I Need to Find a Job at a Megachurch…

Take a look at this infographic about Christian megachurches from GOOD and Column Five. Not that you doubted it before, but pastors at those churches are making bank.

This is what they get for selling people false hope, convincing them that gay people aren’t deserving of equal rights, and ruining science and sex ed curriculums across the country. Sure, they might help people in some ways, but in other ways, they’re doing incredible amounts of damage.

That’s only a portion of the larger image.

Keep in mind that these are average salaries, too. Some senior pastors are making *far* more than the $147,000 listed. That’s not even taking into account perks like IRS-approved housing allowances. (To be fair, the majority of pastors at non-megachurches probably make something close to the poverty line, if that.)

It’s their church and their congregations’ money, of course. They have a right to pay pastors whatever they want — or whatever is competitive, anyway. And there are plenty of other professions where people make ridiculous amounts of money when they probably don’t deserve it… but just keep this chart in mind when someone argues the big churches are anything but a corporation.

Megachurches are a money-making industry and business has been booming for decades.

(via GOOD)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Bevidence

    But does god give healthcare benefits?

    • Scotty

      Why of course, isn’t he the ultimate healer.  No medical attention or insurance needed if you have complete faith……..

      • T-Rex

        unless you’re an amputee.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’d be curious to know what people typically tithe.  I was never a church goer, so other than that I hear Mormon’s pay an automatic 10%, I have no idea.  The few times I’ve been with my mother she gave coupons.  I decided to leave some origami in the box.  But I can’t see most churches paying those salaries on coupons and origami.

    • Philbert

      I imagine donations are not the sole source of income. Some mega churches have in-house book stores and the like. Others sell Christian music. 

      • Anonymous

        Oh, if only there was some sort of lesson or moral within the Bible regarding God’s/Jesus’s/the society at the time’s stance on putting stores within a church or temple…

        But they probably don’t mention that in the mega-churches.. More cherry picking.

        • Sonja

          What lesson are you referring to?  Where they were making people pay an exorbitant amount more for a simple offering that they were obligated to bring to pay for their sins… ?  They were mistreating people by jacking up prices that they couldn’t offer since they knew they had to buy it… I haven’t seen that in the church.  
          Do people have to buy anything in a church if they don’t want to?  I think you are mistaken with your understanding of these verses.  

    • Anonymous

      Depends on the theology and the churches, I’d say that 10% is probably the median, but the average is probably closer to 5%-7%.  Mainline protestant is probably a couple percentage points less. A lot of these churches preach a prosperity gospel where your faithfulness in tithing will result in earthly rewards. I bet Pew might have some of this data…or at least a Christian pollster like Barna.

    • Rich Wilson

      Thanks all.  And of course if your budget is tight, you have to make sure to pay God first

    • GregFromCos

      I know I did 10% until I left. It’s no wonder they need Dave Ramsey so badly when so many of them take so much off the top of their salary. It’s also no wonder so many of them tend to lean towards political parties that preach lower taxes. You can’t complain about god’s tax!

      • Sonja

        the funny thing is that other than the mormon churches… no one is obligated to pay… so I don’t think that is an issue.  If they didn’t want to pay, they wouldn’t.  They must believe in it, and do all right with it.  The other thing is that givers to any non-profit receive tax benefits when the do, and generally get money back every year rather than paying… That sometimes in itself accounts for a larger amount in than out!  

    • Sonja

      The tithe means 10% that the Bible directs to give… however the average person who is considered a member gives an average of 3%.  
      Yes, origami doesn’t work for tithes ;)

  • Dantresomi

    here is the deal: tithing is something that is done by all church attendees. That doesn’t count dues paying members. For many mega churches you have attendees who can come and go to another church. Then you have church members who have to pay monthly fees on top of tithing which is the usual 10%. I have heard members pay at one church near my old job $500.00 a year. This gives them exclusive access to church staff. The same church gave discounts to their members (they had a cafe and bookstore off campus). Also, as a member, they could enroll their children in day care (which they had to pay for). So there are advantages and disadvantages. 

