Top 2 Causes for Pastors Leaving Ministry and More Statistics

More than 70% of pastors do not have a close friend with whom they can openly share their struggles. The dominant cause for pastors to leave the pastoral ministry is burnout. Number two is moral failure. These are alarming statistics. And there are many more:

  • 80% of pastors believe the pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families (Life Enrichment Ministries – 1998)
  • Only 50% of pastors felt that the education they received adequately prepared them for ministry. Most pastors rely on books and conferences as their primary source of continuing education. (George Barna – 2002)
  • 25% of all pastors don’t know where to go for help if they have a personal or family conflict or concern. 33%  have no established means for resolving conflict. (George Barna – 2002)
  • 40% have no opportunity for outside renewal like a family vacation or continuing education. There is a very clear relationship between the amount of time a pastor takes for personal renewal and his satisfaction in his job. (George Barna – 2002)
  • At any given time, 75% of pastors in America want to quit. (Church Resource Ministries – 1998)
  • More than 2000 pastors are leaving the ministry each month. (Marble Retreat Center 2001)

August 1998, excerpts from James Dobson’s newsletter:

Our surveys indicated that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or are dealing with depression.[6] More than 40 percent of pastors and 47 percent of their spouses report that they are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules and unrealistic expectations.[7] We estimate that approximately 1,500 pastors leave their assignments each month, due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention within their local congregations.[8]

Why are pastors struggling? There are many causes. The Fuller Institute of Church Growth found in 1991 that 80 percent of the clergy feel their families have been negatively impacted by the church, and 33 percent consider the ministry to be an outright hazard to their families.[9] Financial burdens are common as well. The majority of pastors are heavily in debt, due to college and seminary expenses. These and other problems  often lead to serious marital conflict and family dysfunction. Unfortunately, the embarrassment or gossip within the church leads some couples to avoid needed counseling services.


  • [6] Compilation of surveys from Focus on the Family, Pastor’s Gatherings.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Fuller Institute of Church Growth, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

1991 Survey of Pastors (Fuller Institute of Church Growth)

  • 90% work more than 46 hours a week
  • 80% believed pastoral ministry affected their families negatively
  • 33% believed ministry was a hazard to their family
  • 75% reported a significant stress related crisis at least once in their ministry
  • 50% felt themselves unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 90% felt inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 70% say they have a lower self esteem now compared to when they started in ministry
  • 40% reported serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 37% confessed to having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend

George Barna, What Americans Believe

  • Less than one half of the people most committed to the church say that their church performs its primary duties with excellence
  • 2 out of 3 adult Americans (67%) say there is no such thing as absolute truth

Blackmon & Hart, Clergy Assessment & Career Development

  • 12% of ministers report they were depressed often or always in their ministry

Malony & Hunt, The Psychology of Clergy

William Moore in a study of 341 clergy from 36 denominations and 43 states showed that unrealistic expectations are a major factor in pastor burnout:

  • 60% of clergy wives hold full time jobs or are involved in careers
  • Some studies suggest 70% of clergy report experiencing major distress
  • 33% have considered leaving the ministry

Leadership, Fall 1992 Marriage Problems Pastors Face

  • 81% insufficient time together
  • 71% use of money
  • 70% income level
  • 64% communication difficulties
  • 63% congregational differences
  • 57% differences over leisure activities
  • 53% difficulties in raising children
  • 46% sexual problems
  • 41% Pastor’s anger toward spouse
  • 35% differences over ministry career
  • 25% differences over spouse’s career

Current Thoughts & Trends, December 1992

  • 28% of pastors said ministry was a hazard to family life
  • 16% said it didn’t affect family either way
  • 57% thought it was beneficial
  • 94% felt under pressure to have the “ideal” family
  • Estimated 20% of 300,000 clergy suffer from long term stress
  • One year the Southern Baptist paid out $64 million in stress related claims, second in dollar amounts only to maternity benefits

Leadership, Fall 1992

  • 70% indicated their compensation contributed to marriage conflicts
  • 22% feel forced to supplement their church income

Current Thoughts & Trends, May 1992

  • Last 3 years, typical pastor’s salary increased less than 1/2 the inflation rate
  • Average increase for 1988-1991 was 7.4%
  • Over 40% of single staff pastors felt they were underpaid
  • 33% of senior pastors felt they were underpaid

Duane Alleman, Theology News & Notes, Fuller Seminary

Survey of 228 Pastors’ wives revealed:

  • 45% have no close friends
  • almost half felt constrained to develop close friends in the local church context

Ministries Today, Nov/Dec 1992

Peter Wagner surveyed 572 pastors concerning prayer:

  • Average pastor spent 22 minutes a day
  • 57% spend less than 20 minutes a day
  • 34% spend between 20 minutes and 1 hour
  • 9% pray for 1 hour or longer

Focus on the Family Survey

  • 1500 pastors surveyed
  • Over half do not meet with a prayer partner regularly
  • 1 out of 4 do not have a trusted friend in ministry
  • Only 20% have 2 or more paid staff members

Current Thoughts & Trends, July 1992

  • 3 out of 4 church members would give their pastors an “A” (44%) or a “B” (33%)
  • Only 4% would give them a failing grade
  • US Bureau of Labor Statistics – 422,000 claim to be clergy persons

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