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The Full-Time Youth Pastor Compensation Survey for 2017

Prepared by Dan Navarra

Edited by Adam McLane, Mark Oestreicher

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Synopsis:

I once had a Senior Pastor tell me he “took an oath of ministry; not of poverty.” What he meant by that, he later explained, was that he believed that professional ministers should be compensated fairly, given their tenure, education, and other qualifications. While I found myself grateful for his guidance in my earlier years in ministry, I’ve since come to realize over my own dozen years of vocational youth ministry that he was in the minority when it came to Pastors putting their money where their mouth is. Youth ministry is a tricky career choice. Surprise! The hours are stereotypically long, the pay even more stereotypically low, and the pressure to perform and produce “results” is often unreasonably high.

Therefore, the aim and objective of this document is to present tangible data surrounding the compensation of full-time Youth Pastors in order to minimize vague speculation, while also providing concrete data and evidence, should a Youth Pastor deem themselves undercompensated. My research methodology was to simply ask full-time Youth Pastors to respond to a Google Form compensation survey spanning thirty-six questions. This survey, while certainly not perfect, was received with a great deal of goodwill among my fellow Youth Workers; many of whom felt like the data would be essential to them as they went into their annual performance reviews.

I’m grateful and fortunate to have had Adam McLane from The Youth Cartel partner with me in helping to formulate the final results of these findings. It’s also fair for you to know a little about who I am as the one who created the survey and compiled the summary of results.  I, myself, have been a full-time Youth Pastor since 2008. I’ve also earned a degree in Philosophy with a Religious Emphasis and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. My research began as purely self-serving; with my own ambition of illustrating data that would help warrant a raise in my own compensation. As my number of respondents grew, and feedback was given along the way, I realized two things: I was actually being compensated quite fairly when compared to those with similar qualifications to myself, but also many of my friends and colleagues were not so lucky. From these conclusions, I decided that this data needed to be published in a free and accessible way to help advocate for my fellow Youth Pastors. I hope you find it helpful.

The survey had 1,335 respondents in nearly three months of collecting data from November 2 of 2017 to January 23 of 2018. These respondents are comprised of 85% male and 15% female. Zero respondents chose to select “other” as a gender option.

On Education:

The Numbers Say: Stay in School

I’m excited to report that 28% of participants have completed a Theological Masters or Seminary, and 59% of Youth Pastors have a 4-year college degree. Less than 6% have only completed high school. There were ten of you geniuses who have a doctorate (and one of them is a Junior High Pastor!). 7% have done some sort of ministry certificate program. Obviously, this points to education playing a critical component in youth ministry compensation. Specifically, the average salary of a person holding a seminary education or higher is about $51,000 (median salary $50,000), while those who only possess a 4-year undergraduate degree have an average salary just over $43,000 (median of $42,000). Youth Pastors with a high school education only, or who have done an unaccredited certificate program yield an average salary of $39,000 (median $40,000).

More than half of Youth Pastors carry personal debt for their education, with most people who have student loans possessing less than $10,000 left until they are debt free. About 23% of Youth Pastors have more than $30,000 of debt, with 5% of all Youth Pastors having more than $75,000. I hope your spouse has a great job, or you have a killer side hustle. ☺

Regarding Ordination:

About half of all full-time Youth Pastors have been ordained. These ordained pastors have an average salary just over $48,000 (median of $48,000 also), while non-ordained pastors have average salary of $42,000 (median of $41,000). An ordained pastor with a seminary education earns an average of nearly $53,000 (median of $51,000), and 82% of ordained pastors who are seminary trained are also getting a housing allowance to give them a further financial advantage.

For Those Who Wear Multiple Hats:

Interestingly, 40% of full-time Youth Pastors are also being asked to be the ministry lead for another ministry, besides those related to youth. This also must be taken into account when considering over 82% of all full-time youth workers are scheduled to be out at regularly scheduled church programs at least two evenings per week. 30% reported being out three times per week. Friends, I plead with you: find space for a Sabbath, or else you’re heading towards being a part of the burnout statistics, instead of the gainfully employed statistics. More on this in a moment.

