What Size Church Gets a Full Time Pastor?

Lately, I have been asking myself, “How big does a church need to be in order to merit a full time pastor?” I have heard a couple of different things, but I finally found something in writing. This is from Bishop Willimon of the North Alabama Conference, who sites Lovett Weems:

The total minimum financial obligation for having a full-time pastoral position filled by an Elder/Deacon or a Probationary Elder/Deacon is $70,000 including salary and benefits [in other words, $70k is total package, that is not what pastors take home]. Lovett Weems of Wesley Theological Seminary has shown us that a church must average 125 adults in worship to sustain the ability to fund a full-time pastor’s salary, an adequate program for growth, an appropriate mission program, maintaining its facility, and to participate fully in connectional giving. We are sure that more churches will move from full-time to part-time. We anticipate many more of our churches to be placed on multiple congregation circuits in order to meet the challenges of funding trained, ordained clergy.

These numbers seem right on. As for me and my church, we are about 40 people short, and we are feeling it! I know several peers in ministry who are feeling the budget crunch, too (especially in the Alabama-West Florida Conference as we switch to direct billing for insurance). These numbers only help us to understand our budget problem. They do not help us find a solution. My church committees are working on that right now. I know these conversations are being had by many other churches as well.

Someone noted that I have stopped taking pens to meetings… I have switched to pencils. I did not even realize I did it, but when dealing with such difficult math problems, I prefer working in pencil. So, tonight, I lift up a prayer for pastors of small membership churches and their congregations as we try to figure out this math problem so that we may continue to do God’s work.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://revcamp.blogspot.com David Camphouse

    Dan,
    Thanks for all the detail.
    I would figure this would be off by a bit in our Conference, due to cost of living differences, which last I looked were about 125% (Cal-Pac) and 80% (N. AL)
    Peace be with you as you consider how to do ministry in this new climate.
    Blessings,
    David

    • http://www.churchandtea.com Dan

      I would think that it could it vary between conferences. If your cost of living is 125%, that would make it even more expensive to have a pastor, and operate a church, which would push that minimum number in worship higher (unless your average wage compensated). What would be your hunch for how many in worship the cal-pac conference needs to sustain a full time pastor and still have the resources it needs to fund ministry?

      We have Lovett Weems coming in June to teach a few classes to our annual conference. I’ll see if I can’t squeeze in a question about his stats and how they apply across Methodism.
      Until then, I am praying for 40 more people in worship. If one of them is a tithing real estate tycoon, I won’t complain!

  • http://revcamp.blogspot.com David

    I tend to work with the number of “over 150″ with Dunbar’s number serving as the challenge to ministry…a diminishing ROI. I know in days gone by (I think it was the 60s) the number was closer to 60 people to cover the costs of ministry…and so you could have more small churches, and still cover your nut.
    David recently posted..For Anna

    • http://www.churchandtea.com Dan

      Wow. That is some serious church overhead inflation! Thanks for your input, David!

  • Ron

    It would be interesting to see how much of that difference between 60 and 150 is cost inflation and how much is less generous contributions.

  • J. Ross

    I don’t know how I stumbled upon this blog but I am compelled to reply. I feel like you Pastor’s have it wrong…so very wrong. It seems to me that you are in the preaching “business” for the money. It’s my understanding that a pastor lives on what the flock can afford to pay them. Now, when that flock is small and can’t afford a $70K salary does that mean that they don’t deserve a full time pastor, that they don’t need a full time pastor? If you are so concerned about your money I think you are in the wrong position. Maybe you are not called by God to preach his word. My question to you is, are you preaching God’s word and bringing souls into your church? Maybe you are spending to much time telling your congregation that they are not giving enough money instead of feeding them the bread of life. One could ask if you are doing your job as pastor to the expectations of your church to warrent such a salary, for that matter does any of your members even make that kiind of money with todays problems. Do you keep office hours so your people know when you are available? Do you visit your church members? Do you believe the Bible and preach from it? I think if you are losing your church members that you might start with what you might have done to make them move to other churches or heaven forbid stop going to church all together. I say these things because I have seen it first hand. I am not saying you are guilty of this but if this hits a nerve, so be it. I am just sad to see so many churches die and I think a lot is because of greed. Do what you are called to do and believe me God will provide for you. You may not have your wants but I know you will have your needs. Look at your church members and ask yourself if you even know their financial situation. Maybe you should see to their needs instead of them giving more to you. This is just how I truly feel. It comes for a worry of to much worldly influences in or church.

    • http://www.churchandtea.com Dan

      Thank you for the input J.Ross.

      I could see where this post could be received as self-serving, but if you read closer, I think you will find that this post is not written out of concern for myself, but out of concern for my church. You gave a great list of pastoral responsibilities, but I think you missed a few important ones. One that comes to mind: It is a pastor’s responsibility to lead the church and organize it for effective ministry. In this light, I think it is fair to ask what size church can afford a full time pastor, and still have the resources to carry on the ministry it has been called to do.

      My experience of congregations, and my personal experience when I was a lay person, tells me that congregations truly want to care and provide for their pastor. In the United Methodist Church, our network of churches have even established minimum standards to meet those needs. They include a modest salary ($36,500), housing, health care (for the pastor, not the pastor’s family), and a pension. These are the things that my denomination has decided are needed for a pastor to be able to devote him or her self to full time ministry. If these needs are met, they free a pastor to perform the responsibilities that you have listed in your comment. When you add all of these minimums together, you approach $70,000.

      I believe that this number is prohibitive to small congregations. I asked “what size church gets a full time pastor?” not because I want to bolster my salary, but because I am concerned about small congregations. I see churches struggling to meet these minimum compensation requirements, and cutting ministry from their budget in order to keep a full time pastor. While I believe that putting a full time pastor in the field is a ministry in itself, the budget

      What happens is this: A church cuts its budget to keep a full time pastor, and then the pastor does not have anything to work with in the budget to lead and organize the church in ministry. Sure the pastor can preach and visit, but what about the ministry of the church? This situation creates a church that is dependent on the pastor.

      Bottom line…. I think small congregations would be better served and be better prepared for service by joining with other small congregations to share a full time pastor if that means they are better able to fund the ministries that God is calling them to perform. So my question: What size does that usually happen? I think it is a fair question to be asked out of concern for our small congregations.

  • Joana

    @Dan

    I think that’s the question that needs to be answered.
    Joana recently posted..Oxycodone Acetaminophen Abuse Testing

    • http://www.churchandtea.com Dan

      I think so, and I think that 125 adults in worship is still about the right answer.
      But what does that mean to small membership churches? Share a full time pastor with other small churches?

      What if larger churches that have two or more pastors on staff were to share their pastors with smaller congregations? That is something I have been giving a lot of thought to lately.