Eleven months. My first job as a full-time youth pastor only lasted eleven months. And while it was nobody’s fault and not because of any wrongdoing, my rapid rise and untimely release was painful, not only for me and my fresh calling, but for the students and their families that I had created spiritual bonds with.
In the decade-plus since then, I’ve seen many endings for other youth pastors, who were quitting, facing hard or wrongful endings and painful tears. Many of these endings are in one way or another tied to compensation, where churches are notorious for overworking and underpaying youth pastors.
But before you write me off as a disgruntled employee begging for another penny in the offering plate, read the statistics below. Because the numbers don’t lie.
The 2019 Youth Pastor Compensation Survey Results published by The Youth Cartel and YPCompPros.com paints a picture of some surprising pain points for the career of a youth pastor that every church should pay attention to—below are the top five.
1. Even in 2019, men earn more than women
Our data among over 2,000 respondents revealed that there is a 12.8 percent wage gap between men and women in the church—with three times more male youth pastors than female—revealing a staggering bias towards men in the industry. That means if a man is earning $100, his female counterpart earns $87.20 for the same job.
There are glimmers of hope for change in this year’s results; one being that in 2018, our data shows women being hired at 106 percent the wage of men! However, the raises come larger and more frequently for male youth pastors. If you’re a 20 plus year veteran of youth ministry and female, our data says you are earning 78 percent of a man with the same tenure. This doesn’t exactly incentivize women to pursue a career loving teenagers.
2. The turnover rate is real and the pressure is high
More than half of our respondents reported being hired at their current position in the last three years or less. Half. That means 50 percent of the students at the churches represented by our survey have experienced the trauma of losing their youth pastor and getting a new one between the start and finish of high school. Many will have 3 youth pastors between starting junior high and leaving home for college.
And youth pastors receive pressure from more than just the turnover of their jobs.
- 25 percent are also taking classes (either undergrad or graduate)
- 70 percent have over $10,000 in school loans and about 30 percent have over $30,000
- 80 percent are away from home at youth gatherings or in church meetings at least two nights a week—every week.
It’s tough being a youth pastor; and 60 percent have not even had an annual review in the past year to talk about their job performance, role, or compensation.
3. Church benefits present a major hurdle to longevity
It’s no secret the world of benefits and insurance is changing for organizations everywhere. Most businesses simply raise their prices to increase revenue to cover the increase in benefit costs. Churches don’t have this option, so benefits are often cut or reduced to keep the budget static.
Less than half of our respondents reported getting their health insurance paid for by their church. In fact, more churches pay for their youth pastor to attend a conference each year (54 percent) than pay for employee health insurance (49 percent). More youth pastors get their cell phone paid for (33 percent) than accumulate sick leave (31 percent). And only 19 percent of youth pastors get their family medical covered by their church insurance policy, while 40 percent get a monthly allowance for books.
Churches are providing resources to increase the training and capacity (conference, phone, books) of their youth pastors, but they aren’t helping as much with actual living expenses (employee medical, sick time, dependent medical).
4. Youth pastor spouses work at an alarmingly high rate
As recently as 2015, the Department of Labor reported an average of 48 percent of married US households have both people employed. Among youth pastor households, that number is astronomically higher. In fact, two-thirds (66 percent) of married youth pastors have a spouse who also works full-time and another 28 percent have a spouse who works part-time.
That means less than 1 in 5 youth pastors have a spouse who does not need to work in order to support the family. And in our reporting, 71 percent of youth pastors report that they are a two-income family by necessity.
5. The big number: What youth pastors make and how it compares
Our national average salary for a youth pastor in 2019 is $46,581, a 2.65 percent increase from our 2018 number. First year youth pastors are being hired nationally at an average of $37,885.
People like to know how that number compares to other occupations; and education is a common comparison in our field. This is where the numbers get depressing.
According to TIME Magazine, public school teachers earn on average $79,152 a year in New York, while those working in South Dakota earn $42,025—the highest and lowest averages for teachers’ salaries in all 50 states. Nationwide, the average salary for public school teachers was $58,353 in 2016; and it hasn’t been reduced since then. That’s a salary 23 percent higher than that of the average youth pastor.
So now what?
In an industry where long-term trusting relationships with teens is the ultimate feather in the cap, longevity is sparse. In fact, we only had 33 respondents out of over 2,000 who reported working 15 or more years in the same location, where they had their first youth pastor job.
Churches should look at these statistics as an opportunity to help shepherd their youth pastors into making healthy financial decisions, requiring annual reviews (or even bi-annual reviews) to talk about job responsibilities and compensation, and ultimately working to bring about more sustainable compensation.
It’s time we do it for the kids. Literally.
Dan Navarra is a full-time youth pastor and teaching pastor at Monte Vista Chapel in Turlock, CA. He also is the co-founder of YPCompPros.com, a resource for Youth Pastors in the interviewing, resume building, and compensation space, helping youth pastors turn their calling into a sustainable career. YP Comp Pros also hosts the largest youth pastor compensation survey in the country with The Youth Cartel, consisting of over 3,000 participants since its inception in 2017. Dan is a Fuller Theological Seminary MDiv graduate with over fifteen years experience in youth ministry. He and his wife, Amy, have three young boys, a five-year-old and twin two-year-olds.
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