63% of Youth Pastors have ability to lead worship through music. One would expect this to be a skill that affects compensation by deducing that more skills and abilities would lead to higher compensation. However, that was not the case! Those who can lead worship earn an average salary of $44,000 ($43,000 median). Those who are less musically inclined earn a $45,000 average salary ($44,000 median).

There are several conclusions one could draw from the stats on music and nights out correlating. I’ll make a few general observations. I believe this data indicates there is a workforce of Youth Pastors who “do” lots, but that doesn’t correlate to getting paid more. I’d advise this as a caution, considering the number of non-veteran Youth Pastors who participated in the survey: don’t let your job description expand without your compensation also paralleling that expansion, or else you could find yourself over-worked and under-paid quickly. The compensation average for those who are only out one night per week is nearly $46,000, while those who are out multiple nights per week are decisively not being compensated for this time out. In fact, the numbers indicate they are being paid less than their single-night-out counterparts by nearly $3,000 per year on average.  This seems to indicate that churches who have their people out less evenings and assisting in other ministries are willing to give more compensation for specialization. Churches that require more time out in the evening from their Pastors, as well as a wider skill set from their people are often asking them to take less compensation to do more. Obviously, this data is not conclusive in this direction; but the numbers also don’t support the idea that “doing more gets you paid more.”

General Compensation Findings:

Only 22 respondents reported being paid by the hour. I would expect this number to rise over the next few years, especially in places like California as minimum wage (and therefore salary exempt) requirements make it increasingly difficult for churches to sustain exempt status for some of their lower paid employees. Less than 20% have opted out of social security, while nearly 60% receive a housing allowance. As previously stated over 80% of ordained pastors with a seminary degree receive a housing allowance.

Just to clarify for some who may not know: if you take a housing allowance, and do NOT opt out of Social Security, your church now classifies you as a self-employed W-2 employee. Therefore, they are NOT required to pay the typical 50% of your Social Security Tax. This is a nice way of saying, if you take a housing allowance, and you do not opt out, you probably are going to need to negotiate a higher salary from your employer, because you’re going to be paying a 15% Social Security tax on your salary. The most advantageous way for you to be compensated is to opt out (if that makes sense for you—talk to your accountant or financial planner), and to take a housing allowance to lower your taxable income. Then, make sure you save at least 5% minimum into retirement (403b or Roth IRA). If you don’t save, and you opt out, you’ll never retire.

When it comes to actual cash compensation, the numbers are fascinating. The basic average reported salary among full-time Youth Pastors for 2017 is $45,381. The median income is $44,000. However, this number is skewed by the inordinate amount of people who reported being paid LESS than the federal salaried minimum. If you’re new to the world of full-time work, federal minimum wage as of January 1, 2018 is $7.25. A full-time exempt (from overtime) employee must lawfully be compensated at no less than double their states minimum wage, calculated over a 40-hour work week. For instance, in Idaho, their state minimum wage is the same as the federal wage of $7.25 per hour. In Idaho, a full-time exempt employee must be paid no less than $30,160 annually ($7.25 x 2 (to double) x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year= total salary). In California, where the state minimum wage is $10.50, a full-time exempt employee may not be paid less than $43, 680, using the same formula. 11% (or almost 150 Youth Pastors who identified as full-time) indicated a compensation below $31,160 as their annual income. It should be noted that of these people, about 20% indicated receiving some sort of housing benefit from their church, which may have not been counted in their total compensation. Read: “I get twenty-five grand and a free house to live in for my family.” If you find yourself in that category, your compensation should be calculated based on what renting that home, fully furnished would be added in to your cash salary. Regardless, that still leaves well over 100 participants in this survey who reported not being paid a lawful minimum salary. If this is you, be kind, but firm when you show this to your Board or boss. We all have heard the horror stories of that conversation not going well.

