Friday, November 30, 2007

Youth Exodus

There has been a 20-year decline in the number of clergy under the age of 35, especially among mainline denominations. But this is only the beginning. The baby boomers are preparing to retire and the sad truth is: there are fewer and fewer people to replace them.

The (American) United Methodist Church recently completed a survey that shows the average age of its ministers to be 51, and only 5% of their ministers are under 35. In the study released this year*, a similar pattern is seen in other denominational churches: the Roman Catholic Church shows only 3.1% of its minister under the age of 35; the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are at 4% and the American Baptists at 5%.

While the Association of Theological Schools (the accrediting agency for all North American Seminaries) shows that seminary student numbers are up nearly 22 percent from previous years, only 55% of these ageing graduates plan to take on traditional ministrial roles. Which means that by the year 2012 there will be nearly 5 times as many members of the clergy retiring as there are people to fill those positions today.

I have no figures for the mainline denominations in South Africa, and wondered if anyone cares to offer comment? Anectotal evidence suggests that while there are some young South Africans in training for mainline denominational Christian ministry, most of them are from rural areas. The street-wise city youth are generally absent from formal ministerial training.

I am curious about the following: are young church leaders moving to emerging churches? or to fundamentalist charismatic churches? or are young people simply abandoning organised Christian religion?

* by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary


Anonymous said...

At our annual Conference this year, I was the only clergy person 25 or under. :) I hope we can get some more young clergy, preferably before I get old. It's lonely!

Steve Hayes said...

I don't know that count as "mainline denominational" churches in South Africa, but in 1971 Trevor Verryn published a study of Anglican clergy, called The vanishing clergyman. The following year ther charismatic renewal movement took off, and Verryn's book enjoyed instant obsolescence as Anglican theological colleges were bursting at the seams, and had to expand their buildings though one of them was forced into a nomad existence by the expropriation of the Federal Seminary in Alice.

It seems these things go in cycles.

Incidentally, I'm doing research into the "charismatic renewal movement" and have found very few Methodists or Presbyterians willing to help. If any are, see more at Notes from underground: Research: charismatic renewal movement in South Africa

Bridget said...

Hi pete
The only plus side to this that I can see is that we have people, such as those of us on NEOC, who are entering ministry with a bit more life experience behind us...
Having been on the receiving end of well-meaning but naive young RC clergymen, maybe this is not such a bad thing!
We do have lots of young people attending MCCs, certainly in the ones I've been to, and I'm working with a 25 year old who will, I believe, end up in minstry, but then, we're hardly mainstream!!

Paddy said...

The Church of England is witnessing something of a revival when it comes to young people putting themselves forward for ministry - and fortunately not just in the more fundamental wing. A recent survey showed almost a third of those in training were under 30.

The merchants of gloom, certainly over here, are beginning to eye up condiments to help make their hats more edible!