Average Age of COG vs. AG Ministers

Glenn Davis at AG Think Tank asks a question many of us have been asking about the COG, “Where are the younger ministers?” According to the statistics shared at Engage 21 (as seen in this YouTube), the Church of God has the following age makeup of ministers:

Church of God

16% of ministers – 40 and under

25% of ministers – 41-49 years

59% of ministers – 50 and older

Considering that, the 40 and under demographic is disproportionately absent from the General Council floor during the General Assembly which is limited only to Ordained Bishops (a 12+ year journey for me), the numbers skew radically when it comes to the representative age of decision-makers in the COG. I don’t know what you do to address that issue without overhauling our process. But, it would seem healthy to have more demographically diverse representation in our denominational shaping to avoid some of the misunderstandings we seem to be experiencing right now with emerging ministry philosophies and a rapidly aging ministerial population.

Also, consider that while Brother McGuire shared that we were “the same as other denominations, especially the Assembly of God…toe-to-toe with us,” there may be data that would show otherwise. Within this statistical data, he made reference to churches “voting on pastors” every two years. So, it is unclear if he is talking about pastors or credentialed ministers. If he is referencing credentialed ministers, it would appear that there is more than a 10 point difference in the demographic data of the 40/39 and under category between us and the AG, with the AG being the significantly younger of the two groups.
Assembly of God (2006-2007 ministers by age report)

25.4% of ministers – 39 and under

20% of ministers – 40-49 years

54.6% of ministers – 50 and older

——

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • What is done to intentionally grow younger as our ministerial population grows old?
  • What happens when our older demographic, which is almost four times the size of our younger demographic retires? What is our plan to fill churches and shift with cultural trends?
  • What can be done to intentionally address the absence of younger voices speaking into the denomination from within the organization as opposed to our current framework of the typical voices of young credentialed leaders speaking into the denomination from outside of the organizational/shaping framework?
  • What is so different with the AG structure that even though they are challenging these same issues, they are still a younger group by far than the COG?
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29 Responses

  1. Over the years I have met some pastors who crossed over from the COG to A/G. Most I’ve talked to felt they had more freedom in the A/G than the COG. Mostly the freedom came from the fact that each local church was sovereign and able to handle their own finances/projects without interference from the state or General Headquarters.

  2. great info Travis, as always. certainly a number of political and governmental structure issues have caused things to gravitate as they have.

    when I was 35, looking to pastor my first church, I was told by the “powers that be” that due to my lack of pastor experience I shouldn’t expect much. It’s not that I was expecting any hand outs, but a little respect would have been nice. I probably thought more of myslef than I should have, but I was a Bible College graduate, been full time in pastoral ministry since I was 22 in some decent churches, had been the youth pastor of a group that grew from 40 to conservatively over 200, was serving as the Associate in a church of 950, juggling over 40 ministries and teaching an adult Sunday school class that ran over 150 people… it would have been nice to feel like I was a wanted tool in the toolbox. if the Lord would have given me the green light, I would have been gone in a heartbeat!

    I’m in no way bitter, but it has fueled that desire to help younger guys. we are so fortunate here in the PNW to have an AB who has appointed multiple young men into churches where the communities are ripe for church and growth giving them a lot of encouragement to be creative and do what it takes to succeed. his respect for younger guys (and older guys too) is awesome. it has been a breath of fresh air, and it will have a huge impact on the demographics over the next decade. An AB holds those keys in his hand as far as appointment. we definitely need additional resources on the national level.

  3. As I understood the stats given at Engage, those numbers are only Pastors and not all credentialed ministers. It would appear that the A/G report includes all credentialed ministers.

    I think this is significant in 2 ways:

    1) I am under 40, as are my brother and probably 30 of my friends who are credentialed associate/youth/music pastors, but we’re not counted in this number. Though I don’t know everyone, I would assume there are a lot of us out there who are waiting our turn to be “counted” by the COG. Which leads to my 2nd point…

    2) Specialized ministry is becoming more and more utilized in the church world, and until we start to take account of this group we are missing a vital part of the younger demographic of our church.

