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).
July 8, 2019
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.
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 Salary.com):
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%)
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: