Study reveals pastors' ministry priorities
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Ask 801 Southern Baptist pastors to name the critical ministries of their churches and their responses will vary by church size, according to an online survey from LifeWay Research.
The online study, titled "Critical Ministries and Their Leadership," asked the pastors to identify their priorities in ministry and the challenges they face in finding effective leadership for key ministries.
When pastors of all sizes of churches were asked to list up to five ministries in their order of importance, the largest group (24 percent) identified evangelism/outreach as the most important. The next six ministries identified as most important were Sunday School/Bible study/small groups (17 percent); worship/specific worship services (13 percent); preaching/proclamation/preaching (10 percent); children/youth (9 percent); discipleship/spiritual growth/mentoring/counseling (7 percent); and prayer/prayer ministry/prayer groups (5 percent).
However, when the five most frequently mentioned ministries were compiled, children/youth moved to the top, identified as one of the five most important ministries by 85 percent of the respondents. The other four most-mentioned ministries were evangelism/outreach (68 percent); Sunday School/Bible study/small groups (53 percent); discipleship/spiritual growth/mentoring/counseling (37 percent); and worship/specific worship services (33 percent).
The next five ministries mentioned most often were missions (24 percent); community ministry/service/benevolence/recovery (22 percent); preaching/proclamation/teaching (20 percent); prayer/prayer ministry/prayer groups (13 percent); and music/choir (11 percent).
Church size, according to the data, is a factor when pastors list their most important ministries, said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research.
"Evangelism is more likely to be considered a critical ministry among smaller churches," McConnell said. Pastors of congregations with fewer than 100 in worship attendance are significantly more likely to list evangelism/outreach as an important ministry (72 percent) than pastors who lead churches with 250 or more in attendance (60 percent). On the other hand, pastors of midsize churches (worship attendance between 100 and 249) are significantly more likely to list children's or youth ministry as critical (90 percent) than pastors who lead churches that are smaller (83 percent) or larger (81 percent)."
Pastors of larger churches (worship attendance of 250 or more) are more likely to include worship or worship services as a critical ministry (46 percent) compared to pastors who lead small (30 percent) or midsize churches (33 percent), McConnell noted. Smaller churches (worship attendance under 100) are significantly less likely to include missions or Sunday School/Bible study/small groups among their most important ministries.
Pastors then were asked to indicate whether they had "an effective leader in place" for each of the critical ministries they had listed.
Taken as a group, more than three-fourths of pastors (78 percent) said they had an effective leader in place for the ministry they considered most important. For the next four ministries, however, pastors had an effective leader in place about two-thirds of the time, ranging from 69 percent for the second most important ministry to 64 percent for the fifth.
Again, the responses provided additional insight when grouped by church size, McConnell noted.
"Although smaller churches have fewer members from which to raise up new leaders, three out of four smaller churches have an effective leader in place for their most important ministry," he reported from the pastors' responses. "For all five of the most important ministries, at least 60 percent of small churches have effective leaders in place.
"Larger churches have even more success getting leaders in place, with 84 percent having an effective leader in place for their most important ministry," McConnell said. "Even for their fifth most important ministry, 72 percent of larger churches have an effective leader in place."
Some ministries are more likely to have effective leaders in place, McConnell added. Among the five ministries mentioned most often by pastors, leaders are most likely to be in place for worship (82 percent) and children's and/or youth ministry (70 percent). The least likely ministry to have an effective leader in place is evangelism/outreach (56 percent).
"While Southern Baptist pastors are quick to name evangelism as a priority, they indicated in their responses that they may struggle to get an effective leader in place to make it happen," McConnell added. "Almost half the pastors who list evangelism and outreach among their five most important ministries do not have an effective leader in place for this ministry."
The pastors also were asked how they personally related to leaders of their critical ministries. The options they were given: "You meet regularly with the key leaders of several ministries as a group"; "You meet regularly with the key leader of this ministry individually"; "You meet regularly with the whole leadership team from this ministry"; and "You do not meet regularly with the leader(s) from this ministry."
Taken as a group, 40 percent of pastors indicated they met individually with the key leader of the ministry they considered most important. Twenty-two percent said they met with the entire leadership team for the most important ministry, while 21 percent said they met regularly with the key leaders of several ministries as a group. Only 17 percent said they did not meet regularly with the leader(s) of their most important ministry.
"Pastors of larger churches are more likely to meet regularly with leaders from the most important ministry in some way," McConnell said. "Only 8 percent do not meet regularly with the leader(s) of this ministry. Yet larger church pastors are also more likely to meet regularly with the key leaders of several ministries as a group (31 percent)."
The type of ministry also affects how pastors relate to ministry leaders, according to the data. Among the seven ministries most often mentioned, pastors are most likely to meet individually with worship leaders. The discipleship or spiritual growth leaders are most likely to miss out on regular meetings with the pastor (31 percent).
The online study was conducted in 2008 among 801 Southern Baptist pastors. The responses were weighted based on church size to minimize response rates. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that sampling error does not exceed 3.4 percent for the total sample.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.