    Obviously, I love this church. So much so, that I would love the opportunity to contribute to it’s transition into effective ministry for this culture and time. But it frustrates me that unless you Pastor or ride the 8 year merry go round, you usually have no seat at the table.

  4. As a newcomer to the COG (my Exhorter’s will be presented on Sunday), I was raised in the AG, went to an AG College, served on staff at AG churches. But I’m now COG because I had a COG pastor (my father-in-law) and an AB who reached out to me after leaving an AG church on less than desirable terms.

    I haven’t seen any data on this, but it seems that the AG population is younger on a whole than the COG. The lack of young COG ministers is probably because there’s a bigger pool to draw from.

    Also, in the AG there are a ton of regional colleges and most of them make it easy to get a license (step 2 in the credentialing process). It hasn’t been as easy in the COG for me. Plus with only the one flagship school, you’re either in or you’re out (or you’re at Patten). I feel like an outsider because I didn’t go to Lee.

    So … making the COG younger?
    1. Like Steve said, AB’s need to empower younger ministers.
    2. Relate better to younger people.
    3. Invest more in the lives of young people across the board. Make youth and children’s ministries more appealing and hipper.
    4. Change the culture.

  5. I teach some adjunct bible and theology courses for both Lee University and Patten University’s online program. (Sorry Scott, not trying to sound like an ‘insider’ here in light of your post!) From what I encounter in my students I do not see this trend changing anytime soon.

    My students consistently qualify any reference to a denomination with something like, “I’m not into denominations or anything.” They seem to have an innate aversion to denominational association. Very few of them are pursuing credentials of any sort, and most of the others have no interest at all. For the most part, my students think I have some pretty cool ideas (I’ll tell you how I fooled them in another post), and they thought the concept of my new blog was a pretty cool one. I expected that they would check it out, and maybe get involved in the conversation. But out of my current 120 or so students almost none of them have even visited the blog. Why? Because they honestly do not care whether the CoG has a future or not. They’re not interested in the discussion. They don’t see that it really matters.

    I know that some of that has to do with youthful idealism. And I know that some of them will one day find themselves at least a little more interested in the discussion. But if we continue to make licensing more and more difficult will it be worth it to them when they finally have a ‘change of heart’ at 30? Even now, many of the young students (and I’m talking about ministry students!) that are ‘talked into’ starting the credentialing process get discouraged and quit after they realize what all is involved. I’m not saying that our licensing process is the problem. I’m just saying that it’s another obstacle set before a generation of young people who already do not seem to care if the CoG lives or dies.

    So, I agree with Scott that we have to “relate better to younger people.” And I would add to that that I don’t think we have a clue at just how far off we currently are from that.

  6. Trav, just want to say you’ve got a great name. I’ve seen this coming for years and I believe many factors add to this. 1. We are not giving young guys a chance to get started. I started young, called at 15 and spoke at youth functions mens mtgs. etc.. started preaching in big church (yes I said big church) at 18. I hail from Ky. I dont know if it was a appalachian/ rural thing but when you said you were called to preach you were expected to preach and guys would let you get in the pulpit and give it a whirl. I believe this is something we have lost. While in Bible college and at Lee I met many guys who were called to preach yet they had never even taught a Sunday school class. I am thankful for older men who would give me a chance to get in the pulpit and give their church the worst 5 minute sermon they had ever heard. Then take me out to eat and treat me like I just hit a homerun and tell me their stories of their first time preaching. This helped me develop as a preacher.
    2. When I began working at churches as youth Pastor/ associate I had men who showed me the ropes. How to act in a ministry setting , how to balance budgets, how to visit people, how to preach. When I received my exhorters my pastor at the time showed me how to fill out my reports. These same men also promoted me. They would speak well of me to others and talk about a bright future. That meant alot at the time and still does. I dont believe we have enough of this. It comes down to relationship. We dont have it from either side. The old are not embracing the young and vice versa. If you are a young guy in the ministry seek out someone and get under their wing and build a relationship with them. If you are older seek out a young guy and pour into him, you need that as badly as they need you.
    3. Scott briefly refered to this. The AG has many regional colleges, we have Lee. I attended Lee and loved it. But nothing impacted me more than my two years at east coast Bible college. It was only ministry students planning to spend their lives in ministry. There was a tremendous focus also tons of hands on experience. We have sadly shut down our Bible colleges and have lost a tremendous asset to our denomination. We need to have more Bible colleges in all areas of the country that are focused on raising up young ministers. Also they should be very low in cost. It is ridiculous to ask guys to go to Lee and seminary and leave school with 50-100k in debt. We should be sending a army of pastors out to plant new churches with little or no debt.
    That is just some of my rambling thoughts on it.

