Clergy Stats – Revisited

Back at the beginning of 2012, I did some statistical analysis on the age of the clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  What is interesting is a lot of the trends I saw are now coming true.

Here are my posts from 2012; Part I; Part II; Part III.

I saw that 49% of the clergy in 2012 were over 55 years.  I predicted there would be a tsunami of retirements coming and low and behold there are.  Last year we had over 50+ clergy retire and the current rumor (I don’t know the actual number) is that we will have that many if not more.  The retiring class for 2017 & 2018 is guaranteed to be in the triple digits.  This is unprecedented and could possibly be our new reality.

My number was called and I will be moving in July.  I will say goodbye to Indian Trail UMC and hello to Milford Hills UMC.  This transition comes because of what I predicted in 2012.  I revisited my posts and I am sad to see that some of my predictions have come or are coming true.

As we deal with a dwindling amount of clergy, it will be interesting to see how the cabinet handles these new realities.  I wonder if other conferences have dealt with this already?  I wonder what solutions they have come up with and are they working?

It would be interesting to get my hands on this information again and see if we have improved our age demographic or if we are looking at even worse numbers.  However, I don’t have access to that information, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

Moving…a reconsideration

There have been many changes in the itinerant system of the UMC over the years.  From what it sounds like, back in first and middle part of the 1900s ministers showed up at Annual Conference and learned if they were moving or not.  No prior warning.  Simply called out each appointment by name and then there was a frantic line at the payphone to call home and let their spouse know that it was time to pack.  Now it is different and there is a joy in that.  My wife and I would go insane if every year we had 1.5 weeks to pack before we moved.  Too much planning on our part happens to use to be that ready.

What I like now about the system is they do seem to listen to the needs of the pastor’s family.  They attempt to do their best to listen and work with what they have to take care of the needs of the minister and his/her family. I know this is not the case for everyone and I am sure you can find tons of people who would disagree with that sentence but it is true for me.

During the move process I received our first projected appointment.  It was not what I was hoping for or expecting.  I am sure that some good ministry could come out of that appointment but it didn’t tick off any of the boxes I was hoping for.  There were a laundry list of reasons why this would be a bad fit and so we started to look at our options.  My District Superintendent (DS) knew I would not be pleased with the appointment.  I could read it on her face when she told me.  But my wife and I prayed about it.  We did as much research as we could on the area and the church.  We did our secret ninja drive by to see the community, but in the end we  knew it wouldn’t really work.  And if we had to move there it would not be for the long appointment that we desired.

The option that presented itself was to ask for a reconsideration.  I was told to write a letter to the cabinet naming the reasons why the projected appointment wouldn’t work and what we desired out of an appointment. We set to work writing, rewriting, praying, rewriting, praying, sending it off to have people read it, and praying some more.  Finally we created a one page letter that we thought represented our situation the best and we sent it off.

After round two of appointment making meetings we heard about our appointment.  There was a change and the second projected appointment ticked off most of the boxes we were looking for.  I praised God because it seemed the Cabinet actually listened.

When we received our first projected appointment I felt let down, frustrated, angry, disappointed and for the first time truly doubted my abilities.  I thought I had accomplished some good things here at Trinity and that the cabinet could see that but after the first round I thought my accomplishments had fallen on deaf ears.  Then with round two I felt they had listened.  I do not understand what it is like during the frustrating, prayerful, and stress-filled appointment making process.  I truly feel the DSs and Bishop lose sleep over their  decisions and wonder if they are the right ones.  I don’t seem them as heartless or vengeful, although I am sure that there are others who do.  I feel the system worked for me and I may never know why.

So today, as I write my sermon and pack boxes, I am thankful that the system has seemed to work.  It may only have been for me and my experience and I have faith that the cabinet is doing their best for the sake of the Conference and the Kingdom of God.  I confess I didn’t feel that way in March but not in May I do.

Bishop and the rest of the Cabinet, please forgive me for my ill thoughts and frustrations.  Thank you for prayerful listening.

