To better understand the financial issues both pastors and their churches currently face in the midst of the pandemic, Brian Kluth, director of the Financial Health ministry of the National Association of Evangelicals, teamed up with Church Law & Tax to conduct a new State of the Plate study.
In the following interview, Kluth talks about the recent State of the Plate research as it relates specifically to a pastor’s finances and gives insights into the Bless Your Pastor campaign.
What in the research stood out the most to you?
It was encouraging to see that church giving had flipped since April when 65 percent of churches reported declines in giving. In August, 64 percent of churches reported giving had stabilized or increased.
This is all good news, but 36 percent of churches are still experiencing giving declines that will negatively impact their churches in the months to come. That’s likely the reason one-third of church pastors reported having moderate to major financial stress because of COVID-19.
We were also very surprised to see that 87 percent of more than 1,000 churches in 50 states were offering onsite live weekend services. This is a much higher number than is being reported by most media sources.
We were encouraged the research showed that nearly 4 out of 10 churches have done “Pastor Appreciation” offerings. Appreciation offerings are often associated with the free Easy as 1-2-3 to Bless Your Pastor free materials, October Pastor Appreciation activities, or year-end bonuses.
According to the findings, what are the top financial struggles pastors and their families face right now?
For one-third of pastors, their church has seen giving decline this year in the midst of the COVID-19 challenges. So, some of them have not gotten a full paycheck in the last several months or they may be dealing with a growing concern their pay or benefits may be cut more in the future. And with half of the pastors in America making only in the $20,000s to $50,000s per year, this year has put a real strain on their finances and family.
What kind of pressures do such financial struggles place on a pastor and his or her family?
Most pastors are truly overworked and underpaid. Nearly half of the pastors surveyed indicated they serve their church 50 to 70 or more hours per week. And 4 out of 10 pastor spouses serve the church 20 to 30 hours each week, while just 12 percent of pastor spouses are paid by the church. Together, many couples serve their church 70 to 100 hours per week but are not compensated well and often don’t receive retirement or medical insurance from the church.
How will the survey's findings about pastors direct or inform the direction and initiatives of the Financial Health ministry?
The State of the Plate research on church giving and pastor care motivates us at the National Association of Evangelicals even more to do everything we can to get our Easy as 1-2-3 to Bless Your Pastor free materials (also in Spanish) into the hands of churches. When a church distributes the list of “50 Creative Ways to Bless Your Pastor,” everyone in the church will be equipped and encouraged with easy-to-do ideas they can use to show and share God’s love for their pastor and church staff.
When the church then decides to receive an appreciation offering from the congregation or the church board approves a bonus or honorarium and lets us know, we can then bless their senior pastor with a grant-funded $250 Amazon gift card. (Details about the gift card are in the Bless Your Pastor materials.)
This is the second year for Bless Your Pastor. What are your hopes and dreams for this year's Bless Your Pastor campaign?
We hope thousands of churches distribute the list of “50 Creative Ways to Bless Your Pastor.” This free material should encourage, equip, and empower hundreds of thousands of Christians to do acts of love, kindness, and generosity to bless pastor and staff families. This will allow churches to fulfill I Thessalonians 5:12 that calls Christians to “show their deep appreciation for those who minister among them.” We also look forward to blessing thousands of pastors of participating churches with $250 grant-funded Amazon gift cards.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. How closely is Bless Your Pastor tied to Pastor Appreciation celebrations?
For over 25 years, Pastor Appreciation Month has been championed by Focus on the Family. We want to build on their legacy and empower churches with new materials that will help them call Christians to show and share God’s love for their pastor and church staff.
I know that monetary gifts are a significant aspect of the Bless Your Pastor campaign. I also know that additional monetary gifts can create some confusion and maybe headaches for church treasurers. What should church financial managers keep in mind as they help guide the church when it comes to financial gifts to pastors?
They need to remember that any donations given through the church for the pastor and staff are tax-deductible gifts to the giver and are taxable income to the pastor and staff member.
Note: For additional guidance on gifts to pastors, see “Following the Rules for Love Gifts,” “Q&A: Special Occasion Gifts,” “Church's ‘Love Gifts’ to Pastor Represent Taxable Compensation for Services Performed.”
I can see a number of short-term goals for Bless Your Pastor and Pastor Appreciation Month. But an extra offering and a few gift cards only go so far. What long-term goals or aspirations do you have in mind for caring for a pastor's financial needs?
We have free video training and materials at to equip and empower church boards and leaders to properly compensate their pastor in regards to salaries, benefits, time off, sabbaticals, and other ways to care for their pastor and staff.
Yes, it needs to be long term. Hopefully, Bless Your Pastor will serve as a catalyst for churches to better provide for the needs of those who serve them both faithfully and sacrificially.
Note: For help determining fair compensation in compliance with government guidelines, see Church Compensation: From Strategic Plan to Compliance and chapter 4 in Richard Hammar’s annual Church & Clergy Tax Guide. Also, make use of the salary calculation tool available on ChurchSalary.