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altSeptember 14, 2009 – After decades of no growth in the ranks of female senior pastors serving in Protestant churches, a new Barna study that has tracked the ratio of male-to-female pastors indicates that women have made substantial gains in the past ten years.

From the early 1990s through 1999 just 5% of the Senior Pastors of Protestant churches were female. Since that time the proportion has slowly but steadily risen, doubling to 10% in 2009.

Not surprisingly, a large share of the woman in the pastorate – 58% – are affiliated with a “mainline” church – i.e., a congregation that is aligned with denominations such as American Baptist Churches (ABCUSA), United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), United Methodist or Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), abbreviated PC(USA). Among male pastors, less than half that percentage (23%) is affiliated with a mainline ministry.

Other Pastoral Characteristics 

The survey also revealed that the median age of female pastors has risen during the last ten years, from 50 years of age to the current median of 55. In contrast, the median age of male senior pastors has also risen, from 48 to 52.

Women in the pulpit are generally more highly educated than are their male counterparts. Currently, more than three-quarters of female pastors (77%) have a seminary degree. Among male pastors less than two-thirds (63%) can make that same claim.

Despite their higher educational attainment, though, female pastors typically have smaller compensation levels than do male pastors. The average package for female pastors in 2009 is $45,300. The median compensation for male pastors is $48,600. As striking as the gap may be, it has diminished somewhat over the last ten years. The Barna study noted that while male pastors have experienced a substantial increase in compensation packages since 1999 – up 21% - female pastors received an even greater jump, growing by 30%. In other words, the difference in compensation has been cut by more than half, from $6,900 per year to about $3,300 annually.

One of the reasons for the discrepancy in pay rates between male and female pastors is the size of the congregations they lead. Male pastors lead congregations that average 103 adults in attendance on a typical weekend compared to 81 adults at churches led by female pastors.

Protestant Church Attendance Decreases

The Barna Group has tracked church size in its annual PastorPollSM surveys. In 1999, the median number of adults attending Protestant church services during a typical weekend was 108. In 2009, that average had dropped to 101. Some of that decline is attributable to the increase in the numbers of adults attending other forms of church (such as house churches) as well as a declining percentage of young adults who regularly attend Protestant church services.

About the Research 

This report is based upon annual tracking surveys conducted via telephone by The Barna Group among representative random sample of Protestant churches (known as the PastorPollSM). At each of the churches contacted, the Senior Pastor was interviewed. The sample was balanced according to the denominational distribution of Protestant churches in the 48 continental states. The sample size for the 1999 survey was 604 pastors, and 603 pastors for the 2009 study. The range of sampling error associated with each sample of pastors is between ±1.8 and ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. These allowances do not include other types of error (known as non-sampling error) that can occur in surveys, such as errors arising from question wording, question sequencing, and the inaccurate recording of responses.


The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.

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