COVID, political divides, digital era everything, declining church attendance… we could go on. The challenge, and weight, of leading through each of these and so many other issues are weighing heavily on pastors across America, and the churches they are trying to lead. That weight has led to, or at least significantly contributed to, what is now a pastoral crisis facing churches in the United States. Why? Because nearly half of US pastors are considering quitting.
Compounding the issue: we don’t know who’s going to take their place.
This isn’t just hyperbole. Research over the last several years, from pre- and post-COVID quarantines, has been conducted by Barna Group, the leading research organization for subjects related to faith and culture. Barna’s research on pastoral burnout tells us that “the percentage of pastors who say they have gone through a period when they significantly doubted their calling for ministry has more than doubled”. That percentage was 24% in 2015, but last year was up to a frightening 55%. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that a full 42% of pastors have seriously considered leaving ministry altogether. The statistics for younger pastors, under age 45, are all the more concerning with only 35% reporting that they are ‘very satisfied’ with their vocation as a pastor. This means that as older pastors retire early at alarming rates, the number of younger pastors available to take their place is not only dwindling, but those who are left are discontented, potentially emotionally unhealthy, and more likely to exit the ministry early. What’s left are churches across the country that either don’t have a pastor to lead or have a pastor who’s trying to lead from a place of unhealthy. Either way, we’re left with a growing population of churches floundering due to a lack of leadership.
David Kinnaman, Barna CEO, has been quoted as saying “A drop in the level of pastoral health this significant in just 7 years isn’t just unprecedented, it signals a crisis that the church has to address.”
Here at Momentum Ministry Partners, we are deeply concerned about the health of pastors, the health of the local churches we partner with, and all those who are serving the Kingdom in that role. And yet, we believe there is hope.
What to do?
Christ promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). We believe He is still good, and He will fulfill His promise. We still believe He can, and will, use those of us who are willing to faithfully step up to address what can feel like an overwhelming crisis. So, as we take a stark look at the dive in the overall health of pastors, we do not despair. Instead, we choose to set lofty goals, bathed in prayer, to address the crisis. Our God-given goal is to raise up the next generation of healthy ministry leaders. Specifically, we plan to raise over 3,000 pastors and 10,000 missional marketplace leaders in the next 25 years.
This goal is the driving force behind all of Momentum Ministry Partners programs. It is what we think about each time we develop, or revise, a curriculum, speak to potential partners, or meet with young students who are hungry for Jesus (whether they know it or not).
Over the last several years, we’ve taken a hard look at our youth-driven programs to ensure they align with this aim. Here’s how that looks:
An invitation to Momentum Youth Conference: We continue to build on the 50+ year foundation of Momentum Youth Conference, an annual gathering of 2,000+ middle and high school students and one of the top Christian conferences of 2023. During the week there is a focus on introducing students to Jesus and encouraging them to accept His salvation for the first time or step deeper in their faith walk with Him. This youth conference in 2023 is the best opportunity for us to address a large number of students, casting a vision for what they can do now, as well as in the future, to be used by God. We unashamedly invite them to consider if God could be calling them into vocational ministry. Each year we rejoice in the number of students who acknowledge that call on their lives. We have countless stories of pastors who recall the moment they answered that call at Momentum Youth Conference. Many attribute it as the starting point for their pastoral career. Students today face enormous pressure to choose careers earlier and earlier, and while we will not pressure students into ministry, we do want them to prayerfully consider it as a very real option. We want them to know they can hear this from God at this young age. And if they do, we will support them.
A taste of missions at Momentum Urban Centers: Our Urban Centers, located in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, welcome teams from churches and schools for short-term, urban mission trips. Visiting students get deep training on how to make Jesus make sense to others. Teams put these lessons into practice through hands-on ministry, serving the homeless and low-income communities during their trip, but they are also challenged to outline practical steps to apply these lessons after returning home. Through this process, students learn to share the gospel in practical service, how to put that into practice in their own circles, and ultimately, see their own ability to serve the Lord and share the gospel throughout their life.
Missionally-minded young leaders developed in Momentum Travel Teams: We’ve completely revised the curriculum of the program formerly known as Operation Barnabas. Now known as Momentum Travel Teams, this re-designed installment no longer focuses on pulling developed student leaders out of their local church for service projects, but is now aimed at younger students, full of undeveloped leadership potential. When they come on Momentum Travel Teams, these students are intentionally invested in by current ministry leaders during an intense three-week period where they are exposed to multiple ministry environments. This time changes students from a ministry consumers to ministry contributors. They return home with a clear vision of how they can serve their local church right away with a realistic vision of what life in ministry can look like. After tracking students who have participated in this new design, we find nearly all are passionately pursuing Jesus and serving in a greater capacity within their local church. Their youth leaders describe them as the strongest leaders in their youth group. We believe these students will be the vocational and lay leaders of the future church.
