(Photo: Reuters/Mark Blinch)
Employees of megachurches located in the South are the highest paid group of megachurch workers in America, according to the recently released 2012 Large Church Salary Report by the Leadership Network.
The Leadership Network, which seeks to promote church innovation and growth, conducted a survey of 209 influential churches across America with at least 2,000 members, and identified a number of factors that determined the salaries of their employees.
Typical benchmarks used to determine their total compensation package included: church income, attendance, growth rate, geographical setting, education, prior experience, years of service at church and gender. The most influential of these factors is the church's size measured by its budget and worship service attendance.
When the survey participants were asked to identify their geographic location, however, the highest paid workers came from the South, followed by workers in the West and Northeast, respectively. The lowest salaries were recorded in the Midwest. A Gallup poll recently noted that of the top 10 religious states in America in 2012, eight of them are in the South, comprising the entire southern belt from Georgia and the two Carolinas on the Atlantic coast through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, to Louisiana and Arkansas in the west.
The Leadership survey also highlighted other location trends. Megachurches located in the older residential area of a city, for example, paid the highest salaries. Salaries at churches in an older suburb around the city followed a close second in this trend while those churches located in a downtown or central area of the city ranked third. New suburbs around the city tended to pay the least.
According to the Leadership Network, "this study represents the largest-scale window that anyone has compiled to date on the continent's largest churches in terms of their financial dynamics." The survey results include data from 44 churches with weekend worship attendances of 5,000 and higher. The other 164 are 2,000-4,999 in attendance. Among North America's 325,000 Protestant churches, only 1,600 or 0.5 percent have attendances of 2,000 or higher said the report.
The report estimated that salary increases at these churches were about two percent per year in the last two years. While highlighting that the salary increases for the church workers and membership growth rate went hand in hand, the report was quick to point out that the annual increase from 2010-2012 followed a two year period, 2008-2010, during the recession when salary increases remained flat despite an average church growth rate of nine percent.
The report also noted that for every additional 1,000 people to attend these churches, the average salary of the senior pastor increased by approximately $8,000 annually. Founding pastors were also paid $515 more annually than successor pastors, but the difference isn't noticeable until church attendance reaches 3,000 people. "The higher the amount paid to founding pastors increases the larger the church becomes, except that it reverses briefly for churches in the 5,000-5,999 range," notes the Leadership experts.
The evidence on how tenure affected salaries at the megachurches in the study was inclusive. "It might seem logical that the longer someone is in a position, the higher the average pay. The data leans toward a slightly higher pay for longer-tenured pastors, but the evidence is inconclusive here as well," they add.