The Barna research on the aging of American pastors is getting a little old itself. The most recent was 2017. It was a typical state-of-the-church handwringer.
- Pastors are aging, as in the average age of a senior pastor is increasing (54 in that study).
- Really old pastors are increasing, 6% in 1992, nearly tripled by 2017. Probably significantly higher in 2021.
- Only one in seven pastors was under 40 in 2017.
- Half of pastors are over 55.
- More pastors over 65 than are under 40.
(The research is about senior pastors.)
So, what about the only ecclesiastical universe that really matters, the venerable and Grand Southern Baptist Convention?
I don’t know of specifics about SBC pastors and age.
A few things about the SBC and pastors on which to ruminate:
Seminary enrollment is increasing. The latest ministry reports (released by the SBC EC in February) showed almost 10,000 enrolled in our six seminaries (2019-2020)and that number is up about ten percent from the previous year.
This doesn’t translate into senior pastors, since the seminaries in their aggressive marketing have multiple programs serving an array of students seeking ministry training.
But take the gold standard pastor degree, the Master of Divinity. Here’s the enrollment for that in the six SBC seminaries, 2019-2020:
New Orleans 98
There are rules for counting. I’m too old to delve deeply into all that. If someone at NOBTS or Gateway wants to gripe, put some numbers up.
Seems to me that if a seminary isn’t enrolling Mdiv students, they’re not training future pastors. We can all be theologians but pastors and evangelists are the biblical office.
What about all these bearded, youngish SEND church planters? NAMB isn’t known for publishing exhaustive numbers, and I haven’t seen a number for the average age of a SEND church planter. All the photos feature youngish, under 40 types. Those who complain a lot about NAMB and their SEND program might point out the alternative if we are concerned about the next generations of church senior pastors and leaders. There isn’t much of an alternative that I’ve seen. Check the ages of all your state convention personnel. Check the ages of your local DOM/AM/AMS. Long in the tooth might be the phrase that captures those best.
My pastor isn’t an old guy. He’s about the age of my children. Energetic, optimistic, faithful, not phoning it in.
The two pastors who followed me after I retired. Young guy crashed and burned. Middle aged guy is doing just fine.
We all have anecdotes.
One thing seems certain: the waters ahead are turbulent for the SBC and SBC churches. More than one very strong SBC church near me, fabulous facilities, just about went under. Now, they have a stable but smaller church led by a second career fifty-something pastor. Several churches near me are propped up by a couple of aging members who give an unhealthy proportion of the offerings. When they’re gone, thing will get dicey.
So, tell me about your pastor. Old guy? Where do you think your church is going in the next decade?
So, I gotta young guy in a suit and tie standing behind an actual pulpit. That was the SBC a generation or two ago.
When denominational folks start talking about the “crisis” in the seminaries, that will be a sign of accelerating difficulties. When we have difficulty finding candidates to pastor churches, when the calling to lead a congregation of the faithful seems not to be heard by the younger generations, then we have some things to ponder.
Is it accurate to say we can’t all be megapastors, guys with high incomes, high status, large staffs, and who get July and August off? For now, there seems to be a healthy supply of prospective pastors who have a strong call to serve a church, even if it is rural, single staff, meager pay, and only a couple of weeks off.
God bless those guys, particularly the ones who not only preach but work for a living, bivocational brothers.