A survey of American pastors finds that the cultural shift to a secular age is a major hindrance for those who are called to deliver the good news of the gospel.
With a new decade underway, Barna Group conducted a study across America revealing the greatest concerns Protestant pastors have when facing the issues pressing today's Church. According to that study, major concerns for those church leaders include passing on the faith to the next generation, finding young pastors to carry that message to a secularized society, and battling political correctness when addressing social issues from the pulpit.
Passing on the faith
"[H]alf of Protestant pastors note that 'reaching a younger audience' (51%) is a major issue for their ministry," the Barna Group revealed from its latest study. "Just over one-third of pastors (34%) marks this statement as a top-three concern for their church, with 12% noting it as the top concern."
An unwillingness to spread the Word is another chief concern.
"Half of pastors also agree that 'declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism' is a major issue facing their local church (50%)," the study divulged. "Of all the pastors who affirm this statement, exactly two in five (40%) say it falls within their top three concerns, with 14% agreeing it is their largest concern."
In addition, "low spiritual maturity among churchgoers" is a much more serious dilemma today, with 8% of pastors reporting it as a problem in 1992, compared to 27% in 2017, with evangelism more increasingly taking a back seat in believers' lives – even among young adults.
"Overall, more than one in three pastors (36%) notes that 'declining or inconsistent volunteering' is an issue facing their ministry today, with about one-quarter (23%) saying it's one of their top three problems," Barna informed. "Similar proportions express worry in regard to 'stagnating spiritual growth,' while 34 percent of pastors label this a major concern for the local church, 24% rank it as one of their top-three concerns."
Anti-Christian mindset creeping in
When Protestant pastors were asked by Barna Group to rate today's biggest issues facing the Christian Church in America at large, obstacles due to the secularization of society topped the list:
- Watered-down gospel teachings: 72%
- Culture's shift to a secular age: 68%
- Poor discipleship models: 63%
- Addressing complex social issues with biblical integrity: 58%
- Prosperity gospel teachings: 56%
- Reaching a younger audience: 56%
- Political polarization in the country: 51%
- Negative perceptions of the Church: 46%
- Diminished influence of churches in the community: 45%
- Church leader burnout/exhaustion: 40%
- Changing attitudes toward evangelism: 38%
- Hostile culture towards Christianity: 36%
- Addressing scandals in the Church/Church abuse crises: 35%
- A lack of inter-generational relationships within the Church: 35%
- The Church's role in marriage: 33%
- Increased influence of media: 25%
- Religious liberty/freedom: 23%
- Women's roles in the Church: 23%
- Diminished influence of pastors in the community: 20%
- Celebrity pastors pulling people away from the local church: 19%
- Challenges to the traditional church model (house/online churches): 11%
- Keeping up with the latest digital and technological trends: 7%
Wanted: Young pastors who will lead
Finding young men to lead churches has become harder than ever, the pastors indicated.
"One in four U.S. pastors (23%) selects 'lack of leadership training and development' as a major concern facing their church today," Barna researchers noted. "[A]s of 2017, only 15% of senior pastors were 40 years old or younger, echoing the need for younger pastors in ministry, [while] seven in 10 U.S. pastors agree 'it is becoming harder to find mature young Christians who want to become pastors' (69%)."
The younger and less-experienced the pastors, the less they see secular humanism (see sidebar) as an obstacle for their ministries.
Taking PC head-on
Yet large proportions of pastors see political correctness – pushing immoral behaviors via schools, the media, and entertainment industry to reflect cultural trends, shifts, and movements – as adding to their apprehension and discomfort when addressing social issues during sermons.
"Exactly half of clergy reported frequently (11%) and occasionally (39%) feeling limited in their ability to speak out on moral issues because people will take offense, [while] another 40 percent said they frequently (6%) or occasionally (34%) feel pressure to speak out on moral and social issues that they're not comfortable discussing," the study indicates.
"Some of the issues Barna asked pastors about included homosexuality/LGBTQ+ (44% limited; 37% pressured), same-sex marriage/legalizing gay rights (22% limited; 32% pressured) and abortion/pro-life issues (18% limited; 17% pressured), among others."