A comparison of Lifeway Research studies from 2015 and 2021 indicates that, despite the challenges of COVID-19, there has been virtually no change in the number of evangelical and historically Black Protestant senior pastors leaving the pulpit each year.
In 2015, the annual attrition rate was determined to be 1.3%, while August-September 2021 survey results showed attrition was just 1.5%, according to an article posted at lifewayresearch.com.
Researchers asked 1,500 senior pastors such questions as when they started at their church (17% started during the pandemic, 2020-21), whether they were the senior leader of their church 10 years ago (37% were), and what the present status was of the 63% of senior leaders from 10 years ago who had “moved on.”
That last figure—63% of former senior pastors from 10 years ago—broke down as follows: 14% had retired, 13% were serving another church, 5% were deceased, and 21% fell into a hodgepodge of responses (including “not sure,” not applicable/church didn’t exist, and church was between ministers). Of the remaining 10%—a figure which indicated “pastor attrition”—6% were working in ministry but not as a pastor, and 4% were working in a non-ministry role.
Among those no longer in ministry, the article stated, “current senior pastors . . . say the previous pastor left due to a change in calling (32%), church conflict (18%), burnout (13%), being a poor fit with the church (12%), or family issues (10%). Fewer point to a moral or ethical issue (8%), an illness (5%), personal finances (5%), or a lack of preparation (3%).”
The survey also asked questions about . . .
• church conflict — “most pastors (69%) say they dealt with some type of conflict” at their last church
• pastoral encouragement — “close to 9 in 10 (86%) feel their church gives them the freedom to say no when faced with unrealistic expectations”
• ministry and family stresses — “most pastors say they are on-call 24 hours a day (71%) and their role is frequently overwhelming (63%)”
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, noted that the “frequently overwhelming” feeling among 63% of senior pastors jumped significantly from six years ago, when it was 54%, which he indicated could very well be a result of the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read “Few Pastors Left the Pulpit Despite Increased Pressure” by Aaron Earls and access the research report at lifewayresearch.com.