church leadership

Church Growth = Increased Pastor Salary?

An interesting article at, The Almighty Dollar: Are preachers motivated by the desire to save souls or to make cold, hard cash? raises the question of clergy compensation. By researching data from the Oklahoma Annual Conference researchers found:

“It turns out United Methodist congregations gave their leaders a $15 boost (in 2008 dollars) on average for each new member added (about 3 percent of new revenues generated from the membership increase) and cut their pay by about $7 for each member lost.”

The article implies causation, while I believe that the data is clearly correlation. However, it is interesting.

How should clergy be compensated? In what way should pay level be determined for clegy?

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

17 replies on “Church Growth = Increased Pastor Salary?”

In order to more effectively deploy clergy to churches in a missional fashion it seems we need to move away from a congregational system of salary determination to a more centralized system.

Our strongest churches pay the most, knowing that with increased pay comes more experienced clergy and more control over the process. Our struggling (economically at least) churches cannot afford to pay those rates so get less experienced clergy and at times less effective clergy. This especially affects our urban churches as they struggle with huge buildings and changing demographics. Unable to pay top salaries combined with areas seen as less desirable than the suburbs, they don’t often get the top clergy.

Imagine if there were a system to determine clergy pay at the conference level based not only on tenure but also on effectiveness. I am aware of the challenges of determining effectiveness but pure basis on tenure seems just as capricious and far more dangerous. In such a system key churches for redevelopment could be identified with deployment of the conference’s best and brightest to them.

This however begs the question, why should clergy be so concerned with salary? I’ll answer it for myself. I’m concerned because salary is wrapped up with ranking in the conference. There are some churches I couldn’t serve in my next appointment because the salary gap is too high. That seems unfortunate but true.

My wife and I have what could be viewed as a tent-making ministry together with her providing the lion’s share of the income (and tithe) and me doing the ministry. Of course she provides some ministry and I provide some financial income as well. Unfortunately this model is looked at poorly by many because it limits the geographic areas we would be easily able to itinerate. On the other hand it is what allowed me in my first church to reduce my salary to conference minimum to witness to the importance of paying mission shares which they were not paying.

Our current model is broken in terms of guaranteed appointments, monitoring of clergy effectiveness, and pay systems. How to fix it, I’m not sure.


I’m afraid the result of what you are suggesting would be a mass exodus from the ranks of the clergy into the ranks of Lay Staff. I serve at Resurrection and I can tell you that even now lay staff outnumber clergy by at least 10 to 1. The notion of equal pay across the board for clergy doesn’t take into account the fact that the average price of housing in my home town of 3,000 peoples is around 25,000 for a 3 bedroom house. As opposed to a home in Johnson County within 20 minutes of the church which ranges in the mid 200,000 range.

This is why Andrew nailed it when he called correlation but not causation. The analysis of the stats is fatally flawed. In fact I felt like i was reading one of my GRE essay topics – where the goal is to explain the logical flaws in the passage… they are abundant.

As for reducing your salary to the minimum to pay for mission shares. You are a better man than I. Having worked at a General Agency and seeing the rampant wastefulness and poor stewardship, there is absolutely no way I would have had the courage or inclination to do what you did. I feel guilty even now knowing that I ate fancy meals at high priced hotels (as is the regular custom at General Agencies), while you were cutting to the bone. For that I apologize…… Just know its one of the reasons I exited to Resurrection 4 years ago…

Thanks for the thoughtful response Chuck. To be clear, I’m not advocating equal pay across the board. I’m advocating centralized (annual conference) determination of pay since we have centralized deployment. The determination of pay would take into account experience and effectiveness as well as cost of living in the specific location. I’m currently sitting in our parsonage that is assessed around $800,000 (gotta love Boston). For lack of a better example, this would be similar to how corporations with several locations would do it. Churches would be assessed in a fashion similar to mission shares based on some combination of expenses, income, and assets. There would be no correlation to what the church paid to what their pastor earned from the annual conference.

There will always be wastefulness and poor stewardship whenever humans are involved. I came from a high priced consulting firm to seminary to the New England Annual Conference. The idea of sharing a room with a colleague to save money in consulting never even entered into the picture. Neither did the hotel room service for that matter. Although I loved consulting, the church is really where God has called me.

