Churches Should Close the Pay Gap for Women on Staff

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my (almost) 20 years of ministry. At first, I didn’t do much to solve the problem. I should have done more. Now, I voice concern, and I hope I’m a helpful voice.

Women on church staff tend to make less than men for similar roles. Depending on how researchers do the math, the current pay gap for women on church staff is between twenty-four cents and seven cents on the dollar, meaning women make anywhere between seven percent and twenty-four percent less than men. The national pay gap is around eighteen cents on the dollar. The national figure applies to all jobs, from unskilled labor to executive leadership.

The church can do better. We should lead the culture in solving the pay gap with women.

There are many reasons for the current pay gap between men and women on church staff.

  • It’s a historic trend. The pay gap for women on church staff was forty cents in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The trend is improving nationally, but it’s still a serious problem in many individual churches.
  • Many churches have theological convictions about the roles of men and women, especially the primary preaching position. The purpose of this post is not to break down the nuances of complementarianism and egalitarianism. I simply want to address the obvious. Ministers on church staff with similar responsibilities should be paid similarly, regardless of gender. If your church gives a particular set of responsibilities to a woman, you should pay her fairly for them.
  • Children’s ministries tend to employ more women. One way churches justify paying women less—whether intentionally or not—is by paying children’s ministers significantly less than other similar positions. For example, the pay package gap between children’s ministers and student ministers is between $10,000 and $15,000.
  • Women are five times more likely to work part-time at a church than men. For those of us in ministry, we know part-time applies only to the pay, not the actual hours worked.
  • Married women with children fare the worst in churches. They make twenty-eight percent less than men.

Most churches with women on staff likely have some pay gap problems. Inevitably, a few churches will have huge leaps to make. What can you do? Consider a few points as you take action and remedy the disparities.

  • Be proactive. Start researching the issue if you serve on an elder board, personnel committee, or executive staff. Understand where you are today. Then, make a plan to do something about it.
  • Be thoughtful. Someone’s salary is typically a sensitive subject. Approach this topic with care.
  • Be honest. If the pay gap exists in your church, then be open about the issue with female employees. They likely already know. Most will be glad you are recognizing the problem.
  • Be protective. When corrective measures are made, don’t let the women on staff take the heat from the church. Redirecting questions—or even anger—back to the women on staff is cowardly. Own the problem and defend them if the church has an issue with the move.

Churches have made progress in this area over the past three decades. As with national trends, the pay gap is closing in churches. Wouldn’t it be great if the church was the first organization to solve the problem completely? It might just get the attention of our culture.

Posted on February 19, 2024

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • If this “church pay gap” is formulated the same way as those who promote the “national pay gap”, it is mostly a myth.

    Trying to compare “responsibilities” of completely different jobs is a complete nonstarter. If you have evidence of a man and woman with identical credentials – same skills, same seniority, etc. doing exactly the same jobs with the pay disparity, you have actual evidence. “Comparable roles” as you claimed below doesn’t cut it – that’s not evidence. You would have to show if a man took the *exact same* job position, with all other things being equal, he would be paid more simply because he is a man. There are more variables than just gender which clearly demonstrate why some women may have lower pay – on average they have traditionally entered the full time workforce later, or choose to work less, work intermittently, to care for children and family or other obligations, so have less seniority and a lighter resume, and they choose to take different jobs because of mere preference or other responsibilities at home, etc. That is not the result of gender discrimination.

    • John Knox Foster says on

      Yes, there is a great deal of evidence now that the “pay gap” as usually described is a myth. In “The Boy Crisis” Warren Farrell cites studies showing that in all but a handful of major U.S. cities, women are paid more than men.

  • Jeff Scalf says on

    Sam, thanks for speaking to this. It is so needed!

    Here’s a real-life situation. You hire two staff pastors. A Kids Pastor and a Youth Pastor. Both ministries at the church are about the same in size. (I will say that in most churches, it takes MORE volunteers to efficiently run a kid’s ministry than a youth ministry. I’ve been in ministry since 1987 and know this to be true.)