(Something I never found was a written guideline for what a Letter of Reconsideration should look like.  If you are in a place where you need to write one I am happy to email you a redacted copy of mine.  I am not saying it will work but I’m happy to share the format and structure of the letter.  Just send me an email at revjimparsons at gmail dot com)

Change is Coming = Opportunity

The Western North Carolina is changing in a couple of months.  On July 1st we will move from 15 districts around our conference to 8.  The new districts have been named and all the churches have their home.  Seven District Superintendents have either retired or have moved back into a pulpit or other position.  Dramatic changes are occurring.

But with any change there is the possibility of finally getting some things right.  I hope that as our new districts settle into their new names and areas that better attention can be given to their websites.  There are only a couple of who have really anything close to adequate websites.  My current district is really a throwback website to the mid 90s.  But as these new districts form I hope some attention goes to their website.

As geography grows they will become essential as a communication tool and source of information for their larger districts.  They will need to be a source of connection not just information.  What would happen if tools like Google + Huddle was used to have district meetings instead of traveling for three hours round trip for a meeting that last only an hour?  There has to be ways that new technology can link pastors together with the successes we have and missions we are doing.  There has to be a way that district websites are a place of ignition and a place of inspiration.  Not just a place that old information goes to die.

We shall see but with change there is hope that opportunity and growth can come out of it.

WNCC Clergy Stats – Part III

A question that start to stir in my mind was the link between clergy age and their experience.  If in the next twenty years we will have about half of the number of Elders as we currently have, what will that do with the number of years of experience?  (For a look at the number of clergy in the WNCC in different ages and affiliations, click here).

I dug through the data and the following graph is what I was able to come up with.  This is the number of Elders in Full Connection broken up into ages and years of experience.  The bars marked with an * are the age of someone coming in right from Divinity School and having a life time career as a minister.  I guess you could refer to them as 1st Career Ministers.  The numbers under those * give you the number of people represented by those bars.  I have included Probationary Elders in the under 35 block because they may be still in the ordination process which is expected in that age group.  I have not included them beyond that age group because I wanted to keep focused on 1st Career Ministers.

As you can see those in the 55-64 age bracket that have been 1st Career Ministers is 134 but the number below age 35 is only 63.  That is a 52% difference in the amount of clergy who will have the same years of experience when they reach that age.  How many of those 63 clergy will stick with the ministry all the way until they into the 55-64 age bracket?  I don’t know the stats on that, but my guess would be probably about 10%-15% won’t make it for one reason or another.  What effect will this have on our conference in the next 20 to 30 years?

One reality is that we will not have as many experienced clergy as we do right now.  Currently by taking the lowest number of years and multiplying it by the number of clergy in that category, those in the 55-64 have an low ball estimate of 4,300 accumulated years of experience in the ministry.  Thirty years from now when the young clergy from our conference hit that age bracket they will have an accumulated only 2,040 years.  Will this gap of experience be a good thing or a bad thing for our conference?

Bad Thing: Seminary can only teach you so much about how to work in a local congregation.  The rest has to be learned on the ground and through experience.  With more experience comes more wisdom.  With the lack of clergy with that experience means those who people look up to for that wisdom will have a smaller voice.  A smaller, less diverse, voice (currently in the under 35 age group there is only one non-white person) will be the ones hold leadership positions and helping to form the conference and their decisions.

These clergy will have to grow up fast because they will be taking on leadership roles that were usually reserved for those with more experience.  With less experience will equal more mistakes and how will those mistakes affect the conference?  If things move in a dire direction in the next 30 years, which people are pointing too, one major slip could be catastrophic, more so than any other time in the conference’s history.  That is a lot of pressure to put on the backs of people who have not had as much experience as other leadership of the past.

The fact that there is only one non-white young clergy out of the 68 that exist is sad.  How will we be able to speak the every growing minorities in our conference if clergy are all part of the majority?  Not saying it cannot happen because the younger generations see race relations a little different than the oldest ones, but how can we stay relevant to a racially evolving state without racially evolving clergy?

