By Aaron Earls
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When thinking about ministry difficulties, pastors say they’re most concerned with growing the people inside the church and reaching those outside it.
According to the latest release in Lifeway Research’s 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, U.S. Protestant pastors say developing leaders and connecting with people not involved with a church are their two most prominent ministry needs.
“Paul’s instructions to ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season’ strike a chord within pastors like never before,” said Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway Christian Resources. “In the midst of ministry challenges, it’s no surprise that their top felt needs are multiplying leaders and reaching the unchurched.”
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, noted that despite pastors having many personal needs, they often place a higher priority on the needs of their churches. “There is much agreement around the areas of ministry that need their attention today, because these needs have been the core work of disciple-makers since the Great Commission: equipping believers to share the gospel with unbelievers.”
Ministry difficulties identified
For the 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, Lifeway Research interviewed 200 U.S. Protestant pastors who identified 44 issues they face in their roles and then surveyed 1,000 additional pastors to determine which of these needs was most prevalent. The almost four dozen needs were divided into seven categories: ministry difficulties, spiritual needs, mental challenges, personal life, self-care, people dynamics and areas of skill development.
Among the five needs classified as ministry difficulties, two resonate with pastors more than the others. More than 3 in 4 pastors say developing leaders and volunteers (77%) and fostering connections with unchurched people (76%) are among their greatest needs.
A majority of U.S. Protestant pastors also say training current leaders and volunteers (68%) and challenging people where they lack obedience (55%) are challenges they face. Slightly fewer (45%) say they need to establish a compelling vision for their congregation. Around 1 in 20 pastors say they did not need to give specific attention to any of these issues right now (6%).
“Pastors are personally burdened with the need for their churches to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their community,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This makes their personal priority list because their church is often less effective than it used to be. In addition, many don’t even know where to start in helping their congregations connect with non-believers outside the church.”
White pastors (77%) are more likely than African American pastors (63%) to say they are finding it challenging to foster connections with the unchurched. African American pastors (68%) are the least likely to say they need to give attention to developing leaders and volunteers.
The youngest pastors, those 18 to 44, (82%) are more likely than the oldest pastors, those 65 and older, (71%) to find forming connections with the unchurched an area in which they need to invest more time. Similarly, younger pastors (82%) are more likely than older pastors (70%) to feel the need to give attention to developing leaders and volunteers, as well as training current leaders and volunteers (74% to 62%).
Pastors at larger churches are more likely to say connecting with the unchurched is a difficulty to which they need to give attention. Those at churches with attendances of 100 to 249 (79%) and 250 and more (81%) identify this as a need more than those at churches with fewer than 50 in attendance (70%). Pastors of churches with more than 100 in attendance (81%) are more likely than those at churches with fewer than 50 (72%) to say they need to give attention to developing leaders and volunteers.
Evangelical pastors (63%) are more likely than mainline pastors (43%) to say they need to invest in challenging people where they lack obedience.
Single greatest ministry difficulty
When asked to narrow down the list to the ministry difficulty they most needed to invest in at this time, around a quarter said fostering connections with unchurched people (28%) and developing leaders and volunteers (25%).
Those challenges were also near the top when pastors were asked to pick the greatest need they face out of each of the 44 issues they said they faced. For 8% of U.S. Protestant pastors, connecting with those not involved with a church is their single largest need. Another 7% point to developing leaders and volunteers in their congregation.
“Three of the five ministry difficulties pastors need to personally address reflect the fact that ministry is done together,” said McConnell. “Motivating, developing and training leaders and volunteers are all needed for a congregation to function as one unit in sharing the love of Jesus with others.”
Specifically among the five ministry difficulties, 15% of pastors said training their church leaders and volunteers currently requires most of their attention. Fewer say their top ministry difficulty right now is establishing a compelling vision (13%) or challenging people where they lack obedience (11%).
Pastors in the Northeast (16%) are the least likely to say fostering connections with unchurched people is their top ministry difficulty. Pastors in that region (34%) are, however, more likely than those in the South (23%) and West (23%) to say that developing leaders and volunteers is their greatest need among the five ministry issues.
Many small church pastors say they’re struggling most with the vision of their church. Those in churches with fewer than 50 in attendance (15%) and from 50 to 99 (16%) are more likely than pastors of churches with 250 or more in attendance (8%) to say establishing a compelling vision is the most pressing ministry difficulty for them.
Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.
The phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted March 30 – April 22, 2021. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each survey was completed by the senior or sole pastor or a minister at the church. Responses were weighted by region and church size to reflect the population more accurately. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1% This margin of error accounts for the effect of weighting. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
About Lifeway Research
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
About Lifeway Christian Resources
In operation since 1891, Lifeway Christian Resources is one of the leading providers of Christian resources, including Bibles, books, Bible studies, Christian music and movies, VBS, and church supplies, as well as camps and events for all ages. Lifeway is the world’s largest provider of Spanish Bibles. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Lifeway operates as a self-supporting nonprofit.