Jump directly to the Content Jump directly to the Content

Cost of Living Comparison

Two of the most eye-opening numbers in every ChurchSalary report are the cost-of-living index and median household income. What are they? And how do they apply to you and your church?

Two of the most eye-opening numbers in every ChurchSalary report are the cost-of-living index (or COLI) and median household income (or MHI). What are they? And how do they apply to you and your church?

What is the cost-of-living-index?

Stuff is expensive. And it always seems to cost more where you live. Figuring out how far a salary will stretch is a really good thing to know.

ChurchSalary pulls the most detailed and reliable data available to provide you with a cost-of-living comparison in the form of two numbers.

Using your zip code, and a second one if you enter it, ChurchSalary compares the cost of living in your location with the national average.

The COLI is a measure of the cost of 60 different goods and services. It captures six main expenses [show list on screen]: food (13.2%), housing (28%), utilities (10.3%), transportation (11.1%), healthcare (4.4%), and goods and services (32.9%).

Foremost among these costs are big expenses like housing and utilities. Chances are milk probably doesn’t cost 23 percent more in your town, but housing, gas, utilities, and haircuts do. Housing accounts for around 28 percent of this measurement and utilities and transportation account for around 10 percent respectively. Bear all of this in mind as you analyze the cost-of-living index.

For churches, this difference can tell you something about increased housing allowance costs for pastors who live and minister in your community.

For individuals, this can give you an idea of how far your salary would stretch, if you are evaluating at a job offer, or if you moved to a different area of town.

More Resources on Adjusting Salary Based on the Cost of Living

Why median household income?

Below the cost-of-living index (COLI) you will also see a comparison of median household income (MHI) for your ZIP code, and potentially a second.

If you are looking at the MHI in your zip code, bear in mind that this does not reflect average income in your area. And it does not necessarily tell you how incomes in your ZIP code are distributed between different professions, education levels, and even among socioeconomic classes.

Some ZIP codes—because they are ultimately based on mailing routes—span a wide range of income levels. There may be an affluent neighborhood just down the street that is shifting this number up, or vice versa with a low-income neighborhood.

In general, a lot of factors can influence MHI. If you live in a community with a lot of single-income families this “household income” number is going to be lower, and vice versa for areas with a lot of married couples who both work.

Take the time to think about what this number tells you about income in your ZIP code—as well as how income is distributed or not distributed within your community (and your congregation).

Individuals should not compare their salary to this number without realizing that it represents the median household income.


Bear in mind, if you are running a pastoral report, both of these variables have been partially accounted for in terms of salary in the Localized Salary Recommendation. If possible, use that section to tune the salary range. Don’t ever simply multiply by the cost-of-living index. That’s not how salary works in the real world—for all the reasons we mentioned and more.

You know your community better than anyone—or you should. Take the time to think about these numbers and what they might mean for you, your church, and even for your community.

To learn more about ChurchSalary’s reports, check out the rest the videos in our Understanding Your Salary Report series.

Thank you for choosing ChurchSalary. If you haven’t already consider taking our National Church Compensation Survey, especially if your church is handling things like compensation factors well. We want to hear about it. Together, we can help more churches.

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.