A higher salary is a natural desire for any employee—one that can involve negotiating a raise. But asking for that raise can be an uncomfortable conversation, leaving employees hesitant to approach the topic with their managers.
For those working in the church, asking for a raise can be even more difficult. The church is focused on building relationships, and money is often seen as the vehicle for ministry—not the end goal. No matter what your ministry position is, you probably don’t work in the church because you’re expecting a high salary, but because of your passion for ministry.
That said, there are myriad reasons those who work for a church might want to—or should—ask for a raise. You may have taken on more responsibilities in your position, gained new skills, or found out that you are being paid below the market rate for your ministry role. While the process of asking for a raise can be intimidating, it can be worth it. In fact, asking may be the most important thing you can do to get one: for those who decide to initiate the conversation, research shows that three out of four employees in the workforce who ask for a raise get one.
Best Practices for Negotiating a Raise
So what are the best steps for negotiating a raise?
Know Who to Talk to
When it comes to starting the discussion, the first step is knowing the right person to discuss a raise with, says pastor and founder of XPastor David Fletcher. Is it your executive pastor, a business administrator, or another church leader?
For church leaders, Fletcher emphasizes the importance of establishing a culture in your church in which employees feel comfortable coming to the leadership and asking about a raise: “set a culture where church members can make their needs known.”
Know Why You Deserve It
Are you, underpaid, overpaid, or paid fairly? And how do you know?
Research shows most people think they’re underpaid, even when they’re not. This tells us that people in general—including those working in ministry—are susceptible to overestimating the value of their work. In the church setting, however, underpaying ministry staff is an all too common reality. Studies show it, and church culture experts lament it. But using objective compensation data—like the kind provided in ChurchSalary.com—is the critical step in knowing if your pay is fair. You should have some objective standards as the basis for judging how fair your current pay is.
According to Fletcher, church employees should come to salary conversations prepared to explain exactly why they deserve a raise. If you’re planning on approaching church leadership, do your homework and find out what other people make who are in the same (or similar) position at other churches of a similar size and similar budget. You’ll want a compensation source that can guide your salary expectations based on your role, education, skills, work experience, and where you live.
Then be prepared to demonstrate your value as an employee. Have you taken on more responsibilities in your role? How has your ministry increased over the last year? What expectations and goals have you exceeded? Come to the conversation prepared to explain the work you’ve accomplished over a certain period of time.
Have the Right Timing
Timing is also crucial. Miller advises church employees to ask for a raise when church leaders are working on a new budget or near the end of a budget cycle—not during a season of bad giving or during employee reviews. “Typically people aren’t setting their budget around review time,” said Miller. “I actually think that is a time to plant seeds, but [it’s] probably not a time to ask for the raise.”
Jane Barratt, a personal finance coach, also advises that waiting to discuss your raise until review time or budget season is a mistake. By making your desire for a raise known sooner rather than later, you give the organization a better shot of being able to budget for an increased expense.
Say It the Right Way
Miller also stresses the importance of relational skills when approaching this conversation. He believes the posture in which you ask for a raise is just as important as the words you say. This can begin by asking to have the conversation at an appropriate time and when your supervisor is ready. “I think you should come in prepared to be very positive,” says Miller. Employees should explain what they enjoy their role and their church community—and show that they’re not working there simply for a paycheck.
William Vanderbloemen—founder and CEO of church staffing group Vanderbloemen Search Group, which works with churches like Willow Creek and Life Church—says a salary negotiation is the time to keep the mission of your church first.
“If your boss feels like you’re more concerned about pay than you are [about] advancing the mission and vision of the church, your negotiation will not end in your favor,” said Vanderbloemen.
He also encourages church employees to approach the conversation with respect for their supervisor: “the Bible reminds us to respect those in authority over us. That includes your boss, even if you don’t like him or her. Compensation meetings can be your prime opportunity to show respect without being fake.”
One way to do that, according to Miller, is to “have confidence without being arrogant when you ask for a raise.” Don’t hold the church hostage by giving them an ultimatum or threatening to leave if you don’t receive a raise: Miller points out that this kind of attitude creates animosity and strains the relationship between the employee and supervisor.
