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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Filling our empty pulpits

The ELCA isn't alone as it faces a rising number of empty pulpits and seeks ways to fill them. In the last decade, denominations nationwide have seen an increase in congregations with no called pastor.

• Forty-four percent of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations with less than 100 members had empty pulpits in 2000.

• Twenty-five percent of United Methodist congregations in 2000 had no called ordained pastor but were served by lay people licensed by a bishop, according to the United Methodist News Service.

• Nearly one-fourth of Lutheran Church­Missouri Synod congregations won't have a pastor by 2007 if trends don't change, predicts the LCMS Council of Presidents.

• Only 53 percent of men and 48 percent of women who earned master of divinity degrees expect to still be in parish ministry after five years, according to a 1999 survey by the Association of Theological Schools, which relates to 243 graduate schools of theology in the United States and Canada.

Within the ELCA, 2,317 or 22 percent of congregations had no called pastor in 2002 — up from 1,570 a decade earlier, according to the ELCA Department for Research and Evaluation. Roughly half of the vacancies are due to the normal turnover of pastors, who spend an average of seven years in a congregation, says Jonathan Strandjord, director for theological education with the Division for Ministry. "We expect one-eighth, or about 1,200 pulpits to be empty at any time," he explains.


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