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.
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  • I think #5 is a good trend. I am a bi-vocational pastor and a SBC church. I have often wondered why everyone thinks you must go outside the church to fill pastor positions. Is there a problem with discipleship within the church? Due to our church size and budget, it would be difficult to move someone from another city to be our youth pastor. I have opted to raise-up young people within the church. The first attempt was a great success, and he served faithfully for three years. I knew after he finished college that he would go to seminary out of state. We discussed the transition and began praying about his replacement. I am currently working with two young men to grow them into the position. I think this is part of what discipleship should be.

  • Spot on. I see every part of this from the seat I’m sitting in.

  • Bro. Thom,
    I have experienced first hand many of these. I work full-time as a manager at the largest retailer in the world. I have graduated Liberty University Online w/ a Bachelors in Religion and currently a graduate student at their Seminary online. I volunteer at my church where they licensed me as a minister. I have had many opportunities to teach and preach through my church. However, I have hit a brick wall applying for positions because I don’t currently work at a church. I have applied at tons of churches and only been interviewed twice. I will say this! One church who interviewed me got my resume from another huge church I applied for. My wife and I had prayed about putting in my resume at this large church and knew that it was Gods will. God showed my family and I that no matter what is on a resume if we follow Him in complete surrender He will provide. God has not opened that door completely because we are still here. He continues to use us right where we are. I just wanted to comment because I know there are others like my family and I who struggle with this process. Although we are not working at a church yet, God continues to use us right where we are! I hope something changes in churches in this process where they will seek leaders who’s hearts are only for Jesus more than they seek an excellent resume.

  • In reference to search committees with unrealistic expectations: perhaps also at work is that fewer qualified, godly men have their resumes in the hands of those same search committees. This, I believe, is because more and more of those called to the ministry are choosy about where they send resumes due to their own unrealistic expectations, or fears about being hurt by a church. If we are called to serve, let’s do it anywhere God sees fit.

  • Lee Haley says on

    We must find a way to educate pastor search committees about trends with pastors and churches. Brief tenure is very often related to a search that is deeply flawed. Committees usually consists of well intentioned but ill prepared individuals.

    Pastors today are better prepared to evaluate the committee than the committee is to evaluate the pastor.

    We need to revisit the calling of the pastor as opposed to the hiring of a pastor.

  • Thom,

    With the avg. 3.5 what do you see as the factors of the avg. or the decline? I have been at my church 11 years – with ups / downs / and it has always been a struggle to know when to “stay or go” We are having good ministry and have really re-visioned from the inside out and the composite makeup of the church has changed from older to younger – but we are having trouble attracting young families. We have successful outreaches with good follow-up but cannot seem to retain those that come to outreaches.

    I know in my case I could stay here for many more years, and good ministry but how does one handle the daily grind with out getting lost in the functioning of the church? How did you or some of your readers handle “church that call to see if you are interested” … when not seeking a new place of ministry? Or is that the prompting of the HS to consider a possible change? Pastoral ministry in this area can be so confusing sometimes. I am not one to have short tenures 1st church was 9 yrs and here 11 yrs..

    Have you done any study on guidelines as to when a pastor should go or stay? – Or if readers have advice – or can point to some info – greatly appreciated.

  • Jim Kilson says on

    This comment is in regard to # 8. Within some religious bodies this may very well be the case, but it appears to me, at least in regard to the church body I’m affiliated with, that ministry tenure in established churches is increasing not declining.

    About a year ago a transitioned into a new ministry. In the previous year while I was in the search process I noticed that there was a noticeable decline in available ministries, as compared to the last time I was seeking out a ministry position back in 2005.

  • Thom,
    Thank you for this. As a mainline pastor who has been in the job market seeking a position outside the mainline and into an Evangelical church for the past couple years I want to affirm your findings. I have bumped into many obstacles that you’ve named here. What I’ve discovered as one who is coming out of an Episcopal government is that many non-denomination or Evangelical churches are setting up Episcopal systems, in which they “send” pastors to their campuses; they train within or within “their seminary” and in fact seminary education or Bible college isn’t as valued in many churches. It seems many churches would rather hire someone form within who has a business background than someone they don’t know who has degrees in higher eduction. As I’ve mentioned already if you do have education it needs to be from the “right” seminary. I have a masters and I’ve been told by 3 different denominations (including the Independent Christian Churches) that I should get a degree form within their tradition. And since the job market is flooded (high supply and low demand) that truly is needed.
    I have found that it is near impossible to make this transition form liberal mainline to an evangelical church.
    Thanks again for your work.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Chris –

      Your perspective is very helpful. It’s been quite a while since I’ve heard from someone trying to make the transition from mainline to evangelical. You are truly in my prayers friend.

