Tenure and Turnover in Youth Ministry

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Gregg Makin did a PhD dissertation titled “Understanding the Turnover Intentions of Youth Pastors.” His study sought to answer the question:

What contributes to youth minister turnover where they thinking about quitting their churches and leaving youth ministry altogether?

Among those he studied, 89 percent were married, 89 percent had at least a college education, their average age was thirty-five to forty-five, they had an average youth ministry career tenure of eight to eleven years, and they had an average church tenure of four to seven years.


Job Satisfaction. The more satisfied youth ministers are in their ministry and work, the less likely they are to consider leaving their church or the youth pastorate. An analysis of seven facets of job satisfaction helped identify exactly which areas were most influential to their satisfaction: supervisor, contingent rewards, nature of work, and communication.

  1. Satisfaction with their senior pastor—The youth minister-senior pastor relationship was found to be critically important. The better the relationship with one’s senior pastor, the less likely one is to think about leaving the church.
  2. Satisfaction with contingent rewards—The extent of satisfaction with rewards (not necessarily monetary) given for good performance was also significant. The greater satisfaction youth pastors have from those nonmonetary rewards, the less they are inclined to leave the church.
  3. Satisfaction with the nature of work—The more a youth pastor is satisfied with the nature of his work and ministry, the less likely he is to consider quitting the youth ministry vocation as well as the church.
  4. Satisfaction with communication—Lack of communication was also identified as a contributing factor on turnover intentions. The better the communication in the church, the lower the intentions of the youth pastor to exit the church.

Organizational Commitment. The more a youth pastor is psychologically unattached to the church he works in, the more likely he will think about leaving. On the other hand, the more he feels an affinity to the church and its people and programs, the more likely he will consider staying.

  1. Career turnover intentions—As youth ministers’ intention to leave the youth ministry field increases, their intentions of leaving their position at the church also increases.
  2. Career commitment—Commitment to one’s calling to youth ministry was negatively related to the turnover intentions of a youth pastor to leave the field of youth ministry. In other words, it is important to have a person in the youth minister position who feels called and committed to youth ministry as a career because that calling ultimately will affect his intentions to stay at that church.

Salary. Better-paid youth ministers have fewer thoughts of leaving. Even so, two of the job satisfaction facets—satisfaction with pay and satisfaction with fringe benefit—were analyzed, and the data did not find them significantly related to turnover.

Longer Tenures, Better Educated, Higher Salaries. Contrary to much of the popular literature, youth ministers, on average, stay much longer in their churches than the supposed eighteen-month estimate and stay longer in the youth ministry profession. Youth ministers also are older, doing better financially, and are better educated than previously assumed. 

Stepping Stone Pastor Myth. Popular literature assumes youth ministers often view their youth position as an opportunity to become a senior pastor. The dissertation discovered this is happening to some extent but not nearly as much as is commonly believed.

The Myth of the Mobile, Discontented, and Disillusioned Youth Minister. Contrary to much of the popular literature, the dissertation revealed that youth ministers, on the whole, seemed satisfied and committed to their work and calling to full-time service with young people. Most are not looking to get out. This study reflects favorably on the profession, suggesting less mobility and more stability. In addition, the study found that youth ministers very strongly affirm their calling and commitment to student ministry.

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