Mega Pastoral Vacancies in Megachurches

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.

Photo Credit: Rockfordmark [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Thom,
    Interesting article. I think another foundational question (maybe this has been researched and addressed at other times) is the future of mega churches. You mentioned that younger leaders seem to not have the same vision for the mega church movement. This is contributing to the lack of desire for those kind of ministry settings.

  • Doug Turner says on

    Thom, you could add that pastors are notoriously selfish when it comes to providing younger pastors and opportunity to share their pulpit. Often large churches have competent people on staff but fail to give them opportunities to grow into such a role and they get bored, feel unused and look for other opportunities to preach. I spoke with a young man once studying to be a preacher and I asked if had ever preached before which he replied, no the pastors wouldn’t let him. What a shame. I was interim pastor at the time and immediately scheduled him to preach. We met over pizza to talk about his sermon, I pushed him on his study time and asked how he would manage the diverse audience and he did just great. The ego of many in these large churches would not take the time to do that.

  • Rusty Craig says on

    I would like to know more about having a succession plan. Although I’m certainly not in a mega church setting I have been able to see the church I serve make a turn-around as we have walked through a revitalization process. I’m several years away from being “washed up” but would like to begin moving toward a plan to have someone step right in and keep this church on a good path for growth! We’re small, but we are making a difference.

  • As a mid-age Boomer and along with many others of my peers in the SF Bay Area, many leading “mega-churches” (by definition, we have initiated succession transitions and found well prepared Gen X pastors to become the new Lead Pastors.

    IMHO and in our shared experiences, if a pastor of “any age” loves Millenials – as well as Builders, and cares deeply about families raising children (gen Z or iGen), that church will flourish and reach a community which are looking for the real deal, integrity of character, biblical fidelity, where “truth and grace kiss”.

    • It is not as hard to get clergy to like people of all ages as it is to get the powerful people in the congregation to like them.

  • Jason Green says on

    I believe the church as a whole has made academic credentialing more important than God’s call to ministry in a man’s life. I believe we may be looking for the wrong kind of leadership of the bell-cow institutions of our faith. I believe there are pulpits empty right now that could be filled with someone whom has been ruled as unqualified academically, but has ever ounce of equipping needed to grow the church. Leading people in Christ MUST be about a God-given ability to shepherd, and personal commitment to prayer and study. We’ve tried to turn the Gospel and the disciple-making process into rocket science and make it gimmick driven.

    • I don’t think that’s necessarily true. i think greater emphasis is placed on academia now because of the “trust” factor.
      The fact is with budgets and obligations and commitments, church leadership has to have the knowledge and wisdom to manage things. Nothing will destroy a gathering faster than a question about fidelity and integrity (most often centered around money). whether is a simple error in accounting or actual malfeasance – scandal will kill a congregation. The best way to avoid scandal is identify persons who see the commitment not just of the spiritual call.

      many are called few are chosen…

      but also see the realities of accountability – the head is accountable for, of and to the whole body. the brain is manager of everything. knowledge is the key to all things. it’s not just making disciples (sharing the personality of Godliness – leaders have to know, watch and care for the budget in addition to receiving from God and teaching as the Spirit directs.

      Remember Paul was an academic first – Peter was business man first Luke was a doctor first… the point being the faith/ faithfulness and commitment of Christianity isn’t just spiritual feeling. It’s also the ability to manage what you’re given and expand it.

      consider the parable of talents – Matthew 25:14-30
      the leader gave everybody more or less ( the same gift) as he knew they could handle. All experienced the feeling of receivership but not all saw the opportunity to put the gift(s) to work. In fact one flat out said, “what do I need to know about management fundamentals and accountability?” I’m gifted – they know I’m gifted, I know I’m gifted; the world knows I’m gifted. What do I look like risking my gift (putting it to work on any level even if it’s just depositing it in bank ie (learning to handle finances))
      even when I know that it’s a part of the call – something more than just being gifted is expected of me.

      I say all of that to say – saved and spirit filled is good. it’s a good start. But saved and spirit filled don’t qualify you to be a fisherman, doctor or teacher.

      • Craig Giddens says on

        Academia may turn out better CEOs, but not necessarily better Bible teachers. More and more preaching is turning into motivational speeches designed to produce productive church workers. Academia tends to lessen a pastor’s faith in the bible as the word of God thus a decrease in sound Bible teaching and preaching and an increase in Biblically illiterate congregations.

    • I agree it’s very dangerous to judge a pastor strictly by academic standards, especially since academic institutions tend to drift leftward. Our own Southern Baptist institutions have been no exception (remember all the battles we had back in the 80’s?). When a church or denomination decides academic respectability is more important than doctrinal soundness, they are in serious trouble.

      I also agree that we’re focusing too much on methods. A state evangelism director in Missouri said it as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. He said no growth strategy or program is going to work equally well in every church. He said if it did, the strategy would get the glory instead of the Lord.

  • Ken Brown says on

    I think the real issue is that church, as it has been done in this country for the past hundred years or so, is unsustainable. Demographics are changing as are ways to reach people for Christ. Is Sunday still “the” day to have a gathering? A building or multiple buildings and campuses may not be the real solution in a society running away from the Lord as fast as possible. Why do we think a continuation of the past is the way to go? What is the Spirit saying and doing today? How do we best disciple those who we have been entrusted with in the place we are in? I agree that many look for “amenities,” but let’s be real honest about this, keeping people in large churches for being lost in the numbers and remaining babies is a problem. Have we reached the time where we base the “big” service on the internet but then do smaller groups for the heavy lifting?