  7. I must first say that I respect the men and women who have blazed the path of ministry before me. I am grateful for all the hard work of many ministers but I must say that as a young minister I am concerned about the future ministers of the Church of God. I am a young minister and I believe if a man or women shows the ability to be as Spirit -led leader give them an oppertunity. If they are a capable leader show them the way to doors. If not train them but give this genration a voice that we may run and share the message. We have the energy and zeal, give us the wisdom and let us go. By the way I enjoyed talking to you John at your house, the night we had a class there last semester.

  8. Wow. Interesting statistics and great comments.

    Having been familiar with the German COG for 20 years, we have gone through a major transition in the last 7 years.

    The German COG was build on the shoulders of post-WWII pioneers. In the mid-90s, the German overseer stated that %30 of its ministers would retire within 10 years. Indeed many of those pastors have retired (although some have kept pastoring into their 70s).

    Some complained that the Bible school in Germany wasn’t training enough pastors. But a school can only train those who enroll, and not all who enroll are called to ministry. Additionally, not all of the students at ETS were COG – this continues to be the case at the school.

    What has happened? By default, there were a number of church openings and a shortage of qualified pastoral candidates. The German COG has taken in some pastors from sister Pentecostal movements. But many younger ministers have been given churches earlier than had been the norm. In fact, some of the bigger churches were given to relatively young pastors.

    Another phenomenon has been the advent of team-led churches (partly due to the lack of qualified pastors and partly due to restricted finances the prevent hiring a full-time pastor). The team-led churches have experienced moderate growth; although I have questions as to what happens when the church outgrows the leadership-structures in place.

    The result – Germany has experienced a fresh rejuvenation in its ministerial ranks. The regional leadership is getting younger. I’m guessing the average age of regional overseers to be around 45 yrs.

  9. Tom,

    How has the German COG grown younger? Has it been a natural response to crises? Or, an intentional repositioning?

  10. Trav B.,

    I agree. Your name is exceptional. Also, like me, you married way above yourself. I’m sure when people look at us, they must think that we must have an awesome personality or are completely and ridiculously wealthy. Ah yes!

  11. One of the things I would like to see would be a process that allowed local churches to ordain ministers as opposed to processing through a system.

    I have two guys that I would like to see get credentials. Their path would require them to go through MIP and go work under another pastor during their training, which makes zero sense to me. I’m not going to encourage that. And, they don’t want to participate in that.

    It would seem to me that if tests can be passed and a church, pastor can vouch for a person’s heart, background checks can be passed, tests can be completed, and the Declaration of Faith is affirmed via an examining board, there should really be no other barriers to move through the process, especially not a lengthy, time wasting process.

    If we coupled that with a dismantling of our current appointment system and allowed local churches to interview pastoral candidates and make selections from ALL ordained ministers, it seems like we would naturally grow younger.

  12. Just to piggy-back on a couple of things. I was never interested in credentials as a religion major at Lee. It was getting out and working in real ministry settings (first, with Steve Wright & Ron Hooks in San Francisco) that piqued my interest. So, I think that Travis J. is right about empowering local churches in the credentialing process. That is where individuals get interested. Second, it was getting involved in programs like “The Mission” (with Carl Caffrey & Johnny Taylor) that sealed the deal with me. So, I agree with Travis B. about the importance of small ‘bible schools’ and ministry training programs. I think that Scott also highlighted this as a difference between the AG and the CoG.

  13. I meant to add that out of the handful of my students that are pursuing credentials almost all of them are vitally involved in their church ‘back home.’

