You could see it unfolding. Boomer megachurch pastors are retiring. The number grows every month. And, as we thought might take place, the churches are having difficulty finding their successors. In fact, we are seeing search committees or their equivalents taking longer and longer to find a pastor. This trend will soon become a crisis.
So, how did we get here? How did we get to the point where some of the largest churches in North America are having trouble finding pastors? Here are a few observations:
- These churches have similar profiles of the type of pastor they want. And there aren’t many that meet that profile. I see it repeatedly. The requisite age is 38 to 49. The candidate must have proven leadership experience. The prospective pastor must currently be serving in a church with an attendance of 500 or more. Dynamic preaching is a given. Doctoral degrees are preferred but not mandated by all churches. Oh, and the candidate must be happily married with 2.6 children.
- The number of Millennials who are in vocational ministry and meet the profile is small. I am amazed at the same prospective candidates I hear every time one of these growing vacancies unfolds.
- Fewer Millennials are excited about leading a megachurch. They don’t view bigger as better. They want to plant themselves and their families in a community. They are not the prototypical ladder climbers.
- Millennials are concerned about the large worship centers many megachurches have. They would rather have more services and more campuses than one large worship center. They see a number of megachurches that can’t come close to filling their current space even now.
- Many search committees (or their equivalent) try to look for a pastor in the old traditional path. You know that path. Vote on a search committee. Have meetings every third week except on holiday weeks. Receive resumes without a filter. And if the church belongs to a denomination, ask the denomination to send the same recycled names. One recent exception, Mariners Church in Irvine, California, retained Vanderbloemen Search Group to take the non-traditional path and found a pastor in relatively short order. Too many of the megachurch search processes simply are old and stale.
- Many megachurches did not have a succession plan. For the life of me, I don’t understand why. This process, if done well, could save a lot of time and heartache.
Because of the reasons noted above, we have a supply and demand crisis. The demand is growing, and the supply is small.
By the way, a megachurch by definition has a weekend average worship attendance of 2,000 and more. We are now seeing more churches with an attendance of 1,000 to 2,000 having the same challenges.
It is a problem. It is likely a crisis. Unless something changes, it can only get worse.
Posted on January 28, 2019
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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