    Pastors can also get what church folk refer to as “love offerings.” Pretty much they can preach at another church and collect donations. It is a tax write off. I have seen pastors pull in $2,000.00 in these “love offerings.” There’s a gazillion ways to make money off of this stuff on the mega church level. 

    mega churches are like wal marts though, they kill the smaller churches buy sucking up membership. so the average pastor at a store front church is hurting to keep his doors open. 

    If anything, we are seeing loss of church goers due to smaller churches closing because of these mega churches who don’t seem to be losing members. 

    • Anonymous

      That’s one way to make people less religious.

  • GregFromCos

    Didn’t Darrel Ray’s last study show that the majority of new atheists in the US are coming out of Evangelical Mega Churches? I know that’s where I came out of.

  • MakeTheMostOfLife

    I think you shoot yourself in the foot with the point you are trying to make…

    “Keep in mind that these are average salaries, too. Some senior pastors are making *far* more than the $147,000 listed.”

    O.k so if 10% of the mega churches have people on ludicrous salaries, then that will inflate the average to give a false sense of the average.

    Its like when you hear the average income figures. the small % of millionaires and billionaires wreck the statistics & make a far higher average then what is applicable for most people

    I’m guessing then by this rational, that the *real* average that most pastors will be earning will be quite a bit less then this. 

    The opposite of the point I think you were trying to make.

    • Pseudonym

      I downloaded a copy of the full LN report to check out the statistics.

      It does give medians as well as means. There’s not as much disparity as you might think. This is for churches with 2000+ attendees figures:

      Senior/lead pastor/minister:

      Low: $40k
      Median: $139k
      Mean: $147k
      High: $400k

      Associate pastor/minister:

      Low: $39k
      Median: $80k
      Mean: $82k
      High: $148k

      Executive pastor:

      Low: $40k
      Median: $96k
      Mean: $99k
      High: $230k

      …and so on. Interestingly, in the very large church range (10,000+ attendees), some of the median salaries for some roles (e.g. CFO) are higher than the mean.

      The primary finding of the report is that attendance and church income are the two biggest factors which affect compensation and benefits. For the churches surveyed.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t care what they earn as long as they do the job that they’ve been hired to do and they pay their taxes like everybody else.  

    Despite believing that their job is a complete waste of time I have to admit that they do provide entertainment for thousands of people on a regular basis.  If people are happy to pay for it like gullible fools then the mega church can pay the staff what it likes.  It is no different to paying a football player or singer a huge sum of money.

    I’m not entirely sure how the US tax system works but I assume that income tax is still payable by church staff even if the disgusting profits that they make aren’t?  There may be a loophole in tax law that needs to be closed so that wealthy pastors can’t benefit from tax free allowances.  A lot of taxes are avoided for a lot of wealthy people and that places a greater burden on the less well off.  That is the case whether someone works in private industry for the public or for a tax dodge like a mega church.

    Maybe your congress could do something about that rather than waste time on petty and divisive pledges that don’t need reaffirming.

  • http://twitter.com/Cluisanna Cluisanna

    Someone should ask them what they say about Mark 10, 23-25:

    >And Jesus
    looked round about and said unto His disciples, “How hardly shall they
    that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God!”And
    the disciples were astonished at His words, but Jesus answered again
    and said unto them, “Children, how hard is it for them that trust in
    riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!
    It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”<

    I don't believe in a word of that "holy" book, but the best way to show the hypcrisy is to quote from it yourself ;)