Good Thing:  As the conference becomes less experienced their may be a turn away from the ideas that hold up only the institution.  Those who are new to the conference do not have the ties that those who have grown up in it have.  Two years ago there was a huge vote on whether to move conference away from Lake Junaluska to Greensboro.  The AC voted to stay because of the years and years of experience and tradition held in that place.  Would the vote have been different if the majority of the people have been going to AC at Lake Junaluska for half the time?  Would their attachment still exist or would they be more open for other options?  The limited attachment to the institution could make the conference more mobile and versatile, which may lead to more relevancy.

Another good thing would be a broader voice that would be forced to listen to the younger generations or those new to the field as 2nd Career Clergy and Local Pastors.  With the conference having to widen the pool of people involved in conference matters and committees (which is hard to break into when so many are waiting their chances in an old system).  New voices would bring new perspectives and call into questions those things that merely hold up the institution.  The reliance on leadership that spans generations would be an asset to a church looking to be true to the Great Commission.

Just some thoughts about the future, which becomes closer to the present every day.

Young Clergy and Farm Teams

Today, Jeremy over at Hacking Christianity, has encouraged people to write about Lovett Weems’ book Focus.  I’m about half way through with the book and it has a lot in common with the statistical analysis I was doing on the clergy in my conference.  It seems to mingle well and I’ll probably come back to some of the results of my finds and Weems and how they do agree when I finish.

But what caught my attention is in the introduction in the book.  Weems opens by drawing links between the United Methodist Church and the New York Yankees.  The connections are neat to think about and probably mean more if I was a huge fan of baseball.  One topic he brought up was the Yankee’s unwillingness to move into the farm team system to build their homegrown talent.  This got me thinking…are small churches/charges the farm teams for young clergy in our current system? (man that sounded really Sex and in the City like)

Think about the purpose of the farm teams for Major League Baseball.  Once a person graduates college and is good enough to get into the program they can being to prove themselves in minor leagues.  They can move up from the Asheville Tourists to the Greensboro Grasshoppers to the Durham Bulls and finally be called up to the big leagues. (Yes I am aware that those teams are probably not owned by the same Major League team but those are the ones in my area I knew were 4A, 3A,& 2A ball clubs.)

For young clergy when they graduate from seminary and give themselves over to the itinerant system many find themselves in one of three spots; an associate (because they choose this path), a pastor a 2+ church charge, or the pastor of a small station church.  THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THESE POSITIONS, please don’t get me wrong, but they can be drastically different than the churches many young clergy come from.  This is because many young clergy come from much larger churches.  Because of this it can lead to burn out and other struggles because the small church is a lot different than the mega church in locations, personalities, and family systems. (they are also exactly the same in some areas as well, don’t get me wrong)

It seems that small churches and charges are the farm teams for ministers.  If you prove you can handle a small church they move you from 4A to 3A and then on up until you have been in the ministry for 30 years and you finally get to play your last seasons with the big boys.  This seems to be the old style of appointments and I wonder how this will change as the death tsunami that Weems predicts starts to hit our denomination?  Will the old itinerant rules that are silently and invisibly in place still be around as the tsunami hits and drastic change hits the denomination?

In a previous post I note that over the next 10 to 15 years there will be a clergy death tsunami too.  Will the young clergy who are getting out of seminary now have a chance to move up quicker in the league of clergy because of the huge openings in the pulpits that cannot be filled by the clergy they usually would be?  Does this mean as a young clergy one could possibly be running a large church (200-500 in worship) within the first 15-20 years of ministry?  That is almost unheard of these days.  If this does become the case how will those who have been waiting 25-30 years to get that appointment treat those young clergy who do get sucked up to that pulpit instead?

Will the old idea of a farm team be going away because the only churches who will be able to afford commissioned and ordained clergy will be larger congregations after financial resets are demanded by lack of funds?  Are young clergy prepared for that transformation and is this a tool to help get more young clergy into the denomination?

What do you think?

