The Disappearance of the 30-something and 40-something Pastor (here’s Why)

We’re all getting older. Almost every demographic in the United States is having fewer children. Population growth is slowing, and immigration rates are not fast enough to keep up with the aging nation.

In 1970, the median age was 28. Half the population was older than 28, and half the population was younger than 28. This midpoint is now approaching 40. So we’ve shifted from a younger nation to a middle-aged nation.

The economic implications of this shift are enormous but beyond the scope of this brief article. However, what is of note to the church is the aging of pastors, which has occurred at an even faster rate.

We are witnessing the disappearance of the 30-something and 40-something pastor.

The age of a pastor has increased significantly. Now, there is nothing wrong with an older pastor. Pastors with decades of experience typically have the wisdom and perspective needed within an established church. The issue is not one of age. It’s the lack of younger pastors available to replace them that is the problem.

A typical pastor today is approaching retirement age. Frankly, there are not enough younger pastors to replace a large group of retiring Baby Boomer pastors.

The perspective of some churches with older, retiring pastors is exacerbating the problem. Once they begin to search for a pastor, they will look for an idealized version of a 30-something Baby Boomer pastor from a bygone era. Obviously, this pastor does not exist. The few candidates available will look and lead very differently. As a result, churches will struggle to fill positions as willing candidates get frustrated with search teams.

Bi-vocational models and co-vocational models are becoming more popular.

Not only is the median age of a pastor increasing, but the median size of a church is also decreasing. The response to this phenomenon is an increase in the number of pastors and staff who will not receive full-time compensation. A bi-vocational pastor serves at a church that cannot afford a full-time position. Co-vocational pastors serve churches in a mutually agreeable arrangement in which their positions are not full-time, even though funds are available.

What are the opportunities for bi-vocational and co-vocational positions?

  1. A marketplace job puts you in the middle of culture on a regular basis.
  2. Bi-vocational and co-vocational church staff are less likely to get missionally stale in a holy huddle.
  3. The budgets of smaller churches are healthier with these positions.
  4. Work-from-home opportunities are making bi-vocational and co-vocational positions more attainable. Many pastors can now move to the communities where their churches are located.
  5. Both bi-vocational and co-vocational positions allow churches to expand staff when they don’t have the resources to pay full-time.
  6. Bi-vocational and co-vocational pastors have the potential to lead differently because their livelihoods are not completely dependent on their church pay.
  7. Both bi-vocational and co-vocational pastors have more transferable skills in the marketplace.

Pastors are getting older, and this trend will likely continue in the near term. However, there are opportunities for churches. The future can be bright with bi-vocational and co-vocational pastors.