Church Trends and Statistics

Age and generosity

A report by Barna in partnership with Thrivent, entitled “The Generosity Gap,” studied how differences in giving may be attributed to being a part of different generational groups.

There are differences in what people perceive as an act of generosity. When American Christians were asked what their concept of “giving to others” was, the most popular responses were “service” (32%) and “emotional/relational support” (30%). Other responses include “giving money” (22%), “hospitality” (12%), and “gifts” (5%). Barna made the surprising finding of “giving money” as third on the list — this means that one-fifth of adults consider it their top expression of “giving to others.”

Generational gaps are apparent. Millennials tend to favor hospitality (21%) as opposed to giving money (13%). The norm for all Christians for giving money is 22%, while hospitality for all Christians is 12%. The values are flipped. Differing even further were Elders, who associated “service” with generosity at 52% (to the 32% norm for American Christians). Less than 1% of elders chose “hospitality” as their means of expressing an act of generosity.

There is a correlation between what people think of as their ideal of generosity and how they choose to express their own generosity. If people believe that serving is the best way to display generosity, they will give through acts of service. Offering relational support, serving, and volunteering were the most common ways to show generosity for all ages, but the rates for each age group are different. This can be attributed to likely time and finances; some Elders are likely retired, and therefore, have more free time. This is reflected in the finding that elders tend to volunteer and provide service at the highest rates. Millennials, who likely have fewer financial resources, reported the lowest rate of monetary giving.

Data collected on giving donations shows that 84% of Millennials reported donating less than $50 in the past year, as opposed to Elders, who donated $50 or less at 37%. Data gathered by Barna from 2013 to 2016 states that Christians reported giving $1,400 a year on average, which represents 3% to 4% of their disposable income (based on average U.S. income of $39,424). When asked “What would you consider to be the ultimate financial goal in life?”, the response “to serve God with my money” was chosen by only 1 in 10 Christians. Elders are twice as likely to identify this as a priority in their finances. “Providing for my family” was No. 1 for all Christians at 22%. Millennials chose this answer at a rate of 31% — most likely because this group is beginning to start their families, or contemplating it.

Education and religion

Pew Research center conducted a survey to show the relationship between religion and education in the United States. Specifically, the study aimed to examine whether there is a correlation between those who have more education and being less religious. Seventy-one percent of American adults identify as Christians. The findings show that, on average, Christians who possess higher levels of education are just as religious as those with lower levels. They are actually more likely to be weekly churchgoers.

Overall, however, the correlation between more education and less religion did seem to hold true. Forty-six percent of college graduates say religion is “very important,” while 58% of those with a high school diploma agreed. Thirty-six percent of Americans who are college graduates attend their house of worship weekly, however, which is nearly the same as those with just some college education (34%) and those with a high school diploma or less (37%). And while college graduates are less likely to identify as Christians, at 64% (compared to 75% of those with a high school degree or less), overall, they are not less likely than others to identify with a religion.) Seventy-six percent of those who hold a college degree are affiliated with a religion (this includes all faiths), and 78% of those who have a high school diploma or less identify with a religion.

The numbers related to religious commitment for American Christians with college degrees are nearly the same (70%) for those who hold a high school diploma or less (71%) or some college education (73%). A high level of religious commitment was measured by worship attendance, frequency of prayer, belief in God, and the importance of religion in one’s life.

Pastor Preaching from Pulpit

America’s maturing pastors

Barna, in partnership with Pepperdine University, conducted a study called, “The State of Pastors” that explores the demographics of faith leaders. The study includes answers from 900 Protestant Senior Pastors. In 1992, George Barna examined these same demographics, and the results were published in Today’s Pastors. During this study, 44 was the median age of Protestant clergy, while 33% were 40 and under, 43% were 41 to 55, 18% were 56 to 64, and just 6% were 65 and older. The median age of pastors today is 54. Fifteen percent are 40 and under; 35% are 41 to 55; 33% are 56 to 64; and 17% are 65 and older; the oldest age bracket is now nearly three times what it was in 1992.

Although these findings might indicate differences in the past 20 years, changes have been occurring since the 1960s; in 1968, 55% of Protestant clergy were 45 and under. Today, 22% are under the age of 45. The study attributes these statistics to various factors: longer life expectancy (for men today it is 76 — in 1968, it was 66). What is referred to as “second-career clergy” has increased, with pastors joining the ministry later in their lives, after they have had other careers.

Financial reasons are also a factor. With the recession in 2008 affecting 401(k)s and home values, some senior pastors are working longer, so that they can still receive a paycheck.

However, current pastors say that finding future church leaders is also difficult, at 69%, even when trying hard to do so (69%). This is referred to as the “graying” of America’s clergy.

In addition, fewer young people are going to church, and even “kingdom-minded” youth are being drawn to other vocations, according to Barna. President of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, states that, “The aging of pastors represents a substantial crisis for Protestant churches.” And although the study explores the factors possibly contributing to this, Kinnaman also says, “The kind of social research Barna conducts cannot answer why this shift has occurred,” adding: “It’s not inherently a problem that there are older pastors in positions of leadership. In fact, younger generations are often looking for wisdom and leadership from established teachers and leaders. The problem arises when today’s pastors do not represent a healthy mix of young, middle age and older leaders. For the Christian community to be at its best, it needs intergenerational leaders to move it forward.”

Some solutions Kinnaman points to include: “Creating and demonstrating better cross-generational and cross-functional teams; developing and implementing better succession efforts’ seeing more younger leaders signing on to be spiritual leaders; experiencing more established pastors making space for younger leaders’ creating a broader vision for pastoring to include a renewed vision of the priesthood of all believers; and improving the educational and developmental process to unleash more pastors.”

— Reporting by Joyce Guzowski


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