A recent survey reveals that the vast majority of Christian ministries pay their leaders significantly less than what those executives could earn in private industry. No surprise there, but they also earn significantly less that their counterparts in secular nonprofits.

By reviewing the compensation practices of 147 Christian ministries, Best Christian Workplaces Institute (BCWI) and the Christian Management Association discovered that the average compensation for presidents/chief executive officers is $99,000; for chief operating officers, $88,200; and for chief financial officers, $78,200.

Numerous factors—the scope and complexity of the ministry, cost of living, revenue, and number of employees—contribute to total compensation levels, according to BCWI president Al Lopus. Still, the 2005 survey reveals that, overall, Christian ministries do not pay competitive salaries. Consider: Ministries compensate presidents and CEOs anywhere from 24 to 46 percent less than what their counterparts in secular nonprofits earn, and 65 to 403 percent less than leaders in private industry. Meanwhile, ministry CFOs are paid anywhere from 19 to 25 percent less than other nonprofit CFOs, and 69 to 203 percent less than those working in private industry.

Lopus says that ministry leaders and nonprofit executives have comparable responsibilities. He argues that higher salaries attract higher-caliber executives, which would increase ministries' effectiveness.

"I think it's reasonable to accept less to take a job where there is eternal value," he says. "But we have to look at the reasonableness of how much that is. The gap should not be as wide as it is now."

Others believe Christian companies do excellent work despite limited resources and lower salaries. "I totally disagree that pay is linked to the ability to attract and retain high-quality employees," New Missions Systems International (NMSI) president Phil Hudson says. "[Employees'] production does not add value to their person or worth."

NMSI, based in Fort Myers, Florida, has enjoyed an annual growth rate of 30 percent for the past five years and has been a finalist for the past several years in BCWI's "Best Christian Places to Work" annual survey.

Howard Dayton, cofounder and CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, does not take a salary, though he says he has other means of income. Dayton says donors take comfort knowing that Crown does not compensate him beyond a health-insurance plan, a ministry car, and a cell phone. As a guiding principle, Dayton says, "My view is the worker is worthy of his wages. The wages should be adequate enough to allow a person to live out 1 Timothy 5:8—'If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.'"

Related Elsewhere:

Also posted today are the results of our annual Best Workplaces survey.

The compensation survey is available from the Christian Management Association.

The Best Christian Workplaces Institute has more information about its surveys.

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