WNCC Clergy Stats – Part II


Thank you to Lovett Weems (via Facebook) for sending me to the report below.  (I apologise for the name dropping but I thought it was cool how social media can bring ideas/people together and that Weems does check, update, and communicate through that medium.)
As you can tell by the image here, the younger clergy has increased by 1% over these last decade.  This is good news that there has been a decrease but we are not seeing the numbers for people to hold a steady number of clergy as Baby Boomers retire and pass away.
This report came out last May and has probably been discussed elsewhere on the web.  What I learned as I read through it was the data which I got from my conference (Western North Carolina) equaled what the Lewis Center published.  They were able to pull data from the entire denomination within the US.  Not only can you look at how your conference matches up with others but you can see the denominational trend.
For example here are two graphs from their report.  This one gives the Median, Average, and Mode Ages of Elders in our denomination.  (There is information on deacons and local pastors as well in the report but I will concentrate on Elders on this post)  Our median and average age as a denomination have increased dramatically over the last 26 years.  As a denomination, we have moved from middle age to getting an AARP card.
Taken from the Lewis Center report on Clergy Age Trends in the UMC 2011


This graph shows the number of Elders and their age breakdowns over the last 26 years.  There has been a 70% decrease in the number of Elders under 35 within these years, going from 3,219 in 1985 to 951 in 2011.  This also watches the young clergy of 1985 move across the spectrum into the last column of Elders aged 55-72.  They move from being only 15.06% of the clergy population to 51.84% of it.  I believe that movement will have a dramatic effect on how the transition of power will go over the next decade or two.  (more of that to come)
Taken from the Lewis Center report on Clergy Age Trends in the UMC 2011
To bring this to a conference level, it was interesting to see that the Western North Carolina conference has the most Elders of any other conference with 762 and a total of 1,081 when you include Deacons and Local Pastors.  The next closest conference is Virginia with 670 Elders and a total of 979.  That puts WNCC 92 more clergy than any other conference in our nation.  Yet we are not even in the top ten of conferences when it comes to the number of clergy under 35 (Young Clergy).  With the dramatic changes coming to our conference (going from 15 districts to 8 by 1/1/13) and over the next decade within our leadership, it will be interesting to see how we approach these changes.
Here are some other things I found interesting that came out of the report.  Read on if you are needing a nap.
Here are the Top Five Conferences of Total number of clergy:
1. Western North Carolina = 762
2. Virginia = 670
3. North Georgia = 578
4. Indiana = 565
5. West Ohio = 556
1.North Georgia = 58
2. Virginia = 48
3.Alabama-West Florida = 37
4/T. Oklahoma = 35
4/T. Tennessee = 35
Local Pastors:
1. North Alabama = 333 (almost a 1 to 1 ratio between Local Pastors and Elders)
2.North Georgia = 313
3.Virginia = 279
4.Western North Carolina = 271
5.Mississippi = 262
Here are the Top Five Conferences with the Total Number of Clergy under 35:
(includes all Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors) 
1. Virginia = 77
2. Western North Carolina = 74
3. North Alabama = 57
4. North Georgia = 65
5. Mississippi = 55
Here are the top ten conferences when it comes to the percentage of Young Clergy midst:
1. Oklahoma
2. Holston (# 1 in 2005)
3. Mississippi (# 1 in 2010)
4. North Alabama
5. Kansas West (new to the top 10)
6. Central Texas
7. Virginia
8. Texas (new to the top 10)
9. North Carolina (new to the top 10)
10. Northwest Texas (new to the top 10)

WNCC Clergy Stats – Part 1

Back in October, I wrote about a hypothesis that we may experience a Clergy Death Tsunami in our denomination like Lovett Weems predicts we will experience in the denomination.  You can check out my post on that here.  Since then I have worked with the conference office to obtain some statistical data on our clergy.  Ed Walk has been extremely helpful in providing this information.  I’m not quite sure where I am going with this information, if anywhere, but I thought my four avid readers of this blog might find this interesting.  Or I should say, I find it interesting and so I am sharing.