Experience is King:

Only about 6% of participants reported being 20+ year veterans of youth ministry, while half of all participants reported being in youth ministry five years or less. 8% of respondents were in their first full-time year of vocational ministry—welcome to the family! The largest demographic of experience reporting was the 5-10 year spread. However, 75% of respondents reported being in their current position for less than 5 years, with most of those people (about 60%) being in the 3-5 years of continuous employment at one position range, thus indicating many Youth Pastors are beginning full-time ministry with one church family, and then within their first half decade moving on to a secondary opportunity.

Given my own experience on the job boards, there is an obvious difference between entry level compensation and those who hit the magic “3 years of full-time experience” mark. If you’re past year three, and have never gotten a pay raise, you might want to explore that with your boss or Board. To substantiate this claim that I’ve perceived for quite some time, consider the following: For people who have less than three years of full-time ministry experience, their average and median salary was $37,000. Once a pastor passes the three-year mark in full-time ministry, there is a considerable increase in average annual salary that comes with your experience. Below, you can find an illustration helping explain how years of experience affect salaries, and the percentage increases from one phase to the next.

< 3 Years = $37,000*

3-5 Years = $42,000 (+12%)

5-10 Years = $47,000 (+11%)

10-20 Years = $52,000 (+10%)

20+ Years = $60,000 (+14%)

*For those of you who elect to do college first, then seminary, and then go get your first full-time job, you can expect an average salary of $43,000 (median of $42,000) in your first three years, thus indicating that your education (paired with a lack of full-time experience) gains you about 14% pay increase when you begin ministry over your non-seminary counterparts.

Only half of those who have been in youth ministry for twenty or more years have earned a seminary degree. Therefore, if you want to be a lifer, experience seems to be valued at a higher level than education. 20-year vets with a masters earn an average of $63,000. 20-year vets without a masters earn virtually the same average annual salary. Interestingly, every single Youth Pastor who responded to this survey who has been in full-time ministry for over 20 years (6% of respondents) has at least a bachelor’s degree. What this tells me is, if you want to have a long fruitful ministry with students, experience is king, but not if it means dropping out of college. Finish your accredited degree.

A Note About Church Size & Budget Affecting Salary:

There was a quite wide variation in the data on how the size of church does or does not affect compensation, which is why you won’t see many stats on church size and how that affects how people are compensated. This seems to be mostly attributed to how many Youth Pastors are the “second pastor” at many smaller churches, and thus can sometimes generate a slightly larger income. However, the general data seems to point to small churches paying smaller dollars.  Churches with more than 500 people in worship on a Sunday (35% of the churches involved in this study) average a $50,000 salary for the Youth Pastor, while churches who average under 500 people in worship on Sunday are paying an average just under $42,000.

Churches with an annual general fund budget exceeding $1 million reveal a salary averaging $51,000, while churches under the million-dollar annual budget line only pay an average of $41,000. Churches with over a $2 million annual budget average $54,000.

What You’ve Got to Work With:

47% of Youth Pastors shepherd a group of 40 students or less. These Youth Pastors earn an average annual salary of almost $41,000, while pastors who shepherd groups from 40-90 average $46,000. Youth pastors with a group larger than 90 students (which was 20% of our sample size) generate an average salary of $54,000. 50% of churches are giving their Youth Pastor an annual program budget of $10,000 or higher. Thankfully, only 6% of Youth Pastors have no program budget. 40% of Youth Pastors have at least one intern working for them, and only 18% of Youth Pastors have at least one full-time employee working for them. 75% of Youth Pastors preach in their church’s main service less than 5 times per year, with 22% never getting any pulpit time. However, nearly 75% of Youth Pastors are expected to assist in their church’s main worship gatherings a minimum of 5 times per year (beyond preaching the sermon). 40% of Youth Pastors assist with their church’s main services more than 21 weekends per year.

