Only half of U.S. pastors are “very satisfied” with their vocation, marking a steep decline in pastoral satisfaction over the past decade, according to a study released by Barna Group.
The research released Wednesday is based on a survey of 584 Protestant pastors conducted from Sept. 6-16, 2022, as part of Barna’s new Resilient Pastor Initiative examining the phenomenon of church leaders feeling “burnt out, lonely or unwell.” The results reveal that just 52% of respondents described themselves as “very satisfied with their vocation as a pastor.”
The share of pastors with a high level of satisfaction regarding their vocation has dropped 20 points since 2015 when 72% of pastors characterized themselves as “very satisfied.” Barna’s research attributes the growing discontent among pastors to the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing lockdowns that led to societal upheaval and restrictions on religious worship.
“Our research shows that today’s pastors are deeply struggling with their sense of calling in the wake of COVID.” In 2020, two-thirds (67%) of pastors surveyed considered themselves “very satisfied.”
The percentage of pastors who “feel very satisfied with their ministry at their current church” also declined in the same period, from 53% in 2015 to 47% in 2020 and 38% in 2022. While two-thirds of pastors maintained they felt “more confident about their calling compared to when they first entered ministry” in 2015, that number dropped to 35% in 2020 and remains unchanged in 2022.
When breaking down the results by demographic subgroup, the research shows that a drop in the number of senior Protestant pastors calling themselves “very satisfied” is driven by young pastors. Only 35% of pastors younger than 45 said they were “very satisfied” with their vocation in 2022, while a majority (52%) said they were just “somewhat satisfied.” Eleven percent told pollsters they were “not too satisfied” with their vocation, and the remaining 2% were “not at all satisfied.”
By contrast, 58% of respondents aged 45 and older reported feeling “very satisfied” with their vocations, while 37% were “somewhat satisfied.” The share of older pastors who were “not too satisfied” (13%) and “not at all satisfied” (2%) were nearly identical to the percentages of younger pastors who said the same.
Two-thirds of pastors (66%) younger than 45 have gone through a period where they “significantly doubted” their calling, while 31% indicated they had not had such an experience. Among older pastors, just over half (51%) had felt self-doubt about their calling, while 45% had not.
The overwhelming majority of pastors who have considered quitting (72%) experienced self-doubt about their ministry, while 25% have not. A narrow majority (52%) of pastors who have not contemplated quitting have not had self-doubts, while 44% said they have.
The research also noted differences in satisfaction between female and male pastors. A majority of male pastors (52%) said they felt “just as confident” about their calling compared to when they first entered ministry, along with a plurality of female pastors (42%). A higher share of female pastors (25%) saw themselves as “less confident” about their calling than their male counterparts (12%). Roughly equal shares of male (35%) and female pastors (33%) maintained that their level of confidence in their calling has risen over the years.
Roughly half of the pastors who have considered quitting (48%) have maintained the same level of confidence in their calling over the years, while 29% have seen their confidence diminish. On the other hand, just 5% of pastors who have not contemplated a career change have witnessed a decline in their confidence in their calling, while a majority (52%) have seen their level of confidence remain steady. Substantial shares of pastors who have considered quitting (22%) and those who have not (43%) have seen their confidence increase.
Even 57% of pastors who have considered quitting were “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs, while 26% of those who have contemplated a career change were “not at all satisfied.” The overwhelming majority of respondents who have not considered quitting (69%) were “very satisfied” with their vocations, as 30% were “somewhat satisfied.” An additional 1% who were “not too satisfied” with their vocations have not considered quitting, while none of those who are “not at all satisfied” reported that they had not considered abandoning their position.
(I have never regretted a day of my ministry. Some of my decisions, yes. Some people I have had to deal with, yes. But I cannot imagine my life doing anything else. I has been a true calling for which I am thankful. Michael)