Pastor salaries not keeping pace with inflation

"Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors and church staff has lagged behind the growth in the cost-of-living over the past two years. And health insurance coverage remains low, according to the 2018 SBC Church Compensation Study." - BPNews

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dcbii's picture


I believe I said "hard pressed," not "could not be expected to," but let's examine it closer.

Let's say the median income is 51,000, and all 25 families get that, and that's what is paid to the pastor.  All 25 families give 10%, that's church income of 10,625/month.  Pay the pastor 4250/month (the same as everyone else).  Let's call health insurance for a family of 4 $1000/month, even though that's cheaper than anything we can get here that has decent coverage, and even that has 7000-8000 deductible per year for a family.  10 missionaries at 100/month each.  Now, we're down to 4375.  Commercial real estate averages 1.92/sq. ft/month for just about anything except unfinished warehouse space.   You can get cheaper, but it will require a substantial amount for bringing up to code to use for a church, let alone making it welcoming.  Let's say 1500 sq. ft. for the auditorium (that's on the low end of space/person).  100x2 for 2 SS classrooms, kids and teens.  100 sq. feet for a nursery, and 100 for 2 bathrooms.  That's 1900 sq. ft. at 3648/month.  Let's say we get a great deal and get the facility for $3000/month.  That leaves 1375 free, before utilities, any office expenses, tracts, benevolence expenses, etc.  And that's with no fellowship space at all, unless the sanctuary is reused.  You see how tight this is, and that's with 100% tithing.

In reality, most churches have a couple or a few families making really good incomes, many more making at or below median (because on average, it's not the wealthy that come to church).  Then you have families larger than 4, seniors on fixed income, etc.  And, as others have said, you rarely have 100% tithing participation.

I'm not saying this isn't doable, but it's far from ideal.  And I'd suspect many churches don't have it this good.  And the smaller churches get, the harder this is.  That's why I said this is a church size issue.  Try running these numbers with 30 or 50.  I believe you said your church is about 235.  That's a pretty good size (in my opinion, close to ideal -- not too large or small).  Your church has also been around a while, with a paid-off building, if I read you correctly.  That's awesome, and I agree God has blessed.  Tyler's experience was quite different, and I've run into a number of other men with similar stories.  If churches continue to shrink as the atmosphere here in the U.S. becomes more and more hostile, and tax advantages are lost, and those who own the rented facilities become more willing to either disallow a church, or charge high rent, it's going to get harder.  There's no question in my mind that larger churches with their own facilities (especially if they are paid off) will be able to weather this much better, while paying their leaders full-time.

Dave Barnhart

Ron Bean's picture

The question remains, "How do you get a church that is capable of giving more to actually give more?"

One example: A pastor whom I shave regularly presented his deacons with the fact that he thought he was underpaid. He suggested that the 5 deacons write their annual gross incomes on slips of paper and consider the average as his salary. They did it and wound up almost doubling his salary. After the business meeting in which the new salary was passed, the rumor factory started that the pastor was "only in it for the money" and the tension amplified every action that was taken after that. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JD Miller's picture

About 20 years ago I cut my finger on a miter saw while working on a church addition.  The doctor who stitched it up was bi-vocational.  I went to the small town hospital and they had to call him in from the farm where he was doing chores.

Michael_C's picture

As someone who has been involved in church finance and salary conversations in the past, I want to add a thought on the value of news stories like this for pastors. When I oversaw church finances, I was regularly forwarded articles like this, and over time I got the impression that these compensation pieces tended to engender resentment with our church staff.

This headline indicates that "pastoral salaries are not keeping pace with inflation," and that is all that many pastors will hear. It doesn't give any benchmarks that indicate whether the same thing is happening in the broader economy, so without further digging we don't know whether this is a uniquely ministerial challenge. In your church's locale the economic situation could be very different, for any number of reasons.

During the time I oversaw finances, our pastor's compensation trajectory was better than the broader economy and better than that of most church members. His salary was above the median for all of his demographics; he never went a year without a raise and a holiday bonus. Some of the raises were more modest (3-4%, when finances were tight), but the cumulative effect was still significant. At one point, I polled the finance team and none of the members had gotten a raise in several years because of the weak economy. Some of our companies had removed financial incentives that effectively meant we had received pay cuts. Relevant to this article, my pay increases have not kept pace with the increases in health insurance costs, either.

All of this is to say, if you are a pastor, guard your heart when you read compensation pieces like this. Honest statistical analysis is an art, and many of these outlets are purposefully trying to find a storyline sympathetic to pastors. Don't fall into the trap of pity, envy, or resentment.

(PS Christianity Today publishes one of the most widely referenced salary surveys, and we used it as a data point in my church. I was surprised to see how generous the reported raises were in the report, until I learned that they don't include salaries that don't change or go down.)

Larry Nelson's picture

The senior pastor who (semi) retired from my church in 2014 was in his position for 23 years.  When he started in 1991, he was 42 years old, our average attendance was 1,100, and he made a $50,000 salary (plus good benefits) to start.  In 2005, our average attendance was around 1,500 (although in the intervening years we had planted 3 other churches), and he was making just over $80,000.  When he stepped down from the position of senior pastor our average attendance was more-or-less plateaued at 2005's 1,500-level, and I don't know what his final salary was at that time.

Our current senior pastor (now lead pastor) came to us at age 35 in 2014 with fine academic credentials (M.Div & Ph.D from SBTS) and a strong background as an associate pastor for 5 years and as a senior pastor for another 5 years in smaller Baptist churches.  Since his arrival, our average attendance has surged, now nearly 3,400.  (Some have come from other local churches, many others have gravitated to us upon moving into the area, and finally---as you would hope in a gospel-centered, gospel-preaching church---many others have come to faith in Jesus through the church.)  So what's his salary?  To just maintain parity with our previous senior pastor's 2005 salary of about $80,000, an online inflation calculator I just consulted indicated that an equivalent salary in today's dollars would be about $104,000.  I really am not certain at the present, but my educated guess is that we now pay him in the range of $120,000-$140,000.  (As a frame of reference, even if it's at the upper-end of that range, that's less that one week's average offering at the church.)