  • alex

    University-level ESL instructor ………………………….. $25k

  • Disillusioned1

    I was thrown out of a “coffee house” new church plant for questioning the salary of the pastor. At a meeting one night, they handed out forms for us to sign. The pastor pulled out the forms from his notebook and sent them around the room. What luck, he had handed me the salary breakdown per expected ‘mandatory’ tithing. I was livid. I approached to discuss the breakdown, in private. He was being paid a salary of 65k, which is modest, I suppose. He held no formal religious education or college degree, so I felt it was a little excessive, considering our family of 4 was taking in less than 70k and both earners held 2 year degrees. He was allowed a housing allowance to cover his mortgage of 2000k per month. He had just purchased a 4 bedroom home on an acre of land, in the breakdown it showed the church’s contribution of 50k for a down payment. I pay my own rent on my one bed and a den @ 1735/mth, no yard, no separate rooms for my kids- I guess I wasn’t faithful enough. The church had paid off his car loan and was affording him a stipend to pay for health insurance for his family. To top it off, the church was contributing to his retirement plan. I was mad as hell. He shoved me off, so I did some research. He had partnered with a mega church (willow creek) to help plant new churches. I obtained a copy of his agreement. He had to meet a certain number of recruits each month and meet the goal of 90% commitment signing within 12 months. He had to donate money to mission work and within 3 years had to off shoot another church plant. A kind or pyramid scheme, no? Each church had to donate to its parent church and then eventually the money came back to Willow Creek.
    I took him to task on the numbers. He ignored me repeatedly. I contacted Willow Creek, they threatened me (politely). So I did what I could to be heard. I made photocopies of the salary breakdown and rules and left them everywhere at the church, handed them to fellow members and sent them to the local businesses that supported the church and one to the local paper.  I got a meeting real fast. I was grilled, accused of abusing my kids and living in a failed marriage. The next day I received a call from a friend that said I was no longer welcomed, it would be best for me to move on, since  I do not share the same vision as the business or hold any real, true faith in the lord’s work. That was the last time I had anything to do with a church or their god. The church has dissolve and the pastor has moved to Vegas. Guess there are better odds in sin city.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Marrok Symi van Aarde

      wow – disillusioned1, i hear your frustration!  it’s BS really, this is about power and money and nothing about what their religion supposedly stands for: love, humility, acceptance and tolerance.  

      i hope you know that god can’t get into the church either, sideways – he’s been stuck outside because he’s not wearing the right clothes or earning the right salary.

      and jesus has long hair, wears odd clothes and walks around with gays, prostitutes, people of ill repute and has dinner with folks from the IRS.  

      he ain’t gettin in either.

      • Sonja

        I agree the church stands for love and humility and even acceptance ( not of the sin, but of the person).  In the Bible you don’t ever see tolerance as the moral to stand by.  In fact it is what they were told not to be… tolerant to other nations or to people in the church who chose to sin without repentance.  
        God has never been one to look over or pass over sin, but to send His Son to die for it.  He expects us to be perfect… so none of us are worthy.  However, he sent His son so that Jesus could “gift us” with “perfection”.  He has wiped us clean.  So although all are welcome to church the way we are… we shouldn’t stay the same.  
        I feel disappointed that the last poster didn’t get a good response in the church.  That is a very negative experience.  However, like you mentioned in your post, God is not always welcomed there either.  We need to remember that the problem is not God, but the people.  I hope that he trusts in God again without the distraction of people.  

  • Sonja

    I find the article quite slanted but interesting all the same.  Why is it all right for a CEO of a large corporation (of having hundreds of staff under him) to make 150K a year, but not all right for this man because he works in a church.  Does he not need to lead a great amount of people and then a congregation even larger?  I find it funny no one even blinks for corporations but gets angry at churches when they make money.  It’s not an average “Joe” who can get the job done, and he usually has a doctorate of philosophy behind his name.  I think for education and responsibilities sake… he should be well paid.  
    Like you said that is not representative of 95% of churches out there that are not mega style of over 1000 people.  They do not make that kind of money.  They also don’t have the responsibility or staff leadership.
    Because you don’t agree with the teaching is irrelevant as well.  I don’t agree with much of what government does, or maybe agree with some charities platforms or CEO’s with major companies and what they do… but the people who pay the churches salaries are not you, but the people who do believe in it.  Unlike government, where we have to pay whether we agree or not.  
    I say live, and let live. 

    • hoverFrog

      The 99%ers would disagree with you.  Obscene wages are obscene whether they are paid or a manipulative pastor of a megachurch or a fat cat banker.


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