  • Dr. John Carroll Travis says on

    Why not follow the biblical model and stop establishing “Mega-churches?” No church needs to be known as having church in “four locations.” Why not establish church missions when you reach a large attendance, and then help to organize relish them in a new church plant? You can help them get started and after awhile they can stand on their own. How about squashing “egos” and stop desiring to be known as the “largest” church in the country or world? It seems that pastors are being consumed by their own creations.

    • Not sure how the four locations is not a biblical model while the mission is considered one. Biblically what we have modeled is the “church of Ephesus” or Thessalonica or Rome, etc. The multi-site church in many ways can be closer to that model. The early church met in homes throughout Jerusalem, why not buildings throughout our town or city?

      Personally, I would rather plant a new church than build a new building where I currently serve, but knowing the lack of qualified volunteers for administrative tasks (treasurer etc.) I can see the benefit to keeping that centralized so that the other campuses can grow. In the end I think that different church sizes, compositions, etc will be more effective in sharing the gospel based on where God has place them.

  • I find it humorous that I attended a fairly large church, graduated seminary, spent 30 years in the corporate world climbing the corporate ladder, owned my own business at the tail end of my corporate career, felt God’s call on my life and completely changed everything in my life and family to follow that call only to hear several churches all across America tell me that:
    1) I’m too old (I am mid-40s)
    2) That millennials need millennials to lead them (see point 1 and realize that it is Biblical to have those with some age behind them leading)
    3) That I don’t have enough ministry experience (I guess being an elder in a church of 1,000 for several years doesn’t count because it was a volunteer role)
    4) Several other inane reasons

    I am very thankful that a medium-sized local church took a chance on me because, so far, after being in full time ministry for 8 short weeks, I seem to be thriving because:
    1) I followed God’s call
    2) I waited for God to move
    3) I can’t take any credit for it because God orchestrated the entire thing

    But it goes to the significant problem in the church that we spend too much time trying to find the right person while the disciples simply drew straws and let God direct the path (see Matthias)

    Besides, as a former owner of a recruiting company, I would be curious to see how many of the placements at Vanderblomen are fall outs. Seeking a model before seeking Christ will result in pastors that either:
    1) Are hired by their own power, not the power of the Holy Spirit
    2) Fall out when they realize that that they are doing it by their own power and it isn’t enough to sustain them.

    Please keep in mind that by no means am I saying this as a blanket statement, I realize there will be God-given success stories.

    • Ray Vallee Jr. says on

      Thank you for this reply!!! I am finishing my seminary degree ( last semester) after almost twenty years in the hotel industry and owning a couple of small businesses, I too answered Gods call. I am 50 and my wife and I planted a church that recently closed. I am applying for positions yet I seem to be to old and do not have “paid ministry” experience yet have been a deacon and have discipled and have lead small groups for the last 15 years. I know God has a place for me yet it gets to be disheartening.

  • Robert Wise says on

    I know plenty of guys who would do well pastoring larger churches than the ones they pastor. These guys are pastoring growing churches in rural areas. However, because of the rural population, their church will most likely never grow to 500+ people. Based on the standards listed in the article, these men would never even get a resume to be viewed because they have no experience in a 500+ congregation. At the same time, they are great expositors of the word. Maybe some associational training for search teams would be helpful to seek a called man instead of a hand-picked man??

  • First Baptist Church San Antonio, Texas, is a great Study in examining this issue. A long-term Pastor retired and led the church to bringing his successor on staff during his last year as Pastor. Tremendous results occurred!

    • Thanks, Mark. I need to check into it.

      • Check out Redeemer Church in Utica, NY as well. The former Pastor spent the better part of a decade training his son up to take the lead at the Church. He is still involved, praying for and counseling with this new group of leaders who are now in their 30’s and 40’s. The Church is already planning to identify or bring in a young man in his 20’s or 30’s in the next few years to spend a decade or so, training under the current pastor, so he can take the lead when he retires.

    • David G Troublefield, PhD says on

      15 years ago, I served as missions and administration pastor of an FBC geographically near FBCSA. At that time, our congregation was slightly larger in attendance and growing more rapidly. Today, it appears attendance of both congregations has declined–though the potential for biblical growth still is tremendous in both cases. Attendance reported in recent FBCSA newsletters online otherwise seems to be about the same as before presently–but, again, very good potential.

  • I am curious if the reason the “problems” finding replacements is because we are attempting to institute a non-Biblical form of finding a pastor. I Timothy should be the basis of what is required versus a system that borrows from a non-Biblical standard. The Holy Spirit is the leader of the church and all pastor searches. While I am not advocating complete chaos I do believe He knows who He wants to lead His churches. Often, this will not meet the “requirements” of the committee but submission to the will of the Spirit is required by a church that claims Jesus as Lord.

  • Jeremy Myers says on

    This is precisely why I as one of the forgotten generation, baby busters/ genX, feel we should be focused on growing until we can plant, and repeat that cycle over and over again.
    That number may be 500 it may be 1000 but I think it to be in that range. Revitalization of a church that size is nearly impossible. If these churches go long enough without a pastor and their congregation shrinks to half its size, which is still large, they will be forced out of their facilities. Do we really want to say a church of 500-1000 is not viable because the generation before them built beyond their future? I don’t. There is a gospel witness that remains and if they are motivated to reach the lost they will grow but likely not at a rate to stay but they could become a church planting machine by selling the property and moving debt free into more modest facilities with money and people ready to plant churches with pastors that will fit the bill.