What Does Retirement Look Like for Pastors?

Almost half of retirement age pastors and missionaries are concerned about the financial stability of their family.

Most retirement age pastors and missionaries say their current life is close to ideal, but some who have entered retirement say they could’ve been better prepared.

In a survey sponsored by Shepherd’s Fold Ministries, Nashville-based LifeWay Research asked 2,451 pastors, ministers and missionaries who were retired or at least 67 years old about their life, health, relationships, reflections on ministry, and how they’ve adjusted to their current life stage.

“Our number one goal is to provide relevant resources to help retired ministers,” said Brent Van Hook, director of Shepherd’s Fold Ministries. “The results of this study show specific ways retired ministers can experience genuine higher well-being related to social, spiritual, physical and financial health.”

Out of those ministers or missionaries surveyed, 8 in 10 (81%) are currently retired or mostly retired. Around half (52%) have been in ministry 40 years or longer, with 35% serving 40 to 49 years and 17% serving 50 years or more.

The vast majority think fondly about their previous ministry. More than 9 in 10 (92%) say they are satisfied with their ministry efforts before retirement, with 59% saying they are very satisfied.

When asked about their feelings toward the churches or mission field where they served, around 8 in 10 (79%) say they feel thankful. More than half say love (59%), proud of them (53%), or rewarded (52%). Slightly fewer say encouraged (48%) or connected (43%).

Few retirement age pastors or missionaries say they feel disappointed (16%), disconnected (16%), betrayed (8%) or bitter (2%).

When asked to think about their overall life today, including relationships, spiritual health, finances and physical health, 3 in 4 (74%) agree their life is close to ideal in most ways.

Similar numbers describe their current life conditions as excellent (76%), while more than 8 in 10 (86%) say they are satisfied with their life today.

“These three questions were used to create a life satisfaction score,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Analysis revealed the characteristics that predict higher life satisfaction include being in better health, satisfaction with ministry efforts, positive feelings about where they served, financial stability for retirement, and current relationships.”

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Three-quarters (76%) of retirement age ministers are confident they will have enough money to live comfortably through retirement, with 31% saying they are very confident.

Still, almost half (47%) say they are often concerned about the financial security of their family and 27% say their physical needs or those of their spouse have caused significant financial strain.

More than half (55%) say their household’s current annual income is less than $60,000. Slightly more than a third (36%) have less than $100,000 in retirement savings.

Virtually all retired ministers (94%) receive Social Security benefits. Around 3 in 5 (59%) have a pension plan with their current or former employer.

Four in 5 (81%) say they currently live in a residence they own, while 10% rent, 3% live in a residence provided by a church or ministry, 3% live with family and 1% live in an assisted living facility.

Three in 5 (59%) say they currently have some form of debt, the most common being a mortgage (37%), a car loan (27%) or credit card debt (20%).

Of those with a mortgage, 42% have 20 years or more left on the loan. Around 3 in 10 (29%) say they have 10 to 19 years. The same (29%) say they have nine years or less.

Those who have debt were asked how much debt their household has outside of their mortgage. A quarter (25%) say they have no non-mortgage debt and an additional 53% say they have less than $30,000, including 28% having less than $10,000.

Some retired pastors, however, say they have substantial non-mortgage debt. Around 1 in 7 (15%) say they have at least $30,000 in debt, including 4% saying theirs is at least $100,000.

Almost 3 in 5 (58%) say if they had help with their finances it would improve their overall well-being at least a little.

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Retirement age pastors and missionaries are most likely to say they need help managing retirement funds (22%), finding work suitable for retired ministers (17%) or learning how to stretch their current resources (16%).


Among those who are currently retired, 76% say they were prepared for the adjustment to retirement. Seven in 10 (70%) say the transition was easy.

The most common approaches to preparing for the transition were speaking with others who had retired (46%), reading articles on the topic (42%), or attending a retreat or conference for those nearing retirement from ministry (26%). One in 5 (20%) say they did not prepare for the transition at all.

Still, 33% say they have struggled with the adjustment, and 28% feel they lack purpose since they retired from the ministry.

Almost 2 in 5 (39%) say they have had to rethink their sense of value and worth since retiring and 27% say that retirement forced them to think about their value to God.

When asked an open-ended question about what advice they would give those retiring from the ministry in the future, those currently at retirement age most frequently said to save and plan financially (13%), plan ahead (10%), enjoy and embrace retirement (8%), be prepared (7%), find opportunities to volunteer or serve (6%), stay active (4%), trust God (4%), pray (4%) and develop interests or hobbies (3%).

Retirement age ministers also volunteered some ways ministries can best help those like themselves, such as opportunities to serve or minister (16%), a pension or retirement plan (7%), financial planning or assistance (5%), include them (5%), offer seminars, workshops or retreats (4%), opportunities to stay active (4%), keep in touch with them (4%), offer encouragement (3%), show appreciation or recognize them (3%) and provide resources (3%).

First published on LifeWayResearch.com. Used by permission.