The number of pastors who have given serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry has risen dramatically over the past year. Why are pastors so burned out? New data highlight the main reasons two in five pastors have thought about leaving ministry—as well as some reasons pastors have determined to stay.
Stress, Isolation & Political Division Factor into Pastors’ Desire to Quit
As of March 2022, the percentage of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year sits at 42 percent. This is consistent with data from fall 2021 when Barna first reported on a sharp increase in pastoral burnout, and it confirms the growing number of pastors who are considering resignation—up 13 percentage points from 29 percent in January 2021.
What reasons do pastors give when asked why they’ve thought about stepping down for good? Stress, loneliness and political division are the three items that rise to the surface.
Over half of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry (56%) say “the immense stress of the job” has factored into their thoughts on leaving. Beyond these general stressors, two in five pastors (43%) say “I feel lonely and isolated,” while 38 percent name “current political divisions” as reasons they’ve considered stepping away.
Leaders Who Haven’t Considered Quitting Are Still Challenged
So what about the pastors who haven’t considered quitting full-time ministry? While these leaders aren’t feeling the need to leave ministry, they still experience a number of tensions. In fact, their top challenges are the same as those named by pastors considering resignation.
Pastors who haven’t thought about leaving ministry say “the immense stress of the job” (34%), “current political divisions” (32%) and feeling “lonely and isolated” (18%) are factors that have negatively impacted their ability to lead at their church within the past year.
While stress, isolation and division are impacting these church leaders’ ability to lead, they presently remain committed to full-time ministry. It's possible some of these pastors are anchored by certain beliefs and experiences of their calling.
For instance, over four in five of pastors who haven’t considered quitting (83%) say they believe in the value of their ministry. Another three-quarters feel they have a duty to stay and fulfill their calling in ministry (75%) and that they are satisfied with their job (73%). Many of these same pastors also share that their family (67%) and community (59%) support them well, calling attention to the importance of strong and encouraging relationships in pastors’ lives.
Overall, most pastors are confronting the same pressures and stressors—but perhaps not the same levels of equipping and support. As Rev. Dr. Glenn Packiam—author of The Resilient Pastor—writes in Barna's The State of Your Church, "We need sages to advise us, leaders to direct us or hold us accountable, peers to remind us that we aren’t alone, healers to dress our wounds and companions who carry us when we can’t carry on."
Barna will continue to report on these findings, exploring how spiritual disciplines, community and soul care factor into pastoral well-being.
About the Research
January 2021 Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 413 Protestant Senior Pastors from January 22–27, 2021. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
March 2022 Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 510 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 10–16, 2022. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022