I think the pay increase of $15 per member added is the simple fact that as a church grows, giving increases and thus the budget and salaries go up. In addition, as the number of weekly attendees or members goes up, the complexity and work load for the pastor also goes up.

Sounds like pay for performance to me. (AND THAT IS A GOOD THING.)

Where this analogy does fall apart is in urban ministry. My wife grow the size of her urban church in Cincinnati almost 5X (from 30 to close to 150). It max’ed out at that level since it cost money every time another person came to church (due to the tremendous needs of the community…drug use, homelessness, hunger, etc.)

At issue is not pastor salary, but how do we support effective ministries to the poor. My wife was outstanding at writing grants, connecting with partners, and trying to make one dollar stretch to one thousand. She ultimately needed to move (since she because a fully ordained elder) and became too expensive for the church.

Should the conference selectively invest in key areas? Absolutely! Should salaries be controlled centrally? Nope. It would turn into a tenured-based system that will miss the mark. Our decision making process of Annual and General Conferences would guarantee it.

On the other hand…

1. Ineffective churches should be merged to bring more resources to effective healthy churches. We are here to grow the Kingdom, not to give people jobs or keep open buildings (which are mausoleums or museums to our memories of a vibrant church)

2. Both churches and pastors need to measured on their effectiveness. Ineffective pastors need let go and ineffective churches need shut down or merged. Otherwise they just are siphoning resources. On the other hands, effective churches and pastors need supported via coaching, $$$, and resources to continue the growth.

3. Conferences need to invest their dollars strategically vs. whoever comes to the till. This may be giving them a pass on apportionments or giving them grant dollars without the arduous process.

We need to prune to grow and we need to nurture good vines. It works for vines and for churches too!

Ah, if your suggesting that the Annual Conference set the pay for churches, I would be adamantly opposed to that. Annual conferences are typicall the most recalcitrant adherents to all that fails to work within the denomination. Its a bit like having the Government run health care, it sounds good, but the resulting calamity would be devastating to those congregations which foster entrepreneurship and innovation. And again, it would encourage anyone with an independent spirit to exit the church stage left. We already have enough bureaucracy in place that two of the most effective pastors in recent UM history have left the denomination, and continued there effectiveness elsewhere – being the prime example. No offense but I honestly cant imagine a worse idea than having boards and committees set salaries for local churches.

And Waste is inevitable, profligate lack of concern for the money which has been entrusted to your stewardship is flat out sinful. I can assure you the kind of financial shenanigans that went on when I was in Nashville would not be tolerated for a moment here at Resurrection….

I do agree it might not be at all optimal. I have a bit more faith in the annual conference than most.

To push the health care analogy a bit more. In a completely unregulated system, the best doctors would serve patients that could afford to pay top dollar leaving the mediocre doctors to serve those who couldn’t afford them. That’s assuming compensation is a significant driver for doctors and hospitals. Of course that isn’t the case…at least not in Massachusetts. Although my wife and I can afford top medical care, we’re treated roughly the same as people on public assistance when she had our baby at the top maternity hospital.

The current salary system allows churches in affluent areas to have the best pastors while those in the most economically devastated areas to have the most mediocre. I’ll be careful here though since I have sacrificial colleagues who serve urban churches well. But the incentive is, like the rest of society, to covet the pristine, largely white, middle class suburb over the tough ministry of the urban context. And so our urban churches languish and eventually close.

In many cases our churches in wealthy communities do not understand their connectional ministry of being in ministry in the cities. I grew up in a church that spent $350,000 on a pipe organ for a little New England style church. Yes we did mission trips…but engage in ministry with our inner city congregations, no. At my first meeting of the Board of Church Building and Location, we voted to go forward with a $250,000 renovation of a parsonage in one of our wealthier communities. There I sat as the pastor of a dying urban church which was trying as hard as it could to get enough money to continue ministry for as long as they could.

I just don’t think that the same success model fits with the church. Yes, some will leave. But if they didn’t understand the connectional nature of our church (or the body of Christ for that matter) in the first place we may be better off.

I say this being the frequent defender in New England of the Church of the Resurrection’s ministry.

To expand on my previous comment and answer Andrew’s questions. Of course, neither of my ideas will ever be adopted. But, here they are.

