Churches Should Close the Pay Gap for Women on Staff

Sam Rainer

November 5, 2017


In my 12 years of serving on staff at churches, and in my 18 years of ministry, I’ve noticed a trend that disturbs me. At first, I didn’t do much to solve the problem. I should have done more. Now I voice concern, and I hope I’m a helpful voice.

Women on church staff tend to make less than men for similar roles. Depending on how researchers do the math, the current pay gap for women on church staff is between twenty-four cents and seven cents, meaning women make anywhere between seven percent and twenty-four percent less than men. The national pay gap is around seventeen cents. The national figure applies to all jobs, from unskilled labor to executive leadership.

The church can do better. In fact, we should lead the culture in solving the pay gap with women.

There are many reasons for the current pay gap between men and women on church staff.

  1. It’s a historic trend. The pay gap for women on church staff was forty cents in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The trend is improving nationally, but in many individual churches it’s still a major problem.
  2. Many churches have theological convictions about the roles of men and women, especially the primary preaching position. The purpose of this post is not to break down the nuances of complementarianism and egalitarianism. I simply want to address the obvious. Ministers on church staff with similar responsibilities should be paid similarly, regardless of gender. If your church gives a certain set of responsibilities to a woman, then you should pay her fairly for those responsibilities.
  3. Children’s ministries tend to employ more women. One way churches justify paying women less—whether intentionally or not—is by paying children’s ministers significantly less than other similar positions. For example, the pay package gap between children’s ministers and student ministers is between $10,000 and $15,000.
  4. Women are five times more likely to work part-time at a church than men. For those of us in ministry, we know part-time applies only to the pay, not the actual hours worked.
  5. Married women with children fare the worst in churches. They make twenty-eight percent less than men.

Most churches with women on staff likely have some pay gap problems. Inevitably, a few churches will have huge leaps to make. What can you do? Consider a few points as you take action and remedy the disparities.

  • Be proactive. If you serve on an elder board, personnel committee, or executive staff, then start researching the issue. Understand where you are today. Then make a plan to do something about it.
  • Be thoughtful. Someone’s salary is typically a sensitive subject. Approach this topic with care.
  • Be honest. If the pay gap exists in your church, then be open about the issue with women employees. They likely already know. Most will be glad you are recognizing the problem.
  • Be protective. When corrective measures are made, don’t let the women on staff take the heat from the church. Redirecting questions—or even anger—back to the women on staff is cowardly. Own the problem and defend them if the church has an issue with the move.

Churches have made progress in this area over the past three decades. As with national trends, the pay gap is closing in churches. Wouldn’t it be great if the church was the first organization to solve the problem completely? It might just get the attention of our culture.


16 comments on “Churches Should Close the Pay Gap for Women on Staff”

  1. Hagazi says:

    Your example of Children’s and Youth group shows your comparison is not founded on facts but on cultural voices of complaints. A youth group pastor spends more time with the youth in and outside church besides recruiting volunteers. If wage difference does not account for such, the cultural complaint becomes much important than truth and facts.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Hagazi, children’s ministers do a whole lot more than what you are describing. And I think my post has plenty of facts to support my claim.

    2. S. Edgerton says:

      You are basing on your own experiences and generalizing. There are many, many churches where the children’s pastor runs more programs for vastly more kids than the youth pastor does and works more hours. Where the children’s pastor is more educated and has more experience and is still payed less than the youth pastor. It is based on the false assumption that the older the part of the congregation being served, the more valuable the servant.

    3. Rachel says:

      I am a children’s director/minister and have been in the same church for over 15 years. I am available and spend time with kids and families outside of the church as well as serve on several community organization boards as an advocate for kids spiritual development and overall health and well-being. The programs I have directed for years are larger than most other ministries in our church. I make significantly less, larger gap than mentioned above. The only other staff member who has been there longer is our senior pastor…Thank you for being a voice…I don’t and never have served because of money, God has always provided, but if I am being honest, there are many times I feel so much less value because of the gap in pay…I will continue to serve as long as I am called, but am grateful to have read this article tonight. I am NOT a glorified babysitter, or a program director…I am called to ministry…loving, serving, teaching, and discipling kids and families as we seek to expand The Kingdom by proclaiming The Gospel! Thanks again for the article! Blessings!

      1. Sam Rainer says:

        Rachel, thank you! Children, parents, and families will be at the marriage feast of the Lamb because of you.

  2. Amber Sugg says:

    Once you called me into your office to give me the news that I was getting a 10% raise on my part time salary. I was embarrassed bc I wasn’t sure how much money I even made. Later, you closed a relatively large pay gap between my kidmin position and the youth minister’s position. I didn’t think I cared. I was in it for “ministry.” My husband’s income was enough. Turns out that it made a big difference. It afforded me a more appropriate amount of freedom to focus on my family and work…just like any job. That was a surprisingly big deal. The next time I interviewed for a kidmin job, that was one of my first questions. Not, “How much do I get paid,” but “How do you determine pay?” It matters to me that I raise my two girls and serve in a church that recognizes the equally weighted contributions of men and women.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      You deserved every bit of it and more. I was honored to serve with you and help out. And I do miss your balloon creations!

