Trends and Struggles Pastors Face According to Barna

Pastor's Life, Personal Development

A new study, “The State of Pastors,” conducted by the Barna Group in partnership with Pepperdine University, explores the relational health of pastors – looking closely at relationships with their spouse, children, friends and peers. Study findings revealed that pastors have a deep human need for community, transparency and intimacy. The study also delved into how today’s faith leaders are navigating life and leadership in a complex age.

The study asked questions like “How hard is ministry on pastor’s families?” “Do they have close friends?” and “Who leads their church alongside them—and is it working?”

A major finding of the 175-page study revealed that as pastors are growing older, not as many millennials are choosing the same career path.

However, more than 90 percent of the pastors, said they were doing well when it comes to their “overall quality of life” and “spiritual well-being.” For a complete look at the study go to

“The research itself creates a fresh and revealing look at the lives of pastors—how they handle challenges in their families, churches, and in the community,” said Barna president David Kinnaman in a recent blog post.

The groundbreaking study included interviews, including those by phone and email, from thousands of protestant pastors from a number of different denominations. Here are some of the findings:

Ministry: pastors and his/her family

How do the spiritual, social and financial pressures of leading a church weigh on a minister and, inevitably, their family? And how do pastors feel about their most intimate relationships?

  • Starting with marriage, overall there’s very good news. Most pastors—96 percent of whom are married—are satisfied with their spousal relationship. Seven out of 10 say it is excellent (70%), and one-quarter considers it good (26%). By way of comparison, less than half of all married American adults rate their marriage as excellent (46%), and one-third says it’s good (35%). So, by and large, pastors report greater marital satisfaction than the general population. (They also divorce at lower rates: About 10 percent of Protestant pastors have ever been divorced, compared to one-quarter of all U.S. adults; 27%.)
  • Pastors with children under 18 (about one-third of all pastors, 35%) are enthusiastic about their relationship with their kids. Three out of five view it as excellent (60%), and one-third report it as good (36%). Pastors once again rate their relational satisfaction higher than the national average: Among all parents in the U.S., less than half say their relationship with their children is excellent (46%) and three in 10 say it’s good (32%).
  • However, in a previous study among pastors, Barna asked what, if anything, they would change about how they parented their children. A significant plurality says they wish they had spent more time with their kids (42%),
  • Most pastors seem to be doing well overall, but they are not immune from challenges. Roughly one-quarter of today’s pastors has faced significant marital problems (26%) or parenting problems (27%) during their ministry tenure. Pastors 50 and older are more inclined to report either or both types of problems.
  • When asked whether it’s true that their current church tenure has been difficult on their family, two out of five pastors acknowledge it’s “somewhat true” (40%). About half say

 Relationships: Pastors and their close friends

When it comes to making and maintaining close friendships, there were mostly positive reports from pastors: Two-thirds are happy with their friendships, rating their satisfaction in the friend department as either excellent (34%) or good (33%).

  • However, there are some areas of concern when it comes to pastors and the friends they keep. First, note that only one-third of pastors expresses the strongest level of satisfaction with their friendships. Second, around one in three indicates comparatively low satisfaction in this area. And third, pastors’ satisfaction with friends is on par with or only slightly better than American adults overall (28% excellent, 33% good).
  • Further analysis also shows that healthy friendships are not evenly distributed throughout the pastor population. Overall, older and more seasoned ministers report higher levels of satisfaction than younger and greener pastors. Those 50 and older are more likely to rate their satisfaction with “having true friends” as excellent and less likely to rate it below average or poor. Similarly, those who have been in ministry 30 years or longer or at their current church 10 or more years characterize the state of their friendships as excellent more often than the norm.
  • Barna also asked pastors how often they receive personal spiritual support, either from peers or from a mentor. Again, there was better news than expected. Most pastors are not left alone to fend for themselves: Nearly seven in 10 say they receive direct support at least monthly (68%), and more than half of those do so “several times a month or more often” (37%).

The study presented a timely understanding of the mental, physical, financial, emotional and spiritual well-being of today’s church leaders. It offers comprehensive findings. The research examined church leaders’ perceptions of things such as:

  • A pastor’s own mental, physical, financial, emotional and spiritual well-being
    • The health of relationships with family and church members
    • The ministry’s overall health and effectiveness
    • How the pastor is received as a leader in their local community

Ginny McCabe As a well-respected and experienced author and journalist, Ginny McCabe has authored five books. Her bestselling and award-winning title with Dr. Jill Hubbard, Secrets Young Women Keep is available from Thomas Nelson ( Other titles include: Some Kind of Journey: On the Road with Audio AdrenalineLiving A Gold Medal Life: Inspirations from Female Athletes, and Changed: True Stories of Finding God Through Christian Music.

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