Why Are Many Churches Having a Hard Time Finding Their Next Pastor?

Guest blog by Ross Shannon.

Local churches have never found it easy to identify, interview, and call a new pastor. God must clearly direct, every time. But it is getting harder. At least it seems that way to me. My perception is that more churches are looking for a pastor than normal and more churches are looking than pastors are available. Why might this be the case? 

A Challenge Is Coming

The US population median age in 1970 was 28.1. So half the population was older than 28, half were younger than 28. By 2021, the median age had risen to 38.8. We are a middle-aged nation now.

More significantly for us, the U.S. pastor median age (as of 2021) is 57. Read that again. Half of U.S. pastors are within a decade of full retirement age. Half.

Let’s be clear: older pastors are great! Their wisdom and experience remains vital today. But the reality is simple: the wave of pastors without a replacement (also known as ‘churches unable to find a pastor’) is only cresting and about to break on the shore in this country. 

What can Christians, pastors, and churches do?

(1) Pray. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the local harvest fields…via pastoring established churches.

(2) Raise up and recognize biblically qualified men in your local church, eagerly giving men (not just young men) opportunities to teach and generously investing in pastoral internships and residencies. Let’s drill down on this point. 

  • Equipping your men to faithfully teach God’s Word is a great first step. Competence yields confidence. We don’t just need good pastors (biblically, that isn’t optional), we need men who are good at being pastors. This requires learned competence. So local churches must teach men to teach God’s Word well in all settings. 
  • Whenever possible, prioritize setting aside resources—including the pastor’s time—for internships and residencies.
  • The basic mindset shift is this: How can my local church raise up more of these men than my local church needs? How can we meet another church’s need, and not just our own?

(3) Think and talk about bi-vocational ministry as normal. Challenge biblically qualified men in the midst of their career to consider ministry and, when needed, bi-vocational ministry. We need our best to embrace this vital calling—not always leaving their vocation, but leveraging it for pastoral ministry. Churches must look to men in their 40s and 50s, not just in their 20s, and some of these will be called to labor bi-vocationally.

(4) Foster pastoral and congregational relationships in your region in order for pastors to help pastors, and for churches to help churches. Associate and fellowship with like-minded believers and churches in your region with the goal of raising up pastors. Maybe you can’t offer an internship, but another church can. Maybe you can’t find a pastor, but another church can commend a man they’ve raised up. 

(5) See God’s hand at work, even as churches will merge, share a pastor, be re-planted, or close.

Ross Shannon serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lapeer