How Many Pastors are Done?

Here’s a question I’ve been mulling on lately: When the dust settles from all this covid craziness, what percentage of pastors, who were solidly employed at the start of 2020, will have been laid off permanently and be unable to find church-based employment for a year or more?

I will share my prediction in a bit, but first let’s look at some of the factors that will come into play.

First, restrictions about meeting together have changed the nature of pastoral work not just for a season, but permanently. It’s no longer about the big weekend event. It’s about connection and authenticity and substance over style.

One training I was recently on suggested that this is a bad time to be a bureaucrat who has built a career around looking busy but accomplishing nothing. Similarly, I would suggest that this is a bad time to be a pastor whose primary job has been delivering a message on Sunday as part of a big show and doing little else. It’s also a bad time to be a pastor who was coasting, exhibiting little initiative or creativity, and who perhaps was already being considered for a layoff before the crisis.

At present, I see smaller churches, which have an inherent personal connection between pastors and people, doing better- despite their many tech challenges- than many larger churches that were primarily about the weekend event. In some ways the pastoral role has become more, well pastoral, more old school is how some describe it, with a truly biblical shepherding being both needed and requested.

Secondly, and related to this, is the distinction being drawn between those who are flexible, adaptable and those who are not. One church I am aware of has a co-lead pastor situation and one of the pastors refuses to do anything online. He has now been invisible for over a month. And people are beginning to ask what he’s doing. The next question will be “Why are we paying him?” When the crisis passes, if he somehow manages to stay employed until then, any evaluation of ministry will raise the question of whether or not this is the kind of person who should be on staff at all going forward.

And please note that this is not simply an age issue. Some younger pastors are doing incredibly innovative and effective ministry right now. Others are simply waiting for things to get back to normal.

Third is a shifting value on the various staff roles. You have likely noted what I refer to as “the rise of the tech/admins.” Good tech workers are now the most valuable people on the team. Yes, even more so than the teacher/preacher because teaching can come from anywhere, but the delivery of that content relies on the techs. (Don’t tell them, but a good tech could single-handedly plant a purely online church drawing from the best content around the world!) Closely related, but often a different person than the tech, is the administrative person (exec pastors, highly skilled exec assistants, and even bookkeepers) who hold things together on the organizational side. Their role in the crisis is essential and will not be forgotten even after it has passed. They will have gained a permanently higher status.

Finally, and there are many other factors, but I will land here, there is the question of what will happen to church attendance and finances post crisis. There is certainly a craving among many to get back together. But many are getting very comfortable online. And once you are online you can “attend” anywhere.

Some churches that were already well established online are carrying on with only minor bumps and have the infrastructure, staffing and content to thrive in this season. They will likely be fine. But others are already struggling and will be gutted when this is all over. My guess is that there will be a few churches that boom through and beyond this time, with little need to hire additional staff due to online leverage, but many others that will be down in numbers and finances substantially when this is all over and not need or be able to rehire. The rebuild could take years.

So, my prediction: I expect that at least 20% of ministry workers who were employed by churches in North America will no longer be employed by the time churches can meet again, and will not be reemployed in churches for more than a year after weekend events resume, if at all.

What are your thoughts? There are certainly many other factors I haven’t touched on or thought of. And I some ways I hope I’m wrong. But regardless of the percentages, there is going to be a significant number of pastors who started 2020 as fully employed pastors no longer working in churches by the end of the year.

Two final thoughts on that:
1) Despite some of the factors mentioned above, just because pastor’s job disappears it doesn’t mean that person is not a gifted, called pastor.
2) Pastors who know their calling, who are disciples who make disciples, will still be in ministry regardless of where they end up being employed. And over time the cream will rise to the top and their options will increase.

If you’d like to discuss some of the options you have due to your many ministry skills, please contact me. I’d love to fill you in on some of the things I’ve discovered in more than a decade of bivocational ministry.

4 thoughts on “How Many Pastors are Done?”

  1. In many instances, people attend a church for the social and fellowship opportunity, even if the preaching isn’t strong.
    If the ruling on social gathering is extended indefinitely, will we all watch the “world’s best”,on line and be forced to forge greater connections with our immediate neighbors and friends we know well enough to facetime with?

    • Connection is quickly becoming the big issue, more so than pulling off an epic online service. I think pastors in general will need to become more pastoral- and that’s not a bad thing.

  2. Thanks Daren. I wonder how many of those who end up not returning to paid pastoral work will look back with relief?

    As someone who believes the church needs to move away from being Sunday-centric, the impacts of social distancing are fascinating. What lies ahead is so full of possibilities and unknowns.

    It was helpful to hear you take a stab at practical predictions. E.g. 20% won’t return.

    • There may be a sense of freedom for some. However there is still the need to make a living, which I want to be sensitive to; this is a stressful season. Hopefully there will still be a passion to remain on mission regardless of the actual job description.


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