Research released from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) today shows that the majority of evangelical pastors in the United States serve in small churches with significant personal financial challenges. Pastors also report that they are not familiar with resources to help them and do not confide in anyone outside their household about financial stress.

“The vast majority of pastors do not have their own radio or TV show, robust church staff, or megachurch attendance,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president. “Rather they faithfully serve in small churches and face financial challenges stemming from student debt, low salaries and medical expenses. And sadly, they often feel they have no one to turn to for help.”

The poll, conducted by Grey Matter Research in July 2015, found that of the 4,249 pastors surveyed 80 percent serve in congregations with fewer than 200 people, and 55 percent have fewer than 100 people in their church. Half of the pastors serve in churches with annual budgets under $125,000 that must cover the cost of the church facilities, programs and pastor/staff payroll. Fifty percent of pastors receive less than $50,000 per year in compensation with 30 percent having student loan debt averaging $36,000.

Many pastors also struggle to secure long-term financial stability. Thirty-three percent have under $10,000 in retirement funds. Twenty-nine percent have $0 in personal savings. When asked to rank their financial concerns, 92 percent identified lack of retirement savings, 84 percent felt they did not have needed funds for emergencies and larger purchases, 60 percent were concerned about medical insurance/bills, and 54 percent were concerned about lack of college savings for their children’s education.

Over 85 percent of pastors said they did not receive financial training from their seminary. Many pastors (37 percent) are not familiar with what resources their denomination offers for personal finances. Over a third of pastors said they have no one outside their household in whom they can confide about the things that stress them financially.

Additional findings include:

  • Ninety percent of pastors feel some level of financial stress in their family and church work.
  • Seventy-six percent of pastors know other pastors who left the ministry due to financial pressures.
  • Sixty-three percent of pastors’ spouses work outside the home.
  • Thirty-one percent of pastors work a second job to help make ends meet.
  • Around 60 percent of pastors do not receive health insurance or retirement funds from their church.
  • Twenty-five percent of pastors have medical bills averaging $7,253.
  • Over 80 percent of pastors serve congregations in rural and smaller communities. Only 19 percent serve in a large city or large city suburb.
  • Over half of pastors have served their current congregation for more than six years.

This spring, with support from Lilly Endowment Inc., the NAE launched a multiyear initiative to address economic challenges facing pastors. The initiative will focus on connecting and resourcing denominations, churches and pastors in the area of pastor finances.

“The NAE is committed to developing solutions for the financial pressures pastors face,” said Brian Kluth, NAE project director. “We are excited to help pastors move to a place of greater financial health — freeing them to lead their congregations well.”

Download the full report.