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Over Half of Christian Ministry Leaders are Over Age 60

As ministry leaders age, succession planning is key

Editor’s Note:  Every quarter, we will survey the senior executive of the 1,000 largest Christian ministries in the nation. This is the third article in our series related to the April survey of ministry executives. The first one regarding revenue expectations can be found here. The second article related to the use of nondisclosure agreements by Christian ministries can be found here.

Christian ministry leaders in America are aging. Most of them are over age 60, according to the MinistryWatch April survey of executives in the top 1,000 Christian ministries in the country.

A whopping 91% of the survey respondents said they were over age 50, with nearly 55% between ages 61 and 70. Only 2.8 % were over 70.

Notably, none of the respondents were between ages 31 and 40.

The same aging trend has been seen among Protestant church pastors. According to a recent article in Christianity Today, just 16% of Protestant senior pastors were 40 years old or younger, with the average age being 52. That average age has risen from 44 about 30 years ago. Furthermore, in the next seven years, one-quarter of pastors hope to retire, according to research by the Barna Group.

With the aging of Christian ministry executives, succession planning is key to an organization’s long-term continuity.

Business consulting network Deloitte calls it the “holy grail” of effective leadership. According to its research, though, only 14% of organizations handle succession planning well.

Succession planning involves creating a talent pipeline by preparing employees to fill vacancies in a ministry as others retire or move on.

In his article about church leadership and succession, Todd Adkins of Pipeline Coaching says a leader is not successful until he can introduce his replacement.

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However, succession planning has its challenges. A ministry whose identity is closely tied to that of its founder faces the difficulty of planning for a modified mission without that leader.

Also, succession planning requires work and talent development by investing time and resources. As that happens, the leader relinquishes authority and transfers responsibilities to his successor.

When a ministry leader is focused on the immediate needs of the organization, it can be challenging to make time to develop and train rising talent to take on more responsibility.

Josh Taylor, president of HopeKids, falls on the younger end of the leader age spectrum at 49. He likely has many years of service ahead, but the group does have a succession plan in place, though with no particular timeline for implementation.

“Our recently created Director of Operations position is the person we have earmarked as a successor,” Taylor told MinistryWatch.

“She is being exposed to all aspects of running HopeKids as part of [her] role as DOO so if/when a transition needs to occur it will be seamless,” he added.

This is the third quarterly survey MinistryWatch sent to the leaders of the country’s largest 1,000 Christian ministries. Of those, 72 responded.

Main photo: Pexels / Creative Commons

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and coaching high school extemporaneous speaking and debate.