Staying Afloat in Ministry
What a study reveals about the financial health of AG ministers
Does it seem you have lost ground financially over the past few years? Amid the pandemic, inflation, and talk of a looming recession, have your money concerns increased as your available cash decreased?
If so, you are not alone.
The average Assemblies of God (AG) minister’s total ministry compensation rose 12% over the past six years. However, during that same period, inflation surged nearly 24%. In other words, wages are not keeping pace with skyrocketing costs.
This was one of the findings from a 2022 study of 1,326 AG ministers across the U.S., which Grey Matter Research conducted for the Assemblies of God national office. The research updated a similar project from 2016. Both studies included church pastors, missionaries, evangelists, chaplains, and a variety of other non-retired ministers.
The latest study revealed a mix of stress and hope among ministers.
Three groups of ministers tend to have greater financial challenges than others.
The first is pastors of smaller churches. The smaller the church, the smaller the church’s income, which means less money is available for compensation.
Some of these pastors serve their churches full time, but far more are part time or even unpaid. And those working full time have lower salaries and fewer benefits than their peers at larger churches.
While 86% of pastors in churches of 300 or more say their church’s finances are solid, this figure falls as attendance drops. Just 60% of pastors in churches with fewer than 50 people report solid church finances.
Two-thirds of pastors in the smallest churches report depending on just a few givers, without whom their ministries would be in trouble.
The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues. The economic fallout was particularly damaging for smaller churches. Three in 10 pastors leading churches of 300 or more report a negative financial impact from the pandemic, compared to 51% in the smallest churches. And while 38% of the largest churches received federal COVID relief funds, this was true for just 6% of the smallest churches.
Racial and ethnic minorities make up the second struggling group of AG ministers. Minority pastors are 54% more likely than white pastors to say their church has financial concerns. They are 23% less likely to receive housing benefits, and 27% less likely to receive benefits beyond housing.
Median retirement savings are $40,000 for white ministers and $5,000 for everyone else.
Nearly half (46%) of minority ministers have no personal savings (excluding retirement), compared to 21% of white ministers in this situation.
The third group dealing with significant financial challenges is staff pastors. In general, they earn considerably less than senior pastors and have fewer benefits. In fact, 23% of staff pastors have no benefits at all.
Staff pastors are far more likely than senior pastors to use at least one negative term when describing their church’s culture surrounding finances and compensation. They are also less likely to say they have a positive relationship with those determining compensation.
About one-third of staff pastors report dissatisfaction with their compensation and believe the church could afford more for them. Just 1 in 10 senior pastors say the same. This is a recipe for potential dissension within churches.
Of course, those three groups are not the only ones with money concerns. Two subjects — savings and debt — are common stressors for ministers across all demographics.
When ministers name their financial stress points, the top three relate to savings. Putting aside sufficient funds for retirement is a stressful issue for 46% of respondents. And 28% worry about saving enough for both emergencies and major purchases.
More than three-quarters of ministers know someone who has left ministry for financial reasons.
Savings-related concerns eclipse worries about medical insurance, student loans, making ends meet, or managing regular expenses.
Financial advisers recommend people begin saving for retirement in their 20s. Yet 3 in 10 ministers under age 45 have no retirement savings.
Even more concerning are the statistics for older ministers. Among working ministers 60 and older, 17% have nothing saved for retirement, and another 29% have less than $50,000.
It’s not just retirement allocations that are lacking. One-quarter of ministers have no personal savings outside of retirement funds. No wonder saving money is a major stress point for so many.
Eighty-two percent of ministers carry debt. And 66% have debt in non-mortgage categories, including credit card (41%), student loan (26%), medical (19%), and other (37%).
AG ministers are 44% more likely than the typical American to carry student loan debt, and the amount ministers owe is 15% higher. Ministers with credit card debt owe 61% more than the general population.
While higher wages can increase borrowing power, the lowest earners are most likely to owe non-mortgage debt. Ministers with shaky personal finances and high levels of financial stress also tend to hold more debt.
In other words, the people who can least afford debt are the ones who have more of it.
Two-thirds of ministers have something in their financial profiles they consider a major stress point. The average AG minister reports 2.8 major financial stress points and 4.6 minor ones. Only 13% of all ministers report no financial stressors in their lives.
Unfortunately, the ultimate impact is that 38% of all ministers have considered leaving the ministry at some point due to financial stress, including 16% who have strongly entertained the idea. Staff pastors and U.S. missionaries are the most likely to have considered departures.
