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The Story: A new study released by the Leadership Network examines the salaries of 209 of the very largest churches in North America, all with weekend worship attendance of at least 2,000.

The Background: According to the report, the study represents the “largest-scale window that anyone has compiled to date on the continent’s largest churches in terms of their financial dynamics.” The report includes survey results of 164 churches with attendance between 2,000-4,999 and 44 churches with weekend worship attendances of 5,000 and higher. (Among North America’s 325,000 Protestant churches, only 1,600 (0.5%) have attendances of 2,000 or higher.)

The churches included in the report are from 34 states and 3 Canadian provinces. The oldest were founded in the early 1800s, and the youngest ones in 2005. In terms of ethnicity, 83% described themselves as predominantly Anglo/white. The other 17% said they are predominantly African American/black, Hispanic/ Latino, Asian, or “no majority group.” Selected churches also span a wide variety of traditions, both non-denominational and denominational.

The senior pastors of these churches ranged in age from the low 30s to the low 70s. The median age was 51. The median tenure of the senior pastor is 13 years at their current church. Each congregation’s annual giving ranged from almost $2 million to over $30 million.

The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the study include:

  • Total cash compensation (including allowances for housing) for senior pastors ranged from $85,000 to more than $265,000, though the majority of the salaries cluster around the $100,000 to $140,000 range.
  • The most influential factor in setting staff salaries is a church’s size, measured by its budget and worship attendance.
  • Senior pastor salaries in very large churches tend to rise with increased size of attendance. • The highest paid geographic region was the South, followed by West, and Northeast. The lowest was Midwest.
  • The highest salaries were for churches located in an older residential area in the city, followed closely by those in an older suburb around the city, followed by those in a downtown or central area of the city. The lowest were those churches located in a newer suburb around the city.
  • For each additional 1,000 people in attendance, annual salary increases by roughly $8,000 on average for large church senior pastors.
  • Founding pastors are paid $515 more per year than successor pastors, excluding outliers and controlling for church size and length of tenure.
  • The second-highest-paid person in churches is most often generically described as the executive pastor. This #2 person typically receives 66% of the salary amount received by the senior pastor.
  • Being a multisite church does not favorably increase salaries for the senior pastor.