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Salary Comparisons & Compensation Factors

Every employee is different. But how do you attach a dollar amount to those differences?

Every employee is different. That’s great, but how do you attach a dollar amount to those differences?

Comparing salaries

Every ChurchSalary report contains a Salary Comparison. This section is designed to help you place an employee within a salary range. Should they be paid more than the midpoint or less?

Specifically, the Salary Comparison is designed to help you with step three of a three-step salary review process. You can learn more about those steps and how your report walks through this process in our “How to Use Your Report” video.

Every number this section is an average or a mean—not a median. This is important. It is showing you the average salary of employees who fit these criteria—i.e., 6 to 10 years of experience. These tables are pretty self-explanatory, but as you look through them you may notice two things.


For starters, you may see some dashes. This means that there isn’t enough data to produce a useful average. There simply aren’t enough people who fit this profile in our database or in the real world.

Because, let’s face it a senior pastor at a mega church with only one year of experience is rare, or a custodian with a doctorate. Sure, it could happen, but those employees are rare — the unicorns of ministry. If you see a dash. It’s worth asking, why?

Weird numbers

Beyond that, the averages you see may look a little weird. We expect to see people with higher levels of experience and education earn a higher salary. Unfortunately, the averages in your report may dip or spike when you hit a certain level of experience or education. What is going on here?

First, there may be just enough employees that fit this profile to create an average, but not enough to create one that fits well with the other levels. For example, maybe there are only 7 senior pastors with associate degrees at 2,000 member churches. That would be enough to produce an average, but not enough to give us a neat clean trend.

Second, these averages may be telling you about something counterintuitive or potentially unfair that is happening in the church labor market.

For example, we sometimes see the doctorate average for pastors dip. These pastors may end up taking on a second job teaching at a local bible college. You are only seeing their church salary not their adjunct compensation.

Something similar can happen with experience. Executive pastors with 26 years of experience may be working as a favor to their church. Perhaps they retired from a career in the military or from a successful business career?

Or, and this is unfair and far too common, pastors faithfully serve in the same job for years without receiving a consistent raise. You’re not seeing clear stair-step increases in your report because churches, on average, aren’t giving consistent raises to their staff.

What are these numbers?

As you look through these tables, keep a few things in mind:

1. They are real

The averages you’re seeing are based on real employees in the real world. Weird numbers may be telling you something about employment in the church.

2. They are a guide

Just because churches don’t give consistent raises to their staff based on experience, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. These numbers are a snapshot. They don’t have to function like handcuffs. Where they are helpful, use them to place employees within a salary range. Where they are weird, set a better precedent at your church.

3. They represent a range

These numbers are showing you an average of how churches compensate for these categories. Bear in mind that every degree and every level of experience is not identical. The average for a master’s degree is likely a combination of pastors who attended a seminary in person and those who earned an online degree, or even those with an MBA. Pay between these pastors may differ depending on the type of degree they earned. Differences like these are wrapped up inside of the averages—i.e., each one represents a range of employees.

Lastly, if you purchased a pastor report, you may be wondering why there is a table for geographical settings here and a dedicated section for localizing salary. That’s a great question.

First, these averages offer you a reference point to compare with the Nationwide Salary Summary. How might your geographical setting impact compensation relative to these nationwide numbers? Second, only full-time pastor reports contain a dedicated section for localizing salary. This set of geographical averages is a crucial data point for part-time and non-pastoral reports.


One of the reasons why ChurchSalary exists is to help improve the pay of pastors and church staff. These averages tell us things about the church labor market—and sometimes that message is that things need to change. The truth is, we probably don’t value experience and education consistently in the church.

Take the time to think through these averages and decide how your church is going to use them to place employees within a salary range. There is no hard and fast rule for how you need to apply these insights. Some churches ask if they should add up each difference—$2,000 for experience, $3,000 for a master’s degree. Other churches want a formula for weighing these compensation factors.

The reality is that your church needs to think this through and devise a policy. Put it in writing, tell your staff, and stick to it. You’d be surprised what a transparent compensation strategy that rewards experience and education will do for your church and your employees.

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.