1) Pastors should be paid through the annual conference. The conference deploys clergy to meet the mission needs of the denomination. It should be the agent through which pastors are paid. Yes, this can open up a can of problems, but the current congregation-based system has its own set of problems. Both require management.

2) Pastors should be paid a top salary that is connected in some way to the average income of the geographic area in which they serve. Set a cap at 1.5 or 2 times the median household income. This might be a bit tricky to establish. For instance, the median household income for Kansas City is under $40,000 a year, while the median household income of Leawood is over $120,000 a year. Which would be the right reference point for COR? That would be a good discussion to have.

These are my thoughts on your questions.

I’m not pushing for a completely unregulated system – minimum compensation seems appropriate, What I am suggesting is that there is enough denominational ambivalence within the ranks of UM Clergy that you would likely see the best and the brightest leave (As many already have), if we added another layer of centralized bureaucracy to the mix. As the child of a small town UM church, I love that ministry, but given our polity invests most power with the representatives of the rural churches, the notion that the AC would fairly set compensation levels for Urban churches seems naive.

Furthermore, I think you may have missed my point earlier that there are many of us who have chosen to eschew the ordained ministry even though we have theological educations precisely because of the broken nature of the iteneracy itself. Investing more authority in the Iteneracy is exactly the opposite of what is attractive to most potential young clergy I encounter. There is a such thing as shooting off your nose to spite your face, we say we want young folks to join the ranks, then we trot out the tiny minority that support the system as is to reinforce our notions that the iteneracy itself isnt the problem, while leaving hundreds of potential Methodist Ministers, people of strong conviction and evident gifts, sitting it out, or going to play for other teams. Sorry about the mixed metaphors… I’m tired 🙂

Chuck, I did not actually miss your previous point. I saw that you decided not to seek ordination in the United Methodist Church. That is certainly a valid personal decision. I’m glad you have found other ways to live out your ministry.

I’m afraid I do not follow you point about the polity of the church giving some sort of advantage to rural churches. The key decision-makers in my annual conference tend to come from the medium-sized to larger churches. That isn’t the case in yours?

As for itinerancy, it is a mission strategy, not a human resources recruiting tool. I understand that many folks do not like itinerancy. Adam Hamilton once wrote me a very eloquent e-mail about his views on the matter. But I have never heard a better system for an annual conference to deploy clergy in a geographic area to accomplish the mission of the UMC. I understand that some congregations and clergy do not like itinerancy, but I don’t see them offering a program of mission to replace it.

As for young clergy, my understanding is that Presbyterians, Lutherans, and others non-itinerating denominations also have a shortage of young clergy. That would suggest to me that our problem is not itinerancy.

I am not following the assumption that the church cut the salaries of the pastors or raised them based on numbers.

In my parishes, I have forwent pay some weeks and didn’t ask for a raise so that I could keep other people employed or so staff who lived paycheck-to-paycheck didn’t suffer hardship. That would show up as “cut their pay” on this checklist, even though I didn’t have to and it had nothing to do with membership.

So I’m not following that a change in pay is necessarily a reward/punishment for the pastor. Rather, lumped in there are clergy who fluctuate their salaries to keep talented people in their staff so we can’t necessarily jump to that conclusion.

In my opinion.


The polity is weighted extremely heavily in favor or small churches and in fact the smaller the church the more the polity is weighted in their favor. It may be true that in some AC’s this fact is not acted upon, but the per capita vote in any AC is radically disproportionate. For example, Resurrection has a membership of 17,000 with a total delegation count of around 20, There are numerous churches in our AC with membership under 100 – with 2 delagates each. Those churches have 1 delegate for every 50 people, we have 1 delegate for every 850 people. You can see the disparity.

The disparity continues all the way up to the GC level. There are AC’s in Europe for example that have fewer members than most districts in the US, and yet they get the constitutionally mandated 2 vote minimum. Whereas delegations from North Georgia, Florida and the like get reduced numbers of delegates to make up the difference.

Likewise on boards of agencies, the Western Jurisdiction – which has today fewer members in its entirety than the North Georgia Annual Conference, has a radically disproportionate number of members on the boards. Likewise there are what 5 or 6 Bishops in the west as opposed to 1 in North Georgia.

