Resource Highlight: Ministers’ Salary Survey
Each year the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry conducts a survey of minister compensation among Churches of Christ throughout the United States. As we gather information from hundreds of ministers and turn all of that raw data into a report that normal people like me can understand (yes, I did take calculus instead of statistics), our hope is to offer a resource that helps churches and ministers navigate the complexities of salaries, insurance coverage, vacation days, and more. 
The 2019 Ministers' Salary Survey results are in, so I recently caught up with our research director Carley Dodd to ask about his insights and reflections as he processed this year’s data. For the last several years, Dr. Dodd has refined and administered the survey itself, sifted through the wealth of data, and developed reports that present the information in a variety of ways. With his professional background in research and the social sciences, paired with his experience as an elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, Carley is uniquely equipped to manage our annual Ministers’ Salary Survey!
For the statisticians among us, could you give a quick snapshot of this year’s margin of error, number of respondents, and such?
450 respondents completed the 2019 survey—a record in recent years. Using survey statistical analytics, this number represents a + 4% margin of error. As in surveys you may have seen before, “margin of error” means percentage results can be higher or lower by that percentage. With large surveys like this one, a margin of error corrects for extraneous respondent behavior such as fatigue, memory of exact data, and occasional over/under numerical responses.
As you worked through this year’s survey data, was there anything that surprised you?
Every year is surprising as to how many ministers have opted out of contributing to—and later receiving—social security benefits. Similar to other survey years, an average of 36% of respondents indicated they’ve opted out, with certain positions showing a much higher rate. Additionally, two factors may predict alarmingly low retirement conditions: church retirement benefits average $3,202 annually, and 68% of respondents receive no church retirement benefits at all.
What is something interesting you noticed in this year’s data compared to the last year or two?
There is a relatively steady percentage opting out of social security (see above); a steady rate of books, travel, and cell phone allowances; but an increase in health/dental/vision insurance. Also, ministers reported salary increases the last two years (48.6% stated an increase in 2018 and 47.7% an increase for 2019).
Did anything excite or concern you?
It is always interesting to see a fairly consistent trend of ministry roles that are paid the highest. For 2019, of the 13 roles reporting, the highest 5 average salaries are: Associate, Preaching, Educational/Spiritual Formation, Administrative/Executive, and Family. For a good number of churches, the trend is for preachers to earn the highest salary among the ministry staff.
Nevertheless, as indicated above, olden day stories of ministers without a financial future after retirement may become a modern reality without a shift in retirement resourcing and planning.
What is a key takeaway for elders, executive ministers, or others who determine salary and benefits packages for their churches’ ministers?
It is tempting to look at tables and charts for an answer. Even though data can be a guide, and influential, data do not make decisions—church leaders do. Thus, in offering final decisions, we should consider local community and regional context, cost of living, national trends, education, experience, a minister’s family, and speciality skills needed.
What is a key takeaway for ministers?
Conduct research and present what is a reasonable expectation for you and your family. Be pleasantly courageous and factual when making requests. Place facts in a written proposal with clear expectations of not just salary and benefits, but other work-related factors. Many church leaders indicate that presenting facts and data are typically preferred over intuition or emotion (barring special situations or conditions, obviously).