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.
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.