2 Must-Know Scary Statistics About Millennials And Church

Discover the 2 must-know scary statistics about millennials and church.

August 7th, 2017

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “statistics?” Boring? Unimportant? Not interested?

For me, I’m a numbers guy, so I get jazzed when I talk about statistics. But for most people, discussing statistics is less exciting than watching paint dry.

Even though this is the case, some statistics can startle us to the core. For instance, if your doctor said you have a high statistical likelihood of having a heart attack based on your lifestyle, would you change your habits to decrease your risk? I bet you would.

The two statistics I’m going to share with you below about millennials and church has the same startling effect. They are like a siren blaring through your community warning you and your church of impending danger. Let me show you what I mean.

Scary Statistic #1: Church leadership is getting older

From 1992 to 2017, the median age of Protestant pastors increased from 44 to 54. In 25 short years, the age of church leaders has significantly changed. Here are how the numbers breakdown.

In 1992, I was 1-year-old, and the median age of a senior pastor was 44. Also, at this time, 1 in 3 pastors was under the age of 40 and 1 in 4 pastors was over the age of 55.

Now, fast forward 25 years to 2017 and the age of pastors look significantly different:

  • Only 1 in 7 pastors is under the age of 40.
  • Half of the pastors are over the age of 55.
  • The median age of pastors is 54.

The increasing age of pastors is the first startling statistic you need to know when it comes to understanding the state of the church and millennials. When you think about it, there are more full-time pastors over the age of 55 than there are under the age of 40, which means there is a growing generational gap between millennials and church.

So, what is leading to the increase in the age of pastors? Well, there are many factors at play. For instance, the average life expectancy continues to grow, which means people are living longer. What is more, the Baby Boomer generation is retiring later simply due to a lack of retirement savings. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), reported that 41% of Baby Boomers aged 55-64 have no retirement savings. For pastors across the board, retiring becomes more challenging when half of them have nothing saved for retirement and working longer is their only option.

Okay, so people are living and working longer for different reasons. Now, once we couple this reality with the growing decline of Christianity in the U.S., we can see why churches are having a harder time finding younger leaders: There is a smaller pool of potential leadership candidates for churches.

Alright, I’ll admit: This statistic is not startling in and of itself. But, it becomes starker when you pair it with this next statistical trend.

Scary Statistic #2: Communities are getting younger

In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that millennials overtook the Baby Boomer generation as the largest generation in the U.S. and Canadian workforce. More than 1 in 3 U.S. workers is a millennial, and by 2025, more than 1 in 2 U.S. workers will be a millennial or younger.

Can you see what is happening?

If not, then let me put this in laymen terms for you: The communities we are trying to reach are getting younger while our church leadership is getting older.

This growing generational gap presents a major problem for the church. As this gap continues to grow, something will have to give. There are three lessons we can learn from churches who are successfully reaching millennials, but, the first step we need to take to solve this problem is to be aware of it.

As a church leader, get to know the landscape of your community and your church. As you recognize what you are up against, then you will be able to move toward creating solutions.

Conclusion

As you can see, statistics don’t have to be boring. Frankly, statistics can be downright alarming. I hope you and your church can hear the sounds of the sirens in your community and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, make the changes you need to make to reach and retain the millennials living in your town with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What are other statistics church leaders need to know? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Bob Castelline

    According to Daniel Cook in “10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries,” millennials also are increasingly skeptical of the church. Only 15% are affiliated with the church in any way. Only 3-5% attend church on any given Sunday. More than 25% can’t think of a single positive contribution made to society by the church. What’s scary to me is that a large portion of my generation (I’m right on the line between BB and GenX) see millennials connected to their phones and think “they have no life.” But the truth is that millennials are the most connected generation in history, by a wide margin. The fact that a millennial communicates differently than I do — that doesn’t mean the millennial isn’t communicating. Quite the contrary. Millennials are innovative, they can multitask like no one’s business, and they don’t see themselves saddled with the limitations of hierarchy that afflict my generation. If they believe it can be done, they find a way. We in the older generation sneed to wake up. We need to celebrate millennials. And we need to speak to them in their language. Just as Martin Luther translated the Latin bible into the vernacular so that common citizens could read it, we need to begin speaking the language of the generation that is coming (or more accurately, already here). The statistics are clear. Any church that fails at this task — that continues to “speak Latin” — will die. Worse yet, many millennials will not be reached for salvation. Statistics can be scary, but they can also point the way to our biggest opportunities. Our escape route from the storm, so to speak. We just need to pay attention and act accordingly. Cook has some great stuff in his book. Highly recommended.

