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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  • Seminary Grad says on

    What great information. While I have not progressed in a search process to the point of discussing compensation packages. This is wonderful to know so when that time comes I will be able to understand.

  • While the church has a responsibility to care for their leaders and it may be right to talk with the board about a need for more compensation, let’s be careful about growing bitter. I’ve been a solo pastor for almost 4 years in a rural context. I have enough but not highly paid compared to my schooling or compared to other pastors. My wife and I calculated what we needed to live a basic life without having financial strain. This included health care and retirement. As long as that is being provided, I’ll never ask for more money, even if it is low comparably or I haven’t had a raise. However, if we are having strains with money and we are living simply then I’ll be honest and open with the board. Either way, we don’t work in churches to see what we can receive but how we can serve. Let’s stay content and keep far from bitterness.

  • Excellent article and discussion on this post.

    I work with churches every week who are wanting to mitigate the rising cost of health plans for staff. Weekly I hear stories of having to make hard choices about chosing between programming budget or health insurance increases. What has, for many, been just assumed, that health benefits will be paid by the churches for the staff member and family is becoming nearly impossible.

    I work at The Health Co-Op and we are enabling churches to save between 40% – 60% on health plans. Our parent company is The Karis Group, a 20 year old Better Business Bureau A+ rated company. We wrap a set of rich benefits around health care sharing from Samaritan Ministries, and work to design a plan that meets the needs of even the small staff.

    Call Andy at 888-670-5178 or visit our site at thehealthcoop.com

  • Dr. Rainer,

    Our church operates under a multi vocational model. We reduced pastoral salary by 50 % while I was able to get a chaplain position that overall increased my salary and benefits, a subject you spoke about not too long ago. I think more pastors need to consider this model for many of the reasons listed above in the comments section. Consider the benefits:

    Our church has been debt free now for three years, we have done close to $40,000 in improvements with another $20,000 this year to our facility and all paid with cash. We have a strong general fund and no debt. We are a church that averages between 75 and 90 on a Sunday morning and have recently had growth in our children’s area as well.

    My church does a good job blessing my family at Christmas, October, and in lieu of an annual raise they give me a cash bonus every January that is about 5 percent of my salary, which helps out after Christmas.

    I’m very content, but it has a lot to do with where our church is financially. When things were lean at our church I wouldn’t expect a raise and even had to give some benefits up to help. But now that the church continues to win in the financial department it seems that generosity flows easily and readily.

    Praise God!

  • Olivia Johnson says on

    What about Pastors who are overpaid and overcompensated, and taking advantage of the church? Example; Senior Pastor is paid over $84,000 (to include medical and a housing allowance) with 5-6 weeks of paid leave and never works. He has been Senior Pastor for the past 7+ years and gets a raise every year. I am all about compensating out church staff, (when they work), but when do we say enough is enough? There is much more to this story, but for times sake….

    • Olivia Johnson says on

      Forgot to add…of a congregation around 150.

    • Since none of us know what is really going on in your situation, we can’t speak to the particular work ethic of you pastor. I can, however, say thst many folks in the church do not truly understand what their pastor does. I would also challenge you to think a bit more clearly about his compensation. A package of $84,000 doesn’t come near to being an $84,000 salary.

      You’ve shared it includes his housing allowance. Many ministers have extra housing expenses because they’re using their home for ministry with people regularly in their homes.

      You mention healthcare expenses. Those premiums are often paid by employers in addition to a salary, but that comes out of his $84k and can be rather expensive.

      Your pastor is responsible for the full 15.3% of his SECA taxes (almost $13k), whereas an employer typically pays half. He is also having to pay out federal and state income taxes, along with county and municipality payroll taxes.

      Then there are questions of travel expenses, conferences, books for growth and sermon preparation, etc. Perhaps your church helps cover these expenses. Maybe not. But they are legitimate expenses meant to make him a better servant of the church.

      $84,000 is a good package, but I wouldn’t put it too far out of line for a church of 150 depending on your unique circumstances.

    • What do mean “never works?” Does he faithfully preach every Sunday? Lead the staff? Counsel? What is his level of education? Experience? What is the average median household hold income? In a church of 150, 84K sounds fair. Unless the guy is a totally neglecting the ministry of the Word and prayer, he is not overpaid.

      • Olivia Johnson says on

        I mean he hardly ever works. He preaches on Sunday here and there. We did 4 Sundays where he did “interviews” and nothing of what a normal Sunday would look like. He takes off every Friday. We “go dark” on many Sunday and Wednesday nights. We go dark for the Super Bowl, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, New Years, many other holidays and months in the summer. If he does a funeral on Friday (his day off…that he decided to take) he then takes off Monday. Office hours….whenever he wants. He rolls in about 1030 am, leaves for lunch and seldom returns. He says he’s “headed” somewhere and when confronted about what occurred he makes up an excuse as to why he did n’t make it. He calls in sick quite often, etc. I’m sure he ministers, but seemingly he spends more time and effort (in my opinion) on his questionable blog and keeping his Mustang dirt free. I know what a “good” pastor and man of God looks like….and I can also see that maybe some of you may not expect such behavior from a pastor. Neither did I. But we are now seven years in and nothing is getting better. He gets a raise every year. It just sickens me that we are paying this much and getting so little in return.

