why PKs leave the church...

>> August 24, 2009

PKs have a reputation. Everybody knows that... and even though we try our best, there are generations of bitter pastors' kids who make all of us tremble when we think about raising our own.

I recently read the results of a study that asked "What influences do ministry parents have that affect whether their kids stay in the church?"

This study asked 111 questions of clergy parents across the Mid-Western states of North America to find answers. I wrote the researcher, Dr. Martin Weber, for permission to share his findings. Here's what he discovered:

  • Parental conservatism regarding lifestyle standards is not statistically significant in attrition.
  • Legalism regarding gospel doctrine (soteriology) is a moderately significant cause of attrition.
  • Legalism regarding practicing the principles of the gospel is a major cause of attrition.
  • For clergy parents to hold their own children to a higher behavioral standard is one of the highest causes of attrition.
  • Lack of relationality in the pastoral family is the most serious cause of PK (pastors’ kids) attrition. Pastors with the highest retention rate of adult children are those who managed to provide the most positive and “fun” family experience in the parsonage and were close enough to talk about anything in an atmosphere of freedom that allowed children and teens latitude in developing their own faith experience.
  • The greatest predictor of future faithfulness as an adult is whether the PK during growing up years takes initiative to approach a clergy parent to discuss spiritual matters.
  • Closely associated with family relationality is the freedom and trust expressed in discussing controversial issues. There is no greater cause of attrition than to attempt to shield children from knowledge of, or to resist discussion about, church or denominational conflict.
  • Congregational criticism of pastoral family members portends future attrition of adult children.
  • There is definite significance between the experience of entering the pastorate during one’s 30s and the future attrition of one’s children.
  • Having a clergy grandparent is a stabilizing factor in the spiritual life of a PK.

Dr. Weber also says that the three most significant factors in avoiding attrition are:
  1. being able to discuss church problems at home, while
  2. managing to sustain joy and togetherness in the family circle, and
  3. giving teens freedom to develop their own faith experience without the expectations of being super saints because they are the pastor's kids.
To read more of Dr. Weber's research, articles or books click HERE, or email him directly at: martin (at) midamericaoutlook (dot) org.


L. Saucier August 24, 2009 at 8:24 PM  

I am so glad this was posted! We've been pastoring for about a year now and I often wonder (and pray) about my step-sons' future in the church.

Lisa Adams August 24, 2009 at 8:39 PM  

Thanks for posting this research. It is a great teaser. We have two young children and constantly need to have boundaries around my husband's ministry time to ensure there is plenty of fun family time as well as plenty of date nights for he and I. It helps to keep us all balanced and not consumed by the ministry.

Adrian,  August 25, 2009 at 6:04 AM  

As a PK, I recall being left out of very little relating to church. There was a major rule in our house which said that if anyone talked about anyone from church, it was never to leave the house in any form. (it stays within these 4 walls was the phrase used I think!).
Over the years I have used the same with my kids, and it still holds true. I also believe that my generation were more inclined to follow instruction without thinking we knew better (well, most of us anyway!), parents were to be obeyed, but the parents, in turn, were not so hard on us as to force us out of the church. We were told that until we were of an age to make an informed decision, we would follow mum and dad. when we could make that informed choice, we opted to stay within the church. However, exposure to other faiths, Christian or not, gave us a very broad view of life and religion, thus enabling us to choose (we hope wisely) our future path with God confidently.
I may be shot for this next bit; but I feel that the relationship with Christ/God is more important than the group whose name you take. Therefore, claiming to belong to this or that church is not the end of the world. Your personal, 1-2-1 relationship with God is.

Star Forbis August 25, 2009 at 12:59 PM  

This is my favorite post you have done.

I am raising 4 PK's, and have had to remind teachers they are just like any other kid their age. Just because their dad is a Pastor doesn't make them any different, or more spiritually mature, than the child sitting next to them, so don't put higher expectations on them. It's unfair and wrong.

And is it okay for me to link to this post from my Blog?

skaMEDIA August 25, 2009 at 1:03 PM  

Hi Star,

CLUTCH here. You are welcome to link back to any of our posts from your blog. We only ask that you clearly source that it is from CLUTCH when you link to your favorite posts.

CLUTCH blogger

Martin Weber August 25, 2009 at 3:18 PM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Martin Weber,  August 25, 2009 at 4:18 PM  

Hi everybody. This is Martin Weber, whose research project CLUTCH has kindly talked about here. I'm really sorry I've had trouble uploading the whole doctoral document at www.securingyourfuture.org. I will try to get it uploaded as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, if you'd like the full research document, you can e-mail me and I'll just directly e-mail the document to you. I'm at
martin (at) midamericaoutlook (dot) org.

Arwen August 28, 2009 at 4:53 PM  

A friend of mine shared this post with me as I am a PK and am starting my own family with my husband now. So many of the points made by Dr. Weber ring true with how we were raised and the difficulties that Pastor's families encounter. It's refreshing to know that this experience was not unique to my family, but rather is more common than I ever thought!

I used to journal all the time in HS and one of the most common themes was how much I hated being associated with my dad being a pastor and how I was expected, even by my parents, to be perfect on Sundays or in front of members of the church. It was exhausting trying to maintain that look on the outside while being broken to pieces on the inside. I felt like such a hypocrite and learned to associate that with the church, because I didn't think that the church wanted people to be genuine. The church just wanted people to throw on the fake appearance of being happy and content. It wasn't until I was able to remove myself from the church that I was able to find God and understand that things aren't always happy or ok all the time and it is ok to show those emotions even in church.

I still am working through a lot of these issues with my parents to this day! I think once my dad retired from being a pastor (he's since started up with a different church) he was able to see things from a whole new perspective. My 4 other siblings all in their own way struggled with PKisms, and yet the one similarity was that we felt an immense anger and distrust in the Church and in God. Anyway I didn't mean for this to be a novel, I was just thrilled to find out that I was not alone!

skaMEDIA August 29, 2009 at 8:35 PM  

We're glad this post connects with so many readers! Arwen, your story touched us, and so did the other comments here.

Thank you all for sharing insights into your own journeys.


stefanie September 7, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

I'm so glad Star directed me here through her link on her blog. I had not heard of Clutch before. I'm already hooked!

We're raising PK's too. The research and comments have given me some things to think about, and encouraged me that we are on the right track. I'll be passing the research links on to my husband so we can work through together. Thanks!

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