Though pastors are stressed about money and overwhelming ministry demands, only 1.5% abandon the pulpit each year, Lifeway Research finds.
In 2015, Lifeway Research conducted a first-of-its-kind study to estimate pastor attrition among pastors of evangelical and historically black churches. The innovative approach asked a random sample of current pastors about the pastor of their church 10 years prior. While not all current pastors could report on that pastor’s whereabouts most could providing an excellent measure of where that cohort of pastors was 10 years later.
The baseline study was repeated in 2021 providing a measure of where the cohort of 2011 pastors was 10 years later. The study found an estimated 15 percent of senior pastors in 2011 had left the pastorate ten years later for reasons other than death or retirement.
The 2021 survey was commissioned by Houston’s First Baptist Church and Richard Dockins, an occupational medicine physician in Houston concerned about pastoral attrition.
The study, also examines why pastors leave the ministry, the current well being of pastors, and what can be done to support pastors.
As part of this ongoing initiative Lifeway Research also conducted in depth telephone interviews with 16 individuals experienced in pastoral care among those leaving or considering leaving the ministry. Common factors identified include: conflict, family needs, burnout, moral lapse, and poor fit.
The baseline study also included a survey of pastors in four denominations who left the pastorate before retirement age. Findings from comparing this sample to current pastors provides statistical indicators of 12 ways to help a pastor stay in ministry .
In 2017, Lifeway Research conducted an additional study among 720 Protestant pastor spouses to better understand the well-being of the families of pastors.
Few Pastors Left the Pulpit Despite Increased Pressure (2021)
Despite Stresses, Few Pastors Give Up on Ministry (2015)
Former Pastors Report Lack of Support Led to Abandoning Pastorate
Pastors’ Spouses Experience Mixed Blessings (2017)
2015 Pastor Attrition Study Reports
Click here to view the 2015 quantitative Pastor Attrition presentation report (current senior pastors)
Click here to view the 2015 qualitative Pastor Attrition report (pastoral care experts)
Click here to view the report (former senior pastors)
Click here to view the 2015 quantitative Pastor Attrition report on reasons for attrition