Where Have All the Student Pastors Gone?

I received yet another inquiry today: “Do you have any recommendations for a student minister? We just can’t seem to find one. We’ve been looking for over six months.”

For several years, I would get similar inquiries about worship leaders or worship pastors. Today, there seems to be a dearth of both worship pastors and student pastors. So, where have all the student pastors gone? I asked some key leaders I trust on this issue. Here are their and my perspectives:

  • A number of young leaders decided to plant a church rather than enter into or continue in youth ministry. Youth ministry traditionally has been a field dominated by young males. Many of these young males began narrowing their vocational choices to student ministry or church planting. A large number decided to plant churches. On the one hand, that’s a really good development. We definitely need more church planters. On the other hand, many churches are now pleading for student pastors.
  • Fewer schools are offering training in student ministry. It’s a chicken or egg question. Are fewer schools offering this training and, as a consequence, fewer young people are becoming student pastors? Or, are fewer young people seeking the training and, thus, the schools are closing the programs because of diminished demand? Either way, there are fewer trained youth ministers.
  • It is becoming increasingly common for many churches to call a student pastor from their own congregations. These youth ministers then do not always seek training from a college or seminary and, thus, the schools often close their programs. Smaller churches typically do not have the pool of internal candidates the larger churches do. And these churches are among the most frustrated in their search for student pastors.
  • Some churches have eliminated the position of student pastor and replaced it with a family pastor position. Family pastors often have much broader roles than ministering to middle school and/or high school students. Thus, these churches have lost a specific focus on student ministry for adolescents.
  • Fewer middle school and high school students attend church. The Gen Z generation has fewer in church than previous generations. This development is not new. It began with both Gen X and the Millennials. But the trend continues unabated. Fewer students means a diminished need for student pastors.

A number of churches that contact me believe a good student pastor is the magic bullet solution to help grow their churches and make them younger. If a church is in decline and growing older, it is unlikely that one person can reverse those trends. The church as a whole must change first and follow in greater obedience to the Great Commission.

I am curious. Are you seeing this same dearth of student pastors? Have you been looking for one for your church unsuccessfully? I would love to hear your story on this topic. Let me hear from you.

Posted on March 4, 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 *


  • Mike Bales says on

    What’s frustrating is that I’m a 44 year old man looking for a full time ministry to serve in. I have both a degree in Christian Education with several years of relevant experience and even though there is a so called “shortage” of people who want to serve, I’m STILL not being hired. Why? Are you able to help me find a position please?

  • As someone who has served in multiple churches over the past 15 years, I can say that I would not ever consider doing youth ministry again. First, there was a lack of pastoral and parental involvement and support–basically a youth sitter. Churches didn’t want youth to take an active role in participation–the invisible youth. Wanted youth to be present, but quiet out of sight. Second, the pay was minimal compared to what pastor was paid. The pastors tended to be paid double or triple yet it was the youth pastor who was at church more hours with many responsibilities. Churches want full time work for part-time pay!
    Third, some parents want teens to be entertained and cuddled. Modern teens are fleeing the church as soon as they get a job or significant other. It was the youth pastor’s fault that youth didn’t want to come or participate! Why would a teen want to come to church when travel ball, school activities, and sports are so readily encouraged by parents? These events always took priority over church attendance/involvement. Multiple churches in my area are seeking youth ministers, but knowing their history and how they have treated previous youth ministers-I wouldn’t apply myself nor encourage anyone I know to put themselves into that situation.
    Fourth, a lack of respect and having no say/involvement in church decisions are two more reasons why some don’t want to get involved. I was typically informed of what I would be doing, how things should be handled, etc. instead of it being a discussion! Typically, I wouldn’t even be made aware of something until someone made an issue and minor things were treated as major things. Some parents and students just want to complain but don’t offer solutions or try to work on the situation. A person gets tired of being the punching bag and blamed for all that goes wrong!

1 5 6 7