Below is a graph of the age breakdown of some of our clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference.  I attempted to concentrate on those who pastor local churches or better said, those affected by the appointment process.  This leaves out deacons generally.  Plus there are some other clergy out there that don’t fit into these four categories but those numbers are really small.  For the sake of simplicity I concentrated on four clergy statuses; Elders in Full Connection (FE); Probationary Elders (PE); Full-Time Local Pastors (FTLP); and Part-Time Local Pastors (PTLP).  The age ranges are those under 35, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and over 65.

As you can tell the largest group Elders in Full Connection between the ages of 55-64.  There are 303 of them.  This doesn’t surprise me but it does worry me.  Look at the gap in ages.  In the FE category, each age bracket drops by almost 100 people.  As the next decade passes by what will happen?  The number of Probationary Elders cannot make up this deficit.  Out of all ages, there are only 110 of them and the largest number of them are 55-64 too.

In order to pastor the number of churches we currently have in the WNCC something will have to happen between now and 2025 in dramatic fashion.  As Baby Boomers exit into retirement, age out, or go on to the church triumphant churches will have to figure out how to deal with less clergy.  Will this mean more cooperative parishes?  Will this mean more churches on charges?  Will this mean more church closings?  Will this mean Local Pastors taking a larger role?

I don’t have answers but change is coming VERY soon in our conference/denomination.  Both on the financial side, which Lovette Weems points out, but also within the clergy leadership within our denomination.  This is only the clergy from the Western North Carolina Conference but I have a feeling that other conferences have similar numbers, if not more dramatic.

What are your thoughts?  What surprises you, if anything?  What questions start to be stirred?

Cutting Districts

The Western North Carolina Conference (WNCC) decided to move from 15 districts to 8 districts by January 2013. This move will save the conference $1.5 million dollars a year that Bishop Goodpaster (BG) would like to see go towards making our churches more vital in our area and starting new congregations. This is hot news among the denomination considering while I was at the School of Congregational Development I spoke to people from California to New Jersey who had heard of this decision. Some were excited. Others warned of the impending doom that will follow (ok a little harsh but I was told by a DS from another conference that we would lose 5-7% of our giving towards apportionments because of this decision).

The Disciple states that the Annual Conference (AC) is the one who agrees on the number of districts and that it is the job of the Bishop to set the boundaries and structure. Without a defined plan the AC gave permission for BG to move forward. I think that speaks highly of our trust and confidence in BG and that he will not lead us down the wrong path.

Last quadrennium we voted to add a district because the 14 current districts were too big for District Superintendents (DS) to handle, especially down in the Charlotte area. Now the DSs who make the cut and stay on will have double the amount of churches, clergy and area. how this will all be worked out will be handled by a team assembled by the Conference of equal representation of clergy and lay. They announced this list not too long ago.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I saw the line up of the usual suspects. The conference took this leap with the hope to save money but also to become more vital in our conference. There was talk of making sure we are not doing the same old thing over and over again because they same old thing really isn’t working. That sounded exciting, promising and I truly believe it is what BG wants for our conference and our denomination as a whole.

Yet I believe some people are missing from this team that could help bring a new set of eyes to our conference to move us forward. I cannot speak about the laity on this team, only to the clergy. But as I looked at the clergy that will represent the conference and help it decide what this huge restructuring will look like there were no young clergy named. No one under the age of 40 (from the looks of it), forget the legal age of ‘young clergy’ which tops out at 35. There is no one who received their Masters of Divinity in this millennium or who has a congregation who averages less than 100 people in worship each Sunday.

It seems the usual suspects will make the decisions. The rural small churches, which makes up the vast majority of our congregations in our conference, will have no clergy representation. The young clergy, who are a small minority, are the same way. I think an opportunity to be really innovative and bring new eyes to the table may have been missed. I pray I am wrong.

