Clergywomen Credited for the Growth in Young Elders According to 2015 Clergy Age Report

by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership* and Vance Morton**
In 2005, the United Methodist Church reported a total of 850 elders under the age of 35, which equated to a historic low of only 4.69 percent of active elders. Since that low-water mark, the denomination has rebounded and sustained a slow but relatively steady uptick in that number. An uptick that is due solely to the number of young female clergy being ordained as elders.
According to the Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church report released today by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary, there are 986 young clergy in the 2015 class of active elders, which comes out to 6.56 percent of the active elder population – a pool now smaller by more than 3,000 elders from 2005. The report shows that gender has been a major factor in the gains during the last decade to the extent that there are actually fewer young male elders now than in 2005 with all the increases coming from young female clergy. 

Percentage of Growth Consistent Among Elders, Deacons

For many years, seminary enrollments showed a balance between men and women students, yet the presence of young United Methodist clergywomen fell much below their proportion of seminary students. That has changed steadily in the last ten years as the percentage of women among young elders increasing from 31 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2015, the highest percentage ever in the UMC.
This trend holds for deacons as well. Since 2012, the percentage of female deacons has increased 12 percent - 68 percent in 2012 to 80 percent in 2015.
The only exception to this trend is among local pastors. While the young cohort of local pastors is in-line with the upward trend, the increase in this category is primarily among men, with the proportion of young female local pastors on the decline. 

Fewer Elders, More Local Pastors 

Overall, the number of active elders continues to decline across the UM connection while the number of local pastors grows. Since 1990 there are 6,488 fewer elders and 3,525 more local pastors. In 1990, there were more than five elders for each local pastor; in 2015 that ratio is down to 2:1 - 15,019 elders and 7,464 local pastors. 

Elders Older Despite More Young Elders 

Even with the slight increase in young elders, the largest percentage of active elders remains with those 55 and older. Elders between the ages of 55 and 72 comprise 55 percent of all active elders according to the latest statistic, the highest in history. In 2000, this age group made up only 30 percent of active elders. The percentage hit the 50/50 mark in 2010.
The modest gain in young elders in the last 10 years has also been offset by a decline in the percentage of elders aged 35 to 54. The numbers of elders in this age range has shrunk from 65 percent of all actives in 2000 to 38 percent in 2015. 

Full Report Available for Download

Much more information is available in the complete Clergy Age Trends report, which is available as a free PDF download at It shows the average and median ages of elders by United Methodist conference and features a breakdown of young, middle age and older clergy by conference for elders, deacons and local pastors, as well as regional and conference break downs. The annual report is prepared with assistance from the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church.
A six minute video overview of this report is available to view or download at


*The Lewis Center for Church Leadership is a resource for clergy, lay and denominational leader and provide the 2015 Clergy Age Trend report as a service to the church.

**Vance is the director of Communications & IT for the CTC.