Five Most Common Ways Churches Determine Pastors’ Salaries

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There has been considerable interest on my previous posts dealing with pastors’ salaries. One of the most common questions that I am asked is: “How do churches determine the salary of a pastor?”

In this article, I offer the five most common ways churches establish the pay level of a pastor. I am offering these five approaches from an informational perspective rather than evaluating them. Also, many churches use some combination of these factors.

  1. The pastor’s salary at the previous church. By far, more churches use the pastor’s previous salary as benchmark to establish the new salary. For example, if a pastor has an income of $50,000 at his current church, his prospective church may offer him $55,000, or a 10% increase.
  2. The previous pastor’s salary. The second most common benchmark to determine a pastor’s salary is the previous pastor’s salary. Allow me to make an editorial comment here. If you are a pastor who has been declining raises for a few years, you could be hurting your church and the next pastor. There could very well be a big gap between your current salary and the compensation needed for the next pastor.
  3. Experience. Simply stated, most pastors’ salaries increase with increasing years of ministry experience.
  4. Education. I have observed this factor decrease in importance over the past 15 years. I don’t see nearly as many churches requiring a doctor’s degree as they did in the past. And I am seeing fewer churches require a seminary master’s degree, though that degree is still important for many churches.
  5. Demographics of church. The specific demographics to which I refer are family income levels. I know one church that used the estimated median family income of its congregation as the base to determine the pastor’s salary. They would then adjust by other factors such as experience and education.

These factors all have their strengths and their weaknesses. I have noted in previous posts some resources that could help your church to offer your pastor a fair salary.

I would love to hear from you about these five most common approaches. I would also appreciate input about other ways your church determines the pastor’s salary. Finally, it would be great to get input regarding other church staff positions. Thanks for your feedback. I look forward to hearing from you.

How are salaries determined for ministry leaders in your church?

Posted on December 6, 2014


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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70 Comments

  • How do you determine what other positions, besides the Pastor, are “paid” positions, like Worship leader, children’s or youth leader in a small church, or should they be volunteer positions? We were told that we pay too many people for a small church.

  • Gene Guinn says on

    Why our church pays an ordained minister with NO COLLEGE $1,100 per week for a congregation of 60 is beyond me.

  • Rod Hite says on

    you mentioned in the podcast on this topic about a place on the Lifeway or possibly Guidestone website where people could see what is common for someone to be paid, I think you said average in pay. I would be interested to see how my church is doing comparatively. Could you post a link to that web tool?

  • Supportive Wife says on

    Our regional governing body sets the minimum level of compensation allowed for pastors in our area. That minimum amount has almost always been what was offered in each year’s salary package for our family. The only time it went slightly higher was the year we married and my husband officially took on responsibility for the care of children from my previous marriage. Funding for a church secretary was then removed from the budget, and I took over that role.

    His higher education and more than a decade of experience is not taken into account. In the past couple years he’s only been offered one-half the minimum required salary after being reduced to part-time, but he is still expected to take on full-time responsibilities. The only other staff member is the music director.

  • At our church, a Compensation Consutant is used to determine pastoral salary.

  • I was surprised at the ways churches determine salary. I am a Pastor of a small town church and on a human level i would not mind some of these methods. The one question I wish churches would ask is “How much salary will free you up to minister effectively?” I drive a car that I paid 300 dollars for (had it for a year) and receive no retirement benefit. I am not in it for the money. (obviously) My previous career at which I was quite successful paid twice as much.
    I would love to not have to wonder if my car will get me to the call I am making or not. The good news is this church is growing. My goal financially is to see the next Pastor have a more reasonable salary.

    • Why not set a goal for you to get a reasonable salary?

      • I made up my mind when I came here that we would rebuild slowly and carefully. I made sure that the church tithed to missions. (Not legalistically, but in gratefulness for God’s care) I also brought in an apprentice that we minimally pay. Soon I will be eligible for Social Security and though not retiring will be able to focus on paying the next man more until he is full time. I do pray for enough to make it for myself and it has been incredible to watch God provide. In some ways I live far better than my income. I pray carefully about what I live on and what I ask for. I am not first, God is and His work are. I have no doubt as to His care in the future. (I also do not ask him to define that care ahead of time.)
        I live in a poor community and I teach that God will take care of you if you put him first and my finances are a God given opportunity to illustrate that.

  • Isaac Woodard says on

    I always appreciate the contributors to Dr. Rainer’s blog! Bro. Rainer, you are as thoughtful and helpful as ever!

