Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > 2011 > September 2011 > News - September 2011
Report: In church, as in school, seniors rule


7:00 A.M. ET Sept. 26, 2011 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. Brian Rossbert (center) is commissioned in 2010 by Bishop Richard Wills (left) and the Rev. John Collett, in Brentwood, Tennessee. The numbers of young adult United Methodist clergy like Rossbert are on the rise. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
The Rev. Brian Rossbert (center) is commissioned in 2010 by Bishop Richard Wills (left) and the Rev. John Collett, in Brentwood, Tennessee. The numbers of young adult United Methodist clergy like Rossbert are on the rise. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
View in Photo Gallery

There's long been talk of the "graying" of United Methodist congregations, but the same can now be said of its pastors.

The annual report on clergy age trends in The United Methodist Church reveals a widening age gap. The report was released this week by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Even though there are more young elders, deacons and local pastors than 10 years ago, their numbers are dwarfed by elders in the 55-72 age range - 951 compared with 8,790. Reflecting a trend that began in 1995, the number of elders in the 35-54 range continues to decrease.

From the 1970s to 2005, there was a continuous decline in the percentage of young adults as active elders. The past six years have seen gradual increase.

"After that long of a decline, for it to turn up in terms of numbers and percentage is fairly significant given the past trends," said the Rev. Lovett Weems, project director of the study. "But the numbers are very modest, and they're not enough to counterbalance the large numbers of middle-age clergy that are moving into the older group."

Age gap

The Rev. DJ del Rosario<br/> 
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
The Rev. DJ del Rosario
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
View in Photo Gallery

In recent years, the denomination has increased its efforts to help young United Methodists discern and act on their call.

Since 1990, the denomination's Board of Higher Education and Ministry has held periodic Exploration events where young people, ages 18 to 26, can consider the possibility of entering professional ministry. The next Exploration event, now every other year, is scheduled for Nov. 11 in St. Louis.

The Rev. DJ del Rosario, director of young adult ministry discernment and enlistment at the board, said one explanation for the age gap harkens back to a recurring theme he's heard from pastors.

"When young people come to them and tell them they're interested in pursuing ministry, many pastors tell them to go do something else first, then get ordained later. The abundance of older clergy we have might reflect that," said del Rosario, 34.

Among the 2011 study's findings:

  • For the second year, the total percentage of elders ages 55-72 is the highest in history. In 2010, they represented half of all elders; this year it is 52 percent. As recently as 2000, this age group represented only 30 percent of active elders.
  • The median age of elders remains 55 — the highest in history, first reached in 2010.
  • The number of under-35 elders increased from 946 in 2010 to 951 in 2011, now 5.61 percent of the total number of elders. That's the highest number and percentage of elders under 35 in more than a decade.
  • There are 455 young local pastors, more than any time in recent history. They comprise about 6.2 percent of all local pastors.
  • There was a dramatic increase in the percentage of young clergy who are women. Ten years ago, men outnumbered women by a ratio of 2:1. Today, women comprise almost 40 percent of elders under age 35.

The Rev. Shalom Agtarap<br/> 
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
The Rev. Shalom Agtarap
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
View in Photo Gallery

Though the increase in the number of young elders hit a 10-year high, some might be discouraged because that rise reflects only five more pastors. However, the study shows that young people are pursuing a number of different ministry options.

The Rev. Shalom Agtarap, 27, and pastor at First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, Wash., said, "It's encouraging to see there are many paths to ministry now. Some may feel called but don't want the burden of so many years of school."

The Rev. April Casperson, director of admissions at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, agrees.

"A seminary education can cost $60,000. A pastor in their first appointment is going to make far less than that," Casperson, 30, said. "Many may decide against pursuing the elder track."

One area of decline for younger clergy is in the number of deacons. After years of increase, there was a slight decline, but Weems pointed out that those numbers could be deceptive. Most of the data was compiled through United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits statistics, and deacons are often in employment settings where they have a pension plan not covered by the denomination.

Casperson is one of those deacons not counted in the study.Since her main job is at a seminary, she is not in the United Methodist pension system.

