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Church Staff Salaries: A Short Guide

church staff salaries

While many church-related jobs involve service, not all of them are unpaid or voluntary. Paid staff are necessary to handle the numerous crucial responsibilities associated with running a church. However, determining appropriate church staff salaries can be a challenging task, and job seekers may also be uncertain about the compensation they should request. To ensure equitable compensation that reflects the job’s demands, consider the following factors.

Common Benefits Seen in Church Staff Salaries

For anyone looking for a career that combines their faith and work, a church job may be a great option. Ministries need people for both religious and administrative duties, so there are many different roles to choose from. While pay may not be as high as other types of positions, church jobs offer many opportunities for spiritual growth and service.

In addition to a regular paycheck, church salaries often include benefits. These include health insurance and retirement plans. For example, a church staff member may have a total salary of $50,000, which includes $40,000 in cash and $10,000 in benefits.

Other benefits of employment in the ministry include combining career and faith, working with like-minded folks, and positively impacting the community. Anyone looking for a rewarding and meaningful career may find that working in the ministry is a great fit. Here are just a few of the financial benefits that are often considered alongside church staff salaries and spiritual benefits:

  • Paid vacation
  • Housing allowance
  • Life insurance
  • Healthcare and insurance
  • Disability
  • Auto allowance
  • Retirement plans (e.g., 401(k), IRA)

Just like all other employees, church staff are willing to accept a lower salary if they are offered great benefits. Overall, offering great benefits to staff members is a win-win for both the ministry and its workers. The church can attract and retain qualified employees, and the staff can be assured that their needs will be met.

Church Staff Compensation Variations

Plenty of factors can affect church staff salaries and compensation. However, the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff states that the following issues have the greatest effect on what employees receive:

Church-Focused Issues

Attendance and congregation size: The size of a church’s congregation and its budget determine the salaries of its staff members. The larger the congregation and the more people who attend worship services, the higher the church’s income. Church staff compensation is directly related to ministry’s income.

Large churches with many members can afford to pay their employees higher salaries than small churches with fewer members. Conversely, some small churches may have part-time ministers who serve more than one church. Others have ministers who work second jobs as well. These situations are difficult, but they work in congregations every day.

Type of community: The area a church is located in can have a significant effect on the potential compensation offered to employees. Church staff salaries in large city suburbs are usually higher. City and urban settings typically come in second, and small town, rural areas often have the lowest compensation.

Pastor and leadership: Church employee compensation will depend heavily on an individual’s role within the ministry. The pastor is obviously the highest paid person on staff. After that, the highest compensated members are usually administrative and executive pastors, worship leaders, music directors, and so on.

Individual Demographics

Gender: Studies consistently show that women earn less money than men in all church positions. However, you don’t have to follow that trend. Taking a more equitable approach can greatly improve employee morale.

Education: A person’s educational level will also significantly affect their church staff salary. Those with college degrees usually get paid more. Ordained and licensed clergy typically also receive higher compensation.

Experience: More experience does not always equate to higher pay — particularly in ministries with tight budgets. However, seniority does play a role in church staff salaries when the budget allows for it.

Other Considerations

Denomination: It’s surprising for many people that different denominations affect church staff salaries. The simple fact is that some denominations pay more than others.

Geographical region: Just like variations in community type, regional differences can affect overall compensation as well. Separate areas of the country have different costs of living, and this is a determining factor when offering benefits and salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California has the highest annual salary for clergy. Michigan has the lowest.

What’s the Average Church Staff Salary?

The average annual salary of US clergy in 2018 was $53,290. This statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specify the job title, so it could include clergy of all levels and from all sizes of churches.

Because of this, there can be huge variances in the lowest and highest church staff salaries. Here are some salary ranges based on information from Lifeway and PayScale:

  • Senior pastors: $100,000-$150,000
  • Associate pastors: $60,000-$100,000
  • Ministers of education: $40,000-$80,000
  • Youth pastors: $30,000-$60,000
  • Music ministers: $30,000-$60,000
  • Administrative assistants: $25,000-$50,000
  • Custodians: $20,000-$40,000

Typically, only churches with 500 or more members have positions such as worship pastor, executive pastor, children’s pastor, and student pastor. Executive pastors typically earn between $54,000 and $135,000, while worship pastors typically earn between $50,000 and $92,300. Student pastors typically earn between $35,000 and $75,400, while children’s pastors typically earn between $34,000 and $58,600.

The salaries of administrative and technical positions are largely determined by the qualifications and experience of the employee. Typical administrative positions in churches include teachers, secretaries, and office managers. Accounting personnel typically earn the highest church staff salaries, but again, this can vary by ministry.

Salary Determination Mistakes

Your church’s staff members are likely sincere and dedicated in their efforts to meet the spiritual and practical needs of your community. They likely approach their work with a selfless attitude, fueled by their faith in God and desire to serve others.

