12 Megachurch Salary, Tithing and Mission Trends: Report

Willow Creek Community church
A parishioner cries as he signs a song of worship in the 7,000-seat Willow Creek Community church during a Sunday service in South Barrington, Illinois, November 20, 2005. Institutions like Willow Creek and Houston's Lakewood Church, each drawing 20,000 or more on a weekend, offer not just a vast, shared attraction but a path that tries to link individuals on a faith-sustaining one-to-one level beyond the crowd, observers and worshipers say. |

A 2016 study of American and Canadian megachurches revealed 12 significant observations about the salaries of senior and executive pastors.

The report, recently released by the Leadership Network and Vanderbloemen Search Group, included 26 percent of all American megachurches (1,251 large churches), along with 56 churches in Canada, all of which had average weekly attendance of 30,000 to 500.  Across a mix of ethnicities including, Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian churches, here's what they found:

1. Pay raises

Executive staff, positions equal to or below senior pastors, averaged a 3.1 percent pay raise last year. This figure was above the annual U.S. inflation rate of 0.1 percent in 2015, and 1.6 percent in 2014.

2. Benefit costs

Senior pastors received an additional 21 percent in cash value of benefits, including health insurance, retirement, and bonuses. Executive pastors were nearly the same at 20 percent.

3. Bonuses

In the last 12 months, 54 percent of churches gave financial bonuses to their senior pastors. 

4. Staffing costs

Of the participating churches, 49 percent of total budgets, including general funds and restricted funds, was spent on staffing costs — salary, benefits and related expenses.

5. Biggest salary predictor

Church budget was the biggest predictor of the salaries of top-tier staff (senior pastors and executive pastors). Other factors can include, geography, theological tradition, and even race.

6. Income sources

Ninety-eight percent of a church's total budget came from congregational giving. The remainder came from sources including, investment income, business revenue, or schools. This percentage changed very little with church size.

7. Salary of No. 2 person

The second highest-paid person in a large church was often the executive pastor or church administrator. He or she earned 70 percent of the salary of the senior pastor, who was the highest-paid.

8. Attendance-to-staff ratio

For every 76 people who worshiped, there was one full-time staff person, which included everyone from custodians to pastors. This did not include staff members of a school that had been sponsored by a church.

9. Giving-to-salary ratio

For every $1 of annual increase in church-wide giving per attendee, the average executive level annual salary increased by $15.49.

10. Beyond the church walls

Fifty-two percent of churches spent 10 percent or more of their church budgets on outside ministries, from soup kitchens, to world missions, to church planting.

11. Who knows your salary?

Of participating churches, 81 percent said that knowledge about specific salaries was known only by board members, a subcommittee of the board, or by senior staff.

12. Outsourcing is on the rise

Over the last five years, 33 percent of churches increased the outsourcing of staff jobs. Fifty-five percent of churches retained the same number of employees, while 12 percent decreased their number of workers. The most commonly outsourced jobs included, custodial, payroll, information technology, graphic design, and executive search for select firm staff roles.

The free report can be downloaded at

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