Thom Rainer has provided a preview of some of the salary information gathered by the Leadership Network from a survey of 1,251 churches with 500 or more members. A fuller report will come out shortly.
Rainer only deals with a few of the survey’s conclusions regarding transparency of church pastor salaries. He reports,
- No churches made the salaries available to the general public. That is 0%. None. Zero. Nada. Out of more than 1,200 churches.
- Only 1% of the churches made the salaries available to the entire congregation. This data point was the most surprising and the most fascinating to me. I knew anecdotally that most larger churches do not give out the salaries to the full congregation, but I am really surprised that “most” equals 99%.
- Of all the churches in the study, 82% made the salaries known to an in-house group that deals specifically with personnel issues. That in-house group includes boards, personnel teams or committees, finance and budget teams, or some sub-group of these larger groups.
- Many of these churches likely offer a “hybrid” approach. This fourth point is not in the study, but comes from my own consultations and observations. Many churches do not make the salaries known to the congregation as a whole, but they are willing to share the information with church members individually on request.
… [T]his research is descriptive, not prescriptive. The Leadership Network team is simply offering the results of a study.
In Churches of Christ, I routinely encounter great skepticism regarding preacher salaries.
- Some don’t believe in paying the preacher at all.
- Some want the preacher to live on the edge of poverty, as his job is spiritual and involves a level of commitment the other members haven’t made (which Gospel is that in?).
- Some want the preacher’s salary disclosed to the entire church.
- Some want the entire church to vote on the salary (and there are some Baptist Churches that do this, but it’s not a common practice in my experience. In fact, this survey pretty clearly shows it to be next to unheard of in large churches).
Now, what is it about being large (over 500) that makes the church less likely to share the pastor’s/preacher’s salary? I don’t know, but I have a theory or two:
- Preachers in larger churches have more bargaining power. That is, there are far fewer preachers that would do well in a larger church — and large churches are very preacher -dependent. A small church may be held together largely by families and friendships. But at 500+, our consumerist culture and the sheer size of the congregation means a goodly number of the members are there for the excellent preaching. Smaller churches make do with the preacher they have — and will put up with weak sermons for excellent pastoral care and Bible class teaching. Big churches demand excellence in the pulpit.
- In larger churches, there is less democracy just because it’s really hard to organize that many people democratically. This is especially true as the church gets to the 1000+ range. The leadership/membership dynamic changes.
- Members of a large church understand that they have less individual influence than in a small church. Too many cooks. WAY too many cooks. And so they either decide they have confidence in the leaders or they attend elsewhere.
- Big churches often have lots of novice members. And they are not ready to have substantial authority in the church. You can’t run a big church with its large programs based on votes of members who know nothing of church leadership.
- That is, a church can’t get that big if the members insist on having the influence they had when the church had 200 members. The group dynamics change — a lot.
- But this means the leaders have to conduct themselves with great care — as they have to exude concern for the members and make wise decisions for clearly spiritual reasons.
- The trade off for individual influence is excellence in leadership decision making. But size doesn’t justify domineering. Rather, humility and staying in touch with the hearts of the members becomes more important because members will find it harder to be heard. That means the leaders have to become more approachable and more sensitive to the Spirit’s movement within the congregation.
- Some intentional mechanism for membership input is essential. Which is why large churches often take lots of membership surveys. I’m good with this, but don’t think it’s enough. I think there has to be something more personal, as well, such as the leaders communicating and listening through small group leaders.