Earlier this year the 2023 Youth Pastor Compensation Report was released. This is sponsored annually by The Youth Cartel, Chemistry Staffing, and Christianity Today’s site, Church Salary

As Director of Searches for Ministry Architects, I found this report helpful in providing a glimpse into the larger picture of church staffing today. As a former youth minister and current search consultant who helps candidates find their careers, this was a frustrating read, too. Bottom line… there’s good and bad news.

First, the good news for people in youth ministry!

The average salary of a youth pastor has increased by 12.5% over the past six years. Most employees would be thrilled if their personal salary increased at a similar pace. This 12.5% means that, on average, full-time youth pastors are making $51,234 annually. While that’s progress, here’s the frustrating reality: $51,234 is still just the average. There are still just as many salaries being reported under $51,234 as there are over. 

When I stepped out of full-time youth ministry in 2008 my salary was $49,000. (This was similar to the average annual salary of a public school teacher in my area.) With this news from the 2023 report, if I decided to get back into full-time youth ministry today, imagine my shock to learn I wouldn’t be making much more than I was 15 years ago.

Now consider if I had stayed in my 2008 position (as most churches hope many full-time ministry leaders will) and my church leadership promised to always keep my salary equal to or above the national YM average. Moving from $49,000 to $51,000 over 15 years means my salary would have increased by about $150 each year. That breaks down to about $10 per month. Yikes.

But that’s not the only frustrating news from this year’s report. There continues to be a gender pay gap when it comes to compensation in the church. According to the data, a full-time, female youth pastor with a Master’s degree makes less than a full-time, male youth pastor with a Bachelor’s degree. 

Read that again and let it sink in.

This continuation of the gender pay gap means that males with Bachelor’s degrees make more than similarly experienced females with Master’s degrees. Confirmation of this continued disparity means the church is no different than the world when it comes to this issue, and it’s incredibly discouraging. Pew Research recently reported the overall gender gap that exists in most professions today hasn’t seen much change in over two decades. In 2023, we need to ask: how can the Church be a part of the change?

I think it starts with some conversations.

Pastors, ask your female youth ministry director what you can do to help close the gender pay gap. Then ask yourself the following:

  • What does it look like to raise awareness in my community networks, denominational affiliations, or church leadership? How can I be a voice advocating for capable leaders to receive equal compensation, regardless of gender? How can I help eliminate the gender pay gap?
  • When was the last time our church analyzed staff compensation? Do we have differences in pay with direct correlation to gender bias? What needs attention and what can we celebrate? 
  • Where there is disparity, what does a game plan look like to raise all female church workers’ salaries to the equivalent of what their male peers make?

I realize that there’s no magic button for this challenge but we can start making change by evaluating what we’re doing in our own congregations, having fruitful conversations, and mapping out strategic steps to close the gender pay gap.

In addition to the tortoise-like pace at which youth ministry compensation is increasing, and the discouraging confirmation of the continued gender gap, this data also shed light on a reality we face all the time as search consultants: the church is not supporting those called to youth ministry by adequately paying them enough from their start. 

You wonder why youth pastors move around so much? Moving to a new job is the primary way for them to get a raise.

Read that again and let it sink in.

Moving to a new job is the primary way for them to get a raise. It’s either move or get a side gig to earn more money (which takes away their energy and drive for their full-time job.)

We’re killing our youth pastors if we expect them to work 40-50 hours a week (and that’s not 9-5, as we all know) and then they have to go get another job for 10-15 hours just to support themselves or their families. Local church leadership perpetuates short tenures when we don’t pay our youth pastors (or other full-time staff) well. We burn people out and then wonder why they leave ministry – or the church altogether. 

The truth is many leaders who are youth pastors can find less stressful work at less hours and for more pay, right now. If we don’t want this to happen, or, better yet, if we want to be good stewards of our human resources in the church, something has to change.

Something has to change.

Another way we’re not supporting youth pastors in their call to serve is by not giving them annual cost of living raises. Many churches don’t give any cost of living raise but some do (thank you!). It tends to be the typical 3% raise but, in this day and age with inflation and the ever increasing costs of living, is 3% enough? 

So in essence, if you don’t give any cost of living raise annually, you’re underpaying your youth pastor and run the risk of him/her leaving to go to another church. If you do give the 3% annual raise, that’s a step in the right direction. But you’re probably still underpaying them.

If you’re a church who is doing the work of closing pay gaps, compensating your employees with livable wages, and regularly evaluating these pieces of your stewardship, thank you. 

To those who don’t know where to start, have never really thought about this, or are curious what more you could be doing, here are some ideas: 

1. Ask your youth pastor- are we paying you enough for you and your family to survive?

Here’s my own story: At my first church job, I was making $17,000 / year. This was in 1993. I could not live on that even as a single person so I ate up all my savings. Then, I found myself in trouble. I finally went to my rector and asked for help. And the church did! My salary increased by several thousands of dollars. But a year later, I took another call partly because of ambition, but mainly because I could get another raise. Having worked with thousands of ministry leaders over the last 15 years, I can tell you this – my story is not unique.

2. If you’re not able to give your youth ministry staff a raise, consider other ways to compensate them. We encourage churches to get creative in this area. Here are a few:

  • Provide an additional 1-2 weeks of paid vacation. God knows, they need it. 
  • Give a one-time cash bonus
  • Offer to pay their car note for one month (or rent/mortgage, or utility bill)
  • Offer to pay for their cell phone, if you don’t already
  • Have your church do a gift card collection and ask people to donate gift cards to restaurants, stores, groceries, etc. to shower the youth pastor 

It’s so frustrating to read about church staff not being compensated fairly or well enough that they can make a living and support their families. When Ministry Architects works with a church who’s hiring, compensation is one of the first conversations we have to help ensure sustainability. Sustainability of the role within the budget of a church is key to sustainability of the person who will inhabit that role. And the compensation report for youth ministry is a good resource to share with your church leadership to start these conversations. 

As the church, we get to be different. Our founder, Mark DeVries, has a mantra that has become part of our culture at Ministry Architects. Mark asks, “What can Ministry Architects be doing to bless you AND your family?” I challenge church leadership to adopt this mantra. 

You know the saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Grab a spoon and let’s get started.

Note: There is so much more data in the Youth Cartel’s report to chew on. I offer my gratitude for the work they do every year to produce it.