    The Kids Pastor has 10 years of ministry experience, an earned bachelor of ministry degree, and has the highest level of ministry credentials in that denomination. The Youth Pastor is just starting out. No formal biblical education, no ministry experience, no ministry credentials, all of which they will be required to pursue once they are hired. Based on education and experience, who should be paid significantly more? It would stand to reason, that the one that has more ministry experience, more education, and a higher level of ministry credentials, would be paid at a significantly higher level.

    When I was a Lead Pastor, we had a situation where we hired a male youth pastor at $12 a week LESS than we were paying our female Kids Pastor. There was some “church political” tension during the time we hired the youth pastor, so I didn’t say anything about the fact our Kids Pastor was only making $12 more a week than the new youth pastor we were hiring.

    A few months later, I brought up to the deacons that we hired a youth pastor with zero ministry experience, zero formal biblical education, and no denominational credentials at $12 a week, LESS than our female Kids Pastor. I was all for hiring the male youth pastor. I saw great potential in him.

    I reminded the deacons that the Kids Pastor had an earned bachelor of ministry degree, had the highest ordination credentials in our denomination, had 10 years of ministry experience, and that she had been on staff a few years and was doing a good job. Also, she had not been given a raise at that point in 2 years. I conveyed that given all this, it makes us (Pastor and Deacon Board) look like male chauvinists to pay her only $12 more a week. I asked that we give her a raise. It was deferred for 90 days.

    At the end of the 90 days, they said we didn’t have the funds to give her a raise. Maybe, maybe not. So I said that I was deferring $75 a week of my salary to hers; no vote was needed since it was my funds directed to her salary. The Kids Pastor never knew this but was so grateful for the raise.

    Concerning the roles of ALL my staff, I expected and required they be the same were at all possible. Hospital visits were expected of ALL staff, male or female. On work days, all staff, male and female, were expected to participate based on their level of experience and abilities in certain areas. I required the same ministry hours of both male and female staff. Even pulpit duties were shared when possible. If a staff member had significantly MORE responsibilities, of course, they were compensated more. For example, an Executive Pastor would make more than a Kids Pastor, Youth Pastor, Worship Pastor, etc, because their responsibilities were more.

    I hope that we’ll give compensation to the individual based on their work experience, work performance, education levels, credential levels, and level of responsibility that that staff position requires, and not based upon whether they are male or female.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Good word, Jeff. Thanks for sharing!

    • Your generosity in this situation is commendable, but you may have set up a problem for whoever follows you, as that person might be expected to give a portion of his/her salary to that staff member or other staff members who eventually need a raise. They will likely hear the old phrase, “Let’s just take it out of the pastor’s salary.” Also, a specific situation at one church does not create a good pattern for others.

  • While I agree that like roles should receive like pay, however in most church contexts there is not like roles for gender differences on the ministerial level. More is incumbently demanded of a male minister. Example: if a male is the children’s minister/director (or student or worship leader), he more often than not will be called upon to assist with Pastoral hospital visits, crisis counseling and/or home visits, possibly even pulpit supply. A female director of children’s ministries would simply not have the same expectations or responsibilities therefore a pay gap is often understood and justified.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Gary, if there are different requirements, a difference in pay is to be expected. However, I do not see many staff situations where women have less care responsibilities than men in comparable roles. Indeed, it’s usually the opposite.

    • Stephanie J. says on

      Therein lies the rub in many churches for the difference in pay between men and women. In your example, many churches would recognize up front that they’d expect a man to do the things you mentioned — “pastoral” hospital visit, crisis counseling and/or home visits in particular — whereas if they hired a woman they wouldn’t list them in her job description (because they’ve deemed them pastoral) but likely would expect her to do them if the need arose for a member of the congregation in her care as long as she didn’t call her behavior while doing them “pastoral”, just without having detailed them to her in advance. This is a problem.

      I understand Church Answers reticence to dive into the complementarian/egalitarian aspects of this issue since they minister to church leaders of many denominations, but individual churches who want to consider pay gap cannot afford to ignore it.