How Do Preachers Make Money?

by Thomas Metcalf

Preachers perform a variety of functions for their congregations – leading worship services, preaching sermons, visiting the sick, performing weddings and officiating at funerals. They counsel members in times of need and are generally available at all times should their services be needed. For all of this, most are paid a salary and given a parsonage or housing allowance.

Preachers' Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, members of the clergy earned an average of $47,880 in 2012. Clergy employed in different fields earned varying amounts – those employed by churches earned an average of $46,880, while hospital chaplains earned $48,310 on average, for example. The great majority of preachers live on salaries paid by their churches which may be supplemented by gratuities for services such as performing weddings and funerals. In many cases, incomes are augmented with a parsonage or a housing allowance. In some smaller churches, the preacher must seek other income if the church is too poor to pay a salary.

Gratuities for Services

Preachers who draw a salary from their churches are expected to perform all of their services as part of their pastoral responsibilities. Sometimes congregants offer gratuities for special services such as weddings and funerals. Although most preachers will officiate at these functions as part of their jobs, there may be an unwritten understanding on what they will be paid. Amounts vary between denominations, the size of the church, the size of the function, and the extent of the preacher's involvement. A gratuity for a wedding could be between $100 and $500, while officiating at a funeral might be between $100 and $300.

Megachurch Preachers

Most churches are relatively small – only a few have congregations in the thousands. Of the 325,000 Protestant churches in the United States, only about 1,600 – 0.5 percent – have attendance over 2,000. For the preachers of the megachurches income can range from $85,000 to $265,000, while the majority earn between $100,000 and $140,000, including housing. Incomes rise as the size of the congregation increases. Studies have found that for each additional 1,000 congregants, salaries rise by $8,000.

Supplementing Income

Preachers have numerous ways to augment their incomes, all of which are ethical if the practices are not abused. Some, particularly the megachurch preachers, write books and record DVDs. Most are sold to their congregations and friends, but some reach national bestseller status. Prominent preachers – frequently those well-known in their denominations – have speaking engagements and are paid participants in conferences. Many churches collect donations for gifts for their preachers, holding “Honor the Pastor” events. Most are small and of nominal value, but some can be lavish and worth sizable amounts.

About the Author

Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.

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