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Big churches, big bucks: Southern senior pastors take top salaries

“Church Size Is By Far The Strongest Predictor of Large church Senior Pastor Salaries," graphic courtesy of Leadership Network.


"Church Size Is By Far The Strongest Predictor of Large church Senior Pastor Salaries," graphic courtesy of Leadership Network. *NOTE: Do not publish this until after midnight on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.

“Church Size Is By Far The Strongest Predictor of Large church Senior Pastor Salaries,” graphic courtesy of Leadership Network

(RNS) Large churches in the South tend to pay their senior pastors the highest salaries, a new survey finds.

That’s one of the conclusions on churches and finances released Tuesday (Sept. 9) by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, and the Vanderbloemen Search Group, a Houston-based executive search firm for churches and ministries. A total of 727 churches in the U.S. and Canada with attendance ranging from 1,000 to more than 30,000 answered questions, more than double the number of congregations featured in previous studies.

The survey found that 14 percent of large churches have a financial bonus structure for their top leader. And one in five of the big congregations find ways to collect their money other than passing the proverbial offering plate.

Warren Bird, research director at Leadership Network, said pastors have long held a lofty place of authority in the South, and that may be why they are paid more in that region.

Northeastern churches are the second-highest paying, followed by the West and the Midwest. The lowest-paying region is Canada.

The higher pastor salaries in the South contrast with lower-than-average wages for the region. The Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average annual wages of workers in all the states in the Deep South — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina — are lower than the U.S. annual wage of $49,804.

Although researchers agreed not to divulge specific salaries of particular pastors or the identity of participating churches, they were able to determine trends in these congregations that reflect about one-quarter of the nation’s Protestant worshippers. For example:

  • The larger the church, the more the senior pastor is likely to be paid.
  •  The second-in-command at many churches earns about 70 percent of the salary of the top executive.
  • Three-quarters of the churches gave pay raises between 1 and 5 percent and the most common raise was 3 percent for 2014.

“Bigger means more employees, more volunteers, more moving parts and a greater scope of leadership required,” Bird said. “That reality usually leads to more compensation across a host of organizations.”

In fact, the common pay raise also reflects a wider social trend. Towers Watson, a Virginia-based professional services company, released a separate survey Monday (Sept. 8) that found that U.S. employers plan to give their professional employees an average pay raise of 3 percent in 2015.

"Does Passing The Plate Matter?," graphic courtesy of Leadership Network *NOTE: Do not publish this until after midnight on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.

“Does Passing The Plate Matter?”, graphic courtesy of Leadership Network

Researchers for the large-churches survey found that donations are slightly higher at those churches that pass the plate, but all churches in the study offered more than one option for giving: 81 percent provide online giving options; 37 percent had a donation box in the lobby; and 25 percent had an electronic kiosk in the lobby. Far surpassing churches of other sizes, congregations with more than 10,000 worshippers were least likely to pass offering plates.

“If your stereotype is that every church passes the plate, they don’t,” said Bird.

Online giving has been growing in popularity for seven years, Bird said. He recently visited a church in Australia that gets 80 percent of its donations via the Internet. One Maryland megachurch gets 40 percent of its giving through online donations.

How much do congregants know about the finances of their churches? Bird said most congregations will get some kind of a report from their leaders.

“It is extremely rare that the entire congregation will be privy to specific salaries,” he said.

But even people with inside knowledge about church salaries need to know more about how to handle their finances, said Holly Tate, director of business development at Vanderbloumen.

“Churches are known to fall behind in compensation trends and they end up losing their staff because of it,” she said.

The survey also found:

  • 80 percent of the large churches were predominantly white, while 20 percent were made up mostly of another racial or ethnic group or were multiethnic.
  • The larger the church, the more likely it is to be a multisite congregation.


"Not What You Think: 10 Discoveries About Large Church Finances," graphic courtesy of Leadership Network. *NOTE: Do not publish this until after midnight on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.

“Not What You Think: 10 Discoveries About Large Church Finances,” graphic courtesy of Leadership Network

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • So many idols in the church today and this is another example of why many
    “preachers” only talk about gay marriage or abortion so they attract all the
    masses like many of these false teachers today who are more concerned
    with selling a book/pleasing man instead of pleasing God. Many today have
    created a god/idol to suit themselves which is idolatry and no idolater will
    inherit/enter the kingdom heaven! Preachers need to preach against all
    sin! Getting drunk,being mean/sharp tongues,gossip,gambling,coveting,
    greed,jealousy,pride,liars,thieves,fornicaters in any form barely even get
    talked about. Ephesians 5:18 says don’t get drunk and the Bible also says
    in 1 Corinthians 6:10 that all drunkards end up going to hell. The wine that
    Jesus made was from the fruit of the vine/new wine/diluted and the Bible
    says don’t get drunk on strong wine so people who get drunk with wine
    are also wrong! People today seem to forget that Jesus said many will
    say to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven and you are one of Mine only
    if you continue in My teachings/follow Me! Bad mouthing religion backfired!
    People have premarital sex/sleep around then get married thinking they
    coverd it up but never Repent/agree sleepin around/premarital sex is wrong!
    If you say you love Jesus and then don’t follow the Bible/religion no Truth
    is in you! The Bible says Repent or perish! We all must Repent/follow!

