Mar 6, 2024

The State of Pastors Summit: A Webcast Recap

“This summit represents decades of Barna’s work helping to understand, encourage and equip pastors across the U.S. and all around the world,” shared pastor and author Glenn Packiam as he welcomed viewers to Barna’s The State of Pastors Summit.

With the help of dedicated partners (World Vision, Brotherhood Mutual, RightNow Media, Gloo and World Impact), we debuted The State of Pastors, Volume 2 during this free event cohosted by Packiam and Sharon Hodde Miller. This time featured new presentations from Barna CEO David Kinnaman and insights from leaders including Rich Villodas, John Mark Comer, Dr. Anita Phillips, Alvin Sanders, Christine Caine, Faith Eury Cho, Gabriel Salguero and Ed Stetzer.

Here’s an overview of The State of Pastors Summit. You can watch the webcast replay HERE. (The webcast, the viewer’s guide and David Kinnaman’s presentation slides are also available to view on Barna Access Plus!)

The State of Pastors Vol. 2

How Todays Church Leaders Are Pursuing Resilience and Stepping into a Hopeful Future

1. The Pastor’s Identity, Calling & Confidence
A large percentage of pastors have considered quitting in the past few years. Research also shows that pastors’ confidence in their ministry calling took a significant hit during and directly following the pandemic. Encouragingly, some of these downward trends are beginning to reverse as of late 2023—but there’s still much work to be done.

“We’re not quite at the crisis levels that we were at during the height of the last season,” Kinnaman noted during a presentation on pastors’ confidence in their ministry calling. “But the world of pastoring has really shifted. This idea that we’ve been spiritual frontline workers is not just your imagination.”

Rich Villodas (lead pastor of New Life Fellowship in New York) also commented on the data, saying, “I think about Moses, Elijah, Peter, Paul and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he’s thinking whether he should continue in the particular way that the father had called him. So while [the stats] may feel discouraging, I think this is consistent with the story of scripture.”

2. The Pastor’’ Relationships & Networks of Support
Barna research finds that, overall, support within the pastor’s home—the relationships a pastor has with a spouse and children—is very strong. However, data also shows that pastors are not often receiving spiritual support from a mentor or a network of peers; in fact, there’s been a decline in the number of pastors who receive this support since 2015. Pastors would benefit both from seeking a “constellation of relationships,” as Packiam shared in The Resilient Pastor, and from people coming alongside them to support in this specific way.

“The enemy has a way of isolating us in our pain,” noted Miller (lead pastor at Bright City Church in Durham, NC). “And so as hard as it is to see those numbers [about isolation] and to know they represent real stories, I’m grateful that we can name it and shed light on it so that all of us who are listening can know that we are not alone in feeling this way. That is so powerful and important.”

3. The Pastor’s Mental Health
Nearly three in four pastors feel emotionally exhausted at least sometimes, and over half feel isolated from others at least sometimes. While we see a small glimmer of hope in the number of pastors who feel supported by those around them, motivated to be a better leader and energized by their ministry work, the data about their mental health is sobering.

Sharing from his personal experience as a pastor, John Mark Comer (teacher, writer and speaker) noted, “It is so incumbent on us to have non-dual relationships of spiritual friendship, trust, love, accountability, truth, confession and encouragement so that we can carry the wounds, the pain and the trauma that comes from pastoring and discharge the pain out of our body in a healthy way.”

“It’s really important after naming [our trauma] to get the help we need to recover,” explained Dr. Anita Phillips (trauma therapist, author and minister). “Trauma is not a memory—it is a symptom, it is what’s happening in our bodies. … [Therapy] really is necessary. I believe that in the structure of every pastor’s compensation, a therapist should be included. Pastors need a safe, professional, private space to talk about what’s going on with them.”

4. The Pastor’s Credibility
It’s no secret that trust in institutions—religious or otherwise—has decreased significantly in recent years. To that end, research finds that only about a third of U.S. adults say that pastors are a trustworthy source of wisdom and less than half of Christian believe this as well. What is needed to regain credibility among congregants and communities? Webcast guests noted the importance of offering belonging, authenticity and hope.

“Something we found [in our research with Barna] is that the number one thing both urban churchgoers and unchurched urban residents agree on is that the institution of the Church can help with loneliness,” explained Alvin Sanders (president and CEO of World Impact). “ The community wants to feel less lonely—they’re looking for a place to belong.” 

Gabriel Salguero (pastor of The Gathering Place in Orlando, FL) added, “People need to be seen, heard and loved, so authenticity is a big thing. [We need] to have Christ move into our neighborhoods—it’s got to be incarnational. We have to feel people’s pain and be real about the challenges they’re facing. We also need to provide a word of hope. People are asking and deeply yearning for hope.”

5. The Leadership Pipeline & New Leaders
By and large, pastors tell Barna that they are concerned about the quality of future Christian leaders, they feel that churches aren’t rising up to their responsibility to train the next generation of leaders, and they fear the Christian Church will decline because of inadequate leadership in coming years. However, only half of pastors say their church at least somewhat prioritizes training and developing the next generation of church leaders.

Commenting on these findings, Christine Caine (speaker, author and activist) noted, “It’s one thing to say, ‘I believe in the next generation.’ It’s another thing to say, ‘I’m going to wrestle with creating practical pipelines and pathways for that development.’ … That isn’t easy; but ultimately, those are seeds sown that will yield the most effective fruit for the kingdom.”

“Discipleship needs to be really nuanced, and people may not like that because it’s slower,” added Faith Eury Cho (co-founder and co-pastor of Mosaic Covenant Church in NJ, CEO and founder of The Honor Summit). “What we [often] end up doing is activating parts of who [the next generation of leaders] are instead of all of who they are. That is not a holistic approach to discipleship. … If we’re not activating them in the church space, they will be activated elsewhere.”

6. Increased Spiritual Openness Among Americans
Data from our recent Spiritually Open research shows that we’re in a new era of openness. Over seven in 10 U.S. adults and teens are spiritually open right now, and a large percentage say they are more open to God now than they were before the pandemic. Pastors also share that they are open to exploring new models of ministry; as they witness changes in the culture, they want to reach and disciple people in new ways.

Ed Stetzer (Dean at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, editor at Outreach magazine and teaching pastor at Mariners Church) joined Kinnaman to discuss spiritual openness, explaining, “Tumultuous times raises the spiritual temperature in the culture. For many church leaders, this is the hardest time they’ve ever led through. But I think ultimately it points us to a great gospel opportunity before us. People are open and they are asking, ‘What’s more than this?’”

Kinnaman concluded by presenting a question to pastors: “Shouldn’t the Gospel make us the most change-ready people and agile leaders on the planet? … This, friends, is the moment for new leaders, new forms of credibility, new models of ministry, new ways of thinking—because God himself says, ‘Behold I am doing a new thing, now it springs up.’ Let’s lean into what God might be doing in new ways for the sake of a new and renewed Church.” 

Each of these six themes, as well as many others, are explored in more depth in The State of Pastors, Volume 2, Barna’s latest research report created in partnership with World Vision, Brotherhood Mutual, RightNow Media and World Impact. The report is currently available to purchase in Barna’s online store or to read on Barna Access Plus. Check it out today!

The State of Pastors Vol. 2

How Todays Church Leaders Are Pursuing Resilience and Stepping into a Hopeful Future

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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