SURVEYS REGULARLY examine the American people, particular demographic groups and particular kinds of occupations—but rarely focus on the ordained leaders of U.S. churches. All this week, we’ve been focusing on the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which tells us aobut congregations—and about clergy as well.
What do we know about American clergy?
GENDER: Men vastly outnumber women in official pastoral roles. All Catholic priests are male, of course, but so are pastors of almost all conservative Christian churches, according to Leadership That Fits Your Church, the new book based on the nationwide survey. Mainline Protestant churches have the highest percentage of women who are ordained, which amounts to about 28% of all mainline Protestant churches participating in the survey.
MARRIAGE: Pastors in conservative Protestant churches are much more likely to be in their first marriage—85% of all conservative congregations. Fewer, but still a majority, of mainline Protestant pastors (62%) are also in their first marriage. Twenty-nine percent of mainline Protestant pastors have been divorced at some point; compared to 12% of conservative Protestant pastors.
Marital status differs for men and women among ordained Protestant ministers: While 71% of all men are in their first marriage, 37% of women are in theirs. Women clergy are more likely to have never married (about 12%), compared to men (1%). About one in four women clergy are divorced or separated, compared with 3% of men.
AGE: The median age of all pastors is 55. In 2001, the median age was 51. Catholic priests are the oldest, on average. The aging of clergy is a function of several factors. More people are waiting before entering the seminary or ministry. Fewer people enter the seminary or ministry right after college. Theological students in 2005 were ten years older, on average, than theological students in 1962. Another reason is that more clergy today are in their second careers, having had another occupation prior to official church leadership.
EDUCATIONAL LEVELS: Theological education differs by denomination. Well over nine of ten Catholic priests (94%) and mainline Protestant ministers (98%) hold advanced degrees. These include Master of Divinity, Bachelor of Divinity, some other master’s degree, or a doctoral degree in ministry or another field. A majority of conservative Protestant clergy hold similar degrees (53%), while over a third (37%) hold a certificate from a denominational training program, Bible college, or seminary.
Do these profiles match the pastor in your church?
What trends have you seen in your congregation?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.