As for your mention of non itenerating denominations. I wouldn’t say the iteneracy is the only problem. Those you mentioned are mired in the same theological quagmires as we are. Certainly I would say our divergence from orthodoxy, much like those you mentioned, is the primary impetus for our decline. What you didn’t mention are the movements like the EV Free, the Christian Churches, the churches affiliated with the passion movement, the PCA Reformed churches, etc, which are attracting young clergy by the boatloads. Not to mention non-denominational churches.

What I am suggesting is that a move towards further centralization runs directly against our interest in recruiting young, innovative, entrepreneurial pastors. If we continue to hold onto our structural tradition so tightly, while abandoning our theological tradition so completely, there is only one direction for us to go. And Wesley had a stern warning for us in this regard:

“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

I am afraid this is the precipice to which we have stepped, but I believe we can resist the urge to plunge over the edge and see the once great Wesleyan movement restored….. but it wont be because of our structure – It will be because the hearts and souls of our clergy and lay leaders are once again turned passionately towards he who can do all things through us.


I think we agree to a point. I’m not for structure for the sake of structure, but I have not been convinced that the argument against itinerancy has anything to do with mission needs of the annual conferences. It has a lot to do with the needs of individual congregations and pastors, but since when is the mission of the church supposed to be based on such things?

Neither do I dispute your math on the polity, but I think you are working off a false assumption. The United Methodist Church is not a representative democracy. The annual conference is not a representative body of the various churches in it. The annual conference is a body of clergy who are joined together in a connection for the purpose of fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ. Added to the clergy members of annual conference are an equal number of laity members. But the conference itself was never designed to be a representative body. Applying that kind of logic to it misunderstands its origin and function.

I believe we need to heed Wesley’s words about doctrine, discipline, and spirit as well. I think you and I differ a bit on what the content of this discipline might be, though.

I think the polity is exactly an attempt to be a representative democracy. In fact this is one of the stumbling blocks with the 2/3 world delegates. We have imposed an American political system and the drudgery of Roberts Rules on a soon to be majority who settles things by tribal elder consensus, but I digress.
We have fashioned a polity that mirrors almost precisely the American political system. We have a bicameral legislature at annual conference (Yes most of the time we vote as a unicameral legislature but the antiquated notion of having a clergy session and a lay session remain – and yes I do think lay people should vote on matters of ordination). We have an executive branch (Bishops and the Council of Bishops + now the connectional table and the like), We have a judicial branch – with courts of law who have original jurisdiction but who’s ruling can be challenged through an appellate system up to a “Supreme Court” – (The Judicial Council). There is virtually nothing original about our polity, it is for all intents and purposes a slavish copy of the representative democracy structure. It may not have always been that way – certainly before laity regained their rightful place at the table, it was a clergy dominated system, and there are certainly unfortunate vestiges of that misguided notion still lingering, but for the most part we have reversed the tragic notion which I think played a significant part in decimating our church, that there is a qualitative difference between the two. I am not suggesting that a representative democracy is an ideal or even proper way to order the life of a church, in fact I’m almost sure its not. I have often said what Methodism needs is a Pope who will just come in and clean house. However what I am suggesting is that a representative democracy structure is exactly what we have post merger… and so we have to order it in such a way as to produce the most fruitfullness.

My proposal is simple, base the number of votes that each level gets purely on membership…]
And wile I don’t disagree that even the smallest church should have some representation, the apportionment of delegates should be adjusted accordingly so that every vote at annual conference represents the same number of members. That would mean large churches would get lots of new delegates for sure, it would mean that North Georgia would have as many representatives on each board or agency as does the Entire Western Jurisdiction etc… I think only then will we see people begin to trust the system in a way that leads to renewal.


I don’t oppose the principle you argue for. I don’t think it is workable in reality if you really do want every church represented. The size gap between the smaller and larger churches is too great – unless 1 of every 25 members at COR wants to go to annual conference each year.

You suggested earlier I was being naive about something. Let me return the favor and say I’m not convinced that a one laity, one vote system would fix the problem of lack of trust

In the end, I share your desire to see the UMC reconnect to its Wesleyan spirit, discipline, and doctrine so that it might once again be about the business of spreading Scriptural holiness across the land.

Peace be with you.

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