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 PastorPollSMsurveys. 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.