According to the 2012 Large Church Salary Report by Leadership Network, senior pastor salaries rose about 2% per year for the last two years, indicating that salaries for megachurch pastors have increased over the last two years after a short period of stagnation. For the most part, these pastors were found to be leading growing congregations. Leadership Network has been conducting salary surveys of large churches since 2001. The study is the largest-scale project of its kind. The network began looking into the salaries of megachurch leaders as many of them asked for salary comparisons with peer churches, Leadership Network’s Director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development, Warren Bird noted.
The 2012 report looked at salary trends for 209 megachurches — which is the highest number of participants since Leadership Network began the survey — all of the megachurches had a weekend worship attendance of at least 2,000. These surveyed churches are considered “game changer” churches or “pacesetting innovative churches.” Church size was found to be the most influential factor in setting staff salaries. The larger the church, the higher the salary for its leaders. “For each additional 1,000 people in attendance, annual salary increases by roughly $8,000 on average for large church senior pastors,” the report stated. Salaries – or total cash compensation – for senior pastors ranged from over $80,000 to more than $260,000, though most of the salaries for megachurch pastors were in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. Annual giving at each of these congregations ranged from almost $2 million to over $30 million. Most of the surveyed churches have an attendance of 2,000-4,999 while 44 of them see more than 5,000 attendees each weekend.
Geography was also found to influence salary as well. Megachurch pastors in the South were the highest paid, followed by pastors in the West and Northeast. The lowest paid geographic region was the Midwest. The report also revealed that the highest salaries for megachurch leaders were found in an older residential area in the city, followed by an older suburb around the city, a downtown or central area of the city, and a newer suburb around the city, respectively. The churches that were surveyed were founded from as early as the 1800s to as late as 2005; are both non-denominational and denominational; and a majority of the churches are predominantly white. In other findings, founding pastors receive $515 more per year than successor pastors; a longer tenure doesn’t necessarily mean higher pay; the second highest-paid person in churches (usually the executive pastor) receives 66% of the senior pastor’s salary; and pastors of multi-site churches do not necessarily get paid more compared to leaders of single site churches. The median age for the senior pastors was 51 and the median tenure is 13 years at their current church. For this report, “salary” included cash paid toward housing and compensation amounts funded by love offerings. It did not include benefits such as hospitalization, book allowance or retirement.
The previous salary report in 2010 provided specific salary figures — the average salary was $147,000 for a lead pastor in 2010 — researchers chose to withhold specific salary figures in the latest report that was made public. The exact salary figures can be acquired in the second version of the report that was given to survey participants. “Deciding what to release was a difficult decision,” said Bird. “We were mostly guided by trying to give people helpful numbers. Media reports tended to pick up the outliers, especially the very highest salary,” he continued. “Likewise we weren’t convinced that looking at the very midpoint (the average) was helpful, so we’re following what Chronicle of Philanthropy and others do by giving four percentiles.” Leadership Network pointed out that there are a few “extremely high salaries in a handful of very large churches.” But the network believes these “off-the-charts compensations” represent only a tiny percentage of the whole.
Leadership Network says its survey is not a true random sample and its findings “are not statistically accurate for all larger churches, nor are they longitudinal, meaning that the same churches did not participate each year – although some did.”