Pastor Compensation

The lavish lifestyle of some pastors is not a new phenomenon. However, recent news stories highlight the questionable practices used by these religious leaders to increase their book sales, leaving many to wonder where all the profits end up. While in the minority, the actions of these pastors can spark renewed debate about how much clergy should be paid.  In addition to an annual salary, compensation for pastors often includes housing assistance, in the form of a manse or parsonage and/or a housing allowance.  In congregations across the country from a variety of faith traditions, how much do senior/solo pastors and associate pastors typically earn?  Let’s look at two factors that might influence pastors’ compensation—faith group and congregational size.

Congregational size matters for mainline and conservative Protestant senior/solo pastors’ compensation.  Figure 1 displays the compensation levels for senior and solo pastors.  The salary structure for Catholic priests is a flat one—compensation does not vary much by the size of the parish.  However, clergy compensation is more closely tied to congregational size among Protestant groups.  On average, mainline Protestant senior/solo clergy earn more than their conservative Protestant colleagues.

fig 1
Total compensation for conservative Protestant associate leaders varies by congregational size.  In Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant churches, the amount of compensation for associate pastors is not related to the congregation’s size (see Figure 2).  In fact, no associate leaders were serving in Catholic parishes with fewer than 100 worshipers.  However, in conservative Protestant churches the congregation’s size made a difference in associate pastors’ compensation.  In general, the larger the congregation, the higher the compensation for the associate leader.  Overall, mainline Protestant associate leaders earn more, on average, than conservative Protestant associate leaders.

fig 2
Clergy compensation is a complex issue.  Many factors should inform clergy compensation, including what similar congregations in the area are paying their pastors, cost of living, and inflation.

Andrew Whitehead also contributed to this post.