Ten Trends on the Employment of Pastors

The verbiage is different for different churches and pastors. Some pastors speak of a call. Others, particularly in some denominations, refer to their appointment to a church. Some pastors deal with pastor search committees and congregational votes. Others receive notice from a bishop or some other authority that they are being sent to a new church.

But in all of these situations, there are disruptive trends taking place. I don’t necessarily use the word disruptive negatively; I am simply saying that practices in employing pastors are changing rapidly in the American landscape. Allow me to share with you ten of these major trends.

  1. Church consolidations mean more pastors will report directly to another pastor. The trend of smaller churches being acquired by larger churches is accelerating. Many of those smaller churches once had complete authority to call or hire their pastors. Now the larger churches make the decisions, in many cases the pastor of the larger churches.
  2. Multisite and multi-venue churches will increasingly hire more pastors. The trend of multisite churches is pervasive and growing. For the same reasons as noted in church consolidations, this trend means that many of the hiring decisions reside in the home or original church.
  3. Established churches will have greater difficulty finding pastors that meet their criteria. I see this trend particularly in pastor search committees. Their criteria are sometimes unreasonable and unrealistic. And many of their potential candidates are opting to plant a church or to work in a system of consolidated and multisite churches.
  4. There will be an increased demand for bivocational pastors. Frankly, the economics of many churches will mandate this reality, both in established churches and in church plants.
  5. More churches will partner with seminaries to “raise their own” pastors. Many pastors will thus opt to become a part of a church training or apprenticeship approach.
  6. More pastors will be gauged by their social media involvement in the pastor selection process. I have particularly noted this development from a negative perspective. A prospective pastor who is argumentative or controversial in social media is often eliminated from consideration. Social media background checks are becoming as common as legal and credit background checks.
  7. There will continue to be growth in the number of megachurch pastor position openings. This trend is fueled by two simple realities. First, the number of megachurches continues to grow. Second, many of these megachurches are led by aging boomers.
  8. Pastoral tenure will move in two different directions. I am monitoring now an anecdotal trend: increase in pastoral tenure at multisite churches. But there is an opposite trend in established churches where pastoral tenure continues to be brief and declining.
  9. Pastoral mentoring will grow. Millennials pastors seek it. Boomer pastors desire to provide it. These mentoring relationships often evolve into employment recommendations.
  10. Denominational influence on pastor placement will continue to wane. Denominational leaders and organizations were once the primary gatekeepers in recommending pastors to churches. That influence has waned significantly and will continue to decline.

How do you view these ten trends on the employment of pastors? What would you add?

photo credit: seagers via photopin cc

Posted on April 14, 2014

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 *


  • Scott Andrews says on

    I think #8 is indicative of the general poor health of most established churches. I attribute this condition to any number of causes, but primarily the lack of true biblical discipleship in our churches over the last 30-40 years, and the resulting growth of a “me-centered” gospel. When it’s all about having MY needs met, the general climate in the church makes it difficult for a pastor to lead, and thus greater levels of frustration, and shorter tenures.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Scott –

      That is the thesis of my book, “I Am a Church Member.”

      • Scott Andrews says on

        I could say great minds think alike, or take the more humble approach and say you taught me well!

      • Thom, this is off the subject but many of our members have recently read your book, “I Am a Church Member.” The change in attitude of many of our members is absolutely amazing. We went through an extremely difficult time 1 1/2 to 2 years ago. Some left. Others stayed. The ones who were part of the problem who stayed have genuinely changed and are now excited about the direction of the church. Since some left (about 1/3 of the membership), our offerings have increased, our baptisms have increased, we have more visitors,more people are becoming members, and many more members are getting involved in the church. It is amazing to see God at work again. Thank you for your book. God is using it greatly where we are. It has certainly caused our church to seek God and follow hard after him. God used your book to help turn around a sleepy, stagnant, and sick church. May God bless you as you continue to minister to me and to others.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Wow! That is incredibly encouraging Tom. Thank you so much.

    • Scott,

      Back several decades we all got caught up in a question that ended up being a trap. The question, prompted by the “worship wars” was put thus: “Is the church for believers or unbelievers?”

      All sorts of interesting collateral damage ensued from how this question was answered, but it was really a trap. Now we’re trying to figure our way out of it.

      The real answer, of course, is that the answer is, “Neither. The church is for God.” This puts us back on track to rejoin his Mission to bless the nations.

  • Is the trend related to #1 unfolding in the SBC too? If so, how will the SBC deal with this type of…for want of a better term…bishoprics in dealing with convention business (I guess I mean by that voting, etc.)?

    I do see the benefits of “healthier” churches partnering with other churches to provide support, etc. Though, I am a little uncomfortable with the way so many of these business management strategies have influenced the way we view both the church and its leadership functions.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Alan –

      Yes. I see this trend unfolding in the Southern Baptist Convention as well. You have many good questions, and I hope to unpack more of this issue in the future as I learn more.

