Better vision


I never know exactly what to do with these staggering statistics. 

In the PC(USA) we have [edited on 4/23] 2208 ministers looking for a position and 645 positions available. That’s 3.4 pastors available for each job.

Of course, we have a glut on one end, and empty pulpits on the other.

About 5,000 (48%) of our churches have less than 100 members and most of them don’t have installed pastors, and many of the Boomer pastors will soon be retiring (though with the economic crisis, maybe not as soon as we thought).

But still… these are some shocking numbers.

What are we going to do? We’re letting many of our gifted leaders go into other professions. 

Dig a little deeper into those stats and we might find a solution to some of it:

How many searching pastors would like to start a new church development? 566.

How many new churches is our denomination starting? 7.

Seven new church developments in our whole denomination? Aren’t we closing churches pretty rapidly? What’s happening to that land and that money? Are our middle governing bodies living off of the endowments instead of putting them into new church plants?

It might be time to look at how we do business.

Why not start 550 churches right now? I know the way that we have traditionally done it costs a lot of money, but it doesn’t have to. Plus, we all know that there has been almost no time in our history when vision follows money. Money follows vision. So before we start with the fact that we have no money, let’s start dreaming a little bit.

How about this?

•We could start nesting new congregations in older ones. We’ve been doing this with immigrant congregations for a long time now. What if we began to think of emerging churches, or churches that are reaching out to a different demographic, in the same way? Instead of thinking of them as a community with competing interests, we can welcome them as people who are extending our church community.

•We could start churches in rented spaces. We’re seen it happen all over the place: coffeehouses, living rooms, and art galleries.

•One pastor could intentionally start more than one congregation. This would be important for small, home communities that could not afford to support a pastor.

What are your ideas? We have the most important resource: willing pastors. Can we find a way to let them do what they feel called to do?


20 thoughts on “Better vision

  1. Come to Pittsburgh!! Our NCD recently birthed another NCD. Right now in da Burgh, there are 3 NCDs, all less than 10 years old (1 is less than a year old.)

    Suzi W.

  2. Wow. Those are staggering stats. As a New Church Development Minister I am often battling feelings of “do we really need one more church. Is it working? Why are we bothering” Our Church was started based on there being no mainline church in a particular area (but there are other churches).

    But – we need way more than just one more church. We need tons of them, all kinds of them, all kinds of ways to let people know about Christ and his love. All kinds of ways to bring people together to love the way Jesus did.

    You’re right – we need a new vision.

  3. I’ve been wondering about nested NCD’s as an answer to a culture clash between the traditionalists and those who are looking for a new way to do church in (fairly large) congregations. When there is friction and frustration because of an Old Guard/New Way low-level conflict, then maybe it’s time for a new church.

  4. Pingback: Jan and Carol… — Kairos Blog ...

  5. If I understand those statistics, the 16,000 is misleading. First, there are a several hundred on there seeking non-ordained positions. Second, the 16,000 represents the number of positions being sought. Example: If I seek campus ministry and associate position and Head of Staff that equal 3, not 1. The 16,000 represents many people seeking seeking as many as 15 different kinds of pastoral positions, many of whom are willing to seek a call to any of those positions. And pastors allowed as many as 3 different PIFs and many don’t take their PIF down after they receive a call. In short the number are misleading if not looked at carefully, but yes it is still a problem, just not as dramatic as presented.

  6. In the PC(USA) we have 16,139 ministers looking for a position and 645 positions available. That’s 25 pastors available for each job.

    Than, from the site you linked to:
    In 2005… 2,050 (of PC(USA) congregations) were without any pastoral leadership.

    If a mechanism were in place to put pastoral leadership in each congregation that currently lacked it, we’d at least be down to roughly 8 pastors for each position. That’s quite a bit better, but even leaving aside the economic realities that prevent this (or, perhaps, allowing that fact to throw that statistic into even sharper relief), that’s a LOT of pastors “looking for a position” who won’t find one.