  • It’s disgusting for these preachers, consumed as they are by worldly success, to decry “secularism” in the name of Jesus. Their God is just their own egos.

  • Take money out of the equation.
    I have always wondered how many of these pastors counseled one on one couples, married one on one couples, came quietly into the night to hold the hand of a dying member and served services at the burial of a member-without cameras. Could someone PLEASE find those statistics?
    As it is said the The Razors Edge: It is easy to be a holy man on the top on a mountain. The people who belong to these so called churches fall into 2 categories: 1-easily lead into to false security of faith and possible riches and 2-they see their pastor as sin eaters-people who talk about all their past sins hoping to tag along on their coat tails to rid them of theirs.

  • Well, it’s like Jesus told the money changers. “Go inside the church where the real money is. The people in there are so stupid that they will give you anything you want just as long as you add “God” to the sentence. They’ll even give you their children and you can do anything to those children. All you have to tell them is that Satan made you do it, but, you have asked God for forgiveness and you have been forgiven for what Satan did to those children”. And, as you can see, they followed the word of the Lord and went where the big money is.

  • 70% size, 20% region, 1% theology. Looks like Charles Merrill Smith’s “How to Become Bishop without Being Religious” (Doubleday, 1965) was more sociology than satire.

  • I’m a pastor of a church of 200 people, and this conversation is so revealing. I suspect most parishoners fall into 1 of 2 categories: 1) No matter how much a pastor makes, some will think it’s not enough, or 2) No matter how much a pastor makes, some will think it’s too much.

    The fact is, leading a church is leading an organization, a spiritual one for sure, but an organization none the less. How much would you pay the CEO of a corporation that organized, mobilized, trained, and managed a widget company with 200 employees? And how many of those CEO’s would be expected to answer the phone and be instantly available at all hours of the day or night for any problem that might possibly arise? And how may CEO’s are surrounded by a vast majority of employees who not only think it’s their job to keep the CEO in check, but have no problem publicly and loudly criticizing the CEO? And then should the CEO have the audacity to lead strong and speak out against the criticisms, they are called tyrants, micro-managers, and questioned from top to bottom with (generally poor) interpretations of scripture.

    The fact is, the vast majority of people who attend churches have absolutely no idea all the things that go into being a pastor, and yet they have no qualms about questioning and judging. And I haven’t even started on the impact of trying to raise children in a fish bowl or have a healthy growing marriage amid the demands of full time ministry.

    I’m grateful to be in a church that loves and supports me, and I am hardly on the fast track to wealth and prosperity, but to generalize pastors as charlatans in pursuit of the almighty dollar is cold-hearted at best, unchristian at worst. It’s also been my experience that those who are busy rowing the boat of church ministry are rarely the ones rocking it. Criticism is a cheap gift. I’m all for accountability, which should be a function of the congregations structure (elders, deacons, presbytery, etc).

    *Steps off of soap box* Thank you for listening.

  • And just how much does a battalion commander, responsible literally for the lives of 1000 in combat make? Or the captain of an aircraft carrier with 6000 souls directly in his care. please, spare me the righteous rethorically given responses.

  • Jason,
    As an elder in my church of 2,000 plus and an executive in a major corporation I have seen more than enough criticism of the leaders. Surprisingly few care to sign their names or use the means to approach leadership with concerns.

    I have seen a pastor burned out by the complaints and pettiness of people that generally don’t serve or support the ministry.

    As our ministry has grown we have added staff, paid competitively (based on church compensation studies) focused tremendously on community, national and international programs. One pastor cannot possibly do everything that the other commenters are looking at and our pastor won’t get rich doing this, but he’d be first to say that is not his calling.

    It’s so easy to broadbrush the many on the actions of a few.

    Glad you are in a good church!

    PS – spent a recent weekend at a retreat with 3 retired colonels and a 3 star! Definitely in the money these days!

  • Why don’t you publish the salaries of the megachurch senior pastors? What is there to hide . . . or hide from?

