Missouri after fifty years. . .
Year Pastors Churches Members
1959 5,398 5,109 2,304,962
2009 9,357 6,178 2,312,111
In 2009 we were roughly the same size we were in 1959 (membership) but in 2009 we had 3,200 more Pastors than we did congregations while fifty years earlier we had but 200 pastors more than congregations.
What does this mean? I can only hazard a guess. We had more retired pastors in 2009 than we did in 1959, to be sure. We had more pastors serving in non-congregational positions than we did in 1959 (a time when even District Presidents were part-time District Officers while serving their own parishes). We had more large staff congregations in 2009 than we did in 1959. All of these are probably true but not necessarily the whole picture.
One thing that has changed in fifty years is what people expect of the church and of their pastor. In 1959 (sadly, I am old enough to remember that year), many churches had only worship space (back then we called it a sanctuary). Now the facilities sport gyms and school rooms and parlors and all sorts and kinds of space and programs that fill it up during the week. Church buildings are not dark between Sundays. This is good and bad but it means that pastors and staff manage more programs and staff than they did in 1959. Pastors have blogs and tweet and do email and podcasts and livestream sermons and worship services, etc... Many congregations expect and staff specialized positions with pastors who have obtained specialized training or degrees (from counseling to family life ministry -- things unimagined in 1959).
One other thing that has changed in fifty years is the fact that more people than ever come to the church with little or nothing in background, not knowing Jesus from Moses, and without even a rudimentary understanding of the Bible's big stories. I don't know about other pastors, but I spend an increasing amount of my time trying to fill in the gaps that new folks come with as they hope to enter the church -- gaps in knowledge, in understanding, in Christian culture, etc... Receiving new members is as much about enculturating as it is taking someone through a class. Because our people are much more mobile than they were in 1959, it means doing this over and over and over again and not necessarily seeing the statistical growth you might have expected fifty years ago.
I am not at all sure that it is a good thing that we have so many more pastors than we do congregations. I am not at all sure that it is necessarily a bad thing either. What I am concerned about are the increasing numbers of congregations in which the common thought is that we cannot afford a full-time pastor or a pastor of our own. That is one big difference between 1959 and 2009 that does not even show up on these statistics. Almost every parish in our church body in 1959 expected and had its own pastor or shared a pastor with a neighboring parish. Now we have increasing numbers of parishes in which there is no expectation of having a pastor in the foreseeable future and, sadly, some of them don't miss having one either.
I have no solutions here but only raise the issue. What do you think are some of the reasons for the distinct difference between these few statistics from 1959 and 2009?