BILLINGS — A worker shortage plaguing much of America has spilled over and into the church pew. Churches like Atonement Lutheran in the Billing Heights are struggling to find pastors and that may mean big changes to the future of the traditional church model.
“There’s always a little bit of suspense, we’re never sure who’s going to be here to lead us,” said Atonement Lutheran church member, Sara Beth Wald.
This shortage is occurring among churches all over the country.
“Nationwide there are at least 600 positions open in the ELCA” said lay pastor Kristin LaVe.
The ELCA stands for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Here in Montana, there are 35 open positions in the synod.
That’s forced churches to change the way they’ve always done things. At Atonement Lutheran, guest pastors now lead Sunday services.
Tyler Amundson has been a guest pastor at the church three times so far, and he’s actually Methodist.
“There’s just people that are burned out, stepping out of ministry. There’s not as many people to replace them,” Amundson said.
Amundson believes the pandemic took a huge toll on pastors. He says there are fewer people stepping into the ministry and many are leaving religious life to serve their communities in other ways.
He is actually the executive director of Big Sky Senior Services, he’s not a full-time pastor.
“A lot of pastors feel the need to be in the community more,” said Amundson.
Butch Morse is on the call committee that's searching for a permanent pastor.
“Right now, it’s difficult to move a pastor because of the cost of moving and expenses. That stuff is quite high,” Morse said.
Many here believe the future of a traditional church model might have to change to keep up with the shortage.
“So for me, the foreseeable solution is churches are going to need to look at different models of having pastors,” Amundson said.
LaVe believes many churches may end up having services together.
“Churches may end up reimagining what their ministry looks like, they may combine forces with another small church,” said LaVe.
Though Atonement Lutheran has been creative with its adjustments, it’s definitely been difficult.
“Although we have pulled together really beautifully as a church community and the volunteers have been wonderful, there’s this added layer of anxiety when we don’t have a pastor,” Beth Wald said.
Morse says the search for a pastor might take a while.
“It is not easy, and it takes time. Everybody has to be patient,” said Morse.