Survey of Associate Pastors

Overview of Findings

  • Associate leaders serving in the random sample of congregations that participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey in the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009 were invited to complete a leader survey about their background and experiences in ministry.
  • Here we compare survey responses from 322 full-time, paid associate pastors with the survey responses of 693 senior or solo pastors serving in the same congregations who responded to a similar survey.

Where do associate pastors serve?

  • Associate pastors typically serve in larger congregations—the median worship attendance in congregations with associate pastors is 289 (compared to a median worship attendance of 95 across all congregations).
  • About half of congregations that employ one or more associate pastors, employ just one associate leader.

Number of Associate Pastors in Congregations

Catholic Parishes
Mainline Protestant Churches
Conservative Protestant Churches
No Associate pastor(s)
1 associate pastor
2 associate pastors
3 or more associate pastors

What is the demographic profile of associate pastors?

  • Slightly more than half of associate pastors are men (57%). Even more ordained associate staff leaders are men (100% of Catholic associates, 57% of mainline Protestant associates, and 94% of conservative Protestant associates).
  • Most associate leaders are white (88%). They are slightly more racially/ethnically diverse as a group than are senior/solo pastors (94% are white).
  • The median age of associate pastors is 46 years of age, nine years younger than the median of senior/solo pastors. Female associates are eight years older on average than male associate pastors.

Median Age of Associate Pastors by Gender

Mainline Protestant
Conservative Protestant
  • The majority of Protestant associate pastors are in their first marriage. About half of Catholic associates have never married. 
  • Two out of three associate leaders worked in one or more occupations before entering ministry. More female than male associates had worked in another occupation prior to serving in a local church.
  • Fewer associate pastors are ordained than senior/solo pastors (just 55% associate pastors are ordained compared to 94% of senior/solo leaders). Mainline Protestant associate pastors are the most likely to be ordained (two out of three are).

How theologically educated are associate pastors?

  • More mainline Protestant associate pastors have at least a theological master’s degree (77%) than associate pastors in any other group. About half of Catholic associates hold a master’s degree or more. Conservative Protestant associates serve with the least theological education—only 16% have a master’s degree or more.
  • Many associate leaders carry educational debt, especially mainline Protestant associate pastors (52%). 

What is the average compensation for associate pastors?

  • Median total compensation for associate pastors (including any housing assistance) is $43,591 per year.

Total Compensation of Associate Pastors by Congregational Size

chart: Total Compensation of Associate Pastors by Congregational Size
  • Six in ten associates receive housing assistance in the form of either a manse/parsonage or a housing allowance (compared to nine in ten senior/solo pastors). Few Catholic associates (30%) receive housing assistance.
  • At least two out of three associate leaders receive health insurance provided by their congregation or denomination. About half receive health insurance for their spouse as well.

What does the typical workweek look like for an associate pastor?

  • Associate pastors typically work fewer hours per week performing various ministry tasks than senior/solo pastors (median of 45 hours compared to 50 hours for senior/solo pastors). More of them take a day off each week (92% do so, compared to 82% of senior/solo pastors). 
  • Associate pastors as well as senior/solo pastors report spending a median of eight hours per week in church administration, including staff supervision and attending congregational board and committee meetings. Associate pastors spend less time on sermon preparation but more time on youth ministry than senior/solo pastors.
  • The majority of associate leaders participate in some type of peer group for continuing education and support. Many also report participating in some form of continuing theological education (lasting one full day or more) on an annual basis.

What about the physical and mental health of associate pastors?

  • Compared to the U.S. population, more male associate pastors are overweight or obese (85% have BMI scores of 30 or higher, compared to 72% of American males). More female associate pastors fall in the BMI overweight category than American women overall (41% compared to 28%). Associate pastors indicate that they spend two hours per week (median) getting some type of physical exercise.

Distribution of Associate Pastors Based on Body Mass Index (BMI)

chart: Distribution of Associate Pastors Based on Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • More associate pastors report that they experience stress stemming from the challenges the congregation faces rather than stress from other sources—lack of interest or concern from people in the congregation, loneliness or isolation, or dealing with critical members. In addition, one in five mainline Protestant associate pastors say they have experienced stress as a result of dealing with their senior pastor.

How do associate pastors feel about their ministry in the congregation?

  • Most associate pastors believe their leadership is a good match for the congregation. However, conservative Protestant associate pastors were less positive about their fit than were other associates and less positive than were conservative Protestant senior/solo pastors.
  • About half of all associate pastors are satisfied with what they have accomplished in their congregational ministry.

Prepared by Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce in partial fulfillment of Grant Number 2008021 from the Louisville Institute to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for A National Study of Associate Pastors and Their Ministry