Research: United Methodist Clergy Age Trends
Clergy Age Trends 2009 Report
Summary of Findings
Again this year, there is modest good news for United Methodists. The consistent decline in under-35 elders as a percentage of all elders hit its low point in 2005 and has held relatively steady with slight increases since then. In 2008 under-35 elders reached 5 percent of active elders for the first time this century. In 2009 the numbers are virtually unchanged both in numbers and percentage.

Young Elders
  • The percentage of young elders continued to increase ever so slightly again in 2009, marking a consistent trend since the low point was reached in 2005 when under-35 elders made up only 4.69 percent of all active elders. The percentage in 2009 is 5.25, up from 5.21 percent in 2008.
  • While the actual number of young elders remains well above the low point of 850 in 2005, there was a slight drop in the number of under-35 elders in 2009 to 906 from 910 in 2008.
  • The number of young elders may be the number to watch more carefully than the percentage number in the years ahead since the same or fewer young elders should continue to represent a larger percentage of active elders simply because the total pool of active elders is declining significantly each year with retirements exceeding new entrants.
Young Deacons
  • The growth in the number and percentage of young deacons in recent years has been significant. Young deacons now comprise 8.42 percent of deacons, well ahead of elders percentage wise, though their total numbers remain relatively small compared to elders.
Young Local Pastors
  • Young local pastors showed a significant increase in percentage and numbers between 2008 and 2009, reaching their largest number and percentage in recent history. Now young local pastors are the same percentage as elders, though fewer in numbers.
Older Clergy
  • On the other end of the age spectrum of active clergy, the greatest growth continues to occur in the 55 to 72 age cohort.
  • This group among elders increased from 46 percent in 2008 to 48 percent in 2009.
  • Twenty-seven conferences have 50 percent or more of their active elders in this category.
  • Deacons in this older age group increased slightly from 2008 to 2009, from 43 percent to 44 percent.
  • Local pastors, traditionally an older group, continue to have a larger percentage between 55 and 72, going from 50 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2009.
Middle Age Clergy
  • The middle-age grouping, 35 to 54, declined in recent years.
  • Elders in this age group went from 49 percent in 2008 to 47 in 2009.
  • Deacons of this age declined slightly from 49 percent in 2008 to 48 in 2009.
  • Middle-age local pastors declined as a proportion of all local pastors from 44 percent to 42 percent between 2008 and 2009.
Median, Average, and Mode Ages in 2009
  • Median (half older, half younger) – elders, 54; deacons, 53; local pastors, 55.
  • Average – elders, 54; deacons, 51; local pastors, 53.
  • Mode (single age most represented) – elders, 57; deacons, 53; local pastors, 60.
What about the Baby Boomers?

Through 2006 the single age represented by the largest number of elders tracked consistently with the aging of the first cohort of Baby Boomers born in 1946. But since 2007 the first of the Baby Boomers have been outnumbered by groups of elders born somewhat later. Since the first Baby Boomer group had been the largest for so many years, the question arose whether the first Baby Boomers were retiring in great numbers than might be expected before the age of 64, the most common age in recent years for retirement. (The first of the Baby Boomers will reach 64 in 2010.) If Boomers are retiring earlier than expected, then conference projections for retirements would need to take account of such a trend.

The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits provided the following data about the entire Baby Boomer generational cohort. They seem to suggest that while there are some retirements, they tend to be relatively few in number through 2009.

Total Baby Boomer elders in the GBOPHB system in 2009 3,986
Total Baby Boomer elders active in 2009 3,630 (91.1 percent)
Total Baby Boomer retirees in 2009 54 (1.4 percent)
Total Baby Boomers on leave, disability, etc. 302 (7.5 percent)
Total Baby Boomer elders in full connection in 2009 3,053 (76.6 percent)
Total Baby Boomer provisional elders in 2009 933 (23.4 percent)

Note: Baby Boomers are those born in the years 1946 – 1964.

Download a PDF of the 2009 report.