Study: Compensation for Pastors Keeping Pace with Inflation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors is rising slightly faster than inflation, but the mounting cost of benefits is forcing churches to provide fewer pastors with medical insurance.

These and other findings are part of the SBC Church Compensation Study, a survey of 11,674 staff positions in Southern Baptist churches. LifeWay Research conducted the survey in cooperation with GuideStone Financial Resources ( and Baptist state conventions through June 2010. All the data acquired by the study has been compiled into a Web-based tool ( that will help churches as they begin planning staff compensation packages for their 2011 budgets.


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Adjusting for church size (see Methodology), the average full-time Southern Baptist senior pastor's compensation (salary and housing) rose 0.78 percent between 2008 and 2010. That rate of change was only slightly higher than the compounded 0.67 percent inflation rate for the same two-year period, according to figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index.

With no adjustments for church size, compensation for other full-time staff ministers increased 3.08 percent between 2008 and 2010, while compensation for full-time office personnel increased 7.86 percent.

"Not all churches have paid non-pastoral staff, especially small churches," explained Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. "Churches with these positions gave larger salary increases than the average church gave their senior pastor over the last two years."

While salary and housing compensation rose by only 0.78 percent between 2008 and 2010, the value of the entire pay package for the average full-time senior pastor rose by 6.69 percent – far outpacing inflation. That's because churches are trying to keep pace with the rising cost of benefits.

"Difficult economic conditions have been compounded by higher costs for the same benefits the church provided in prior years," said McConnell. "Churches have kept salary increases to a minimum, but their care for pastors is seen in increased spending on other benefits that include retirement and insurance."


Still, the survey revealed that fewer full-time senior pastors receive medical insurance from their churches today than in 2008. Sixty-one percent of churches partially or fully pay medical insurance for their full-time senior pastors, compared to 65 percent in 2008. These reduced benefits occurred at the same time churches were being impacted by the economic downturn and as the U.S. Department of Labor indicates the cost of medical care rose 3.2 percent and 3.4 percent in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Ten percent of churches provide at least partial medical-insurance funding for the pastor alone, while 17 percent fund coverage for the pastor and his wife, and 33 percent supply coverage for the pastor and his family.

For senior pastors, churches fully or partially pay for the following benefits:

- Dental insurance – 26 percent
- Vision insurance – 11 percent
- Life and/or accident insurance – 34 percent
- Disability insurance – 28 percent

"Consumer prices actually fell in 2009, allowing ministers' dollars to go a little further, but inflation has resumed in 2010, meaning churches must consider cost-of-living raises to avoid decreasing the real value of the salaries they provide their staff members," McConnell said.

Robert Henry, director of relationship services of GuideStone Financial Resources, commended those congregations that are trying to make sure their staff members' compensation and benefits keep pace with inflation. "Although the economy has certainly tested the mettle of churches, many Southern Baptists have dug deeply into their pockets and supported their pastors and staff members throughout these challenging times. It's a tribute to the faithfulness of God's people."

Methodology: Southern Baptist state conventions invited each church's staff to respond to the survey, and 11,674 completed surveys were analyzed. For the purpose of this article, senior pastor responses were weighted to account for lower response rate among smaller churches and to match the distribution of the size of SBC churches. When using the online tool, national totals may be somewhat higher than these weighted totals. Viewing the results by church size categories within the online tool minimizes this impact. When running customized reports online, error can be minimized by selecting criteria that allow for larger numbers of participants. Part-time and interim designations in the survey did not take into account the number of hours worked or other factors that may affect the comparability of these averages.

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