In 2005, LifeWay’s Facts & Trends noted that the average stay for a senior pastor at a church was only about 7.7 years. When you look at the other ministry positions in a church, the stay is much shorter. Alan Rudnick at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership gives 2-3 years as the average stay for an associate pastor. The cliche in youth ministry has been if you can make it longer than 18 months you’re ahead of the curve!
I found a lot of this in my study on associate church leaders, as well as my doctoral dissertation. In my dissertation, the average stay of a lead pastor at a church was 9.7 years with a standard deviation of 7.4 years (in other words, not a lot of consistency) with half of them serving for 7 years or less. Associate pastors had an average tenure of 2.9 years, whereas my larger study showed an average tenure of 6.9 years (but 56% had been there less than 5 years - there were some long tenured guys who pushed the average higher). Basically, the same conclusions can be reached: ministers are not staying around in churches very long. The ripple effects of this are huge - significant vision is never carried out, generational impact is lost, consistency is absent in the staffing structure, expectations are never clear as leadership changes frequently, associate staff question their place, proteges find no mentors, and lead pastors spend much of their time filling ministry positions rather than effectively building the Kingdom.
Any number of reasons can be given for this. The web group ExPastors says that many leave after short tenures because of overwork, underpay, unprepared, depression/discouragement, loneliness, or families negatively impacted. Jeremy Zach at ChurchLeaders believes youth pastors move on because of finances, differences in theology/leadership, or not fitting into a church/community culture. Vanderbloemen Search Group has 10 reasons great staff members leave, which include a lack of voice in strategy, micromanagement, office politics, a lack of support during conflict, a lack of encouragement, compensation issues, and a lack of investment. Many of these show up on Thom Rainer’s negative reasons for a minister to leave a church, and places blame for the departures on both sides depending on the reason.
What can be done to stave the trend of microwave ministers? I want to propose 3 ways:
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.