Finally, regardless of the response, accept a supervisor’s answer with grace, says Fletcher. If their answer is “no,” this may be an appropriate time to consider whether the position is still a good fit for you and if it will meet your financial needs.
What Church Leaders Should Be Doing
Church Compensation Culture
For those handling salaries at the church, increasing compensation for employees rewards hard work and shows they add value to the work of the ministry. To anticipate these kinds of conversations with employees, Fletcher encourages pastors and church leaders to be transparent about staff salaries early. This can be done by creating a minimum and maximum salary range for each position, which allows staff members to have realistic expectations of how much they can earn in a position. ChurchSalary.com can provide one practical guide for creating salary ranges based on your church’s location and size of attendance.
Fletcher encourages church leaders to consider the worker and the work they do—not their life circumstances—when negotiating a salary. Rewarding employees with a raise based on marital status, because they have a family, or based on gender, e.g., thinking a man should earn more because he’s the “breadwinner,” is not only unfair but likely illegal. Miller explains that these practices are considered archaic to many millennials and can isolate a person in ministry who doesn’t look like a “traditional” person in such a role. “What you’re doing,” says Miller, “is closing the door for opportunity on that person.”
Miller also describes how church employees he works with say they often feel uncomfortable asking for a raise because they feel belittled by a supervisor when doing so. This can make them less likely to ask for a raise again—and maybe even motivated to find a different job. “I hear from people all the time that their boss makes them feel stupid,” said Miller. “[Their manager] make[s] them jump through so many hoops in such a way that it creates an environment of hostility.”
On this note, Fletcher encourages church leaders to be generous with salaries because “the ministry never stops”: work in the church can be time-consuming and demanding.
The High Cost of Employee Turnover
Church administrators and employees should also both be aware of the high costs of replacing an employee. Julie Kantor is the CEO of Twomentor, LLC, a management consulting firm focused on employee hiring and retention. In an article on turnover costs, she cites numerous studies that estimate the cost of replacing even a young (Millennial) employee is anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. Replacement costs are even more for more skilled positions (usually a percentage of the position’s salary), and the true cost is likely higher still when other factors, such as training, are taken into account. Though churches differ from companies, these estimates likely hold fairly steady for churches given that churches must still incur these costs: advertising, interviewing, training, and decreased productivity.
What does this mean for churches and their employees? For church leadership, it means that, at least from a financial perspective, it may cost less money to give an employee a raise than to replace an employee who leaves over inadequate pay, especially if the raise the employee is asking for is a modest one. Every church culture is different, but for church employees, it means that if your church leadership is aware of the high cost of replacing you, they may be more willing to grant you a raise than you think.
Volunteers and the Employees Who Act Like Them
Church leaders should also be aware of one of the biggest areas that churches can run into legal trouble around salaries: the use of church volunteers. Matt Anthony, a Texas-based attorney who works with non-profits and churches, says churches will often try to cut costs by using volunteers and cautions pastors to make paid positions and volunteer positions clear. “A church employee can be a volunteer, but they can’t be a volunteer in a position in which they’re paid to work,” said Anthony. For example, a youth minister can’t volunteer some of her time to do youth ministry at her employing church. She could, however, volunteer to play music for a service if doing so was outside of her normal job description and duties. He said church employees shouldn’t feel legally obligated to do volunteer work to be eligible for a raise, though church members are often expected to volunteer their time.
“The volunteer aspect should be viewed from the membership perspective and not intermingled with terms or conditions of employment,” he said. “You can see how that can get fairly complicated in the case of an employee who is also a member of the church [that] employ[s] them.”
Whether you’re the employee asking for a raise or the one controlling salaries, approaching issues of compensation with transparency, respect, and sound information is critical.
A checklist for negotiating a raise:
- Know who you should approach for a conversation about your salary
- Ask for the conversation
- Think about the best time to talk your supervisor
- Come prepared with your value in your position
- Know the salaries of employees in similar-sized churches
- Be confident, not arrogant
- Respect your supervisor during the conversation
- Don’t hold your church hostage
- Graciously accept the response