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FIRST-PERSON: When Boomer pastors retire

NASHVILLE (BP) — On Jan. 1, 2011, the first Baby Boomer turned 65. In fact, on that day, 10,000 of them turned 65. And that pace of aging will continue until 2030, when every Boomer is 65 or older.

The implications for churches are staggering. This generation is not of the mindset of previous aging generations. According to a Pew Research study, the typical Boomer does not believe old age begins until age 72. And the typical Boomer feels nine years younger than his or her chronological age.

The implications for church leadership are even more challenging when we realize how many Boomer pastors specifically will be retiring. This generation was, until recently, the largest generation in America’s history. Millennials now represent the largest generation.

Keep in mind that the ages of these pastors today range from 50 to 68. The Boomers have more pastors represented in their generation than any other. There are many pastors reaching retirement age every month. And I’m not sure our churches are ready for this transition.

As I see it, five immediate issues need to be addressed:

1. There will be more pastoral vacancies than qualified candidates. This issue is a demographic reality. There are not enough Gen X and Millennial candidates for pastoral ministry to replace the Boomers. Each of those subsequent generations has a much smaller Christian population base.

2. Few churches are giving any thought to pastoral succession. I commend those congregations that are being proactive about this issue. William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have written an excellent book on this topic – “Next: Pastoral Succession That Works.”

3. There will be an abundance of qualified pastors for interim and bivocational positions. These Boomer pastors will not be idle. They will be seeking other ministry opportunities, particularly positions with part-time pay to supplement their incomes.

4. Some Boomer pastors will stay at their current positions into their late 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, a number of these pastors are not financially able to retire. There will be many older pastors in some of our congregations.

5. Some Boomer pastors will view their pending retirements as an opportune time to move their churches to merge with other churches. This reality is already taking place in a number of churches, many of which are struggling.

While I am an optimist about our churches, my caution and concern is for us to be prepared to respond to the looming challenges in pastor staffing.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared on his blog at ThomRainer.com.

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  • Thom S. Rainer