Homesteading: What Does It Mean When UCC Authorized Ministers Don’t Move?

This post was originally published on the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog, on the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website on June 12, 2017.

According to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen, Americans are not relocating from one part of the country to another, the way they used to. Increasingly, they are staying put (“The Unseen Threat to America: We Don’t Leave Our Hometowns,”, February 2017).

“Americans [imagine] themselves as great movers” and migrators, Cowen explains—and indeed, they were, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “People move[d] for better jobs, marriages, a different climate, new social networks, or just to shake things up.” But since the 1980s, “long-distance moves have declined for all groups: homeowners, renters, dual-income couples”—and the well-educated. Indeed, “interstate migration has fallen 51 percent below its 1948–1971 average. Moving within a state fell 31 percent. [And] moving within a [single] county fell 38 percent. Th[e]se are steep drops.”

Cowen attributes “the decline in residential moving [to] the growth of occupational licensure,” increasing cultural and economic homogeneity throughout the United States, and a reduction in “job-switching.” Many workers today are staying in jobs that are tolerable, even if they are not ideal, he notes. “Poverty and low incomes have flipped, from being reasons to move”—to becoming “reasons not to move. Those who most need to move are, on average, the least likely” to do so.

This trend is evident in the American Protestant Mainline Church. Historically, authorized ministry was a peripatetic vocation; parish ministers relocated often—and some still do. Barna Group research conducted in 2009 reveals that the average tenure of mainline pastors in their churches is only four years (“Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches,” Barna Group, December 7, 2009). Many of these pastors move hundreds of miles every time they rotate into or out of a church.

But there are indications that more and more authorized ministers are staying put. Indeed, there is an important clergy analogue to Cowen’s observation that workers are hanging on to jobs that are tolerable, even if they are not ideal: United Church of Christ (UCC) General Minister and President John Dorhauer writes that he “now advise[s] clergy not to even think about looking for another church if they are [currently] in one that is paying them a living wage with benefits” (Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World [Chicago: Exploration Press, 2015], p. 51).

Ministers are not moving—in large part, because their partners and spouses work outside the home today (they didn’t, at least not as much, a couple of generations back), and because pastors’ family members now have networks of friendship and community that they don’t want to give up. In addition, ministers are buying their own homes—most do not want to live in a parsonage, and they do not want to have to sell, move, and buy a new house every four years. Indeed, clergy are reacting negatively to the tumbleweed existence of their predecessors in ministry; they want to grow roots in a particular geographic location. Then too, “homesteading”—residential permanence—works for many ministers.

To read more of this post, go to the Vital Signs & Statistics Blog on the CARD website, at

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Chris Xenakis

Chris Xenakis is a pastor, an adjunct lecturer in political science, an old school black and white photographer, and a sometime amateur actor.