March 4, 2005 Volume 18, Number 24
Study predicts critical clergy shortage
By Dave Chell | Special to ChristianWeek
WINNIPEG, MBA Canadian denomination is taking steps toward solving the problem of a rapidly dwindling clergy roster.
The "Millennium Study of Leadership Needs," is a newly completed two-year project headed by Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) pastor and sociologist Kenneth C. Kuhn and funded by a grant from Lutheran Life Insurance.
Among many other significant findings, the study estimates that 398 ELCIC pastors will reach retirement age in the next 25 years and perhaps another 175 will leave the ordained roster due to vocational change, burnout, migration or death.
Subsequently, "the number of candidates for ministry at current rates will be substantially insufficient to meet future needs," says Kuhn. "While 20-25 new pastors are needed each year, [the ELCIC's] two seminaries currently graduate only 13-15 graduates annually…We will require a 62 per cent increase in candidates for the ordained ministry to meet the church's future needs."
The number of ordained pastors increased after the merger that formed the ELCIC in 1985 to 868 by 2003.
However, a substantially larger proportion is now retired, leaving far fewer serving in active ministry: 404 serving actual congregations, and 129 in special ministries, such as chaplaincies and teaching. The average age of those in active ministry is 51, as many of those entered the ministry during the baby-boom era.
Canada's social context is also having an impact, says Kuhn.
"An increasing number of Canadians today are claiming no religion or are of non-Christian faith. The Canadian population is also aging, with a number of birth cohorts that affect the church: seniors, baby boomers, Generation X and now, the boomer echo group. People are living longer, families are generally much smaller, fertility rates in our nation continue to decline."
Many churches, including those within the ELCIC, are losing congregations due to migration of members to cities, fewer babies brought for infant baptisms and the inability of smaller congregations to suppport full-time pastors.
"Statistics Canada reports that census Lutherans…have declined as a percentage of the national population, from 3.3 per cent in 1971 to 2.4 per cent in 1991, to two per cent in 2001," says Kuhn. "This trend can be expected to continue in the future.
"Since the merger that formed the ELCIC in 1985, the number of congregations has declined from 648 to 627, a drop of 3.2 per cent, primarily because of internal migration of people from rural areas to the cities. If this rate of loss continues, the ELCIC will have only 605 congregations in 25 years."
Addressing the clergy shortage issue will have to come from the laity, Kuhn maintains.
"It will take a mammoth effort," he says, "starting at the grassroots, at the congregational level, to begin identifying future candidates from within for possible ordination."
Part of that process includes the "It's Your Call" event, this year held January 16. The church-wide initiative encourages ELCIC members to consider pastoral or diaconal ministry in the church.
An ELCIC press release calls the event "a first step in a process of encouraging and enlisting professional church leaders." On "It's Your Call" Sunday, each member of the church is invited to fill out a form nominating a potential candidate for ordained or diaconal ministry. The pastor informs the nominees and if they are willing, interviews them to ascertain their readiness for ministry. The names of those indicating interest are forwarded to the synod office for follow up by the bishop and the Committee for Theological Education and Leadership.
A similar event held by the ELCIC's Eastern Synod in 2004 identified 69 potential candidates for ministry.
Kuhn says now is an opportune time to enlist new church leaders. Children of the baby boomers, the so-called "baby boomer echo" represent another population bulge. "These young people…represent perhaps a last chance for some time to flesh out the numbers of candidates for future ministry.
"New, cooperative models for educating and training are needed" to encourage new candidates for ministry, he adds, "not only for seminariansbut also refresher courses for veterans and ongoing training for 'first call' pastors."
Dave Chell attends St. Stephen and St. Bede's, a joint Lutheran and Anglican parish in Winnipeg, and is an ELCIC Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod-endorsed candidate for ministry.