      • If your pastor is not doing his job, then he should be confronted about it. He should be given an opportunity to defend himself, and if the church has any reason to think he’s doing something unethical, they are within their rights to dismiss him (assuming the church is an autonomous congregation; if not, they should take their case to the church hierarchy). If the majority of the church doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, there’s nothing you can do.

        I hope you realize that most pastors – including this one – work very hard and make a lot less than $84,000.

      • Olivia Johnson says on

        I agree most pastors do work hard for a lot less….Sad that issues like these keep the real work to be done.

      • Why do you go there if you have no confidence in his work? Find somewhere else to go.

  • Garry Martin says on

    I would like to see some info on Bi-Vocational Pastors. I for one work a full time job but I also put many hours in as a pastor. With Hospital visits, counseling sessions, community events, Special Services taking days of vacation from Secular job for ministry needs. what should a Bi-Vocational pastor expect as compensation. I have been at this church for 6 years. Took a pay cut after the first year and then they gave some of that back as the church has grown. No insurance or other benefits. I don’t think that the board doesn’t want to provide more but i think it have two elements one they don’t know what it should be and second they see a Pastor who is working a secular job as not needing as much. your thoughts.

  • I pastor a small church in rural America. Our communities are slowly drying up, the schools have consolidated again and again. Businesses are nearly non-existent in our community. There are 5 churches in a town of 400. I have been pastor for nearly 11 years. We have cut all expenses that we can cut. The church continues to get Out Daily Bread because I send them contributions. We have no bulletin or paid janitor. I received a $25 a week raise about 6 years ago. There is no insurance or auto allowance. I stay because I love the people and they love my wife and me. Our average attendance right now is about 15, but I see growth in the lives of these members. I am where HE wants me to be and I am not there for just the compensation.

  • Chaplain Gayle Fisher, Jr says on

    Wow, what a discussion. I believe more today than ever that compensation is dependent upon how much we value eternity.

    As a Chaplain compensation was not even a consideration by most churches in spite of 50 to 60 hours of ministry weekly plus on call.

    During this same time I was offered compensation to maintain and clean the church.

    We put or resources in what we value.

  • James Callender says on

    I have been in my current church for 27 years. Located in a small town which suits me just fine. The church has always provided health insurance for myself and family. It was always a very low deductible until just a few years ago. When the insurance prices inflated a few years ago I opted to take one with higher deductible but the church also pays my deductibles.

  • This past year our church fell under budget. Our personnel committee recommended raises for the whole staff for our yearly budget. When we got down to the numbers in budget, I chose to remove the raises because of the financial strain to the church. Not all churches are stingy. Since most churches are declining and the faithful givers are passing away it is becoming more difficult for churches to afford full time staff. It seems the bivocational and mega churches are increasing while the midsize neighborhood church is decline.

  • Last week on Chuck Lawless’ blog, some clown posted a comment about how easy pastors have it (I’ve been a pastor for 20 years, so believe me, I know better than that). I’m surprised no one has posted a comment on this one about how pastors are overpaid. Personally, I would love to see some of our critics do a pastor’s job for a couple of months and see how they like it.

  • I served on a compensation committee for a term and I would never do that again. When you start talking about personal finance matters in church it seems to bring out a level of ugliness you wouldn’t expect to find there.

    I would think that there are several good ways to ensure adequate compensation to the staff. Years ago when I was a member of the Church Of God(Cleveland Tn.)they used a sliding compensation scale based upon membership. The more members on the roll,the greater the salary you made. Not sure if that system is still being used.

    That being said,I don’t understand why any pastor would not ask for a meeting to discuss why there hasn’t been a raise in eight years. You owe it to yourself and your family to understand the logic behind this. Is the laborer worthy of his hire or not?

    Based on some of the comments so far there seems to be a communication gap between church and pastor. In my world(business)this would necessitate a meeting pronto to clarify the situation. By saying nothing to the group responsible for your compensation,you are likely telling them you are fine with the status quo.

    • Unfortunately, it’s often rather awkward for pastors to initiate discussion about their own salary packages. I daresay some pastors reading this blog would be all but crucified if they dared to mention the subject.

    • My husband/ pastor doesn’t like to talk money, anytime he has in the past giving went down. There has been almost no giving ( less than $100) from the congregation for the last 2 years, pastor has a secular job and get $125 from is MOM usually and $300 from a former member ( not guaranteed) and are now being questioned as to our wasting this money not from them. I told them to research if pastors should be paid and I hope they do.