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Most clergy continue to learn; budgets & church support vary

PHOENIX (BP)–Most Protestant clergy are actively continuing their education through classes and/or seminars, according to a study released in the March/April edition of Facts & Trends magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

While slightly under half of Protestant clergy say they are encouraged by their church’s leaders to continue their education using church time and/or funds, most feel their budget for additional education is insufficient, according to the study by Ellison Research of Phoenix.

Only 9 percent of all senior pastors had not attended any classes, conferences or seminars in the last two years.

The Ellison study, utilizing a representative sample of 860 Protestant church ministers nationwide, asked pastors about their participation in classes, conferences and seminars as well as their church’s budget for such activities.

The most common types of educational opportunities attended by clergy were:

— Leadership/management skills – 54 percent

— Church growth — 52 percent

— Prayer/spiritual growth/renewal — 49 percent

— Evangelism/outreach training — 45 percent

— Personal skills training — 28 percent

— Discipleship/small group development – 26 percent

— Worship planning and ideas — 24 percent

— Marriage and family ministry — 19 percent

— Financial management/fundraising — 16 percent

— Youth ministry — 11 percent

— Church marketing/promotion — 9 percent

— Children’s ministry — 8 percent

— Multi-cultural ministry — 6 percent

— Single adult ministry — 1 percent

— Other types — 14 percent

The study showed that church growth and leadership or management skills development are less common among pastors in small churches than among those leading churches with 100 or more in regular attendance.

Relatively few differences by the pastor’s age or the church’s region of the country were found in the study, although younger ministers are more likely than older ones to have focused on leadership or management skills as well as marriage and family ministry. Youth ministry and personal skills training are both particularly popular in the Northeast, while evangelism and outreach training is particularly popular in the South. Fifteen percent of pastors age 60 or older had not completed any continuing education courses in the last two years, compared to 8 percent of those under 60.

Several significant differences according to denomination were found. The average minister has received continuing education on 3.6 different topics during the last two years, while the average among Methodists is 4.5 different topics and Southern Baptists, 4.0.

Some topics are particularly popular in certain denominational groups. Church growth training, for example, is something undertaken by 70 percent of Methodist ministers and 60 percent of Southern Baptists, but just 44 percent of Presbyterians and 28 percent of Lutherans. Another example is that 62 percent of Southern Baptists have continuing education with evangelism or outreach, compared to just 33 percent of Pentecostal/charismatic pastors.


Even though most ministers have participated in seminars or classes, 36 percent say their church does not budget any money for continuing education, while the churches that do include it in the budget provide an average of $1,504 per year.

Half of the smallest churches have no money at all in their budgets for training for the senior pastor, compared to 24 percent of churches with 100-199 people attending and 16 percent of larger churches. Pentecostal and Baptist churches other than Southern Baptist are the least likely to budget for the pastor’s training, while Presbyterian and Lutheran churches are the most likely to do so. Overall, 82 percent of mainline churches have money in their budgets for the pastor’s continued education, compared to just 62 percent of evangelical churches.

Among churches with more than one paid staff member, 74 percent budget funds for continuing education for staff other than the senior pastor, with an average of $1,419 per church among those that do, although sometimes that amount is split among multiple staff members.

Less than a third of churches (32 percent) have any money budgeted for continuing education for key lay leaders, and the average for all lay leaders combined is under $1,200 annually.

Only 45 percent of pastors believe their budgets for continued education are sufficient, while 55 percent call them insufficient. Lutherans (61 percent) and Presbyterians (56 percent) are more likely than clergy in other denominations to believe their budgets for classes/seminars are sufficient.

Among churches with multiple staff members, 46 percent of pastors feel their budgets for continuing education of their staff are sufficient, while 54 percent call the budgets insufficient.

Where pastors really think their budget is insufficient is in training for key lay leaders; just 27 percent feel they have sufficient budgets.


One additional issue is that many pastors aren’t being encouraged to further their education by leaders in the church (deacons, elders, board of directors, etc.). Forty-eight percent of all ministers say they are encouraged to continue their education using church time and/or funds. Another 8 percent say they are encouraged to further their education as long as they use personal time and/or money to do so. Many (40 percent) say they are neither encouraged nor discouraged to continue their education, while 2 percent report being actively discouraged from doing so.

The smaller the church, the less likely the pastor is to be encouraged to further his or her education. Only 39 percent of ministers in small churches say they are encouraged to attend classes and seminars using church time and/or funds, compared to 55 percent in mid-size churches, and 64 percent in larger congregations.

The attitudes of church leadership toward pastoral education vary significantly by denomination. Most Presbyterian ministers are encouraged to further their education with church time or funds (73 percent), as are a majority of Methodists (57 percent) and half of Lutherans (51 percent). Pentecostals and Southern Baptists are the ones most likely to report ambivalence toward continued education by their church leadership. In general, there is far less encouragement to attend conferences and seminars in evangelical churches than in mainline Protestant churches; 39 percent of pastors in evangelical churches are encouraged to further their education using church time/money, compared to 64 percent in mainline churches.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, found it noteworthy that not even half of all senior pastors are encouraged to further their education using church time or funds. “The ironic thing is that the laity still has the view that it’s the pastor’s job to do everything in the church, from growing the congregation to planning worship to being a youth leader, yet many don’t wish to equip their pastor to be better at doing any of those things,” Sellers noted. “Most people in business will tell you that the more skilled a CEO is the better off that CEO’s company is. Pastors are essentially the CEOs of local churches. Why would you not want your CEO to be better trained and equipped?”

The findings seem to support one common perception about mainline and evangelical pastors, but explode another. “There’s a perception that evangelicals sometimes do not value formal education as much as mainline Protestants,” Sellers said. “This study shows mainline churches budgeting more money for training, putting more emphasis on this, and sending ministers to training on a greater variety of topics. There’s also a perception that certain topics are of greater interest to evangelicals — particularly small groups, church growth, church marketing, creative worship and evangelism. But in all of these areas, mainline ministers were just as likely, and sometimes more likely, to attend classes or conferences as were evangelical ministers.”

The sample of 860 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches. The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±3.2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level with a 50 percent response distribution. The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations. Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

More complete data from these questions, including denominational detail, is available at http://www.greymatterresearch.com/index_files/Pastor_Education.htm.

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