May 28, 2002

From the Archives

Pastoral Compensation Hits New High

It took a long time, but Protestant pastors finally broke the $40,000 mark in average annual compensation. This is one of the key findings from a new nationwide survey of Protestant Senior Pastors conducted by the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California. Pastoral compensation has risen from a median of $32,040 a decade ago to $40,077 today. That represents a 25% increase since 1992, a 10% rise in the past five years, and a jump of 4.9% above last year’s average. When compared to the change in the Consumer Price Index during that period, Protestant pastors have remained just about even with the rising cost of living in the U.S. during the past decade.

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The average pastoral compensation package represents just less than one-third (31%) of the median annual operating budget for Protestant churches. That proportion has remained relatively constant since the mid-Nineties.

Compensation Varies Among Churches

The Barna survey indicated that certain types of pastors receive larger compensation packages than do others. Education makes a substantial difference in compensation: seminary graduates receive an average of 38% more compensation than do Senior Pastors who did not graduate from a seminary. Currently about three out of every five Senior Pastors (63%) has a seminary degree.

Denominational affiliation also impacts earnings. The most prolific Protestant denominational grouping – Baptist churches, which include more than 20 different Baptist sects and constitute about one-quarter of all Protestant churches – has pastors who earn just slightly more than the national average (about $300 per year more). In comparison, among the least-highly compensated pastors are those serving charismatic and Pentecostal churches; their median package was 16% below the national average. At the high end of the compensation scale are pastors ministering in mainline churches, whose package is worth nearly 14% more than the norm. Pastors of mainline churches – i.e., the Episcopal, American Baptist, Presbyterian (USA), Lutheran, United Methodist and United Church of Christ congregations – average $45,510. The higher average is partially explained by congregations that are larger than the national average and pastors who have been in ministry longer than the pastors of other types of churches.

Pastoral experience makes a difference, too – but not until a pastor enters his/her second decade of ministry. While there is minimal difference in the average compensation awarded to pastors who have been in full-time ministry for up to nine years, those in their second decade of ministry or more receive about 34% more compensation than do the newest members of the profession.

One of the largest gaps is that which distinguishes pastors in urban and suburban churches from those in rural congregations. While the former average nearly $45,000 annually, rural pastors had a median of just less than $33,000. In other words, pastors of urban and suburban churches average about one-third more each year than do their rural peers.

As expected, the packages given to pastors vary significantly according to the size of the church. Pastors of churches that have an average of less than 100 adults attending their church services in a typical week – a group that represents a majority of the nation’s Protestant congregations – receive compensation valued at $31,613 annually. Pastors of churches that attract 100 to 250 adults get 50% more ($47,368). The largest churches (251 or more people) get compensation that averages $58,333.

One surprise emerging from the research was the minor gap between white and non-white pastors. The 10% gap between the two groups was attributable to factors such as education and church size more than any apparent form of discrimination.

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Reactions to the Findings

Having studied churches and congregational life for nearly twenty years, researcher George Barna noted that the rising compensation for pastors was laudable given the fact that so many churches have struggled financially in the past year. “Like most professionals, pastors work long hours, carry heavy responsibility and have extensive education. It’s nice to see the average wage finally break the forty-thousand-dollar ceiling. Given the compensation levels received by other professionals, we owe pastors a special word of gratitude for their sacrificial lifestyle.”

Barna noted that recent Census Bureau studies reported higher salary levels for other well-educated professionals such as corporate executives and managers (38% higher than the pastoral average), management consultants (46% higher), computer engineers (63% higher), public school administrators (88% higher) and physicians (385% higher). The researcher also pointed out that the figures for other professionals include only salary, whereas the pastoral statistics include the value of the entire compensation package. He explained that the pastoral data was collected in that manner because a significant share of pastors’ compensation is often provided as housing allowance and in other non-taxable forms of remuneration.

Research Methodology

The data described above are from telephone interviews conducted during May 2002 among a nationwide random sample of 601 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches located within the 48 continental states. The sample was balanced nationally according to the incidence of denominational affiliation, with a random selection of churches chosen within each denomination. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984 it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. This research was funded solely by Barna Research as part of its regular tracking of the social, religious and political state of the nation and its churches.

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Pastoral Compensation Levels, 1997-2002
Under $30,000
$30,000 to $59,999
$60,000 or more


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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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