(Tribal Church) Carol Howard Merritt–Perspectives on the young clergy crisis

Since I’ve been chairing a national Presbyterian Church (USA) committee on the Nature of the Church for the 21st century, I’ve been gaining a different perspective on many of the larger trends of our denomination. One thing that has been difficult to realize (and equally difficult to communicate to the larger church) is the young clergy crisis.

Why would I call it a crisis? We’ve known for a long time about the startling decline of young clergy. The drop-out rates don’t help (I can’t find hard and fast stats on this… but some claim that about 70% of young clergy drop out within the first five years of ministry, usually because of lack of support or financial reasons). The average age of a pastor in the PCUSA is 53. And I’ve realized that the age of our leadership might be much higher.

Read it all.


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5 comments on “(Tribal Church) Carol Howard Merritt–Perspectives on the young clergy crisis

  1. New Reformation Advocate says:

    This short, factual jeremiad succinctly summarizes the HUGE challenge facing all the so-called “mainline” (or as I call them, ex-mainline) denominations in terms of the stunning shortage of young clergy. I hope that maybe Statmann or robroy or another number cruncher will chime in here with comparable data on TEC, but I suspect that the numbers may be even grimmer for TEC.

    Some highlights:
    1. Median age of laity in the pews in PCUSA is 61. And 80% are 45 or over.
    2. Median age of clergy, however, is 53. 8 years less.
    3. Over 50% of congregations can’t afford full-time clergy.
    4. Many retired clergy have been forced to take part-time church work to compensate for slumps in their savings due to the recession.
    5. A large majority (up to a stunning 70%) of young clergy drop out of ministry within five years after ordination, often because of lack of opportunities for advancement.

    Yikes, that’s even worse than I thought. The PCUSA is on the brink of implosion in the fairly near future.

    Now according to Kirk Hadaway, the stats guru at 815, in 2010 the median age of clergy in TEC was 58, 5 years higher than in PCUSA. Could it be likewise true that the median age of the laity in the pews in TEC is even higher than PCUSA’s 61?? If so, that would be even more depressing than I thought.

    I don’t know what the corresponding numbers would be for the ACNA, but I’m confident that the median age of both clergy and laity is signficantly lower than in TEC or the PCUSA.

    David Handy+

  2. Undergroundpewster says:

    Where are the young clergymen? I have heard all the arguments about the cost of seminary training, the low pay for new clergymen, but I am stuck with the notion that if the desire to serve the Lord in this calling were strong enough, these would not be insurmountable obstacles. In other words, I go back to the problem of inspiring young people to spread the Gospel. Our “mainline denominations” have failed in that crucial task and the consequence is that younger people seek fulfillment elsewhere. Not finding it, they sometimes return to the church as older seminarians. Older priests and ministers are not a bad thing, but I can see where a younger, Gospel driven minister might be better able to help young people along the path.

  3. Mark Baddeley says:

    I think when you’ve reached this stage it is basically game over. If 80% are over 45, then, at most, 1/5 of the current members might have children. If it’s a mainstream denomination, that group will probably have children at less than ‘replacement rates’ for their 1/5 share of the current numbers. And if you’ve gotten to the stage where your demographics are pushed that far towards older people, your retention rates for children and youth is probably terrible, so you won’t keep all or even most of those children who will be less than the 1/5 of what you have now.

    But, more than that, to get to this stage your culture has to be anti-growth, and having a demographic skewed this far to the older end will reinforce that – and that shows up in the staggering 70% of young clergy who throw in the towel in their first five years. You have very few young clergy, and you keep only 30% of them for more than five years…

    And then if you read the comments you get all sorts of great anecdotes that reinforce the statistcs. My favorite was the church that could have chosen to hire a new graduate with loads of energy and entrepreneurial savvy, but opted for a retired minister instead. That is what I would expect most churches with a median age of 61 to choose – the exceptions are greatly to be honored, but are exceptions. But that choice ensures the end of that church in a relatively short space of time.

    You could possible turn this around. But it would require a sweeping cultural change (forget the more fundamental theology for the moment – this can happen in orthodox denominations as well), and a lot of sacrifice by the current members for the sake of those who do not attend yet, or some access to resources that would enable that choice by those with that kind of heart. And that very rarely happens – you’ve been making the opposite choice for decades. That’s how you got here.

    In many ways, God’s hand is seen in this kind of pattern of human decisions over many years.

  4. TomRightmyer says:

    The high cost of medical insurance is driving a move toward younger clergy in the Episcopal Church.

  5. Clueless says:

    Part of it is simply the boomers retiring. Part of it is the high cost of education. If you are already 50,000 in debt you probably would rather start paying it off, then go another 100,000 into the hole.

    The majority of physicians are over 55