    • Great thoughts, Bob. Really great. Thanks for adding your voice. We need it.

      • Bob Castelline

        Absolutely. Happy to do it. Pro Church Tools has really opened my eyes. During 2017, we’ve taken our ministry in ways we’d never dreamed, and it all stems from what I’ve learned here. We’re figuring out how to communicate effectively with our community, and it’s paying off — in attendance, in finances (we’re 40% ahead of budget), and most importantly in lives given to Christ. We’ve got a church council of BBs and GenXers who are now actively looking to the future, when we’ll be gone, or at least far less active. How will we sustain our church for not just this year or 5 years, but for decades to come? We have some exciting ideas and prospects in the works, and I can’t wait to see where God takes them. I’d also like to echo the sentiments of the pastor above. We call it “finishing well.” We want to end our careers by leaving a vibrant ministry that any pastor would want to shepherd, and any believer would want to be a part of. One of my most important goals for 2018 is to reach 1 million people via Facebook. For 2017, we’re better, but we’re only on pace to reach about 250,000. That’s not enough. We’re putting together a comprehensive communication strategy based on Pro Church principles, and our voice is going to be out there every day. Empty hell and fill heaven. That’s our aim.

  • bmyers322 .

    As one of those Boomer pastors (but not yet over 65 – close…) I would add that Boomer and Xer pastors need to prioritize mentoring and “giving away” their ministry. You don’t need the limelight anymore. I spent many years “building my career.” Don’t need to do that anymore. Don’t need to protect my turf. Mentor. Give it away. That’s becoming more and more of a joy to me.

    • Wow. Great stuff. I can’t imagine that’s an easy road to walk.

      • bmyers322 .

        It is truly a joy to walk…but it requires balance. A congregation still has certain expectations of me being in the pulpit, etc… But it is a very good thing. I love to see Millennials thrive. Less of me…more of them.

  • I don’t think these statistics represent reality. Yes, there very well may be a medium age of 54 for “senior” pastors, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We have a senior pastor who fits that stat, but we also have another 5 pastors in the same church who are not part of the Baby Boomer generation. I know many churches where the senior pastor may be older, but he also has a ton of younger pastors that he has mentored, discipled and ordained. What would be nice to see is what the total quantity of pastors are, what is the medium quantity of pastors in the church and what their ages are. That would give you a more complete analysis of what the patoral condition in the church is. From there you would be able to ascertain if there is a problem or not. Otherwise, you are trying to build a conclusion from lack of information. Another word for that is “Eisegesis”. We don’t eisegete, we exegete. Now I think your main emphasis on the need to raise more pastors for the ministry is spot on and that is a big problem that most churches have a problem with. If they are too hesitant to give training, then you end up with a church that has only 1 old senior pastor and nobody to pass onto or replace in case of emergency. If you fail to replicate, then you will deprecate.

    • I would also be very interested in a study that found the average age of ALL pastors in churches – this Barna study was only lead pastors, so it wouldn’t include Children’s Pastors, Student Pastors, etc.. I’m not sure how many churches have multiple paid pastors though (I’m guessing the minority seeing as most churches are less than 200 – but that’s just a guess).

      Either way, we do have a comparative data point for this study. In 1992 the average lead pastor was 44, and in 2017 it’s 54. So regardless of other pastors, our lead pastors – on the whole – have significantly aged and not been replaced.

      • Or it could be that they are so effective that they do not need replacing….or both. But w/o all of the data, we will never know just keep guessing at it.

        • So effective they don’t need replacing? Hmm. I haven’t heard that one before.

          Christianity has declined 8% in America over the last seven years (Pew). That’s across all ages. Not encouraging at all. But it gets increasingly worse when we zero in on just Millennials.

          Again, keeping in mind that Millennials are currently the largest generation in the workforce AND will account for more than 1 in 2 American workers by 2025 when you factor in Generation Z behind them, here’s what we know…

          – Just 2 in 10 Millennials – the largest generation in the workforce across North America – consider church worthwhile or important, which is an all-time low (Barna)
          – 66% of Millennials perceive churchgoers to be hypocritical (Barna)
          – Millennials are the least likely age-group to attend church
          – 87% of Millennials who don’t go to church see Christians as judgmental (Barna)

          I appreciate your apprehension for drawing conclusions based on a single data point. But I think the picture becomes increasingly clearer, the more data you look at.

          Even if we assume the correctness of your assertion that the current crop of pastors is so effective they don’t need replacing, what happens when they eventually retire – which WILL happen?

          Only 1 in 7 lead pastors is under the age of 40 – and the largest generation on Earth does not exactly vibe with church.

          This is a predicament.

