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Millennium Study of Leadership Needs

Summary of Findings and Interim Recommendations

The purpose of this study is to ascertain the future leadership needs of the ELCIC. The study has gathered and analysed current information to estimate the number of pastors and other professional leaders this church will require in the next quarter century. Dr. Kenneth C. Kuhn, ELCIC pastor and sociologist, is conducting this two-year study, which will conclude March 31, 2005. The study has been financed by a generous grant from Lutheran Life.

Social Context

The first phase of the study explores the social context of the church’s life. A consumer-oriented secularism dominates Canadian society, which presents a challenging context for ministry in the 21st century.

  • The international and national context for ministry is shaped by dramatic forces of globalization, urbanization, secularism, fundamentalisms, feminism, and rapid communication.
  • The church exists in a context that is not that supportive of religious participation. An increasing number of Canadians are claiming no religion or are of non-Christian faith.
  • Demographically there is a global process of depopulation in which there is movement from rural to urban areas, and migration from areas of high birth rates to areas of low birth rates.
  • The population of Canada has been increasing at a rate of about 1 per cent per year in recent years, and currently stands at 31,000,000.
  • The Lutheran church has historically gained membership through natural increase and immigration. Currently birth rates are relatively low, and immigration has shifted from Northern Europe, which has a large number of Lutheran Christians, to Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, that have fewer persons of Lutheran background. Thus traditional sources of denominational growth are not as strong as they once were.
  • Statistics Canada indicates that the number of census Lutherans has been declining as a proportion of the population: from 3.3 per cent in 1971, to 2.4 per cent in 1991, to 2 per cent in 2001. In 2001, 606,590 persons identified themselves as Lutheran. Only a segment of those claiming to be Lutheran in census reports are on the rolls of our Lutheran denominations.
  • The Canadian population is aging, with a number of waves of birth cohorts that affect the church: seniors, baby boomers, Generation X, and boomer-echo groups.
  • Belief in God and interest in spirituality continues, and, according to Reginald Bibby, there are some signs of rebirth among the Canadian churches. Ministering to the needs of those who identify themselves as Lutheran is a key for future re-vitalization.

Trends in our Church

In the second phase of the study, the yearbooks and the Human Relations file of the ELCIC were examined. Between the organization of the ELCIC in 1985, to the launching of this study on March 31, 2003, the following trends have been identified:

  • Confirmed membership in Lutheran churches in Canada increased from 121,000 in 1951 peaking to 218,000 in 1981, but has subsequently declined to 208,000 in 1991.
  • The baptized membership of the ELCIC has declined from 210,390 in 1986 to 182,077 in 2002, a decline of 13.5 per cent.
  • The number of ELCIC congregations has also declined from 648 to 627 in this same period, a decline of 3.2 per cent.
  • Loss of membership and congregations has been most acute in the province of Saskatchewan. Rural and smaller congregations are experiencing increased difficulties finding pastoral leadership.
  • The average size of congregations has decreased from 325 baptized members in 1986 to 290 in 2002.
  • The organization of new congregations in the ELCIC has dropped from six per year between 1986-1992, to only about one per year 1993-2002.
  • The number of ordained pastors has increased over the years, but fewer pastors are in active ministry in congregations and other ministries.
  • At the end of March, 2003, there were 868 pastors on the roster of ordained ministers. Of these, 288 are retired, and 46 disabled, on leave from call or temporarily on leave, leaving 533 on the active roster: 404 in congregational ministries, and 129 in special ministries.
  • Those on the clergy roster are middle-aged. The average age of those in active ministry is 51, the median 50. Half of those in active ministry will reach retirement age in the next fifteen years.
  • An increasing proportion of those on the roster of ordained pastors is female; 13 percent of the total roster, about 20 per cent of those who are active, and close to 50 per cent of the newly ordained.
  • The average age of those being ordained has been increasing steadily from 28 years of age for those ordained in the 1960s to 39 years of age in the 2000s.
  • Though female candidates for ministry tend to be ordained at an older age than male clergy, the average age of women on the roster is younger than that of men.
  • While the ELCIC has developed a lay diaconal order of ministry, only 19-20 are currently serving in this role.
  • The number of pastors who have retired has increased markedly, and will continue to increase in the future as those in the baby boom generation reach retirement age beginning in 2012.
  • A proportion of those on the roster leave the ministry due to death, transfer to the United States or other places, resignation, or removal by synodical action.
  • Based upon historic patterns, the number of seminary graduates and ordinations in future years is not likely to keep pace with the numbers who will be retiring, or leaving the active roster for other reasons.

Future Leadership Needs

In the third phase of the study projections are made of future pastoral needs. Focus groups of congregational and other church leaders were tapped for their observations, as well as estimating future patterns on the basis of historic trends. The study concludes that, given historic and current patterns of recruitment and loss from the roster of ordained ministers, there will be a substantial shortage of pastors to meet future needs.

