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Fair Pay for the Pastor By Edwards and Lund

Christian Leadership AllianceWhat’s a fair salary for a Pastor? Learn how a national survey can help church leaders address critical salary compensation questions.

By Caitlin Edwards and Emily Lund ~

In most any kind of job, salaries depend on numerous factors, including location, years of experience, amount of education, and other industry-specific factors. These factors hold true in church ministry positions, often influencing how much pastors and church staff get paid. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for pastors and staff to find out whether their compensation is fair, and many don’t know how to broach this sensitive subject with their boards or finance committees.

Part of the challenge is that few pastors know where they stand in relation to their peers. And salary amounts for a position can shift dramatically, depending on numerous factors. For instance, a solo pastor in a rural, farming area makes an average of $48,892 a year, according to the 2016-2017 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff published by Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax Team. Meanwhile, the same solo pastor could make an average of $75,710 by serving in a suburb of a large city. Other additional factors can also influence the numbers. Church budget size is a major influencer. So is denominational affiliation.

With these various factors at work, how do pastors and church staff know they are being paid fairly?

Pastors and staff shouldn’t have to be in the dark about whether their salaries are fair, yet many find themselves uncertain. Pastors should be able to serve their churches faithfully, while also serving their families by being paid a fair salary.

Unfortunately, as many pastors wrestle with these challenges, they often face mounting debt, which compounds the problem further. In 2015, the National Association of Evangelicals surveyed more than 4,000 pastors. NAE found that debt was a common factor for all pastors, regardless of their age, denomination, or location.

Some findings from the survey included:

  • “30 percent of pastors have student loan debt averaging $36,000;
  • 3 out of 4 carry some type of nonmortgage debt (student, medical, or other debt) averaging $31,593;
  • 33 percent have less than $10,000 in retirement funds, and 29 percent have no retirement savings;
  • 84 percent do not have funds to cover emergencies and major purchases; and
  • 31 percent work second jobs.”

These statistics might sound disheartening, but ultimately, financial security for these leaders depends upon churches.

Church budget size is the primary factor dictating how much pastors and staff get paid. What churches do—or don’t do—makes or breaks the financial outlook for most pastors and staff.

Resolving these serious financial stresses requires church boards and finance committees to willingly start dialogues with their leaders. It also requires them to seek out resources (whether inside their denomination or from outside sources) to identify potential strategies and solutions. Churches also can—and should—encourage financial education for pastors and church employees. Taking these steps can foster a collaborative environment devoted to improving the financial outlooks for all.

Fair compensation for pastors and church employees can be difficult to navigate, but with proper planning, it can be done.

Are you willing to help address this important issue?

What You Can Do

One of the simplest ways to start any dialogue is to find reliable, objective data. Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax Team regularly researches and reports on compensation for pastors and church employees. For years, it has published the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, which provides compensation profiles classified by part- and full-time positions, church size, church budget, and geographical setting, helping church leaders set reasonable pay packages. Each position’s compensation levels are presented based on several characteristics, including years employed, denomination, region, gender, and educational training.

In order to create the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, the Church Law & Tax Team needs pastors and church staff to take its National Church Compensation Survey. This survey pulls together nationwide data to create a helpful picture of pastor and church employee salaries. Everything submitted is kept strictly confidential.

The survey needs leaders like you to help. Doing so aids tens of thousands of church leaders nationwide.

If you or someone you know works in a church, you can help by taking the survey. In return, participants will receive one of three free gifts—either a church finance eBook, a six-month subscription to Christianity Today magazine, or a congregation-wide Bible study on financial stewardship.


Caitlin Edwards and Emily Lund serve on Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax Team.

This year the Outcomes Conference 2017 offers a special experience designed specifically for church leaders. CLA has teamed up with Christianity Today to create a special one-day Church Leader Summit and two full days of workshops that address the pain points facing senior and executive pastors. If you want to take part in this training intensive event – be sure to select the CHURCH LEADER EXPERIENCE option when you register!


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