Setting Pastor Salaries and Pastor Compensation

The stereotype of the televangelist with six cars and seven houses has pretty much faded away. When it comes to setting pastor salaries these days, reports that the national average pastor compensation is $77,096.

This average comes from The Compensation Handbook for Church Staff an "industry" survey of compensation. This average is significantly higher than the PayScale median salary of $56,000 for Senior Pastors.

As we will see, the difference is both in the definition of compensation and the scope of responsibility. It never is just about the job title 🙂

How does your salary compare to the average pastor compensation?  Find out with our salary calculator.

Awarding Salary to the Pastor of a Church

To come up with the average pastor compensation, the Handbook calculates base salary, life and health insurance, housing, and educational benefits.

The PayScale average is for salary only. No annual Christmas bonus, education allowance, housing or health insurance are included. These other benefits could total $10,000.

The other cause of the difference is the variation in pay with church attendance. The Handbook says that senior pastors with an attendance of more than 1,000 people earned an average of $111,052. In contrast, $64,266 is the average pastor compensation paid to those with an attendance of 300 or less.

The distribution of church sizes, and locations, in the PayScale data are different from that in the Handbook. When computing a national “average”, these differences will lead to different answers. For example, the PayScale pastors tend to be at smaller churches than those in the Handbook, leading to lower wages.

As will any job with a “pay for performance” component – and isn’t filling the pews on Sunday a measure of performance? – there are some pastors of so-called “mega-churches” that greatly exceed the clergy salary averages.

In 2006, the New York Times reported that Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, was earning an annual salary $200,000, but discontinued the pay after the success of his best-selling book Your Best Life Now which sold more than 4 million copies. Osteen might earn up to $13 million based on a contract for his second book Become a Better You. Today, he reportedly lives off his book revenues.

Clergy Salary Averages

Another best-selling pastor/author is Rick Warren, head of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. His Purpose Driven Life books have sold millions. Like Joel Osteen, he doesn’t take a salary from his church, but nor does he pocket most of his book profits. Warren practices what he calls “reverse-tithing,” giving 90% of his income to the church and living off 10%. Traditionally, tithing is donating 10% and living off the 90%.

Additionally, Warren added up and returned all the money the church had paid him over the past 25 years. The Warrens have reportedly lived in the same house for 16 years, drive the same Ford truck (as before the book came out), and Warren himself owns only two suits. Even with his success, Warren says that the clergy is usually not a road to riches, “There are so many easier ways to make money. Believe me, if you want to make money, don’t be a pastor.”

Pastor Compensation

There  is some gospel truth to what he’s saying. The Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, pays all its staff members the same annual salary, $26,400. The only difference in compensation for those with dependents: an extra $400 a month for a spouse and $275 per month per child (up to four kids). Jeff Abshire, Antioch’s administrative pastor, says that the church pays low salaries because it wants to preserve its ministers’ calling from God.

Only the Hutterites take a stronger “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” reading of the New Testament.

How does your salary compare to clergy salary averages? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee