There are, today, many large churches in which the people enter the sanctuary… and watch their pastor on television. These are called “multi-site” churches and this may happen in your church sooner than you think.
While sitting through several sessions at Annual Conference last week, and listening to reports, some of the numbers began to nag at me. I am an engineer and numbers mean something. In particular, as I listened to our bishop, Bishop John Hopkins, as well as visiting bishop, Bishop Janice Huie from the Texas Conference, speak about the age of our clergy members; the numbers told me something about the future. What they told me is this:
In ten years, our church will be very different.
I admit, you may still have a human pastor, but maybe not, and maybe not in the way you are accustomed to having one.
Here are the numbers. In East Ohio, we have 748 churches with 586 pastors. At present, 60 percent of our pastors are 55 or older, and 6 percent are under the age of 34. Nationwide, those numbers aren’t much different. According to Bishop Huie, 54% of all ordained elders are age 55-72. In 2000, that number was only 30 percent.
For the last ten years we have ordained, between five and seven new elders annually. This year we had the largest class in a very long time, and there were thirteen.
During those same ten years, we have retired between twenty and thirty five pastors every year.
To be fair, the number of ordinations and the number of retirees is not an accurate comparison because the retirees include many local pastors as well as ordained elders. Even so, it seems to be a fairly visible hint of things to come.
These numbers were announced and displayed for everyone at Annual Conference, so what has me so convinced that we are about to witness a major change in ministry?
Think about it. If 60 percent of our pastors are 55+, that means 60 percent of our pastors will retire within the next decade. If the pastors of 60 percent of 748 churches retire, that means that 448 churches will need a new pastor. Sixty percent of 586 pastors is 351. If we also assume that we can somehow duplicate our efforts this year, and ordain 13 pastors every year for the next ten years instead of only 5, we will ordain only 130 new elders.
We will ordain 130 elders to fill 448 empty pulpits.
Of course, this doesn’t count the addition of local pastors. This year we elected 44 new candidates for ministry, discontinued 6 candidates and also discontinued 16 local pastors and 2 provisional elders. If we assume these numbers as averages for the next ten years and also remember that those ordained (13) must also come from the ranks of the candidates for ministry, in the end we gained 7 local pastors.
Over a decade, that gives us 70 local pastors to add to our 130 elders for a total of 200 pastors.
That still leaves us 248 pulpits short.
Unless every pastorfills two or more pulpits.
If the math holds, in the next ten years, we will bring in 200 new pastors to replace 351 retirees.
Of course there are other factors that will play into this. Our conference (and others) has expended considerable effort to attract young clergy, but in the last decade we’ve managed to raise the percentage of young (under 35) clergy by only 2 percent. Even if we continue to improve, this alone isn’t going to fix the problem.
Currently, to fill the existing ‘clergy gap’ we’ve invited more than fifty retirees to pastor these churches as well as 18 pastors from outside our conference and denomination.
This means that our shortfall may not be as bad as the numbers initially suggest, but the trend tells us something.
In the next decade we will care for God’s people but to do so will require change. We may well employ more part-time pastors and student pastors. In addition, more local pastors and elders will find themselves serving more than one church. But we may also experiment with new models of ministry. We may try multi-site churches, where one pastor preaches in multiple locations via video, and we may go back to our roots and try a twenty-first century version of the circuit rider. We may try many things, but one thing is almost certain.
In ten years, our church will be very different.
2 thoughts on “Your Next Pastor May Not be Human”
I do not believe the problem will be filling the pupits. The problem will be solved as church membership falls and churches are closed.
Honestly John, I did consider that. Our conference closes between one and three churches each year, so even in a worst case if we assume that the next decade will close thirty churches (which I pray doesn't happen), still leaves us with a huge shortage of clergy.Of course, with God, anything is possible. My prayer continues to be for renewal and perhaps another great awakening. I believe that we may, in our lifetime, see the church grow strong a vibrant again.