Covid is making more pastors want to quit full-time ministry

(Photo: iStock/BrianAJackson)

Fresh research from the Barna Group shows just how much the pandemic is taking its toll on some pastors. 

A new study from the group reveals that nearly four in 10 Protestant pastors (38%) are "seriously considering" leaving full-time ministry. 

This represents a significant increase from the 29% who felt this way when Barna asked the same question in January this year. 

The struggles appear to be even sharper among pastors from mainline Protestant churches, with over half (51%) saying they feel this way. 

Among non-mainline pastors, a group that includes evangelicals, that figure is much lower yet still sits at around a third (34%).

There was also a disparity between younger and older pastors, with nearly half (46%) of those below the age of 45 considering quitting full-time ministry, compared to around a third (34%) of those aged 45 and above.

Barna called the findings "alarming".

"Keeping the right younger leaders encouraged and in their ministry roles will be crucial to the next decade of congregational vitality in the US," it said.

In one area of the survey, pastors were asked to score their overall wellbeing, with "healthy" defined as those scoring themselves as either "excellent" or "good" across all six categories of relational, spiritual, physical, emotional, vocational and financial wellbeing.

Only a third (35%) were in good overall health. Forty per cent of pastors graded their emotional wellbeing as average or below average, while a fifth gave the same score for their spiritual wellbeing.

David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, said the study pointed to a growing crisis among US pastors.

"We started seeing early warning signs of burnout among pastors before Covid, with initial warning bells sounding in Barna's The State of Pastors study in 2017," he said.

"Now, after 18 months of the pandemic, along with intense congregational divisions and financial strain, an alarming percentage of pastors is experiencing significant burnout, driving them to seriously consider leaving ministry.

"This is a growing crisis for church leaders in America. Now is the time for the Christian community to come alongside their pastors to pray and support them so they can continue to lead in healthy ways. Pastors, too, need to proactively guard their health and well-being, taking a holistic assessment of how they are doing.

"Navigating these existential questions of calling and ministry-career fit are significant and will shape the future of congregational leadership for the future.

"More than ever, the Church needs resilient leaders who are humble, agile, rooted in prayer and who are committed to being healthy as an essential aspect of effective leadership."