The Ultimate Guide on Church Salaries (+ Pay Scale Analysis)

Every wondered what you should pay your church employees? Despite their passion for their work, it's still crucial to provide a living salary and reward their hard work. In this article, we'll cover some of the top paid positions at churches and perform a pay scale analysis to help you figure out the right amount to pay your employees based on other benefits.

8 minutes read
The Ultimate Guide on Church Salaries (+ Pay Scale Analysis)

Staff salaries are a major cost for many churches. If your organization is on the small side, you may worry you can’t offer enough to bring in the best staff.

Luckily, those willing to live their life for God do this because they love it and have a passion for sharing His message. But churches can offer more than money to their staff.

With this article, we’ll share insights on church salary, some benefits you can include, and mistakes to avoid.

What Paid Staff Does Your Church Need?

Churches vary so much in size, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about what staff members they need. Instead, many churches decide what staff they must have to fulfill their mission and what they can afford.

The below list is an overview of church staff positions and their importance to an organization.

1. Senior pastor

Any church’s primary staff member will be the pastor. Some churches may only have one pastor. Others will have several. A senior pastor is the leader of your pastoral staff and has the highest salary but also the most responsibility.

Senior pastors are responsible for the following:

  • Preaching
  • Teaching
  • Overall church vision
  • Conducting funerals and marriage ceremonies

As the leader of the church, senior pastors also direct the church through daily needs and difficult situations. This individual is often on call 24/7.

2. Associate pastor

Larger churches may also have an associate pastor. The associate pastor’s role depends on the church’s needs. In some cases, they’ll preach more. At other times, they’ll be more of an administrative role or a counselor for church members.

3. Youth pastor

Youth pastors are exactly how they sound. This individual leads your church’s pre-teens, teens, and college-age members through their spiritual education.

This role is not necessarily full-time. The youth pastor must be available nights and weekends. Most of them are also expected to be on call most of the time and be willing and able to take administrative and counselor roles.

4. Children’s pastor or preschool director

Some churches also have a children’s pastor. If your church has a preschool, this role is responsible for all preschool and weekend classes.

The children’s pastor must create and oversee education, security, and chain-of-custody tools for children.

5. Administration/office manager

Administrators and office managers are vital to the health of your church. This individual oversees the church’s operations, including church records, membership, and finance. They’ll also manage all staff schedules, new hires, and performance reviews.

If you are a smaller church, this individual may also oversee and coordinate the church’s bookkeeping and accounting needs and any marketing, communication, and fundraising campaigns.

Pro tip: Empower your office manager with tools that make their job easy and efficient, especially when they’re doing it all by themself. Donorbox is an all-in-one tool that not only lets your church fundraise more effectively but also provides you with ample integrations that help manage donors, marketing, and communications.

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6. Potential part-time or freelance staff

Since many churches are smaller and can’t afford full-time staff, many staff roles will be part-time or freelance vendors.

6.1 Musicians

In many cases, your church’s musicians are volunteers. If your church is large enough, you may need a part-time or full-time music pastor to direct your church’s choir or music team. You may also be able to pay professional musicians to take your services to the next level.

6.2 Maintenance

Any facility that caters to the public will need maintenance staff. Full-time maintenance staff is best for larger churches, but you can also connect with local cleaning companies to take care of your building during the week.

6.3 Accountant

All nonprofit organizations, including churches, must have an accountant oversee their finances to ensure they follow IRS and state guidelines.

Church accounting differs from other organizations, so you must find an accountant well-versed in GAAP principles and IRS requirements.

Pro tip: Bookkeeping and accounting may feel complicated, but tools like QuickBooks can help you create fund accounts for your church’s programs. We’ve written an article on QuickBooks for Churches to help you leverage this tool’s functionalities.

Bonus: After you’ve hired your church staff, we have an article on the Top Employee Retention Strategies for Nonprofits to help you keep your employees and save money.

6 Factors That Influence Church Salary [+Pay Scale Analysis]

Several factors should influence how much you pay your employees, including:

1. Budget

Your church’s budget will be the first thing you look at when determining employees’ salaries. When researching your budget, you’ll want to include past and future financial status. You’ll also need to include any threats and opportunities you may face.

2. Roles and responsibilities

If you’re a large church with several pastoral staff members, their roles and responsibilities are split, and compensation will vary.

The senior pastor has the most responsibility and the highest pay. From there, other pastors’ salaries will decrease with their roles. For instance, an associate pastor will make more than the musical pastor and potentially your church’s youth pastor.

This greatly depends on your church’s mission and goals.

We’ve included a pay scale analysis to share the median salaries of church staff below.

church salary pay scale analysis

3. Education

Education is another primary factor that influences what you pay employees. Your church leaders will need to determine your organization’s needs and priorities when it comes to the education of your staff, starting with the pastors.

An ordained minister has gone through a process to perform marriages and other spiritual duties within the church. Many pastors have also gone through years of education to learn the Bible. These pastors tend to receive more per year than other pastoral staff. The rest of your staff may or may not have higher education.

4. Experience

After education, an individual’s experience gives you the best idea of whether they’ll fit your organization’s needs. Ministers and priests with years of experience may seem ideal, but that experience means they will expect a higher salary and have ingrained beliefs and biases.