  3. AJ says:

    Any insight on how a woman in ministry might approach this subject with her senior pastor? She knows she makes $10,000 less than any of the guys on staff some of whom have the exact same experience and are of the same age, give or take a few months.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      AJ, that’s an excellent question. I’d love to hear from other women if they don’t mind commenting here. But here’s my two cents: Build trust with one or two key decision makers and graciously ask them (without ultimatums or threats) about the issue. I would hope others in the church would be bold on their behalf, but I also realize that’s not reality in many churches.

      1. Jessica says:

        I agree with forming trust relationships and speak up. We are having an issue at my church and it’s infuriating. 2 part time women on staff: a children’s director who works 10 hours a week and and worship director who works 18 hours a week or so. The worship director is working on ordination and has led our congregation through the resignation of a pastor, the sudden death of a pastor, a new pastor and a pandemic in the 8 years she has been leading worship…. She is grossly undervalued. I have been offered a position in leadership development, will probably work up to 18 hours a week at the same rate of the other women – $500/mo. In fact, the pastor today offered me the $500/mo (I’ve been working on the project without pay, assuming I will be paid at some point, for the last few months) “we can offer you the same amount we pay Amy and Grace.” Like it’s the “women’s rate”. The two men on staff are full time, so that does matter. We have an associate pastor at $3500/mo and senior pastor at $5800/mo (including their housing allowances).

        I feel the project I’ve been working to build has been stifled throughout the process (a few months of a back and forth between myself and elders) by the church leadership. I’m praying about whether to take the offer…

        The message we women get is “you are not valued” at our church.

  4. Quinn says:

    This particular issue has been a thorn in my side for a few years. It seems very challenging for women in ministry to 1. know their worth $ and 2. to be brave enough to initiate a potentially awkward converstion. I suspect the concern for some is that they will be percieved as self serving or ungrateful if they bring the gap up. Another issue is that some churches keep salary details private, so many women don’t even know how large the gap really is. AND if they do become aware of the gap the internal struggle of “say something” or “say nothing” can be consuming.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      I share your concerns, Quinn. It’s one reason I wrote this post. I’ve already had a few pastors contact me as they’ve investigated the issue today at their churches. I hope something good comes of my thoughts.

  5. Brooke says:

    I recently had a discussion with a family member who spent several years in the DC area. As a side note to a completely unrelated point he was making, he explained to me the problem churches have there due to the high cost of living. Becuase of these high costs, most churches he knew of–at that time anyway–cut costs by having one male lead pastor and composing the rest of the staff of females becuase the church could pay them less; arguably becuase they were generally a second family income after the husband. It astounded me… I’d never seen a clearer example of the gender-wage gap.

    But it has led to several conversations–mostly unanswered questions–between my husband and I who are both training for vocational ministry: what would it look like if we’re both employed by the same church in full-time positions? How much would we be comfortable taking individually; combined? What if I were asked to be one of the many two-for-one pastors’/staffers’ wives who does staff-like work but on a volunteer basis? Does it matter what degrees I have? And countless, countless other questions we’d never really considered before. Yikes.

  6. Jen Jackson says:

    Next, you should write an article about how to approach Elders and Pastors, coming from a married mother of young children serving as a children’s director making less than what I pay my babysitter or local coffee shop barista. This article at least for me is accurate but I don’t know how to approach the subject with those in position to make a change.

  7. Melody says:

    I know this is an old post, but thank you for your very thoughtful article. This has been an on-going source of frustration and discouragement for years for so many of us. As a bookkeeper for quite a few churches over the years, I’ve heard men discussing women’s positions and salaries while never even inviting them to the table to hear their input. Positions that are usually filled by women are almost always paid less, or even nothing at all, while men’s positions are valued and paid well. Typically youth pastors are men and children’s “directors” are women. The men receive retirement and other benefits, while the women are paid less, with no benefits, and even a “lesser” title. The amount of work involved, and also education level and experience do not seem to matter. Office and child care workers are paid less than janitors, custodians and tech people because the former are usually filled by women. When women ask for higher pay or benefits, they are put off so it can be “discussed,” while the women continue to work and serve, futilely waiting for a response. I have seen numerous women leave their jobs, and have done so myself, because it became obvious that no change would be made. The nature of the volunteer church leadership, with annual turnover of elders and deacons, keeps the women asking for change at bay, because there are always new men that have to get up to speed, giving a convenient excuse to make the women wait for a solid answer. Budget deadlines and other arbitrary dates are also used as excuses. I have seen all kinds of bad behavior in this arena. Frequently, the requested increase in pay amounts to less than $2,000 per year while the men’s pay packages are in excess of $100,000. Do we really think this is glorifying God and that He would be pleased with this? Woe to them… Pharisees…

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