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Majority of Evangelical Pastors Suffer in Silence Over Financial Challenges, New Study Shows

Majority of Evangelical Pastors Suffer in Silence Over Financial Challenges, New Study Shows

Messengers at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting worship together in between small group and corporate prayer time during the June 16 evening session dedicated to prayer at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. | (Photo: Courtesy of Paul Lee)

New research shows that most pastors who serve small evangelical churches face financial hardships and many are reluctant to open up about their struggles.

The National Association of Evangelicals released a survey on Tuesday, conducted by Grey Matter Research last July, which interviewed 4,249 pastors and found that most face severe financial troubles as they struggle with expenses and debt and don't earn enough to secure long-term financial stability.

"The vast majority of pastors do not have their own radio or TV show, robust church staff, or megachurch attendance," NAE President Leith Anderson said in a statement. "Rather, they faithfully serve in small churches and face financial challenges stemming from student debt, low salaries and medical expenses. And sadly, they often feel they have no one to turn to for help."

Among the pastors surveyed, 80 percent said they serve in congregations that have fewer than 200 members, while 55 percent have less than 100 members in their church.

Over half of the pastors said they serve in churches that have less than $125,000 in their annual budgets and 50 percent of pastors said they are paid less than $50,000 per year.

Thirty percent of pastors responded that they are responsible for student loan debt that averages $36,000, while 25 percent of pastors have medical bills averaging about $7,253.

As 60 percent of pastors said that they don't receive retirement or health benefits from their churches, 29 percent of pastors said they have $0 in personal savings, while 39 percent of pastors said they have less than $10,000 saved up.

Ninety-two percent of pastors said their biggest financial concern was their retirement savings, while 84 percent fear they do not have emergency funds saved up. Sixty percent of pastors said they were concerned about medical or insurance bills, while 54 percent listed their children's college savings as a concern.

While pastors face great financial hardships, the survey finds that most decide not to turn to their churches for help. About one-third of the pastors said there is no one outside of their own household they can confide in about their financial situation. In addition, about 37 percent of the pastors said they are not familiar with any resources offered by their denomination that will help them with personal finances.

Thirty-one percent of pastors said they were forced to take up a second job just to help make ends meet.

Given the financial problems, 90 percent of pastors said they feel at least some financial stress in their family and church work. Additionally, 76 percent of pastors said they know of other pastors who left ministry work because of the financial hardships.

In response to pastors' ongoing financial hardships, NAE has launched a multi-year initiative that aims to address financial challenges facing pastors, which will focus on resourcing denominations and churches to find solutions.

"The NAE is committed to developing solutions for the financial pressures pastors face," NAE Project Director Brian Kluth said in a statement. "We are excited to help pastors move to a place of greater financial health — freeing them to lead their congregations well."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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