7 NEW Barna Trends for Stronger Churches

Here are 7 insights drawn from the data that will help you be a more successful church leader.

1. Pastors have higher life satisfaction than most.

Surprised? Be encouraged.

  • 9 in 10 pastors are satisfied with their quality of life.
  • Pastors rate their emotional health and spiritual health higher than the general US population does.
  • 96% of married pastors are satisfied with their relationships with their spouses.
  • 97% rate their relationships with their children as excellent or good.

In the midst of ministry challenges and trials, pastors have personal satisfaction and strength that is higher than among the general US population.

Those statistics are mighty encouraging. Especially if you find yourself standing in the majority.

But what if you’re not satisfied with your life, your emotional and spiritual health, your marriage, or your relationship with your kids? Then what?

Pastors also relate a downside where they rank lower than the general population.

2. Inadequacy, exhaustion and depression harass pastors.

  • Pastors are more likely to have feelings of inadequacy in their work (57% vs 30% of employed US adults).
  • Pastors are more likely to feel mental or emotional exhaustion (75% vs 55%).
  • Nearly half of pastors have struggled with depression.
  • 47% struggle finding time to invest in their spiritual health.

But, wait.

How does high life satisfaction go together with feelings of inadequacy and exhaustion?

How can pastors have higher life satisfaction and higher job stress?

Maybe the answer is Jesus.

We love serving Jesus and spending our lives for him. But ministry has big challenges that we can’t fix in our own strength.

So it’s a both/and. Life is satisfying and life is difficult.

We love our calling. Sometimes we hate the work.

If you’re among the pastors who feel inadequate, exhausted, or depressed, you’ll be interested in this next insight from Barna.

3. Personal spiritual disciplines are central to ministry satisfaction and perseverance.

  • Pastors who practice their top spiritual discipline (usually prayer) every day or more are also very satisfied with their vocation (75%), their current ministry (73%), and they rate low on spiritual or burnout risk.
  • Conversely, those at high spiritual risk (54%) practice their primary spiritual discipline only a few times a month or less.

The Barna team concludes:

“If pastors and those who support them should take anything away from these findings, it’s that consistent spiritual practices matter – to vocational satisfaction and contentedness with one’s own ministry, as well as emotional, spiritual, and relational well-being.”

Your personal spiritual habits make all the difference in your ministry strength.

But you knew that, right? The people who discipled you have been telling you that for years. You say the same thing to the people you disciple. We talk about spiritual disciplines all the time.

But your strength comes in actually sitting down and spending time alone with Jesus.

Are you at risk?

Barna Trends 2018 has a risk metric for pastors. It assesses burnout risk, relational risk, and spiritual risk based on pastors’ answers to questions and their reported well-being.

It becomes a valuable self-assessment to see if you are in danger of relational, spiritual or burnout risk.
Barna Risk Metrics for Pastors

The more factors you check in any one section, the higher your risk. Generally you are at low risk if you don’t check any factors; medium risk if you check one or two; and high risk if you check three or more.

If you find yourself at medium or high risk, what steps can you take? Who can you talk with?

See more about it on the Barna website: https://www.barna.com/burnout-breakdown-barnas-risk-metric-pastors/.

Barna identifies one big cultural trend that explains why we struggle with our spiritual practices.

4. Spiritual practices are hindered by the lifestyle of busyness.

In the general US population:

  • 1 in 7 US adults sets aside a day a week for Sabbath or rest.
  • Only 1 in 5 take any real break from working.
  • Just 12% commit to doing activities that recharge them and another 12% to taking a break from electronics.

Pete Scazzero, founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York speaks about pastors’ busyness:

“The greatest roadblock [that keeps spiritual leaders from finding time to invest in their own spiritual growth], I believe, is a lack of good models. As evangelical leaders, we have inherited a history of activism that goes back more than 200 years. Our great gift is mission: mobilizing believers and leading people to Christ. But this great gift can also be a liability.”