    Among the ranks of the American Baptist Association here in Arkansas, we have seen an interesting movement in our educational opportunities. Our two central Arkansas seminaries have shifted away from high costs for tuition. Speaking of my own seminary in Benton, Arkansas, it no longer charges its students for any of its undergrad, Grad, and post-grad fields of study.

    When pastor’s salaries are typically so meager, it is an incredible opportunity to gain an education at no cost. Our credentialed professors work for nothing more than to mentor fellow pastors, which I believe keeps them centered around the reason for the seminary rather than any selfish motives. That is not to say that paid professors are selfish…but it *can* lead to them being less concerned about financial advancement and more concerned about growing personal relationships within the field of ministers while providing them a challenging curriculum.

    I have only had to pay for my application fee and then also books in my (so far) eight years of education at this school! One of our larger churches offer the use of their facilities at no cost, and our surrounding churches independently support the school in its modest overhead (i.e. teaching supplies, equipment, promotional materials, etc…) and some of the churches that our professors pastor even donate the books for their classes!

    You want to talk about nice, there it is! An education which will help keep you on the better end of what salaries could be offered, at no cost, and with no subsidies that someone else has to pick up. Of course, I speak to the subject of salary because that is the topic, but it’s been a fairly rigorous series of classes that I believe has done much in equipping me to lead and to teach. Great school! 🙂

    Sorry, I just reread this and it sounded like an ad. It isn’t. But it is incredibly valuable to have those degrees to help pastors find the churches in which they belong and to be afforded the best salary the church can safely offer.

  • Greg is must be joking?

    I trust God for my sustenance (and that of my family), and He has provided…through the generosity of my congregation. I’m thankful my congregation has read and understands 1 Timothy 5:18.

    Now, having said that, I don’t make $200K… but I’m open! 🙂

  • We use the 12 month teacher salary scale from our school district. Typically there is both a masters degree scale and a bachelors degree scale. It adjusts based on years teaching so we follow that for years in ministry. Benefits are in addition to the salary as it would be for a teacher.

  • I agree with the above statement that this sounds like a business model as opposed to a church/pastor that relies on God’s provision. How about a small percentage of the weekly tithes goes to the pastor. And as the church grows, the amount of tithe money will grow, and the percentage that the pastor gets should go DOWN. This presents a openness and humility between the church, the pastor, and the congregation.
    I have heard way too many times of a pastor making 200k +. This, is quite frankly, unbiblical. If you enter into ministry, you are giving your life to Christ and saying “Lord, you are my families provider.” God never let’s his disciples go without. (Consider the birds). This forces dependency on God, not on a paycheck. Faith will increase, and so will the Holy Spirit within the church.

    • I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous and punitive…and likely more unbiblical than earning 200K/year (which most pastors don’t even come close to that, and is really a straw-man argument). The Bible teaches that the worker is worthy of his wages, not to muzzle the ox while it treads the grain, and that those who preach the Gospel shall make their living from the Gospel. This isn’t justification for getting rich from the Gospel or preaching the Gospel for the purpose of personal profit; it’s about commitment. The pastor must earn a living wage, especially if he is going to meet the needs of the people he serves. The size of the church isn’t always a direct result of the pastor’s work, and a big church can come about by worldly means, and actually feed into the money game as the truth can be sacrificed for numbers. Often times obedience to God and faithfulness to preach the whole word of God can result in a decrease in attendance. Could you imagine what would happen to some TV preachers’ numbers if they actually addressed the issue of sin and the reality of judgement?? Sorry Greg, this is just a really bad model.

    • I am always amazed how people love to talk about the fact that the Pastor is supposed to live by faith and trust in God to meet his needs but those same people never seem to realize that God uses the people of the church to meet those needs through the tithes and offerings. This conversation would be almost unnecessary if the people of the God’s church lived by faith as they are also commanded to and gave of their tithes and offerings to support the work of the ministry. Most churches have the money to pay the pastor, the problem is that the people are literally sitting on the money.

    • Wow. Complaining about a straw man that doesn’t hardly exist?! Wow. First, ain’t hardly a soul I know other than the 1% in megachurches making $200k+, and that only in cities where the demographics justify needing higher pay. The truth of the matter is egregiously the other direction for the 99% of pastors in America. Look a little closer into what many American missionary org’s are doing for their missionaries (which I am GLAD about! … and which my church supports!) and you will find that they often have health insurance and retirement that many pastors in America don’t have. I don’t have either, but I’ve been in ministry 20 years, have 5+ yrs of grad theological training, and am at a church of 325 in attendance. Second, thankfully having to choose between good stewardship (which require wise “business” practices) and the Holy Spirit is a false dichotomy we needn’t choose between.