    In this thread (linked from a previous post of yours), the concern about creating an even greater sense of “elitism” about pastoral ministry if we did more to dissuade people from pursuing pastoral ministry (even if they may not be suited for it?), it does seem to me that we’re simply sending too many people to seminary as it stands.

    As much as I want to affirm more NCDs, and indeed think we must have more of this kind of thing (rather than simply expecting people to attend existing churches that developed to meet another context entirely), it seems to me that there are simply too many pastor wanna-bes being created….

  7. I think there are probably a lot more pastors out there who are interested in doing something new, but don’t know how to do it financially (for themselves) and so don’t have their PIF out right now. I know I and a friend have thought and talked about what a new church might look like if we worked together, but we don’t have the resources to actually do it. So we’re both staying where we are.

    Just a random thought…not sure it goes anywhere, other than perhaps a faint sense of hope that there just might be enough people out there who can conceive of something different…maybe even enough to make something different happen.

    hopefully soon!

  8. I’m glad someone else pointed out the discrepancy. That just didn’t pass the smell test. There is an asterisk next to the 16,000 number that explains where the number comes from.

    Two other questions/comments:

    1. Where does the seven NCDs number come from? Is that per year? Total? I’m pretty shocked by this. I have a friend in New Covenant Presbytery and to hear her tell it, they have close to seven NCDs going in that presbytery alone. Are these seven NCDs ones that are being supported on the GA level, as opposed to presbytery or congregational level?

    2. Although you don’t say this, the concern about pastors moving into other professions implies that you think a large number of these 2200 pastors are unemployed and looking for a call. I would like to know how many of the 2200 pastors in the CLC system are gainfully employed in the church, but are just looking to make a move. My guess is that it’s most of them. If that’s the case, then a lot of this shuffling is going to be a case of musical chairs.

    Not saying there’s not an issue to be addressed… clearly the gap between “first ordained call” candidates and positions demonstrates a problem. The point of musical chairs is that there are fewer chairs than people!

  9. For me, the disturbing statistic is the 7% willing to serve rural churches. Yes, there are many rural churches that fall into that “100 members or less” category, but not all. I serve a healthy, growing rural church of 200 or so members. I’m well paid, my husband found gainful employment, and my children are being educated in a solid school district.

    As long as the rural=dying stereotype persists, the formula is self-perpetuating. Rural churches will die if ordained types continue to simply ignore them as viable calls. CLPs are an answer, but not a solution, and come with a whole new set of challenges.

  10. reverendmother,

    1. The seven are the NCD positions available. As Sarah points out, on the presbygrow site, there are 116 NCD developing–although the list includes many churches that have been developing for almost ten years. (I know, because I applied for a couple of them when they were first looking for a pastor!)

    So there are 7 NCDs that are hiring right now. It’s still low, I think, when we have 566 pastors who are willing to start churches.

    Of course, I have heard that Houston has a great vision for this.

    2. Yes, there’s some rearranging going on. It was always my sense that most of the PIFs were rearranging, and that there is a clergy shortage (or soon will be). Or a sustainable church shortage, depending on how we look at it.

    But, if we just look at the new pastors, that’s 403 seeking their first call and 645 total positions available, and only 185 open to a first-call pastor. That doesn’t leave us with many empty slots.

  11. I spend my day looking at numbers, and figures like this are notoriously difficult to interpret without more information. The essential problem is that they provide a static snapshot into a dynamic process.

    As someone noted, many of these PIF’s could be old or not removed. The large number of pastors to positions could also result from something as simple as positions being filled relatively fast once the CIF is posted, so that there are few of them at any one time.

    The smell test is very helpful in this case. Here’s a graph from the CLC website for 1998-2006:

    If we take it at face value, there’s been a huge change since 2002. Does this feel right? Or maybe people have adapted to the times and changed the way they search.

  12. Very interesting.

    So, do you think that pastors are still posting on CLC and churches are not? That doesn’t seem likely…

    Why the increase in individuals? Do you think that pastors are more likely to keep their PIFs circulating even when they’re not actively looking?

