Jan 7, 2002

From the Archives

Pastors Rate Themselves Highly, Especially as Teachers

Most pastors feel they do a good job at leading their congregations, except when it comes to raising money. In fact, of eleven common activities that pastors undertake, a majority of Protestant Senior Pastors rated themselves as doing an “excellent” or “good” job in ten of those eleven areas. A new nationwide survey among Protestant Senior Pastors by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California shows that the way in which pastors rate themselves varies somewhat according to the size of the church the pastor oversees, the theological leanings of the pastor, and his/her tenure in the pastorate.

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Getting the Job Done

At least four out of every five Protestant Senior Pastors said they do an above-average job – defined as either an “excellent” or “good” rating – in three of the 11 aspects of pastoral involvement examined. Nine out of ten said they are above average in preaching and teaching, 85% said they do well in encouraging people, and 82% claimed to be excellent or good in the area of pastoring or shepherding people. Nearly three-fourths (73%) said they do well in providing leadership for their church, while two-thirds said they are above average in motivating people around a vision (68%) and discipling or mentoring (64%). Six out of ten pastors claim they do well in evangelism (60%), while slightly more than half of all Senior Pastors say they are better than most in counseling (54%), administration or management (53%) and developing ministry strategy (53%).

The only aspect for which a majority did not claim to do an excellent or good job was in fundraising. Less than one-third of all Senior Pastors (31%) claimed they were above average in raising money, while 37% said they are merely “average” in that domain. Raising money for their church’s ministry was the only aspect among those tested for which more than one out of five pastors portrayed their efforts as “not too good” or “poor” (23%). Only two aspects generated at least one out of ten pastors claiming to do a below average job: administration (11%) and motivating people on the basis of a vision for their church’s ministry (10%).

The survey also showed that the pastors of non-white congregations rated themselves significantly higher than did the pastors of white congregations on eight of the 11 dimensions tested. The only areas in which pastors of non-white congregations did not rate themselves higher than others were in pastoring, preaching and fundraising.

Size Affects Self-Rating

The Senior Pastors of larger churches (more than 250 people) rated themselves more highly than did their colleagues from smaller congregations in four areas: administration, counseling, developing ministry strategy and motivating people on the basis of vision. There were no pastoral functions for which clergy from smaller congregations rated themselves more highly than their counterparts from better-attended churches.

The differences between the pastors of large and small churches (less than 100 adults) were biggest when it came to administration (23% of those at larger churches rated themselves “excellent” compared to half as many among small-church pastors); developing ministry strategy (17% versus 6%, respectively); and motivating people around a vision (26% versus 10%). In each of these areas, as well as in relation to encouraging and leading people, the pastors of churches that draw 100 to 250 adults were in-between.

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Theological Leanings Impact Self-Perceptions

The theological orientation of pastors also correlated with their self-perceptions. For instance, the pastors of charismatic churches rated themselves more positively than did pastors of fundamentalist churches, while pastors who describe their theology as “liberal” – representing only one-fifth of all Protestant pastors – rated themselves more positively than either group.

Fundamentalist pastors did not rate themselves more highly than did charismatic pastors on any of the eleven factors tested. Liberal pastors, though, were more likely to give themselves an “excellent” rating than were charismatic pastors on four dimensions: leadership, pastoring, preaching, and fundraising.

The centuries-old division between Calvinist and Wesleyan theology made little difference in how pastors view themselves. There was only one dimension on which one group was notably different than the other: pastors with a Wesleyan orientation were slightly more likely to describe their preaching as “excellent by a 34% to 25% margin.

Years in Ministry Make Little Difference

The length of time a pastor had been involved in full-time pastoral ministry had only a minor influence on how he/she evaluated the quality of their work. Pastors who have been serving for five years or less were more likely than were their more experienced colleagues to rate themselves highly in reference to administration, but were somewhat less likely to give themselves the highest accolades concerning pastoring and fundraising.

In terms of the relative quality of their ministry, pastors who have been serving for more than a decade ranked their abilities in the areas of pastoring, motivating on the basis of vision, and counseling comparatively higher than did less experienced pastors. The long-tenure leaders were less enthusiastic about their administrative capacity than were other pastors.

Spiritual Gifts Correspond to Performance

The survey data also showed that the spiritual gifts claimed by Senior Pastors correspond to the areas in which they feel they are doing the most laudable work. The primary gift listed by pastors was most often preaching and teaching (mentioned by 40% as their single, most dominant gift), followed by pastoring (12%) and encouraging (6%). Although many pastors consider themselves to be a leader, and feel they do an above-average job of leading people, only 4% of pastors said leadership was their primary gift.

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Reactions to the Data

George Barna, whose firm conducted the research, elaborated upon the survey statistics. “There was a noteworthy correlation between adult attendance and the pastor’s self-rating regarding vision casting, strategic development and possessing the gift of leadership. For instance, among pastors of the largest churches studied, leadership was the primary gift claimed by the second-largest number of pastors, and the pastors of larger churches were nearly three times as likely as the pastors of small congregations to rate themselves highly in motivating people on the basis of vision and developing ministry strategy. While attendance figures are not a valid measure of church success – life transformation is the bottom line, and we often find a weak correlation between church size and transformation – the relationship between people’s willingness to attend a church and the leadership qualities of the pastor is an important connection to highlight.”

Barna also pointed out that there appears to be a need for standard and objective measures of self-evaluation that church leaders can utilize. “Pastors are indisputably a talented and well-educated group. However, it’s unrealistic for most pastors to claim that they perform at an above-average level in such a large number of disparate ministry duties as those examined in the study. Given the different skills and divergent ways of thinking required to excel in these various areas, perhaps the survey is pointing out the need for an objective self-evaluation tool or process that will help clergy to more reliably assess their strengths and weaknesses in ministry. Simply identifying a standard for excellence in these areas would be a significant step forward toward helping ministries and ministers assess the quality and impact of their efforts. Such knowledge might also help them to seek intentionally the assistance of skilled and gifted believers whose strengths in areas of their own relative weakness would facilitate more effective ministry.”

Survey Methodology

The data described above are from telephone interviews conducted during October and November 2001 among a nationwide random sample of 601 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches located within the 48 continental states. The sample was balanced nationally according to the incidence of denominational affiliation, with a random selection of churches chosen within each denomination. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular tracking of the social, religious and political state of the nation and its churches.

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The Self-Rating of Protestant Senior Pastors
(base: 601)
excellentgoodaveragenot too goodpoor
encouraging people2461131*
motivating people around a vision15532837
discipling/mentoring people1252322*
developing ministry strategy10434131

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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