How To Assess A Church Job's Compensation

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Compensation can be a tricky topic, especially when you’re in ministry. No one enters ministry to get rich (unless he or she wants an unpleasant surprise!), but even pastors have to factor in pay when considering a role.  After all, you still have to feed your family and save for retirement, right? But how do you know if your pay is fair, and how can you navigate a conversation about it in a practical and God-honoring way?

Here are 5 things to consider when discussing compensation. 

1. Consider the role itself.

Often, candidates we interact with will let us know about specific family needs when it comes to compensation. Your family’s needs should guide your job search process and help you determine which roles you apply for. However, your needs should not dictate what you expect the church to pay you for a specific role. The expectations for and responsibilities of the role will and should determine the compensation.

If possible, try to learn the average salary for your role, in your area, and at a church of comparable size. This will give you an idea of what might be a fair salary and a good starting point for a conversation about your compensation. 

2. Consider cost of living for the geographical region.

Cost of living will probably have the biggest impact on your compensation needs. A $50,000 salary may make you feel as rich as Croesus in one area, and like a pauper in another because of the cost of housing and necessities. Before you dismiss a salary offer based on numbers alone, check the cost of living of the area against the cost of living where you currently reside. You may find that the salary is much more generous than you first assumed.

3. Consider church size and budget.

This feels like an obvious point, but one that bears mentioning. In general, unless a small church has exceptionally generous givers, it won’t be able to pay as much as a larger church, which you can expect to have a larger budget. Churches have to be good stewards of their finances, and budget is going to be the biggest limiting factor on how much a church could offer you for a ministry position. 

4. Consider the “extras.”

Beyond your salary, what other benefits is the church offering you or might consider adding to your compensation package? We’ve seen churches get very creative in their compensation packages beyond the salary. Some churches have robust health insurance packages with full family benefits, others may choose to offer generous retirement matching programs, or even some provide staff with the option of regular paid sabbaticals (or a high number of vacation days).

Housing allowances and parsonages are other ways that churches might offset a lower salary to provide for their staff.  Again, don’t look only at the salary number; take the entire compensation package into account. 

[Check out our custom compensation and benefits analysis resource] 

5. Consider your experience.

In virtually every career field, increased work experience directly correlates to an increase in pay. Ministry is not immune to this same pay structure. A pastor with 20 years of experience should and will be paid more than a pastor with 3 years’ experience. In addition, the scope of your responsibilities in previous roles will have an impact on how much a church will consider paying you. When you bring greater knowledge and expertise to a position, it’s only fair to expect that will be reflected in your compensation, and vice versa. 

What are some other questions you can ask to assess your current (or potential) compensation?