10 Guidelines for Paying and Hosting Guest Speakers and Musicians

Money can be an awkward issue for churches and guest speakers.

It’s the issue both parties consider; but it’s often the issue around which both parties tiptoe.

It should not be that way. It’s really a matter of biblical stewardship and hospitality. Over the years, I have worked with many churches and speakers (and a few musicians) to establish some guidelines for hosting and paying guest speakers. Keep in mind, these are guidelines, not rigid rules. There will always be reasons for exceptions.

  1. Pay with a generous spirit. As your church is able, try to abound in generosity to the guest speakers and musicians. Art Rainer actually developed a formula for paying guest preachers specifically. I think his approach is a good starting point for guest preachers. There will be differences for conference leaders, musicians, and others.
  2. Ask the guest speaker for expectations for pay. Don’t be shy to ask guest speakers if they have specific fees or payment guidelines. There is no need to tiptoe around this matter.
  3. Pay promptly. Your church should have the check waiting when the speaker arrives. Get the W-9 form and travel expense reimbursement form completed ahead of time as often as possible. You should never tell a speaker you will get a check to him later after he has completed his engagement with you.
  4. Cover all travel expenses. Those expenses would include airfare or mileage reimbursement, rental car, meals, and lodging. There is nothing wrong with being clear about what level of expenses you will reimburse, such as coach fare instead of first-class.
  5. Provide reasonable accommodations. Most speakers do not like to stay in homes. They are often on the road a good bit and prefer the freedom of being in a hotel and not making up their own beds or engaging the hosts in long conversations.
  6. Inform the speaker ahead of time. Tell them clearly what the honorarium or fee and travel reimbursement will be on the front end of conversations with them. Outlining these details in writing is also helpful for both parties. Don’t leave the speaker wondering about it after he or she has accepted the invitation.
  7. Consider the implications of the engagement from the perspective of the speaker. From the church’s perspective, the engagement could be as brief as a 45-minute speaking assignment. But from the speaker’s perspective, he may have to be gone two days from his family due to travel time. Be generous from that perspective.
  8. Avoid scope creep and add-ons. Scope creep means you ask the speaker for additional speaking spots after your initial invitation. The church or host often says, “Since you are going to be here anyway . . .” Add-ons refer to other groups trying to get the speaker to do engagements for them since the original host is paying the travel costs. The host church or host should ask for the specific commitment on the front-end and not add to it.
  9. Provide a specific point person as their contact and host. The speaker needs one person as the contact person for all aspects of the engagement, from travel arrangements to payments to sound checks to meeting them at the site of the engagement.
  10. Protect your church’s reputation. It does not take long for a church to get a bad reputation for how it treats speakers. Travel can be a wearying experience. The speaker needs to know the host has his or her best interests at heart.

Granted, these guidelines are written largely from the perspective of looking after the speaker. In a future post, I will address specific guidelines speakers and musicians should consider. In the meantime, let me hear your thoughts.

Posted on August 22, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Ralph Hough says on

    Having been a guest preacher, musician, etc. and often not so worried about the money for myself is different than what others, offering a service need. I am inclined to be upfront about what the speaker/artist says they need and either agree to the event or not. If it is about what is good and edifying for our congregation (70-80) on a Sunday then I will secure the funds to ensure we are being generous above all. Also to keep in mind, when there is skin (money) in the game there usually a higher commitment from the payee/church to help promote, invite and encourage others to “come see!”

    Another way for the church to understand, especially for the musicians, is that the church needs to give Christian musicians the opportunity (and means) to pursue a career in ministry instead of giving them up to the world and its ways and message. Great Topic!

  • I work for a non-profit mission organization. Travel, housing and expectations are a constant struggle we face. Something we see often is, a church agrees to provide x,y,z or honorarium price and when the speaker arrives the church has changed their minds and offers something different than what was agreed upon with a signed document. Our struggle is that as a faith-based organization, there’s no repercussions for churches changing their minds. Our missionary speakers are usually informed about this 1hr before their discussion.

    I found this article encouraging. I look forward to reading the follow up article. Thank you!

  • Jim Diehl says on

    That’s what I do now……..speak in churches across the country. For some odd reason, in our denomination “the culture” is that you don’t know the honorarium until the check is handed to you at the close of the event. I think your guidelines are much better. I will add that ON AVERAGE, the churches are very generous. If one church gives you a “light check”, God seems to make it up at the next place. Interesting!

  • Gadasu Samuel says on

    It is also important to ask whether the guest will arrive with his or her spouse.

  • Rev John Hohe says on

    We have District guidelines from our denomination for paying pastors.

    I also host a lot of music artists and others speakers. I agree being upfront is best. I often host artists on a love offering basis but now that I have experience I can guarantee a minimum. God bless the artists who came and trusted me in the first years of hosting concerts. Being upfront allows me to set expectations on pay. Often artists will be willing to negotiate. I try to express a commitment that “The worker deserves their wages.”

