We applaud the advances being made and offer encouragement for those in the struggle for change and growth. However, I am a realist and feel it is the responsibility of leadership to help folks face reality. I ask, who is thinking about the pastors and future pastors as the decline continues?
The fall newsletter for The Association of Presbyterian Interim Ministry Specialists came across my desk. It reported that Marcia Myers, director of the Vocation’s Office, spoke at their fall retreat (Oct. 2008) and offered these statistics:
• 1,994 clergy and 56 lay professionals are seeking relocation; of these, 310 are seeking their first call. There are 666 positions in the Call Referral System of which 166 are available for persons seeking their first call
• 37% of our present congregations are family-sized (50 or fewer in worship)
• 41% are pastoral-size (50-150) in worship
• 22% have more than 150 in worship.
It surprised me that only 22% of our churches have more than 150 in worship. I called Marcia Myers to inquire about how quickly things are changing. I was referred to Ida Smith-Williams in Research Services who gave me these statistics:
In 2007, 9,049 churches reported worship attendance figures. Of those, 3,097 or 34% of our churches reported attendance of 100 or more. 1,928 or 21% of our churches reported attendance of 150 or more.
In 1997, 9,863 churches reported worship attendance figures. Of those, 3,928 or 40% reported attendance of 100 or more. 2,456 or 25% reported attendance of 150 or more.
In North Central Iowa Presbytery we are having a conversation about the viable line for having a full-time pastor. It seems to me, in our location, that 100 in worship is a reasonable benchmark. Of course there are exceptions. If the church’s location or attitude is such that growth will be coming or if the church has wealth, the situation might be different. But we must ask, do dollars make a viable ministry? What are the ramifications of this information? The following is what I offer for discussion:
• There will be fewer full-time positions available. There may be an abundance of pastors unless the age of our clergy and massive retirements save the day.
• Perhaps more pastors will broaden their search to include rural areas.
• It will be harder for pastors, especially “mature” pastors to relocate. I tried to say that nicely.
• Seminary graduates may have trouble finding their first call. According to Marcia Myers, 310 are seeking their first call, 166 churches are open to first-call pastors. Are the committees preparing candidates and seminaries discussing the reality of these numbers with our candidates?
• If your church’s worship attendance is under 100, conversations should begin with neighboring Presbyterian churches, UCC churches, Reformed churches, ELCA churches (churches with whom we have a covenant) and perhaps even broader circles to find a way to get to the “viable” number so ministry can continue with the folks you love.
• Commissioned Lay Pastors will be more of a presence in our Presbytery.
• Tentmaking must become more of a reality. Are there vocations that work well for tentmakers?
• Longer-term pastorates will be the norm since it will be harder to relocate. How can we make them more effective?
The ramifications of our decline for pastors and future pastors are huge. I don’t hear much conversation about the implications for them.
David Feltman is general presbyter of North Central Iowa Presbytery, Waterloo, Iowa.