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Ministers' compensation

Ky. pastors see increase in salaries


Study shows compensation for state’s
senior pastors edges closer to SBC average

By Drew Nichter
News Director

Louisville—Kentucky Baptist pastors do not get paid as much as the average Southern Baptist pastor—but that pay gap has closed some since 2008.

The average compensation for a full-time senior pastor in Kentucky is $52,302—$1,850 more than in 2008. That’s compared to the $55,829 average for full-time senior pastors across the Southern Baptist Convention.

The numbers come from the recently released SBC Church Compensation Study, a biennial survey conducted by LifeWay Research and GuideStone Financial Resources.


This year’s study polled 11,674 staff members from SBC churches nationwide. It is designed to provide churches with detailed information regarding comparable compensation packages for ministerial staff.

“If you’re talking about a church of about the same size with the same budget, the (pastors’) pay is going to be pretty much in the same ballpark,” said Don Spencer, financial support specialist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

The $52,302 average compensation (which includes salary and housing expenses) for full-time senior pastors in Kentucky represents a 3.67 percent increase from the $50,452 they made in 2008.

The paychecks may be larger, but Kentucky’s pastors still lag behind the average Southern Baptist senior pastor, who makes $55,829 per year. But SBC compensation rose only $553 (1 percent) from 2008.

Across the SBC, full-time senior pastors in Montana earn the least—$36,066. On the flip side, Texas’ two Baptist state conventions are first and second on the list. The Baptist General Convention of Texas pays its pastors an average of $68,313, followed by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at $65,022.

Among what are considered to be the 15 “old-line” state Baptist conventions (including the newer Texas and Virginia conservative conventions), Kentucky ranks next to last in pastors’ pay, outpacing only North Carolina, which averages $51,016.

According to a LifeWay news release, when adjusted for church size (using average worship attendance numbers), SBC pastors’ compensation rose only 0.78 percent from 2008. That was, however, good enough to outpace the 0.67 inflation rate during the past two years.

The pay increases since 2008 at both the state and national levels are considerably smaller than the jumps seen between ’06 and ’08. In that span, Kentucky’s full-time senior pastors’ pay increased more than $3,000, while SBC pastors’ made nearly $5,325 more.

The modest gains made by ministers in the past two years is tied directly to the economic recession that has gripped the United States since early 2008, Spencer explained.

The length of this recession—which may or may not have ended, depending on which economist is polled—is why the compensation numbers have been so significantly impacted, he said.

“We’ve gone through dips, valleys and peaks and all that before,” Spencer said, “but to get such an extended period with the economy like it is, I think is what’s created a real challenge.”

No where has the economy impacted church staff members than the overall pay packages, which includes insurance and retirement benefits.

Staff pay packages across the SBC actually decreased by $209, from $66,484 in 2008 to $66,275 this year. Kentucky Baptists evidently bucked that trend, enjoying an increase of $2,707 in their overall pay packages.

Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, said the rising cost of benefits in the current economy is making it harder for churches to keep up.

“Difficult economic conditions have been compounded by higher costs for the same benefits the church provided in prior years,” he said, according to the LifeWay news release. “Churches have kept salary increases to a minimum, but their care for pastors is seen in increased spending on other benefits.”

The news release also pointed out that fewer full-time senior pastors are receiving medical insurance from their churches today than in 2008. Only 61 percent of churches pay—fully or partially—for their pastors’ medical insurance, compared to 65 percent two years ago. The cost of medical care rose 3.2 percent and 3.4 percent in 2009 and 2010 respectively, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

Spencer suggested the struggling economy may even have affected the compensation survey itself by trimming the pool of respondents.

In 2008, 12,828 church staff members took the survey; this year, more than 1,000 fewer people participated.

Spencer, who established the compensation study in 1988 and directed it until handing it off to LifeWay and GuideStone in 2008, said in previous years, response totals typically ranged from 16,000 to 18,000.

These days, he explained, there are fewer church staff members to participate.

“We’ve seen so many places where they’ve cut,” he said. “It’s not dramatic; it’s just one here, one there.”

But once you consider that scenario is playing out at churches all across Kentucky and the SBC, “it starts adding up,” Spencer said.

The study also includes compensation information for Southern Baptist bivocational pastors, as well as full-time and bivocational ministerial staff members, office personnel and custodians.

Kentucky’s bivocational pastors exceeded the rest of the SBC in average compensation at $19,229, an increase of $862 over 2008. The national average is $18,971, an increase of $1,291. The average total pay package for bivocational pastors in Kentucky is $24,318, which exceeds the national average of $20,667.

Among full-time church staff ministers, the average compensation is $48,525 in Kentucky and $54,150 nationally. The total pay package in the commonwealth is $58,757; SBC-wide, it is $64,804.

Among bivocational church staff ministers, the average compensation is $12,065 in Kentucky and $14,071 across the SBC. The average total pay package in Kentucky is $12,710, while it is $14,464 nationally.

As the former administrator of the study, Spencer said such a survey always will have concerns with the validity of the data. “It is impossible to avoid having some inaccurate data creep in,” he stressed.

However, he encouraged churches looking to hire pastors or staff members to utilize the survey’s customizable report feature as a way to get a more accurate compensation comparison.

The SBC Church Compensation Study can be found online at www.LifeWay.com/CompensationSurvey.

For those churches that would like to obtain compensation survey reports but do not have Internet access, call the KBC’s church financial benefits department at (502) 489-3521, or toll free in Kentucky at (866) 489-3521.

Western Recorder issue date: August 3, 2010