  • Joel Harris says on

    Thanks, Tom, for the clearest, kindest, and most accurate summation on this subject that I have ever read. I think that the first one is the one that gives churches the most trouble, and yet, in most cases, they must master that one in order to get the others right. Yours is a Biblical perspective. It has solid Biblical foundation in scripture. Be generous; treat others as you yourself would like to be treated; the laborer is worthy of his wages, etc. And in reference to someone’s comment above… just because it’s a “small” church, that doesn’t exempt them from doing the right thing the right way. The words in the Book apply equally to all of us, regardless of size.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, Joel. Great perspective.

    • Fred Kiffins says on

      Joel –

      I appreciate your kind and biblical words. The commenter, Mark Smith, is a troll who seems to always take a negative view of whatever Thom says. I have requested of Thom in the past to remove him from comments, but Thom has not been wiling to do so.

      • I agree Mark is a troll, but I also believe he is a very unhappy person and this is his way of attention… let’s try and be patient with Mark and let him have his say.

      • Mark Smith says on

        Thanks for the love guys. 🙂

      • Mark Smith says on

        Fred- trolling is deliberately saying weird/bad things to provoke a response from the poster, just to get the response. I am not doing that in any way.

        Do I agree with Thom often. Yes! Are there often details that I disagree with that I think are important to point out? Yes.

        For example, in this case, Thom talks about airfare and being gone two days, etc. He is clearly talking about distant trips the kid he likely often does. Other people like me, travel more locally and visit churches with smaller budgets. That is what I pointed out. How is that trolling?

      • Lyle Fleming says on

        Mark –

        There are different variations of the definition of internet trolling. I see you as a troll because you are consistently negative and divisive. Many times when you comment, the thread becomes distracted and focused on your negativity (like now). When you feel compelled to write negative comments about Thom’s writings, your points are weak and hardly germane to the topic.

        I too wish Thom would take you off his blog. He is not making a wise decision by letting your pettiness become so distracting.

        Mark, if you are willing to respond, I would appreciate your telling us what you do. I guess I am curious to learn what type of person is so consistently negative.

      • Mark Smith says on

        Wow. I did not realize so many were directly offended by my comments and questions. I will not respond anymore. Please forgive my impertinence.

  • For the record, I have traveled to many churches to preach where my expenses were not covered, so I would add that it’s OK to politely decline an invitation if it places a financial hardship on you or your family.
    For example, if I’m asked to preach at a church that is 3 hours away by car, and the honorarium will be a “love offering”, I must decide beforehand if said offering is only $25.00 can I afford the gas money out of my own pocket?
    Of course, money should never be the sole determining factor in whether or not we accept an engagement, but it is part of the equation.

  • A couple of areas of consideration:
    * Be clear about the hotel accommodations
    * Find out what reasonable accommodations the guest(s) may need during their stay
    * Reconfirm with the guests a few days before the event. You don’t want to be in a situation where the guest scheduled with someone else for a more lucrative assignment after agreeing to be with you. And they forgot to inform you.
    * Make sure the event time is clear and when you expect them to be with you. We had a situation where a guest from another city was traveling by car for a 7:30 pm service. The average normal drive time is 3 to 3 and a half hours. Because it was a Friday evening driving on I-95 on the east coast corridor you need to add time for traffic. The guest left their location at 6:00 p.m. Very good guest, but!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Can I add number 11? Get it in writing. Not that anyone would ever sue (or at least I hope not) but I’ve had speakers complain of scope creep and churches complain of speakers being way off scope. I know, I know… leave it to the lawyer…

  • Mark Smith says on

    I think Thom and Art (in the link) are talking about medium to larger churches who invite prominent or more well-known speakers, or at least for scheduled (pre-planned) events. Having been invited to fill the pulpit of smaller churches when someone is out sick or on vacation, I can tell you that I was lucky to covered for the gas to drive there… I was told it was a “learning experience.” Oh, and I have never been paid when I got there with forms to fill out. That must be something to bigger guys get.

  • Our church has a set fee for all who fill our pulpit plus we pay round-trip mileage at the allowable IRS rate. This is a “no-brainer.” One of the things which has been a tremendous blessing in this area was the construction of an efficiency apartment in our last educational building project. This allows our guest privacy and seclusion either before or after their visit. We’ve even had evangelists, missionaries, etc., to use this facility when they were serving at other area churches. They requested to stay with us because of the freedoms they enjoyed in the apartment.

    • It was my turn to head up the wimen’s Retreat for our church. I did not have this list in front of me, however, God, in his grace provided this information through godly women, common sense and the Hoy Spirit’s leading and we met all 10 of your suggestions. It was a retreat where God was glorified, the speaker was appropriately appreciated and the women were richly blessed. Thank you for your informative writings!

    • Thanks for being proactive, Charlie.

  • What are the expectations/responsibilities when the speaker is a state or national convention employee?

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