Despite Wrong Doomsday Stats, Pastors Holding Up Just Fine

Somehow, bad stats about pastor misery persist. LifeWay Research data gives us a clearer picture of reality

I said it in that post, and I’ll say it here again: the people perpetuating these bad stats aren’t bad people—they’re truly trying to help pastors and do what is right. Sometimes, we just need to be more careful about how we do research and how we present data. Facts are our friends, but if we treat them poorly, they can become our enemies quickly.

 

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve published a couple of blog posts in an attempt to further squelch the false idea that pastors are constantly miserable and that thousands of them are leaving the church each year.

The fact is, they are doing just fine. There are challenges, and the experience is not universal, but when you look at the stats, they are doing pretty well. That does not mean EVERY pastor is doing well, but surveys look at the whole, not individuals, and it’s worth looking at real stats.

On October 14th, I wrote:

People are legitimately concerned about how many pastors are leaving the ministry. You can hear some disconcerting numbers.

The most common stat batted around is 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month. Recently, I think someone must have decided that number needed updating, so they added an extra 200 and now you hear 1,700 pastors. If youGoogle it, the claim is everywhere.

The problem is that we cannot find any research that validates those numbers, and the research we do have doesn’t come close to that. The Wesleyan church has done an internal study and LifeWay Research has done some research as well. When extrapolated to the whole of the pastor population, neither approaches 1,500 pastors leaving each month.

I said it in that post, and I’ll say it here again: the people perpetuating these bad stats aren’t bad people—they’re truly trying to help pastors and do what is right. Sometimes, we just need to be more careful about how we do research and how we present data. Facts are our friends, but if we treat them poorly, they can become our enemies quickly.

As a follow up to my first post on bad pastor stats, I posted a Q&A I did with one of the people who was the original source of those stats. He contacted me on Twitter following the first post, we had a great conversation, and he was gracious enough to let me publish most of our discussion. Here’s a bit of it:

ES: Do you share my concern about the use of those statistics?

JF: The biggest thing is that the ones that are quoted most often are incredibly old. People need to be careful about quoting old numbers.

Over the course of the last two decades, things have changed. The ministry has become a better place to be and people are much more aware of what’s going on with their pastoral leadership and their needs.

Two decades ago, I talked to guys who had never had a vacation. They had had been in their churches five, six, seven years and had never seen a vacation day. I used to talk to guys who worked six and seven days a week with 80-hour weeks. Now the leadership I’m around has a much more balanced life and are encouraged to be a good parent and spouse along with being good pastoral leaders.

I don’t believe the survey numbers are close to being accurate any more because they are so old. You should look at the individual situation you know and the situation in your local body, then compare that to what you’re hearing with what these numbers that are being quoted and thrown around.

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