SBC pastor salaries not keeping pace with inflation, compensation study shows

SBC pastor salaries not keeping pace with inflation, compensation study shows

Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors and church staff has lagged behind the growth in the cost of living over the past two years. And health insurance coverage remains low, according to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convetion (SBC) Church Compensation Study.

The biannual study is a joint project of state Baptist conventions, GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay Christian Resources. Compensation and congregational data is collected anonymously from ministers and office/custodial personnel of Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions.

According to the 2018 report, Southern Baptist churches spend an average of 51 percent of their budget on personnel expenses. This is the first year this spending was analyzed.

Compensation (salary plus housing) increased 3.8 percent for full-time, Southern Baptist senior pastors over the last two years, 1.5 percent for full-time staff ministers and 2.3 percent for full-time office personnel. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for the same two-year period increased 4.6 percent.

‘Typical growth’

“After a period of very low inflation, the cost of living has moved closer to typical growth in consumer prices,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Churches that are unable to reflect this in their wages will hurt their staff.”

Factors correlating with compensation for senior pastors include weekly church attendance, education level and total years of experience. Larger churches tend to pay their pastors more, the study shows.

Churches with 100 or more in average weekly attendance were more likely than smaller churches to provide some level of medical coverage for the pastor.

Additional benefits

Some churches also provide additional insurance benefits to senior pastors including life and/or accident insurance (29 percent), disability (25 percent), dental (24 percent) and vision (11 percent).

Higher compensation also is linked to education level. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $5,681 more than similarly qualified pastors with no college education or an associate degree. Master’s and doctorate degrees correspond with compensation increases of $5,754 and $10,868, respectively, when compared to college graduates.

Years of experience also netted increased compensation. Pastors earned $358 more for each additional year of experience in ministry. In contrast, older pastors compared to an otherwise similar individual received slightly less compensation.

“It’s true that you can’t gain another year of experience without also getting one year older. But age and experience have opposite relationships with pastor compensation,” explained McConnell. “When age and other factors are similar, more experience is related to higher pay. When experience and other factors are similar, higher age is related to lower pay. Those who become pastors later in life receive lower pay.”

Overall, the increase in value of the entire pay package (salary, retirement, housing and other benefits including insurance) for senior pastors was slightly under the pace of inflation. However, the growth in pay packages for full-time staff ministers and office personnel fell well below the pace of inflation.

“We have always endeavored to ensure churches take proper care of their staff,” said Greg Love, who provides leadership for the church retirement relationship team at GuideStone.

“A church can maximize its limited resources by implementing a sound, structured compensation plan and not a lump-sum payment. This enables the church to provide salaries and suitable benefits for workers and their families, including life and health coverage,” Love said.

“Additionally, it empowers the church to provide highly important retirement contributions to ministry workers. These significant tasks can be accomplished as the church navigates smart financial stewardship, equips believers for ministry and strives for kingdom impact.”

Resources for churches

GuideStone provides many resources for churches seeking to establish, restructure or evaluate pay and benefit packages for ministers and other staff.

The free resources can be found at

The 2018 online survey was open from Feb. 1 to July 6, 2018.

Data from 6,894 full-time SBC respondents is available at (LifeWay)

For more information on the survey or to download the full report, visit