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Clergy Shortage Impacts Churches
March 22, 2005

A nation-wide shortage of clergy, in both Protestant and Catholic circles, is leaving churches without ministers and priests.

A recent issue of Congregations magazine shows the percentage of clergy 35 years old and under is at just four percent in the Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ, six percent in the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Roman Catholic Church, seven percent in the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (USA), and 11 percent in the Southern Baptist Convention.

So, a Calvin College professor and her student research assistant decided to look at the issue - and look at what denominations are doing to empower the people in the pews to lead worship when their pulpit is vacant.

Shirley Roels is director of the Lilly Vocation project at Calvin College and a professor of management.

She and Calvin senior Kari Slotsema of Grand Rapids have just completed a survey of parttime and fulltime staff, and lay leaders (the people in the pews) representing more than 45 church groups - evangelical and mainline, rural and urban, small and large - across the U.S. and Canada.

The survey, which was funded by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, asked respondents whether they were being trained to lead worship, and, if so, to describe their actual and preferred training.

The good news, says Roels, is that 63 percent of respondents got some training for leading worship.

"Paid staff got the most training," she says. "Those who get the least training are involved with children's or youth worship; the fine arts other than music; and technology. In other words, the least-trained worship leaders are the people who don't have the loudest voices in church."

Most respondents said they have a good working knowledge of the elements of worship, but need help to manage and motivate others. They also would like training on incorporating media and diversity in worship.

Slotsema says there were few differences between Protestant and Catholic respondents although the Catholics tended to receive more training and said it was more effective than Protestants reported.

Church age (how long a congregation has been established) actually led to more differences that denomination.

Says Slotsema: "Churches under 10 years old have more lay leaders, and these lay leaders often go outside their denomination for training. The older a church is, the more likely that a significant majority get trained by their denomination and that the training is professional. Also the older the church gets, the more full-time employees it has, and the less part-time volunteers. This may show that the older churches are more stable and have the money to pay for staff, where younger churches must rely on volunteers. This creates an important difference that must be addressed in the way the individuals are trained."

Roels says the issue of training lay leaders is only going to grow. The percentage of clergy age 35 and under is dropping, she says, and seminaries enroll smaller classes than they did 25 years ago. In addition in the next decade, a large percentage of pastors will retire.

"In my own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church of North America, about one in eight congregations has no pastor," she says. "But this is a nationwide issue, reported by Catholics and every Protestant group."