She takes a more "glass-half-full" approach to the modest increase in young clergy.

"I have another friend in a unique ministry that wouldn't be counted in this survey, so I find even the small gains encouraging because I know there are even more young clergy out there than are in this report," she said.

The Rev. April Casperson<br/> 
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
The Rev. April Casperson
A UMNS photo by Kathy Gilbert.
View in Photo Gallery

Top 10 list

The Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference, for the first time, topped the list of conferences at 9.84 percent, the highest percentage of young commissioned and ordained elders. Other conferences in the top 10 included: Holston, Mississippi, North Alabama, Kansas West, Central Texas, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Northwest Texas. Half of those conferences are making their first appearance in the top 10.

The conferences that have the highest proportion of young clergy tend to have plans to introduce young people to a life of ministry. That can include developing youth as camp leaders or through mission trips. It can be by offering summer internships. For another conference, it may be the campus ministry program.

"Conferences that do better aren't necessarily those that have demographics working for them; there is some reason or effort there," said Weems. "Holston, for more than 20 years has had a program (Resurrection) that draws thousands of youth and every year, and there is a call to ministry component. Texas is in the top 10 for first time, and they have made concerted efforts for many years prior to showing this gain."

*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Comments will be moderated. Please see our Comment Policy for more information.
Comment Policy

Commenting Rules

Comments will not appear until approved by a moderator, which will occur at least twice daily.

Please keep your comments brief. Avoid personal attacks and do not use inflammatory or demeaning language.

See our Comment Policy for more information.

Glad you liked it. Would you like to share?

Sharing this page …

Thanks! Close

Add New Comment

  • Image

Showing 6 comments

  • joyce detoni-hill 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Thanks for letting me know that at 50 , I'm still young!  Its tough getting to middle age knowing that "there is no place for you,  unless you are are part time." I've served the church with all my heart, mind and soul for 25 years  now. Part time doesn't pay pensions or children's college. I started seminary as a young person fresh out of college , fully supported and remembered the community of faith standing up for me at my ordination.  Where is it now?  Where is it now?  So honestly, I would have a difficult time encouraging my...
    show more
  • Anom666 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    The stats in this article don't tell us anything.  Being a clergy person in the between 35-55 range I can tell you that you are treated like crap.  Too old to be the cool young person and not old enough to have been put in the good old boy club.  We also answered the call during an era when the economy was good and a person could get a better paying job easily.  There will be many more younger clergy now that the economy has tanked.
    show more show less
  • KarenKagiyama 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    As a young seminary student straight from college in the fall of 1987, I was surprised to find that there were so few people my age in seminary.  In my small contextual education group of about 15, only three of us were in our twenties. Of those three, two continued into ordained ministry while the other became a doctor (still a great form of ministry).  This past year at our annual conference, I was glad to see a number of younger people being commissioned and ordained, but the number of middle age and older people was still pretty high.  As...
    show more
  • Peggy Gorman 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Assigning a seminary student a multi-point charge does not seem to me (an educator) a wise introduction to parish ministry OR seminary. I'd like to see more scholarship assistance and more mentoring of entry-level parish ministers.
    show more show less
  • b54186 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    If the Seminaries ever quit telling the new Clergy to " go and take charge" then maybe they would not start off under so much "stress". I have seen several young clergy flounder early , because they thought that they were supposed to literally take charge and immediately try to mold the existing congregation into something that is against their will. Maybe it was well intentioned , but most churches will continue to "run" without a Preacher - - sad - but true. there are literally "thousands of Lay Speakers that are pastors to their flock and have never been...
    show more
  • danielhixon 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    The article mentions the prohibitive costs of seminary for many who do pursue some other ministry.  I think we as a denomination should consider consolidating down to 8 or 10 US seminaries, to concentrate our support dollars in fewer schools to bring down costs.  If the Southern Baptists (with twice our membership) can get by, even thrive, with only 6 Seminaries maybe we could do with fewer than our current 13.  Obviously the seminaries themselves (and alumni groups) would resist that sort of move, but in terms of stewardship, it might make good sense.  At any rate, I think it...
    show more

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW