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General Interest

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

By October 14, 2016 No Comments

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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Warren Bird

Author Warren Bird

Warren Bird, Ph.D. has been named a Leadership Network Senior Fellow in light of his exemplary service 2006-2018 as Director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development at Leadership Network. He serves as full-time VP of Research for ECFA.org (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability). An ordained minister with background as both a pastor and seminary professor, Warren is an award-winning author or co-author of 31 books for ministry leaders including Hero Maker with Dave Ferguson, How to Break Church Growth Barriers with Carl George, and Next: Pastoral Succession that Works with William Vanderbloemen. Other recent titles are Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work with Jim Tomberlin, and Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include "Leadership Network/Generis Multisite Church Scorecard," and "The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches." See also research reports at leadnet.org/megachurchleadnet.org/salary and leadnet.org/portable. He is widely recognized as one of the nation's leading researchers of megachurches, multisite churches, large church compensation and high-visibility pastoral succession. He also oversees the world's only active, sortable list of global megachurches. Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird.  Click here to subscribe to Leadership Network Advance to get updates from Leadership Network.

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