Ten Fascinating Facts about Pastor and Church Staff Compensation

By almost any metric, pastors and church staff are not overpaid.

While some ministry leaders provide sensational exceptions to this rule, we need to dispel the myth of highly-compensated pastors and church staff.

I have in my hands one of the best statistical resources for ministry in the world. I am deeply grateful for the years of work of Richard Hammer, especially his latest statistical tome: 2016-2017 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff. I am likewise grateful to the publisher, Church Law and Tax, a ministry of Christianity Today.

This incredible volume belongs in every church. I have been trying to distill some of the facts from the nearly 400-page book. You might find the following factoids fascinating:

  1. Church income is the number one indicator for compensation levels for all church staff. The larger the financial receipts, the greater the likelihood of higher compensation for all staff.
  2. The highest paying positions in order are pastor, executive pastor, and worship/music leader. The growth of the executive pastor position is a major church trend of the past decade. It deserves greater study.
  3. Church staff compensation varies by type of community. The rank of compensation level is: large city suburb; city/urban; small town; and farming/rural.
  4. Education is still a factor in compensation. For lead pastors, pay increases about 9 percent from bachelors to masters, and 10 percent from masters to doctorate.
  5. Fewer than two-thirds of lead pastors receive health insurance as a benefit. Lead pastors are full-time with at least one other minister on staff.
  6. One half of all pastors did not receive a raise in the past year. This discovery was another surprise.
  7. Compensation varies little with length of tenure for all staff positions. More experience does not necessarily mean higher compensation.
  8. Churches in mainline denominations tend to offer higher compensation to their pastors and staff. The Assemblies of God offered the lowest compensation of the denominations studied.
  9. Youth pastor compensation does not change significantly from smaller to larger churches. In fact, the average compensation does not change at all past 750 in average worship attendance.
  10. Female fulltime children/preschool ministers make 14% more than their male counterparts. This factoid surprised me. I really want to dig into it more.

Next week I will look at the benefits church staff receive. In the meantime, let me hear from you.

Posted on February 10, 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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  • Our senior pastor came 3 years ago when our total church attendance ~280 across two services (kids and adults) every Sunday. Has built good firm ministries in kid’s and adult ministries and missions and outreaching and now we are at about ~320 total attendance (kids/adults) every Sunday, which is plateaued at where we have been in the past. We have large building mortgage >$1,000,000, but healthy offerings >$750 K (with Salary benefits burden at ~35-37%). We have 5 paid pastors on staff, and one of them is spouse of our senior pastor. It turns out that with housing allowance, bonus, compensation for car allowance, and other compensation we pay, the complete package is worth $90 K. Ordained with almost 15 years experience, but no BA. The spouse gets $35 K cash for office and other ministry support. No kids and close to eastern part of PA. Pastor is pretty aggressive with leadership on raises, or covering additional costs not accounted for in the package, but when I compare to Hammer, it feels we are well above median for the data. The finance committee always wants to be sensitive to needs, but we have fiduciary responsibility to the congregation as well. Takes a lot of prayer and courage to do the best for all. Any thoughts? Sometimes we struggle because it feels very generous.

  • Al Schirmacher says on

    Spent 23 years in the business world – half of that self-employed, rest of the time low base salary plus commission – so know widely varying compensation. Since then have served two churches – one of 250 with compensation in the 60’s plus health insurance – one of 80 with compensation just under 50K, but with a parsonage & car in a low cost of living rural area. Felt both have adequately compensated, and the latter church was extremely generous during my son’s four brain surgeries, plus does annually give raises. Just wanted to share a counterpoint story, there are churches out there that take care of their pastors.

  • Rafael Acevedo says on

    I have a question that has been troubling me. I have been the solo pastor at our church for the last 3 years, 4 months. For the first 15 months I was bi-vocational. At the end of 2013 I resigned from my secular job to devote myself entirely to the church. the church board has never mentioned giving me an increase in my salary. I, however, have brought it up twice (which I have never had to do before and made me very uncomfortable). Even with two raises I am still being paid much lower than the book you mentioned suggests (using all of their various standards of measurement). My wife works outside the church, and together we are able to make ends meet without a problem. This is my questino – should I ask them to adjust my salarty closer to the low end of that which is recommended in the book or since I am able to make it as it is should I just keep quiet. In the last 15 months the church has been able to spend over $60,000 in repairs to the building and yet I am still earning $24,300 annually. What do you suggets?

    • Is your $24,300 annual earnings your package or your salary? I, too, am a full time pastor (45-55 hours wkly) with a Master of Divinity serving 17 years in a rural Maine community. Our church attendance at Sunday worship averages around 60 people. My package is about $46,000 a year, does not include healthcare but a housing allowance. My salary has increased from $16,000 to 24,000 in these 17 years. I worked a second part-time job as a hospice chaplain for 11 years to supplement my income, and recently began receiving SS so I was able to retire from hospice. If I did not love my life as a pastor, I would have returned to my former work as a mental health administrator making nearly three times my current salary plus benefits. We make our choices. Blessings to you and your vocation.

  • Normally we often hear and talk about Pastors salaries. What about key staff that works part time in church like Administrators, Accountant with no pay?

  • I see very little discussed about the fact that many/most churches do not offer their employees one of the most basic benefits – that of unemployment insurance.

    While many churches loudly professed the need for the government to extend unemployment benefits for those Americans out of work, their hypocrisy in not extending those same benefits to their own employees is quite disturbing. (Many states do not require houses of worship to participate in the unemployment insurance program – although they could voluntarily).

  • I’m curious, what would you (pastors) do if the church you were pastoring had to cut your pay?

    • My pastor/ husband was hired at $250/ month. He was given free house but was responsible for his own utilities. A year or so later when he married me he took a secular job and within a year or so gave up his stipend as a courtesy to help out his church finances. I was working as a nurse. We pitched in to our church bills and needs with our secular incomes sometimes spending hundreds thinking ” it’s for God’s work”. VBS always came out of our own pockets. Our last VBS cost $700 and our return was $200 and none saved. We had to rethink whether that was a good use of our money. Church bills were $1000+ month and I got resentful after we lost our building and church members accused us of not using the money right. At that time there was less than $200 coming in from our congregation and we covered the rest. It’s been a few years now and I am more resentful of accusations of mishandling church money when we are putting in most of it. Salary? Hah!. He hadn’t seen a salary from the church since 2005.

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