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Updated: May 10


For many years I have shared both the pain and the joys of those who work with churches. Like many of you, I have asked many times whether there are better ways forward to thrive together and have missional impact on our world. And sustainable ways - it's not about trying harder - but doing different things in different ways. Interrupting and reflecting on practice. That is what I do as a pastoral supervisor/mentor. What I do as a church and non-profit consultant. And what I endeavour to do as a blogger and writer. I hope what is posted here is water, God willing, for those planted in churches that we may thrive together.

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Or you can contact me through my website:


Across Australia, denominations are experiencing a shortage of ministers/pastors relative to the number of churches that are available. There are probably many reasons for this, which I will explore in greater depth in subsequent posts. However, looking at the graph, the percentage of ministers of religion under 45 years of age is 38%, compared with all jobs average under 45 years of age of 59%. This is a difference of 21%.

With an aging workforce of some 22,500, many ministers of religion will be retiring over the next 20 years. It is possible that there could be a shortage of up to 14,000 ministers of religion across Australia!

What are some of the structural reasons for this?


Many ministers do not commence working in a church fresh out of school. For most it is a second vocation/calling as they discern their own giftings, and as they experience God's call on their lives (often through a church community). Indeed many would posit that having some life and workplace experince can be helpful for a pastoral leader. This means that ministers are often older when they commence such work.


Not only has church attendance in Australia declined (and I should note this is not the same as religious affiliation, but it mirrors it), but this has partivcularly been among those who are younger:

How likely a person was to identify as religious in 2016 had a lot to do with their age. Young adults aged 18-34 were more likely to be affiliated with religions other than Christianity (12 per cent) and to report not having a religion (39 per cent) than other adult age groups. Older age groups, particularly those aged 65 years and over, were more likely to report Christianity.

Naturally this will be reflected in those being called into ministry; if a young person has not made a vital faith commitment and is beginning to serve and discern their gifts and strengths, it is less likely they will enter vocational Christian ministry, especially at a younger age.


Pastoral ministry is a highly skilled and complex vocation. However if the estimates of current generations having 5-7 careers before they retire are correct [Uni Qld], the educational expectations represent a considerable barrier to entry, with 40% of current ministers of religion having a bachelor degree and 29% having post-graduate qualifications.

While there are some ministerial intership programs, I have not seen evidence of their retention rates in long term pastoral ministry. So this presents a quandary - how do we provide other educationally scaffolded pathways into pastoral ministry, while still ensuring that the skill base is sufficient for competent practice?

Is there a looming crisis in pastoral ministry? Probably. It is often a second vocation for those with other workforce experience. However the poor engagement of younger people in faith and church life limits the drawing pool of future ministers and should disturb any complacency about the status quo - churches should be turning themselves inside out to pass the baton of faith onto the next generation. The educational barriers to entry, particularly if this will not be a career for life, are a puzzle that needs solving, and may possibly result in different ways of serving.

What do you think? I'd love to know your opinions on this.

Coming up I will explore some of the other reasons why this looming crisis is happening.


© 2024 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Rev Dr Ian Duncum is a trained and accredited (with John Mark Ministries) church consultant with over 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has also included denominational leadership in church health and development and church research in the tertiary education sector. An accredited minister with a track record of growing churches, Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and mentors/supervises pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted at or

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Mar 10
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This is fascinating Ian - thank you for addressing this issue! As someone engaged in leadership development in the church i can tell you - there is a definite thinning out in the leadership pipeline. One of the shifts we need to address is that a new generation of leaders have a new way of leading and a new landscape to lead the church in. Gen Z leaders are wired differently, they are entrepreneurial in their approach, they want to do things differently and what I'm seeing is the generation leaving ministry (after many years of faithful service) struggling to hand the keys to these "risk takers" How do we fill this gap? and what can we learn from past…

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Hi Cath

Thanks for your kind comments. Sorry for the slow reply. I think the need of the hour is for entrepreneurial younger leader-pastors. The only question I have is whether the existing wineskins will be able to attract and keep them. Specifically, that both churches and denominations will give them the freedom to lead. This has been a long standing problem with entrepreneurs, questioners and evangelists working for para-church agencies because they are more focussed on misssion than churches typically are. I am actually having lots of conversations around evangelism, and I would like to draw a distinction between trying things in evangelism and structuring a church for long term relational evangelism, which I consider is the appropriate shape…


Mar 07
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

There is not only a decrease in the number of ministers, but also of members of congregations. The result of this is that a minister cannot support a family on the small salary and lesser benefits that many congregations are able to offer. Solutions such as two-career ministers and congregations sharing a minister do not work as well, because the individual cannot devote himself/herself to the full needs of one congregation. The reality is that there are fewer ministers because fewer people need them. Even the megachurches are shrinking and closing down locations. Consolidating and closing churches is the unavoidable future for all denominations. Every imaginable form of outreach and evangelization has been tried, and the reality is that faith…

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Thanks for your kind comments. Sorry for the slow reply. Yes I agree that we will see a sifting and consolidation of churches but I think multisite will become a more common expression of church, with staff shared across sites. The difficulty with mergers in the past has been that it hasnt adddressed the question of vitality - only a healthy, vital church can bring that to a stuck or declining church.

I think we need to have a larger conversation around where Australians are at spiritually (I look at this in some other recent blogs). The 2016 SEIROS survey indicated that almost half (49%) never attended at all, and 30 per cent were attending less than once a…

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