Clergy Death Tsunami?

Lovett Weems has predicted that a death tsunami is coming, starting in 2018.  Between the years 2010 and 2050 there will be an increase of 50% in the national death rate.  Much of this is because of the aging out of the Baby Boomer generation.  Weems predicts this will hit the UMC extremely hard.

This is a tweet I saw at the end of September; : “34,000 United Methodist Churches in the US and only 685 UM Pastors under 35. The  needs to take this seriously.”  He tweeted this while attending the Church of the Resurrection’s Leadership Institute.  Then question arose, in the twitterverse whether 685 is  out of elders, all clergy including local pastors, or just ordained ones (elders and deacons).

This got me thinking and asking the question, “how many clergy are really out there in the UMC.”  Could I verify the 34,000 number of churches?  Searching some stats online from the GCFA (General Council on Finance and Administration) it confirmed that there are 44,404 total clergy in the UMC as of May of 2011.  Here is the breakdown:
                   Elders in Full Connection (EFC) = 31,406
                   Deacons in Full Connection(DFC) = 1,471
                   Probationary Deacons (PD) = 302
                   Probationary Elders (PE) = 1,850
                   Associate Members (AM) = 1,766
                   Full Time Local Pastors (FTLP) = 2,781
                   Part Time Local Pastors (PTLP) = 4,810

If there are really only 685 pastors under 35 (I cannot find where to verify that number and if anyone knows I would love to know, please share) here is the percentages against the different pastors within the UMC: only EFC = 2.18%; EFC + DFC = 2.08%; ALL = 1.54%.

By the time the death tsunami stops in 2050 the oldest young clergy today will be 74.  This means these 2%ers will see dramatic, I mean DRAMATIC changes in the UMC in their careers.  If 98% of the clergy are over 35, I bet even the majority of that number are over 50. (Once again this is my guess I cannot find an age breakdown of those 44,404 clergy anywhere)  This means in the next 10-15 years there will be a retirement tsunami within the clergy.  This has the potential of cutting the number of clergy in half by the year 2025.  OMG!

Here are the questions that arise out this staggering percentages.

  • If my thinking is correct and the number of clergy is cut in half in the next 10-15 years, it will leave around 23,000ish clergy to run the 33,814 congregations and 25,947 pastoral charges. Is this possible?
  • Will there be enough clergy to sustain a dying church by 2050?
  • Will all of these 685 (which, I am included in) hang around to pastor a dying denomination?  (BTW: my answer is yes, I’m in for the long hall)
  • Do conferences and districts have to switch their thinking about young clergy to produce the leaders our denomination will need?  Example: The current system likes to place young clergy in smaller churches or charges to gain experience and then 20 years later they get placed in the size churches they grew up in (usually larger congregations). Will they be able to wait 20 years if the pool of clergy turns dramatically shallow?  Or will younger clergy be forced, due to circumstances, to take a more active and demanding leadership role in the denomination/conference/districts?  Are there ways our conferences/districts could prepare for that?
  • Will the US churches be forced to move to a more “circuit” style (like the British Methodist Church) because there won’t be enough clergy to go around? 
  • Will pensions even exist by the time I retire when I am 68 in 2045?  If there is such thing as retirement by then.
  • Can we as a denomination survive? 
As I talked with a friend of mine who graduated with me from seminary and turned 35 yesterday he told me he now realizes how much change will happen in our careers as ministers.  The truth seems to be, the UMC that I was ordained in will not look anything like the UMC I will retire in.  

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