    Could it be that we have a whole lot of (please, no offense) entry-level positions in terms of salary, so more and more people are looking to increase their wages by looking around?

    Why the decrease in churches? If almost half of our churches are 100 members or under, could it be that the decrease in positions have come from congregations who can no longer afford pastors?

  13. It’s hard to say without more information. I don’t have any intuitive sense for what might be happening– I was hoping blog readers might! (Especially whether there’s been some change since 2002, as the figure I linked to suggests)

    I guess I’m naturally conservative when faced with a surprising number. So, my first inclination is to wonder whether there’s some other explanation related to how people are using the CLC rather than some change in the number of positions/pastors

    The main point is that, if I am interpreting the numbers right, we are still seeing a snapshot of how many positions are available at a particular point in time. What we would really like to know is how many new openings there were over the past year and how many new pastors started to seek for a position.

  14. I am one of those PIFs right now. I am happily employed as an Associate in a church, but am looking to move. I also checked several boxes as per the type of church I would serve, but didn’t check “rural”. The difficulty with a rural church is that my wife would have a hard time finding employment. This may be a factor as well.

  15. Carol said, “Why the decrease in churches? If almost half of our churches are 100 members or under, could it be that the decrease in positions have come from congregations who can no longer afford pastors?”

    I can shed a little light on this based upon statistics in my state – Kansas. Here, in 2007, half the 183 congregations had 77 or fewer members (and attendance of 44 or less). In 1996 the Median was 107 members and 58 attendance.

    In 2003 our rural congregation had attendance of 49 and membership of 118. Of the 190 congregations in the state that year, we were tied for 95th in attendance (right at the median) and the 73rd largest in membership. In 2007 (last year of PCUSA statistics available for the state), we had attendance of 58 and membership of 115. This put the congregation at 71st in attendance and 68th in membership size among the 183 congregations.

    When I received the call from here in 2005, the congregation was right on the bubble as far as having the financial capability to pay the pastoral minimums. We’ve maintained fairly well, even grown a bit in most areas (now at 121 members, with 23% having joined in the last 4 years).

    Something quite disconcerting, is that in 2004 our numbers remained the same in attendance and membership. And we jumped from being 95th in attendance to 86th in the state – simply by not losing any in average attendance. Quite a few dropped below 50 that year, and have continued to decrease.

    I think this tells quite a story. I continue to watch the slide in membership and attendance in the state. I’ve thought for years that this ought to turn around any moment now. We need to add 5% to our membership each year to simply stay at the same membership and attendance (offsetting those who move away and those who die). I’m talking about gross numbers, not net – as we cannot control the number of losses due to death and moving away.

    I know people are opposed to looking at numbers, but by thinking we need to add about 7-8% a year, I am motivated to get out and meet people and invite them and make them important in my life. And I encourage others to do the same. And this works for this congregation, which is fairly hospitable. (Believe me – I’ve visited quite a few congregations that thought they were welcoming – but really weren’t.)

    Yes, every year there are congregations which can no longer afford a pastor. In the Western half of KS (200 miles by 200 miles), there are 7 installed pastors, and 26 congregations. One of the installed pastors serves two congregations. Two congregations currently have interims (and can’t seem to call a pastor out here). That takes care of 10 congregations. Four CLP’s take care of 6 congregations. Stated and Temporary Supplies take care of several – one of them (a retired school administrator) serving for over 20 years now.

    In 1996 there were 4 congregations with more than 300 members. In 2007 there were 2 congregations with more than 200 members. In 1996, 16 of the 26 had more than 100 members. In 2007, 10 had more than 100 members (though 4 of these had less than 50 in average worship attendance). In 1996, half (13) the congregations had at least 60 in worship. In 2007 there were only 5 reporting 60 or more. (I don’t know how many congregations closed their doors since 1996 – I only have numbers for congregations which still exist.) I have no idea how many installed pastors there were out here in 1996 – but I’m sure it was many more.

    I need not belabor the point further. There are indeed fewer congregations financially able to call a pastor.

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