September 15, 2014
Survey: Pastors say pastors should stop moving church to church
Posted on Sep 9, 2005 | by Staff

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Most ministers take a job with a different church for reasons such as wanting to move to a different community, wanting to lead a larger church and getting promoted to a higher position -- not simply because they feel God calling them to a different church, according to a new study conducted for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, one out of every 10 clergy members has been fired at some time during his career.

The study, which utilized a representative national sample of 872 Protestant church ministers, explored the job situations of ministers in the United States and showed that it’s more common for a pastor to take a job at a different church because he got a promotion than it is for a pastor to move to a new church because he feels God’s call or leading.

Conducted by Ellison Research of Phoenix and published in the September/October issue of LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine, the survey revealed that the average American minister has held a paid job in ministry for 19 years and has spent an average of 15.6 of those years as a senior pastor of one or more churches. The average minister has been the senior pastor of his or her current church for 7.7 years.

Ministers at larger churches tended to have a longer tenure -- an average of 8.7 years in their current position, compared to 7.2 years among small churches.

The typical minister has been the senior pastor at three different churches during his career. Thirty-one percent are in their first position as a senior pastor, 24 percent have pastored two churches, 16 percent have been with three churches and 29 percent have been with four or more churches.

Among pastors who are part of a denomination, 19 percent are assigned to positions by their denomination while 81 percent are free to choose their own job. Denominational assignments are most prevalent within the Methodist tradition, although not exclusive to Methodist churches.

Being assigned to jobs has a strong influence on how long pastors stay in one position. The average length of time with their current church is 8.2 years among those who are free to select their own job, but only 4.9 years among those who are assigned to a church.

Similarly, pastors who are free to choose their own jobs have led an average of 2.7 churches over their career, compared to an average of 4.1 churches among those who are assigned jobs -- even though the length of time they have been in the ministry did not differ between the two groups.

Many clergy are concerned that pastors do not spend enough years at one church. Only 31 percent believe the average pastor in their denomination stays as senior pastor of a church about the right amount of time. Thirty-three percent believe the average tenure is a little too short, and 26 percent said it is much too short. Only one out of 10 ministers believes pastors tend to stay at the same church for too many years.

Attitudes differ between ministers who are assigned jobs and those who are free to choose their own job. Almost three out of four pastors who are assigned jobs by their denomination (73 percent) believe ministers do not get to spend enough years at any one church, compared to 57 percent among those who get to select their own position.

Concerns about whether pastors keep any job long enough are especially common among Southern Baptists, 87 percent of whom believe pastors in their denomination don’t tend to stay at one church for enough years. Southern Baptist ministers are also more likely than average to have held multiple positions over their years in the ministry.

Methodists also are frequently concerned that pastors don’t stay at one church long enough (74 percent), but most Methodist ministers are assigned to their positions, which in turn means Methodists are among the most likely to have served in multiple churches during their careers.

The study also evaluated the various reasons ministers have had for changing jobs throughout their careers. The most common reason for moving from one church to another is a desire to serve in a different type of community or a different region of the country. Twenty-seven percent of all Protestant ministers have switched jobs for this reason.

Other common reasons for changing jobs are getting promoted to a higher position, such as from an associate pastor at one church to the senior pastor of another church (20 percent), wanting to pastor a larger church (16 percent), being transferred by their denomination (15 percent), and leaving to start a new church (15 percent).

Other reasons for moving have included believing the move is God’s will or being called by God to another church (12 percent), better pay and/or benefits (11 percent), being fired or asked to leave a church (10 percent) and switching to a different denomination (9 percent).

Relatively few pastors have left a job because they wanted to pastor a smaller church (4 percent) or because their church closed down or ceased to exist (2 percent). Eighteen percent have had some other reason for leaving a job. These included reasons such as needing to move for family needs, job frustration, seeking a new challenge, conflict within the church and just wanting a change.

Reasons for leaving a job as senior pastor of a church vary quite a bit by denominational groups:

-- Among Methodists, by far the most common reason for a job change is being transferred by the denomination (80 percent). Switching denominations is also more common among pastors who are currently Methodists than among other denominational groups, as is wanting to move to a larger church. Methodists are much less likely than average to have left a job to start a new church, to have felt God’s call to go to another church or to have been fired.

-- Presbyterian ministers are much less likely than average to leave to start a new church but are about average in most of their other reasons for having changed jobs. Their most common reason for changing jobs has been a desire to live and work in a different region or type of community.

-- Lutherans are almost twice as likely as average to change jobs because they want to minister in a different region or type of community, which is also their number one reason for having left a church.

-- Pentecostal and charismatic clergy are much more likely than average to leave an existing church in order to start a new church, and about half as likely as average to leave in order to move to a larger church. Planting new churches is the top reason for job changes among Pentecostal and charismatic clergy.

-- Southern Baptists are about twice as likely as the average minister to have left a church because they felt God was calling them to a different church, although the most common reason for a job change is still a desire to minister in a different region or type of community.

-- Baptist ministers outside of the Southern Baptist Convention (e.g. American Baptist, National Baptist and Conservative Baptist) are less likely than others to have left a church because they wanted to work in a different region of the country or a different type of community. Their number one reason for switching jobs is getting promoted to a higher position.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, noted that the results from this study serve as a good reminder that while being part of the clergy is a calling for many ministers, it is also a job.

“People who work in real estate, manufacturing, marketing research and other careers change jobs in order to move to a city they prefer, get a promotion, start a new company, find better working conditions and make more money, among other reasons,” Sellers said. “This study shows ministers take new jobs mostly for these same reasons. Most pastors have not changed jobs simply because they felt God was calling them to a different church. For most, a job change is a result of a promotion, a move to a larger church, a desire to live in a different community or even as a result of getting fired.”

Sellers also advised that pastors and denominations need to take a long look at how long clergy are staying with each job.

“Three out of four pastors who get their jobs assigned by their denomination believe they don’t have enough time at each church. That’s something these denominations need to consider as they move people around,” he said. “However, there is a common feeling even among clergy who are free to choose their own jobs that pastors don’t stay long enough at any one church. Individual ministers also need to consider that issue as they look at the possibility of taking a new job.”
More complete data from these questions, including denominational detail, is available at
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