The Stats

The reality.  I have been working in ministry for about 18 years, and I am in my 10th year under appointment as a pastor in the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Ministry is tough work, but women in ministry face even more challenges.  As a woman in ministry, I am aware of the difficulties that female clergy experience.  I have heard stories, and I have scars of my own, but as I began to think about the challenges that clergywomen face I realized that the majority of my information was anecdotal.  I have lots of stories, lots of experiences, but no data to back that experience up.

I intend for this blog to be a conversation about women’s leadership and specifically women’s leadership in ministry.  But before we can talk about the challenges surrounding women’s leadership in the world and in the church, we have to know what we are dealing with, and so that is where I started.

Gathering the Data.  For the past year or so I have spent some time with the Virginia Annual Conference 2017 Workbook.  It is not a very exciting companion, but it does have a lot of useful information.  The workbook is a compilation of stats about the clergy of the Virginia Annual Conference and the churches they serve.  I am interested in leadership, so for reasons that I will discuss at some other point, I only wanted to look at the data related to full-time lead or solo pastors.  I exported the workbook from the Conference website.  I then removed all associate pastors, all people serving in extension ministry, all institutional leaders, and all people I could determine were part-time pastors (sometimes these were designated, sometimes I could make a decision based on salary, this leaves the possibility that I may have a few part-time pastors in my data set that are being paid over the LLP minimum salary.)

This left me with 631 full-time clergy (again there is the possibility for the number to be off by a few).  I went through and coded each pastor as male or female based on their name.  For gender-neutral names, I searched through church websites, news articles, and the conference website to confirm a gender.  Even after this research, there were 7 pastors whose gender I was unable to confirm.  Further, there is room for error in my methodology.  I may have incorrectly assigned the gender because a name is typically masculine or feminine (e.g., a woman who went by Bobbi or Jo).   This left me with a data set of 624.

D’Arcy Mays, a Professor of Statistics and chair of the Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), helped me run a series of regression analyses and statistical modeling with the data set.  This is similar to work that he has done for VCU looking for wage discrepancies.

The Results.

Of 624 lead/solo full-time* pastors (remember all of the caveats I listed above):

  • Approximately 169 are women.

  • Approximately 8 women are in the top 100 paid pastors

  • Approximately 12 women serve in one of the top 100 largest churches (according to the average worship attendance)

  • Approximately 9 women are in the top 100 longest serving pastors under appointment

D’Arcy and I found:

  • When examining salary, including only gender as a predictor variable, there is a significant difference between male and female salaries.

  • When you add in the variables of years under appointment and church size based on average weekly attendance (AWA) the difference in gender becomes statistically insignificant.

  • We found this worked in reverse as well. We could predict the salary, regardless of gender, based on the number of years a pastor had been under appointment and church size based AWA.

  • When examining gender discrepancies, we found that the number of years under appointment was a more statistically significant predictor than church size based on AWA. This confirms that the longer a pastor is under appointment, the more likely he or she was to have been appointed to a large AWA church.

  • Recognizing that salaries differ among the Districts in the Conference due to geographic location and cost of living, appointment District for each pastor was included in the model to account for additional variation in the salaries. In doing so, the general conclusions listed above did not change, suggesting that there are no systematic differences in the relationships between salary, gender, years under appointment, and church size across Districts.

In summary, once you consider the variables of church size based on AWA and years under appointment, the statistical difference between the genders in reference to salary becomes insignificant.  However, the data also suggest that the older a pastor is, the more likely the pastor is to be male, and the larger the church that the pastor serves, the more likely the pastor is to be male. In total what the data suggest are that the gender differences that we see for salary are due to more complicated reasons than outright discrimination. 

What does this all mean?  These results leave a couple unanswered questions: where are female pastors going when they leave the local church, and why are they leaving lead/solo leadership in the local church?  Women have been pastors for decades in the Virginia Conference; we should be able to find many women who have served under appointment and who would, therefore, be making a larger salary and serving a larger church.   The 2017 Workbook gives a small snapshot of the Virginia Conference clergy, but even in this snapshot, one has to wonder why there are so few women in the lead or solo positions as they get older.

2018 and beyond.  I have the 2018 Workbook, and I am preparing the data to analyze (meaning, I have the mind-numbing work of coding every single clergy person).  In addition, there are some other questions to ask the data.  Are more women than men part-time?  Are women being assigned to unhealthy churches (we could look at the church’s ability to pay apportionments for this question)  Are there more women than men in extension ministry?  What about in the role of associate pastors?

What are your questions for the data?

Gage HuntComment