Should a Church Show Individual Pastor and Staff Salaries in the Budget?


This question comes to the Church Answers’ team and me a few times a month. It often evokes some pretty strong emotions. Can a church member (or, in some cases, guests) look at a church budget and know exactly what everyone on church staff earns?

The tension is between transparency and misunderstanding. On the one hand, transparency is usually a good default posture. Especially in congregational polity, church members have final authority over major decisions. It just makes sense they should have visibility to pastor and staff salaries.

On the other hand, putting detailed staff salaries before all the church members can be a problem for the following reasons:

  • Many church members get confused over the term “packages.” For example, pastors with a “package” of $60,000 may only be making $45,000. The difference is the benefits, such as retirement and health insurance. The package is the total cost to the church. The salary (which sometimes includes housing) is what the pastor actually gets. Many church members view the package as the equivalent of a salary, but it definitely is not. In fact, most church members likely do not know their secular-equivalent package in their vocations. In other words, they do not know the costs of their benefits to their employer.
  • Visibility of a specific salaries and benefits of pastors and church staff can create tensions among the staff. Can you imagine what it would be like if secular employers posted all the salaries of their employees each month?
  • Church members may view the specifics of staff salaries and compare them to their own compensation. That too can be a source of tension.

For these reasons, I lean toward not including specific compensation in a budget that is made available to church members on a regular basis. Depending on church polity, a possible approach to the transparency/misunderstanding tension would be:

  • Include total salaries in a single line on the budget.
  • Include total benefits in separate line items on the budget. These benefits could be segregated by their respective purpose: health insurance, retirement, etc.
  • Show expense reimbursements, such as automobile expenses, as separate items. They should not be included as either compensation or benefits.
  • Have a system in place where church members can view individual salaries by appointment, such as meeting with a member of the personnel committee, elders, or specific group responsible for personnel issues.

To be clear, every church is different, and the polity of a church may be the determinative factor in how these matters are handled. Because we get similar questions quite often, we thought this approach might be helpful for some churches.

This issue usually generates some lively discussion. Let me hear from you.

Posted on May 27, 2019

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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  • Ken Brown says on

    I do not believe not showing the staff individual salaries in a budget is hiding anything, it is a respect for the individual that we all expect from our employer. Usually a committee of the elected board of men take several effects into consideration when setting a salary plan for the entire staff. A line item of Salary and other benefits for the collective staff should be sufficient for presentation of a budget to the congregation.

  • In our denomination detailed budgets are the norm. Everyone knows my salary and it is broken down. Salary, housing, what are paid as benefits etc.
    In some churches this is used as a weapon, as they don’t understand how compensation is figured. (Our denomination sends out “guidelines” on how the pastors salary is to be determined. THey are not always followed, congregational autonomy)
    The biggest discussion item besides the pastors salary is how much we pay for health benefits. (usually we don’t breakdown health benefits/pension/disability as we get billed for all of that in one chunk.) Many compare it to what they pay not realizing that they pay a discounted rate at best.
    I also had military congregations where they constantly complained about how expensive the health plan was. They were getting theirs for free so they did not realize how expensive it is. I also had to explain that when I retired I had to pay for health insurance and they got theirs for free. But I served for mine they say, and I would reply so did I!

  • E. Young says on

    I have served on a personnel committee at a multi-staff church for about 25 years. Early in that time we had a budget presentation to the church that included specific salaries for each position. It was a disaster. A church member who worked in the bus ministry made a recommendation for a significant increase for the Bus Minister. Then a student ministry worker did the same for the Student Pastor. Fortunately, our Senior Pastor was a strong leader who could handle the situation.

    We immediately changed policy. Individual packages are not public. We have a committee that works with the Pastor to approve those packages. 99% of our congregation prefers it that way. 99% of our congregation trusts the Pastor and his executive staff.

    Our informal church philosophy has always been to allow the senior pastor to drive personnel decisions. No “head coach” worth his salt is going to come to your church if he can’t pick his “assistant coaches”.

    If an individual church member wants to know a specific staff package they have to schedule an appointment with the Church Administrator, explain why they want it, and what they intend to do with it. My understanding from the Administrator is that there have only been a few requests in many years.

    The personnel committee uses a couple of different resources for compensation comps that are very helpful.

    In my opinion, transparency can be an overused/misused/abused expectation. Some who want staff comp transparency would not want church member giving transparency.

    Hopefully, the entire church family is financially supporting the ministry. So, if I knew the individual packages, and had a different perspective about it, why would my opinion matter more than all the others?

    I am under the impression that most churches use 45% to 55% of their budget for personnel expenses. If you have the right people on staff it is the best use of your church resources.

    In summary, with many years experience, I whole heartedly agree that the publishing of staff packages will damage staff morale, increase church discord potential, and serve no meaningful purpose. If a church member has to have transparency before they will give, you need a biblical stewardship sermon series.