However, it’s important to recognize that even the most service-oriented staff members and their families have basic physical needs. Therefore, it’s crucial to prioritize fair and adequate compensation for their work.

Potentially Unfair Pay

Deficiency or lack of compensation strategy: Many churches make salary decisions based on guesswork or estimates. These estimates are often based on the salary structures of other churches. However, every ministry has different circumstances, so salary decisions made in this way are not fair to staff members.

Substandard pay or missed payments: If churches don’t pay well or miss deadlines for paychecks, it will weaken the fortitude, enthusiasm, and joy of employees. These failures in church staff salaries result in ministries missing out on talented candidates who would otherwise desire to join their team.

Too many church employees have to work second jobs. Unfortunately, this is sometimes unavoidable. However, it should never be because a ministry is paying less than it’s able to.

Budgets and Resources

Lacking in human resources (HR) processes: Many ministries do not conduct proper performance reviews, and they may even fail to provide raises. Others may not take salary concerns or incentives seriously. And even among those with legitimate reasons, many fail to explain their budget so that employees can understand.

Failures in staffing budgets: There has been a decrease in church staffing budgets. It’s strange, but growing ministries often pay less than churches on the decline. That’s because growth often comes from younger families with lower incomes.

However, not fixing these understandable issues can result in significant strife. This might include infighting, low morale, and general discontent. Always remember that church employees are there because they want to help. Don’t make errors in compensation — even when financial issues are occurring — otherwise, workers can’t focus on their jobs.

How to Improve Church Staff Compensation

Your church may have many volunteers who are willing to help out with various tasks, but they may not be as dependable as your paid employees who are fully committed to the success of your church. Your permanent staff has critical responsibilities that are essential for the church’s survival, and volunteers may unexpectedly stop offering their services.

However, you can replace paid staff with enough notice if they decide to move on. Therefore, it’s crucial to hire the best people for the job and keep them happy by providing fair and sufficient compensation. Determining the right amount to pay your staff can be challenging, but following best practices can help you create a robust strategy for improving church staff compensation.

Consider the Culture of Your Church

To establish an effective compensation strategy for a church, it is crucial to consider the church’s culture, which comprises various elements such as core values, vision, mission, denomination, and community. Understanding the church’s culture is essential as it can significantly influence the way you approach compensation.

Therefore, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of the church’s culture to develop an appropriate compensation strategy that aligns with its values and goals.

Develop a Policy for Compensation

To develop a strong compensation policy for a church, it’s important to ensure that it’s fair, competitive, and aligned with the church’s culture. Additionally, it should be financially responsible and based on the church’s available resources. An effective compensation policy should include the following elements:

  • A clear understanding of compensation packages, including pay grades, salary ranges, benefits, incentives, savings, and retirement, based on the church’s financial resources.
  • A well-defined plan to administer these packages.
  • Strategies to attract talented individuals to join the church as employees.
  • Measures to motivate employees to perform at their best.
  • Methods to prevent high employee turnover rates, retain top-performing employees, and reward them accordingly.

Furthermore, the policy should take into account market conditions in both the local and larger church community. It must also comply with all federal, state, and local employment laws and regulations. Finally, it’s essential to communicate the compensation policy effectively to employees and members of the congregation.

Don’t Forget to Account for Costs Related to Salary

It’s important to realize that not all ministry employment costs are due to church staff salaries. There are a variety of related expenses. These include:

Direct to Employees

  • Cash compensation: This includes the base salary or wages, bonuses, incentives, and other cash payments made to employees.
  • Paid leave: Various types of leave provided to employees, including vacation, sick leave, personal leave, and bereavement leave.
  • Health benefits: This encompasses the healthcare plans available to employees and their families, annual physicals, and disability insurance.

Health and Wellness

  • Life insurance: Life insurance policies provided to employees.
  • Flexible spending accounts (FSAs): These are accounts that allow employees to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible healthcare or dependent care expenses.
  • Social security: This refers to the contributions made by the employer towards an employee’s social security benefits.
  • Workers’ compensation: The insurance coverage provided to employees in case of a work-related injury or illness.
  • Retirement/savings plans: These are the various retirement or savings plans available to employees, such as 401(k), 403(b), defined benefit or pension plans, and supplemental executive retirement plans (SERPs).
  • Supplemental executive health/life/disability insurance: Additional coverage provided to executives for health, life, or disability insurance.

