October is Pastor Appreciation Month. The observance originally began in 1992 as Pastor Appreciation Day, (the second Sunday in October) led by Jerry Frear, Jr., founder of Under His Wing Ministries. The name of the unofficial observance was later changed to Clergy Appreciation Day and expanded to include all of October as Clergy Appreciation Month.
In honor of this observance, here are five facts you should know about American pastors.
1. There are no reliable figures on the number of pastors in America. In 2012 the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported that there were 600,000 clergy serving in various denominations in the U.S. But that figure included retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries and did not include independent churches that are not connected with a denomination. The Bureau of Labor Statistics underestimates the number of pastors, claiming that only 53,180 Americans are employed as clergy. (There are currently 47,000 Baptist churches in the United States and its territories.)
2. The median age of an American pastor is 57 years old, according to a 2020 survey by Faith Communities Today. Although most pastors surveyed by Barna first felt a calling to ministry in their teen or early adult years, more than half (55%) had another career before going into ministry. Roughly one-quarter (26%) remains bivocational, currently holding some other kind of (paid or unpaid) role in addition to pastoring, usually for non-financial motivations like personal fulfillment or having other outlets for their gifts.
3. Most pastors seem to value the education they received at seminary. More than three-fourths (76%) of pastors surveyed by Barna say that their seminary education was a good fit for their role. Seminaries in America are also continuing to grow. According to the Association of Theological Schools, seven seminaries—including two SBC seminaries—have generated enrollment growth consecutively over at least the past five years. The schools are Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri; Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois; Shepherds Theological Seminary in Cary, North Carolina; Sioux Falls Seminary in South Dakota; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; and Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Southern’s graduate enrollment in 2015 was 2,754 and increased to 3,390 by 2020. Midwestern’s 2015 enrollment was 1,196 and more than doubled to 2,397 by last year. In the 2018–2019 academic year, SBC seminaries trained 23,818 ministers and Christian workers.
4. A 2018 study by Lifeway Research and Guidestone found that the average compensation for a full-time senior pastor was $65,793 and the average pay compensation (salary, housing allowance, retirement benefits, etc.) was $77,979. The average compensation for a part-time senior pastor was $19,790 and the average pay compensation was $22,084. The average compensation for a bivocational senior pastor was $14,482 and the average pay compensation was $15,200. Another study of church leaders from various denominations found that about 14% of all pastors work without pay.
5. Relatively few pastors give up on pastoral ministry. A survey of pastors of evangelical and historically black churches found an estimated 13% of senior pastors in 2005 had left the pastorate ten years later for reasons other than death or retirement. Two percent shifted to non-ministry jobs, and 5% stayed in ministry 1% one percent a year.