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.
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  • Yes, couldn’t agree more about the outdated processes though I do think some have tried succession plans and just not found a fit. I suspect the real issue is, indeed, the outdated search processes and the unwillingness to take a risk with a candidate who is simply different. The temptation to try and find someone very much like the past person is great.
    Very interesting comments about millennials. Thanks Thom.

  • Gary Blazek says on

    As a retired Executive Recruiter and a Christian who attended a Capernway school, sang in the Crystal Cathedral Choir, and watched the “church” from the 70’s “I Found It” campaign to the Blab It And Grab It movement, to converting and condemning the converted and condemned, and have been in the Meta Churches, everybody should have seen this coming. The egos in some of these things would never allow a successor for fear of a take over, so now, with an aging congregation (and geographically segregated), these Churches will have little to offer anyone. All the theology is gone from the music and the messages are what C.S Lewis referred to, I believe, as Christianity and Water. It was a competition for numbers. If you folks really care about the congregation, and anything close to evangelism, find some solid pastors and teachers and expositors who are familiar with the Giants like Andrew Murray and Francis Schaeffer, and Tozer and the like, and also present folks who are familiar with world religions like Toa and Vedic teachings so you can gain respect for a definable faith again and resurrect the Noble undertaking of apologetics once again. If you can’t, your salt has lost it’s flavor anyway. And get get rid of the politically correct transgender tolerant insanity. If you love God’s calling more than riches you will tell the truth and save some souls. I think it was D.L. Moody who remarked, “The reason half the world isn’t Christian is that the other half says they are.”

    Many will say Lord, Lord,,,

    Let it be on you as you do for them.

  • Thom,

    I have wondered out loud for years how it can be that there is no succession plan. In one of my former churches they are in the midst of a transition and overall is has gone well. I wonder if part of the problem is the insecurity of the Lead Pastor to have another person in the pulpit. There is also the issue that many churches are personality driven not team driven which leads to problems when the Lead Pastor leads.

  • Maybe the bigger problem is the way we go about finding pastors. Maybe we should throw away the qualifications and maybe the resumes. Don’t we just limit what God can do when we think he needs to send us the guy we want. Seek God more seriously. Don’t come to him with this is the type pastor we want. One that is this or that, but instead ask him what kind of pastor we need. I always felt Saul was the perfect king on paper but David was God’s man. Maybe try to raise up pastors in our churches and disciple, not groom, them to be the next. Stop taking the business approach to church. I probably sound silly to many and I am not some mega church pastor or canadate. I actually agree with the millennials on family churches. For some reason I can’t even get out a sentence that’s not a fragment or run on tonight. But Joshua learned from Moses. Timothy from Paul. I might be wrong about this one but platt from shaddix. Maybe we have become something the Church was never meant to be.

  • As Smokey Robinson might advise, if you feel like hiring pastors with devotion….I second that emotion.

  • Depending on how you define it, I am either a young gen-xer or an old Millennial. I have been an ordained pastor for 11 years and currently serve a church with around 1,200 members. For me, a larger church no longer holds the same appeal it did when I was 25. I look at the scandals, the over inflated budget, and keeping the machine going with gimmicks that have nothing to do with historic Christianity and I simply say “no thank you.” I want to be a pastor, shepherd, and spiritual guide and not a baptized CEO. Many in my generation feel the same. I think the next church I serve will be smaller than the one I am at now. Almost like “reversed ladder climbing.”

  • Millennial, seminarian, and bi-vocational student pastor here. I live within 10 minutes of several megachurches (or almost megachurches) and still drive about 25 minutes out of the way to serve a small church that needs healthy believers who want to do disciple-making ministry. I believe some qualified candidates are pursuing bi-vocational ministry as a calling. Given the right workplace conditions and schedule, it works out well! You also have to have a church with the kind of mission and expectations that facilitate bi-vocational ministry. Both full-time and bi-vocational ministry are needed, but I’d suspect that less candidates meet megachurch qualifications because they’ve spent time intentionally serving smaller churches while keeping their day job.

  • ‪It’s probably because Pastors are called. Not voted in. My childhood church pastor is 88 yrs old. He was called. Just like my dad. Leading the body of Christ is assignment by God & you don’t retire. Clearly there is a problem with the church being conformed tro the world and trends. So many executive board members are concerned about the number – and the will of God. ‬Look at Dr Charles Stanley. Bill Graham. My heart is heavy with this one.

  • Occasionally one of these churches will contact us because their “dream date” (the pastor they’d like to call) lacks crucial leadership skills. Excellent preachers, of course. The relationship management skills required to lead a large staff which leads a large church? Not so much.

    Perhaps this should be added to the list when they conduct their search for the next settled pastor.


    Please help me out. I do not want to be judgemental at all. I just find myself struggling from the concept of megachurches. I grew up a Christian in a small village in Africa in a majority Muslim nation. Our church growing up was less than 100 people, although it has grown to maybe 1000 or more since I left. That is a good thing I guess. However, what I am hearing from home is that the more the church grows numerically, the more divisions and arguments arise. That’s sad. I have always had a hard time attending a church of more than 300 people in America. I like the family, the connection, getting to know people, home groups and other things a smaller church can offer better than megachurches. I have been to a few. I always pray to God to help me find a good church wherever I go. I move often due to my job. I never wanted to go to a church and make it about what I prefer. I just find it hard to accept a large number of people in a church- we are talking about thousands. I just think we find more accountability in a smaller church than megachurches. Unlike smaller churches, mega churches I think do not have the capability to hold their members accountable. Second, I fell like mega churches are run more like a business than a church. Am I wrong to prefer smaller churches? No offense to anyone. I just want to get some guidance from more mature Christians. Forgive my English and issues raised. I will be happy to clarify anything.

    • Christopher says on

      No you are not wrong. On the contrary you are very insightful. The larger a church gets the more it becomes about the institution and less about the body.

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