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The Slow, Steady Salary Climb
The Slow, Steady Salary Climb
Church pay shows signs of recovery. But will the new housing allowance ruling and rising healthcare costs offset gains?

Cottonwood Church, a congregation of 150 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, has reason to celebrate. For the first time since 2009, the church will be able to give raises to two of its three paid staff members.

"I am employed full-time as senior pastor," says Dan Cooley of Cottonwood. "We also have a part-time worship pastor, and an administrative assistant who works 12 hours a week. In 2013, we saw slow but steady growth in both our attendance and finances. The budget for 2014 gives the worship pastor and me a 4 percent cost-of-living raise."

After seven years of cutting expenses and salaries to keep the ministry afloat, this uptick is a boon to Cottonwood.

"In 2007 we were meeting in a shopping center," says Cooley. Cottonwood's monthly building expenses hovered around $5,200 a month. When the church's lease came due in 2008, Cooley says the church decided to "go portable" in order to live lean and give more. It started meeting in a school in December 2008—right about the time the economy crashed. That next year, six other small churches in the area closed. Cottonwood Church survived because it lowered its monthly property expenses to about $1,800, but the church still was rapidly eating through its savings.

"In 2010 the worship pastor and I took a cut in pay, as our savings were almost depleted," says Cooley. "We thought it wiser to cut salaries than ministries—and there was nothing in property left to cut."

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