Study shows how pastors grade their own church’s

performance – and they’re often not very pleased

(Original release date:  August 23, 2002)  When asked how well their own church is performing in 15 different areas, Protestant clergy issued some fairly harsh grades.  For 14 of the 15 areas in the study by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona, at least three out of every four ministers said their church’s performance was less than excellent.


Clergy were asked to rate their church’s performance as “excellent (right where we should be),” “good (close to where we should be),” “only fair (needs some work),” or “poor (needs a lot of work).”  The highest rating was given to the fulfillment they get from being the pastor at their church.  Still, just 34% of all ministers rated their fulfillment level as excellent.  Another 48% rated it as good, while 15% said it’s only fair, and 3% rated it as poor.  Personal job fulfillment was particularly low in small churches, where just 28% of pastors rated their fulfillment as excellent (compared to 41% in churches of 100 or more adults in the congregation).  However, churches of fewer than 100 adults represent about half of all Protestant churches in the U.S.

Job fulfillment increased with age.  Twenty-eight percent of the youngest pastors rated their fulfillment as excellent, compared to 34% among those who were 45 to 59 years old, and 41% among older ministers.


Other areas were not rated as highly.  Twenty-four percent of ministers said their church’s level of involvement in overseas missions is excellent, but only 34% rated this as good.  Many said this is only fair (29%) or poor (13%).  Methodist ministers were particularly critical of their church’s performance in this area, as only 11% rated it as excellent.


Twenty-three percent felt the overall quality of the music in their church is excellent, and another 46% said it is good, leaving 25% to say it’s only fair, and 6% to complain it is poor.  Ministers who were 60 or older, or who led churches with 200 or more people, were more likely than others to be happy with their church’s music.


Twenty-two percent felt the overall quality of their church’s weekend worship services is excellent, but a much larger proportion (62%) rated this as good.  Fourteen percent said it is only fair, while 2% called it poor (the smallest percentage for any of the 15 rated areas).  Once again, the older the minister and the larger the church, the more satisfied the pastor was with the quality of the worship services.  Pastors from churches in the Midwest were particularly likely to rate their worship services highly, while those in the South were particularly critical about their services.


The only other area rated as excellent by more than one out of five ministers was the quality of their church’s buildings and facilities.  Twenty-one percent rated this as excellent, 49% as good, 24% as only fair, and 7% as poor.  Methodists were again particularly critical, with only 10% rating their facilities as excellent.  Interestingly, there was no difference in the rating given according to church size; pastors of small churches were just as satisfied with their church buildings as were pastors of larger congregations.


Only 15% of pastors rated as excellent the quality of the relationships their church has with other local churches.  Forty-seven percent rated this as good, 34% as only fair, and 4% as poor.  Pastors under age 45 were the ones least likely to say their church has achieved excellence in this area (8%).  Ministers from the South, as well, were unlikely to rate their relationships with other churches as excellent (8%).


The children’s programs and activities (geared for elementary school and younger) were called excellent by just 13% of all ministers.  Thirty-eight percent rated their children’s programs as good, 37% as only fair, and 12% as poor.  There was a dramatic difference in the rating given by churches of different sizes; while 30% of pastors from larger churches (200+ adults) rated their children’s programs as excellent, an excellent rating came from only 14% of pastors in churches of 100 to 199 adults, and just 7% of pastors from the smallest churches.


One potential reason some of the various programs were not rated highly may be that only 12% of all pastors said the available budget their church has to work with is excellent.  Forty-two percent called it good, 34% only fair, and 12% said this is poor.  Lutheran ministers were particularly unlikely to say their available budget is excellent (5%).  Ministers in the Northeastern states were particularly gloomy about their church budget (7% called it excellent), while those in the Midwest were the most likely to be pleased with it (17% excellent).  While there were differences by church size, those differences may not be as dramatic as some would suspect.  Among the smallest churches, 10% called their budget excellent, and 37% said it is good.  This increases to 14% excellent and 42% good in the mid-size churches, and 15% excellent and 57% good in churches with 200 or more adults.


Few pastors were really satisfied with the level of impact their church is having on their own congregation.  Just 10% rated as excellent the level of spiritual growth shown by the congregation in the last year.  Fifty percent rated this as good, 34% said it is only fair, and 6% felt it is poor.  Pastors from larger churches were more likely to be satisfied with this; 69% rated it as good or excellent, compared to 63% in mid-size churches, and just 54% in small congregations.