Further, 52% say they have received offers for non-ministry employment with higher pay. Sadly, more than three-quarters of ministers know someone who has left ministry for financial reasons.
It’s not all bad news — far from it, in fact. For one thing, many ministers do not experience significant financial struggles. Although 22% of AG ministers have no retirement savings, about as many (21%) have saved at least $200,000 for retirement.
Just 7% describe their household finances as mostly or very shaky with many concerns, while nearly 11 times as many say their finances are mostly or very solid with few real concerns.
Only 11% of ministers say they experience tremendous or considerable financial stress. Another 16% have quite a bit of stress. However, most experience only some (35%), not very much (27%), or none (11%).
Despite the financial strain some are experiencing, just 4% of ministers failed to tithe last year. An overwhelming majority report either tithing one-tenth of their earnings (14%) or giving even more (82%).
Money is not a major source of marital discord. About half say they and their spouse are in total agreement about finances, with another 39% largely in agreement.
Most pastors feel good about church finances. Three-quarters report the financial situation at their church is solid, with few concerns.
Additionally, 68% of pastors call their church’s culture “respectful” on the topic of leadership compensation, while only 2% say the culture is “divisive.” More than 8 in 10 report positive relationships with those who determine their compensation.
Nearly all ministers (92%) have some source of household income outside of ministry. This can include a spouse’s job (62%), a second job or supplemental employment (39%), pension or retirement funds (27%), or investments (25%). On average, 54% of household income is from ministry, while 46% is from other sources.
Overall, most ministers are doing OK financially — with some strain
and struggles, but an ultimately positive outlook.
Ministers’ attitudes about money are positive for the most part. Eighty-five percent of pastors are mostly or completely confident managing church finances, and 88% of all ministers are confident handling household finances.
An encouraging 61% feel good about their household’s financial future. When comparing themselves to other local ministers in similar roles, just 17% say they are worse off, while half assess their situation as better.
Financial struggles are not unique to ministers. In some ways, ministers are faring better than other Americans. Facing an unexpected $1,000 expense, 83% of ministers say they could cover this out of savings (retirement savings, in some cases), 13% would have to borrow the money, and 4% would have no recourse.
By comparison, 44% of all U.S. adults say they could cover a $1,000 expense out of savings, 34% would have to borrow, 15% would have to cut expenses, and 7% would have no recourse, according to a 2022 Bankrate survey.
U.S. Census Bureau data shows that only about half of all Americans aged 55–66 have any retirement savings. Among working AG ministers aged 60 and older, 83% have some retirement savings. However, the median amount these ministers have saved for retirement is 54% lower than the median within the U.S. population as a whole.
In other words, AG ministers’ money situations are a mixed bag of stress and hope. Overall, most ministers are doing OK financially — with some strain and struggles, but an ultimately positive outlook.
Nevertheless, too many are in trouble financially, and some may end up leaving the ministry because of it.
These are challenging economic times for many ministers and churches. If you are a minister who is experiencing financial stress, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The Assemblies of God offers resources for navigating difficult financial seasons through Empowering Stewardship.
For guidance on managing personal finances, request a free copy of Balanced Budget, Balanced Life at EmpoweringStewardship.com/Requests. This workbook simplifies the intimidating process of creating a financial plan.
In addition, one-time $1,500 grants are available for AG ministers. These can assist with starting a retirement fund, reducing school debt, or paying bills. Visit EmpoweringStewardship.com/Grants for more information.
If you are a board member or church leader making budget decisions, consider how you can help pastors and staff members who may be struggling financially. Perhaps there is margin for pay increases that will offset the rate of inflation.
Be sure the church is offering benefits, including health insurance. Establish retirement contributions for staff members, or create an employer-sponsored retirement plan with AG Financial.
Additionally, organize a small group or Sunday School class on giving generously while faithfully stewarding God’s resources. Empowering Stewardship offers a free leader’s guide and teaching slides to complement the Balanced Budget, Balanced Life book. This is a great way to help church members take control of their finances.
These surveys highlight the financial plight of many AG ministers. Unfortunately, money worries have caused some to leave, or consider leaving, their ministries. To combat this problem, churches need to embrace a culture of generosity — not only toward the various ministries they support, but also toward the ministers who support them.
A goal of Empowering Stewardship is bringing to light ministers’ financial struggles and offering practical solutions. Even though this is a deeply personal subject, ministers and church board members must have honest conversations about personal and church financial health.
Reducing pastors’ financial stress makes it easier for them to minister to others. This is a win not only for church leaders, but also for the entire body of Christ.
This article appears in the Summer 2023 issue of Influence magazine.