New Barna data shows that pastors’ confidence and satisfaction in their vocation has decreased significantly in the past few years, and two in five (41%) say they’ve considered quitting ministry in the last 12 months. What can be done to help pastors in crisis?
This article, an excerpt from the first release in Barna’s new Resilient Pastor series—part of the larger Resilient Pastor initiative and available exclusively on Barna Access Plus—offers new data on pastoral security. You can read the full article today on Barna Access Plus.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on how we live our lives continues to unspool. The full impact of a crisis of its size probably won’t be truly understood for years or even decades, but we are starting to wrap our heads around some of the ways COVID has shaped new norms. For instance, many people came out of COVID with very different feelings about their jobs than they had going into it. And pastors are no exception.
The number of pastors who feel burnt out, lonely or unwell is growing: To put it bluntly, Barna Group’s current data does not paint a pretty picture of the state of the American pastor. Over the past few years, Protestant senior pastors have seen a drop in their job satisfaction, their confidence in their calling and their overall sense of well-being. The number of pastors who are feeling burnt out, lonely or unwell is on the rise, and this is especially true of young pastors. In short, things are a little bleak.
How bleak? For one example, our research shows that today’s pastors are deeply struggling with their sense of calling in the wake of COVID, with levels of pastoral self-doubt climbing to new highs. Consider that in 2015, when Barna conducted research for The State of Pastors, 72 percent of pastors said they felt “very satisfied” with their job as a pastor. By 2020, that number had dropped to 67 percent. Then, as of 2022, just 52 percent of pastors are “very satisfied” with their jobs.
That’s an eye-popping 20-point drop over the course of just six years, and it’s notable for a few reasons.
First, the trend has continued as the pandemic response has eased, instead of leveling out as lockdown restrictions relaxed. Additionally, the drop is especially notable among younger pastors—just 35 percent of pastors under 45 say they are “very satisfied.” This troubling decline in vocational satisfaction may cause significant problems for churches in the future.
We see similar trends across multiple dimensions of pastors’ work-lives. In 2015, two in three pastors (66%) said they were “more confident” in their calling than they were when they started their jobs. By 2022, just 35 percent of pastors said they were more confident, and half (50%) said they were “just as” confident. While only 14 percent are “less confident” now than they were when they started ministry, this is a huge jump from the 3 percent who said the same in 2015. Among women in pastoral leadership, confidence wanes further: A full 25 percent report they’ve lost confidence in their calling since they started in ministry.
Overall, the percentage of pastors who say they have gone through a period when they significantly doubted their calling for ministry has more than doubled since 2015 (from 24% to 55% in 2022).
Pastors aren’t just broadly less happy with their work than they used to be, they may also be less sure of where they’re supposed to be.
Editor’s note: The data above, as well as past Barna data, highlight a drastic decrease in pastoral satisfaction and security. While the data is grim, the aim of this new series—which will include reporting on self-leadership, church-leadership and culture-leadership—is to offer support and solutions for churches and their leaders. It is our hope that the data and insights shared will serve as a call to action for church communities to rally around their leaders and offer them strength and support in the face of current challenges.
Further reading and resources:
- The Resilient Pastor series—part of the broader Resilient Pastor initiative—is available on Barna Access Plus. Tune in now through the end of May to catch new monthly releases pertaining to the current state of pastors in America.
- Read this article to review data on pastors’ increased risk of burnout in 2021.
- Pastors offer the reasons why they’ve considered leaving full-time ministry in this article from 2022.
- Barna data in this article shows that, for pastors who want to quit ministry, self-care and soul-care are slipping.
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About the Research:
2015 data: Barna conducted 901 interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. between April and December 2015. The interviews were conducted through a mix of online and phone. Quotas were set to ensure representation by denomination, church size and region. Minimal statistical weighting was applied to maximize representation and the margin of error is +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.
2020 data: Barna conducted 408 online interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. from September 16–October 8, 2020. Quotas were set to ensure representation by denomination, church size and region. Minimal statistical weighting was applied to maximize representation and the sample error is +/- 4.8% at the 95% confidence level.
2022 data: Barna conducted 585 online interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. from September 6–16, 2022. Quotas were set to ensure representation by denomination, church size and region and oversampling was conducted to reach female senior pastors. Minimal statistical weighting was applied to maximize representation and the sample error is +/- 3.8% at the 95% confidence level.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2023