One third of all seminary graduates in 2017 were planning to enter bivocational ministry.
A recent article in Christianity Today cited this statistic from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), which also noted this includes 57% of black/non-Hispanic and 41% of Hispanic/Latino graduates.
This is a significant number of people who view bivocational ministry as a viable option for ministry and offers hope to thousands of smaller churches who may struggle to find seminary-trained leadership to serve their churches.
In addition to those attending seminary, many planning to enter bivocational ministry are being trained in denominational programs, such as the Church Leadership Institute offered by the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.
While never designed to replace seminary, this program does provide basic ministerial training for those serving as bivocational ministers or lay leaders in their churches.
Many denominations report that roughly one-third of their churches now have bivocational pastors. Some state conventions report that 50% to 75% of their churches are bivocational.
In a sabbatical project I did a few years ago, I interviewed a number of leaders from various denominations who all told me they expected the number of bivocational leaders in their denominations to continue to grow.
This report from ATS is good news for the churches in these denominations, and it is good news for the future of smaller churches.
For a long time, the trend was to build larger and larger churches. Growth was seen as an indication of health.
However, recent events have suggested that is not always the case. Well-known megachurch leaders have fallen hard in recent times. Some have been removed for moral reasons, while others have burned out and resigned the ministry.
At the same time, other megachurches are serving their communities quite well and continue to grow.
It’s too early to predict the future of the larger churches, but I can predict the future of smaller churches. They are survivors and will be around until the Lord returns.
Of course, some won’t survive. Churches close their doors every week, and many of them are smaller churches.
A lack of good leadership, a lack of resources and too few people force some of these churches to close.
However, at the same time these churches are closing, other churches start. They begin with a fresh vision for ministry and a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. They don’t bring a lot of baggage from the past into their ministry.
Some of these will be home churches. Some will rent space in malls or buy the buildings abandoned by the churches that closed.
All smaller churches, whether new church starts or existing churches, will benefit from this desire of seminary-trained graduates to enter bivocational ministry.
As one who has long advocated for bivocational ministry, I couldn’t be more pleased.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.