I’m reading Larry Witham’s Who Shall Lead Them? The Future of Ministry in America Witham, former reporter and award-winning religion writer, “takes the pulse of both the Protestant and Catholic ministry in America and provides a mixed diagnosis of the calling’s health,” according to the book jacket.  It’s fascinating stuff, and here are some fast facts:

  1. Clergy employed by churches number about 388,000.  But, we’re like used cars — there are more clergy than are “in service” at any given time. 
  2. The ratio of 1 clergy person per 1,000 US residents hasn’t changed since 1970, although the number of lawyers has grown from 1-to-1,000 in 1970, to 3-to-1,000 today.  (I’m trying to think of some lawyer joke to go with this, but I’m stumped.)
  3. Clergy are not equally spread over the US.  Of the 388,000 clergy that serve churches, 40% serve in the South, 25% in the Midwest, and 17% each in the West and Northeast, and this figure includes Catholic priests.
  4. Over half (52%) of clergy serve in rural or small town settings, while 25% serve in cities of 10,000 pop or more; and, the rest (23%) are in the ‘burbs.  Makes me feel better in my little town of 1300 surrounded by rolling farmland. 
  5. Half (50%) of all clergy are over 50, and 20% are over 61.  The median age in the US is 35.3 years.  So the median age of clergy is older than the median age of the US population by 15 years.  Only 5-10% of all clergy are under 30.  No wonder we’re not reaching the under-30 crowd. 
  6. Part-time pastors make up 27% of all clergy.  Hats off to you bi-vocational and semi-retired folks who continue to serve!
  7. But, I’ve saved the best for last!  Just 10% of clergy serve large churches with 350-members or more.  Small church pastors are a big group — there are about 350,000 of us! 

Those statistics made me feel better about my role as a small-church pastor.  After all there are more of us than “them.”  Armed with those stats, seems like we could convince denominational leaders and church conference planners to recognize the overwhelming number of small churches in their thinking and planning.  Or maybe we should just do it ourselves.  I’m  still working on the small-church confab idea.  Stay tuned!