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.

Stop Moving the Young Clergy Age

Young Clergy is defined in my conference as those clergy 35 years old or younger. Depending on who is talking, some people like to move the line to those under 40.  Now that I am in the middle of those two lines (will be officially 37.5 years old in a few weeks) I thought I had enough experience to weigh in on this idea.  As a 37 year old let me say this…stop calling me a young clergy.
I am honored that many fellow clergy and laity alike, look upon my head of dark hair (now speckled with flashes of white here and there) and you see a young whippersnapper.  I will take it because part of me really wants to be young.  I know I look at people 10-15 years younger than me and they still look REALLY young.  So I get it.
As I wrote I started to go into a rant about how Young Clergy can seem very condescending because it denotes inexperience, lack of knowledge and cheek-pinching.  However, I don’t want this post to turn into that. 
Here is why I think it is important to make sure that those we call Young Clergy stays at 35 years old and younger.  According to the US Census, middle age starts at 35 and ends at 54.  I know the most painful birthday for me was 35 when I had to start checking the box marked 35-44 years old.  Something switched in my brain because I realized I really wasn’t young any more. 
As I switched boxes in my age I also switched in years of experience. 25 years old is the age someone graduates who went straight through from high school to a Bachelor’s degree to Seminary.  25 years old is when you start full time ministry.  Starting ministry at 25 gives a person 40+ years of a ministry ahead of them.  By the time they are 35 they have been doing full time ministry for a decade. 
10 years of experience in any field doesn’t equal a newbie, rookie, beginner or greenhorn.  After 10 years, this minister has a vast knowledge and experience.  S/he is probably on a second or third appointment and ministry isn’t new anymore.  It makes sense that after a decade of ministerial experience we stop calling them “young clergy.”  Continuing to do so, shifts the term from one of applause to condescending.
The larger issue is that if we redefine “young clergy” as those under 40 we are doing so to boost the numbers and make ourselves feel and look better.  We have a leadership gap when it comes to those who make ministry their first and hopefully lifelong vocation.   According to the Lewis Center Report on ClergyAge Trends in the United Methodist Church Report (2014), in my conference [Western North Carolina] 37.48% of the clergy (Elders, Deacons and Local Pastors) are between 55-72 years old.  5.51% are under 35 years old.  59 is the most represented, or Mode age, in our conference. 
This is telling and painful therefore the tendency is to try and shift the data to make ourselves feel better.  The numbers will jump if you shift ‘young clergy’ from 35 to 40, although not very drastically.  Yet, you are not accomplishing anything in shifting that line.  All you are doing is ignoring the current reality. 
Baby Boomers are listed as people who are born between 1946-1964.  Generation Xers are those born between 1965-1980 and the Millennials between 1981-2000.  In a little more than a year the Millennial Generation will have its first 35 year old and they will have to check that new box.   That is a hard pill to swallow but to adjust the age of whom we call “young clergy”, once again ignores our current reality.

Let’s keep the ages firm, 35 years old and younger are “young clergy.”  Not in experience nor ability but simply because they haven’t reached middle age yet.


How do you talk to students about God calling them into ministry?  That is a question I have been plagued with for the last year or so.  After hearing about what Church of the Resurrection does in their MAC Track Program (MAC = Ministry as a Career) I was wondering how I could help inspire, cultivate, and encourage the students in my church, district and conference to follow God’s calling in their lives.
I was introduced to the idea of being called into ministry by my associate pastor when I was 16 years old.  I had asked him, “How much does a Youth Pastor make?” which he followed up with, “Let’s get together and talk.”  He shared with me his calling story and expressed the idea that I may be called into the ministry as well.  He saw some things in me that I didn’t even know about yet.  He pushed me to explore the ministry and I did in college.  Finally through some hands on experience working as an intern in the Western North Carolina Conference Center I learned I was called into ordained ministry and I started the candidacy process.
But what I soon realized is that there is not much out there to help Middle and High School students explore the idea of being called.  If it wasn’t for my associate pastor I would have never known because it wasn’t something ingrained in the conversation at youth group or at church in general.  After hearing about the MAC Track I contacted the head minister of that program at COR to see what they do and how that might translate into something for my area. 
My brain swirled with ideas but I never knew how to get it off the ground.  Then I visited the conference center and went to say hello to a friend of mine.  We were ordained together and I knew she had a new position in the Conference Office.  I learned she was now the Associate Director of Ministerial Services.  What that translated to was she was in charge of people who were exploring their calling, were starting the candidacy process and through ordination.  I told her we needed to talk. 
During our conversations we found out that we, as a conference, have a huge gap in our system when it comes to Middle and High School students.  We have nothing on District or Conference levels to encourage and cultivate a sense of calling in their lives.  We explored different options of what it may look like to do something on a conference or district level in this area.  Finally we decided that the district level is where we should start and we should start with one event.  We formed a planning team of young clergy and the Metro District IDK ’14 was born.
IDK, for those who don’t know (get it J), is texting short hand for “I Don’t Know”.  IDK ’14: Turing Don’t into Do, is our attempt to help cultivate, encourage and start a conversation with students in our district who may feel called into some sort of ministry.  It could missions, local church, chaplaincy, working with homeless, WHATEVER.  We aren’t recruiting Elders or Deacons, we are simply starting the conversation and leading them to the path to start this calling journey.
I am truly excited about this event and thrilled it is coming into fruition.  Our hope is that after this test run is over we can learn what worked and what didn’t.  Then we can duplicate this in other districts around our conference.  We hope that after these events, possible small groups can start where people are sitting down with students to continue to check in with them and see how their journey is going.  We are also asking that every church that sends a student or students to this event also sends at least one sponsor.  This sponsor will learn how to encourage this student in the process and ways the local church can help guide and cultivate this calling in their student’s life.
If all goes well, over the next three years we could see a culture of call emerge within the Metro District and possibly the Western North Carolina Conference.  At least that is the dream, and the way I think God is directing us.
So here is where I need your help.  All who read this, both lay and clergy alike, I need some advice.  During our day long IDK ’14 event, I will have an hour and a half to teach and share my calling story.  What do you think would be essential to tell them?  We want this event to be upbeat and positive.  This is not the time to start to discuss the long ordination process and all the issues involved with that.  Nor do we want to turn this into a gripe session about the way ministry can be a drag sometimes on families and lead to an early death (depending on which study you read). 
I would like my teaching time to be focused on how God moves in people to express God’s love to the world.  I want to share how exciting ministry is and how wonderful it is to be used by God to make a difference in this world.  What I need help with is some other ideas.  What would you share and what would you think is most important for someone who is just starting this journey to know. 
Please leave a comment or you can email me at revjimparsons at g mail dot com. 

Thank you for reading and please keep this event in your prayers.

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)