazines and books, and 18 percent go online to further their education.

What helps them in their personal spiritual growth include individual time with God, worship services at their church and small group.

Nearly half (47 percent) of megachurch leaders say they are the only senior pastor, 21 percent say up to 25 percent of the senior pastor role is shared, and 19 percent say 26-50 percent of the role is shared.

Digging into the background of megachurch pastors, the survey found that 72 percent of them attended church weekly at the age of 16 and more than half say it was an evangelical or nondenominational church.

They also tend to be white, middle-aged, married to their first spouse and raising school-aged children.

Compared to other church pastors, megachurch pastors are considerably less likely to be single, divorced or re-married; tend to have more formal theological education; spend more time in preaching (including preparation) and in administration; spend less time personally visiting members, the sick and shut-ins; tend to be less satisfied with their spiritual life and their leadership effectiveness; take more time off; experience less conflict in their churches; report higher levels of congregational morale; and agree more often that their churches are ready to try new things.

When reaching young adults (age 18-35), 20 percent of megachurch pastors say small groups work best and 17 percent say targeted worship service helps them connect with young adults.

In other notable findings, churches high in conversion growth and attendance growth tend to be younger in terms of the median age of members, larger, and faster growing.

Almost half (49 percent) of all surveyed pastors say 11-30 percent of their members came to faith in Christ at their church; 16 percent say 31-40 percent of their members converted at their church; and 14 percent say more than 50 percent or their congregation converted at their church.

Pastors in high-conversion megachurches spend more time in continuing education whether in person, online, or at their church and also spend more time in prayer/meditation, evangelism and administration/meetings. They are also more likely to be involved personally in a small group and be more satisfied with their own spiritual life. Interestingly, these pastors say their religious upbringing was markedly more unchurched or non-evangelical.

Megachurch pastors overall report being overwhelmingly content at work – in terms of their relationships with staff as well as with family, spiritual life, salary, effectiveness as a leader and the opportunity to use creativity. Almost all (95 percent) of the pastors say they are satisfied in the level of freedom they are given to use their creativity and by and large, megachurches appear to support innovation and innovative thinkers.

More than half (53 percent) of megachurch leaders report they've "never" thought about leaving the ministry and 42 percent say they've thought about quitting "once in a while in the last five years."

Interestingly, most say sports and exercise help them to maintain "sanity."

"Overall the survey responses indicate that large-church senior pastors have a very positive outlook," Dr. Warren Bird, director of Research for Leadership Network said in the report. "They show high levels of satisfaction from home to church, they get to spend many work hours doing what they think they're best at, and most of them have the privilege of leading congregations that are growing in both number and conversions."

Results of the survey are based on responses from 232 senior pastors serving in megachurch congregations. According to Bird, the survey, conducted in May 2009, represents the most comprehensive cross-denominational survey that has ever been conducted of large-church senior pastors.