Health and Growth

Church Staff Salaries: A Short Guide (& The Real Stats)

Use this quick and easy guide to get the latest data on how much money pastors make, and why (with the real numbers).

Church Staff Salaries: A Short Guide (& The Real Stats)

Paul Maxwell

Church staff salaries can often be an enigma.

Should they be below industry standard—almost as if it were a service project?

Should they be above industry standard—since many of these staff positions require 60+ hours per week and odd hours due to the nature of church life?

It’s very common for church staff to wonder what is the industry standard for others in their profession.

Or, workers interviewing for church staff positions don’t have a good sense of what they can (or should) negotiate for their own salary.

Fear not.

In this article, we will break down some popular realities that govern how much pastors make and why.

More than that, we will provide a full table that shows exactly how much pastors make, depending on their job title and experience.

1. Pastors can pay taxes if they’d like

It’s a common misconception that pastors simply don’t pay taxes.

Many pastors do pay taxes, and opting out of taxes is now more often the exception. 

If you take a pastoral job, you should not assume that your gross salary will equal your net salary.

What money you receive as payment for your services will subtract local, state, and federal taxes (assuming you are paid via W-2), unless you explicitly “opt out” of such taxes. 

And even still, there are strict conditions for opting out of these taxes.

Ensure with your local CPA and tax attorney that your conditions sufficiently meet those of the government for opting out of taxes.

The last thing you want is to spend 5 years in ministry, only to learn you have 5 years of back-taxes you have to pay.

It is especially critical to keep your eye on this if you are paid through a freelancer form like a 1099.

2. Pastors make more if they’re ordained

It’s just a fact. 

On average, pastors who are officially “ordained” receive $5k-$10k more per year than the average pastor who is not ordained—no matter his or her title. 

This is true even for youth pastors and music pastors, thought it is especially true for senior pastors and executive pastors.

3. Pastors generally make the highest income in the church

No, the pastor does not have to be a financial martyr.

In fact, industry standard is that the pastor makes the most money in the church.

This is due to the fact that he must function as the church executive, leader, and ultimately bear the responsibility of navigating the church through all its difficulties. 

The job description of “Pastor” often pushes the boundary between professional and personal. When other staff can take time off and go home early, the bottom line always comes back to the pastor. If there is mismanagement, failure, or crisis, eyes look to him or her—and that is reflected in the average annual income of this job.

4. Churches typically give greater pay raises than the industry standard 

The average worker’s salary in the United States receives a 3.3% raise this year. In churches, that average raise is 4.9% each year. This means that the industry standard for a church staff salary raise is about 4.9% year after year. (ChurchSalary) Consequently, if you make $50,000 per year, you are standing on solid precedent to request a $2,500 raise in the subsequent year.

5. Pastors make more money in areas with a high cost of living

Pastors who live in areas with a high cost of living—particularly urban areas—make much more money than pastors living elsewhere. 

Therefore, if you are interviewing for a church position in a major city, and the interviewing committee gives you a “national average” as a baseline for your projected salary, you should reply that the national average for a pastor’s salary does not apply in a major city. For example (From

  • Average pastor’s salary nationwide: $49,837
  • Average pastor’s salary in Chicago: $101,987
  • Average pastor’s salary in Los Angeles: $108,283
  • Average pastor’s salary in NYC: $115,849

These numbers indicate that some full-time pastors could be making quadruple what other full-time pastors make in the same country, determined solely by the cost of living. 

6. Pastors are typically given benefits packages

Pastoral compensation packages usually include paid vacation, 401(k) matching programs (more often 403(b) in non-profit scenarios, which are very similar), retirement, and health insurance plans. For example, according to Christianity Today’s study published on Church, Law & Tax website, pastoral compensation packages often include a variety of benefits:

Top non-salary benefits for pastors:

  • Paid vacation (88.1%)
  • Health insurance (54.2%)
  • Retirement plan access and/or contribution (51.9%)
  • Housing allowance (64.3%)
  • Auto allowance (34.4%)

Top non-salary benefits for church staff:

  • Paid vacation (67.3%)
  • Health insurance (25.9%)
  • Retirement Plan access and/or contribution (23.7%)
  • Life insurance (15.1%)
  • Disability (13.7%)

7. Many church employees work a second job (because they have to)

42.9% of church employees reported they work a second job because they have to—that is, out of financial necessity.

Bi-vocational ministry is an increasing church staff modality.

These situations would account for the lower end of the national average (creating the overall $49,837 pastoral salary average). 

Some church staff even make below minimum wage—including child-care workers (14.8% are paid below minimum wage) and custodians (6.3% are paid below minimum wage)

The Full List of Salaries

Here is the juicy part.

Below is a chart that includes the Full-Time (FT) median and average salaries of ordained and non-ordained pastors:

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.


Church Staff Salaries: A Short Guide (& The Real Stats)