    • Chris, I would heartily recommend that you check out the NACCC – National Association of Congregationalist Christian Churches. We are technically a mainline denomination, but a good percentage of our churches would also consider themselves as evangelical. Our polity might take some getting used to, coming from an episcopal background, but I think you might be presently surprised.

      Grace and peace to you all.

  • Michael Olivier says on

    We have been applying #5 for the last 25 odd years. The benefits of raising pastors through your ranks are huge. By the time they are on a pastoral staff level, you have their heart and they know and have lived your vision for years already. They understand the culture of the church and their lives compliment it. Although few complete their BTh or the equivalent, their training in-house and through the years of ministry is more than adequate for the task at hand. Through this system we are raising pastors with a passion and heart for people and who are well equipped to care for and develop the people under their care. This system has worked well for us and has provided an availability of gifted leaders with character who are in for the long-haul.
    Thank you for your input Thom.
    (We do partner with the South African Theological Seminary and the pastors are trained in a practical working knowledge of the Scriptures and Doctrines.)

    • Mark Dance says on

      I totally agree with you Michael. We just hired/called a church member to be our Children Minister this week. She is a proven leader, and a low flight risk. My current and former Senior Adult Pastors were members also (they were retired and had graduated from seminary a long time ago). These examples are either half or 3/4 time employees.

      There’s gold in those pews!

  • I’ve worked in this area for quite a few years, training pastor search committees and helping pastors find vocational employment. In the ensuing years I’ve seen several additional trends:

    1. Seminary placement offices are used less frequently.

    This is probably a wrinkle on point #10 and the fact that many churches are choosing to raise up their own from within. In speaking with a few seminary placement offices recently they acknowledge that the rise of internet websites dedicated to pastor jobs has cut into their “market share.”

    2. The average time pastors search for a new position has increased dramatically.

    I’ve interviewed pastors who take two, three even four years to find a vocational ministry position. There are a number of factors involved here (the number of graduates that continue to emerge into the market; the fact that pastors aren’t moving as frequently – I suspect the housing market is still a factor here & other factors in the culture and the economy), but pastors looking for ministry – even highly skilled pastors – better be ready for a long and challenging search process. Get a mentor!

    3. Many pastors are ill-prepared for mounting an effective job search

    Maybe my judgment is clouded by previous experience as a retained headhunter in Silicon Valley, but I am astounded at how poorly pastors are trained and prepared to conduct a search.

    One example: sending the same resume to every position you’re applying for. This is a major error because (1) search committees typically don’t know how to read resumes to find out what they *really* need to know so (2) the resume needs to be tailored to fit the position so that the average untrained person will look at the resume and say, “Hey, this fits”; (3) churching out the typical resume counseled by seminary placement offices or (worse) using templates that come with Microsoft Word! Your resume is going to be one of 75 or more so you’ve got to make it stand out. (4) Not using your network to find a connection to that church who can introduce you.

    Sorry for blathering on so long. I’ve got a series of articles on this very issue pending and some resources for ministry job seekers, so this topic excites me.

    • Thanks for these additional insights. As a pastor who has been in the job market I find this extremely helpful.

    • Mark Dance says on

      Great input Bud! I would add that the “ill-prepared” pastor will likely end up dealing with an ill-prepared search committee. I wish more people reached out to equippers like you to help them prepare for this important task.

      I just did quick search on LifeWay.com for “Pastor Search Committees and found 7 resources and 11 articles. Also, my church has access to over 2000 training videos from our subscription to Ministry Grid.

      Thank you for investing in pastors and search committees Bud. May your tribe increase!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You have noted well these additional issues Bud. They are all on target.

  • Mark Dance says on

    I’m so glad you wrote this article Dr Rainer. Hiring the right pastor can be a game changer for a church – for better or worse.

    I see #6 (social media involvement) from the perspective of the employer, which is the positive side of that coin. For example – I want to know if a prospective pastor is involved in social media. If not, that is a red flag for me. Several of your blogs have rightfully affirmed social media as a legitimate ministry tool for missional pastors in most contexts.

    If they are using social media, their media footprint will likely tell me more about their character, chemistry and competency than his/her resume.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Mark.

      • I’d be interested in hearing more about #6. What exactly do churches consider “red flags” with regard to social media involvement? I’ve often gotten into some rather lively internet debates on issues that I care about, so I’d be interested knowing why churches would consider that a bad thing.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Ken: Every church approaches it differently, so I can’t get give you a uniform response. Most social media services will provide the church a wealth of your social media interaction, and then the church decides if it is problematic. Many will look at the tone and time of your comments and draw their conclusions from there.

    • David Holt says on

      Is there a way for potential pastors to do a social media footprint check on deacons and other key leaders in a potential church? Seems like to road to “disqualification” should be a two way street.