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Posted November 22, 2005

The Demographics on Lay Ministers

Taken from Lay Parish Minsters: A Study of Emerging Leadership
by David DeLambo, associate director of pastoral planning
for the Diocese of Cleveland

Number of Lay Ministers Extrapolating from our 2005 data, there are now 30,632 lay parish ministers working at least 20 hours per week in paid positions, an increase of 5 percent since 1997. The ratio of lay parish ministers to parishes is 1.61-to-1. Add in unpaid ministers, and the ratio rises to 1.72 lay ministers per parish.

Two-thirds of all parishes (66 percent) have paid lay ministers working at least 20 hours per week, up from 54 percent in 1990 and 60 percent in 1997. Add in unpaid ministers working 20 hours per week and the percent of parishes with lay ministers on staff increased to 68 percent.

Work Status

The overwhelming majority of lay parish ministers are paid: 93.4 percent. Only 6.6 percent are not paid. Among salaried lay ministers, 74 percent are full time; 26 percent part time.

Ecclesial Status

The decline of women religious in parish ministry continues. In 1990 four in 10 lay parish ministers (41 percent) were women religious. By 1997 the percentage had dropped to 28 percent, and by 2005, to 16 percent.

Conversely, the proportion of laywomen (who are not vowed religious) in parish ministry has grown steadily from 44 percent in 1990, to 54 percent in 1997 and 64 percent in 2005.

The percentage of men in parish ministry has gone up from 15 percent in 1990, to 18 perdcent in 1997, to 20 percent in 2005.

Nearly a quarter of the laymen have explored or pursued a vocation in religious or priestly life.


In 2005 the median age of religious in parish ministry was 64, versus 61 in 1997 and 58 in 1990. The median age of laypersons (not including religious) in 2005 was 52, compared with 47 in 1997 and 45 in 1990.

Race and Ethnicity

Of lay ministers, 88.5 percent are white; other ethnic groups comprise a mere 11.5 percent. Still, these figures show much greater diversity than the 6.4 percent in 1997. However, such groups constitute 25.7 percent of unpaid parish ministers working at least 20 hours a week.


The percentage of lay parish ministers with a masterís degree or better dropped to 48.1 percent in 2005 ó below the 52.8 percent in 1990.

In Relation to Parish Locale

The percentage of parishes employing a lay parish minister is growing in every locale but particularly in the inner-city urban business districts and in small towns, where percentages have increased from 50 percent, 54 percent and 59 percent to 76 percent, 89 percent and 68 percent respectively.