Memo On Setting Salaries for Church Staff

Setting Salaries on a Church Staff

For sure a church should have steps for evaluating and setting salaries on paper so that “the wheel” is not reinvented each year, and as a help to new leaders.


  1. The main board of the church (elders, council, session, the board, deacons) should be responsible for the specific salaries of main leaders and the guidelines for others.
  2. It seems best that the congregation (members meeting) does not dialog on such issues, though that is a hard habit to break for some churches that started that way.
  3. A smaller finance committee that reports to the main board and has at least two or three of the board members on it, should grapple with specifics.
  4. All salaries should be based upon merit as shown in formal or informal review; and the ability of the church; and comparisons readily available that compare with similar churches in similar regions.
  5. It seems best to most churches to publish salaries as part of the budget in one figure, so that when there are two or more on staff there is privacy.

PROPOSED STEPS  (Whatever your steps, charts or notes like this can help.)

  •   The finance committee sets a percentage increase possible for the next year’s budget.  This takes into account the economy, the present year’s giving, the vision and spirit and growth of the church.
  •   The main board approves that and so it is set.  (For an example, we will use 3% as the figure approved here.)
  •  The budget steps begin.

(Usually lines in budget are proposed by staff members based on present year and future plans;  these are inspected and approved by staff leadership who are aware of the 3% goal; these are then presented to the finance team.)

  •  The finance committee sets the percentage increase for salaries.  Usually it is the same as the guideline percentage for the overall budget.
  •   The main board approves that figure.
  •   The finance committee, joined by three members of the main board if they are not officially members of this committee, meet to set the senior pastor’s salary.

……They meet with the pastor for his review and questions about finances.

……They look at charts that compare salaries by region of country and size of the church –Leadership Network,  NACBA, some denominations publish.

……There are no staff in the room, including the pastor (after review).

  •   The finance committee, with the three members of the main board,  is joined by the senior pastor to set the salaries of the main associate pastors.

They use similar charts as with the senior.

They rely on the review and opinion of the senior pastor, and do not do the review themselves.

  •   If there is any “catch up” needed for the main staff leaders,  many churches do not count that against the 3% goal for all staff salaries.  That would hurt the other increases.
  •   In some large settings,  the finance committee is joined by both the senior pastor and the senior associate or executive pastor to set other associate or assistant pastors’ salaries.
  •   The finance committee commissions the senior pastor,   and the main associate(s) or executive pastor to set the rest of the salaries based upon the 3%.   Some may get small 1% raises and some the larger 5% based on merit, spirit, and production-influence, but most will get 3%  which will also be the average.   These people set them because they know the staff.
  •   Staff members are told one on one what their salary will be and why, usually by the person to whom they report.  Churches often ask staff to keep this confidential.
  •   Salaries and benefits are noted in the budget in one lump sum.

(Every finance team knows that benefits of vacation, continuing education, car expenses or provisions, health benefits, and retirement provisions must be considered carefully also as part of this deliberate procedure.)



Salary-setting for pastors and staff

Considerations related to common church practices

  •  –There should be an officially adopted procedure for annual review of the senior pastor by a designated small group of the board,  and also annual assessment of his salary and package.

Same for pastoral and support staff.

  • –All salaries and benefits should be listed together in one or two sums in the proposed church budget listing,  so people do not compare what each person on staff makes.   That should be determined by the small team in collaboration with the finance committee,  and with the senior pastor related to other staff positions.

See the steps on “Setting Salaries on a Church Staff.”

  • In the private considerations of the salaries, figures should not be in one sum but broken down into the categories, as is done in almost all jobs:

Salary    $60,000  (just to use a round number)

Health insurance      $13,000   (Churches provide in various ways,  but clearly are obligated just as other companies and ministries are.  When a sum is given for this,  church leaders would want to be sure what the person purchases is fair and adequate.)

Retirement    $4,000   Most churches do provide this,  often using a matching fund so the pastor can contribute even more.

Social security:  Some churches pay the normal “employer’s share of the self-employed amount the pastor is taxed.

Continuing education or seminars    $1,000

Reimbursement for mileage and church business meal expenses   (an approximate amount,  but a specific policy on per-mile amount and what count as church business)

Vacation weeks and sick days   These should be noted on the original “letter of agreement” but also on the annual update so that there is no confusion.

When there is not a breakdown of the figures, other leaders make inaccurate comparisons.   For instance,  if the above figures were simply listed by the pastor’s name as $78,000,  others might compare in their heads to their own $78,000 salary without adding all the other expenses or benefits that most companies give.  If they did,  the “apples to apples” comparison might be $78,000 to $96,000 or more.

 Churches never want to be unfair about the amounts or the way these items are considered.   They simply often have habits of practice that are not evaluated.

 And often the persons who are penalized are the members of the pastors’ families,  something no one really desires.

 There are several very accurate tables for church salaries that are available for consideration – each of them break the tables down by area of the country,  size of the church,  and responsibilities.

 National Association of Church Business Administrators –   (The Church Network –TCN)

 Leadership Network  —

Many churches also compare with the local school system tables of salaries.