The Changing Focus of Church Finances

Editor's Note: This interview was featured in the Spring 1981 issue of Leadership Journal. Lyle Schaller was arguably the most influencial church consultant of the 20th century, and passed away earlier this week at the age of 91.

Too many expenses and too little money. It's a subject that rivals the weather as a topic of conversation nowadays. And the local church is not immune to economic fluctuations. Pastors have to feed their families. Churches have to heat their buildings, pay the rent, maintain programsand pay the pastor. Money problems go hand in hand with almost any ministry.

Lyle Schaller probes some of these problems in his writing and in his work as a church consultant for Yokefellow Institute. His research indicates that in many ways churches could improve the way they handle their budgets and make everyday financial decisions. In LEADERSHIP's interview, Lyle identifies financial problems most churches face, and he offers some suggestions that merit close scrutiny.

In talking to pastors in your conferences with Yokefellow Institute, how often is the question of pastors' salaries raised?

Quite often. Salaries are a serious question today. If you go back to the middle fifties, the typical beginning salary for a pastor was roughly the same as an elementary school teacher's around $3,600. But pastors haven't kept up over the years, and the discrepancy lies in the areas of experience and tenure. An elementary school teacher today gets more for experience than most pastors. Typically, churches pay about $300 a year, or less, for experience. In other words, twenty years of pastoral experience is worth somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000 in the pastorate. It's very difficult to find anywhere else in our society where experience is given a lower premium.

What do you feel that does for the pastoral profession?

It has three major effects. First, it's a significant factor in promoting the exodus of experienced ministers from pastoral ministry. Fewer and fewer pastors are staying from entry level to retirement. They may go into other forms of ministry or they may leave the ministry completely.

A second factor, which is a little more concealed, is that a smaller proportion of ministers' children are going to church-related colleges. Traditionally, denominations with colleges provided some kind of discount to ministers' children, and it was fairly easy, economically, for a minister's child to go to a denominational college. Today, that's very difficult.

The third effect is that a larger proportion of ministers' wives are working outside the home on a full-time basis than in any other profession This includes doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, and others. It is a must situation in many cases; the minister's wife has to supplement her husband's inadequate income.

To give you some basis of comparison, salary increases in recent years for dentists went from $11,533 in 1955 to $49,800 in 1979; so in twenty-four years they more than quadrupled. Salaries of federal employees quadrupled; manufacturing production employees increased about threeand-a-quarter times; elementary teachers quadrupled; college teachers almost quadrupled; even the minimum wage just about quadrupled. In contrast, salaries for ministers went up only a little more than two-and-a-half times.

If you compare ministers' salaries with other vocations, they've gone down. Muncie, Indiana, is one of the most studied communities in the United States. It's been the object of case studies since the 1920s. The cash salary of a senior minister in the 1920s in Muncie was comparable to the superintendent of schools; in the 1930s, to the high school principal; in the late 1970s, to the classroom teacher. So, a minister's time has lost dollar value. We have put a lower value on it, which might be the reason that pastors' pay is a smaller proportion of the total church budget.

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Spring 1981: Money  | Posted
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