  • Currently the ELCIC has 627 parishes served by 404 parish pastors and serviced by 129 in special ministries, that is chaplains, teachers and professors, missionaries, national and synodical staff, etc.
  • The Canadian population experienced the baby boom between 1947 and 1966 and the baby boom echo between 1980-1995. The baby boom period yielded an increase in membership and candidates for ministry which peaked in the 1980s. Since that time net membership has tended to decline. The number of infant baptisms levelled off at about 4000 per year in the 1980s, but has subsequently fallen to about 2000 per year in more recent years. The baby boom echo generation are now in their high school and university years and are swelling ELCIC youth and campus ministries, constituting a vital pool of potential candidates for church vocations.
  • Although the Canadian population will continue to increase slowly in the future, no increase in the number of congregations in the ELCIC or baptized membership can be expected from net natural increase.
  • While Canada has a good number of immigrants, in recent years immigration tends to be drawn from geographical areas where there are few Lutherans, thus immigration will contribute only minimally to new membership growth.
  • The organization of new mission congregations in areas of new growth is likely to be offset by the loss of congregations in the rural and inner city areas.
  • Reginald Bibby predicts that the number of Lutherans attending church regularly will decline from 80 thousand in 1991 to 50 thousand in 2015.
  • In the future, then, barring a significant change in ELCIC policies and allocation of resources, it can expected that the number of congregations will continue to decline. A conservative estimate might be the loss of about 3 per cent in the number of congregations in the next 20-25 years, similar to that experienced since the ELCIC merger. If this pattern continues the number of congregations will decline from 627 at present to 605 in 2025.
  • In this period, 398 pastors currently active will reach retirement age, and perhaps another 163-174 leave the roster, for a combined loss of between 561-572 pastors
  • Between the years 2002 and 2025, this study estimates that between 542 and 602 new pastors will be needed in the ELCIC to meet projected needs and to replace the anticipated losses due to retirement, death and for other reasons.
  • The need for new pastors will tend to increase incrementally in the next quarter century, from 100 in each of the five-year periods 2005-2009 and 2010-2019 (20 per year), increasing to 147 between 2020 and 2025 (25 per year).
  • Graduations from our Waterloo and Saskatoon seminaries have averaged 15 each year in the last ten years, declining slightly in more recent years.
  • Perhaps 354 newly ordained would be supplied given recent historic patterns of seminary graduations and ordinations, about 62 per cent of the need, leaving a critical need to recruit between 188 to 244 additional new pastors, a 62 percent increase in recruitment.

These findings demonstrate that the need for additional pastors and other rostered leaders is already upon us. The problem will certainly exacerbate as the baby boomers reach retirement age beginning in 2012. The problem will then escalate exponentially. Now is the time for action. There is already a shortage of pastoral leadership. It takes eight years of education for candidates to prepare for entrance into the ministry and ordination. Who might these candidates be? And how will they be recruited?

Future Actions

The ELCIC has already started to address this crisis of leadership. A task force on recruitment prepared a report a number of years ago, which unfortunately was not acted upon aggressively. A focus on vocation at the 2005 youth gathering was one of the positive outcomes of this report. Recently, the Eastern Synod developed It’s Your Call, a strategy to increase the number of candidates for ministry. A synod task force also recommended that continuing education programs be intensified for pastors and lay leaders. The ELCA also launched a coordinated church-wide program to address leadership needs which might serve as a model for our church. The large pool of retired clergy is filling many gaps as supply, interim or part-time pastors. The full communion relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada has also fostered an increased potential for shared ministries.

The Auburn Theological Seminary, New York, conducted a comprehensive survey of theological students. This study found that:

  • enrollments in theological schools have declined,
  • there has been an increased number of “second career” students,
  • congregational life is as important a nurturing ground as is university education,
  • students are most likely to apply to only their seminary of choice,
  • selection criteria are less rigorous than for other professions such as medicine and law
  • many students do not have pre-seminary preparation in history, philosophy, languages and religion that is desirable for candidates for ministry
  • older candidates consider themselves more able to deal with the interpersonal realities of parish ministry than are younger candidates.

This study makes a number of recommendations to increase the number of candidates for ministry, and the quality of candidates:

  1. Recruit more recent college graduates, including early identification of promising candidates and providing financial incentives.
  2. Offer special support to very able older students.
  3. Support collaborative recruitment strategies between denominational organizations and the seminaries.
  4. Encourage greater respect for the profession of ministry by increasing compensation and other means.
  5. Raise entrance and completion standards for seminary education.

It would appear that a general survey of those on the ELCIC roster would be helpful to provide a better understanding of the situation of our pastors. This survey might include questions about:

  • the factors that have motivated and encouraged our pastors to enter the ministry;
  • the social characteristics of our pastors which have affected entering the ministry,
  • the degree and sources of satisfaction experienced by those in ministry.
  • the well-being of our pastors who often face heavy and difficult workloads,
  • the opinions of our pastors about career development and movement in the church.
  • the role of retired pastors in filling leadership needs.

The millennium study hopes to conduct such a survey, which will place us in a better position to consult with partners and develop strategies for leadership development in this church for the future.

Research is also needed to explore the current roles of those serving as diaconal ministers, and what actions might enhance the participation of diaconal ministers in meeting the needs for future leadership.

Interviews of endorsed candidates for ministry are also planned which might give a better understanding of the supports that might facilitate church vocations.

Strategic Directions For Future Leadership Development

While the study of leadership needs continues, the following six strategic directions have been submitted as interim recommendations for consideration.

  • Communicating the Need for Future Leaders
  • Enlisting and Supporting New Candidates for Ministry
  • Equipping and Sustaining those in Ministry
  • Coordinating Recruitment Initiatives
  • Improving Accessibility to Theological Education
  • Exploring Alternative Forms of Ministry

The It’s Your Call emphasis is one of the first responses to the leadership crisis facing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Working together, we pray that the Lord will provide committed and equipped workers for the harvest.

Dr. Kenneth C. Kuhn
Millennium Study of Leadership Needs
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

In full communion with The Anglican Church of Canada
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