The remaining six areas were the ones most likely to get low ratings from ministers.  Just 9% felt the youth programs and activities they offer for junior high and high school students are excellent, while 36% called them good, 33% only fair, and 22% poor.  Baptists were the ones most likely to give high ratings to their youth programs (13% called them excellent), while Lutherans gave their own churches lower than average ratings (just 2% excellent).  Youth programs were given considerably higher ratings in larger churches (18% excellent, 50% good), versus mid-size (10% excellent, 43% good) or smaller congregations (5% excellent, 28% good).


Many churches struggle with getting lay leaders.  Just 8% of all ministers said the number of people willing to serve in volunteer or leadership positions in their church is excellent, while 41% graded this area of their church as good, 35% as only fair, and 16% as poor.  As in many areas, the larger the church, the higher the grade its pastor gave it (60% good or excellent in larger congregations, 49% in mid-size churches, and 45% in small churches).  Southern churches were less likely than others to be graded highly in this area by pastors.


Many ministers essentially admitted that their church is better reaching out overseas than next door.  While 24% graded their church as excellent in overseas missions, just 8% said the same about the effectiveness of their outreach to the local community.  Thirty percent rated this as good, 48% as only fair, and 15% as poor.  While in many other areas Methodists gave themselves harsher-than-average grades, for local outreach Methodist ministers tended to grade their churches higher than average.  Churches with more than 200 adults also received grades that were above average.


Eight percent of all pastors said their church deserves an excellent rating on the degree to which it is racially or ethnically integrated.  Twenty-five percent rated their church as good, 29% as only fair, and 38% as poor.  Methodists were again the denominational group least satisfied with their own churches’ performance.  Pentecostal and charismatic churches, and those in the West, received the highest ratings on this, while those in the Midwest and the South received the lowest grades from their own pastors.


Ministers were also essentially dissatisfied with the size of their church.  Just 2% rated their church as excellent on the number of people attending it, while 21% rated their church as good, 53% as only fair, and 24% as poor.  Pastors in the West were the least satisfied with the size of their church.  As might be expected, ratings on this varied considerably by church size.  Among churches with fewer than 100 adults, 34% of pastors gave their church a poor grade.  Among mid-size churches, this fell to 15%, while among larger churches, it was just 9%.  Still, among churches with 200 or more adults in attendance, just 7% of ministers gave their church an excellent grade, and another 41% graded their church as good.


Easily the lowest-rated of the 15 areas was the church’s ministry to single adults.  Two percent of all pastors said their church does an excellent job at this, 11% good, 34% only fair, and 52% said their church is poor at this.  Methodists, again, were particularly critical of their own churches in this area, as were younger ministers.  Even among pastors from larger churches, the vast majority said the job their church does reaching singles is either poor or only fair.


Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research and director of this study, noted that the findings help to paint a picture of the challenges the typical minister faces.  “Other studies have shown that being the pastor of a church is often a job with high stress, long hours, high expectations, low pay, and poor benefits.  Now throw on top of all of those issues the fact that most pastors are not satisfied with their church’s performance in many areas, and it’s easy to see some of the difficulties ministers face, particularly when leading small congregations.  It’s also easy to see why only one-third of them said the amount of fulfillment they get from their job is right where it should be.”


Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company.  The sample of 567 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution. 


The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.  (Only certain denominational groups are discussed individually in this news release because others did not have a large enough sample size to be examined separately, although they are represented within the total sample in correct proportion to their size.)  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

The world isn’t looking at our tracts and rallies and telecasts and

study manuals.  It is looking at us and how we behave.

Chuck Colson, Founder, Prison Fellowship




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If you could grade your church in each of the areas listed below, what grade would you give it?

 Area Graded



Only Fair


Fulfillment you get from being the pastor





Involvement in overseas missions





Quality of the music





Overall quality of the weekend worship services





Quality of the buildings and facilities





Quality of relationships with other local churches





The children’s programs and activities





Available budget





Spiritual growth in the congregation in the last year





Youth programs and activities





The number of people willing to serve  in volunteer or leadership positions





Effectiveness of outreach to the local community





Degree to which the church is racially or ethnically integrated





The number of people attending the church





Ministries to single adults