Survey Reveals Misunderstanding of Deacon's Role

April 09, 2009

A UMNS Report

By Vicki Brown*

April 6, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Deacons believe they are accepted and valued but misunderstood, according to a survey of deacons, diaconal ministers and those certified in specialized ministry in The United Methodist Church.

Results of the survey, completed in 2008, were reported during a Division of Ordained Ministry session at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry's spring meeting. Michelle Fugate (below), the agency's director of research and data management, said 49 percent of those who received the survey responded, meaning 1,521 responses were completed.

The presentation focused on demographics, appointments, salary level and job satisfaction of deacons - ordained, commissioned, and candidates.

"Everyone may not understand the deacons' role, but deacons feel valued," said Fugate, adding that 63 percent of the 1,108 deacons who responded to the survey felt the Order of Deacons was accepted by the church, but 65 percent felt the order was misunderstood.

According to the 2008 Book of Discipline, deacons respond to God's call to lead in service and to equip others for this ministry through teaching, proclamation and worship. They also assist elders in the administration of the sacraments.

The Rev. Anita Wood, the agency's director of professional development, said she was surprised to find that 21 percent of deacons appointed in the local church selected the title or identified themselves as associate pastor in the survey.

"Deacons are not pastors and that indicates that we have some work to do in communicating the role of the deacon in connecting the church and the world," she said.

The Rev. Carolyn Peterson, an ordained deacon and vice chair of Division of Ordained Ministry, said she believes bishops and churches give deacons the title of associate pastor. "I don't think deacons are taking that title on themselves," she said.

The survey found 60 percent of deacons were serving in the local church, 32 percent in appointments beyond the local church and 8 percent were listed as other. Fugate said most of those were still in college.

The most common local church appointments for ordained deacons were associate pastor, minister of education, and minister of music. For commissioned deacons, the most common appointments were associate pastor, children's minister, and minister of education. For candidates, the most common appointment was youth minister, followed by minister of education, associate pastor, and music minister.

Fugate divided appointments beyond the local church into church-related appointments and non-church appointments. The most common church-related were chaplain, annual conference or district staff, and general board or agency staff. The most common non-church appointments were teacher, administrator and advocacy or social justice work.

The median annual salary for a primary appointment was $19,000 for part-time – $18,000 for part-time in the local church, and $23,000 for beyond the local church. For fulltime appointments, the median salary was $45,000 –$43,000 in the local church and $49,000 in appointments beyond the local church.

Other findings:

  • 76 percent are female
  • 92 percent are white, 5 percent African American
  • 74 percent have at least a master's degree, and 6 percent have a doctorate. Many candidates have not yet completed their education.
  • Average age is 49.75 years old
  • 95 percent find real enjoyment in their work
  • 88 percent are satisfied with their job
  • 78 percent believe their roles are valued

Read the full report at

*Brown is associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.