  14. Great question. I don’t know the dynamics of the entire German COG, but I can give a quick survey of the churches in our area (just east of Stuttgart).

    Demographically, German is getting older … lower birthrates and long life-expectancies. That there is a larger “seniors” group is true in most of the churches. But the age dispersion really depends on the church.

    Older, established churches have an older age dispersion; newer churches (recent plants) have a much younger clientèle. The exception to this observation are the “old” congregations that have gone through some major transitions.

    One more observation. When there is a younger pastor in place, there tends to be more younger families in the church. Perhaps there is a correlation/theory – pastors attract people who are like themselves. I.e., younger pastoral couples draw young couples/families. Older pastors have a harder time attracting younger families unless there is strong leadership among the young adults in the church.

  15. Cory, thanks, I enjoyed that conversation too! Just don’t tell anyone that we had all come here to talk to Roman Catholic youth minister! 🙂 Maybe we can get together again soon. Shoot me an email!

  16. As you probably already know, this is the case in many other denominational circles as well, it most certainly is in the SBC.

    Why? Among other things there is a: lack of a true listening ear for the voice coming from the younger generation, lack of places to get involved in denominational work (although many if not most aren’t interested in this), and the lack of significant dialogue around issues important to those who are younger.

    As a side note, it seems obvious that much of the dialogue that is not happening within denominational circles is now happening in blog circles with many across denominational lines.

  17. I am in agreement with Cory. I respect and appreciate all that have forged the path before us. They have laid a foundation, established great works, and poured their hearts and souls into the ministry.

    Our generation is a little bit antsy – and I believe as Jonathon pointed out we’re also a little bit carefree about the future. Uncommitted. These are just typical traits. In order to be welcoming to younger ministers, any denomination needs to be accepting of them.

    We don’t (or shouldn’t) expect sinners to come to our church and understand our churchy speech and politics, behave a certain way, and go through rigorous steps to join us. We love them, show acceptance. We contextualize, we make the gospel come alive. We can’t be a missional denomination if we can’t relate to our own people.

    I just thought about my father-in-law (now COG, former AG pastor). In the AG, churches select their own pastors. At a 44 when he left a fairly large AG church, he was turned down by dozens of churches because he was “too old.” At 44.

    But when he switched teams, he’s quickly been assigned to two churches, despite his age. Politics may play a part in that, but the culture of those churches was to seek out younger leaders.

  18. I just recently received my Ordained Minister Certificate. The ink is still wet. It took me 3 years of filling out forms, making phone calls, and then reminding people I had already filled out forms and made phone calls.

    Having gone through an internship at Seminary I was not required to do the MIP. If I had been required to do so, I doubt that I would have done it.

    I think many do not see a need for credentialing nor do they see a benefit.

  19. When I think of what the COG must do to promote young ministers in the denom I think about one of my primary mentors who promoted me. I served under Henry L. McDuffie as a youth pastor when I was 25 years old. I have literally never seen a man so secure in his status as “Pastor Mac”. He always deflected the praise to others and never missed an opportunity to encourage and lift up his staff members. He even allowed me to preach each week on Sunday nights as a youth pastor. When some would ask about my growing popularity among the congregants, he would only say, “Everytime that boy knocks a homerun, it goes on my scoreboard.” He was just never intimidated by the success of his younger colleagues.

    Now contrast that to the way it seems that many of our denom leaders are “hogging” the spotlight. it seems that SOME of them are so afraid that they will be overlooked for an appointment, a vote, a magazine article, that they are completely unwilling to let younger emerging leaders see the light of day.

    I was recently at a meeting where a prominent COG leader was scoffing at the idea of young leaders needing recognition. He told of how he labored in anonymity for so many years. He made it sound like he never did it for recognition, only for the mission. I couldn’t help but think, “How can you tell anyone they don’t deserve recognition when you are hogging it all?”

    I’m not sure this is THE reason why there are so few younger leaders in the COG, but I do believe that this is A reason. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be afaid of others’ success.

  20. I wish I had more time to ponder this before I express my written voice, but let me offer a few thoughts concerning the graying of COG credentialed ministers.

    I am part of the over 50 group, so I can speak from experience, whether mine or those I’ve seen in others.

