Do Churches Practice Age Discrimination in Hiring Pastors and Staff?

Older people interview
Most times it isn't malicious, but churches sometimes participate in age discrimination when hiring. (iStock photo )

It's a simple question with profound implications. Do churches seek to hire pastors and/or staff who fall within a tightly defined age range?

Please understand that this article is about general trends. There are certainly many exceptions to each point I make. But these are the major issues I see related to age discrimination in hiring.

  • Age discrimination is common in many churches. Though my information is anecdotal, it spans over 20 years and thousands of churches. Age discrimination in hiring pastors and church staff is pervasive.
  • Churches do not discriminate maliciously. You will rarely hear church members and leaders talk about their refusal to consider candidates of certain ages. It is more the intentional way they seek candidates. For example, a church may determine their ideal candidate to be in his or her 40s. That obviously minimizes the chances they will hire persons in their 30s or 50s.
  • Many churches determine candidate profiles by surveying church members. A common question on these surveys is to state a preferred age range for the candidate. The surveys then are tabulated with predictable responses. That issue leads into my next point.
  • Those excluded from consideration are on both ends of the age spectrum: the younger and the older. Churches are often determined to find someone who has plenty of experience and, at the same time, is not too old. Sometimes that's a tough combination to find.
  • Many members use the "+15" mental calculation to determine if a candidate is too old. The church member often has an idealistic expectation, not always grounded in reality, that the candidate will be at the church for 15 years. They therefore add 15 years to the candidates' current age to determine the suitability of them for the church. Such is the reason many persons 55 years and older have great difficulty finding a position.
  • Churches are missing some great opportunities narrowing their focus to a certain age. It is cliché, but age is as much mental as it is physical. While the age of a candidate can certainly be one factor for consideration, I would hope it's not always the eliminating factor.

I am seeing many churches experiencing difficulty finding pastors and other staff that meet their criteria. The solution could be in looking at candidates who just might be younger or older than they originally anticipated. Don't be surprised if you find some outstanding candidates either younger or older than you expected.

Age is important. But it should not be everything.

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Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

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