Multiplication Center

Myth Busting: “Pastors Are Quitting in Droves” Stats Are Entirely WRONG!

October 14, 2016

I’m hoping this blog will help bury a persistent myth that just won’t seem to die. Over a period of three days, I bumped into these claims:

• “According to statistics from Barna Research, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, almost 1500 pastors leave their ministry positions each month due to spiritual burnout, moral failures, or issues within the church.”

• “Every month, more than 1,200 pastors leave their churches because they feel unprepared and ill equipped to meet the daily demands of ministry. They are overwhelmed with the regular challenges they meet in the area of finances, staff development, volunteer recruitment, and working with their board.”

• “4 out of 10 pastors will experience burnout by year 10 of ministry.”

Good news: They’re all wrong— on two levels: first, I can’t find where Barna, Fuller, or Focus on the Family actually said these things, and second, regardless of who said these numbers (or misquoted them), they seem to be miles from truth.

Ed Stetzer and his Lifeway Research team just released a big study that found that pastors are NOT leaving the ministry in droves (also available here). Instead, the actual number they found: only about 1% of U.S. Protestant evangelical pastors are leaving the ministry for reasons other than death or retirement. That’s consistent with research the Wesleyans recently did on their own pastors (see chart at bottom of this blog).

Ed, who has written previous great stuff on stats used badly, such as his Everything Is Terrible article, dialogued with me about the new report in the above video.

I too have done my share of myth busting other widespread “urban legends,” such as this article: The Seven Most Interesting Lies from Bad Church Statistics. Others have as well, such as Christian Smith’s 2007 Evangelicals Behaving Badly with Statistics.

Good research should help us, not mislead us! What myths or bad sources have you bumped into, and have you gotten to the bottom of any of them?


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