What if Your Church Can’t Afford You?

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This article raises a critical question: what if your local church can no longer afford to pay a full-time package for the senior pastor? More congregations struggle with the $60,000-$80,000 costs of supporting a fully ordained pastor, especially if the congregation is a median-sized Protestant church of about 75 in attendance. (UMC’s are 50-55 at the median.)

In my home conference, a base salary for a fully credentialed pastor using a parsonage might look like this:

  • Salary – $39,700
  • Parsonage Utilities – $3,500
  • Family Health Insurance (Family of 3 or more) – $21,566
  • Pension – $5,500
  • TOTAL – $70,266 (not including any maintenance or repairs on parsonage)

Let’s assume a congregation where the average giving is $1750 per attender per year – a fairly standard rule of thumb across the U.S. A church with 75 attending would bring in $131,250 a year. That would put the pastor’s salary alone – not including any part-time staff like musicians, custodians or secretaries – at 53%. If there are any additional staff expenses or a mortgage payment, financial strains will begin to undermine resources for ministry. If we’re talking about a United Methodist congregation, that attendance number would be closer to 55 and the annual income slips to $96,250. These fiscal realities are why the numbers of bi-vocational and licensed (not ordained) pastors are rising.

In some cases, a strong pastoral leader can grow the church until it is able to afford him or her. In some cases, a pastor must serve more than one church at a time (e.g. a 2 or 3 point charge) to maintain a full-time salary. In other cases, pastors become bi-vocational. In all cases, those called to pastoral ministry face more tenuous financial challenges than they might have anticipated.

How will you continue to grow in your personal financial health so as not to compound these challenges with your own financial stresses? There are personal stewardship practices that can position you well for long-term financial well-being, even if you have substantial school debt.  As you sense your particular call to ministry, is bi-vocational ministry an option for you? Are you open to multi-point charges? Not every pastor is called to ordination. Are you?


Dr. Thomas Tumblin served ten years in ministry at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church (Tipp City, Ohio) before joining the Asbury Theological Seminary faculty in 1999 as Associate Professor of Pastoral Leadership and Associate Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program. In 2003 he moved to half-time as Professor while serving as District Superintendent of the Findlay and Northwest Plans Districts of the West Ohio Conference. Dr. Tumblin returned full time to Asbury Theological Seminary in 2008. He serves widely as a consultant to local congregations and as a leader in the academy. Dr. Tumblin and his wife, Yvonne, are the parents of three daughters and reside in Nicholasville, Kentucky.


  1. I notice not one of those options is for the church to continue to pay (out of their savings) the salary they cannot afford. What would be your advice to the church that is doing that?