“Spiritually indispensable concepts like silence, slowness, solitude, and being (instead of doing) are difficult for most of us who are heirs to evangelicalism’s activist impulse.”

No one is judging you, Pastor. It’s difficult to fit regular spiritual practices into your busy life. It’s hard for everyone.

And it’s also hard to fit in other practices that will help you flourish.

5. Growth practices are neglected.


  • Almost half  of the US population (45%) read at least 5 books per year. 18% of American didn’t read any books last year.
  • One-fifth exceeded 15 books. (Mostly women and students.)
  • 18% of men report reading less.

My goal this year is to read 20 books. I used to read 36 books a year. I’m part of the 18% of men who are reading less.

I’ve made a conscious choice to spend a half hour a day reading  pertinent pastor-type blogs, like this one.

To focus my book-reading, I’m intentionally targeting my book choices. This year, I’ll read four classics of literature, four books on church growth, at least one theology book, at least one book on history, and ten others of my choice.

What is your reading goal for 2018? How is it going so far?


  • 3 in 10 pastors never attend a conference.

That’s surprising. I rely on a yearly conference for an infusion of inspiration and a new look at best practices to reach my city for Christ.

Here are some conferences that I recommend:

For more conference options, google “Church Conferences 2018” and you’ll find multiple articles with lists of good conferences.

Make this an action item and get your 2018 conference scheduled this month.

6. A healthy pastor and a healthy leadership team correlate to a growing church.

  • Difficult relationships with the church’s board correlate to higher pastor burnout.
  • Pastors in large or growing congregations are more likely to report that their relationship with their board is a powerful partnership.
  • Pastors who are satisfied with their ministry report a positive relationship with their board.
  • Discontented pastors are more likely to report power struggles, feeling under-appreciated, and that the board is one of the worst parts of ministry.

A healthy pastor plus healthy board relationships usually equals a growing church.

If your relationship with your board is difficult, you’ll find a partial solution in this next fact.

7. Prayer among church leaders is infrequent.

  • Only one-third (34%) of US Protestant pastors say that their relationship with their elders could be characterized by frequent prayer together.

Could your tension with your board be lessened by regular prayer together?

What if you tried more than an opening and closing prayer, but 20, 30, or even 60 minutes of prayer time with your leaders? Every month.

And see what God does.

How to Pray with Board Members

I learned a long time ago that a group of friends works better together and has higher satisfaction levels than a group of mere colleagues. So our board meetings have friendship and prayer blended into them.

We start our monthly meetings at 7:00 p.m., but we convene an hour ahead of time for the really important stuff.

From 6:00-6:30, we eat dinner together. We rotate who brings the food, and who brings drinks and utensils. Our iron law is “no business talk during dinner.” Our first half hour is spent catching up on one another’s family, business, vacations, and other interests.

Then, we pray together from 6:30 to 7:00. We start with praise, and mix in both personal prayers (which arise from our dinner conversation) and church-related prayers. It’s spiritual, satisfying, and bonding.

On our twice-annual retreats, we pray at length following Bible study at breakfast and dinner, plus we have at least one more hour-long prayer time before returning home after we’ve completed our retreat business.

What’s Next?

How to Turn Information and Analysis into Action

The key question is: how will what you just discovered change what you do? Don’t click away without choosing something to do to become a stronger pastor.

Here are some action points:

  1. Renew your commitment to practice the spiritual disciplines that keep you close to Jesus.
  2. Read through the Barna Risk Metrics carefully and talk with someone if you have medium or high risk factors.
  3. Read Isaiah 58:13-14 and then recommit to taking a weekly Sabbath. Talk with your spouse about what that looks like for your family. If you need further encouragement in this area, read my short little book “I Love Sundays.”
  4. Set a reading goal and read for a short time every day.
  5. Schedule a conference for 2018.
  6. Initiate extended, and regular, prayer with your board.