Following Faith

America’s pastors aren’t getting older, they’re getting ... a lot older

First Published      Last Updated Mar 01 2017 01:57 pm

Call in the graying of America's clergy.

The Barna Group, in partnership with Pepperdine University, has found that the median age of the typical Protestant pastor taking the pulpit in U.S. churches is 54 — a decade older than the median age of clergy interviewed in a 1992 survey.

The latest survey of 900 senior pastors nationwide, released Wednesday, found that 33 percent of clerics today are between 56 and 64 years old, with 17 percent 65 or older; 35 percent fell within the 41-to-55 age range, and 15 percent were 40 and younger.

In the earlier survey, the breakdown was 43 percent ages 41 to 55; 33 percent 40 and under; 18 percent 56 to 64; and 6 percent 65 or older.

Barna researchers noted that the aging of pastors continues a nearly 50-year trend, noting that in 1968, 55 percent of all Protestant clergy were under age 45.

Barna reported that several factors likely contribute to the shift. First, people are living longer — in 1968, male life expectancy was 66 years, compared to 76 today. More pastors also are coming to the pulpit as "second careers," having left or retired from first, secular jobs.

Further, 69 percent of the surveyed senior pastors said it is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable "mature young Christians" who want to become pastors, a finding that likely prolongs the time senior pastors stay active.

Whatever the reasons, David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, said the results could have dire repercussions.

"The aging of pastors represents a substantial crisis for Protestant churches," he states. "It is urgent that denominations, networks and independent churches determine how to best motivate, mobilize, resource and deploy more younger pastors."

Bob Mims