Suggestions On How To Set Pastoral Income


By: Eugene C. Roehlkepartain

While pastors tend to earn more than the average American, they generally earn less than other workers in specialized professions, according to a recent survey by Christianity Today, Inc.

Titled the 1992 Church Compensation Report, the CTI study received data about church staff salaries and benefits from nearly 4,000 churches across the nation. Though most are evangelical, these congregations represent churches of all sizes and in all regions.

Since most Christian Ministry readers are pastors or associate pastors, we’ll focus on those positions.

* Senior pastors – At the top of the salary ladder are senior pastors in multiple-staff churches. The average annual base salary for these pastors is $27,142, with a total compensation package (including housing and other benefits) of $45,515. In this survey, the typical senior pastor is male (98 percent), has an average of 246 in worship, and works in a church with an annual budget of $220,000.

The vast majority of senior pastors receive broad benefit packages, including a parsonage or housing allowance (87 percent, health/life insurance (82 percent, and pension or retirement plans (70 percent). Four out of ten (39percent) receive a Social Security tax allowance.

According to the study, a church’s budget has the greatest impact on a senior pastor’s salary. To illustrate senior pastors in churches with budgets of $100,000 or less receive a base salary that averages $19,362. The figure rises to an average of $29,201 for those in churches with budgets of $300,000 to $500,000. Those in churches with budgets of over $1 million receive base salaries that average $50,030.

Other factors make less of a difference. Senior pastors without college degrees receive an average base salary of $23,792, compared to $30,816 for those with doctorates. Rural pastors receive an average base salary of $22,986, which rises to about $28,500 for urban or suburban pastors. Similar patterns hold with the senior pastor’s age, with base salaries averaging $22,620 for those under 30, and rising to $28,394 for those over 50.

* Associate pastors – A fulltime associate pastor in a multiple-staff church, on average, earns more than a solo pastor. The average base salary for associate pastors is $20,617, with a median age of 35, a median Sunday morning church attendance of 301, and a median church budget of $275,000. (Part of the reason associate pastors tend to receive larger base salaries than do solo pastors is that they are in churches with larger budgets.)

Benefit packages push average total compensation for associate pastors to $34,022. Like senior pastors, the most common benefits for associates are parsonage/housing (76 percent), insurance (75 percent), pension/retirement (58 percent).

* Solo pastors – Of all the fulltime pastoral staff included in the study, solo pastors tend to receive the lowest base salaries, averaging $18,728. These pastors are, on average, 45 years old, and they tend to serve small churches (which average 90 in worship) with smaller annual budgets ($74,000). Total compensation for solo pastors averages $32,163, much of which above the base is accounted for in the parsonage/housing allowance.

It’s an unfortunate reality that differences in pastoral salaries are so vast. And these differences do not take into account other church staff, many of whom receive considerably less. (Full-time secretaries receive an average salary of $15,510, and full-time custodians receive an average of $15,831).

The question becomes, What’s fair, just and adequate? In light of the wide range of views on the subject and all the factors that must be figured into the equation, it would be fruitless to suggest a specific salary scale. However, in an introductory article in the CTI study, Manfred Holck, Jr., suggests a useful process for congregations to use in determining salaries.

* Form a pastoral relations committee – Rather than hurting everyone by having the entire congregation or church council debate salaries, a pastoral relations committee can deliberate over the issues and make equitable recommendations.

* Set up equitable parameters – Holck suggests that automatic or routine salary adjustments are rarely fair or effective. It’s more appropriate, he argues, to ask a series of questions when considering a staff person’s pay. These questions might address issues such as salary history, denominational recommendations, inflation, pastoral responsibilities, community norms, and the salary package’s attractiveness.

* Follow a procedure – Base salary recommendations should come at the end of the process in the staff relations committee, Holck recommends. First, the committee should consider reimbursements, benefits and housing arrangements. This helps to narrow into realistic and reasonable figures for the actual salary.

* Implement the plan – Once the staff relations committee has developed and accepted a plan, it should present the plan to the church’s governing body and the congregation, defending it when necessary. The pastor and the pastor’s family should never have to face uncomfortable questions from the congregation, for these should be dealt with by the committee in advance.

Talking about salary and other benefits is difficult for many people, including pastors. Perhaps the impersonal numbers from this survey have enough distance from our own checking accounts to help facilitate honest discussions about this sensitive and important issue in church life.

(The above material appeared in the November/December 1992 issue of The Christian Ministry.)

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