A newer pastor may fit your church’s needs best if you are a smaller church. You can work together to ensure they have the necessary support to grow with your organization.

5. Work hours

A reality for many church employees is that they’ll have a second job. In most cases, this is because the cost of living is higher than your church can afford to meet. It’s best to be aware of this fact when determining work hours.

6. Cost of living

The cost of living should be, but is only sometimes, a significant influence in determining salaries.

In cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, living expenses demand that churches pay their pastors over $100,000. Across the country, the pastoral salary significantly drops. The average national pastor’s salary is $49,837.

When determining your area’s cost of living, you should never stop with a Google search. Look at local churches and do your due diligence to find organizations that match your church’s size and budget.

8 Benefits That Your Church Salary should Include

As part of the compensation package, your church can include several benefits in addition to the salary to help attract good employees and retain them.

1. Paid vacation time

Paid sick days and vacations are the first things you can offer to pastoral and other staff. Standard practices have been ten days of sick leave, but the pandemic has upended people’s expectations. So your church leaders should think hard about what you can offer to entice new staff.

2. Dental and health insurance

Health and dental insurance are also huge players in people’s job decisions. If your church can afford health insurance for your staff, it remains a primary reason people stay with their job.

If, like many smaller churches, the cost of insurance is too high to pay staff premiums; you may be able to include other health benefits like Health Savings Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA).

3. Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

A Health Savings Account (HSA) lets you set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses, including premiums. These accounts are only a viable option for those with high-deductible health plans.

4. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)

Like HSAs, Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) help employees pay for medical costs. Flexible spending accounts are employer-sponsored savings plans that withhold a portion of each paycheck.

Unlike HSAs, money from these accounts is accessible from the beginning of the year even if you haven’t contributed anything yet, but you lose benefits at the end of the year.

5. Retirement plans

Retirement benefits are becoming rarer, but many people still prefer them. Nonprofits generally provide retirement plans. Similarly to a 401(k) plan, your church staff can also have savings automatically deducted from your employees’ paychecks and select where they want it invested.

6. Housing benefits

Churches offer a benefit for their pastoral staff that other organizations don’t offer to their employees, a housing allowance. Historically, churches did this to ensure they kept their pastor. As housing prices rise, this benefit can greatly appeal to younger ministers with families.

7. Dependent care

Another way to appeal to younger pastoral staff is to offer them dependent care. Benefits like maternity and paternity leave are becoming more common and necessary to attract quality staff, but you shouldn’t stop with childcare.

As the baby boomer generation ages, the younger generation has found it hard to afford to care for them. Dependent care for your employees should include dependent care tax credits, paid leave for the care of dependents, and Flexible Spending Accounts for dependent care.

8. Professional or education reimbursement plans

An often under-valued employment perk is continued education. While tuition reimbursement may not be viable for your small church, you can offer to pay for other professional in-person and online meetings for your pastoral and administrative staff. Younger workers look for these options when searching for jobs, so include this in your job offers.

3 Mistakes to Avoid while Deciding Your Church’s Salary

how to determine pastor salary

Now that you know what to include, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid when deciding on your staff’s wages.

1. Poorly planned incentives

Before choosing benefits for your staff, be sure they match your church’s mission and budget. You may want to attract the best staff and offer them everything, but you really can’t. This might severely affect your church finances, which may also upset church members and supporters.

This is where your church’s leaders must step in to decide who you’re looking for and what benefits someone like that needs.

2. Paying one person much more than the others

People talk! Don’t forget this when determining church salaries.

If you pay one or two staff members more than the others, there is a very good chance word will get around, and the rest of your staff may either leave or perform at a lower level.

While variances in staff salary are sometimes necessary due to education, responsibilities, and experience, you’ll want to make sure the reason for this variety is necessary and understandable.

3. Lack of transparency

Transparency is one way to strengthen your relationship with employees and build trust with them. Your church budget and finances should also be available to donors and the public.

Adding staff salaries to your annual reports can help with transparency and ensure employees and donors are comfortable with how much your organization spends on quality staff.

Another way to incorporate this practice into your church’s operations is fund accounting. This helps you effectively direct funds to the specific needs of the church. When you’re accepting tithes and donations, let donors decide whether they’d want to help you pay for your staff salaries. This helps build trust with your supporters.

Donorbox lets you add donation tiers to your church donation form, with which you can list down suggested ask amounts including a brief description for each. You can also leverage our donation designation dropdown on the donation form to let donors decide where their donations go. The more power you offer to your supporters, the more they trust your church.

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Final Thoughts

Salaries are a significant expense for many churches, so your leadership must plan ahead of time and determine your church’s goals and needs before hiring new staff. As we’ve discussed, several factors may influence church salaries, but the best place to start is with your budget.

If you’re getting ready to start a new church and need support, we’ve written a guide to help. We also offer several guides and articles to help you on this journey of growing your church and spreading God’s word. Find them all on our Nonprofit Blog.

Churches of every size need money to pay salaries and other required expenses. Donorbox MinistryMatters is there to make it easy for you! It’s a dedicated pillar of Donorbox that develops and offers innovative digital giving tools to help churches boost donations and reach more supporters. Learn about our product and features on the website. Sign up for free to get started now.

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Kristine Ensor is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working with local and international nonprofits. As a nonprofit professional she has specialized in fundraising, marketing, event planning, volunteer management, and board development.

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