US pastors struggle with post-pandemic burnout. Survey shows half considered quitting since 2020

Jan 11, 2024, 6:07 AM

FILE - Congregants sit in largely empty pews during service at Zion Baptist Church, April 16, 2023,...

FILE - Congregants sit in largely empty pews during service at Zion Baptist Church, April 16, 2023, in Columbia, S.C. Post-pandemic burnout is at worrying levels among Christian clergy in the U.S., prompting many to think about abandoning their jobs, according to a new nationwide survey released Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski, File)

(AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski, File)

Post-pandemic burnout is at worrying levels among Christian clergy in the U.S., prompting many to think about abandoning their jobs, according to a new nationwide survey.

More than 4 in 10 of clergy surveyed in fall 2023 had seriously considered leaving their congregations at least once since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, and more than half had thought seriously of leaving the ministry, according to the survey released Thursday by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

About a tenth of clergy report having had these thoughts often, according to the survey, conducted as part of the institute’s research project, Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations.

The high rates of ministers considering quitting reflects the “collective trauma” that both clergy and congregants have experienced since 2020, said institute director Scott Thumma, principal investigator for the project.

“Everybody has experienced grief and trauma and change,” he said. Many clergy members, in open-ended responses to their survey, cited dwindling attendance, declining rates of volunteering and members’ resistance to further change.

“I am exhausted,” said one pastor quoted by the report. “People have moved away from the area and new folks are fewer, and farther, and slower to engage. Our regular volunteers are tired and overwhelmed.”

Some of these struggles are trends that long predated the pandemic. Median in-person attendance has steadily declined since the start of the century, the report said, and with fewer younger participants, the typical age of congregants is rising. After a pandemic-era spike in innovation, congregants are less willing to change, the survey said.

The reasons for clergy burnout are complex, and need to be understood in larger contexts, Thumma said.

“Oftentimes the focus of attention is just on the congregation, when in fact we should also be thinking about these bigger-picture things,” he said. A pastor and congregants, for example, might be frustrated with each other when the larger context is that they’re in a struggling rural town that’s losing population, he said: ”That has an effect on volunteering. It has an effect on aging. It has an effect on what kind of possibility you have to grow.”

About a third of clergy respondents were considering both leaving their congregation and the ministry altogether, with nearly another third considering one or the other.

Most clergy reported conflict in their congregations, but those considering leaving their churches reported it at even higher levels and also were less likely to feel close to their congregants.

Those thinking of quitting the ministry entirely were more likely to be pastors of smaller churches and those who work solo, compared with those on larger staffs and at larger churches.

Mainline Protestant clergy were the most likely to think of quitting, followed by evangelical Protestants, while Catholic and Orthodox priests were the least likely to consider leaving.

The percentages of clergy having thoughts of quitting are higher than in two previous surveys conducted by the institute in 2021 and spring 2023, though it’s difficult to directly compare those numbers because the earlier surveys were measuring shorter time periods since 2020.

The news isn’t all grim. Most clergy report good mental and physical health — though somewhat less so if they’re thinking of leaving their congregations or ministry — and clergy were more likely to have increased than decreased various spiritual practices since the pandemic began.

The results are based on a survey in the fall of 2023 of about 1,700 Christian clergy members from more than 40 denominations, including Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox bodies.

The survey echoes similar post-pandemic research. A 2023 Pew Research Center found a decrease in those who reported at least monthly in-person worship attendance, with Black Protestant churches affected the most.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

United States News

Associated Press

Body parts of 2 people found in Long Island park and police are trying to identify them

BABYLON, N.Y. (AP) — Police on New York’s Long Island were trying to identify human remains found in a popular suburban park that appear to be from a man and a woman. A girl walking to school Thursday morning found a severed arm on the side of the road at Southards Pond Park, about 25 […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Train derailment leaves cars on riverbank or in water; no injuries, hazardous materials reported

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Authorities say a train derailment in eastern Pennsylvania has left some railroad cars along a riverbank Saturday morning and at least one partially in the river itself. Dispatchers in Northampton County said the derailment was reported at 7:14 a.m. in Lower Saucon Township. Authorities said it was unclear how many cars […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

An arrest has been made and charges filed in Pennsylvania slaying of pregnant Amish woman

SPARTANSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania man was arrested Saturday and charged with the slaying of a pregnant Amish woman whose body was found last week. Shawn C. Cranston, 52, of Corry, has been charged with criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, burglary and criminal trespass, Pennsylvania State Police said. He was denied […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Alexander Smirnov, second from right, leaves the courthouse on Feb. 20, 2024, in Las Vegas. ...

Associated Press

How clean is the dirt on Hunter Biden? A key Republican source is charged with lying to the FBI

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alexander Smirnov was cast by Republicans as one of the FBI’s most trusted informants, offering a “highly credible” account of brazen public corruption by Joe Biden that formed a pillar of the House impeachment investigation of the Democratic president. Then, last month, the script changed dramatically. charged with lying to the FBI, […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate-80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of […]

10 hours ago

Musher Dutch Johnson, a kennel manager at The August Foundation for Alaska Racing Dogs, runs a dog ...

Associated Press

Alaska’s Iditarod dogs get neon visibility harnesses after 5 were fatally hit while training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska’s official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails. For the first time, mushers who line up for […]

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

US pastors struggle with post-pandemic burnout. Survey shows half considered quitting since 2020