So, What Does It All Mean? Some Concluding Remarks To Consider:

Ultimately, God’s provision for you, your family, and your life is more than a data set. I don’t know all the factors which contribute towards your being paid what you’re earning. But I do know that God sees you. He hears you. He knows what bill is coming in the mail next. Nothing surprises him. And He reassures us that if the birds of the air have all they need, how much more should we believe that our Father has our best interests in mind? (see Matthew 6:26)

We all agree that ministry is about being obedient to the invitation God has put in front of us. I don’t want this document to tempt you to question the calling on your life, or the invitation God has you cooperating with. I want this to encourage you and empower you. As you engage with your church and boards in this next cycle of annual reviews and progress report check-ins; my hope is that this document offers you courage to ask your church to consider putting your compensation on the higher and healthier side of these statistics. Remember, the median salary is the middle salary of all 1,300+ respondents. That means 50% of us make less than $44,000 and 50% of us make more than $44,000. As you experience fair compensation, I hope that breathes health into your rhythms of ministry, your family, and your own formation more and more into the image of Jesus. And for those of you who will pastor your own churches in the coming future and maybe even employ one of my own children as your Youth Pastor…I hope you will remember the principles uncovered by this document and aim to not pay your staff the minimum, but to always strive to honor the offering each Pastor who serves under brings by compensating them so they can thrive in your ministry and not just survive.

I want to leave you with a blessing originated by Presbyterian Pastor Richard Halverson.

“You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a purpose in your being there. Christ lives in you and has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in the grace and love and power of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

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38 thoughts on “The Full-Time Youth Pastor Compensation Survey for 2017

  1. Dan, Marko and Adam– great work on this!

  2. Super helpful. I am a Senior Pastoe working on hiring a new youth staff and we are right on target or above median.

    I will challenge what you said about minimum salary for exemption. I’m no expert but my understanding is… The rule written in 2016 by Obama administration was blocked by the courts and federal law does not require the double minimum wage for exempt. Some states do have this rule. In other states, It is more about responsibilities than pay.

    1. There are some variances in the law from state to state. What you’re referring to that was quashed in 2016 was going to raise Salary to 47k+. Here’s a reasonable description from state to state to help…though this is not a government website.

      https://www3.swipeclock.com/blog/exempt-employee-salary-threshold-rises-across-united-states-in-2018/

  3. Such great detail work! Thanks for doing this. Could I ask if you saw a difference in the amount made as a female vs male full time youth pastor?

    1. Best Question Ever! I’d be interested in that information as well.

    2. Yes please!

    3. This is a question we want to explore more in the next edition. We added gender questions after the survey started so didn’t come up with clean data. Maybe Dan can shed more light on that though.

      1. I can figure that out easily. Give me a few hours to get through my “real job” stuff. 😂

    4. We’re going to do a follow-up post about the gender gap. Because… yes, there’s a gap.

    5. Female: 39,611 Avg, 38k Median. Male 46,007 Avg. 45k median. Obviously this doesn’t take other factors like tenure, education, church / budget size and experience into account. We’re already planning another study on this data.

  4. Thanks for your time and talents putting this together!

    Great job!

  5. Are you able to do this for Children’s Ministry workers? i think the data would be interesting.

  6. Thanks Crew.
    Good work – insightful !

  7. thanks gentlemen! really appreciate the effort and analysis put into this! You guys rock!

  8. Thanks for doing this work?
    Did you get any info about part-time employees?

    1. nope. there is crazy variance there. interns, hourly, stipend, etc. And, as the study mentions, this was originally intended to help me (full-time) get a raise…so that was outside of my scope. Sorry!

  9. Thanks for doing this work!
    Did you get any info about part-time employees?

  10. Great synopsis of the report. Thanks for putting out clearly.

    One question I would have is about benefits for those working full time. Insurance, retirement, etc. Was any of that noted or included in the report?

    1. Looking to include that in a more full report for next year.

    2. I took responses about benefits, but didn’t ask people to quantify them. Just list them. But so many factors affect this stuff…it didn’t seem very helpful to the summary. Obviously folks with killer benefits (or retirement contributions, for instance) would theoretically have a slightly lower salary…but there is nothing conclusive in what I found…yet. Next year!

    3. Second this 🙂

  11. Well written, super clear and I wish I had this 20 years ago. 🙂

  12. My question went along the lines of benefits as well. When you say $44,000 median are we talking full-compensation package or base salary?

