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Assessing the Clergy Supply in the 21st Century

by Patricia M. Y. Chang

In "Assessing the Clergy Supply in the 21st Century," Patricia
M. Y. Chang sets out to examine the current state of supply and demand
for clergy in U.S. churches. Good, reliable information about clergy supply
and demand, she contends, is vital to the church and its ability to provide
ministry and shape a prophetic vision. But such information, in turn,
requires accurate data, a clear vision about the kinds of ministry denominations
need and a clear understanding of what denominations can do to attract
and retain pastors.

Unfortunately, very little consistent, reliable information on clergy
supply and demand currently exists. More reliable and consistent forms
of data collection are essential if the church is to have the accurate
analyses of clergy supply and demand that it needs.

Information from the Yearbook for American and Canadian Churches, for
example, suggests at first glance that U.S. churches may have an oversupply
of clergy. Some denominations, the Yearbook figures indicate, have twice
as many clergy as they do congregations.

But such "total clergy" figures are misleading and at odds with
the experiences of denominational officials who report having severe clergy
shortages that leave many pulpits unfilled. Indeed, other data from the
Yearbook support those anecdotal accounts. Data on the number of clergy
actually serving in congregations indicates that most denominations do
not have enough clergy to fill available positions.

To some extent, these different views of the clergy labor supply may reflect
poor record keeping. "Total clergy" reported by individual denominations
may include all ordained clergy, with no adjustments for retirements,
deaths or withdrawals from ministry.

Evidence suggests that the congregations most vulnerable to pastoral vacancies
are smaller or rural congregations, which lack the financial resources
to attract and retain full-time ordained clergy. These smaller congregations
account for the vast majority of Protestant churches in the U.S. Most
U.S. congregations are small, with fewer than 100 regular participants,
and cannot typically afford their own full-time pastor. Most churchgoers,
however, attend the 10 per cent of churches that have medium to large
congregations, those with more than 350 participants.

Chang suggests the real problem denominations face is not a clergy shortage
generally, but a shortage of pastors who are willing and able to serve
small congregations. Current incentive structures, including compensation
and pension plans, contribute to this shortage, she finds. As long as
denominations rely upon a system of independently financed pastorates,
finding sufficient clergy to staff small congregations will continue to
be a problem.

Meanwhile, as viable employment opportunities for full-time, fully ordained
pastors shrink, clergy exits may increase as clergy are driven from the
market to find other ways to make a living. As a result, a growing number
of (primarily small) congregations are relying upon lay pastors, local
pastors, part-time tentmaker pastors, yoked pastors, and pastors with
other means of support such as a partner's income or retirement benefits
from previous careers.

To better support small congregations, denominations should consider restructuring
their compensation and pension benefits so as to redirect resources and
expertise more widely among small and large churches. The report also
suggests that denominations could do much to better match pastors and
available churches, taking greater advantage, for example, of national
computerized databases.

In addition, denominations also need to track the career trajectories
of their clergy following ordination. Accounting systems should be created
to track active clergy, number of congregations, and characteristics of
difficult-to-fill congregations so as to provide greater insight about
the kinds of candidates denominations need to recruit and train. Denominations
also need to better understand how many clergy leave ministry each year
and why they leave.

The report concludes with a call for better training and support for regional
church officials so they can better work with small congregations in recruiting
clergy and the creation of new incentives to attract clergy to difficult-to-fill
pulpits.

The report also includes commentaries by four persons who reflect on the
report from their particular perspectives.

Pastor Speaking to Ladies
African - American Male Speaker