In 2021, the United States experienced what has come to be known as the great resignation; a voluntary mass exodus from the workforce. There are many reasons for this exodus, most of which we will not cite or debate here, instead examining the great resignation through the lens of the church.
The church was not at all exempt from the great resignation and while we have probably seen the peak of the great resignation in the secular workforce, we have likely have not seen the peak of the great resignation in the church. More on that in a future blog.
While the great resignation had many driving factors, two of the biggest driving factors in the church were the retirement of members of the Boomer generation and a shift in priorities for people.
For decades, fears about the mass retirement of Boomers were part of daily conversation. In the end, it turned out not to be an issue as Boomers, the generation most prepared for retirement, simply did not retire. One of the great impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it caused Boomers to actually retire, especially in the church.
The other significant driver in the great resignation that impacted the church is the shift in priorities. At the start of the pandemic, most of us found ourselves stuck at home for an extended period of time. One of the gifts of this time was an increase in time with family. As a result, many people reexamined their priorities, willing to make lifestyle changes and cuts in income for more time with family. Many realized their low pay and unhealthy work environments were just not worth it. The church in the United States is notorious for bad pay, little benefits, mistreatment of employees and unhealthy work environments.
In January of 2021, researchers such as Barna and Pew noted that 29% of of pastors were considering leaving ministry in the United States, and that’s leaving ministry, not just a particular position or church. In November of 2021 that number had risen to 38%. From our experience, that number is likely conservative, especially when you include all church ministry staff and not just clergy. Right now, at least 40% of church ministry staff are considering leaving ministry altogether, and many have already left.
Of those who have left church ministry, about half of them are under 50. We are not just losing older pastors and church staff to retirement, we are losing our younger pastors and church staff. We are not losing our mediocre and bad pastors and church staff, we are losing our good and great church staff. These last 2-3 years of ministry have been the hardest in the history of the church in the United States, and church staff and their families have been brutalized. Stories of vandalism to personal property, fake inflammatory ads on Craigslist, screaming at pastors, insulting and bullying church staff and their families rose to epic proportions in the last three years.
Right now, it is easier to find someone to work in food service than it is ministry. Churches are struggling to find pastors and church staff, let alone quality and qualified pastors and staff. As someone who does some headhunting for churches with a colleague, I can affirm that this is a challenging season. While there is always hope, I can also say this is just the beginning of what will be the greatest clergy shortage in the history of the church in the United States. Again, more on that in a future post.
As is usually the case in the church in the United States, we are behind the curve. Something has to change. We have to stop the bleeding. We have to care for the pastors and church staff we have, helping them find health and healing, equipping them for sustainable health as leaders. We have to empower and equip future pastors, church staff and lay leaders.
Pray for your pastors and church staff. Give them encouragement. Encourage them to be healthy. We invite you to partner with us as we help churches and their leaders find lasting and transformational health through ministries like our Pastors4Pastors initiative. Together, we can turn the tide. We worship a Jesus who makes all things new, who redeems all things. We follow a risen Christ who takes moments of great challenge and brings about revival.
God, may you bring revival in your church and may it begin with me.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director