Six Reasons Pastoral Tenure May Be Increasing

I indeed pray that longer tenure will result in healthier churches

Moving to larger churches is no longer considered a career path by many pastors. My generation as a whole viewed “bigger as better” as a career path. If you did well at one church, you would quickly get “promoted” to a larger church. Many Gen X and Millennial pastors do not have that perspective.


The young pastor, at least by my perspective, impressed me. Though only 34 years old, he had a maturity and wisdom about him that went beyond his chronological age.

The most surprising aspect of my conversation with him was his response to my basic question, “How long have you been pastor of this church?” I was stunned to hear him say, “I just celebrated my 10th anniversary.”

This pastor came to the church out of college when he was 24 years old. He completed an online seminary degree in his tenure. And he had led the church from 75 in average attendance to 180.

His parting comment to me was most telling, “I hope God lets me stay here all my life.”

He is one of many pastors who are staying at their churches longer. Contrary to the conventional wisdom among many, pastoral tenure is not decreasing. In fact, it is likely increasing.

I looked at three bodies of data to see the trends in pastoral tenure. The folks at LifeWay Research would prefer I not make comparisons where the studies are not consistent (they call it “noise” when comparing two or more different types of data). With that caution, I compared the median tenure of full-time pastors over six different years:

YearMedian TenureResearch Group
19963.6 yearsRainer Group/Effective Evangelistic Churches
20044.0 yearsLifeWay Research/Annual Church Profile
20084.0 yearsLifeWay Research/Annual Church Profile
20126.0 yearsLifeWay Research/GuideStone/Comp Study
20146.0 yearsLifeWay Research/GuideStone/Comp Study
20166.0 yearsLifeWay Research/GuideStone/Comp Study

What, then, are the reasons for the potential increase in pastoral tenure? I see six real possibilities:

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