  • My comment is regarding mega-churches. I believe that a healthy church has many offsprings verses becoming a single mega-church based on the “vision” of one pastor – who by the way is a sinner just like the rest of us and is not infallible. As a 34 year veteran of Homeland Security recently retired, I see the possibility looming of churches loosing their tax shelter and having to close or adapt to the government message of diversity – which many have already done. If a church closes and it has no weeknight home church infrastructure already established then it may disappear forever. Pastors need to remember their “prime directive” from the word of God – Preserve Knowledge and give instruction – so that each one of us can come to understand God’s purpose for our lives and grow stronger in our capacity to receive the Holy Spirit. I do not believe it is God’s purpose for us to fill church benches just so we can fill the offering plate or serve in a church ministry because it is convenient for the corporation that is the “church”. Churches need to wake up, multiply, develop a parallel home church and get ready for what is coming. If they don’t it is because they are already under the spell of the BEast or they are lukewarm and will be spit out of GOd’s mouth and become irrelevant.

  • It is a Tuesday morning as I wake up with a great hunger and thirst to go and pray in God’s House of Prayer. So what do I do? I start walking from street to street, from Church building to Church building, only finding the Churches doors closed, hidden behind high security fences. Big bill boards with preachers names and photos, showing high above the high security fences. There is no way that even the best criminal in the world will even get into the grounds of these Churches.
    On the bill boards of pride, contact numbers of some preachers are given, so I decide to contact these preachers one for one by phone. Eight out of ten were on voice mail, and when I spoke to the two out of ten preachers telling them of my need, they replyed that they were too busy to attend to my need. So then I decided to phone these very same preachers a bit later on in the day, telling them that I would like to donate R50,000.00 to their Church. Their immediate reply was; “Thank you sir, we are available, when can we come and pick up the cash donation?” Well this says it all, what the Church has become today. Mammon rules and God has to be the servant at mammons ungodly feet.
    To be honest, gambling houses, whore houses, strip bars, etc are basically open 24/7, offering their ungodly services to any person. But when it comes to God’s House of Prayer, as advertised on the Bill Boards, open on Sundays from 9H00 to 10H00. What a disgrace to God’s Holy Name and no true Spirit filled Christian can dispute the truth of this. In the days when Jesus walked the face of this earth, the House of God was open daily for all people who needed to kneel and pray, but the modern Churches of today believes that they can change God’s way into their own selfish and greedy way.
    It is time that the Churches of today break down their high security fences, open their doors and start doing all in God’s Holy and Righteous way. For freely have they been given, so freely they must be prepared to give 24/7, or they must get out of God’s way. It is not about mammon, it is not about us, it is about the Truth of God and His Holy Living Word Jesus Christ, who is the Head of God’s Church. Like Jesus said to Satan; ” Thou shalt serve and worship the Lord thy God ONLY.” And this means, 24/7, in Spirit, in Truth and in deed.

  • But they do get paid don’t they how about you do your profession for nothing. Oh no that would be stupid not dumb wouldn’t it.

  • Perhaps your missing the point. Are you doing a job or are you doing Gods work. Matt 7:22, 23 be careful your attitude toward compensation doesn’t corrupt you

  • I would like to know what the ratio of Bishop/Senior Pastor salary to members standard of living. Basically, if leadership is driving a Bentley, how many members of that congregation also has one? If God rewards those that follow him, wouldn’t a good percentage of that membership also be successfully wealthy like leadership. I hear people compare leadership to being a CEO of a company but how can that be? Corporation sell a product or service that leadership has to keep viable and marketable, that’s why you pay them the big dollars, is church to be compared to a business? If that is the case then every member of the church should be compared to an employee that also draws a salary. In a corporation, the C-level execs are not the only ones paid

  • I totally agree. I wouldn’t be a preacher’s wife for a million dollars. First of all, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut because my husband was criticized for not calling fast enough when someone in the church had a runny nose in the middle of the night. Secondly, I wouldn’t want to raise my kids by myself while my husband was busy babysitting the congregation. I know sometimes the members of the church really need the pastor in times of trouble, but other times they are just whiners and want attention, and he had better be there, by golly, or they are going to complain to everyone who will listen. I say the pastor deserves every cent he gets and then some!

  • Hi,
    Just one comment,”Why aren’t all members of churches given access to Compensation breakdowns of the Church Staff. Just attended a meeting. Payroll of a S.Baptist Church in New England approx. $950,000 based on 7.3 Full-Time -Equivalent Positions. That’s all the info the membership is allowed to see. The Elders can see more. Why not fully disclose??? Jesus said: “You Cannot serve GOD and Money” yet every church in America does that which means “The LORD” gets thrown into the back seat and “The Business” gets top-billing.
    Doesn’t seem right. Perhaps this is why America’s Churches are failing and people don’t attend..
    Jim E.