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How do we know how much to pay the secretary? ... or the youth director? ... or the custodian?

In August of each year, the denomination puts together a wonderful "Ministers' Compensation Survey". This publication provides data on the compensation of full-time ordained ministers of the Word. It includes a breakdown of the data to the Classis level, so it's a pretty good tool to look at the compensation level for Christian Reformed ministers within your local geographic area. Each year, at budget time, our pastor-church relations team and our finance team look at this data as part of our process for putting the ministers' compensation budget together. It helps us comply with Church Order Article 15: "Each church through its council shall provide for the proper support of its minister(s)..."

Although there is no Church Order directive with regard to our unordained staff, I think it is wise to "provide for the proper support" and compensation for all of our church staff.

This past year, our council completed a survey for our finance team. The survey provided guidance for different elements of our church general fund budget. Part of the answers found in the survey results stated that we should pay our unordained staff "about the average for the area". It was also commented on that the average (for applicable positions, i.e. secretaries) should be from similar church positions; not business compensation data. That makes sense, I suppose. My task was to find out what the average is for the area. No problem ... I sent out a survey to area churches asking them to (confidentially) provide unordained staff compensation information, with the promise that I would compile the data, de-identify it, and share it with participating churches. I sent the survey out to 46 area CRCs and 12 local non-CRCs. Only 10 churches from our denomination returned a completed survey. Only 2 non-CRCs returned the survey. Most of the non-responding churches did not communicate back as to why they did not participate; I can only guess. A few of the churches contacted me to let me know they would not be participating since their staff compensation was a confidential matter. Even though they were assured that no individual churches would be identified in the survey report, there obviously was not a comfort level with regard to confidentiality. While I was happy to have survey data from 12 churches, I really thought we could have done better.

How do we best get local compensation data for church secretaries, administrative assistants, youth directors, custodians, Kids Hope directors, music directors, and a variety of other very important staff positions at our churches?

I believe that local market data is a great place to start when it comes to determining how much to pay staff. If there is a shortage of good custodians then maybe we will have to raise the compensation level to find the right person to fill the job. Likewise, if there is an abundance of people qualified and willing to be the custodian, then market data might show a lower compensation level for this position. It's only one piece to the puzzle, but wouldn't we, as part of the stewardship process, want to have this piece of information?

One of the reasons the "Ministers' Compensation Survey" gets done so faithfully is because the denominational pension office uses the numbers for the final average salary on which the pension calculations are made each year. The data gets reported -- for good reason! We don't have such an incentive for our unordained staff. So, what suggestions are out there for how to collect good church staff compensation data? Why are churches so hesitant to share salary information, even if confidentiality is guaranteed? Any ideas out there?


There is already great information out there regarding compensation for church staff.  It covers salaries for part-time and full-time church workers in the area of pastors,adult ministry, children's directors, worship directors, administrators, bookkeepers, accountants, secretaries and custodians.  Data is based on region of the country, worship attendance, church income, and other characteristics, and includes an average in each category.  Well worth the purchase in order to be fair and reasonable for church staff, and gives a broader view than just the CRC community.

We use the church compensation handbook as the basis for our wage scales.  We also contacted a couple similar sized churches in our classis to get a local perspective.  You need to spend some time studying the handbook to understand it, but it is worth the effort.

I agree that churches should be open to working together on payroll and other areas of church business.

Mike VanLaan on August 12, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Rick:  I think your approach is a great one.  It combines the national data ("Church Compensation Handbook") with a local analysis.  How did you contact the churches in your classis (e-mail, phone call, letter, ...), who did you contact (church treasurer?), and what kind of response did you get?  How do you ensure you are comparing similar jobs?  Also, do you think this is worth the effort each year, or just do it every two or three years?

I have the current copy of the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff by Richard Hammar in my office if anyone would like to use it here in the office. You are also welcome to call me if you would like me to look up a position.  I'm glad to hear that others have found the handbook helpful.

We, too, have used the national survey data -- primarily through the National Association of Church Business Administrators (NACBA) -- which includes regional information as well.  The limitation with this survey and with the information in Richard Hammar's book is that it lacks good information on the local market.  That is why, particularly in the Grand Rapids area where we have several CRCs, it seems that we could work together to provide good local information.  I'm just not sure how to make it happen.  If nothing else, the NACBA survey and/or the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff are a great place to start.

Rick Kennedy on August 12, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We found the survey more helpful than the local data that we collected. We found too much variation in the job expectations for positions like music director and outreach director to get much value from local comparisons.

For clerical and custodial positions, there is no need for church comparison. There is plenty of information about appropriate compensation for these positions in the business world.

For ministry positions, we have found the size of the church and skills of the employee are more important factors than the location. You can adjust for regional differences by comparing the local pastor's compensation to a national salary survey and making similar adjustments for other ministry positions.

Mike VanLaan on August 12, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Rick:  I actually think there is more variation in the job expectations from the national survey than the local survey.  I just think the quality control goes down as the number of participants goes up.  Based on living in various places across the U.S., I know that there are different perspectives of what a "youth director" does -- this is true at the local level as well; however, I think the variation is greater as you go national.  For the local survey that we did this spring, we used "job codes" with summary descriptions of the job.  This helps with the standardization.  I think it's the same tool the national surveys use; however, it was easier to follow up with phone calls and e-mails from the local survey and I felt that we actually got a better match.  Also, I think there is a difference for clerical and custodial positions between the private sector and the church sector jobs.  That is, however, a matter of opinion.  I think there are unique requirements in each sector that make the jobs different.  I agree that the size of the church and the skills of the employees are very important factors.  Ideally, we tried to get data from churches that were both similar to our size and also in our geographical area.  Tough to do.  Compensation comparison and decisions -- definitely both an art and a science.

The book referenced above is a great resource. It could also be pointed out that churches are non-profit corporations and by law their annual budgets must be provided upon request.

The Compensation Handbook for Church Staff does not have info on IT positions.  If you go to and search "Church Finance and Administration Resources" you can look at one church sample wage scale that includes "Network Administrator."  Check under Employment Issues/Compensation. 

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