Clergy Age Trends In The United Methodist Church: 1985-2018


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Highlights of the 2018 Report

Number of Young Elders Holds Steady at Somewhat Lower Level

After three consecutive years of growth, the number of elders under 35 declined in 2017 and 2018. Growth among young elders has been slow but relatively steady since 2005 when the church had only 850 young elders who represented 4.69 percent of active elders. In 2018, there are 949 young elders that comprise 6.94 percent of the pool of active elders. Despite the decline by 54 young elders in the past two years, their relative percentage actually grew slightly because of the continuing decline in the total number of elders.

Summary video of 2017 Clergy Age findings. Download this video free.

Decline in Young Women Elders Continues for Third Year

Virtually all the increase in young elders since 2005 has come from clergywomen. Women as a percentage of young elders during this period went from 31 percent to a high of 41 percent in 2015. This year marks the third consecutive year in which both the numbers of under-35 female elders and their percentage of all young elders have declined. These charts show the trends.

Chart - Trends in Young Women Elders - Numbers Chart - Trends in Young Women Elders - Percentages

Middle Age and Older Elders Mirror Recent Trends

The makeup of middle age elders (ages 35 to 54) and older elders (ages 55 to 72) remained proportionately about the same as last year even as their numbers declined. This middle age group is 37 percent of all active elders, a record low, and down from 65 percent in 2000. Elders between ages 55 and 72 comprise 56 percent of elders in 2017, a record high, and up from 30 percent as recently as 2000.

Fewer Elders and More Local Pastors

Elders and local pastors are appointed as pastors of congregations. Since at least the 1980s there has been a major decline in the number of active elders while the number of local pastors increased dramatically. This pattern continues in 2018. There are 483 fewer elders and 26 more local pastors in 2018 than in 2017. The result is that since 1990 there are 7,838 fewer elders and 3,602 more local pastors. In 1990, there were over five elders for each local pastor; today there are fewer than two elders for each local pastor. In 2018, there are 13,669 elders and 7,538 local pastors.

Age of Retirement Declines Slightly

Since 2000 there has been a fairly consistent increase in the age at which clergy retire. The average does not increase every year, but the trend is markedly upward. The average age at which United Methodist clergy retired in 2000 was just under 64. In 2016 the average retirement age had increased to just over 66.6. However, the average retirement age across all clergy categories in 2017, the last full year of data, declined to 66.2. The retirement ages for different types of clergy are similar but not the same. For example, in 2017 the retirement ages were: elders–66, deacons-67, full time local pastors–67, and part time local pastors–69.

PDF iconDownload the 2018 Clergy Age Trends Report.  

Previous Clergy Age Trends Reports 

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The Lewis Center staff has assembled and edited this material.