Monday, June 14, 2010

Too many pastors?

While it's been hard to fill a pulpit during the last 10 years, Christian denominations are now experiencing a clergy glut — with some denominations reporting that they have two ministers for every vacant pulpit.

Marcia Myers, director of the vocation office for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has four ministers for every opening, commented, "We have a serious surplus of ministers and candidates seeking calls." According to their data, PCUSA has 532 vacancies and 2,271 ministers seeking positions.

The Assemblies of God, United Methodist Church and the Church of the Nazarene have reported significant surpluses, as well. "There is just no place to go," said Patricia M.Y. Chang, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University, who has studied clergy supply and demand for more than a decade. In the 1950s, there were roughly the same number of ministers as there were U.S. churches. But, now there are almost two ministers for every church, according to the latest Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (607,944 ministers and 338,713 congregations).

This shift within denominations — which, not long ago, actively recruited pastors to fill their pulpits — reflects the impact of an ailing economy. Staff have been cut in churches where struggling parishioners are giving less, and older clergy are delaying their retirement because of their decreasing retirement funds. This leaves fewer positions available to younger ministers in a highly competitive job market where a "jack-of-all-trades" is expected to fill an opening.

Small congregations, however — those with 100 members or fewer — make up the majority of U.S. Protestant churches, but, in those pulpits, there's also a shortage of ministers. According to a 2008 study of the PCUSA, 71 percent of churches with fewer than 100 members had no permanent pastor. []

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