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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  • Dr. Rainer,

    As a male, full time, vocational children’s minister with a MDiv from a SBC seminary, I would like to see you conduct more research on #10. I found that quite interesting and I would love to see further data on it.


  • There seems to be a rising attitude that ministers should not get paid at all, at least in smaller churches. Though I feel this is a bit extreme, I see that this attitude may play a part as to why salaries do not increase or are significantly low to begin with. I am not sure what the stats are on this. It is a bit unsettling.

  • Mr. Rainer,

    With the change in culture and the rise of media, are there any statistics in the report about staff members taking on the role of communications or media? I handle all of our media at the church I work at which includes our website, social media, graphics design, videography, etc. I also thought it interesting about how youth pastor don’t see a significant difference in pay as it relates to church size. I was actually the youth pastor of the largest church and largest youth program in our city for 2 years and made less than every single other full-time youth pastor in our city that I was acquainted with.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Justin –

      See Matt’s comments below.

    • Can you help me find my Pastor? His name is Pastor Rich. His name is Rich Smith and was Pastor at South Anchorage Assemblies of God in Anchorage Alaska. I feel lost without him and I don’t know where he went. Everything was “Hush hush” and then he was gone. I LIVE in Florida now and am lost without him. Please find him if you can. Thank you and God Bless. My name is Ruth VanScoy, he will remember me, he always said I need to be more of a Martha. (That’s my sister’s name), but she doesn’t believe, so I will stay a Ruth.

  • Two questions: first where are the metrics to support the report? And second as a percentage of the total budget of the church how much is devoted to compensation. Both can help target a more accurate view of compensation. Once this along with specific duties are communicated quarterly to the church (I’ve been a deacon handed the secret paper that just clumps numbers together) then compensation can be addressed. Somehow we have assumed everyone knows what everyone does and quite honestly they don’t. Communicating it changes things. Be transparent.

    • Jared –

      Hammar does a thorough job of providing the study methodology and the countless variations of the results. It’s a lot easier to refer to his book rather than extend a short blog.

  • Name with held... says on

    As a full time female children’s pastor with a masters; for many years I recieved far less in compensation than any other male pastor in my church. About 10,000 less than the youth guy. The last 5 years in my current position things have become more equitable, but yah, your last statistic threw me a little too. If its it’s true…we have come a long way baby!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Yep. I was surprised too.

    • As a woman in ministry for 20 years (preschool) that statistic shocked me. I ised to be 30 hrs/week-now 25. I get no benefits whatsoever. The flexibility while I raised my children is what I wanted. My salary is pretty low (in my opinion) but I don’t know what the “book” says.

  • Dr. Rainer is there any correlation between #6 no raises and churches that don’t have an effective evaluation process for their staff in your estimation?

  • #6 – We have not received a raise in EIGHT years. The first couple of years people protested against not giving raises but since that time and through some turbulent years, it seems to have been forgotten. God has provided and we are grateful for that. There seems to be a lack of respect involved with not even giving a very small raise. Yes, finances have been hard but God is STILL GOD.

  • My husband Pastors a smaller church in a rural area. We have been here for about 2.5 years and since coming the church has increased dramatically in both attendance and giving. As the wife of a Pastor I have a hard time with the fact that even though the Lord has blessed this ministry under the leadership of my husband, the church has yet to give my husband a raise…..or even mention one. I see how hard he works, he is always available, and how the Lord has blessed, so when I see him go without any mention of a raise from the church, I feel like they are not appreciative of his hard work. I understand we work for the Lord, I really do. Yet, even in the secular workforce there are job evaluations and raises based on them. If the world can do this, how much more the church should!

    • Joe,
      I usually don’t respond to blog posts and comments but I feel I need to offer you and your husband some direction and encouragement.

      My wife and I also pastor a smaller church in the New England area, in a rural community. Like you and your husband, we have seen significant growth over the 3.5 years that we have been here.

      275% increase in attendance, 400% increase in giving, Missions giving has tripled.

      Most of this occurred after the first 2 years. I also was in a position where we not only didn’t receive a pay increase, it was never even brought up at a Board meeting.

      I came to the conclusion that we as pastors often must advocate for ourselves. I firmly believe that God honors a church that honors it’s pastors. I prepared a devotional for a Board meeting, of which I chair. In that devotional I spoke the scriptural importance of a church taking care of the leadership. This is the model in the NT. I told my Board that this discussion wasn’t just for me but as I cited all of the incredible things the Lord was doing in the church in the way of growth, I told them that staff hires would be coming.

      They had to know that pay increases and cost of living considerations needed to be made on a regular and fair basis not just for me but for all subsequent staffing both pastoral and administrative.

      Then I told them that I wasn’t struggling and I wasn’t asking for more money at that meeting. What I did ask for was an extra week paid vacation for that year and that they would put into the meeting minutes that we had settled on a compensation review to be done each year in July for the Sr. Pastor.

