The Ultimate Church Compensation And Salary Guide

One of the hardest things to determine as the leader of a church is what to pay your various staff members. 

From your pastor and youth pastor to your finance director, what should their salaries be? While part of this will ultimately depend on your church’s budget, paying your staff fairly is vital to keeping the best employees.

If you don’t have a clue where to start or you’re re-evaluating your church compensation, learn more with this church salary guide.

Why You Need Paid Church Staff

Unlike volunteers, your church staff is fully dedicated to helping your church succeed. Yes, volunteers do what they can, when they can, but you don’t count on them in the same way as you do your paid staff.

Think of it as the difference between part-time interns and full-time staff. Your main staff is tasked with the most important responsibilities regarding the running of the church, ministry, growing the church, organizing volunteers and so much more. With all of that responsibility, it’s only fair to pay them.

Obviously, you don’t have to pay every person who works in your church. For instance, you might have a few members who are copywriters who volunteer to write weekly blog posts. Recognizing them on your church’s website or during special volunteer recognition events is ample reward.


According to a Lifeway 2018 report, these are the salaries of pastors by years of experience.

Despite your best intentions, you can’t run a church on volunteers alone. What happens if a volunteer suddenly stops helping out or moves away? Most of the time with paid staff, you get time to replace the person before they move on. 

Would you run a business on volunteers only? No. You’d hire the best people possible to help you build and grow a thriving business. These people give their all and deserve compensation in return. The hard part is figuring out what a fair salary is, especially if you’re a smaller church.

While you don’t always need a huge paid staff, paying everyone fairly for what they do goes a long way towards boosting employee morale. As everyone knows, happy employees are more productive. In a church environment, this means creating a more positive atmosphere that welcomes others in and encourages more volunteers.

Common Issues With Low Salaries

Now that you better understand why it’s important to pay your church staff, it’s time to take a look at what happens when you under pay them. Don’t feel bad. You might not even realize you’re underpaying. Of course, it may just be a case of there’s not enough money to go around. 

While your staff will understand lower salaries when they’re working for a small church that’s still struggling to grow, they won’t be as understanding if you’re a thriving church that’s constantly growing. 

Some common obstacles that come from lower church compensation include:

  • Low morale
  • Infighting if someone earns significantly more
  • Lack of accountability
  • Loss of your best staff members
  • Negative attitudes that spread to your members
  • Lack of availability when you need them most

These are just some of the consequences that arise when your staff find out your paying them far less than the standard for a church of your size. Remember, they’re spending their time to help the church. The last thing you want is for them to be so stressed about their personal finances that they can’t do their job well.

The good news is, there are ways to boost your budget to allow for better salaries. But, more on that later on.

Understanding Types Of Church Compensation

Most of the time, a church salary guide just gives you an overall total, but it may not go into details on what’s included in that salary. Church compensation isn’t just a weekly or monthly pay check. Instead, it’s a total of regular pay and benefits.

Some of the most common types of benefits that play into the overall salary include:

  • Vacation time
  • Retirement, such as 401(k)
  • Housing benefits, especially for your head pastor
  • Healthcare

All of these benefits have a monetary value. For instance, you might pay a staff member $30,000, but include $10,000 of yearly benefits for a total salary of $40,000 per year. 

Often times, better benefits will make employees accept a slightly lower salary. For instance, offering vacation time doesn’t cost your church as much as a regular salary as your staff can come together to cover another employee’s position for a few days or a week.

Pay Varies Greatly 

So, your church is in a small town that no one even knows exist. How could you possibly pay the same type of salary as a church in Los Angeles? You can’t. 

Average pay is just that – average. Before you even look at the average church compensation for different positions, it’s important to understand the factors that go into determining what a staff member should make. 

One of the top considerations is the cost of living in your specific area. A rural church is typically in an area with a lower cost of living than a church in a major city. This can change the annual salary by $10,000 or more. 

According to a Lifeway 2018 report, these are the salaries of pastors by education level. 

Some other considerations include:

  • Education level
  • Experience
  • Type of responsibilities
  • Amount of time needed
  • Your overall church budget
  • Average attendance
  • In-church tithing and online tithing

As you can see, all of these factors drastically change how much a person is paid. A tiny church with 100 members won’t be able to pay the same salaries or even have as many employees as a mega church with thousands of members. That’s okay. You just have to determine the right salary for your church.

Just remember, always re-evaluate salaries as your church grows. A bigger church means more responsibilities and the need for higher pay.

Common Church Staff Salary Breakdown

Now for the main event – the average church staff salary breakdown. Remember, these are averages and not the exact amount you have to pay anyone.

According to Vanderbloemen and Lifeway, these are the average salaries for the most common positions:

  • Senior Pastor 
    • 0 to 150 members – $4,800 to $109,000
    • 150 to 300 members – $58,357 to $139,000
    • 300 to 500 members – $68,591 to $156,217
    • 501 to 1,200 members – $84,270 to $184,025
    • Over 1,200 members – $92,255 to $189,053
  • Executive Pastor
    • Up to 500 members – $54,055 to $94,756
    • 501 to 1,200 members – $66,234 to $96,966
    • Over 1,200 members – $84,325 to $135,065
  • Worship Pastor
    • Up to 500 members – $45,999 to $62,745
    • 501 to 1,200 members – $52,909 to $83,975
    • Over 1,200 members – $54,022 to $92,291
  • Student Pastor
    • Up to 500 members – $35,088 to $62,859
    • 501 to 1,200 members – $45,956 to $64,641
    • Over 1,200 members – $47,423 to $75,365
  • Children’s Pastor
    • Up to 500 members – $33,972 to $58,623
    • 501 to 1,200 members – $42,840 to $70,220
    • Over 1,200 members – $48,915 to $79,900

Payscale lists the overall Christian worker salary as $43,000, but breaks down their guide on average salaries for pastors and staff.

