Home Christian News Lifeway Research: Few Pastors Left the Pulpit Despite Increased Pressure

Lifeway Research: Few Pastors Left the Pulpit Despite Increased Pressure


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pastors faced increased stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, as churches were frequently forced to adapt overnight. More felt their role was overwhelming at times, yet very few pastors decided to actually leave the ministry in recent years.

A new study from Nashville-based Lifeway Research found close to 1% of evangelical and historically Black Protestant senior pastors step away from the pulpit each year—a rate statistically unchanged from a 2015 Lifeway Research study.

COVID-19 was neither a small nor short-lived stressor for pastors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Many have speculated that pastors have been opting out of the pastorate as a result. That is not the case. They are remaining faithful to the calling at levels similar to those seen before the pandemic.”

Coming and Going

The August-September 2021 study, sponsored by Houston’s First Baptist Church and Dr. Richard Dockins, surveyed more than 1,500 pastors serving in both evangelical and historically Black Protestant churches.

Around 1 in 6 pastors (17%) started at their current church during the pandemic years of 2020-2021. Half of the senior pastors facing the ministry upheaval brought on by COVID-19 were new to their role, as 51% are serving in their first church as senior pastor.

More than 1 in 3 pastors (37%) say they were the senior leader of their church 10 years ago. Among those congregations that had a different pastor in 2011, most of the previous pastors are now either retired (30%) or pastoring another church (28%). 

In that time frame, some stepped away from the pulpit for a different ministry role (13%) or are working in a non-ministry position (8%), according to the current pastor. Combined, those two groups who leave the pastorate before retirement reveal an annual pastor attrition rate of around 1.5%.

“COVID-19 is not the only pressure pastors face nor is it the most likely reason pastors from a decade ago are no longer pastoring,” said McConnell. “Baby Boomer pastors are reaching retirement age, and while many continue pastoring for years afterward, retirement is still the most common reason a pastor from 2011 is not pastoring a decade later.”