Six Surprises about Church Staff Salaries and Budgets

The new research on church staff salaries and budgets is amazing.

I have been poring over the data of the study recently released by Leadership Network and Vanderbloemen Search Group. It is rich with helpful information.

As I read the study, I looked for surprises or changes in patterns from what I have been seeing in recent years. And though the data I’ve collected in the past may not compare perfectly with the research of this latest study, the contrasts are, at the very least, instructional and interesting.

Here are six of those surprises or changes:

  1. Growing churches pay their pastors and staff slightly less than declining churches. At first glance, this information seems surprising. But growing churches often reach new Christians who have not established healthy giving patterns. Other growing churches may be more likely to reach younger families with lower incomes.
  2. Only two percent of the churches’ budgets are funded outside congregational giving. Some churches receive funds from leasing facilities, from schools that are in the church’s building, or from investments and endowments. But, in reality, those sources of income are very small compared to congregational giving.
  3. One third of the churches increased the outsourcing of staff over the past five years. As I have noted in other articles, outsourcing is a major trend in churches. Leaders are increasingly becoming aware that many typical employee functions are not part of the core that makes a church unique. Here are some of the more common church staff outsourcing I have found with an example of each (affiliate links included):
    • Administrative assistants/secretaries (EAHelp)
    • Bookkeepers/financial assistants (MAG Bookkeeping)
    • Web support/webmasters (Render)
    • Ongoing writing and publications (Ellipsis)
  4. Overall church staffing costs have declined to 49 percent of the budget. To be clear, the number of 49% comes from the Leadership Network/Vanderbloemen Search Group research. I am comparing that to my own earlier data that shows church staffing costs to be 54% of budget. It would appear that overall church staffing costs are declining. I would surmise that much of that decline is coming from efficiencies gained from outsourcing.
  5. The attendance-to-staff ratio is 76:1. For every 76 persons in average worship attendance, churches have the equivalent of one full-time staff person. Those numbers count all staff, including pastors, assistants, custodians, and others. It does not include school staff if the church has or sponsors a school.
  6. About 81 percent of churches limit visibility of specific salaries to a board, a subcommittee, or senior staff. This perspective seems to be a major shift from the days of all church members pouring over every dollar given to every staff person for salaries, benefits, and expense reimbursements.

How does this latest research compare to your church or to trends you are seeing in other congregations? Let me hear from you.

Posted on November 7, 2016

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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  • Good day. I am one of a recently appointed members of the Executive team of a small church of about 100 members in South Africa. I was assigned a responsibility to determine the salary of the founding pastor of the church.
    Q1. What are the factors that we must take into account when determining the salaries of pastors including the founder?
    Q2. In the public sector and private sector, there are job evaluation systems to determine job grades and salaries thereof. Do we have such in the Church sector?

  • Dominique Lee says on

    Thank you for this helpful information.

    Can you tell me what were the demographics of the churches that you compiled this information from that gave you those statistics and percentages ? (inner city churches, mega churches, church plants,…)

  • Your outsourcing links are inoperable

  • Our church recently had a business meeting to transfer invested funds to the general fund to cover day to day costs. We currently pay 75% of our giving to personnel costs. Is there any way to undo that situation or do we just wait it out. Growth has been minimal and giving has been flat, maybe even declining slightly.

  • Fred Jones says on

    Our church finance committee just proposed our new budget without listing the staff salaries. They just gave a total salary figure. They say there is a law against it. I say this law is for businesses who have different people with same job title so one won’t be jealous of another who is making more money. What say you?

  • You mention MAG (now Belay) as a bookkeeping service. In the spirit of competitive bidding, are there other similar services out there that you could mention?

  • Is there any data out there to help apply your findings to churches in “different” markets? My personal example would be in high tech, expensive places like the Silicon Valley or San Francisco. I’m finding that I have to make a very significant salary to even “get by” in the Silicon Valley where a 1,200 square foot home will cost you $1.2 million. Thus, it would seem appropriate for a church in an area like this would need to pay significantly higher salaries than most places in the States which would cause the % of budget to be much higher.

    Does your data show churches are actually paying their pastors enough to do ministry in expensive cities? I know this is subjective but I’m curious to know what you’re finding. Thanks for what you do!

  • When you mention the 54% figure, can you tell me what exactly is included in that? We have been trying to benchmark this as others have, but so far have found that some churches include expense accounts, benefits, etc while others are only looking at actual salary plus applicable taxes. Any help is appreciated!

  • Thom, I’ve been in full time ministry for 12 years, 8 as a pastor. I serve in a small church, 140ish in Sunday School, in rural tennessee. My compensation package is in the 60-65k range. My question/issue is that I sometimes feel like salaries occupy too much of our church’s budget, while too little is spent on missions and other Kingdom activities. There are times when I agonize over the fact that outreach, missions, taking care of the poor, etc. are relegated to very minor line items in our budgets, and I’m partly to blame. Am I the only one?

    • Your struggles are not uncommon, Craig. Keep in mind, your compensation is more than a salary, it’s the church using its financial stewardship for preaching, counseling, visiting, community outreach, and so many more of the diverse ministry hats you wear.

      • man oh man… thank you for writing that out Thom. Sometimes I feel we look at the numbers too much. We should be concerned about all aspects of the budget but saying a ” it’s the church using its financial stewardship for preaching, counseling, visiting, community outreach, and so many more of the diverse ministry hats you wear.” Is so well put.

        Never once in my 9 years of vocational ministry have I ever heard of the pastor/pastors salary put that way. Thank you for that encouragement.

      • Thank you as well, Shawn.

      • I understand by this thread that the compensation of a Pastor is to include more than what he does from the pulpit. But what if the Pastor does not do any of the stewardship duties listed? To put it frankly, our Pastor delegates these duties to other Pastors within the church. So does he still warrant receiving a full salary like a Pastor that would accept all of these stewardship duties?

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