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First of eight Minister Survey stories delves into the demographics of PC(USA) Ministers of Word and Sacrament

Among them: 82% are married, and 27% have children at home

by Dr. Susan Barnett and Dr. Angie Andriot, Research Services | Special to Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — What do we know about the ministers who serve the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)? Where do they serve? Do they have families at home? Where do they stand politically, socially, or theologically? What age are they? Research Services set out to answer those and related questions.

Nearly 20,000 Ministers of the Word and Sacrament both retired and actively serving received a postcard inviting them to take a 110-question survey about their life and ministry. Some saw a second invitation via Call to Health, a mid council newsletter, or in a news story about the survey.  Surprisingly, nearly 5,000 completed the online survey. For most respondents, it took between 45-60 minutes to finish.

Based on the information that they shared about themselves and their ministries, the respondents appear to be representative of PC(USA) ministers. That is to say, the respondents’ self-descriptions and areas of service closely reflect the PC(USA) minister database.

The Research Services staff will introduce the results of the survey in a series of eight stories that begin today. Each story, published on Mondays, will report on an aspect of what was learned. Some definitions will prove helpful to understanding the reports. All respondents are Ministers of the Word and Sacrament; however, they do not all serve in the same way.   Within the Ministers of Word and Sacrament, six distinct groups are discussed and compared throughout the eight reports. Those groups are:

  • Minister — ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament. “Minister” is the all-inclusive term used for every minister regardless of ministry status.
  • Pastors — installed pastors and co-pastors as well as associate, interim, supply and organizing pastors
  • Specialized ministers — serving in another form of ministry other than a congregation, such as chaplaincy or pastoral counseling
  • Bi-vocational ministers — those who are in a call while also holding a secular job
  • Honorably Retired — those who report being Honorably Retired members of their presbytery (and may or may not still be in a call)
  • Secular job — those who are ordained to ministry but not currently serving in a call.

Most respondents, 90%, work in a single ministry job or position. About 8% of ministers hold multiple positions. In the stories and reports to come, more will be shared about bi-vocational ministers.

Photo by Ben White via Unsplash

Most respondents are white males who speak English. Ninety-two percent of the respondents are white versus 88% of PC(USA) ministers. In addition, 61% of respondents are male versus 68% of PC(USA) ministers. Thirty-seven percent of respondents are 65 or older versus 57% of PC(USA) ministers.  An average age cannot be given as the respondents were not asked to give their current age but to select an age range that best described their age.

PC(USA) ministers in this survey lean liberal. However, they are more likely to have liberal beliefs regarding social and political issues than theological issues. Only 11% of ministers identify as politically conservative, and 10% as socially conservative. However, 18% identify as theologically conservative.

What about their families? 82% are married; 27% have children at home. Those ministers with children at home average 1.5 children younger than age 18 and 1.2 children over age 18 living with them.

Some partners in ministry are also partners in life. 15% of respondents’ spouses or partners are PC(USA) ministers.  In addition, 4% of pastors who are married to PC(USA) pastors serve as co-pastors together.

Not all ministers are married or have a partner. It is most common for males, 90%, to be married as compared to 68% of female ministers. Male ministers are more likely than their female colleagues to have children in the home.

This is a snapshot of the ministers who responded. Research Services will help you to learn more about them in the weeks to come as the reports are shared.

Want to learn more? The findings in this article come from the PC(USA) Minister Survey Demographic Report available in English, in Spanish and in Korean. This report is based on data from the PC(USA) Minister Survey, a massive 110-question survey which fielded from September to November of 2019. Invitations were sent by postcard to all ministers for whom the Office of the General Assembly had an address. The survey was also one of the Board of Pensions’ Call to Health challenges. This partnership contributed to nearly half of all responses. 23% of the denomination’s 19,243 ministers (n=4,495) responded to the survey.

The survey was completed prior the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not related to a consultant’s visioning process report released Sept. 16 on recommended changes to the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The challenges and stresses of the pandemic impacted all of life — ministers and ministries included — and may have resulted in different responses in some instances had the survey occurred during the pandemic. The results, nonetheless, provide insights into the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of PC(USA) ministers.

This is the first in a series of eight articles on the survey results. Those articles, being published on a weekly basis, are:

  • Demographics
  • Mental health
  • Finances excluding educational debt
  • Finances — educational debt
  • Wellbeing
  • Discrimination, Opportunity, & Struggles of Leadership
  • The call to ministry
  • Summary

Join “Coffee with Research Services” on each Thursday from 4-4:30 p.m. Eastern Time Sept. 23 to Nov. 11 for a conversation about the survey and reports. Use this link to register for any or all of the sessions of Coffee with Research Services.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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