How well do you know your pastor? You may know their vocal inflections, how they take their coffee and their wardrobe habits, but do you know what’s really on their mind? When they look at the country, what are their biggest concerns? When they look at their congregation, what worries them?
These are the questions the data nerds over at Barna set out to answer as part of their massive State of the Church study, which is being released in parts over the next several months. Their first release focuses on the mind of the American pastor, and what their most pressing concerns are.
Perhaps surprisingly, according to this study, things like religious freedom and church scandals don’t dominate their concerns the way they do headlines. In fact, when it comes to their concerns about the Church in the U.S., “religious liberty” didn’t even crack the top 15 biggest issues. American pastors are more concerned about existential issues like the cultural shift towards secularism, the recent resurgence of the prosperity gospel and, the number one concern, “watered down gospel teachings” — which made the list of 72 percent of all pastors’ responses.
When it comes to their own local church, pastors’ overall most common concerns had to do with actual people: reaching a younger generation, declining trends in evangelism and a lack of volunteers. Financial issues and more business-related concerns like building maintenance and team management are further down the list.
As Barna notes, the relative age of pastors is becoming an issue. In 2017 only 15 percent of senior pastors were 40 years old or younger, and almost 70 percent of pastors agreed that “it is becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to become pastors.” That’s not a problem just yet, but one concern for the future of the American church is how few people are interested in leading it.