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How Much Do Youth Pastors Make?

Average salaries increased in 2020, while inequality persists.

The 2020 Youth Pastor Compensation Survey published by Chemistry Staffing was released in January 2021. For years now, this survey has represented the largest and most in-depth analysis of compensation among youth pastors, with over 5,000 youth pastors participating in the survey to date.

To go beyond the basic question—what do youth pastors make?—we gather over fifty points of data for every respondent, covering all sorts of factors that typically affect compensation, including youth group size, education and tenure, marital status, home ownership, benefits, geographical location, church size and budget, as well as denominational affiliation.

The survey is designed to help churches and youth pastors understand compensation market trends and to ultimately eradicate wage as a reason why youth pastors leave their churches and potentially even the ministry. Awareness is the first step. Here’s what I am seeing …

  • Watch the 2021 Youth Pastor Salary Summit as Dan Navarra, Matt Steen, Frank Gil, and host Aaron Hill discuss the state of youth pastor salaries.
Wages Continue to Grow

The national average salary for a youth pastor in 2020 was $48,938. This represents a 2.1 percent gain over the 2019 average. In fact, youth pastor salaries have increased by over 2 percent every single year for the past four years. On a practical level, though, this means that if youth pastors do not not receive a basic cost of living adjustment (COLA) every year, their salaries will be devalued over time.

Additionally, youth pastors with a formal education continue to earn more than their peers. Year-over-year trends suggest that relative to an equally qualified candidate, a bachelor’s degree is worth a 10 percent salary increase and a master’s degree is worth a 16 percent increase.

To illustrate how education impacts youth pastor compensation, let’s imagine a hiring scenario. Three youth pastors—Billy, Bobby, and Buddy—with the same level of experience all apply for the same job at First Church. If they each have different levels of education, they should expect to receive very different offers.

  • If Billy has a high school diploma, he should expect an offer of around $40,000.
  • If Bobby has a bachelor’s degree, he can expect an offer of around $44,000.
  • If Buddy has a seminary degree, he can hope for an offer just north of $50,000.

Given how compensation is shown to be affected by completed education, youth pastors should weigh the impact of completing a bachelor’s or master’s to help strengthen their resume.

The Gender Gap Persists

One of the dirty little secrets in youth pastor compensation is the gender wage gap. Statistically speaking, the national pay gap between men and women averages 10 percent. However, in this year’s survey, the gender wage gap for youth pastors was 13 percent, an increase of 1.8 percent from last year (11.2 percent).

While some denominations are known for being egalitarian—employing a higher percentage of women as the leaders of their church’s youth ministries—they sometimes offer the most inequitable compensation to women. To learn more about the negative impact of the gender pay gap for female youth pastors, download the 2021 Youth Pastor Compensation Report.

To illustrate the impact of this pay gap, let us return to our earlier example. Imagine that Bianca also applies for the same job at First Church alongside Billy, Bobby and Buddy. Even if she holds a bachelor’s degree, our data suggests that Bianca may find herself being offered less than Billy, who only has a high school diploma. And even if Bianca attends seminary and earns a master’s degree, she still may be offered less than Bobby who has a bachelor’s degree.

Churches can protect against bias like this in their hiring process by proactively performing payroll banding before beginning their search. Payroll banding helps determine the range of a salary that fits within a company’s compensation structure and that is equitable to everyone in the organization.

It's no small secret that churches often make offers to candidates based on their gender, marital status, number of kids, or stage of life. Payroll banding guards against this.

If a church determines that based on numerous factors—geography, church size, budget, qualifications of tenure and education—a candidate will be qualified to earn a specific range of salary, their youth pastor compensation will be more than competitive. The benefits of this approach to compensation are monumental for both parties

Compensation Impacts Job Satisfaction

This year, we studied how compensation and employee satisfaction are linked together. We found that on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest level of satisfaction) youth pastors saw an average pay increase of $2,429 from level 2 to 3, $2,200 more from 3 to 4, and then $2,178 more from 4 to 5.

So while money can’t buy happiness, there is a clear link between employee satisfaction and compensation. With a national average salary of around $50,000, 2 percent annual raises (around $1,000) can go a long way in helping a youth pastor stay satisfied in their role.

It is far more common, though, for youth pastors to go years (sometimes five or more!) without any sort of salary increase. As their compensation falls far behind the market, they quickly become unsatisfied and move on to a new role.

Our data indicates that the more satisfied a youth pastor is, the longer their tenure tends to be; and the name of the game in youth ministry specifically is longevity. Students, volunteers, and the overall health of the church benefit greatly from stable, healthy youth ministries led by long-term youth pastors who are satisfied with their job.

The Highest Paid Youth Pastors Live in ...

Whenever I talk about compensation averages, I always need to mention California in a class of its own. California youth pastors earn 15 percent more than the national average due to high housing costs and wage laws that force churches to pay exempt employees double the state’s minimum wage. This is easily 10 percent more than the next highest state.

To learn more about how pay differs by state, including where the lowest paid youth pastors live, download the full report from ChemistryStaffing.com.

By comparison, in the 2019 report, youth pastors in California received almost a 5 percent pay bump over the year before. This year, raises slowed down considerably with the state average basically remaining static. There are two likely explanations for this:

  • churches in California have been on COVID-19 lockdowns longer, creating more financial insecurity;

  • more and more California churches are offering raises only when they are mandated by state-wide wage increases.

Additionally, the education bumps in pay that we see nationwide are more compressed in California; degrees are not worth the same percentage pay bump as everywhere else. This is likely because the base compensation in California is already above the national average.

If you are a youth pastor in California, knowing your market worth is a bit more tricky. Consider using ChurchSalary’s Salary Calculator, to see how your salary stacks up.

Regardless of which state you live in, all of the latest data from the Youth Pastor Compensation Survey is incorporated into ChurchSalary’s database to provide users with the most comprehensive compensation modeling available.

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.