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Baptist pastors’ salary increases outpacing inflation, study finds

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Salary increases for Southern Baptist pastors have more than doubled the rate of inflation during the past six years, according to a detailed study involving 35 state Baptist conventions throughout the nation.

The biennial salary study began in 1996 with 12 participating state conventions. The study, coordinated by Don Spencer, director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention annuity department, grew to include 19 conventions in 2000 and 35 this year.

Inflation has totaled 15.2 percent in the past six years, Spencer said. Among fulltime pastors, he added, the average compensation has gone up 31.5 percent during the same time.

“Traditionally, ministers have been underpaid,” Spencer pointed out. “My whole philosophy of ministerial compensation is that ministers should be adequately compensated so they can take care of their families and be free to be the best ministers they can be. If the compensation is low and the minister is giving his energy to meeting the financial needs of his family, he won’t be the best pastor he can be.”

The average salary and housing for fulltime pastors is $43,566, according to the study of 5,850 pastors’ salaries. The totals range from $33,395 in West Virginia to $57,096 among churches affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Among bivocational pastors, average salary and housing range from $10,198 in Illinois to $21,860 in Hawaii.

One of the goals of the study, Spencer explained, is to provide church leaders reliable information so they can make informed decisions about ministers’ compensation. In keeping with that goal, this year’s study is available on the Internet. It can be accessed through the Southern Baptist Annuity Board website at www.absbc.org.

Primary users of the study typically include members of church finance, personnel or search committees, Spencer said.

Noting that his office typically responds to requests for more than 200 customized reports in conjunction with each biennial study, he said Web access will allow church leaders to compile their own customized reports.

The customized option permits individuals to access data from churches with comparable membership and budget size. General reports also are available in such categories as average attendance, resident membership and budget as well as an employee’s age, education level and years of experience.

“We respect the autonomy of the churches but sometimes it’s good to know what the hens in the other yards are doing,” Spencer quipped. “This simply provides them the data they need to know what other churches are doing.

“We want to strengthen what they’re able to do in ministry,” he added. “The Scriptures are very clear about taking care of your family, and that applies to ministers. They’ve got to have enough resources to do that.”

Among other findings in the study, the average total pay package for pastors is $52,252. The total pay package includes insurance and annuity benefits as well as salary and housing.

Among bivocational pastors, the average salary and housing is $13,880 nationally and the average total pay package is $15,074.

One of the keys to budgeting adequate compensation for ministers, Spencer said, is to “leave ministry-related expenses out of the pay package.”

Study organizers chose to eliminate expense-related information from this year’s study, he added.

“It’s assumed expenses are paid over and above compensation and benefits,” Spencer said. In addition to tax savings for ministers, he said, “The reality is that money for expenses is not compensation, even though some churches treat it as such.

“What it costs to do the job” — such as travel expenses and conference fees — “should have no bearing on what a minister’s compensation is,” he emphasized.

The study also includes salary information for staff ministers, office personnel and custodians.

Among fulltime staff members, the average salary is $42,241 and the average total pay package is $50,232.

Among bivocational staff members, the average salary is $9,986 and the average total pay package is $10,677.

For more information about the study, contact the Southern Baptist Annuity Board or the annuity offices of participating state conventions.

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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