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Can Church Employees Discuss Their Salary or Raise?

The pressure to raise salaries in 2022 is intense and employees are talking about it. What can (or should) churches do?
Can Church Employees Discuss Their Salary or Raise?
Image: Klaus Vedfelt | Getty

Compensation has always been a touchy topic, but with inflation on the rise, the conversation around pay has become even more heated.

A recent study by Lattice Survey found that 67% of US employees also support pay transparency. Employees want to know what their peers make and how to gain more frequent raises, yet over 60% of employees polled didn’t feel their organization was doing enough to actively identify and rectify pay disparities and over 30% didn’t understand their organization’s decision-making process for determining pay.

The pressures surrounding salaries, raises, the labor market, and inflation this year are creating some pretty confused and frustrated employees and begs the question: “Should churches and ministries be transparent with pay ranges?”

Can employees discuss their salary and raises?

Churches should talk with their staff about the possible concerns that sharing pay rates openly can cause. Employee’s conversations around pay are likely to focus on dollar amounts and fail to take into consideration prior experience, education, or tenure. Peers may discover they make significantly more or less, which can lead to feelings of either superiority or resentment.

Despite the slippery slope that is comparison, organizations and ministries cannot ban staff from talking about their pay.

The National Labor Relations Board says employees have a right to talk about their own salary whenever, wherever, and to whomever they want. This is protected speech by law and your employees will talk about their pay.

On the other hand, some employees won’t and will want their pay kept private. Talking or inquiring about other people’s pay is not protected.

This leads to a balancing act. In an effort to pay your staff fairly and build a culture of trust, generosity and contentment, here are a few practical tips.

How can churches facilitate healthy salary discussions?

1. Audit your organization's current pay rates.

The first thing your church can do is to check to ensure your rates meet minimum wage and salary requirements. Beyond that, check for any obvious pay differences between similar jobs. If questionable pay gaps are found, document the reasoning and/or rectify the situation.

2. Research the current market ranges for each position

The biggest variable that impacts church pay is budget/size—larger churches can afford to pay better than smaller churches. However, don’t forget to consider and adjust for your geographical location.

ChurchSalary is a great source for pay data. Their tools are affordable and can handle the adjustment for geographical locations for you.

3. Create pay ranges for each of position/position type

If you have different levels of administrative or facility workers, use at least three tiers (I/II/III) to structure their pay ranges based on responsibility. For example, a receptionist admin might make less than an admin who supports the lead pastor.

4. Talk with your staff about the process

The best thing you can do is inform your employees that you regularly audit rates (if you do). Use these discussions as an opportunity to educate employees on the different factors that can impact someone’s pay rate (i.e., education, experience, merit, special skills, seniority, etc.).

Finally, if employees are concerned about their pay rate encourage them to talk with their manager/HR/pastor instead of each other. But don’t prohibit it! Remember, they are legally allowed to talk about their own pay rate.

5. Be transparent about pay ranges

By following the steps above, you can minimize the “secrecy” around staff pay. You don’t have to make pay ranges public, but you can work towards a point where you are comfortable sharing position pay ranges when asked.

Navigating pay transparency may feel uncomfortable, but it serves both your staff and organization! Employees feel valued and informed when they know their compensation was fairly evaluated and open communication around pay leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention. Don’t shy away from the hard conversations. Lean into them and reap the benefits of a stronger and more trusting staff.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

Lilly Endowment

ChurchSalary is made possible through funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. As part of Lilly's "National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders," ChurchSalary—and our parent, Church Law & Tax—is committed to helping church leaders and pastors develop an atmosphere of healthy financial stewardship, especially in the area of church staff compensation.