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Shrinking attendance and the recession are making for one of the worst job markets for Protestant ministers in decades, according to a report in USA Today.

There are more than 600,000 ministers in the United States, but only 338,000 churches, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. This is causing a glut of qualified but unemployed pastors, especially as church attendance in many mainline denominations continues to slide.

Smaller congregations are being hit particularly hard because they typically have more trouble finding funds during bad economic times. Many are now unable to afford a full-time minister. With the average church attendance in the United States at 75 people, these small churches are now being forced to either pay their minister less or use part-time clergy.

"There's lots of really good pastors out there who are having a terrible time," Phil Leftwich, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee, told The Tennessean. Among Presbyterians, there are four pastors looking for work for every one job opening.

Seminary enrollment is declining as well, possibly in response to the tough market. According to the Association of Theological Schools, national enrollment is down 6.4 percent since 2005.

However, a large pool of unemployed ministers is good for some groups. Churches that are financially stable, especially larger churches with big staffs, can take their time in selecting the pastor they think is right for the job. Also, retired pastors who are willing to serve at small churches to supplement their income are finding more opportunities. [usatoday.com, 6/7/10]

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