Megachurches Pay Senior Pastors Higher Salaries, Survey Finds. But There's a Twist

Correction Appended

(Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Illustration)People are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the picture of various currencies of money in this illustration taken April 4, 2016.

A recently published survey confirms what many may have already suspected: the larger a church, the higher the salary of its senior pastor. But does age also play a role in determining a senior pastor's salary?

Among 727 participating large churches — "large" meaning an average of 2,000 in weekly attendance — a Leadership Network survey published last month by researcher Warren Bird found that bigger churches paid their senior pastors higher wages.

The survey also revealed that, among large churches, age influenced salary — the older the pastor, typically the larger the church and, therefore, the higher the pay of the senior pastor. But there's an interesting twist.

Of 40, 50 and 60-year-old pastors of churches with the same average of 2,000 in weekly attendance in each age group, the 40-year-old pastor still earned the lowest salary, while the 50-year-old pastor earned a wage that was 14 percent higher than the 40 year old. The 60-year-old pastor earned a salary that was only 13 percent higher than the 40 year old.

While the 50 and 60-year-old pastors earned more than the 40 year old — despite all having the same sized church — the 50-year-old actually garnered the highest salary of them all.

(Photo: Reuters/John Gress)A parishioner cries as he signs a song of worship in the 7,000-seat Willow Creek Community church during a Sunday service in South Barrington, Illinois, November 20, 2005. Institutions like Willow Creek and Houston's Lakewood Church, each drawing 20,000 or more on a weekend, offer not just a vast, shared attraction but a path that tries to link individuals on a faith-sustaining one-to-one level beyond the crowd, observers and worshipers say.

Suppose churches of the same size in weekly attendance operated with exactly the same budget? Would the salaries of their senior pastors still vary among the three age groups? When surveyors considered average U.S. Protestant churches with 2,000 in weekly attendance and an annual budget of $3.7 million, controlling for attendance and budget, the salaries still varied — this time, however, not nearly as significantly.

Of the three age groups, the 40-year-old pastor still earned the least, while both the 50 and 60-year-old pastors each garnered salaries that were 1 percent higher than the 40 year old. So, while each age group had the same number of weekly attendees and the same annual budget, salaries among the three groups still varied.

Although this survey did not have sufficient data to draw conclusions about the salaries of 30-year-old senior pastors of churches with 2,000 in weekly attendance, The Christian Post previously shed some light on how the salary of a popular 36-year-old North Carolina megachurch pastor was determined.

A 2011 annual report from Charlotte-based Elevation Church revealed that the salary of its senior Pastor Steven Furtick was regulated by a group of megachurch pastors — personally recruited by Furtick — who comprised the church's Board of Overseers. The report explained that the board oversaw a committee which used a salary study to make recommendations for Furtick's wages:

"The Board of Overseers sets Pastor Steven's salary. Very similar to most large nonprofit organizations, there is an independent compensation committee formed by the Board of Overseers that recommends a salary which the board votes to approve. The compensation committee uses a salary study performed by an independent CPA [Certified Public Accounting] firm to get a basic salary range. This study is also performed for additional executive staff."

In 2011, that Board of Overseers included megachurch pastors Perry Noble (NewSpring Church, South Carolina), Stovall Weems (Celebration Church, Florida), Kevin Gerald (Champions Centre, Washington), Jack Graham (Prestonwood Baptist Church, Texas), and Dino Rizzo (Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana).

Steven Furtick's North Carolina-based Elevation Church has a weekly attendance of 20,000 congregants across nine locations within the state. The church also has one location in Toronto, Canada, as well as one in South Carolina and Virginia.

Leadership Network was established in 1984 with the objective to "foster innovation movements that activate the Church to greater impact for the Glory of God's name," according to a statement on its website. It serves over 200,000 leaders across the globe.

To participate in Leadership Network's 2016 Large Church Salary, Staff and Budget Survey, click here.

Correction:  Saturday, April 23, 2016: An article on April 19 incorrectly reported that Dino Rizzo was on staff at Church of the Highlands in 2011. Rizzo was a staff at Healing Place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the time.

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