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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  • Regarding factoid #10 – might it be that there is an unspoken belief among church members that no man will stay in the position of ‘children’s minister’ for long – while for a woman, there may be a belief that she has fulfilled her calling and will not be likely to move-on to another position – not saying I agree, just wondering if such an attitude might contribute to that surprising piece of data

  • It is a poor testimony to a watching world when there is such a discrepancy in pay due to gender. In past compensation reports there has been a huge disparity between male/female pay particularly in the Executive Pastor role with women making considerably less. Is that improving any? It is interesting that now perhaps we are seeing it in the Children’s Ministries with a bias in the opposite direction. God help us!

  • Been Lead pastor at an A/G church for almost 9 years.
    Haven’t had a raise in 8 years.
    I get plenty of vacation time, just don’t have money to go on vacation! We do lots of “stay-cations” we stay home and do nothing all week. The time off is good, bit it would be nice to take the family somewhere for a vacation.
    Not complaining, just sharing facts. Very happy serving where we serve.

  • When I was called to our church, sense I am”young” they cut the package 40%. In the last three years we have received $100 raise once. Frustration can set in at times. “I am afraid that the church can not absorb a raise with our finances the way that they are” is something I quite frequently hear, even though we ave tripled in number in these last three years.

  • I found the last point interesting. I would attribute some of the pay differential between men and women to the fact the children’s pastors/directors on average get paid very little in comparison to other associate pastors. I.e. churches know Kids’ Ministry is important. But, they spend little money on the position. Many churches view their kids’ leader to be nothing more than a nursery manager or a babysitter. Such professions are stereotypically assigned to women in the church. The thought goes, “Why pay a man more to do a woman’s job?” Because many churches do not see their children’s pastors/directors as equal staff members, the children’s pastor/director pay scale has its own rules. I do not agree with the above stereotypes, but its what I’ve run across in many churches. I’ll be curious to see what you find.

    • VerySad says on

      I had my pastor tell me (as the children’s pastor) that it was best if a pastor (me) had a regular job in the secular world to keep aware of how most people live.

      His son was also in the ministry but was the youth pastor. I found out recently that in a board meeting he pushed hard for his son to be full time because he said that a minister of the word should not split his time in half with a job outside the church because he would not be able to devote himself fully to Gods calling.

      This really hurt me when I found this out. I gave many years to the church and his son was new and had no experience as a youth minister and when I asked him if I could come on staff part time, he said that there was no budget for it. But, there was for his son. This hurt me very deeply and it still does.

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Readers, I apologize for not interacting more frequently, but I’ve got some meetings this morning and afternoon. I’ll jump back in the comments later this afternoon.

  • Dr. Rainer, our church used the 2015-2016 Richard Hammar guide to reset our church compensation levels. One major flaw should be noted in the 2016-2017 guide in which a thousand fewer churches reported in this year’s edition compared to last year. Churches or researchers should be aware that using only this year’s edition will greatly skew the data.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Donovan –

      The current edition still looks statistically sound with 2,500 churches and 8,250 positions reporting.

  • The end note regarding the A/G on #8 surprised me. Is there a similar trend noted among all Pentecostal denominations?

  • My experience with churches over the years is that many church members tend to have this mindset that the pastor is a person who has taken a vow of poverty. That his faith will provide for him. Of course that makes no sense but their thinking heads that way if they realize it or not.
    When I explain scripture that, a workman is worth his wage, they agree but have a hard time correlating it to the pastor.
    No wonder Christ spoke on money so much.

    • This is what I say to someone who wants a pastor of any kind at any size church to work with no compensation.

      1 Corinthians 9:13-14New International Version (NIV)

      13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

  • I had a board member that believed I shouldn’t make more [in compensation] than he does at his secular job! Very thankful that that wasn’t the consensus of the church!!

  • Jared–As Thom points out, the methodology for the survey is included in the book. Regarding your question about the percentage of the church budget devoted to salaries and benefits, we typically find it’s about 47%. Here is an infographic from a survey we conducted in 2014. It generated about 1,600 responses from church leaders who read our publications and resources and chose to participate: http://www.churchlawandtax.com/cft/2014/august/how-churches-spend-their-money-infographic.html

    Justin–The handbook includes data for 14 different church positions, including media communications director. Hope that helps!


  • Compensation, and the desire for it and raises… the difference between a calling and a career…. many in the AG think like this and suffer for it… even so, more and more churches can no longer afford to pat their Pastor anyways…