The Truth About Pulpit Ministry

For American Churches of Christ, 46% of the members are members of the roughly 1500 congregations of 200 or more, while the other 54% belong to the other 10,600 congregations. About 1/4 of us are in congregations of 400 or more.

To assess what that means for aspiring ministers, let’s make the following assumptions:

  • The average preacher will work with 8 different congregations during his career.
  • The top 10% of preachers (talent-wise) will rotate through the top 5% of congregations (membership-wise), leaving the other 95% of the pulpits to be filled by the rest of us.
  • The pool of aspiring pulpit preachers is randomly distributed throughout the brotherhood.
  • The pool of available pulpits is randomly distributed. (Probably not true. I suspect an inverse correlation between congregation size and pulpit turnover, but since I don’t have enough hard data to adjust properly, we’ll go with what we have.)

If these assumptions are valid, this means that:

  • 48% of career pulpit preachers will NEVER preach full-time for a congregation with more than 200 members, and another 31% will only do so once.
  • At least 25% of the pool of future preachers are, right now, members of a congregation that is larger than the largest church they will ever preach for.
  • 24% of church members will never hear a preacher outside the top 10% of the talent pool on a regular basis.

Anybody planning to make a career out of pulpit ministry, especially in churches of Christ, would be well advised to think seriously about these realities. One mentor advised me back in the day, “If you could ever imagine yourself ever doing anything else besides preaching — ever — go do that.”

I also hope that those tasked with training our future preachers will take these numbers to heart as they decide how best to prepare our young men for this kind of career.

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