By Marissa Postell
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Disciple making is the primary call of every pastor, and most recognize this as a skill they should continue to develop as church leaders.
According to the latest release in Lifeway Research’s 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, U.S. Protestant pastors say disciple making and technology are the two areas of skill development they most need to invest in to help hem be better pastors.
“These findings come in a season when pastors feel a spotlight on their ability to lead,” said Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. “They’re getting more honest about how inadequate they feel. Many pastors fear at some point their perceived shortcomings are going to be on display for their flocks to see.”
Nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23%) say the overall category of skill development is the area most challenging for them or the one that requires the most attention compared to the six other categories covered in the Greatest Needs of Pastors study. More pastors say areas of skill development are their greatest need than any other category.
“The value pastors place on continuing to grow and invest in their skills shows the care they have for their role in leadership within the church,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.
Top areas of skill development
For this 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 are most prevalent among pastors. The nearly 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 eight needs identified as areas of skill development, disciple making stands out above the rest, followed by technology. Nearly 2 in 3 pastors (63%) say disciple making is an area they need to invest in developing to help them be better pastors, and half (50%) point to technology.
“While pastors taking the survey were encouraged not to focus on COVID-19 in their responses, the recent experiences of many pastors likely influenced the prevalence of technology as a skill that needs more development today,” said McConnell. “In the spring of 2020 many churches moved rapidly to add streaming capabilities for their worship services. As technology met a need, many pastors realized there are other tools they haven’t used that may help them minister more effectively.”
Less than half of pastors (47%) identify leadership as a skill in which they need to invest. The percentage of pastors who say areas of communication (44%), counseling (44%) and administration (43%) are skills they need to further develop are similar. Fewer say they need to invest in conflict management or resolution (41%), while a third noted preaching (32%). Few pastors (5%) say none of these are areas of skill development they need to invest in currently.
Pastors with a doctoral degree (50%) are least likely to say disciple making is a skill they need to invest in to improve as a pastor. Pastors in the South (66%) are more likely than those in the West (55%) to identify this as a need.
In many areas of skill development, young pastors, those 18 to 44, are more likely than older pastors to identify those skills as areas of needed improvement, with technology being the exception. Young pastors (52%) are more likely to identify communication as an area of skill development than pastors between the ages of 55 and 64 (38%) or over 65 (42%), and they’re the age group most likely to say conflict management and resolution (56%) and counseling (59%) are areas they need to invest in learning. Young pastors (54%) are more likely to select leadership as an area of skill development they need to invest in than pastors over 65 (40%) and more likely to select preaching (38%) than those between the ages of 55 and 64 (28%). But pastors 18 to 44 years old are least likely to say they need to invest in learning technology to help them be better pastors (35%).
“Younger pastors grew up with technology and are used to the rapid pace of adoption of new technologies,” McConnell said. “Technology can touch everything from communication to socializing, to finances, to where people participate. Yet each tool has a learning curve.”
With technology, pastors of churches with attendance of fewer than 50 (57%) are more likely to identify this as an area they need to invest in than pastors of churches with attendance of more than 250 (42%). African American pastors (63%) are also more likely to say technology is an area of needed skill development than white pastors (48%).
Greatest skill development need
When asked to narrow it down to the area of skill development they most need to invest in at this time, pastors chose the same top two areas. More than 1 in 4 pastors (28%) say disciple making. Almost 1 in 5 (19%) say technology is the area of skill development they most need to invest in right now.
“Making disciples doesn’t happen by itself. It requires personally investing in others and encouraging their walk with the Lord,” McConnell said. “Much of a pastor’s training focuses on preaching. Once in the role, five times as many pastors want to develop their skills in the relational and spiritual dimensions of making disciples than in preaching skills.”
Fewer pastors say they need to invest in administration (10%), leadership (10%), counseling (9%), conflict management or resolution (8%), communication (6%) or preaching (5%) at this time. Another 6% of pastors say none of these are areas of skill development they most need to invest in learning.
Pastors over the age of 65 are most likely to say technology is the area of skill development they most need to invest in now (34%). Mainline pastors are also more likely than evangelical pastors to say technology is their top area of needed skill development (26% vs. 16%). And once again, pastors of churches with fewer than 50 people in their weekly worship gathering (28%) are the most likely to identify technology as their greatest skill development need.
“These findings tell pastors they’re not alone in their concerns,” Mandrell said. “The data also demonstrates that pastors love their people and want to be at their best for them.”
Marissa Postell 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, Vacation Bible School, 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.