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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  • Dr. Rainer:

    Your observations reinforce some of my concerns about larger SBC churches adopting an episcopalian ecclesiology as opposed to congregational. I fear many of our churches have adopted a methodology (multi-site) which helps them address an immediate problem (parking!) without thinking through all of the long term implications. You note that in many denominations a “bishop” moves pastors from church to church. In my opinion, multi-site pastors function in the same role.

    God Bless

    • I believe seminary raised employed preachers is only adding to the agenda of a seminary controlled denomination which takes us to a New Reformed Denomination.
      Secondly I would remind all of us that many of the mega-Churches were started or Pastored long tenure by soul-winning evangelistic Pastors.If current trends continue we will only see Sunday morning gatherings but no real evangelistic Churches or Pastors.

  • John W Carlton says on

    I have just ended an interim pastorate. There definitely is a trend of unattainable expectations of Pastor Search Committees. I led this church through your book, I AM A CHURCH MEMBER. When they called I could not tell that any of the lessons that we studied had been remembered–especially the section on personal preferences. It is discouraging, but I hope that the training paved the way for the new pastor.

  • Hi Thom,
    What has disturbed me for some time now is that search committees have criteria that the apostles themselves would not pass. By that I mean that a search committee would toss out the resume of most of the apostles, never giving them the chance to come prove that they were called by God to build up the saints for the work of ministry.
    How do we change that?

  • Andrew Baxter says on

    Hello Dr. Rainer,

    I greatly appreciate your article, for I have been directly impacted by #3. I am a recent graduate from a Southern Baptist Seminary, and I was bewildered by the lack of interest in my resume from established churches. I thought I did all the right things, but apparently I did not. How do you think the seminaries can start training men and women who will actually be able to get jobs in the current market? Also, do you think that we are flooding the market with too many ‘qualified’ graduates for the number of churches looking? I think we need to prepare seminary graduates to be creative when it simply comes to paying the bills.



  • What do you think should be the general criteria churches use in searching for a pastor?

    I’m a member at a church currently looking for a student pastor. Our interim is a missionary on stateside assignment, and he has been awesome. He’s done so well that several church leaders have asked him to consider staying. And every time that comes up, he jokes that he’s not qualified; he doesn’t actually meet the specified years of experience. Truthfully, he’s not interested because he plans to return overseas.

    One of my pet peeves has been churches specifying they’ll only consider SBC seminary degrees. It’s bad enough, in my opinion, to absolutely require a seminary degree, but to automatically discount someone who chose Gordon-Conwell, DTS, or some other solid seminary just because it’s not SBC seems lazy.

    Theological arguments aside, I’ve also wondered if the requirement for men to not have been divorced is becoming more of an issue. As a deacon at my church, I’ve seen how that requirement quickly limits the number of men who could potentially serve as deacons.

  • I enjoy receiving your e-mails. I have heard that often pastors need to be at a church for a certain number of years before trust is developed and growth really begins to take place. I have served my church as pastor for about 18 months. We have seen moderate numerical growth and a significant increase in united among the members. What is the normal length of time to expect to see very significant growth and true trust in the leader?

  • Marcus Fowler says on

    I find this to be a wonderful confirmation of God’s call on my life and ministry. The first time I was permitted to speak from the pulpit I was 11-years old. Since that time, I have received both a Christian and secular education. I now minister in both a Southern Baptist Church and in a Lutheran Christian school…to the shock of both denominations.
    Why? That’s where God has placed me.
    Makes me wonder what God has planned for me in the future…

  • Thom,

    I agree with your assessment especially about young pastors seeking mentoring from older pastors. I am a seminary student who has two mentors my pastor and a friend gained through connection from my seminary facebook page. Both men offer me great insight while one is offering me more opportunity than the other. As perspective pastor some of this scares me when going to look for work, I hope that by the time I am done with school in a few years, things are not so bleak.


  • Brian House says on

    A spot on article. I am a bi-vocational minister who works with distressed/split congregations using my “day job” skills as a mediator to help unsettled congregations recover after losing a pastor. In my experience the single greatest catalyst for pastor/congregation failure is the failure of the parties to effectively communicate expectations and desires at the inception of the relationship. Churches know what they want and pastors know what they want to do as they lead churches. Too often these views do not agree and the result is a short tenure of service and shrinking congregations. The bi-vocational model is extremely stressful for the long-term pastor as they serve with little time off and only infrequent opportunities for spontaneous leisure moments like the members of their congregations enjoy. The congregation enjoys what they perceive to be the reduced responsibility to compensate their clergy while still demanding full-time service. Nothing could be more wrong. If congregations are to survive they must lower their demands on their clergy while either accepting the reduced activities available from their pastor or, and better, agreeing as a lay body to accept more of the ministerial responsibilities necessary for the life of the church to flourish. Until churches and ministers have open and honest discussions at the very beginning of exploring an employment relationship there will continue to be tired, disillusioned, rapidly departing pastors.

  • Thank you for a wonderful article. I thoroughly enjoyed your latest post also. Seeing that these are the pastoral employment trends, I’d love to hear or read your advice for those of us who are looking for a pastorate. Thank you for your ministry!