Crisis in the pulpit? Barna reports 40% of pastors have considered leaving ministry


SUWANEE, Ga. – Pastors are feeling increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs and more than 40 percent have considered leaving the ministry in the past 12 months.

That’s according to data released this week by the Barna Group, a research organization that monitors cultural and religious trends in America

"The number of pastors who feel burnt out, lonely or unwell is growing," Barna said, pointed to findings from a recent survey of the nation’s pastors. "To put it bluntly, Barna Group’s current data does not paint a pretty picture of the state of the American pastor.

Barna said pastors are also losing confidence in their calling and their overall sense of well-being is on the decline.

That's especially true of young pastors, the researchers said.

In 2015, 72 percent of pastors told Barna researchers that they felt “very satisfied” with their jobs. In 2020, that number had dropped to 67 percent. In 2022, only 52 percent of pastors reported being “very satisfied” with their jobs.

"That’s an eye-popping 20-point drop over the course of just six years, and it’s notable for a few reasons," Barna reported. "First, the trend has continued as the pandemic response has eased, instead of leveling out as lockdown restrictions relaxed. Additionally, the drop is especially notable among younger pastors — just 35 percent of pastors under 45 say they are 'very satisfied.' This troubling decline in vocational satisfaction may cause significant problems for churches in the future."

In 2015, 66% of pastors said they were “more confident” in their calling than they were when they started their jobs. By 2022, only 35 percent of pastors said they were more confident.

“While only 14 percent are ‘less confident’ now than they were when they started ministry, this is a huge jump from the 3 percent who said the same in 2015,” Barna said.

Barna said the overall percentage of pastors who say they have gone through a period when they significantly doubted their calling has more than doubled from the 24 percent reported in 2015.

“Pastors aren’t just broadly less happy with their work than they used to be, they may also be less sure of where they’re supposed to be," Barna said.

"The pastorate is increasingly stressful in our day and age,” said Ray Gentry, a longtime Georgia associational mission strategist and leader of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders. “So many different pressures are coming against pastors and churches.”

Gentry said congregations need to show their love and appreciation for their pastors and provide sabbaticals and retreats so that they can rejuvenate and rekindle spiritually.

“Church members need to keep their pastors at the top of their prayer lists all the time,” he said. “Pastors are like everybody else in that they need encouragement, trust and appreciation.”

Gentry said the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress pastors are feeling.

“Most churches have less attendance than they had before the pandemic,” he said. “That makes it harder for pastors to feel like their ministries are as fruitful as they used to be. We know that numbers are not everything, but they are still an important factor to be considered, so it’s hard on pastors when the numbers are not what they used to be. And in many cases, the pastor is working as hard or harder than ever.”

Chris Reynolds, who leads the Georgia Baptist Mission Board's pastor wellness team, said the Barna findings are consistent with what he and his colleagues have seen among the state's pastors.

When we are overwhelmed, we have a tendency to isolate ourselves physically and emotionally," Reynolds said. "This is not healthy.  I encourage our Georgia Baptist pastors and staff members to reach out to the pastor wellness team.  We are equipped with resources and relationships to walk beside you through the stressful  times."