Five Reasons Why Large Churches Are Having Difficulty Finding Millennial Pastors

Attention church members of congregations with an average attendance of 400 or more: If you are happy with your current pastors, hold on to them. You will have a challenge finding the successor to your pastor, especially if you want them to be 35 to 45 years old and with at least ten years of lead pastor experience. 

Church Answers has been following the impending pastor shortage crisis for a few years. We are ready to remove the word “impending” since we hear from churches every week that can’t find a pastor. 

The crisis is particularly acute for larger churches seeking a Millennial pastor, that generation born between 1980 and 2000. We could include younger Gen X pastors born between 1975 and 1979 in this group. There are clear reasons why larger churches feel like there is a shortage of these pastors. Here are the five top reasons. 

The Five Reasons 

These reasons are listed in order of frequency stated by Millennial pastors except for number two, which is a demographic reality. Though our information is anecdotal, we believe we’ve heard it enough times to be accurate.

1. Bigger is not better. For decades, pastors typically moved from smaller churches to larger churches. Many smaller churches perceived their role was to prepare the pastor for the next step, much like the next step in educational attainment. However, most Millennial pastors do not view a bigger church as the next natural step. Many of these pastors feel like the smaller church where they are serving represents the future of churches in America. They are correct in their perception.

2. Boomer pastors are retiring and dying, and there are insufficient replacements available. It’s a two-edged sword. One part of the problem is that many Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are leaving their churches within a short period. There are simply not enough Millennial and younger Gen X pastors to replace them. The oldest Boomers are 78 years old. Even those hanging on past 65 years old are ready to step down.

3. Millennial pastors feel like they are serving both a church and a community. Their sense of call is first for the church they are serving but also for the community where the church is located. Pastors who feel a powerful call to their communities are much less likely to move to another church.

4. Facility issues are a big concern. Many churches have worrisome levels of deferred maintenance. Some also have worship centers that are not even half full. Millennial and younger Gen X pastors are seasoned leaders. They know that they might spend a considerable amount of their ministry time dealing with facilities, fundraising, and debt.

5. It costs too much to relocate. The pastor said these words emphatically: “I can’t put my family through the financial pressure of relocating. Even though the prospective church has offered me a 20% increase in salary from my current church, it still does not cover higher house prices and mortgage rates of around 7%.” And lest you judge these pastors to lack faith or be money-focused, most are seriously concerned that their decision would be one of poor stewardship.

Addressing the Challenge 

There are no simple or incremental solutions to the challenges. Our team at Church Answers gets more inquiries from search committees or their equivalent than we ever have. Typically, the conversation begins with, “We can’t find a pastor.” 

Thus far, we’ve worked with these search committees to rethink personnel alignment, to look in an atypical pool of candidates, and to seek ways to find candidates within their own communities. We see a lot of challenges, but we don’t have cookie-cutter solutions. It is indeed a challenge, but it affords new opportunities and new ways of looking at how we “do church.” 

In an upcoming article, we will address why smaller churches also have trouble finding pastors. The stated problem is similar, but the likely solutions are very different. Stay tuned.

Posted on May 20, 2024

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • How does Generation X fit into this?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Ken –

      Note this sentence in my article: “ We could include younger Gen X pastors born between 1975 and 1979 in this group.”

      • And Gen X pastors who were born between 1965 and 1974?

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Ken –

        Once a pastor turns 50 (born 1974), demand by churches drops sharply. It’s neither fair nor good, but it’s reality.

  • April Babcock says on

    Are we asking young people to seek God on the call to ministry? Not in any churches that I have attended. Younger people are chasing money so they can raise a family and be financially secure. I have also experienced a substantial lack of discipleship. How can someone step into ministry of no one is willing to disciple them and help them grow? This is a crisis. We need to pray, encourage followers to ask God if He wants them to go into ministry, and encourage and disciple those who desire to go into ministry.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      April –

      I see a greater problem that precedes “calling the called.” We are not evangelizing the lost in our communities. That is an individual mandate for me and you. I was called into ministry from the business world many years ago. But I was first led to Christ by my high school. That then led to my call to vocational ministry.

  • #1, 3, and 4 are true for me.

    #1- I’m now pastor of a large church but have pastored two smaller churches prior to this, and, while there are certain advantages to a larger church, I can also say that bigger is not always better.

    #3- in a large church there isn’t often time for community as the church institution tends to take up a greater portion of time that would otherwise be spent being involved in a community.

    #4- the church where I serve was built in 1971. It’s a massive building that works, but the repair and upgrade bills are massive.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    When I began in ministry I never had the option of considering how serving the Lord was going to effect my family’s finances. Now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Now people are refusing to serve or move because it could be detrimental to their family. I have been in pastoral ministry for 22 years and the first 9 years of my ministry involved going farther into credit card debt every year. My wife and I have accepted the fact that we will never get out of debt until we sell our house. Another issue is that our seminaries have come to realize this and are now offering degrees that take less time. They are doing this because they have admitted that the price of education/training is too expensive. I am all for being a “good steward” of God’s money but we now have pastor’s whose training for ministry is so poorly done that it will be to the detriment of the “Church.” Where do we draw the line in the sand? I was born in 1974 and just turned 50. I know very few ministers around my age and the few I know do not have the experience or training that I have.

  • David Haldeman says on

    I feel that model of calling a man to pastor a church goes against that which was modeled and taught in the New Testament. It seems that elders/pastors were called from the congregation.