Southern Baptist pastor compensation not keeping up with inflation

(LifeWay Research graphic)

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Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors has not kept pace with inflation over the past two years, while salaries for other full-time ministers and office staff increased at a rate higher than national inflation.

pay packages churches425These findings are part of the SBC Church Compensation Study, an in-depth survey of 12,907 staff members in Southern Baptist churches. Baptist state conventions along with LifeWay Research and GuideStone Financial Resources conduct this survey every two years.

Adjusting for church size, the average full-time Southern Baptist senior pastor’s compensation—salary and housing—rose 1 percent between 2012 and 2014. That rate of change was significantly lower than the 3.9 percent inflation rate for the same two-year period, according information from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.

“While inflation has remained moderate by historical standards, average salaries for full-time pastors have not kept pace. This is a reversal of the pattern of SBC churches through the recession and post-recession years,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research

Overall, the value of the entire pay package—salary, housing and other benefits such as insurance—for the average full-time senior pastor rose by 1.8 percent.

Staff members

For other full-time staff ministers, however, basic salary and housing compensation increased 6.6 percent between 2012 and 2014, while total pay package including compensation and benefits rose 8.9 percent. Salary compensation for full-time office personnel increased 10 percent, and their total pay package jumped 11 percent.

When it came to determining pastors’ compensation rates, education level, tenure at their current church, and higher resident membership and weekly attendance resulted in more compensation.

Each additional educational degree of any kind adds to a pastor’s compensation. Seminary graduates receive, on average, $1,981 more in total compensation than non-seminary graduates and receive more vacation days.

‘Real financial needs’

“We have seen firsthand that many churches have yet to see their pre-recession giving levels return,” said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. “Even so, it is imperative for churches to keep in mind the real financial needs of pastors and other staff members.”

pay packages percentage425The survey also revealed fewer full-time senior pastors receive medical insurance from their churches today than in 2012. Sixty percent of churches partially or fully pay medical insurance for their full-time senior pastors, compared to 64 percent in 2012.

Eleven percent of Southern Baptist churches provide at least partial medical insurance funding for the full-time pastor alone, while 17 percent fund coverage for the pastor and his wife, and 32 percent supply coverage for the pastor and his family, all slightly down from 2012.

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

• Life and/or accident insurance—34 percent

• Disability insurance—28 percent

• Dental insurance—27 percent

• Vision insurance—12 percent

“Many Southern Baptist pastors are facing the new medical insurance mandate without their church’s help,” McConnell said. “These pastors have no choice over where this portion of their compensation goes, and this leaves them with less to live on each month.”

More than half of churches—53 percent—with weekly attendance above 250 people provide insurance for the pastor and his family. Nearly half—49 percent—of churches that average 50-99 people in weekly attendance do not provide any medical coverage.

The survey also obtained compensation data for bivocational pastors and part-time custodial and office personnel. This data is standardized by the median number of hours worked to allow churches to more easily compare their part-time employees with these averages.

Southern Baptist state conventions invited each church’s staff to respond to the survey; 12,907 completed surveys were analyzed. All the data acquired by the study has been compiled into an online tool at

Senior pastor responses were weighted to account for lower response rate among smaller churches and to match the distribution of the size of Southern Baptist 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.

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