  • Evan Mitchell says on

    There must be transparency In Christ”s church. Failing to put salaries of all paid church members, which is what the pastors are, is to hide from the membership an accurate monthly business statement on the expenses of the church. I have never worried about what my pastor was paid, I just thanked God that my employer was more generous than most finance committees in the churches I have attended.

  • Randall Macon says on

    What about churches that are incorporated . Public charities have to make public their salaries. Does that apply to churches.

    • Not being a tax lawyer but I would imagine the answer is no. Churches, even ones that are incorporated, are not public charities. They are churches that are incorporated.

  • Robert B. says on

    Another aspect is how such ‘complete transparency’ can negatively impact the minister and his family. There are, as mentioned, some very troubled people in our churches who weaponize this information without fully understanding how things are structured. Some of the things my own wife and children heard over the years:

    ‘My dad makes more than your dad.’ Over time, ministers kids know full well that no matter how protective their parents are, they live in a glass house. Some church members talk inappropriately about ministers to their children and that goes straight back to the minister’s child(ren).

    ‘ My parents say the church pays your dad too much. ‘ At issue here was that I had been in ministry for 20 years, had an earned doctorate and the person complained was a high school graduate working for the postal service. There is nothing wrong with that work. But, in the church, there was a great divide among blue collar and white collar workers and the pastor’s salary was commensurate with experience, education, responsibilities and average income of the church. Still, those words harm.

    Vacations taken (usually combined with a minister’s conference) would also be cause at times for some church members to scrutinize the salary. The irony of course is that in a few instances, some of the trouble making came from a group of people who had spent the previous few years: Going to Vegas together, one went on an incredibly expensive African Safari, and another had taken the family to Disney World.

    In other words, they had zero problem treating themselves (and that is fine!) but they were sawdust inspectors on the salary because we went to Glorieta (and then spent a few days in Santa Fe after).

    I was thankful as a staff person when I served in a church that had a procedure similar to what you have mentioned, Dr. Rainer. It gave a measure of dignity while being transparent. And, if members really wanted to know exactly what so and so made, appointments were actually set up, with the personnel committee. And, it usually was troublemakers. To be fair, sometimes there were good people who simply wanted to better understand the process. Once, a person even suggested the salaries were too low!

    The church I serve now lays everything out for all to see and honestly, it does cause problems for some people, and it doesn’t always feel dignified to be under the microscope in that way. I don’t think the average church member understands what it is like to have so much of life under the microscope. We know this will be the case going into ministry, but at times it can wear a person down if they are in a less than gracious church context.

  • There are so many variables in this discussion. A solo pastor can’t hide his salary in the budget like a multi-staff pastor can.

    What about part-time or bivocational pastors?

    Here is an article I wrote related to this topic.

  • We believe that if the congregation is voting to approve the budget, then we need to be transparent. Only a small handful ever have questions and if we aren’t prepared to give a proper and direct response then we need to rethink it. We try to follow Biblical principles on paying ministers and staff. I would hate to have to go through scheduling appointments and sacrificing more time to individually lay out salaries to members. We are a small church and have a small staff. There is no overlap as for one person to be worried about what the other is making. Minister salaries beyond the total payout is confusing to most members. Salary, Business and Professional, housing allowance, etc.

  • I am not in favor of that due to the problem of those looking for something to disagree with or wanting to be “cheap.” I am in favor though of job descriptions and the use of salary surveys to ensure that the overall packages are not only in line with like size churches but are also in line with what the local market place would see as well. There is no need for staff to be paid less than someone working down the street in a secular job. As the church, it is our responsibility to ensure that we fairly compensate those who work for us to include benefit packages, etc.

  • Philip Brown says on

    In discussing church salaries, benefits, packages, etc, I would like to propose this question – Why do most churches offer smaller benefits packages than they offer to senior leadership? I’ve served 3 churches on a full time vocational status. 2 as children and student were pastor. In both situations I received less in health insurance, retirement, housing, etc. At both of these churches my salary was considerably less than the senior pastor, but the cost of living was the same. So my salary was even less than what it was in reality because we had to make up the difference in cost of housing out of pocket. It seems that a responsible church with multiple staff would offer the same in housing and other benefits. I think there needs to be an adjustment to the mentality of congregations in how they see lead pastors and staff pastors. Many staff pastors are looked at as junior pastors that are worth a smaller portion of the budget, yet many of these ‘junior’ pastors are placed under expectations that are unrealistic or too severe. I think this point to the turnover rate in these ‘junior’ positions.

    • Don Jones says on

      I can understand housing allowance and insurance being equal. My guess is that for “Senior Pastor” the reason for difference in salary is the added responsibility and burden (apostle Paul’s word) of oversight of total ministry. Everything ends up on his desk.

  • Tim Rogers says on

    Your suggestions work well with multiple staff congregations. However in a single staff congregation even when you separate the package you still have congregation members adding up the package and then promoting the total amount as the salary.

    How would you overcome that?

  • If each church member served as a pastor for two weeks, there would be no question of salaries—-except maybe to give a raise!