Negotiating Church Salaries & Benefits (when budgets are tight)

Every church I know (EVERY church I know) has a budget crunch as we move into the new year.

Belt tightening

Why? There are many reasons – some deeply analyzed by church historians and sociologists, and some pondered unscientifically by pastors and bloggers like me.

Among those reasons: Consistently-generous givers (who tend to be in older generations) died or moved away in 2014 . People who no longer worship regularly (i.e. every Sunday unless they are out of town or sick) have stopped giving as regularly too. Younger generations (who – by the way, in my experience – are very generous financial givers) are trying to pay off student loans. Unemployment is still a huge issue in many communities.

We in the non-profit world did not accept this calling expecting financial riches. And yet, we work hard and we deserve to be compensated accordingly. So, how do we ask for what we need (and maybe a tiny bit of what we want) in a culture of Financially Struggling Church? Here’s what not to do: Allow pastors, educators, and musicians who pay for their own supplies. They do it because they need certain things to do their jobs and they want their congregations to thrive in spite of what feels like a time of scarcity. The problems with this practice are:

  1. We sabotage the next pastors, educators, and musicians who cannot do this. (“Our last educator bought all the bulletin board supplies out of her own pocket! This is why we miss her so much/can’t function without her/wish you were her.”)
  2. We will not have correct financial information for budgeting purposes if financial gifts are donated off the books. If Vacation Bible School actually costs $2500 but the pastor has donated $2000 for it, it looks like VBS costs $500. Then somebody gets blamed for “overspending” down the road.

So, how do we Church Professionals negotiate our salary and benefits in times like these? Do we take one for team? (Leigh Thompson of Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University says no. Also, Kellogg has an excellent Non-Profit Leadership program you need to check out here.)

Full disclosure: I just asked my own Personnel Committee to consider increasing my benefits in 2015.

The bottom line is that gas costs more (if our jobs require driving for on-site visits) and continuing education classes cost more (along with transportation and hotels if required.) The minimum for Continuing Education in our Presbytery – we hope – will be increased in 2016 because 1) most pastors get the minimum and 2) you can’t attend a conference out of town within the $700 minimum we require.

Yes, our congregations are strapped. But if we want vibrant ministry, if we want well-prepared clergy, educators, and musicians, if we want sharp support staff we need to help them succeed. Removing financial stress is a good start.

Final note: if your congregation has more than one pastor and the Associate Pastor(s) make(s) less than half what your Head of Staff earns, please prayerfully consider the fact that this might be unjust. At least consider it.

4 responses to “Negotiating Church Salaries & Benefits (when budgets are tight)

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out why our congregation is entering 2015 in an excellent financial position, exceeding all expectations. One of the reasons I’ve identified is the increased emphasis we have been giving to tithing as a spiritual practice. This came as a result of Joan Gray spending a weekend with our leaders and teaching/preaching with the congregation early in 2014. The ‘take away’ was three essential practices: prayer, risky obedience and tithing. We encouraged these practices in a variety of ways throughout the year. We also began talking more clearly about why sharing our money is essential to discipleship and church membership. (“We” means members, not just pastors.) On their own initiative the personnel ministry has taken steps increase the associate pastor’s compensation and reduced the gap. Perhaps this was only a lucky year, time will tell. For now, the emphasis on these practices is increasing the sense of spiritual vitality, commitment and financial clarity. Joan is returning this weekend. We are beginning the year with a baptism and membership renewal Sunday in which every member will be asked to renew his/her membership in the congregation with a specific commitment to practice the way of discipleship. Our goal is no “inactive” member.


  2. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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