  • This is a really insightful article, and I see many of these trends up close since I teach at a Christian college where most of our students are heading into vocational ministry. #3 is especially relevant for worship leaders. Churches often want students to come and help, but they expect college students to know the old hymns and be able to lead in a style that is outdated.

  • Scott Eaton says on

    Thom, why do you think tenure is so short in established churches? Is it because these churches are difficult? Or does it have something to do with the pastors? Is it a combination of the two?

    This might be helpful for men looking to serve established churches and for established churches looking to keep pastors.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Scott –

      See my response to Greg above. Thanks.

    • The answers that I have read say that most seminary students (of both genders) have no desire to go to existing congregations and thus don’t want to get themselves in that position of being on the receiving end of unchristian behavior.

  • Greg Corbin says on

    Excellent post, Dr. Rainer. I am curious about #3 and why you feel that established churches are beginning to have trouble finding pastors due to their being “unrealistic” and “unreasonable.” Is this due to their desire for a single pastor to “fix everything” or does this observation come from the fact that many of the pastors coming up no longer wish to serve in established churches, therefore, their candidate pool is small. Keep up the great work!

  • I’m wondering what impact the oldest generation of givers (tithers) passes on in small to medium churches, if we won’t see a lot more bivocational pastors?

  • #3 can be a direct result of failing to do #5. I long for the day that the “professional” pastor, the “famous” pastors and all other types are no longer and we just have men who fear God filling pulpits. Thanks, as always, for the good read.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you Todd.

    • Todd –

      I agree with you … I guess I am the mind set of “olden days” although not that old. When a pastor was a pastor not a “teaching pastor” or a lead pastor” or pastor of technology” or a “pastor of whatever” or even seen as a CEO -.. I understand the trendy terms – but a pastor is called and equipped by God to share / preach the Word of God, and lead as convicted by the HS not by popular opinion.

      • No doubt brother. Sadly we have taken on more water from the world than we are willing to admit. When the cult of personality trumps biblical teaching we have reached a point that God might just shake things up.

      • Everything is cyclical. It is interesting that in churches with a priest, the only difference is that one might be the Rector/vicar and the other, Assoc. rector. Perhaps other churches will get back to the old time pastor.

    • I think it’s a bit more broader than that. I think that 3,4, and 5 play a huge role in the cause and effect factor. The desires of having the “right pastor” is unrealistic, especially when a church expects the pastor to fill all kinds of roles and get paid next to nothing. Because of this fact, pastors are forced to find work outside the daily work of the church as a pastor which leads to burnout and a lack of effectiveness for ministry and building of others up, in short the church suffers because the shepherd cannot effectively do his/her work as an equipper for ministry. Since no other leaders of members in the church want to take on these extra roles that have been placed in the pastors “job description” and the pastor doesn’t have the time, energy, or resources to find people for those task things fail to get done and churches dwindle and then boards are mad at the pastor for not fulfilling his/her “duties” and the vicious cycle never ends. If the church doesn’t get on board and fix these types of things it is in big trouble.

      • My comments are the issues of being a bi-vocational pastor. Being pastor and working a full time secular job is challenging. Time for preparing sermons, hearing from the Holy Spirit,stress,depression,unrest, and no peace of mind rule the day. I want to be there for my church family and want them to prosper both spiritually as well physically but runs out for me. I find myself feeling down alot because of all the challenges that I and my family face. Please pray for me.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        You are most certainly in my prayers, William.

      • Wow this is just how I feel my brother

      • Hang tough! I am bi-vo also. It is tough. I have an hours drive to work and use that time to listen to podcast or call church folks.
        Don’t neglect your family. They will be other churches but not another time with your family.

  • Thom, I’m interested in #8. What is the current tenure for established church pastors, and how quickly has it declined?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      The average tenure is slightly above 3.5 years. The trend has been slow for many years, but consistently downward. It stabilized during the recessionary years of 2008-2010, but has resumed its slight decline again.

      • This seems to make sense to me that established church tenure is declining.

        Many like myself are promised the desire of the lay leadership is to change and grow only to find this a misrepresentation. My lay leadership wants to grow as long as te growth is brining members of their own families that don’t attend back, when it comes to outreach they do not want to do any.

        As such after nearly 2 years I am wondering how much longer to stay at a church with no desire to fulfill one of the two missions God gave. If I were truly pushing to leave and send out resumes I may be gone faster but many in my situation send out sparingly at first in hopes the established church they are serving will allow a turn around.

      • Thanks, Thom. Good to know. That’s about what I recalled having heard (the 3.5 yr. avg.). However, I thought this had been slightly increasing. Possibly you’ve written elsewhere about a relationship between church growth and length of tenure. Does that correlation still hold true?

1 2 3 4