    1. We have this warped sense of entitlement, which we despise when we see in others…. Because we have put in x # of years in a church or state, we feel that we (or our friends) are entitled to the first shot at anything that opens up. We fail to remember/acknowledge that it is all about calling and giftedness, not seniority.

    2. In light of the age of our EC and other denominational leaders, those of us in our 50s think we are the younger generation!

    3. We affirm youth and despise it at the same time. I think it has much to do with transference and reliving our past. That is, we remember how badly we were when we started, so we assume everyone else starting out will stink just as much. But we sure can preach, “Let no man despise thy youth…” We just aren’t good at allowing our preaching to affect our practice.

    4. We are threatened by the younger generation, so it makes sense not to open up the pulpits or share insider secrets with someone who is going to take away our positions.

    5. Our senses have been dulled by reality. We are calloused both emotionally and spiritually. To be honest, when I read some of the comments that come from some on Actscelerate, it scares me to death to think that these are pastors/leaders making these comments.

    6. Jesus is going to come in our lifetime, so why worry/plan for future leaders?

    7. Our word is not worth much. We hate lying in others, but when we cannot/willnot fulfill our word, it’s not a matter of our integrity. It’s just what needs to be done.

    8. We aren’t the problem. It’s those young people who don’t know their place in the pecking order.

    I know these are very negative — much more so than I intend them to be in total context, but time and space prevent full disclosure — but these reflect the mindset of SOME (too many) in the over 50 group in the COG. It’s no wonder we are losing the younger generation.

    Keith

  21. Keith,
    Thanks for all of you comments. They were very eye opening as I read through them 3 times. You being so open helps many of us to see the work that needs to be done in order to close the gap that exist in our body. I sometimes feel like I’m right in the middle. I will be 41 in April and I kind of feel like a middle child. I see so many of the valid points of the younger ministers and at the same time I see the mindset of those that have plowed the fields before us that we are working in.

    I’ve had two different families that I know here in NC that had family businesses. Both of these were ran by the fathers for many years but when it came time to pass down the lead, both fathers held way to tight and the sons that were involved in both cases went out on their own. I sometimes think we could be doing the same thing in the COG. The fathers were not being asked to stop working only change their role to make room for a new move.

    I often have the picture of a team that is running a 4 man race. One starts the race and runs fast and strong but once he has finished his part he places the running baton off to the next runner in his group. The result is a win. All must compete. All can win. We don’t have to start our own races.

    Thanks again for your insight. It was number 1 that cause me to write all of this.

    God bless you Keith.

  22. Steve… you are only going to be 41? Man, I was sure you were a few years older than me! 🙂 Great stuff dude.

  23. Parrish,
    Good to hear from you bro. Drop me an e-mail at saltminepastor@gmail.com

    I took a look at your site. Cool stuff. Keep kicking it bro.

  24. I shot you an e-mail! It will be great to catch up… although what’s up with leaving the west and going back east?

  25. Yo! Steve Parrish! I never got your e-mail. Try me again brother.
    The reason I moved from west to east was because calling God on the phone was a long distance call from San Francisco but it was a local call from North Carolina. LOL

  26. hey… don’t know what’s up with your email address above… must be an east coast thing… you can reach me at mine… steve@tfhofvancouver.com

  27. FYI, this great dialogue spawned a post here. It’s a little too long to post in the comments here.

  28. […] Ever since the last Church of God General Assembly in Indianapolis, I’ve been thinking more and more about the age of ministers in the CoG. Recently, I’ve heard a lot more talk about the issue, and read various threads such as the missionalcog blog (missionalcog.wordpress.com/2008/03/27/average-age-of-cog-vs-ag-ministers/) . […]

  29. I got in on this convo a little late – but I’ll turn 25 in August, and I just received my Ordained Minister’s certificate in May. I’ve been an Associate Pastor here for 4 years (since I received my Exhorter’s). I’ve been lucky to have an excellent Senior Pastor who has invested in me and given me the opportunity to preach/teach/visit and all of that. I am finding it difficult for anyone to even consider someone my age as Pastor of a church, even a small one.

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