I pray for this team as they meet to discuss what our conference will look like and act like for the next however many years. I pray that God will work through them to empower the UMC in WNCC to become relevant, to grow, and to be full of vital congregations doing life changing ministry through Jesus Christ for the people in our communities.

WNCC Receives Grant for Young Clergy

Below is what was announced via the WNCC e-News today. I thought this looks very promising and a great opportunity for those coming out of seminary.

Bishop Goodpaster announces awarding of Lilly Grant
Dec. 8, 2010 – The Western North Carolina Conference has been awarded a $900,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation to focus on transition in ministry for those graduating from seminary and moving into the appointment system of the church. The grant and program will be for an initial project over the next four years.

The Transition-into-Ministry for new clergy is connected with other programs that the Lilly Foundation has funded for several years, but the Western NC Conference will be one of several other annual conferences sharing in this project within The United Methodist Church. The design for the conference will involve several graduating seminary students who have at least 30 years of service to offer. These new clergy will serve as interns in a variety of church settings, and participate in several retreats and learning experiences over a three year period. In addition, they will have the benefit of a mentor-coach.

“We will be working closely with the Board of Ordained Ministry and the district superintendents as we finalize the details, the appointments and the intern years. The generosity of the Lilly Foundation will allow us to provide funding for the project, but we will match it with other revenue sources as well,” said Goodpaster.

When the conference learned this summer that it had been invited to apply for the grant, Bishop Goodpaster invited Janice Virtue, Terry Moore and Ashley Crowder-Stanley to work on the proposal and design of the program. They spent a day at the Lilly Foundation offices in Indianapolis, and upon hearing the guidelines and processes, began working on the application.

“I am thrilled that our Conference received this grant,” said Goodpaster. “And, I am confident that this will be a significant experience not only for those who will be involved in the actual program, but for what we will learn and apply to many others. We had a great team, and I am very grateful for Janice, Terry and Ashley and their extra hours of work in putting this together.”

Health Care Costs Frustration

It is that time of year again. The end is near, of summer and possibly other things. September 1st was yesterday and also the day that the conference announced the cost of health coverage for 2011. I have discussed, ranted, and complained about this before. It seems to be a yearly thing and about this same time of year when we are shocked that once again our insurance is going up. For 2010 the cost to cover my family is $925 a month. In 2011 we get the esteemed honor of paying $1020 a month, then plus 1% of mine which the church pays 99% of.

Four freakin’ digits a month…

Now after my last rant some people told me to check out other plans and for the first two months of the year my family was on separate plans. We saved about $300 a month doing this BUT I could not deduct this cost and it moved me into another tax bracket. Since UM Ministers are self-employed employees (we pay self-employed tax) it would mean I would owe the government more money than we were saving. We dropped their coverage and added them back on the conference plan. (See picture above for my personal feelings)

I emailed the heads of our conference about this issue and got this response. “The only explanation that I have concerning the increase is the rising cost of medical coverage. Primary PhysicianCare has projected for 2011 that the conference health and dental benefit plans could expect $12,356,122 in claims. ($11,840,440 – medical and $515,682 –dental) This is active clergy and retirees under 65 only, no retirees over 65 factor into this equation. (Retirees under 65 pay 100% of the health benefit cost.) The utilization is expected to remain even, so the 10.3% increase in our cost is purely medical trend.”

I then emailed back and asked about the coverage through the denomination. From my research there are 26ish conferences that are covered as a group and not seen as self insured group. Apparently the Western North Carolina Conference has thought about going this route and has interviewed with HealthFlex (the company that does the insuring) but the Conference Health and Pension Committee doesn’t think it would save us any money.

I don’t know what the answer is and that is frustrating too. My wife doesn’t work full time. She teaches Massage Therapy at a community college but they aren’t hiring any more full time people there. Plus the town we live in can supply enough clients for her to move 100% to a private practice. In addition we like the time we can spend with our two young children. We don’t have to put them in childcare (which can be worse than healthcare) with our current work schedule. But when 1/3rd of my monthly paycheck goes to the conference for healthcare…the space between a rock and a hard place gets that much smaller.