In This Section:

Research: A Lewis Center Report
Clergy Age Trends 2013 Report
Highlights of the 2015 Report
Numbers of Young Elders Grow Over Ten Years; All Gains from Clergywomen

In 2005, the United Methodist Church reported the smallest percentage of under-35 elders ever. The 850 young elders that year represented 4.69 percent of active elders. Growth among young elders has been slow but relatively steady over the past ten years. In 2015, there are 986 young elders that comprise 6.56 percent of the pool of active elders, a pool now smaller by over 3,000 elders.

Gender has been a major factor in the gains to the extent that there are actually fewer young male elders now than in 2005 with all the increases coming from young female clergy.

Percentage of Young Clergywomen Grows Consistently among Elders and Deacons

Young Elders by Gender
  Men Women
In 2005 587 263
In 2015 582 404
Change (5) 141
For many years after seminary enrollments showed a balance between men and women students, the presence of young United Methodist clergywomen seemed to fall much below their proportion of seminary students. That has now changed steadily over recent years. In the last ten years, the percentage of women among young elders has increased from 31 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2015, the highest ever.

Deacons, on the other hand, have traditionally been predominantly female. Yet, even among deacons, the percentage of women has increased. Since 2012 the percentage of female deacons has increased each year from 68 percent in 2012 to 80 percent in 2015.

Among local pastors, the young cohort is increasing but primarily among men, with the proportion of young female local pastors dropping somewhat.


Fewer Elders, More Local Pastors

Elders and local pastors are appointed as pastors of congregations. The number of active elders continues to decline as the number of local pastors grows. Since 1990 there are 6,488 fewer elders and 3,525 more local pastors. In 1990, there were over five elders for each local pastor; today there are two elders for each local pastor. In 2015, there are 15,019 elders and 7,464 local pastors.

Elders Older Despite More Young Elders

Elders between ages 55 and 72 comprise 55 percent of all active elders, the highest percentage in history. This group reached 50 percent for the first time ever in 2010. This age cohort represented only 30 percent of active elders as recently as 2000. Previously their percentage of the total was even lower. The median age of elders remained at 56 in 2015, the highest in history. The median age was 50 in 2000 and 45 in 1973. The average age remains at 53, a historic high, though unchanged for six years. The mode age (the single age most represented) is 60, down from 61 last year. 

Unfortunately, the modest gain in the presence of young elders was offset by a decline in the percentage of elders aged 35 to 54. This mid-age group continues to shrink, from 65 percent of all active elders in 2000 to 38 percent in 2015.

Download PDF of the 2015 report