|Study finds pay incentives for pastors|
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
May 20, 2009
United Methodists who decide to move from one congregation to another
just might be putting a few extra dollars into their new pastor’s
A transfer member can add more than $32 to pastoral compensation,
according to a study presented at the recent annual meeting of the
Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture in
The study, “Is Higher Calling Enough? Incentive Compensation in the
Church,” finds strong evidence that pastoral compensation conforms to
standard business models.
The authors, Jay Hartzell of the University of Texas at Austin,
Christopher Parsons of the University of North Carolina and David
Yermack of New York University, admit that such incentives seem
unlikely for clergy. “Strong pay-for-performance incentives might
damage a minister’s spiritual credibility with a congregation that
expects intrinsic motivation to be sufficient,” they write.
But, using data from 727 churches and 2,201 ministers who served in
the United Methodist Oklahoma Annual Conference between 1961 and 2003,
the authors conclude that financial incentives impact pastors’ “effort
and the service they provide to parishioners.” The data was taken
from conference journals.
Among the study’s conclusions:
- Compensation for ministers follows patterns similar to chief executive officers in a business.
the overall level of ministerial pay is modest, it responds
significantly to increases and decreases in parish membership.
- The annual conference uses ministerial assignment as a
way to reward productive clergy “with plum appointments that bring
higher total compensation.”
The Rev. Craig Stinson, director of connectional ministries and
congregational development for the Oklahoma Conference, says he finds
the study “fun and interesting,” although he’s not sure about the cause
and effects related to the study’s assumptions, noting that some of the
data extracted from the conference journals may not be complete.
“If we have sown spiritual seed among you,
is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have
this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?”
--I Corinthians 9:11-12
But he is intrigued that another discipline is being used to look at
the church. “I think that’s interesting and healthy and I am
excited by people who are applying their own field of knowledge to the
church,” Stinson says. “We’re all trying to figure out why some
churches are growing and some churches aren’t.”
Oklahoma clergy members are not “in it for the money.” During the
period studied, “mean clergy compensation declined during much of the
1960s and 1970s, before sharply increasing in the 1980s and growing at
a more moderate rate from the late 1980s onward,” the report says.
During the entire period, per capita income grew faster than clerical
In 2008 dollars, the median pastor compensation is about $36,900,
within a range between $22,651 and $49,586. A few pastors earn in
excess of $100,000, with the sample maximum of more than $238,000
received by the head of a large church in an urban area, according to
the study data.
Role for incentives
The authors begin their paper by citing part of the ninth chapter of
I Corinthians: “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too
much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right
of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?”
Even for pastoral pay, “there is a role for monetary incentives,”
says Hartzell, an active member of St. John’s United Methodist Church
If an incentive is to work, however, there must be a way to measure the output of a minister’s actions.
Membership changes – transfers within The United Methodist Church,
transfers between denominations or transfers in and out of the
Christian faith – can be an indicator. “While a minister likely has
little to do with a person’s decision to embrace or reject an entire
religion, he or she may be the dominant factor in a congregant’s
decision,” the report says.
Members requiring the least effort by the minister and the
congregation are those who already are United Methodist, Hartzell
points out. “You just need to get them to believe this is the right
Methodist church to them,” he says.
At the conference level, however, the goal is to increase member
numbers, not just shuffle them around. “The big church wants to grow
the pie, make the overall conference larger and stronger,” he explains.
Factoring that goal into promotion decisions provides “a kind of
balance” to incentives related to the transfer of members among local
“Taken together, our results suggest an interesting overall pattern for rewarding
pay for performance,” the study says. “While a minister is in place
at a local church, his or her pay changes depend on changes in
membership, especially members that come from or leave to other United
Methodist Churches. These effects are more pronounced for churches
where membership changes are expected to be cleaner signals of the
“However, these rewards may seem counterproductive in the eyes of
the supervising conference cabinet, which views membership transfers
among churches as a zero-sum game and is more interested in growing the
size of the entire denomination.”
Attendance and giving
The study does not find a significant link between church revenues
and a pastor’s compensation. But evidence exists related to church
attendance and giving. “In general, in good times, people go to church
less but they give more,” Hartzell explains. “In bad times, they go to
the church more and give less.”
Mary Ann Moman, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher
Education and Ministry, expressed interest in the study, but cautions
that there are many factors related to clergy compensation.
Mary Ann Moman
The data, she notes, covers only one of the denomination’s 62 U.S.
conferences. “Therefore, I don’t know how it relates to other annual
conferences or the church in general,” she says. “But it might be worth
Hartzell says he would be happy to share the study’s findings with the denomination.
Both Hartzell and Parsons were preacher’s kids. Parsons’ father is a
Baptist minister and after Hartzell’s father died, his mother remarried
and he spent his teen years with his stepfather, the Rev. Denny Hook of
the Oklahoma Conference. Hook, now retired, assisted with data
collection for the paper.
The authors also hope this study will be the first in a sequence
using the Oklahoma data. “It’s very rare that you can see such a long
history of people’s careers,” Hartzell says.
The full study is available here.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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