2016 study of SBC church staff compensation, benefits available

Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist church staff members has exceeded the cost-of-living increase over the past two years. However, health insurance coverage continues to decline, according to the 2016 SBC Church Compensation Study.

The biannual study is a joint project of state Baptist conventions, GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay Christian Resources. Compensation and congregational data is collected anonymously from ministers and office/custodial personnel of Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions.

Compensation increasing

Compensation (salary plus housing) increased 3.4 percent for full-time senior Southern Baptist pastors over the past two years, 4.3 percent for full-time staff ministers and 2 percent for full-time office personnel. The U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the same two-year period increased only 1.1 percent.

Factors correlating with compensation for senior pastors include education level, weekly church attendance and tenure at their current church, as well as total years of experience. Those with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $4,040 more than otherwise equivalently qualified pastors without a college degree. Master's and doctorate degrees correspond with incremental compensation increases of $2,171 and $11,151, respectively. Seminary graduates have an additional increase in average compensation of $4,706.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, pointed out that despite increases in compensation, fair wages take into account wages at comparable churches, increased experience and education, and cost of living. "While inflation has been lower this last year, it is still true that the dollars churches paid last year don't buy as much," McConnell said. "Without a raise, you are actually paying less."

Benefits declining

Overall, the value of the entire pay package (salary, retirement, housing and other benefits including insurance) for senior pastors (0.9 percent) has not kept pace with inflation, even though the pay package for full-time staff ministers (2.5 percent) and office personnel (1.5 percent) has exceeded inflation.

Only half of churches participating in the survey provide health insurance coverage for senior pastors, down from 60 percent two years ago and 64 percent in 2012.

"While recognizing these trends, and the impact of Obamacare, GuideStone continues to advocate for churches to support all staff members with this important benefit," said Scott Charbonneau, GuideStone's managing director of insurance plans. "Further, GuideStone has reduced the access point for its insurance plans down to a minimum group size of only two employees with multiple plans available, including a low-cost value plan."

One-fourth of churches pay for medical insurance for the senior pastor and his family, 15 percent provide for the pastor and his wife, and 10 percent provide only for the pastor.

Although a larger weekly attendance correlates with churches providing senior pastors with health insurance, one-fourth of churches with 250 or more average attendees do not provide health insurance. Conversely, nearly one-third of churches (31 percent) with less than 50 in weekly attendance do provide their pastor with medical coverage.

Some churches also provide additional insurance benefits to senior pastors, including life and/or accidental insurance (29 percent), disability (26 percent), dental (24 percent) and vision (10 percent), although each is a few percentage points less than reported in 2014.

A number of factors also impacts the amount of vacation senior pastors receive. Larger churches tend to give pastors more vacation, with otherwise equivalently qualified pastors averaging one additional day for every 448 attendees. Pastors with a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree add an average of one, two or four vacation days, respectively, over those with some college or an associate degree. Seminary graduates, on average, also receive one additional vacation day.

The 2016 online survey was open from December 2015 through May 2016. Data from more than 8,000 full-time Southern Baptist respondents is available at www.LifeWay.com/CompensationSurvey.

The survey also obtained compensation data for bivocational pastors and part-time custodial and office personnel. This data is standardized by the median number of hours worked to allow churches to more easily compare their part-time employees with these averages.

GuideStone provides many resources for churches seeking to establish, restructure or evaluate pay and benefit packages for ministers and other staff. The free resources can be found at guidestone.org/CompensationPlanning.

Methodology: Southern Baptist state conventions invited each church's staff to respond to the survey; 14,076 completed surveys are available, including 8,164 full-time staff analyzed for this article. For the purpose of this article, senior pastor responses were weighted to account for lower response rate among smaller churches and to match the distribution of the size of Southern Baptist churches. When using the online tool, national totals may be somewhat higher than these weighted totals. Viewing the results by church-size categories within the online tool minimizes this impact. When running customized reports online, errors can be minimized by selecting criteria that allow for larger numbers of participants.

Marty King is director of corporate communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.

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