For further guidance on helping you plan your staffing budget, try Guidestone’s church compensation guides and templates for financial planning. They’re great for helping you determine what salaries work best for your needs, your staff and your budget.

As you might have noticed, these salaries don’t go beyond pastors, which make up the majority of salaries in your church. You’ll also want people to handle the technical side of things, such as website maintenance and accounting. 


According to a Lifeway 2018 report, these are the salaraies of pastors by Pastor’s Age

The good news is most of the other tasks you need done can be outsourced for much less than a full-time salary. Plus, with outsourcing, you don’t have to worry about benefits. 

Outsourcing To The Rescue

Your pastors can handle some administrative work, but not everything. After all, that’s not always their skill set. Another issue is having your pastors overwhelmed with time-consuming admin tasks leaves less time for ministry. Having more time for what truly matters is what helps set a church apart and increase membership.

This is where outsourcing helps. You can hire people with specific skills to handle certain tasks. They may only work a few hours a week and that’s all your church pays for. 

For instance, you could hire a dedicated person and pay a full-time salary for them to handle website maintenance. However, you don’t really need a full-time person for this. We previously talked about ways to make this task easier and one of our recommendations was to outsource to save money and ensure you don’t miss anything.

Often times, outsourced staff are referred to as virtual assistants. They can handle everything from accounting to uploading content on your website. You may hire a dozen virtual assistants and that’s okay. Odds are, you’ll still pay less than a single salary for an entire year. 

Go ahead and explore outsourcing for the tasks you need skilled talent for, but don’t have the budget or need for full-time staff. This is a great alternative to volunteers for tasks that you need regular, dedicated support. Remember when outsourcing, the cheapest option isn’t always the best. A middle of the road price typically offers the best of both quality and price.

Mistakes Churches Make With Salaries

Paying your church staff isn’t always the problem. It’s how and what you pay them. For instance, when was the last time you gave your staff a raise? Do you do performance reviews? What about annual incentives? Even with the best intentions, you could be making mistakes that just hurt your staff and church.

Thom Rainer broke down some interesting findings on church salaries, such as:

  • Growing churches pay their staff less than declining churches
  • There’s a 76:1 ratio when it comes to members to staff
  • Staffing budgets have decreased to 49% of the overall budget

The first point is an obvious problem, yet not surprising. After all, you might pay staff more in the hopes they’ll draw in more members in a declining church. However, a growing church should be paying their staff more as their budget increases.

Often times, having few staff for so many members is overwhelming and can lead to burnout. This, of course, is a great reason to outsource some tasks to make it easier for your staff to minister to your members and community.

Now, the last point isn’t so bad. Most of that is coming from an increase in outsourcing. That just means fewer people have to split that 49%.

These don’t even begin to cover some of the worst salary mistakes, such as:

  • Poorly planned incentives, such as a set amount per new volunteer or member (the right incentives do make a difference, though)
  • Paying one person exorbitantly more than someone with similar responsibilities
  • Hiring more people than you can afford and paying everyone less as a result
  • Rarely giving any type of raise
  • Not explaining your church budget to staff (helps them understand why they’re paid what they are)
  • Not taking salary concerns seriously when someone does complain
  • Trying to replace your core staff with volunteers to save money

Most of these mistakes happen as a way to either keep someone truly special or to save money. However, mistakes have a way of backfiring and costing your church more in the long run.

Changing Your Church Compensation Strategy

If you feel like you’re under or even overpaying your staff, or you’re making some of the mistakes above, it might be time to change your church compensation strategy. 

Smart Church Management provides guidance on creating a basic strategy and for establishing final salaries. These guides work well for helping you get started on a brand new strategy.

Part of your strategy should include ways to boost your budget so you can pay fairer wages. Some great ideas include:

  • Limit your staff to what you need (a small church won’t need the same staffing structure as a larger church)
  • Ask for volunteers for certain tasks, such as blogging, monitoring social media and community outreach
  • Outsource when possible
  • Have an online strategy to increase online tithing
  • Focus on retaining your members versus just bringing in new ones (engaged members help bring in new members on their own)
  • Eliminate unnecessary programs to put your budget towards more successful and well-received programs

Remember that no matter what your strategy is right now, it’s important to review it annually. As your church changes, so do your salary needs. Review salaries yearly and offer raises when possible, even if it’s just 1%. Your staff will appreciate it, even if it’s still below average. This is especially true if you share your budget and let them know that you’re trying your best.

Want to increase your church’s budget to provide better compensation for your staff? Contact our team today to learn how a church website can help.

Comments 2

  1. Very detailed informative report which is truly usable. As a church board member of a 500 member church the information will come in useful in guiding the salary review team in making critical decisions.

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