Despite tending some of the poorest flocks, pastors at large churches across the American South are among North America’s highest paid, a new survey shows.
The study, conducted by a Dallas-based church think tank called Leadership Network, surveyed a total of 727 churches in North America with attendance ranging from 1,000 to more than 30,000. The number of institutions surveyed was more than twice the number of previous studies. A Houston-area firm that conducts searches for church executives, known as Vanderbloemen Search Group, also helped with the polling.
The study found that congregations in the South tend to pay their top pastors at these so-called megachurches more when compared to similar-sized churches in other regions. That is despite reports from the Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics that show wages in many Southern states, particularly in the Deep South, lag behind the U.S. annual wage of $49,084.
Northeastern churches are the second-highest paying according to the study. They are followed by churches in the West and Midwest. Canadian megachurches are the lowest paying in North America, the survey found.
Here is a graph depicting pastor salary factors, courtesy of the Leadership Network:
Warren Bird, the research director at Leadership Network, said that pastors have historically held a more revered place of authority in Southern communities and that could be one explanation for the higher salaries. The study found that 14 percent of churches have a built-in bonus structure for their top leader; providing incentive to find ways to spur giving. It also found that salaries tended to correlate with the size of the congregation, as one would suspect.
“Bigger means more employees, more volunteers, more moving parts and a greater scope of leadership required,” Bird told the Huffington Post. “That reality usually leads to more compensation across a host of organizations.”
The study did not disclose specific salary data for each pastor, although similar studies from Leadership Network have in the past.
That is a touchy subject. Bird made the decision in 2012 to stop releasing such information after releasing salary data in a 2010 study.
“Deciding what to release was a difficult decision,” Bird told the Christian Post at the time. “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 added.
But he notes in remarks regarding the new study that congregations are often kept in the dark about what their top pastors are getting paid, despite receiving some sort of annual financial report.
“It is extremely rare that the entire congregation will be privy to specific salaries,” he said.