    1. This is just salary. Benefits are all over the place.

      1. Thanks Adam!

  13. You cannot opt out of Social Security unless you have a religious reason or a reason of conscience to do so. In other words, it is wrong and unethical to opt out of Social Security for the reason of gaining a financial benefit from it.

    Your report analysis almost suggests that someone should opt out if it makes sense to do so. This is a violation of the IRS tax code.

    If your reason is your conscience or your faith, then opt out. If your reason is your pocketbook, then DO NOT opt out.

    The IRS writes, “This application [for exemption from Self-Employment Tax] must be based on your religious or conscientious opposition to the acceptance of any public insurance that makes payments for death, disability, old age, or retirement; or that makes payments for the cost of, or provides services for, medical care, including any insurance benefits established by the Social Security Act. ” See the document at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4361.pdf

    1. While I agree with you I have learned that this opinion and the advice that goes with it has morphed over time. Ministry folks a generation older than me almost exclusively opted out. When I decided not to about 20 years ago it was pretty controversial. And I think, as you mentioned, a lot of people are not heeding the advice to not opt out.

      Fortunately, when I was just getting into FT ministry I sniffed out that a lot of the people offering advice on church financing were more libertarian than Christian, they wanted people to opt out of paying social security for reasons not stipulated on the forms. I remember a key meeting with a deacon who pressed me to sign it, “Just sign it… it doesn’t matter what it says, you’ll make more money.” But to me, the form wasn’t about money, it was about a promise the church couldn’t possibly keep.

      1. Good for you Adam!!!

    2. I have strong feelings about opting out and the housing allowance, but they aren’t for sharing in a forum, as my compensation situation is not for the world wide interwebs. If you want to chat, send me an email. dann@montevistachapel.org and let’s set up a call.

  14. Lest all my thoughts be negative, let me say this:

    THANK YOU for such a long and difficult work, yielding such valuable insight for us!! It is greatly appreciated!

  15. very insightful and summarized in a plain to understand way… your gifts are obviously not only in ministry

  16. This is fantastic – Related to Dan and also serving in ministry, I’ve been grateful for his insights and advice navigating compensation, healthy budgeting and stewardship. Keep this up guys. Its needed.

  17. […] this week we published Dan Navarra’s excellent Youth Pastor Compensation Survey report. And, rightly so, people in the comments of the report were curious is Dan’s research […]

  18. Thanks for this, but could you share some basic demographic information on your data set? It’s fantastic that you looked at 1,300+, but to make sense of these numbers it would be helpful to know breakdown on respondents: Age, Gender, State/Region, Denomination (at least). Additionally, it would be helpful to know if you took any measures to make this a representative/random sample so that the sample actually reflects the overall field. It’s incredibly valuable regardless, but it’s important to know.

    1. Hi Andrew. We don’t have age data, though we do cover tenure and experience. Our geography data is incomplete, like our gender data. Also, our denominational data is pretty unhelpful, as there was just too much variance to make any conclusions. However, I will say most of the small churches to respond seemed to fall into denominational settings. The 2018 data will be even more detailed in this regard.

  19. These are interesting numbers and conclusions. It there any possible way in the next round to account for local or regional cost of living? A average starting figure of $37,000 would be nearly impossible to live on in Fairfax, VA, while the same figure would make you filthy rich in Durant, MS. Hence, average figures are only meaningful in relation to cost of living. Looking forward to the next report.

  20. I wanted to know, do you have any of this information separated by geographical location? I would be very interested to see what the average salaries are for Youth Pastors and other ministers in the LA County area. I live in LA County and would love to know where my organization stacks up in terms of compensation for Youth Pastors.

    Great work with this report!

  21. I really appreciate the work you put into this topic. I have been assocaite/youth pastor for 15 years, currently working on finishing my DMin(84 pages left to write), and wear multiple hats. I have found bitterness making its way toward me when I realize that people in other fields, with much less experience and education, have salaries that are 2.5x more compared to mine. But, I do appreciate your last quote and need to remind myself of that reality. Thank you.

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