Most pastors struggle with loneliness new study finds


In a troubling sign for many congregations, half of pastors say they are often or frequently lonely, according to a report of clergy health. Pastors may be healthy in many other areas, but most say they struggle with feeling lonely, according to a report from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

The church is designed to be a place that addresses loneliness. But pastors don’t always receive that benefit, as their unique role often isolates them. “They’re susceptible to loneliness and isolation because, in some ways, they carry a weight they cannot shoulder or share,” says pastor Ronnie Martin. “They not only have to bear the tension that their own burdens bring but also the tension of others’ burdens. This takes pastors to a lonely place many congregations are sadly unaware of.”

Chris Reynolds, lead strategist for Pastor Wellness at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, says they "are witnessing patterns at the state level that reflect the national trends reported by Lifeway." 

While examining clergy health, Hartford heard from numerous pastors that they faced loneliness and isolation. One explained the greatest challenge for them saying, “As a solo minister, my daily work is by myself with broad oversight of church elders. I often wish I had a team to work with.” Another described the challenge saying, “There is a lack of clergy support and connection in my area, despite my trying to form connections.”

The GBMB has a multifaceted strategy to address the issue of loneliness among pastors. "In every region," Reynolds says, "we have established points of contact for pastors, ministry leaders, women in ministry, and ministry wives. Our staff is dedicated to engaging and encouraging these individuals, while fostering a supportive community."

In addition, he explains, the GBMB hosts "a variety of events designed to inform and involve our members, providing them with valuable insights and opportunities for active participation."

The situation with the church can either address or exacerbate feelings of loneliness. The extent to which pastors feel they are a “good fit” with their congregation is related to their reporting feelings of loneliness. Pastors who say they have a “very good fit” with their church experience less loneliness. But regardless of fit, loneliness and isolation are issues for many pastors.

Lifeway Research found several issues related to loneliness in the Greatest Needs of Pastors study. Specifically, around 2 in 3 pastors say they need to devote time and attention to friendships and fellowship with others (69%) or relationships with other pastors (64%). Additionally, 28% directly say loneliness or lack of friendships is one of their most significant challenges.

This issue seems to be especially applicable among younger pastors. Those under 45 are the most likely to say they have a spiritual need to invest time in friendship and fellowship with others (79%) and their relationships with other pastors (75%). They are also among the most likely to say they struggle with loneliness or lack of friendships as a mental challenge in ministry (37%).

In general, pastors say they feel like they have support from other clergy in their area, according to a 2020 Lifeway Research study. More than 4 in 5 (82%) feel supported by other local pastors. Still, most pastors (54%) say they know and personally spend time with fewer than 10 local pastors. And feelings of support are connected to the number of fellow pastors with whom they know and spend time.

Pastors who strongly agree they’re supported by other local clergy know and spend time with an average of 17 other pastors in their area at least several times a year. Those who somewhat agree connect with an average of 10 pastors. Pastors who somewhat disagree that they feel supported by others know and spend time with an average of eight. And those who strongly disagree that they have the support of other local ministers report connecting with an average of five fellow pastors.

Reynolds encourages pastors dealing with feelings of loneliness or disconnection to contact the GBMB. For more information about upcoming events and to view a list of staff along with their contact information, visit the webpage at"