Added Benefits

  • Automobile allowance or automobile provided: This refers to the allowance or personal use of a car provided by the employer.
  • Health/dinner club membership: The membership or coverage provided to employees for health or dinner clubs.
  • Interest-free or below-market loans: Loans provided to employees at no or low interest rates.
  • Deferred compensation plans: Plans that allow employees to defer a portion of their income to a later date.
  • Housing allowance: Allowance provided to employees to cover housing expenses.
  • Travel allowance: This is the allowance provided to employees for work-related travel expenses.
  • Relocation allowance: Allowance provided to employees for relocation expenses.
  • Financial, tax, and estate planning: This refers to the services provided to employees for financial, tax, and estate planning.
  • Legal services: This includes the legal services provided to employees.
  • Counseling services: The counseling services provided to employees.
  • Educational assistance: This includes the assistance provided to employees for educational expenses and related expenses.
  • Reimbursement for cell phone, email, and personal internet service: The reimbursement provided to employees for cell phone, email, and personal internet service expenses.
  • Miscellaneous compensation-related items: Any other compensation-related items not mentioned above.

Take time to make a list of all related costs. This will give you a fair idea of what constitutes a necessary expenditure and what doesn’t.

Check Compensation Surveys

To create a comprehensive compensation policy for your church, it’s essential to analyze your culture, outline the policy, and understand the current costs. Afterward, you should conduct research using reliable compensation surveys to gain insight into the latest trends.

These surveys provide detailed information about wages, incentives, and benefits, comparing jobs and employee compensation across different churches, companies, or organizations of varying sizes. The surveys categorize this information according to job descriptions, position levels, denominations, and geographic locations.

This data can be used to compare jobs and compensation with positions in your church, plan for growth, and attract top-performing candidates. Here are just a few popular data sources you should consider reviewing:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)
  • State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
  • Local chambers of commerce, job placement firms, association surveys
  • Regional and national nonprofit and for-profit surveys
  • Temporary employment agency data

Set Church Staff Salaries After Analyzing Jobs and Descriptions

A job description outlines the key duties, educational and experience prerequisites, and specific responsibilities related to a job. It’s advisable to collect, record, and assess all job roles based on their descriptions. By doing so, you can revise the descriptions to reflect the actual work associated with each position.

This approach will aid in comparing salary survey data to the actual job duties within your organization, rather than solely relying on job titles. Consequently, you can establish suitable remuneration for each job position.

Develop Your Pay Structure

After assessing all the tasks performed thus far, it’s possible to create a concrete compensation framework that encompasses pay range, pay grade, and job classification. During this process, it’s crucial to take into account all salary ranges provided in compensation surveys and how positions are categorized. For each pay grade, it’s advisable to establish a minimum, midpoint, and maximum pay range.

Pay Attention to Your Current Finances

Once the pay structure has been established, it is necessary to evaluate the current compensation of your church employees. This assessment will enable you to determine whether adjustments are necessary to ensure fair and equitable payment for your staff. Additionally, consider the potential loss resulting from dissatisfied employees who may leave due to inadequate pay.

Revisit and Review on a Regular Basis

Establishing the pay structure is not the end of your responsibilities. Regular review of the pay structure is crucial as the salary requirements of your staff members may change along with the evolving needs of your church. It is recommended to review salaries annually and provide raises to ensure the contentment of your employees. Additionally, contemplate offering performance-based raises and incentives.

Always Communicate Effectively

Life will not always be easy when managing finances at a church. Similarly, employees will not always be compensated at the levels they could in the private sector. However, effective communication can ease tensions regarding many of these issues. Be straightforward with employees. Let them know why church staff salaries may be lower. Explain why a bonus may not be possible this year. Honesty is the best policy.

Limit Expenses

Crafting a compensation strategy for your church involves multiple facets. While various factors influence salary decisions, the church’s overall budget plays a significant role in determining better compensation. To enhance the budget and reduce expenses, consider the following actions:

  • Utilize volunteers: Leverage the skills and willingness of your congregation members by delegating tasks like website work, social media management, and community outreach to them.
  • Foster generosity: Simplify the process of tithing and donations by implementing user-friendly online or app-based platforms.
  • Boost membership: Cultivate a warm and inviting atmosphere to retain existing members and attract new ones. Prioritize member satisfaction to encourage referrals.
  • Streamline programs: Optimize your budget by reallocating resources to popular and impactful programs, and discontinuing those that are ineffective or redundant.
  • Hire judiciously: Ensure optimal staffing levels by limiting the number of employees to only what is essential for the church’s operation. Consider that smaller churches may require a different staffing structure than larger ones for a less complicated compensation process.
  • Outsource selectively: If necessary, hire specialists for specific tasks to alleviate the workload of your existing staff. Outsourcing can be applied to non-core functions like website management and content creation.

Establishing a just and reasonable salary structure for church staff is a sensitive and multifaceted undertaking. It requires a collaborative effort from church leaders to ensure its success. Effective communication of all salary decisions to staff members is essential to create a positive and content work environment. By doing so, the church can foster a culture of trust and transparency, which will ultimately benefit both the staff and the organization.

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