Who Are Pastors Today?

Are pastors today pretty much the same as pastors in days gone by? Or are the changes we’ve seen recently in society and in congregations reflected by those serving as pastoral leaders?

Comparing pastors serving in a random sample of congregations in 2001 to those serving in another random sample in 2008/2009 helps us answer these questions.[i]

How are pastors different today?

Three key demographic differences stand out when we compare pastors in 2001 to pastors in 2008.

More women in ministry—but only in mainline Protestant churches. Today almost three in ten senior/solo pastors in mainline Protestant churches are women—up from two in ten in 2001. Almost no women serve as pastors in the other faith groups.

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Pastors are older. Between 2001 and 2008 the median age of pastors increased in all three faith groups. This change mirrors that for worshipers.

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Many pastors are ordained later in life. Among pastors who have entered ministry recently (in the past 10 years) the median age at ordination is 43. Compare this to the median age among those who’ve been in ministry for more than 30 years: 26 years. Similar differences are seen in all three faith groups. This change reflects the increasing numbers of pastors who are entering ministry after another career. Second career pastors also contribute to the increasing median age of pastors.

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In future posts, we’ll look at other ways pastors have changed—and stayed the same—in recent years. Stay tuned!

[i] The U.S. Congregational Life Survey included a survey of one key leader in a national random sample of congregations. In 2001, the leader survey was conducted by Jackson Carroll, who summarized findings in the book, God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations (Eerdmans, 2006). We managed the leader survey in 2008 and will publish results in the upcoming book: Leadership that Fits Your Congregation: What Kind of Pastor for What Kind of Congregation (Chalice Press, 2012).