By Aaron Earls
As inflation and other economic issues may be stretching most Americans’ budgets, Southern Baptist pastors may be feeling the pinch more than most.

A study conducted by Lifeway Research along with GuideStone and Baptist state conventions found compensation for full-time Southern Baptist senior pastors has remained flat over the past four years, while the total pay package has decreased.

While the Consumer Price Index has jumped 17.6 percent from 2018 to 2022, compensation, which includes salary and housing, has increased 0.2 percent for full-time senior pastors at Southern Baptist churches during the same period.

Their pay package, which includes compensation plus any retirement or insurance benefits, fell 2.1 percent. A previous Lifeway Research study of U.S. Protestant pastors found 41 percent say they’re worried about their family’s financial security. Additionally, 1 in 5 Protestant pastors (18 percent) say financial stress is one of the greatest concerns they have in ministry.

“The last four years have included two good financial years and two difficult years for the typical church,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “A church cannot pay what they do not have. But at the same time, Scripture says a pastoral worker is worthy of his wages (1 Timothy 5:18) — not what his wages were worth four years ago.”

Other full-time staff ministers have seen both compensation and pay packages increase since 2018, but not in line with inflation. Full-time ministers at Southern Baptist churches who are not the senior pastor saw a 7.5 percent compensation increase and a 7.1 percent pay package increase in the past four years.

Full-time office personnel are the only Southern Baptist church employees who had compensation and pay package increases closely aligned with the Consumer Price Index. Since 2018, their compensation increased 17 percent, while their pay package went up 18 percent.

“Office staff can get a job in many nearby businesses, and churches have had to raise their pay to keep these positions filled,” said McConnell. “Just because pastors and ministers don’t have numerous ministry alternatives to jump to doesn’t mean they don’t deserve raises to keep pace with rising costs of living.”

On average, a Southern Baptist church spends close to half of their budget (46 percent) on employee compensation and benefits. The percentage increases slightly with the size of the congregation. The smallest churches, those with fewer than 50 in attendance, spend a median of 45 percent on personnel. Churches with an average weekly attendance between 50 and 99 spend 46 percent. Those that average 100 to 249 devote 48 percent, while congregations of 250 or more spend 50 percent on employee compensation and benefits.

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Aaron Earls is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.