    • Bob Castelline

      I would respectfully disagree, Dade. I think the numbers are very real. Let me say first that I thank God for the prosperity at your church. At the same time, I also know that any church that employs 5 pastors is already doing a lot of things right, and certainly doesn’t represent the nation as a whole. In truth, most churches are far smaller — 50% of US churches average less than 100 in attendance, and only 10% average more than 350. I’m watching sadly as many churches in my area die because they aren’t paying attention to the changing world around them. You are obviously doing many things right at you church, but others aren’t heeding the warning of these and other important statistics. When I presented the information on millennials to my board, a couple of them scoffed. They believed the 15% involvement number was far too low, and cited the faithful young couples in our church as an example. In other words, they’re projecting (what they perceive to be) a good situation in our church to the 83 million millennials in the USA, and it just doesn’t work that way. And truth be told, even we aren’t doing that well with millennials. Overall, millennials represent 37% of the adults in this country, and we’re not close to that in our church. So bless you, brother, and keep doing what you’re doing. Meanwhile, I appreciate these statistics. There is a place for data in the church. It’s what we do with that data that matters.

  • Andrew Powell

    Hey Brady,

    New to PCT and I honestly don’t do much online communication in this way. That said, this topic has gained interest in my life. I believe the presupposition is valid and church leadership needs to be mindful of the trend. I think there are a few interesting factors at work, one being that some within the boomer generation did not give leadership away early enough. Church leadership too often lives in extremes: a pastor who is too old or a pastor who is too young. I was a youth pastor from 22-38 and have now spent my last five years as a senior pastor. For years I faithfully served, led up when possible, etc. Looking back I know that my voice often seemed small amidst the trees of boomer leadership and/or ideology and this was frustrating at times. However, I also had to learn along to way to mature in my faith and leadership, not be reactionary, and realize that much of my frustration was not about me being right vs. older leadership being wrong, but my frustration with not having seat at the “big table.” Therefore, I could share ideas/thoughts but if I pushed too hard (even if correct) I often felt like “David dodging the spears of Saul.” 🙂 Yet, there were times I was right, but handled it in a wrong way and that is where mentoring is so needed.

    As I think through the discussion I ponder on a few things:

    1. How do we analyze such data within specific communities.

    For example, I live in a growing bedroom community that houses professionals with families and much of the “millennials” are just not the main demographic, but this is slowly changing. Might these stats need to be properly tempered according to the DNA of a community one serves in? For me, it’s not pressing, but to not have forward thinking discussions on this would be negligent leadership.

    2. How do we balance a cultural shift with a biblical model?

    For me, having a massive gap within leadership and/or between leadership and laity has blessings and challenges. Negatively, it can create a “bless your heart” culture where community is not real, voices are not heard and enfolding is not happening; well then there is a huge disconnect. Positively, there must be some balance between older and younger. The biblical model seems very holistic and elders were admonished to lead but also mentor, which in turn means “upbuilding” and giving away leadership appropriately. For me, this trend has to be addressed by in a way that is holistic. I feel like we too often create pendulum extremes and we are either the “old/outdated” church or the “young/relevant” church. For me, both are not desirable goals and have their own set of problems. In the middle of the extremes must exist a model of church that is rooted in the biblical witness, young and old working together, and my conviction is that this creates a dance whereby the young are given a voice and the ability to engage, but they also welcome the voices of the old who have lived more life and typically have more biblical wisdom to impart. The struggle is real because the young must be willing to step into community and learn, but the older must be welcoming of appropriate shifts in community and give leadership away in proper ways.

    Overall, I personally don’t see some things as either/or. Some want community, but are less concerned about biblical teaching and/or singing. My conviction is that all are needed and the old must model the church appropriately but also create margin for younger generations to be participants in the gospel. Together, all generations can holistically be the church and harness time, talents and treasure to create local and global impact for the gospel.

    So… how do we temper the “age” concerns in a way that we don’t lose the beauty of all ages and stages working together as the church? This is the pursuit I am on and welcome your thoughts, book suggestions, etc. Just don’t feel like we hear enough about this. If I am an “Gen X’r” by definition then it’s notable that I have experienced more change in the church that any other generation. I grew up around hymns, have watched church wrestle through contemp. music, blended services, transparencies to projectors, non-denom. become the new denom., locations, communicators and style, decore, ministry styles, music styles, church events, coffee stations, externals, tangibles, marketing and the list goes on… all in pursuit of people. So… if the church always has an aspect of change… how might one be mindful of noteworthy concerns and address them in a holistic way that creates evolution and not revolution? 🙂

    doulos,
    andrew