Preparation for vocational ministry through Momentum EDU: As students from our programs, and others, consider a future in vocational ministry, we know education can be one of the biggest roadblocks. Obtaining a ministry degree can only be done through private Christian schools at this point in time, and the price tag can be insurmountable for many, especially when a small ministry salary is what awaits them on the other side. Because of this, we partner with Grace College and Grace Church of Greater Akron for the Momentum EDU program to be affordable and uniquely designed to give the best possible preparation for a life of vocational ministry. Students are taught by experienced, current ministry practitioners, and receive intensive hands-on experience through paid internships. As a result, they are able to graduate with a Bachelors and/or a Seminary degree fully accredited by Grace College, and the knowledge and experience to dive into a ministry career. Plus, they can graduate debt-free, giving them the freedom to make ministry choices that are not hindered by the weight of student debt.
Raising up missionally-minded leaders in the marketplace through Momentum Marketplace: We know healthy churches need more than just pastors. They also require healthy elders, deacons and leaders, and marketplace professionals who lend their expertise within their church body. Therefore, we are currently developing the Momentum Marketplace program to raise up the next generation of missional marketplace professionals who lead in their workforce and in the church. In this program, high school juniors and seniors who love Jesus, but wish to pursue non-ministry vocations, are joined by marketplace leaders within their own church to work through a curriculum we have built based on the theology of faith and work, US Dept of Education Career Readiness Skills, and intergenerational mentoring relationships. The program builds in interactive experiences for students, such as shadowing mentors within their workplaces, to give students a view of how they can serve Jesus in their career, no matter where it takes them. The response to the initial 2022 and 2023 pilot programs has been overwhelmingly positive, us moving us toward a 2024 public launch. At that point, churches nationwide will be able to implement their own Momentum Marketplace program, engaging their own marketplace leaders and raising up young leaders for the future of healthy churches.
We are excited to continue to grow the opportunities for students to be introduced to Jesus and help them discern their unique calling in His Kingdom. But we know that raising healthy leaders is only half the battle. Once we raise up pastors, how do we keep them healthy for ongoing leadership in the church?
Keeping healthy leaders healthy in Momentum PRO: Carey Nieuwhof, founding Pastor of Connexcus Church, one of the most influential churches in North America, is a well-known author, speaker, and podcaster who recently published a blog post based on the Barna research titled “5 Shocking Realities About the Real State of Pastoral Burnout.” In the post, Neiuwhof takes stock of the statistics, landing with his final point that “Pastors Don’t Feel Supported.” Barna found only 22% of pastors have any regular support. Neiuwhof, who has publicly shared his own experience with burnout, expresses his concern that ‘most pastors continue to isolate themselves from any real help.’
We want to address this issue of isolation to provide current pastors with the support needed to continue leading, and growing, in healthy ways, providing them with a full network of support for the inevitable challenges of ministry. Therefore, we’ve developed Momentum PRO. One aspect of the program is cohorts for Senior Pastors and Student Ministry Leaders (future cohorts may include other ministry specialties). These cohorts gather twice a year to give pastors an opportunity to build an interconnected support system, mastermind specific challenges with like-minded healthy leaders, interact with guest speakers who hold subject-area expertise, and return home re-invigorated to lead and grow in their church. Between cohorts, not only do participating pastors have a support system with each other, but they have access to expert coaching for themselves, and their teams, to help them navigate growth challenges in their own church.
Building Momentum for the Future
One could hope that as the COVID crisis fades that so will the wake of destruction it brought. And yet, it is becoming abundantly clear that isn’t happening in our culture, or in our churches. In Nieuwhof’s blog he says, “It’s too easy to look at data this stark and conclude that ‘COVID was tough’. A collapse in pastoral health this deep doesn’t happen because of a pandemic (as challenging as that was) … it’s essential to realize this isn’t just a season of ministry.” That’s why the changes we’ve made at Momentum Ministry Partners, aren’t small pivots. They are big, foundational shifts. We’ve made these shifts purposefully, and strategically, to do our part to address the needs of the local church and God’s Kingdom. We’re building on a foundation that has been successfully raising up pastors for generations and we’re doubling down on those foundational pieces that have led to that success while introducing new components to build healthy pastors and lay leaders.
Join us in raising up missional leaders for the future of the church. Make a donation to our organization, or a specific program today. Your gift is an investment in the future of the church.