      That was put into our minutes, the Board apologized and took responsibility for this miss. I will tell you that they have been very generous since then and the church continues to grow. I by no means make tons of money but I am not in need of anything. God is Good.

      Again, sometimes we have to simply have the hard conversation because usually there is no one on the decision making boards that feel it is their place to even spearhead such a motion.

      Once that culture is created in your church, your husband will never have to breech that conversation from his side of the desk again.

      I hope this is a help,


    • Pastors Wife says on

      I too am a PW and have the same burden for my husband. We are completing 8 years of ministry in our church and have never been given a raise, his 10 days vacation time is ticked off like clock work to make sure he “isn’t away too much”. When he has advocated for himself in this area, he was told the church has yet to recover from the economic crash (our area suffered exceedingly from the housing crash) and is only now coming on strong (which to some extent is true). But honestly, we can not stay much longer if something doesn’t change. Its heartbreaking really.

  • Donna Thomisee says on

    I would like to know of those churches that do pay for health insurance for pastors — how many also pay for their family? How many pay only partial amount for health insurance? With the costs of health insurance rising this is becoming a major factor in my church’s budget.

    • Mike Johnson, Pastor West End Baptist Church says on

      I must say – I’m thankful for my church and the way they have always taken care of my insurance for my family and myself. It is a lot for them to do as we are a smaller church. It has really made a difference for me. Thanks church.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Donna –

      I don’t have that data.

      • I wonder if the Affordable Care Act has made it easier for churches to provide pastors with health care?

      • I bet NOT! Obamacare has raised the deductible to $6000, so unless the insured has catastrophic need, it’s all out of pocket anyway.

      • I can only speak for our family on this, but happy to share our scenario… for reference we are with a mainline denomination that offers plans for pastors to purchase through their church, if their church agrees to w/hold it from the staffs check or pay for it on their behalf – it is up to the church if they wish to pay any toward the cost or not.

        I came to the position at my current church the year before ACA took effect. I purchased insurance (thru the suggested provider)for me & my family. It was a little bit more per month than we had been paying at my previous job – which was a small privately owned secular business. I paid 100% of the plan and the church paid 0%. But it was still cheaper than buying my own independent plan (we checked).

        The year ACA went into effect – the same plan would have cost me $6000 MORE per year!

        Since I was the only FT employee at the church, they opted to complete the form stating they were not required to provide coverage – and suggested I apply for a plan through the ACA.

        So for the 1st year on ACA, we got a great plan at a very reasonable price, about $1200 a year less than we were paying. But TODAY, our state only offers one plan option. We have had to change our care providers multiple times and, though still a fair price, our costs and our deductible have gone up every year.

        The main problem we have is that there is only one plan you can choose from in our state and the care providers and hospitals who accept the plan are very limited and are also some of the lowest ranked in the state. Praise God we have not had to use the ER (just a few “in network” urgent care visits) or have any hospitalization….

    • Nathan Kemper says on

      I have worked at three churches and been lucky enough to find all three that paid for my health insurance completely across varying roles. All of them covered the family in some way (as lead pastor my family is fully covered and in support roles it was covered at 50% for any family member). Some have also given HSA contributions with the increase in high deductible plans being more common.

    • On this point I would recommend checking out Samaritan Ministries. My church is able to cover my entire family for a comperable price to a private plan for me. It is a faith based healthcare sharing ministry where rather than paying a company, you help member families with their medical expenses directly. When you have an issue, the community help cover your expenses. Has been a great resource for our family.

      • I agree. Samaritan is the way to go!!!

      • Be aware that many of the Christian sharing ministries don’t cover pre-existing conditions, and so are not a good replacement for traditional insurance for people who already have health concerns. It’s a good ministry for people who aren’t likely to have high health care costs.

  • Allen T. Cherry says on

    I am senior pastor at our church and this is the first year in six(6) years I have received a raise and it was less than a $1000 a year. All of the staff received a small raise. It’s not that the church can’t afford to give staff raises, it’s that they don’t seem to care for the staff.

  • I would highly recommend making sure that if you have a female (senior) pastor, she is paid the same as that of males in similar size churches with similar education and experience. The younger people today will not condone a pay differential.

  • Duane Biggs says on

    I see a lot written about pastor compensation but not much about vacation time. As people miss church more and more for their own leisure, travel, etc., the pastor’s family can feel almost jealous of that ability. Some pastors would rather have some extra time off than a pay raise. Personally, I feel energized after a week off so the church benefits.

    • Amen! As a staff member, I would much rather have time off from my busy church schedule to spend with my family.

      • Bill Anderson says on

        I see where a pastor of a traditional denomination goes to Florida to minister to members of church that goes to Florida to get away from harsh winter up north. I don’t believe he considers it a vacation but part of job. Just came to this church a few years ago and part of conditions for him to accept this job was that son-in-law got the worship leader
        position and his daughter who he is married to has a you minister job.

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