The salaries of pastors in mega churches has been a topic of controversy in the last few years, to say the least. Whether a pastor should earn more than the average of his congregants is a touchy subject for many in the Christian church community. The perks that come with the job on top of the salary, including life and health insurance, educational benefits, housing allowances and more, can increase base salaries significantly.
A mega church is a non-Catholic church that has more than 2,000 congregants on the average weekend. They are usually located in suburban areas, and they often have a budget of $5 million or more. Some churches have upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. They often have more than 50 full-time staff members, and 40 to 50 percent of the churches’ budgets go toward paying salaries.
About 740 churches in the U.S. meet the definition of mega church today. In 1970, only 10 churches were considered mega churches. By 1990, that number had risen to 250. The average number of attendees at a mega church is over 3,600.
In a report by the Leadership Network in 2010, the average salaries of pastors at 253 mega churches in 38 states and four Canadian provinces were reported. A lead pastor in a mega church can earn an average salary of $147,000 according to an article on the report by the website Christian Post. However, the salary range for lead pastors can be from $40,000 to $400,000. Executive pastors at mega churches earn an average salary of $99,000 a year. The salaries reported in the survey do not include the value of benefits, but it did include housing allowances.
Medical insurance is offered in most, if not all, mega churches to full-time staff members. Some other benefits often included in the salary package of a mega church pastor include cell phone/technology allowance, retirement, life insurance, dental insurance, and disability insurance.
Some mega church pastors have decided to do something called “reverse tithing.” They give 90 percent of their salaries away and live off the other 10 percent. Some mega church pastors do not take a salary at all from their churches.
Church Sizes and Locations
It is common for pastors of extremely small congregations to earn little-to-no salary. For those working at megachurches, or churches over 2,000 members, salaries can reach six-figures. A September 2010 Christian Post article, citing figures from a 2010 Leadership Network survey, lists the average salary of pastors of megachurches at $147,000 with salaries of lead pastors being as high as $400,000 and as low as $40,000.
The Hartford Institute for Religion Research notes that most megachurches are located in the suburbs of cities such as Phoenix, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas where 26 percent of families earn an average of $100,000 annually according to a June 2009 Forbes article. These churches have operating budgets of more than $5 million annually according to the Christian Post article. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research notes that the majority of megachurches are located California, Texas, Georgia and Florida. Thus, the average salary of pastors may be higher in these states.
The Million-Dollar Scale
Pastors of the largest megachurches earn millions of dollars annually. Joel Osteen, whose Lakewood Church in Houston,Texas has approximately 40,000 members and holds services at the Houston Rockets’ former stadium, does not accept his $200,000 a year salary because of a multi-million dollar book deal. Megachurch pastors such as Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and John Hagee all have large television audiences and earn multi-million dollar incomes annually from book deals, nonprofit efforts and their church congregations.
* By Leyla Norman