Conference Releases New Clergy Compensation Guidelines

Conference Releases New Clergy Compensation Guidelines

The Southern New England Conference has released guidelines that introduce a new method for determining just clergy compensation.

“Whereas previous guidelines faithfully attempted to average compensation across a wide geographic area, adjusting for reported size of the congregation and pastoral experience, the new guidelines focus in on the local economy of a particular congregation,” said Area Conference Minister The Rev. Alex Shea Will.  “They ask each congregation to look honestly at what it costs for their pastor to live in their community, and how they would need to compensate them to make that possible.”

“Further, the new guidelines invite increased flexibility in compensation by providing a singular number for total compensation to account for a variety of circumstances and financial needs,” he said.

“In some cases, the new guidelines will suggest very different compensation than previous guidelines.  This may feel especially challenging as the pandemic raises financial concerns in our congregations. However, it is our hope that we might engage with these new guidelines as a holy experiment in just compensation for the 21st century,” he added.

An online informational session on the guidelines will be held Wednesday, February 16 at 2:00 PM. The Rev. Quentin Chin will lead the webinar, along with members of the ACM Team. They will talk through the new guidelines and take questions. Registration is available here.

The Rev. Angie Menke Ballou, Conference President and pastor of the Cotuit Federated Church in Massachusetts, lifted up the importance of the guidelines.

“We are so grateful for the leadership of the pastors of the Southern New England Conference.  They have responded in extraordinary ways over the last two years -- flexing, pivoting, learning new skills, responding to urgent needs and injustices,” she said. “Churches choosing to pay their pastors at or above Conference Guidelines recognize their minister's skills and abilities.  A well-compensated pastor is free to focus their energies on church leadership, rather than existential stress.”

The Rev. Chin, Interim Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Southampton, MA and a member at Church on the Hill in Lenox, MA, helped to shepherd the new guidelines and accompanying worksheets.

“When the three historic conferences merged to become the Southern New England Conference, each had its own clergy compensation guidelines. They differed significantly from each other, which necessitated creating new guidelines for the new conference,” said Chin, who had been involved with developing the Massachusetts guidelines in the past.

“The situation presented an opportunity to rethink clergy compensation in light of the new realities our clergy and congregations face today,” he said. “We have fewer congregations that can support full-time ministry. Health insurance costs continue to rise, and the health insurance marketplace offers low-cost options, especially for part-time clergy. At the same time, congregations seek certainty for the budgets, especially when calling a pastor, which is difficult to achieve with widely varying health insurance costs.”

The team recognized that health insurance costs were highly variable due to age, family composition, deductibles and the marketplace. The team also felt they could not continue to expect churches to cover 100 percent of a pastor’s health insurance. Consequently, the new guidelines reflect typical compensation practices where benefits are 30% of income and good household budget practices in which housing costs should not exceed 30% of income. Those figures are then used to calculate a single number to include cash salary, housing, and benefits, in order to make budgeting for churches easier. The pastor and the church can allocate the total package as they wish.

The guidelines define full-time ministry as 35-45 hours per week. They also provide guidance for the tasks of ministry for part-time clergy, which should enable part-time clergy to better be able to balance serving their congregation and supplementing their income with other part-time employment. For example, the guidelines do not obligate a congregation to provide any benefits if it cannot sustain half-time ministry. But they are also specific that a pastor serving such a call will fulfill stipulated tasks not to exceed eight hours a week plus Sunday worship coverage.

Other factors addressed include compensation for clergy serving in the military, both in the reserves and on active duty; clergy on emergency call; and clergy serving pulpit supply. 

The guidelines, along with frequently asked questions and worksheets, can be found here:

Those with questions are invited to contact their Area Conference Minister.
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