Retirement planning and its impact on your church’s future

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

Recently, I went to a home improvement retail store and was greeted warmly by an employee who, in my estimation, couldn’t have been younger than 70. I told him I came to buy a water dispenser.

He said he knew exactly where to find it and motioned me to follow him. But, because he couldn’t walk fast enough, he instructed me to go ahead and promised that he’d be just right behind me.
When I finally found the water dispenser, he was nowhere in sight, so I asked another employee to help me plop the heavy item into my shopping cart.

I drove home feeling sad for the old man. I don’t think stocking shelves, mopping floors and answering customers’ questions were his idea of golden years.


Then, as a pastor’s wife, I thought about the hundreds of baby boomer pastors who might be heading in the same direction — needing to work past retirement, at a time when they could no longer effectively meet the demands of ministry. According to a recent Barna research, the median age of mainline senior pastors in the U.S. is 55, and an unusually high number of boomer pastors have no plans of retiring in their mid-‘60s.

According to Jim Cook, national outreach manager for the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board (MMBB), approximately 60 percent of the ordained ministers who are active participants in MMBB’s retirement plans are age 55 or older.

Cook helped me realize the impact of retirement planning on the future of a church. He says when pastors and their churches properly plan this milestone, it leads to an orderly transition to the next generation. However, when churches are ill-prepared for this event, it could mean that aging pastors would be staying at the job longer (when their capacity is diminished), or congregations would have to find ways to support retired pastors who don’t have the means to fully support themselves.

In many large congregations, often the issue is designing a plan to benefit the entire staff, not only the senior pastor. Offering some level of benefits to as many staff as possible is a good business practice, says Cook, because it can be a competitive advantage in hiring certain classes of workers. It can also give employees the freedom to make intelligent decisions about the continuation of their ministry, he adds.

“When a church has a thoughtful and caring approach to salary and benefits that’s grounded in a model of biblical stewardship, it really can help in hiring the best staff, retaining them and enabling them to transition into retirement at an appropriate time for themselves and the congregation, and for all the right reasons,” says Cook.

Mark Simmons, business manager at Christ Community Church of Milpitas, says it’s the moral obligation that drives most congregations to provide retirement benefits to their full-time staff. “No congregation with a heart would feel right having a pastor [or staff] faithfully serve for 20 to 30 years and reach retirement age with NO retirement contribution by the church.”

In the end, I believe it all boils down to good stewardship of your church’s greatest resource — your people.


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